All posts by Rebecca Sentance

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IWD 2018: Eight SEO ladies give their advice on being a woman in search

Like many tech and tech-adjacent industries, SEO is a largely male-dominated field.

Relatively few statistics exist on the exact gender split within the search industry, but a Moz 2015 Online Marketing Industry Survey put the percentage of men working in SEO at close to 70%.

SEM was a little more even gender-wise with around 60% men working in search marketing, while PPC was even more male-dominated, with the survey finding that some 80% of PPC professionals were men.

Image: Moz

Even without the numbers, it’s fairly obvious to anyone who works within SEO that it’s a majority male industry – from the speaker line-ups at events, to the rosters at companies, to the bylines on industry blogs.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t plenty of hugely successful and brilliant women working in SEO, because there are. But there are still comparatively fewer of them.

What do the women who work in SEO think about the gender division within the industry? Do they notice it or feel that it affects their work? Do they think that women in SEO need to do anything differently to stand out? And what advice would they give to other women working in the field?

In honor of International Women’s Day 2018, we wanted to highlight the perspectives of women working in SEO, and how – if at all – they think gender affects the industry and the work that they do. Search Engine Watch spoke to eight successful ladies in SEO to find out their thoughts and advice on being a woman in SEO.

Sam Charles, Founder of Float Digital

IWD 2018: Eight SEO ladies give their advice on being a woman in searchSam Charles is an SEO consultant with more than seven years’ experience working in the digital industry.

In 2016 she founded her own agency, Float Digital, which aims to demystify the art of SEO for businesses, particularly small businesses. She has been nominated at the UK Search Awards, and featured in The Drum’s ‘50 under 30’ list in 2017, which celebrates young women making waves in digital industries.

Charles got her start in SEO in her early twenties after studying advertising at university, working first at a branding design and web development agency, before moving on to manage the marketing at Australia’s largest professional haircare and skincare company.

“Nobody really told me what SEO was but my daily tasks revolved around blogger outreach and creating content based on keywords,” Charles recalls. “Once I moved back to England in 2012, I picked up the first copywriting job I could find, and it was only then, I was introduced to the lovely world of SEO, and suddenly everything I had been doing made sense.”

Charles says that she didn’t initially notice the gender disparity in digital marketing, as her first few jobs were at companies that had plenty of women on their payroll. “It was only when I moved away from content creation and focused on improving my technical SEO skills, that I felt I was in a male-dominated industry,” she says.

“Attending events such as Brighton SEO and engaging with communities online, it’s clear there are more men working in SEO than women.”

However, Charles doesn’t feel as though her gender has been a hindrance in the industry – possibly because her name makes people assume that they’re working with a man. “Too many times I’ve turned up to a meeting or answered the phone and I’ve been greeted with “I thought you were going to be a man”.”

With that said, she emphasizes: “People’s respect for you isn’t based on gender. The last few agencies I’ve worked in have celebrated women, and this sentiment is echoed in online circles, too.”

Charles says that the advice she would give to women in SEO wouldn’t be any different to the advice she would give anyone else getting started in the industry. “There’s no tips or advice I would give to women in SEO because we, as women, are no more or less than our male counterparts.

“Male or female, if you work in SEO there are two pieces of advice I’d offer: learn every day and be completely fearless when it comes to engaging with online communities, speaking at events or chasing clients.

“That said, to me, there’s nothing more empowering than meeting other women in search. There are meetups and lunches especially for women in business, digital or SEO. If this sounds like something you’d benefit from, do a quick search in your area and go along to one. Every event like this I’ve been to has been so welcoming.”

Dewi Nawasari, European Head of SEO at Monster

IWD 2018: Eight SEO ladies give their advice on being a woman in searchDewi Nawasari is a hugely experienced SEO with close to twelve years of industry work under her belt. She jumped straight into SEO as a graduate with a degree in Business Supply Chain Management, landing a job as a Natural Search Optimization Analyst doing link-building for an agency. From there, she worked her way up the industry, and is now the European Head of SEO at recruitment company Monster.

Nawasari reflect that SEO was “not the easiest industry to start in” as a woman. “I remember at the earlier years of my career, coming to any industry event and being one of the few women who attended.

“There were occasions when I was not heard or taken as seriously as the men in my then-workplace, who had formed their exclusive circle of authority. But by the same token, I was really lucky to have also came across men in the industry who confided in my ability purely as a person. They are now some of my dearest friends.

“Do I think women have to do anything differently in order to stand out? The answer is yes and no.

“Yes, because I think women have to stop selling themselves short and start communicating their brilliance and expertise with one hundred percent confidence. Being willing to make mistakes or say something wrong is the only way to find success!

“No – because women should just be women. Never think that you have to fulfil certain stereotypes in the industry.

“Women tend to be quite humble about our achievements, and refuse credit beyond what we feel we deserve. This quality truly brings balance to any workplace because when women are part of the team, they make sure that the team work together to a high standard of performance.”

Nawasari’s advice for other women trying to make their way in the industry is, “Being credible, humble and over-communicating are your weapons.

“Even when you have a slightly rough start to the career, always ensure that you research, analyse, and know your work inside-out before presenting it to anyone. Once you have presented your work, share and over-communicate it – do not sell yourself short! Keep at it and you’ll be incredibly proud when you climb the ladder because of pure merit.

“Oh, and of course, don’t forget to congratulate and clap hard when you see a fellow woman succeed!”

Amanda DiSilvestro, Writer for HigherVisibility and Marketing Manager at Discover Corps

IWD 2018: Eight SEO ladies give their advice on being a woman in searchAmanda DiSilvestro has spent seven years working in the marketing industry as a content editor, writer and marketing manager, and is one of the most popular and prolific writers here at Search Engine Watch.

She got her start in the industry through content marketing and worked her way up to a management position in SEO. “While it took several years, I found it to be a great foundation and path forward,” DiSilvestro says.

“I have found throughout my career that ghost writing opportunities are plentiful, and while this is a great way to really dig into SEO and learn the industry, it’s important to balance ghost writing with writing under your own byline. In short, don’t get too comfortable writing for other people – I see this happen all the time!

“Big websites like Search Engine Watch can seem intimidating, but if you reach out and express your passion for the topic and desire to write with your own byline, even if you don’t have years and years of experience, you will find success. At a certain point, it turns into a domino effect and you get more and more opportunities to show off your expertise through content writing.

“The community of women SEOs is great as well, so don’t be afraid to reach out to those you admire.”

Lexi Mills, Managing Partner at Shift6

IWD 2018: Eight SEO ladies give their advice on being a woman in searchAs a specialist in both PR, a typically female-dominated field, and SEO, a largely male-dominated field, Lexi Mills has a unique perspective on gender in her professional life – she is simultaneously in the majority, and the minority, in both of her intersecting fields.

A digital marketing expert who has won multiple awards in the course of her career, Mills got her start in digital marketing as a graduate working in the Brighton nightlife industry, who convinced the company director to let her manage the company’s marketing and promotion online.

“I learned SEO way before I even knew what SEO was,” she recalls.

Working as a woman in the digital marketing industry, Mills says that she wasn’t always aware of whether people were biased against her because of her gender. “I have a couple of other biases that I have to champion – I’m very petite, I’m female, and I used to look very young for my age.

“Ageism was probably a bigger issue for me – when you’re someone who has worked super hard to get super good at something, and you walk into a room, people think, ‘I don’t want a kid working on this.’ Those were far bigger issues for me.

“I’m sure there was gender bias, but I tended to put things down to those issues a lot more.”

When she ran up against bias in her work as a professional SEO, Mills says that she found it more effective to approach the situation with gentle humor, which tended to be more successful in swaying people’s unconscious prejudices.

“By choosing to believe that people meant well, that they didn’t mean to be biased – even when they were – it changed how I dealt with them.

“I would walk into a meeting room with a client, and someone would say, ‘Oh, I’ll have a tea! And I’ll have a coffee, two sugars!’

“I would go and get the teas and the coffees, come back in, put the tray down, and say, ‘Guys, I specialize in SEO and PR, but I’ve done my very best with the tea and coffee.’

“And these guys would look mortified! But then I’d giggle, and I’d laugh with them – because the reality is, their assumption that their SEO specialist was going to be male and older is actually statistically correct; and these are statistically-driven people. You could say it was gender bias, but it was a statistically accurate assumption to make.

“And instead of me getting angry about it, if I made them giggle, there was a bond that formed – because they didn’t mean it. Or I chose to believe that they weren’t intending to be biased. And they probably came out not thinking that the next time they walk into a meeting room, they’re going to order tea and coffee off a young female, presuming that they’re not the specialist.”

Mills stresses that she has never identified as a “woman in search” or a “woman in tech”, preferring to think of herself as a “person who works in search”. Nevertheless, she believes that women in the industry have to be more aware of how they present themselves, as this can sometimes cause them to meet with more resistance professionally.

“At least five years ago, if you got up on stage wearing a bright pink dress, that would have caused a bunch of fairly unpleasant tweets,” she says. “It makes you look different.

“And while there’s nothing wrong with someone wanting to wear very feminine clothing – at all – it might mean they have to fight a little harder. And maybe they want to put that energy into doing such awesome work that they’re subconsciously changing people’s perception of women.”

She also advises women in the industry to “recognize when it’s time to move rooms. If the room you’re in is biased – go make a better room.

“I move between different projects with different clients, and sometimes I’ll fight that battle, but other times I just think, ‘Hey. I’m going to go to your competitor and kick ass.’”

“As women, the way we’re socialized from a young age means that we develop different language behaviors, different ways of doing things – and that’s okay. You should take those advantages, and play to your strengths.

“Take stock, give back, help others, and be fierce.”

Chelsea Blacker, Co-Founder and Managing Director of BlueGlass

IWD 2018: Eight SEO ladies give their advice on being a woman in searchChelsea Blacker is a hugely experienced digital marketer and the Managing Director of SEO and content marketing agency BlueGlass.

She has worked in SEO for more than 10 years, and got her start in the industry doing SEO for a small personal blog at university, before becoming the assistant to an SEO consultant – at which point, she says, “I was hooked!”

On gender in the SEO industry, Blacker observes, “The SEO community is extremely fair compared to other industries like investment banking or entertainment.

“People respect each other for sharing knowledge, explaining findings, and asking boundary-pushing questions. I have never worried that being female has a negative correlation to thriving in SEO.”

Her advice to other women working in SEO is to make sure their voices are heard – and on a practical level, to not shy away from the technical side of SEO.

“If you’re the only woman in a room, it’s a good room to be in. Participate with value added words (not chat) to prove your voice is worth listening to so you don’t get left out of conversations.

“Celebrate technical learning, don’t avoid it; if you feel out of your depth, it’s a good place to keep swimming until you re-emerge at a higher level of performance. Learn to code, how major tools work and how to break down complex data sets in Excel.

Blacker’s other piece of advice to anyone wanting to stand out in SEO is to specialize. “SEO is well established now, and it’s more difficult to become a thought leader in an industry that’s been around for 15 – 20 years.  I would recommend finding an optimization niche in an emerging industry to develop as a thought leader of tomorrow.”

Hannah Thorpe, Managing Director at White.net

IWD 2018: Eight SEO ladies give their advice on being a woman in searchHannah Thorpe has become a well-known name in the search industry, particularly the UK search industry, in the four years that she has been working in digital. She regularly presents at industry events including SMX Advanced, Search London and Brighton SEO, and last year won Young Search Professional of the Year at the UK Search Awards.

On being a woman in SEO, Thorpe believes that, “SEO is SEO regardless of your gender, like in any industry. I genuinely think that if you enter into the industry passionate about what is we’re all working on, then you’ll be successful regardless of gender.

