Tag Archives: Industry

How to get the best visibility for your PPC ads in the run-up to Black Friday

In the run-up to Black Friday and the holiday shopping season, retailers are competing like crazy to attract the eyeballs of as many paying consumers as possible through paid search advertising.

But how well is it paying off? To find out, search intelligence platform Adthena has analyzed the paid search landscape in the run-up to Black Friday 2017, indexing more than 15,000 ads and 214 million impressions across 161 sellers of consumer electronics.

The study, shared exclusively with Search Engine Watch, was conducted between November 1st and 13th 2017, and sheds some light on the kinds of PPC ad subjects and messaging that are getting the best response from consumers ahead of the holidays.

iPhone dominates mobile… on mobile

In a not-so-surprising discovery, product ads containing the term “iPhone” out-performed other types of consumer goods – particularly on mobile. Paid search ads with “iPhone” pulled in 8.88% of all impressions on desktop, and gained a hefty 14.89% of all impressions on mobile.

“Phone” was the second-best-performing product ad keyword, with 4.61% of impressions on desktop and 11.55% on mobile, followed by “TV”, which pulled in 3.54% of desktop impressions and 4.22% of mobile impressions.

When it came to the messaging that performed best in Black Friday PPC ads, deal-related ad copy featuring the word “save” was the clear winner, driving close to a fifth (18.79%) of impressions on desktop, and more than a quarter (27.47%) on mobile.

“% off” was the next-best-performing deal messaging on desktop, with 10.03% of impressions, while on mobile, “discount” came in second place at 9.03%. “Sale” took 5.6% of impressions on desktop, while “% off” won third place on mobile with 3.91%.

Ashley Fletcher, Director of Product Marketing at Adthena, says that these differences in the data prove just how vital the language used in ad copy is to the overall success of a paid search ad.

“We can see in the analyzed data that phrase ‘Save’ delivered huge impression share on both desktop and mobile, in comparison to ‘Discount’ or ‘% off’,” he said. “Making this single change in an advertiser’s ad text copy can make all the difference in having a winning search strategy for this fiercely competitive time of year.

“The devil is in the detail, and marginal gains mean success.”

If you’re wondering what kind of discount is the most effective at attracting consumer attention, well, surprise surprise, it’s a big one. Offers for “70% off” gathered the most impressions PPC ad on both desktop (6.89%) and mobile (1.31%).

“30% off” was the next-most-popular discount, though it attracted less than 1% of overall impressions on both desktop (0.84%) and mobile (0.35%). In third place was “40% off”, with 0.58% of impressions on desktop, and 0.23% on mobile.

Black Friday outpaces Cyber Monday, Amazon pushes Amazon

In spite of the juggernaut rise of online shopping, Black Friday still carries more weight than its newer, online-focused sibling, Cyber Monday – even in the electronics industry. According to the data from Adthena, “Black Friday” pulled in 2.99% of all PPC ad impressions on desktop (with 2.41% on mobile), while “Cyber Monday” managed only a paltry 0.12% of all impressions on desktop (0.09% on mobile).

Meanwhile, Amazon is taking advantage of one of the biggest shopping holidays of the year to push its Prime memberships. Across 71,414 Amazon ads with a total of 78,097,823 impressions, the top two-performing phrases by an overwhelming margin were “Amazon”, which took 98.32% of impressions on desktop and 99.79% on mobile, and “Prime”, which attracted 84.71% of impressions on desktop and 97.64% on mobile.

This was bad news for ads with more generic terms like “Shop” or “Low prices”, which attracted just 10.27% of impressions on desktop and 1.79% on mobile (“Shop”) and 8.37% of impressions on desktop and 0.44% on mobile (“Low prices”), respectively.

What do the figures from the study tell us about the types of product searches and purchases that people are carrying out on desktop versus on mobile?

Although there is some variation in the messaging that seems to resonate with users on desktop compared to mobile – mobile users are keen to “Save” but evidently don’t want to “Shop” for “Low prices” – the same leaders tend to emerge across devices, which Fletcher believes demonstrates that shopper behavior is generally device-agnostic, with consumers carrying out their product searches across multiple channels.

“In many instances, mobile is driving higher impression share than desktop, such as with the top performing product ads,” he says. “This tells us that many shoppers are doing their gift browsing on mobile, but desktop still perhaps remains a key part of the path to conversion.”

What can marketers take away from these findings that will help them get the best possible visibility for their PPC ads in the run-up to Black Friday? Fletcher says that actionable insights from data are the key to success in a rapidly shifting landscape.

“Marketers must understand how campaigns are performing and adjust accordingly as quickly as possible,” he says. “Being able to monitor what their competition is doing and changing on a daily basis will have a great impact on their PPC campaigns.

“Today’s marketer wants daily insights into an auction that’s changing rapidly. If a marketer sees that a competitor is pushing 70% discounts and garnering a majority of market share, they can quickly adjust their own strategy in order to continue to remain competitive and capture the audience.”

Here’s how to get executives excited about SEO

As an SEO expert at your company – maybe the SEO expert – you may find yourself needing to persuade executives to invest more in your company’s SEO practices.

Championing SEO means successfully selling the right company leaders on the benefits, demonstrating the effectiveness and wisdom of your specific SEO strategy, and, more often than not, including a few convincing facts about why it will make them look good.

Here are four practices you should use to your advantage when trying to win executive support for your SEO proposals:

1) Understand your executive audience before you even step in the room

When you enter the executive meeting to present your SEO plan, know exactly what you’re getting into. Is this a group discussion, or are you going in one-on-one? What will keep the attention of this particular individual or group, and what are the expectations for this meeting on the other side of the table?

In presenting your plan, it’s important to tell executives everything they need to know in order to say yes. This means explaining the very specific goals that your SEO proposal will help the business achieve. Clearly explain any costs and risks as well, so that executives have the information to make a fully informed decision.

Remember that they may even have to sell what you’re proposing at the level above them. If it’s possible to tailor what your asking for and how you present it to align well with current budgeting and company strategy, do so.

Overall, try