“The more you try to act differently because of a perception that you have to fit in with the male-dominated crowds, the harder you’ll find it. I love what I do, but I still want to have long fake nails, wear outrageous sparkly shoes and drink champagne, rather than beers.

“That doesn’t make me bad at my job – and if you’re a woman who doesn’t like any of those things, then equally, you should be able to embrace that.

“So much of the pressure to be a certain way is something we are putting on ourselves or creating by segregating into ‘women in SEO’ versus ‘men in SEO’.  I would love for our industry to stop thinking of ourselves as male-dominated and to just think about everyone as individual people.”

Ann Smarty, Founder of ViralContentBee and Brand & Community Manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas

IWD 2018: Eight SEO ladies give their advice on being a woman in searchAnn Smarty is a marketing consultant with more than 10 years’ experience, and is another one of our most popular and respected authors here at Search Engine Watch, sounding off on content marketing, keyword research, marketing tools, video optimization and much more with authority.

She is the former Editor-in-Chief at Search Engine Journal, founded social media and content marketing platform Viral Content Bee, and is the Brand & Community Manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas.

When it comes to being a woman in SEO, Smarty says that, “I have never felt that I was in any way treated differently than men in this industry.

“I think our niche offers equal opportunity to both men and women, and I have to guess that the reason why it may be male-dominated is possibly that women shy away from it.

“Likewise, there are probably more men in the IT industry, not because men do anything special to influence that but probably because women just don’t like playing with numbers and computers that much. I don’t have any studies to support my thoughts here, but it’s the feeling that I get.”

Jennifer Jackson, Digital Manager at Sawday’s Canopy & Stars

IWD 2018: Eight SEO ladies give their advice on being a woman in searchJennifer Jackson is another hugely experienced digital marketing expert with close to ten years’ experience working in the industry. She first got into SEO through a university work placement, writing search-optimized content to answer questions that people were asking over the phones.

Even at this early stage in her career, she was successful – “My piece I wrote for them still ranks #2 for ‘data protection act summary’, so even my first venture is doing well!”

As a woman working in search, Jackson hasn’t encountered a lot of negative bias. “I personally have never felt that being a woman has been an issue. I’ve found the SEO industry to be full of brilliant brains and not as many egos as you might find elsewhere.

“But maybe I’ve been sheltered by being on the client side, where I can call more shots because I’m paying the bill.

“I personally don’t think women have to do anything differently to other colleagues. I’m naturally quite vocal and not afraid to be the one to ask what might be a stupid question, so maybe that has helped me.

“I also love to understand as much of the technical details as possible so that I can confidently communicate with more technical roles, which has probably helped me too – but anyone can do this, not just women.”

“At the end of the day, every team needs different brains, and having female input in a room full of males can be truly invaluable – especially when lots of research shows in many categories the buying decision in a heterosexual household are made by the female!”

Jackson says that her best advice for women working in SEO would be the same that she’d give to anyone: “Learn and don’t stop learning. Sign up to industry newsletters; find the answers to things you don’t know; read around the technical jargon so you understand it.

“Don’t be put off when you’re faced with a room of ‘experts’, and don’t be afraid to ask the stupid questions, as you’ll always find someone else saying ‘I was thinking the same thing’.”

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Ranker: How to make a Google algorithm-proof website

Any SEO or webmaster who has ever had a website affected by a Google algorithm change – or feared being affected by one – has probably wished that they could find a way to make their website “algorithm-proof”.

Still, surely there’s no such thing as a website that’s never impacted by Google algorithms, right? As long as your site is indexed by Google, it’s at the mercy of the algorithms that Google uses to determine website ranking, all the more so if you happen to rely heavily on organic search traffic for your business.

The art – or science – of search engine optimization is about determining as best you can what those algorithms are looking for, and giving it to them.

Yet one website believes it has found the formula for making its content “Google algorithm-proof”. Ranker is a website made up of dynamic, crowdsourced lists that users can vote on, about everything from pop culture to geography, history to sports, celebrities to science.

And according to its CEO, Clark Benson, Ranker has never suffered a negative effect from a Google algorithm change, growing its traffic steadily without interruption over the course of eight and a half years.

Search Engine Watch caught up with Benson to find out Ranker’s secret to success, and whether there is a formula for creating an algorithm-proof website.

Rankings, not review sites

So what is Ranker, exactly?

“Ranker’s primary reason for being is to crowdsource anything that makes sense to rank,” says Benson. “Any topic that people are really interested in.

“The unique angle that we’ve pursued is that instead of having this being one 23-year-old blogger’s opinion of the best new TV shows of the year, or whatever it happens to be, we would have a dynamic list that visitors could vote on, potentially add items to, and re-rank.

“The end result is a very wisdom-of-crowds-based answer which is always changing and dynamically moving along as tastes change, and as more people vote on things.”

Voting on a list of ‘Historical events you most want to go back and see’ on Ranker

Lists have been a time-honored draw for magazines and other print media over the years, but it was when the internet came along that they really exploded – spawning dozens of list-oriented viral websites and the much-mocked listicle, which became a staple of online journalism. However, Benson – a self-described “lifelong list nerd” – was frustrated by the fact that these lists only ever represented one person’s opinion.

In a similar vein, he found review websites unhelpful, as user-generated reviews represented a single person’s subjective opinion in a format that wasn’t conducive to making a decision.

“Part of the reason to build Ranker was my frustration with review sites, because when I’m looking for an answer to something, like which TV show to watch, I don’t want to read a lot of text reviews.

“I also feel that in typical five-star rating systems, everything tends to be clustered around three and a half to four stars, so you don’t get any true granularity on what is best.”

In a world increasingly “cluttered with choices”, therefore, Benson was convinced that rankings were “the simplest way to dissect a choice in a category, without losing the credibility of the answer”. And so he built Ranker as a website where the wisdom of the crowd could determine the ultimate ranking for any list of items, on any topic.

The secret to Ranker’s SEO success: Content freshness

Since Ranker’s launch in 2009, the site has amassed more than 100,000 rankings across dozens of broad categories, encompassing almost any topic that people could have a passion for.

When the website first launched, however, it had very few resources, and Benson explains that he had to learn SEO from scratch in order to give the website a strong foundation.

Luckily, earning traffic was never a problem for the site, because the type of content published on Ranker was uniquely suited to catering to Google’s algorithms.

“We’ve never been hit by any algorithm changes – we’ve always grown our organic search traffic year over year over year, steadily, for the eight and a half years we’ve been live.

“You never exactly know what works in SEO, because Google doesn’t tell you what works, but I’ve always believed that the best intelligence on what to do comes from the public statements Google makes – their best practices.

“And one of the key factors that Google says is in their index is freshness of content. Content has a lifespan. In our case, because our rankings are dynamic and always changing – people are adding things to them, voting things up and down – this makes for perpetually fresh content.

“We have a lot of content that is six, seven, even eight years old that is still doing as well as it was years ago, and in some cases it’s even growing in traffic.”

Ranker: How to make a Google algorithm-proof website

One of Ranker’s most evergreen pieces of content is a list ranking the ‘Best Movies of All Time’ – which is more than 5,000 items long.

“Obviously that’s a topic that there’s a lot of passion and a lot of competition for [in search rankings]. And in the last few years, we’ve been on the top three or so results on Google for that term.

“We’ve watched that page just grow in rankings over the span of seven or eight years. I can only guess it’s because the page is always changing.”

User-curated content

At the time of writing this article, Ranker’s front page is currently spotlighting a list of best-dressed celebs at the 2018 Oscars, a best TV episode names ranking, and a list of possible game-changing deep space observations to be made by the Webb Telescope.

Anyone can add an item to a list on Ranker, although Ranker’s content is not purely user-generated. Ranker has an editorial team which is made up of people who, in Benson’s words, “have a mind for cataloging things” rather than people who specialize in writing a lot of prose.

Lists are typically started off by one of Ranker’s editors, and when a user wants to add a new item to a list, it’s cross-referenced with Ranker’s database, a huge data set made up of more than 28 million people, places and things. If the item isn’t found in the database, it’s added to a moderation queue.

Rather than UGC (user-generated content), therefore, Benson thinks of Ranker’s lists as something he terms UCC – user-curated content.

Ranker: How to make a Google algorithm-proof website

How did Ranker build such a huge data set? Beginning in 2007, a company called Metaweb ran an open source, collaborative knowledge base called Freebase, which contained data harvested from sources such as Wikipedia, the Notable Names Database, Fashion Model Directory and MusicBrainz, along with user-submitted wiki contributions.

This knowledge base made up a large part of Ranker’s data set. What’s interesting is that Freebase was later acquired by none other than Google – and is the foundation of Google’s Knowledge Graph.

Additionally, not every list on Ranker is crowdsourced or voted on. Some lists, such as Everyone Who Has Been Fired Or Resigned From The Trump Administration So Far, don’t make sense to have users voting on them, but are kept fresh with the addition of new items whenever the topic is in the news.

Can other websites do ‘Ranker SEO’?

Benson acknowledges that Ranker’s setup is fairly unique, and so it isn’t necessarily possible to emulate its success with SEO by trying to do the same thing – unless you just happen to have your own crowdsourced, user-curated list website, of course.

With that said, there are still some practical lessons that website owners, particularly publishers, can take away from Ranker’s success and apply to their own SEO strategy.

First and foremost: content freshness is king

As you’ve no doubt gathered by now, the freshness of Ranker’s content is probably the biggest contributing factor to its success in search. “We’re convinced that the dynamism of our content is what really lets it just grow and grow and grow in search traffic,” says Benson.

“While our approach is somewhat unique to the way Ranker works – we have a bespoke CMS that makes lists out of datasets – I’m positive that there are other ways to apply this kind of thinking.”

To put content freshness front and center of your content marketing efforts, make sure that your publication or blog is well-stocked with evergreen content. For those articles or posts that are more time-sensitive, you can still publish a refreshed version, or look for an up-to-date spin to put on the old content, for example linking it in with current events.

According to research by Moz, other factors which can contribute to a positive “freshness” score for your website as a whole include:

  • Changes made to the core content of your website (as opposed to peripheral elements like JavaScript, comments, ads and navigation)
  • Frequency of new page creation
  • Rate of new link growth (an increase in links pointing back to your site or page)
  • Links from other fresh websites, which have the ability to transfer their “fresh value” (Justin Briggs dubbed this quality “FreshRank” in 2011)

Internal links trump external links

Other than content freshness, Benson attributes Ranker’s SEO success to one other big factor: its intricate network of internal links, which Benson believes are far more valuable to SEO than an impressive backlink profile.

“I think a lot of people who are new to SEO focus too much on trying to get outside links, versus optimizing their own internal infrastructure,” he says.

“We have a very broad site with millions of pages – not just lists, but a page for every item that’s included in a list on Ranker, showing you where it ranks on all of our different lists.”

Ranker: How to make a Google algorithm-proof website

The Ranker page for Leonardo da Vinci

“We made the mistake early on of leaving all of those pages open to Google’s index, and we learned over time that some of them are very thin, content-wise. New links are added to them, but they’re thin pages. So we quickly adopted a strategy of noindexing the thinner pages on our site – so they have utility, but they don’t necessarily have search utility.

“We’ve really focused a lot on internal link structure and on interlinking our content in a very intelligent and vertical-driven, page-optimized way. We’ve put a lot of engineering and product resources towards building a robust internal link structure that can also change as pages become more valuable in search.

“Outside links are very important, but they’re increasingly difficult to get. If you have good, unique content, and a strong internal link structure, I think you can get by with far fewer backlinks. Ranker has a lot of backlinks – we’re a big site – but we’ve never tactically gone out to build backlinks. And we get more than 30 million organic search visits per month.”

Ranker: How to make a Google algorithm-proof website

Think about how your content will appear to searchers

Benson emphasizes the importance of paying attention to basic on-site optimization like crafting good title tags and meta descriptions. These elements dictate how your website appears in the SERP to users when they search, and so will form the first impressions of your content.

“When it comes to creating new content, our editorial team definitely focuses on best practice with regards to title tags and meta descriptions – the basic stuff still applies,” says Benson. “Anyone doing editorial still needs to think about your content from the lens of the searcher.”

Optimizing for Google’s rich results and using Schema.org markup are additional ways that website owners can make sure that their website listing appears as attractive as possible to a searcher encountering it on the SERP.

The future is psychographic

What plans does Benson have for the future of Ranker? Up to now, the site has been concentrating mostly on search and social distribution (Facebook is another big source of organic traffic), but are now beginning to focus more on ad sales, media tie-ins and getting the brand name out there.

“We’re always focused on growing traffic, and we’re certainly investing a lot more into our brand,” says Benson.

However, the most exciting future project for Ranker is something called Ranker Insights – a psychographic interests platform which makes use of Ranker’s thousands of data points on what people are interested in and like to vote on.

Ranker: How to make a Google algorithm-proof website

Drawing connections between people’s interests on Ranker Insights

Big data on anything is extremely valuable in marketing, but big data on the things that people like is near enough invaluable – particularly in a world where psychographics (classifying people according to their attitudes, aspirations, and other aspects of their psychology) are increasingly more important than demographics (classifying people according to things like age, gender, race and nationality).

“The marketing world in general is steering a lot more towards psychographics rather than demographics,” says Benson. “Netflix doesn’t care what country you live in – when it comes to marketing or even recommendations, all they care about is your tastes. They stopped using demographics entirely years ago – and clearly they’re doing something right.

“We feel that in an interconnected world, what you like says at least as much about you as your age or your gender.

“And in a world where what you like tells people how to market to you and how to reach you, we have very, very granular, deep data on that front. There’s a lot of different applications for insights like this in a very data-driven world.”

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A guide to the standard reports in Google Analytics: Real-time reports

Google Analytics is a tool that can provide invaluable insights into what’s happening on your website, your levels of traffic and engagement, and the success of your campaigns.

However, to a newcomer to Google Analytics, the array of different reports available can seem a little overwhelming. Once you’ve got Google Analytics set up for your website, where do you look first? Where will you find the most useful data for your campaigns?

Reports on Google Analytics are broadly divided into two types. There are standard reports, which are the preset reports listed down the left-hand side of your dashboard, divided into the segments Real-Time, Audience, Acquisition, Behavior and Conversions.

The data that appears in these is predetermined by Google Analytics, but you also have the option to customize many of them, allowing you to use the standard reports as a base and then tweak them to your liking.

Then there are custom reports, which can either be created completely from scratch with whatever data you want to gather together in a single view, or created based on a standard report, with additional segments or filters added to tailor the report to your needs.

There are dozens of different standard reports available in Google Analytics, providing a wealth of insight into audience demographics, sources of traffic, content performance, campaign performance and much, much more.

In this series, we’re going to tackle the gargantuan task of explaining each segment of Google Analytics and the standard reports they contain. We’ll cover the data you can find within each standard report, and how it can be used in your marketing and SEO efforts.

First up are real-time reports. How do they work, and what kinds of campaigns are they useful for?

What are real-time reports?

As it says on the tin, the Real-Time Reports section in Google Analytics allows you to monitor activity on your site in real time, as it happens.

It can be a useful way of “taking the pulse” of your website in a specific moment, or tracking the response to a campaign in real-time. Just don’t get too obsessed with watching the numbers go up and down!

A visitor to your site qualifies for the real-time report if they have triggered an event, or pageview, within the last five minutes. This is different from the other types of standard report, where a session is defined by a 30-minute window.

The Real-Time Reports section is broken down into:

Overview

This is the big-picture view of what’s happening on your website at any given moment. The Real-Time Overview report shows how many users are currently active on your site, a list of the top active pages, top sources of referral traffic, top social traffic sources, the top locations that users are visiting from, and more.

Locations

This report drills deeper into the available data on where exactly in the world your users are accessing your website from.

A guide to the standard reports in Google Analytics: Real-time reports

In the initial view, this information is broken down by country, but if you select a country name from the list or the map of active users, you can ‘zoom in’ on exactly which cities your users are logging in from. If you select a city from the list or map, you can get even more granular and filter the data by that specific city.

Note that if you apply a country or city filter and then navigate to another report in the section, such as Traffic Sources, the data presented to you will continue to be filtered by that region until you opt to clear the filters.

A guide to the standard reports in Google Analytics: Real-time reports

Real-time location data can be useful if you’re running a campaign targeted at a specific region of the world and want to monitor its performance, or if you want to get a sense of where your users are accessing your website from at different times of day.

Traffic Sources

As the name indicates, this real-time report shows where on the web your visitors are coming to your site from.

The data is organized by medium (how the visitors are getting to your site – organic search, direct traffic, via email, via social media, and so on), source (where visitors are coming to your site from), and the number of active users – or, if you select the Page Views filter, the number of pageviews from that traffic source in the last 30 minutes.

This real-time report can be useful if, for example, you’ve had a few different mentions in the press recently and want to gauge which one is generating more traffic to your site, or if you’re running a social campaign and want to assess how well it’s working.

Content/Screens

The Content report (called Screens if you’re viewing analytics for a mobile app) shows which specific pages of your site visitors are currently active on, showing the page URL, the page title, and the number and percentage of active users on that page. Again, you can switch to viewing this by pageviews (or screen views) in the last 30 minutes instead of by active users.

Another handy feature of the real-time Content report is that it breaks down your user data by device, so you can see which percentage of visitors are accessing your site on desktop, mobile, and tablet.

A guide to the standard reports in Google Analytics: Real-time reports

Events

This report is useful if you’ve used Google Analytics’ Events feature to create custom events for interactions on your site – such as button clicks, downloads, video plays, ad clicks, and so on. More detailed, non-real-time data on Events can be found in the Behavior section of your Google Analytics dashboard.

You can then use the real-time data from this report to track the top events on your site as they occur, or switch to viewing those activated in the past 30 minutes. Google sub-divides these into Event Categories and Event Actions, and as with the Content report, also shows you the breakdown of which devices your visitors are using when they trigger Events.

Conversions

The Conversions report will track the real-time completion of any Goals you’ve set up in Google Analytics.

Goals are different to Events in that they track the completion of an activity that contributes to the success of your business, rather than just an interaction with your site. This can include making a purchase, filling in a sales form, subscribing to a mailing list, and so on. More detailed, non-real-time data about Goal completions can be found in the Conversions section of GA.

As with the previous two reports, the Real-Time Conversions report breaks down which devices your visitors are using when they convert, and also allows you to view the data by active users or by Goal Hits in the last 30 minutes.

How can you use real-time reports in your campaigns?

Testing and troubleshooting campaign setup

One very handy quick use for real-time reports in Google Analytics is to test that everything is set up and working correctly. Unlike with non-real-time reports, there’s no wait for data to begin displaying, so you can immediately tell if things are in order, or if there’s an issue you need to troubleshoot.

Maybe you’ve just set up a new tracking feature in GA, such as a new Event or Goal, and you want to make sure you’re registering the form submissions properly. Or you might have created a new tracking link for your email marketing campaign, and you want to test that it’s showing up in the reports as expected.

You can test these out by having someone from your team carry out the Event or Goal that you want to track, or click the link in your campaign email, and then monitoring real-time reports to make sure that the activity shows up correctly.

Monitor campaigns unfolding in real-time

As we mentioned earlier, it’s not always a good idea to get too bogged down in watching the numbers on your site go up and down – often, the best insights from a campaign can be gleaned after the fact, as it’s not always clear what’s taking place in the moment.

However, there are some types of campaign that benefit from real-time monitoring and influencing. For example, say you’re running a social campaign, and you want to adjust your level of activity in real time based on audience interaction.

Real-time reports are the best way for you to monitor this, and will tell you useful things like when activity from a post or a tweet has dropped off (meaning it’s time to push out the next one), turn on paid promotion, or ask influencers to give your campaign a boost.

Capitalize on what’s trending

You may also need to react in the moment to something that isn’t part of a pre-planned campaign. For example, sudden activity on a specific piece of content or on one of your social channels might alert you to a big press hit, or that particular topic suddenly being in the news.

Checking up on real-time reports every so often can tip you off to when this is happening, and allow you to respond in an agile fashion. If it’s a trending piece of content, you could spotlight it on your front page, or knock out a quick update or refresh.

If it’s a big press hit, you can monitor where the traffic is coming to your website from and plan how to capitalize on the attention: are lots of people finding you on Facebook? Can you update your Facebook page or push out some paid social advertising? If people are searching for your brand all of a sudden, now might be a good time to check how you appear for those search terms and if necessary, do some on-the-spot reputation management.

How do you make use of real-time reports in Google Analytics? If you have any novel ways of integrating these into a marketing campaign, share them in the comments!

A guide to the standard reports in Google Analytics: real-time reports

Google Analytics is a tool that can provide invaluable insights into what’s happening on your website, your levels of traffic and engagement, and the success of your campaigns.

However, to a newcomer to Google Analytics, the array of different reports available can seem a little overwhelming. Once you’ve got Google Analytics set up for your website, where do you look first? Where will you find the most useful data for your campaigns?

Reports on Google Analytics are broadly divided into two types. There are standard reports, which are the preset reports listed down the left-hand side of your dashboard, divided into the segments Real-Time, Audience, Acquisition, Behavior and Conversions.

The data that appears in these is predetermined by Google Analytics, but you also have the option to customize many of them, allowing you to use the standard reports as a base and then tweak them to your liking.

Then there are custom reports, which can either be created completely from scratch with whatever data you want to gather together in a single view, or created based on a standard report, with additional segments or filters added to tailor the report to your needs.

There are dozens of different standard reports available in Google Analytics, providing a wealth of insight into audience demographics, sources of traffic, content performance, campaign performance and much, much more.

In this series, we’re going to tackle the gargantuan task of explaining each segment of Google Analytics and the standard reports they contain. We’ll cover the data you can find within each standard report, and how it can be used in your marketing and SEO efforts.

First up are real-time reports. How do they work, and what kinds of campaigns are they useful for?

What are real-time reports?

As it says on the tin, the Real-Time Reports section in Google Analytics allows you to monitor activity on your site in real time, as it happens.

It can be a useful way of “taking the pulse” of your website in a specific moment, or tracking the response to a campaign in real-time. Just don’t get too obsessed with watching the numbers go up and down!

A visitor to your site qualifies for the real-time report if they have triggered an event, or pageview, within the last five minutes. This is different from the other types of standard report, where a session is defined by a 30-minute window.

The Real-Time Reports section is broken down into:

Overview

This is the big-picture view of what’s happening on your website at any given moment. The Real-Time Overview report shows how many users are currently active on your site, a list of the top active pages, top sources of referral traffic, top social traffic sources, the top locations that users are visiting from, and more.

Locations

This report drills deeper into the available data on where exactly in the world your users are accessing your website from.

A guide to the standard reports in Google Analytics: real-time reports

In the initial view, this information is broken down by country, but if you select a country name from the list or the map of active users, you can ‘zoom in’ on exactly which cities your users are logging in from. If you select a city from the list or map, you can get even more granular and filter the data by that specific city.

Note that if you apply a country or city filter and then navigate to another report in the section, such as Traffic Sources, the data presented to you will continue to be filtered by that region until you opt to clear the filters.

A guide to the standard reports in Google Analytics: real-time reports

Real-time location data can be useful if you’re running a campaign targeted at a specific region of the world and want to monitor its performance, or if you want to get a sense of where your users are accessing your website from at different times of day.

Traffic Sources

As the name indicates, this real-time report shows where on the web your visitors are coming to your site from.

The data is organized by medium (how the visitors are getting to your site – organic search, direct traffic, via email, via social media, and so on), source (where visitors are coming to your site from), and the number of active users – or, if you select the Page Views filter, the number of pageviews from that traffic source in the last 30 minutes.

This real-time report can be useful if, for example, you’ve had a few different mentions in the press recently and want to gauge which one is generating more traffic to your site, or if you’re running a social campaign and want to assess how well it’s working.

Content/Screens

The Content report (called Screens if you’re viewing analytics for a mobile app) shows which specific pages of your site visitors are currently active on, showing the page URL, the page title, and the number and percentage of active users on that page. Again, you can switch to viewing this by pageviews (or screen views) in the last 30 minutes instead of by active users.

Another handy feature of the real-time Content report is that it breaks down your user data by device, so you can see which percentage of visitors are accessing your site on desktop, mobile, and tablet.

A guide to the standard reports in Google Analytics: real-time reports

Events

This report is useful if you’ve used Google Analytics’ Events feature to create custom events for interactions on your site – such as button clicks, downloads, video plays, ad clicks, and so on. More detailed, non-real-time data on Events can be found in the Behavior section of your Google Analytics dashboard.

You can then use the real-time data from this report to track the top events on your site as they occur, or switch to viewing those activated in the past 30 minutes. Google sub-divides these into Event Categories and Event Actions, and as with the Content report, also shows you the breakdown of which devices your visitors are using when they trigger Events.

Conversions

The Conversions report will track the real-time completion of any Goals you’ve set up in Google Analytics.

Goals are different to Events in that they track the completion of an activity that contributes to the success of your business, rather than just an interaction with your site. This can include making a purchase, filling in a sales form, subscribing to a mailing list, and so on. More detailed, non-real-time data about Goal completions can be found in the Conversions section of GA.

As with the previous two reports, the Real-Time Conversions report breaks down which devices your visitors are using when they convert, and also allows you to view the data by active users or by Goal Hits in the last 30 minutes.

How can you use real-time reports in your campaigns?

Testing and troubleshooting campaign setup

One very handy quick use for real-time reports in Google Analytics is to test that everything is set up and working correctly. Unlike with non-real-time reports, there’s no wait for data to begin displaying, so you can immediately tell if things are in order, or if there’s an issue you need to troubleshoot.

Maybe you’ve just set up a new tracking feature in GA, such as a new Event or Goal, and you want to make sure you’re registering the form submissions properly. Or you might have created a new tracking link for your email marketing campaign, and you want to test that it’s showing up in the reports as expected.

You can test these out by having someone from your team carry out the Event or Goal that you want to track, or click the link in your campaign email, and then monitoring real-time reports to make sure that the activity shows up correctly.

Monitor campaigns unfolding in real-time

As we mentioned earlier, it’s not always a good idea to get too bogged down in watching the numbers on your site go up and down – often, the best insights from a campaign can be gleaned after the fact, as it’s not always clear what’s taking place in the moment.

However, there are some types of campaign that benefit from real-time monitoring and influencing. For example, say you’re running a social campaign, and you want to adjust your level of activity in real time based on audience interaction.

Real-time reports are the best way for you to monitor this, and will tell you useful things like when activity from a post or a tweet has dropped off (meaning it’s time to push out the next one), turn on paid promotion, or ask influencers to give your campaign a boost.

Capitalize on what’s trending

You may also need to react in the moment to something that isn’t part of a pre-planned campaign. For example, sudden activity on a specific piece of content or on one of your social channels might alert you to a big press hit, or that particular topic suddenly being in the news.

Checking up on real-time reports every so often can tip you off to when this is happening, and allow you to respond in an agile fashion. If it’s a trending piece of content, you could spotlight it on your front page, or knock out a quick update or refresh.

If it’s a big press hit, you can monitor where the traffic is coming to your website from and plan how to capitalize on the attention: are lots of people finding you on Facebook? Can you update your Facebook page or push out some paid social advertising? If people are searching for your brand all of a sudden, now might be a good time to check how you appear for those search terms and if necessary, do some on-the-spot reputation management.

How do you make use of real-time reports in Google Analytics? If you have any novel ways of integrating these into a marketing campaign, share them in the comments!

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Pricesearcher: The biggest search engine you’ve never heard of

“Hey Siri, what is the cost of an iPad near me?”

In today’s internet, a number of specialist search engines exist to help consumers search for and compare things within a specific niche.

As well as search engines like Google and Bing which crawl the entire web, we have powerful vertical-specific search engines like Skyscanner, Moneysupermarket and Indeed that specialize in surfacing flights, insurance quotes, jobs, and more.

Powerful though web search engines can be, they aren’t capable of delivering the same level of dedicated coverage within a particular industry that vertical search engines are. As a result, many vertical-specific search engines have become go-to destinations for finding a particular type of information – above and beyond even the all-powerful Google.

Yet until recently, one major market remained unsearchable: prices.

If you ask Siri to tell you the cost of an iPad near you, she won’t be able to provide you with an answer, because she doesn’t have the data. Until now, a complete view of prices on the internet has never existed.

Enter Pricesearcher, a search engine that has set out to solve this problem by indexing all of the world’s prices. Pricesearcher provides searchers with detailed information on products, prices, price histories, payment and delivery information, as well as reviews and buyers’ guides to aid in making a purchase decision.

Founder and CEO Samuel Dean calls Pricesearcher “The biggest search engine you’ve never heard of.” Search Engine Watch recently paid a visit to the Pricesearcher offices to find about the story behind the first search engine for prices, the technical challenge of indexing prices, and why the future of search is vertical.

Pricesearcher: The early days

A product specialist by background, Samuel Dean spent 16 years in the world of ecommerce. He previously held a senior role at eBay as Head of Distributed Ecommerce, and has carried out contract work for companies including Powa Technologies, Inviqa and the UK government department UK Trade & Investment (UKTI).

He first began developing the idea for Pricesearcher in 2011, purchasing the domain Pricesearcher.com in the same year. However, it would be some years before Dean began work on Pricesearcher full-time. Instead, he spent the next few years taking advantage of his ecommerce connections to research the market and understand the challenges he might encounter with the project.

“My career in e-commerce was going great, so I spent my time talking to retailers, speaking with advisors – speaking to as many people as possible that I could access,” explains Dean. “I wanted to do this without pressure, so I gave myself the time to formulate the plan whilst juggling contracting and raising my kids.”

More than this, Dean wanted to make sure that he took the time to get Pricesearcher absolutely right. “We knew we had something that could be big,” he says. “And if you’re going to put your name on a vertical, you take responsibility for it.”

Dean describes himself as a “fan of directories”, relating how he used to pore over the Yellow Pages telephone directory as a child. His childhood also provided the inspiration for Pricesearcher in that his family had very little money while he was growing up, and so they needed to make absolutely sure they got the best price for everything.

Dean wanted to build Pricesearcher to be the tool that his family had needed – a way to know the exact cost of products at a glance, and easily find the cheapest option.

“The world of technology is so advanced – we have self-driving cars and rockets to Mars, yet the act of finding a single price for something across all locations is so laborious. Which I think is ridiculous,” he explains.

Despite how long it took to bring Pricesearcher to inception, Dean wasn’t worried that someone else would launch a competitor search engine before him.

“Technically, it’s a huge challenge,” he says – and one that very few people have been willing to tackle.

There is a significant lack of standardization in the ecommerce space, in the way that retailers list their products, the format that they present them in, and even the barcodes that they use. But rather than solve this by implementing strict formatting requirements for retailers to list their products, making them do the hard work of being present on Pricesearcher (as Google and Amazon do), Pricesearcher was more than willing to come to the retailers.

“Our technological goal was to make listing products on Pricesearcher as easy as uploading photos to Facebook,” says Dean.

As a result, most of the early days of Pricesearcher were devoted to solving these technical challenges for retailers, and standardizing everything as much as possible.

In 2014, Dean found his first collaborator to work with him on the project: Raja Akhtar, a PHP developer working on a range of ecommerce projects, who came on board as Pricesearcher’s Head of Web Development.

Dean found Akhtar through the freelance website People Per Hour, and the two began working on Pricesearcher together in their spare time, putting together the first lines of code in 2015. The beta version of Pricesearcher launched the following year.

For the first few years, Pricesearcher operated on a shoestring budget, funded entirely out of Dean’s own pocket. However, this didn’t mean that there was any compromise in quality.

“We had to build it like we had much more funding than we did,” says Dean.

They focused on making the user experience natural, and on building a tool that could process any retailer product feed regardless of format. Dean knew that Pricesearcher had to be the best product it could possibly be in order to be able to compete in the same industry as the likes of Google.

“Google has set the bar for search – you have to be at least as good, or be irrelevant,” he says.

PriceBot and price data

Pricesearcher initially built up its index by directly processing product feeds from retailers. Some early retail partners who joined the search engine in its first year included Amazon, Argos, IKEA, JD Sports, Currys and Mothercare. (As a UK-based search engine, Pricesearcher has primarily focused on indexing UK retailers, but plans to expand more internationally in the near future).

In the early days, indexing products with Pricesearcher was a fairly lengthy process, taking about 5 hours per product feed. Dean and Akhtar knew that they needed to scale things up dramatically, and in 2015 began working with a freelance dev ops engineer, Vlassios Rizopoulos, to do just that.

Rizopoulos’ work sped up the process of indexing a product feed from 5 hours to around half an hour, and then to under a minute. In 2017 Rizopoulos joined the company as its CTO, and in the same year launched Pricesearcher’s search crawler, PriceBot. This opened up a wealth of additional opportunities for Pricesearcher, as the bot was able to crawl any retailers who didn’t come to them directly, and from there, start a conversation.

“We’re open about crawling websites with PriceBot,” says Dean. “Retailers can choose to block the bot if they want to, or submit a feed to us instead.”

For Pricesearcher, product feeds are preferable to crawl data, but PriceBot provides an option for retailers who don’t have the technical resources to submit a product feed, as well as opening up additional business opportunities. PriceBot crawls the web daily to get data, and many retailers have requested that PriceBot crawl them more frequently in order to get the most up-to-date prices.

Between the accelerated processing speed and the additional opportunities opened up by PriceBot, Pricesearcher’s index went from 4 million products in late 2016 to 500 million in August 2017, and now numbers more than 1.1 billion products. Pricesearcher is currently processing 2,500 UK retailers through PriceBot, and another 4,000 using product feeds.

All of this gives Pricesearcher access to more pricing data than has ever been accumulated in one place – Dean is proud to state that Pricesearcher has even more data at its disposal than eBay. The data set is unique, as no-one else has set out to accumulate this kind of data about pricing, and the possible insights and applications are endless.

At Brighton SEO in September 2017, Dean and Rizopoulos gave a presentation entitled, ‘What we have learnt from indexing over half a billion products’, presenting data insights from Pricesearcher’s initial 500 million product listings.

The insights are fascinating for both retailers and consumers: for example, Pricesearcher found that the average length of a product title was 48 characters (including spaces), with product descriptions averaging 522 characters, or 90 words.

Pricesearcher: The biggest search engine you’ve never heard of

Less than half of the products indexed – 44.9% – included shipping costs as an additional field, and two-fifths of products (40.2%) did not provide dimensions such as size and color.

Between December 2016 and September 2017, Pricesearcher also recorded 4 billion price changes globally, with the UK ranking top as the country with the most price changes – one every six days.

It isn’t just Pricesearcher who have visibility over this data – users of the search engine can benefit from it, too. On February 2nd, Pricesearcher launched a new beta feed which displays a pricing history graph next to each product.

This allows consumers to see exactly what the price of a product has been throughout its history – every rise, every discount – and use this to make a judgement about when the best time is to buy.

Pricesearcher: The biggest search engine you’ve never heard of

“The product history data levels the playing field for retailers,” explains Dean. “Retailers want their customers to know when they have a sale on. This way, any retailer who offers a good price can let consumers know about it – not just the big names.

“And again, no-one else has this kind of data.”

As well as giving visibility over pricing changes and history, Pricesearcher provides several other useful functions for shoppers, including the ability to filter by whether a seller accepts PayPal, delivery information and a returns link.

This is, of course, if retailers make this information available to be featured on Pricesearcher. The data from Pricesearcher’s initial 500 million products shed light on many areas where crucial information was missing from a product listing, which can negatively impact a retailer’s visibility on the search engine.

Like all search engines, Pricesearcher has ranking algorithms, and there are certain steps that retailers can take to optimize for Pricesearcher, and give themselves the best chance of a high ranking.

With that in mind, how does ‘Pricesearcher SEO’ work?

How to rank on Pricesearcher

At this stage in its development, Pricesearcher wants to remove the mystery around how retailers can rank well on its search engine. Pricesearcher’s Retail Webmaster and Head of Search, Paul Lovell, is currently focused on developing ranking factors for Pricesearcher, and conceptualizing an ideal product feed.

The team are also working with select SEO agencies to educate them on what a good product feed looks like, and educating retailers about how they can improve their product listings to aid their Pricesearcher ranking.

Retailers can choose to either go down the route of optimizing their product feed for Pricesearcher and submitting that, or optimizing their website for the crawler. In the latter case, only a website’s product pages are of interest to Pricesearcher, so optimizing for Pricesearcher translates into optimizing product pages to make sure all of the important information is present.

Pricesearcher: The biggest search engine you’ve never heard of

At the most basic level, retailers need to have the following fields in order to rank on Pricesearcher: A brand, a detailed product title, and a product description. Category-level information (e.g. garden furniture) also needs to be present – Pricesearcher’s data from its initial 500 million products found that category-level information was not provided in 7.9% of cases.

If retailers submit location data as well, Pricesearcher can list results that are local to the user. Additional fields that can help retailers rank are product quantity, delivery charges, and time to deliver – in short, the more data, the better.

A lot of ‘regular’ search engine optimization tactics also work for Pricesearcher – for example, implementing schema.org markup is very beneficial in communicating to the crawler which fields are relevant to it.

It’s not only retailers who can rank on Pricesearcher; retail-relevant webpages like reviews and buying guides are also featured on the search engine. Pricesearcher’s goal is to provide people with as much information as possible to make a purchase decision, but that decision doesn’t need to be made on Pricesearcher – ultimately, converting a customer is seen as the retailer’s job.

Given Pricesearcher’s role as a facilitator of online purchases, an affiliate model where the search engine earns a commission for every customer it refers who ends up converting seems like a natural way to make money. Smaller search engines like DuckDuckGo have similar models in place to drive revenue.

However, Dean is adamant that this would undermine the neutrality of Pricesearcher, as there would then be an incentive for the search engine to promote results from retailers who had an affiliate model in place.

Instead, Pricesearcher is working on building a PPC model for launch in 2019. The search engine is planning to offer intent-based PPC to retailers, which would allow them to opt in to find out about returning customers, and serve an offer to customers who return and show interest in a product.

Other than PPC, what else is on the Pricesearcher roadmap for the next few years? In a word: lots.

The future of search is vertical

The first phase of Pricesearcher’s journey was all about data acquisition – partnering with retailers, indexing product feeds, and crawling websites. Now, the team are shifting their focus to data science, applying AI and machine learning to Pricesearcher’s vast dataset.

Head of Search Paul Lovell is an analytics expert, and the team are recruiting additional data scientists to work on Pricesearcher, creating training data that will teach machine learning algorithms how to process the dataset.

“It’s easy to deploy AI too soon,” says Dean, “but you need to make sure you develop a strong baseline first, so that’s what we’re doing.”

Pricesearcher will be out of beta by December of this year, by which time the team intend to have all of the prices in the UK (yes, all of them!) listed in Pricesearcher’s index. After the search engine is fully launched, the team will be able to learn from user search volume and use that to refine the search engine.

Pricesearcher: The biggest search engine you’ve never heard of

The Pricesearcher rocket ship – founder Samuel Dean built this by hand to represent the Pricesearcher mission. It references a comment made by Eric Shmidt to Sheryl Sandberg when she interviewed at Google. When she told him that the role didn’t meet any of her criteria and asked why should she work there, he replied: “If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.”

At the moment, Pricesearcher is still a well-kept secret, although retailers are letting people know that they’re listed on Pricesearcher, and the search engine receives around 1 million organic searches on a monthly basis, with an average of 4.5 searches carried out per user.

Voice and visual search are both on the Pricesearcher roadmap; voice is likely to arrive first, as a lot of APIs for voice search are already in place that allow search engines to provide their data to the likes of Alexa, Siri and Cortana. However, Pricesearcher are also keen to hop on the visual search bandwagon as Google Lens and Pinterest Lens gain traction.

Going forward, Dean is extremely confident about the game-changing potential of Pricesearcher, and moreover, believes that the future of the industry lies in vertical search. He points out that in December 2016, Google’s parent company Alphabet specifically identified vertical search as one of the biggest threats to Google.

“We already carry out ‘specialist searches’ in our offline world, by talking to people who are experts in their particular field,” says Dean.

“We should live in a world of vertical search – and I think we’ll see many more specialist search engines in the future.”

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How to deliver a data-driven search marketing strategy using customer intent trends

Where is the biggest opportunity in marketing at the moment?

According to Sophie Moule, Head of Marketing at Pi Datametrics, it’s the sheer amount of customer data that we can get from search.

With 3.5 billion searches per day being carried out by Google, not to mention on vertical-specific websites like Amazon, YouTube and Pinterest, there is a huge sea of data available on customer intent which marketers should be taking advantage of.

But what is the best way to go about doing so? Having reams of data available to you is all well and good, but as any marketer knows, the tricky part is in knowing exactly how to sort through that data, find trends, and apply it to your marketing strategy.

If you can get it right, however, it can elevate the topic of SEO within your business and bring about great results.

At the Figaro Digital Marketing Summit in London, Moule gave a jam-packed presentation on exactly how to look for customer intent trends in search data, and how to align your marketing strategy with these trends to take advantage of research and buying behaviors at exactly the right time.

Data, data, data

The evolution of search on the web has been driven by data. All of the major developments in web search – from localization to personalization to the rise of mobile – are being powered by a huge epicenter of data.

Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines use data from their users’ searches to learn about habits, language usage, search intent and more, and develop their search platforms based on what they’ve found.

But search engines aren’t the only ones who can use the data behind search to evolve their approach; marketers can too.

Tools like Google Trends, Google Insights for Search, Google Keyword Planner and Pi Datametrics, can produce data that gives a view of search trends over time. Using this data, search marketers can:

  • Discover customer trends – Uncover peaks and troughs in when customers search for things
  • Hone in on commercially valuable keywords – By adding another layer of data using cost per click and competition information, marketers can concentrate on the keywords that have buying intent
  • Analyze patterns – Go back in time to see how trends have evolved (Moule gave the example of “make-up” becoming a top search for the Beauty industry between 2014 and 2017, when a new market of buyers came online thanks to the popular explosion of beauty YouTubers).

By analyzing the share of SERP real estate between different companies in your target market, you can also find out exactly who is capitalizing on these searches. This shows where it might be better to sell and advertise your products as a brand, by indicating which stockists, partner stores and publications have the greatest visibility.

How to deliver a data-driven search marketing strategy using customer intent trends

Looking at the share of voice in the beauty sector, we can learn that stocking our make-up products with Superdrug instead of Boots would provide better visibility, as Superdrug pulls in more traffic and impressions online in the make-up category.

This also gives an overview of the vast array of different companies competing for attention within the space – showing that your competition online may be very different to the competition you had in your head.

Using search trends to build strategies (plan, influence, peak, repeat)

By looking at the peaks and troughs in search volume data over time, Moule explained that search marketers can plan their campaigns around different phases of the buyer journey.

She called this approach “Plan, Influence, Peak, Repeat” – identifying when you need to be planning; seeing when people are ready to be influenced; identifying peak buying trends; and finally assessing whether a pattern will repeat, or whether it was a one-off fad.

As an example, let’s take a look at a search trend graph for the term “festival clothing” over a period of two years. This is an event-triggered trend, so the same pattern is likely to recur year-on-year:

How to deliver a data-driven search marketing strategy using customer intent trends

The peak purchase times in this graph are easy to isolate, but your products don’t only need to be in front of consumers at these times. The trough periods, where search volume is lowest, are a good time to plan ahead, take stock of your content, consider how you want to target consumers, and make sure it’s optimized and published early before buying interest starts to climb.

Then, we enter the influence, or research phase (marked out in red in the above graph). “This is probably even more crucial for the digital department than it is for the search team,” said Moule. “Very few businesses actually capitalize on this research phase.

“I’ve so frequently seen people planning all their marketing campaigns around the peak, and not far enough in advance of it.”

Collectively, there are more searches taking place during this build-up than there are during the peak itself – representing a huge number of opportunities for customers to encounter your brand. This means that your site and content need to be ready to appear in front of consumers before they hit the research phase.

CPCs are also much lower during the research period as competition drops off – so if you’re willing to invest more in brand awareness than direct conversions, you can take advantage of the lower rates, and generate interest that will pay off during the peak period.

This means that by the time both sales and CPCs peak, you won’t have to worry about targeting consumers as aggressively, because you’ll have already laid the groundwork for orders and sales coming through.

How to deliver a data-driven search marketing strategy using customer intent trends

Activating paid media during this period also brings a healthy amount of traffic to your site, which can build up a strong cookie pool for retargeting later on. You can then use that pool during the peak period, whether that be in retargeting display, RLSA, or retargeting email campaigns, and pull in conversions in a much more efficient way.

This data can further be used to benefit the rest of your organization, beyond the digital and SEO teams. What can you expect from the season to come? Is it the same as what we saw last season? Is there anything that might trigger slightly different trends? The influencer period is also a key merchandising period, so you should make sure that the products people might be researching are front of store, and displayed prominently on your website.

Then, in the aftermath of the peak sales period, you can determine when demand is dying down and it’s time to discount and sell off your stock. If your data tells you that you can expect another peak later in the year, however, you might want to hold onto that stock for later.

Customer data: Giving context to the searches

All of the “star performers” in retail put search data first when they build their strategies, said Moule – feeding it in an intelligent way to all of their channels. This gives teams a framework of data that they can plan around, instead of trying to retroactively crowbar it into plans that have already been set in stone.

Moule advised that you can give your data even more “oomph” by integrating it with other datasets, such as social conversations, and customer research. These kinds of datasets can give a vital context to the trends you’re seeing from search data – allowing you to understand not just which trends are taking place and when, but why.

This is important, because if you can determine the external influences on your market, you can predict and prepare for them in the future.

As an added benefit, these kinds of data sets can help you get buy-in for your strategy from other parts of the business, who might be less familiar with search data, but feel more confident basing their decisions on social or customer research data.

A case study in aligning datasets

An excellent example of how this can work in practice is a case study carried out by Pi Datametrics with social listening tool Brandwatch, which used social discussions to give context to search trend data about personal debt.

How to deliver a data-driven search marketing strategy using customer intent trends

Looking at the search trend data, Pi found it easy to identify some patterns, most notably that searches about personal debt regularly peak around January of each year.

This is to be expected following the heavy spending period of Christmas, where people might splash out on gifts for their loved ones, only to find themselves facing a mounting credit card bill come January.

When Brandwatch dived deeper into the tweets that were being sent out around that time, they found that many of the conversations revolved around getting debt-free as a new year’s resolution. Not only did this validate the patterns that both companies were seeing in the search data, it also added a layer of sentiment analysis to the dataset.

When compared alongside search data, social data can further give an insight into the diversity of conversations taking place in your industry.

Pi and Brandwatch found that people’s searches were heavily focused on mortgages and credit cards, but on social media, the conversation was very evenly spread across the spectrum of personal finance topics: everything from student debt, to going debt-free, to bankruptcy and debt collectors.

How to deliver a data-driven search marketing strategy using customer intent trends

“If I were a brand in the financial sector, I might look at this and think, ‘Am I creating enough content to be able to join in with all these types of conversations?’” said Moule. The diversity of social conversations can give you many more opportunities to get your brand in front of people.

Key takeaways

To sum up, here are the key points to remember when delivering a data-driven search marketing strategy:

  • Think of the customer needs first, and technology after
  • Use search trends as customer research data
  • Look at value, not just volume
  • Get organizational buy-in for your data for aligned planning
  • Integrate with other datasets for a truer view of customer intent.
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The rise of Answer Engine Optimization: Why voice search matters

Search engine optimization, better known as SEO, has been around since the 1990s.

More than two decades later, we still talk about optimizing for the likes of Google and Bing as ‘SEO’. The tactics may have evolved, the landscape may have changed, but the overarching principles remain the same – right?

According to Chee Lo, Head of SEO at Trustpilot, and Jason Barnard, SEO consultant at Kalicube.pro, search engine optimization is no longer the only game in town.

In a recent webinar, the two experts explained how the rise of voice search is transforming search engines into “answer engines”, which require a different strategy and set of ingredients for success. This strategy has come to be known as AEO, or “answer engine optimization”.

So how does AEO differ from the time-tested discipline of SEO? Why is it important? And how can SEOs go about optimizing for answer engines?

What is answer engine optimization?

Many of us in the industry have noted and commented on the shift by search engines, particularly Google, towards providing one, definitive answer to searches. Innovations like featured snippets and Knowledge Graph have contributed to Google’s aim of providing the answer to a search query without requiring a user to click through to another website.

Voice search accentuates this shift, with the vast majority of voice searches receiving a single answer read out by a digital assistant. On mobile, some voice searches will display a results page if there isn’t a definitive answer to be found, but for smart home hub devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home which rarely have screens, this isn’t an option.

Therefore, the search engine needs to be able to provide a single answer, or none at all.

Some of the techniques required to optimize for answer engines overlap with search optimization techniques, but there are differences in the underlying mentality.

Jason Barnard emphasized that the key to answer engine optimization is in specifics: letting Google (or another answer engine) understand what it is that you’re offering.

“It’s very important to bear in mind that if Google is to give a specific answer, it needs very specific, detailed information in order to present it.

“In the example of a pizza, if somebody says, ‘I would like the cheapest pizza in the area’, Google needs to know what the prices of the pizzas are in the shops around. If they say, ‘I want pepperoni pizza’, it would be really helpful if Google knew the menu.

“And if you ask for a pepperoni pizza, and Google knows that one pizzeria does it but isn’t sure if the other one does, it will present the one it knows offers pepperoni pizza. That’s the idea of specifics.”

Why is answer engine optimization important?

AEO is not going to replace SEO, but it is becoming increasingly important for marketers to learn how to optimize for answer engines as well as search engines due to (all together now…) the rise of voice search.

Lo and Barnard cited some compelling statistics to illustrate the accelerating momentum of voice search. In the UK alone, 42% of the population uses voice search on a daily basis, up from 25% four years ago. Even more notably, the engagement with digital assistants Alexa and Cortana has seen a fourfold increase in the past year.

The rise of Answer Engine Optimization: Why voice search matters

A quick straw poll of the webinar attendees revealed that 26% of those tuning in had used voice search in the past week, while 6% had used it that very day.

A further 18% had used voice search that month, while 25% remembered using it sometime in the last year. Only 25% of attendees (though still a significant proportion) had never used voice search at all.

The rise of Answer Engine Optimization: Why voice search matters

To those of us in the industry, it might seem as though we’ve been discussing “the rise of voice search” for some time. Yet search practitioners are still justifiably divided on whether or not voice search is worth optimizing for.

However, if I had to make a prediction, I would say that 2018 is the year that voice search will attain critical mass. Google and Amazon have both shown that they are willing to put their full weight behind voice-controlled smart home hub technology, with Amazon pushing its popular range of Amazon Echo devices and Google announcing big developments for the Google Home at CES 2018.

Not to be outdone, Apple and Facebook have each announced their own smart home devices: the Apple HomePod, which is due to launch in the US at the end of this week, and the Portal, a smart home speaker with a screen to rival the Echo Show.

Voice-controlled devices are only going to become more prevalent, and the way for brands to be present on voice devices is through answer engine optimization.

How does AEO differ from SEO?

As I mentioned earlier, answer engine optimization (AEO) and search engine optimization (SEO) definitely overlap, and techniques that work for one will often work for the other.

AEO doesn’t require you to throw out everything you understand about SEO. After all, Google and Bing are the same entities whether they’re powering search on a desktop computer or on a smart home device; they just apply slightly different rules.

Chee Lo emphasized that communication and credibility are fundamental to both AEO and SEO. Both disciplines require that you communicate what your business is about, and both require you to be credible – when we talk about the importance of domain authority in SEO, for instance, what we’re really talking about is credibility.

However, Lo posited that the underlying difference between AEO and SEO is that AEO is driven by strategy, while SEO is driven by tactics.

“SEO can be seen as a tactics-based approach, where you’re using specific tactics to improve your online presence,” he said. “AEO is more about the holistic vision.”

Ultimately, marketers need to carry out both AEO and SEO in order to ensure that their brand has a presence across all devices.

“Just to be clear, we’re not saying, ‘Only optimize for answer engines’,” said Barnard. “You must continue to optimize for search engines, because desktop and mobile will continue to exist alongside the answer engines.

“However, starting to build for answer engine optimization is vital in order to survive in a world where voice will take a bigger part of the market.”

How to optimize for answer engines

With all of that established, what practical steps can marketers take to optimize their content for voice search and answer engines?

Communicate what you’re about

Despite what it might seem, the vast amount of information on the internet is not easy for Google and other answer engines to index.

“What we often fail to understand is that information on the web is very fragmented,” explained Barnard. “It’s often inaccurate, and it’s not practical at all for a machine to digest.”

Websites are coded in vastly different ways, he explained, and ultimately Google can only rely on the information in front of it to determine what the information means, whether or not it’s accurate, and what the relationships are between different entities.

The rise of Answer Engine Optimization: Why voice search matters

We’ve discussed this topic before with a piece on how to speak ‘search engine’ and the necessity for webmasters to “put the definition around the cow”, so that Google knows exactly what it’s looking at, and can interpret and serve it to users in the right way.

This is important for SEO, but is even more crucial for AEO, where the questions that Google receives and the answers it gives in return are becoming more and more specific. Therefore, the first thing that you need to do is give it accurate information about you.

“The strategy of AEO starts with the idea of making sure that Google understands your content,” said Barnard.

Two powerful tools that you can use to achieve this are semantic HTML5 and structured data markup.

Semantic HTML5

Semantic HTML5, as Barnard explained it, works by dividing up a page into sections, and each section has a specific role which is identified in a standard manner. Google then knows which sections to pay attention to, and which to ignore.

Barnard has penned an essential guide to semantic HTML5 for content writers which goes into more detail about how to apply HTML5 to your content, and another guide which is aimed at developers.

Schema.org structured data markup

Schema.org markup was developed by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo! and Yandex as a universal “language” to help search engines understand content. This doesn’t replace HTML coding, but works in conjunction with it.

There are three major types of schema.org markup: microdata, RDFa, and JSON-LD. Our comprehensive beginner’s guide to schema.org markup introduces each of the different types and walks through how to use them on your website.

You are the best source of information about yourself, Barnard advised; all you need to do is tell Google who you are and what you do, and be truthful. “Once Google has understood you, it can offer you as a potential answer.”

Establish your credibility

The second big component of answer engine optimization is credibility. Credibility gives answer engines confidence in their results; the more credible the source of an answer, the more Google et al can trust that it is accurate and worth providing to their users.

“It’s important to remember that when somebody asks a question, whether they type it or whether they speak it, they’re asking for the solution to a problem, or the answer to a question,” said Barnard.

“Google’s aim, and Bing’s aim, is to give them access to that answer, or that solution, as quickly as possible. So their aim is to put the best at the top.

“Once it’s understood that you are able to provide the answer, or the solution, if it’s confident that you’re a credible solution, it will put you at the top.”

The rise of Answer Engine Optimization: Why voice search matters

Domain authority, the traditional marker of credibility in SEO, is now giving way to brand authority as Google is increasingly able to determine a brand’s reputation from mentions, reviews and other markers that don’t require a link.

“The idea that Google only relies on links today is false,” said Barnard. “Google relies on links, still, but as long as it’s understood who you are, it can link a mention of your brand name to you.

“And then positive feedback from clients – review platforms, but also social media. A buzz around your brand – if the buzz is positive, that’s obviously a very strong signal to Google.

“So, understanding plus credibility equals brand authority. If you don’t improve your brand authority, your mid to long-term AEO strategy is doomed to failure.”

No pressure, then! Fortunately, Lo and Barnard also gave plenty of tips as to how you can go about establishing your credibility in the eyes of answer engines.

Reviews: it’s about quantity as much as quality

You need to make sure the reviews of your brand are positive, but Lo noted that people also look for a brand that has served plenty of consumers, and are more likely to opt for a company with a lower rating that has twice as many reviews than a company with a high rating that has fewer reviews.

The rise of Answer Engine Optimization: Why voice search matters

Add yourself to trusted sources

Getting a mention from a trusted source isn’t something that’s completely out of your control. WikiData, the database behind Wikipedia, is very important to Google as a credible source of information – and you can add yourself to it.

The same goes for Crunchbase, a database of innovative companies and the people behind them, on which you can create your own profile. Government websites and business associations are other, trusted sources in your niche that Google can use to confirm that you’re credible.

Niche mentions still carry weight

“You don’t need to think big” when it comes to getting mentions of your business, Barnard advised. If you can get a positive mention of your business on a website that’s relevant to your niche, that carries plenty of weight – you don’t need to be name-dropped by the New York Times or the BBC.

Correct inaccuracies

You should make sure all the information about your brand that you control is accurate – but you can also do something to correct inaccuracies on external websites. If someone has talked about you on a website and it’s inaccurate, you can contact them and ask them to change it.

Some quick wins for AEO

Here are some ‘quick wins’ that you can achieve with regard to answer engine optimization:

  • Communicate using semantic HTML5 and structured data markup (schema.org)
  • Ensure that the information you provide is corroborated by trusted third parties
  • Improve your credibility through mentions, links, and reviews on:
    • Social media platforms
    • High-traffic sites
    • Authoritative sites
    • Third-party review sites
    • Relevant niche brands

Conclusion

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this article, but ultimately, there are a few fundamental points to take away.

“The single most important thing in AEO and in SEO is communicating about your brand, protecting it and promoting it,” said Jason Barnard.

Communicating what your brand does feeds into making it credible, as Google can apply credibility signals only if it understands your brand.

Barnard emphasized that improving brand authority should be the focal point of your marketing efforts, as efforts in this area will also benefit your other marketing channels.

You can check on the status of your brand authority by finding out what results Google, or Bing, returns for “opinion” searches for your brand – i.e. “[brand name] + review”. Ask yourself why these results are appearing – is it because your brand is bad, or because the answer engine has misunderstood information about your brand? If so, correct it.

Google still struggles to understand brands – which means there are great advantages to be had if you can get Google to understand your brand.

“It’s not a question of cheating, or gaming the system,” said Barnard. “Google wants to understand, so if you can explain to it what it is you do, and that you’re credible, it’s very happy.”

Of course, every brand believes that it is credible, but the challenge is in proving it to Google. “In order to prove that you’re credible, you have to make sure that information is online and that Google has seen it.”

Barnard observed that in the new realm of brand authority and answer engines, we’ve moved away from link-building and machine-oriented tactics, towards a “more human” world of traditional marketing strategies like press relations.

“We’ve gone away from creating content for search engines, and we’re now creating content to create context, and create credibility in what it is we’re doing. And I find that incredibly encouraging.”

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Automation, AdWords and Amazon: Ashley Fletcher on the future of paid search

In 2017, Google rolled out 43 separate updates and changes to its AdWords platform. 

From showing local information to display ads to the launch of Smart Display campaigns to visibility over landing page performance, each update from Google – whether big or small – has an impact on the way that PPC practitioners and search marketers go about their craft.

Going by the major announcements we’ve already seen from Google in January, with the roll-out of an Actions directory for the Google Assistant, home hubs with smart screens, and a significant update to its mobile algorithm to take page speed into account, 2018 is going to be an even bigger year for Google all round. AdWords is likely to be no exception to that.

Meanwhile, there’s another key player on the horizon: Amazon. With the saturation of the Google Shopping landscape, Amazon Shopping is opening up as a potentially lucrative new avenue for retail search marketers.

I caught up with Ashley Fletcher, VP of Marketing at Adthena and former Product Manager at Google, to talk about what we’re likely to see from AdWords and paid search in 2018. Ashley Fletcher has been in the industry for 12 years, with five of those spent at Google working on a range of products including Google’s Compare products, Google Express, and Google Shopping in its infancy.

Fletcher shared his thoughts with me on the overarching trends in paid search, why PPC still needs a human touch, and why search marketers should be getting in early with Amazon Shopping.

Keeping up with the pace of change

Last November, Google unveiled a revamped version of its AdWords product just in time for the holidays. The new AdWords platform was redesigned in Material Design, Google’s design language, and built on top of a new infrastructure, meaning faster-loading pages and a cleaner look.

The redesigned AdWords also brought with it custom intent audiences to help marketers reach people as they’re making a purchase decision, and promotion extensions that serve up special offers for products and services.

Image: Google Inside AdWords

I asked Fletcher how advertisers can get the most out of AdWords in light of the November redesign, and other recent updates.

“My overarching feeling is that it’s highly customizable,” says Fletcher. “That plays into the advertiser’s hands, because you can shape the metrics and views to your needs.”

This is important as advertisers now are working with increasing amounts of data from different sources, making it crucial to have that level of customizability and flexibility in visualizing it all.

“Advertisers are accessing increasing amounts of data via APIs,” Fletcher explains. “More and more advertisers are getting comfortable using something like Data Studio to ingest all of the AdWords metrics, plus all of the metrics from an independent source like ours, and overlay them onto their day-to-day KPIs.”

Not all advertisers are comfortable with using APIs, however, and for AdWords – as well as for external tools like Adthena – there is a need to strike the balance between making great data insights available via an API, versus adding more bells and whistles to the interface.

The metrics that advertisers are working with can often shift partway through the year as Google rolls out an update. For example, in October 2017 Google uncapped the daily budget in AdWords, making it possible for advertisers to spend up to twice the daily budget that they had allotted. This type of change directly affects the metrics that go into an advertiser’s dashboard.

But rolling with the changes has become par for the course in paid search. “There’s a huge dependency on the part of AdWords advertisers to keep up with the pace of change,” says Fletcher. “There’s always something else to learn and adapt to.”

On the topic of change, what does Fletcher believe is on the horizon for AdWords in 2018?

AdWords and automation

“The first thing I would say is that we can expect more automation,” says Fletcher. “Google has been focusing a lot on developing its AI and machine learning capabilities, and we’re likely to see that continue.”

He pointed to the example of Dynamic Search Ads, which is heavily reliant on automation to help users scale their campaigns. DSA have seen widespread adoption amongst advertisers, and Fletcher predicts that this particular feature is likely to evolve over the coming year.

Display is another area in which Google has ventured into automation, launching smart display campaigns in April 2017. These seem to have been positively received, although Fletcher observes that automation can be a contentious topic among advertisers.

“How comfortable advertisers feel about [automation] is really 50/50 – some people like to go hands-on, others like to go hands-off. Working with advertisers over the Black Friday period, a lot of them opted to go with manual bidding because they felt they needed that control.”

Automation, AdWords and Amazon: Ashley Fletcher on the future of paid search

Marketers may need to become comfortable with increasing automation in PPC – but there will still be room in the industry for the human touch

Given that the trend in the industry seems to be veering towards increased automation, does Fletcher believe that advertisers will need to become more comfortable with it in future?

“Yes. But any kind of automated feature also needs to be clearly measurable, and give advertisers the transparency they need. If you’re going to opt in to these features, you need to know what they’re triggering on, and what the content is.”

However, this is not to say that search marketers are going to be losing their jobs to the machines any time soon, as Fletcher believes firmly in the value of the human element in PPC, as does Adthena.

“We need to utilize machine learning to do the legwork and work out the smarts for those insights,” says Fletcher. “But the human piece will always be to action and verify those – and to pivot to bespoke business needs. One may be around cost-saving, one may be around entering new markets, one may be around customer acquisition.

“You need the human element to pivot to those goals – but I would certainly leverage the machines to give me the insights to go and action. It’s a fine balance you need to achieve between being hands-on with search and search advertising, and using machine learning where it’s suitable.”

The rise of Amazon Shopping in retail search marketing

Meanwhile, in retail search marketing, a different kind of shift is taking place – between two industry titans.

Since Fletcher started working at Google, he has observed the Google Shopping landscape becoming increasingly saturated and competitive, to the point where an additional half a percent of performance can be key.

“When I started at Google, Google Shopping was really taking off – the ad unit was getting bigger, and exposing on new queries. Now, Product Listing Ads trigger on 58% of all retail queries – which is huge. It’s a very big shift there.

“Meanwhile, Amazon Shopping has become a destination site, and that’s changing behavior.”

Automation, AdWords and Amazon: Ashley Fletcher on the future of paid search

Amazon Shopping has become a destination site, which is changing both shopping and advertising behavior

We’ve covered this trend previously on Search Engine Watch, with studies showing that more than half of consumers begin their online product searches on Amazon instead of on Google.

“Amazon’s Shopping product is currently on the rise – CPCs are low, advertisers are enjoying really good ROI; but it’s only a matter of time before that landscape becomes saturated, too.”

Fletcher believes that the low CPC and high ROI currently available through Amazon Shopping makes now a perfect time for retailers to get in on the platform.

And Amazon is still expanding into new marketplaces across the world – Fletcher points to Australia, where Amazon launched for the first time in December 2017. Because we’ve seen Amazon launch and expand in more than a dozen countries over the years, it’s possible to predict with relative certainty how events will unfold, and so search marketers in those new markets need to be aware of the trends.

“We have the data points to say, ‘This is what will happen to your market’ – we’ve seen the market share that Amazon takes from search in the UK and the US, and we can forecast what’s likely to happen to Australia, in turn.”

Does a competitor intelligence platform like Adthena have the same level of insight on Amazon as it does on Google’s platforms? “We actually have more,” says Fletcher. “We can do a huge amount with Amazon, in terms of mapping out the market.”

Google Home: Coming soon to an AdWords set near you?

Overall, Fletcher believes that we’ll be seeing growth in automation products in AdWords over the next year, with Google continuing to develop what’s working well. He is confident that AdWords will continue to set the bar for campaign reporting, encouraging best practice in attribution across the paid search industry.

Following the announcement of smart screens for the Google Home at CES 2018, Fletcher also predicts that this year will be the year that Google offers campaign targeting for smart home hubs in AdWords.

“To me, screens seem like the first step towards monetizing smart home hubs. I think Google needs the screen in order to execute that, because it’s hard to see how else you would advertise on a voice device without completely messing up the user flow.”

Automation, AdWords and Amazon: Ashley Fletcher on the future of paid search

Smart screens on the Google Home could be the first step towards making campaign targeting available for smart home hubs

Certainly, the closest thing we’ve seen to advertising on Google Home thus far – a possible plug for the Beauty and the Beast live-action film which Google denies was intended as an ad – was very jarring, and received a great deal of backlash from Home users, suggesting that Google needs to tread carefully if it wants to make monetization on the Google Home work.

“It’s still very early days – maybe Google was testing something with that, and maybe they weren’t. But if I were an AdWords advertiser, I wouldn’t expect it to be long before these devices feature in your set. By the end of 2018, I expect AdWords to have campaign targeting, or something like it, for Home devices.”

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Inside Google’s new Search Console: What’s new, what’s the same, and what’s still to come?

Earlier this month, Google rolled out the beta version of its new and improved Search Console to all verified users.

Google has been testing the new Search Console for some months now, with a select number of users given early access to the beta. We’ve had sneak peeks at the slick, clean interface, and heard about some of the notable additions, such as the much-vaunted 16 months of historical search data now available to SEOs.

The new Search Console is still in beta, and Google says that it will continue to port features from the old Search Console to the new over the course of the coming year. Webmasters and SEOs will be able to use both versions of Search Console side-by-side until the transition is complete.

So now that the new Search Console is finally here, what shiny new features does it boast, what is more or less the same, and what functionality are we still awaiting with bated breath? Let’s take a look.

What’s new

Search performance report

The most powerful new functionality in the revamped Search Console centers around the Search Analytics section, now known as Search Performance.

As with the old Search Analytics report, you can overlay total clicks, total impressions, average CTR and average position data on top of each other with a simple click. But where webmasters have previously forced to choose between filtering by search type, query, page, country, and device, with only one option available to select at once, now you can filter by multiple variables at a time.

So, as in the screenshot above, you can compare total impression data with average CTR from web searches for “search engine” from the United States over the past three months, if that’s something that takes your fancy.

You unfortunately can’t layer multiple comparisons on top of each other – so if you want to compare desktop and mobile data side-by-side, you can’t also compare data from the U.S. and the U.K. at the same time – but the new options still allow SEOs and webmasters to get highly specific with performance data for their website.

And, of course, website owners now have access to much wider date ranges for their historical search data, making it easier to analyze longer-term trends and perform year-over-year comparisons. Google notes that, “Over the years, users have been consistent in asking us for more data in Search Analytics” than the three months that website owners were previously limited to.

Well, with the new Search Console, Google has exceeded all expectations, more than quadrupling the maximum date range that webmasters have access to. Now, you can choose between three-month, six-month and 12-month date ranges, or opt for the “Full duration”, which is a whopping 16 months.

Inside Google’s new Search Console: What’s new, what’s the same, and what’s still to come?

Index coverage report

The Index Coverage section of Google’s new Search Console is a combination of the old Index Status and Crawl Errors reports. It allows site owners to see how well Google is indexing their website, as well as identify and fix errors where there are any.

You can view data by pages with errors, valid pages with warnings, valid pages that have been indexed, and excluded pages, and also overlay impression data on top. The table underneath then gives more detail as to the types of issues detected, allowing webmasters to click through and inspect the affected URLs.

Inside Google’s new Search Console: What’s new, what’s the same, and what’s still to come?

Another fantastically useful feature that’s new with the revamped Search Console is the ability to request Google update its index after you’ve resolved an issue.

If you’ve gone in and fixed a HTTP 500 error, for example, rather than waiting for Google to recrawl your site and discover the fix, you can proactively request that Google update its index. According to Google’s Webmaster Central blog, it will “then crawl and reprocess the affected URLs with a higher priority, helping your site to get back on track faster than ever.”

Search enhancements: Accelerated Mobile Pages and Job Postings

Google’s updated AMP status report also allows website owners to validate newly-fixed AMP URLs. In the old version of Search Console, Google would provide a list of AMP URLs with errors and recommend a fix, but there wasn’t any way to request that Google reprocess the amended URLs.

Now, you can request that Search Console validate a fix across multiple pages, and Google will again process those with a higher priority.

Google’s blog post introducing the new Search Console grouped AMP under the heading of “Search Enhancements” together with another new report: job postings. Webmasters with job listings on their site can mark them up with Job Posting structured data to be eligible for Google Jobs – Google’s relatively new foray into the world of job listings that was announced at last year’s Google I/O.

As with AMP, the Job Posting report in Search Console will display stats around your job listing results and pinpoint any indexing issues, allowing you to fix and validate them.

Inside Google’s new Search Console: What’s new, what’s the same, and what’s still to come?

Image: Search Engine Land

What’s the same

Nothing in the revamped Search Console is exactly the same as the old version, but as I’ve mentioned, there are some rough equivalents.

The new Search Performance report features much of the same data as the old Search Analytics report, and the Index Coverage report includes data that appears in the Index Status and Crawl Errors sections of the old Search Console.

The sitemap submission process is also much the same in the new Search Console, though the handy “Test” button which allowed webmasters to check their sitemap before submission is missing in the new version.

Inside Google’s new Search Console: What’s new, what’s the same, and what’s still to come?

The old Search Console allows webmasters to test their sitemap before submission

Sitemaps also work in conjunction with the Index Coverage report: when site owners submit a sitemap file, they can use the sitemap filter over the Index Coverage data to focus on an exact list of URLs.

What’s still to come

A lot of data from the old Search Console has still to make its way over to the new, so we can expect plenty of future updates to Search Console over the coming year. Some notable reports and features that have yet to be added to the new Search Console include:

Structured Data, Rich Cards, and Data Highlighter

Judging by Google’s continued emphasis on rich results and structured data markup, these reports are certain to come to Search Console, though maybe not in exactly the same form as before.

Given that Google has just begun introducing native support of some content types to Google Assistant, it’s possible that the new Search Console will feature additional functionality for integrating with Assistant, perhaps in the form of assessing whether your content is correctly optimized for inclusion in the new Actions Directory.

Google might also find a way to incorporate its new Rich Results Testing Tool directly within Search Console, helping webmasters and SEOs find and fix errors that prevent rich results from displaying.

Internal links and links to your site

One important piece of SEO functionality currently missing from the new Search Console is data on links: both internal links, and links leading back to your site.

In the old Search Console, these are useful reports allowing webmasters to see exactly who is linking to their domain and which pages are the most linked-to – important for monitoring the progress of link-building campaigns as well as backlinks in general.

Inside Google’s new Search Console: What’s new, what’s the same, and what’s still to come?

Similarly, the Internal Links section allows you to assess and improve the level of internal linking within your own site. You can search for individual pages to see where they are linked to across your site, and reverse sort to find out which pages need more internal linking.

Hopefully this will soon be introduced to the new Search Console so that webmasters can benefit from new and improved link reports and data.

International targeting

This report allows webmasters to target an audience based on language and country – a crucial section for international SEO. Webmasters who operate in multiple geographies will be particularly keen to find out what this looks like when it appears in the new Search Console.

Mobile usability

Given Google’s increasing emphasis on a mobile-first approach to website-building, I’m confident that we can expect some souped-up features in the mobile usability report when it appears in the new Search Console.

The Search Console mobile usability report currently assesses how well your site is optimized for mobile usage, and highlights issues such as Flash usage, small font size, touch elements (e.g. buttons) placed too close together, and the use of interstitial pop-ups. With page speed confirmed to be an official ranking factor on mobile from July, I think we can near enough guarantee that speed will be one of the assessments included in the new mobile usability report (or whatever Google decides to call it) when it rolls out.

I think it’s reasonable to predict some sort of tie-in to the mobile-first index, as well. While it’s already possible to compare mobile and desktop search data in Search Performance, Google may well build some additional functionality into the mobile usability report which allows webmasters to detect and correct issues that prevent them from ranking well on mobile.

The current report already detects mobile usability issues on individual pages, so it wouldn’t even be much of a leap to apply that to the mobile-first index, giving website owners more tools to improve their site’s usability on mobile.

What are your thoughts on the revamped Search Console? Which reports are you most excited to see in the new version? Share your views in the comments!

search-visibility-winners-losers-2017.png

Who were the “winners” and “losers” of organic search in 2017?

Earlier this week, Searchmetrics published its fourth annual Winners and Losers Report, which reveals how certain sites fared in organic search visibility on Google.com during 2017.

Searchmetrics bases its analysis on a unique indicator known as ‘SEO visibility’, which it uses to measure a webpage’s performance in organic search.

This is not the same as organic search ranking, but aims to give an overview of how often a website shows up in search results, based on “search volume and the position of ranking keywords” (as explained in the Searchmetrics FAQ).

Using this metric, Searchmetrics calculates the change in websites’ SEO visibility over the course of the year, and sorts the top 100 winners and losers by absolute change in visibility.

Last year, we examined the winners and losers in organic search during 2016, and concluded that social media and shopping were the overall “winners”, while online encyclopedias, reference websites and lyrics websites all lost out.

How do the results from this year stack up against last year, and what can we learn from the trends highlighted?

Encyclopedias and dictionaries are back on top

In a surprising reversal of 2016’s fortunes, online encyclopedias and dictionaries were among some of the biggest “winners” in 2017.

Encyclopedias made up 9% of the overall winners by industry, with websites like britannica.com, thesaurus.com and collinsdictionary.com enjoying triple-digit percentage gains in SEO visibility. Of the top five domains ranked by gain in absolute SEO visibility, four were dictionary or encyclopedia websites: Merriam Webster, Wikia, Dictionary.com and Wiktionary.

This is a huge change from last year, when social networking websites dominated the top five; out of last year’s top five “winners”, only YouTube is still on top, rising up the ranks from fourth to first place.

Who were the “winners” and “losers” of organic search in 2017?

Searchmetrics attributes this miraculous change in fortune to an algorithm update in June 2017 dubbed the “dictionary update”. Dictionary websites had been slowly gaining in visibility since the beginning of the year, but over the three-week period between 25th June and 16th July, they saw an even more notable uptick:

Who were the “winners” and “losers” of organic search in 2017?

Dictionary websites saw a boost from Google’s “Dictionary update” in June and July 2017

Searchmetrics noted that dictionary URLs particularly improved their ranking for short-tail keywords with ambiguous user intent – suggesting that Google might be examining whether the users searching these terms could be looking for definitions.

I would speculate that Google could also be promoting fact-based reference websites as part of its ongoing efforts to battle fake news and dubious search results – but this is purely speculation on my part.

The trend is also not borne out by Wikipedia, which continues to see its SEO visibility drop as more Knowledge Graph integrations appear for its top keywords, allowing users to see key information from Wikipedia without bothering to click through to the site – and possibly preventing those pages in Wikipedia from ranking.

Who were the “winners” and “losers” of organic search in 2017?

The losers lost out more on mobile

One very interesting trend highlighted in Searchmetrics’ findings is the fact that domains which lost out in 2017 saw even bigger drops on mobile than on desktop.

Domains which started out the year with roughly equal desktop and mobile visibility closed out the year with their mobile visibility far below that of desktop. For example, TV.com’s mobile visibility was 41% below its desktop visibility by the end of 2017, while perezhilton.com’s mobile visibility was 42% lower than desktop, and allmusic.com was 43% lower.

Without going behind the scenes at Google’s search index, it’s hard to know exactly what the cause could be. TV.com decidedly fails Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test, but perezhilton.com and allmusic.com both pass. Because Searchmetrics is measuring organic search visibility, these drops may not be due to a lower SERP ranking, but could be due to the websites not appearing for as many search queries on mobile.

Who were the “winners” and “losers” of organic search in 2017?

What isn’t surprising is that in 2017, we began to see much bigger differences between the way search behaves on mobile and the way it behaves on desktop. Back in August, we looked at the results of a BrightEdge study which found that 79% of all keywords ranked differently in mobile search compared to desktop.

At the time, we speculated that this was due to tests on Google’s part to prepare for the upcoming mobile-first index. Just two months later, Google’s Gary Illyes announced at SMX East that the mobile-first index had in fact already begun rolling out, albeit very slowly.

2017 was the year that we truly started to see mobile search on Google diverge from desktop, and in 2018 we’ve already had confirmation of a major upcoming change to Google’s mobile algorithm in July, after which point page speed will officially be a ranking factor on mobile. So to say that mobile and desktop search results will continue to diverge further in 2018 seems like a very safe prediction to make.

So long, social media?

Possibly the most curious change in fortune between 2016 and 2017 was seen with social media websites, which were among some of the biggest winners in 2016 and some of the biggest losers in 2017.

Visual social network Pinterest went from being the second-biggest ‘winner’ in terms of absolute search visibility in 2016 to suffering a 23% visibility loss in 2017. Similarly, discussion forum Reddit saw a 54% drop in visibility in 2017 after having been the 8th biggest ‘winner’ in 2016.

Tumblr and Myspace also experienced significant losses, and while Facebook and Twitter (#3 and #6 in 2016, respectively) weren’t among the “losers” highlighted by Searchmetrics in 2017, they also appeared nowhere in the list of “winners”.

It’s hard to say exactly why this would be. In last year’s study, Searchmetrics attributed Pinterest’s huge gains in visibility to its “application of deep-learning techniques” to understand user intent, “thereby generating more loyalty and stickiness online”. Whether Pinterest has slowed its progress on this front, or whether other shifts in Google’s index have caused its visibility to suffer, is unknown.

Reddit, meanwhile, appears to have suffered at the hands of Google’s “Phantom V” update, with visibility dropping off sharply at the beginning of 2017. Its mobile visibility was particularly low going in to 2017, which Searchmetrics tentatively attributes to technical issues with the mobile version of its website.

Who were the “winners” and “losers” of organic search in 2017?

Reddit’s visibility drops off as Phantom V hits in February 2017

It could be that the losses in visibility suffered by social media websites in 2017 are due to differing circumstances and not part of a wider trend, but it’s an interesting coincidence nonetheless.

What can we learn from the “winners” and “losers” of 2017?

Many of the changes of fortune experienced by websites in 2017 were the result of a specific Google update. Phantom V was spotted in the SERPs in mid-February, sending a number of brands’ domains yo-yoing up and down. Google Fred hit not long afterwards, affecting ad-heavy websites with low-quality content and poor link profiles.

Another key change of note is the User Localization Update of October 2017, in which Google started showing search results based on users’ physical location regardless of the Top-Level Domain (.com, .co.uk, .fr) they might be using to search – a big development for local SEO.

Individual updates aside, however, there are a few key points that we can take away from 2017’s Winners and Losers Report:

  • High-quality content continues to be king, along with content that perfectly serves the user intent.
  • Brands continue to do well targeting a specific content niche – as exemplified by About.com, the old content network from the late 90s. It recently relaunched as “Dotdash”, an umbrella brand spanning six different niche verticals – several of which are already making great headway in search.

Who were the “winners” and “losers” of organic search in 2017?

About.com is reborn as five (now six) different niche websites, which quickly begin to climb in search

  • If you’re targeting short-tail keywords with ambiguous user intent (like “beauty”), be aware that your consumers might now be seeing reference websites appear much higher up in the search results than before – so you may have better chances of ranking for longer-tail, more specific keywords.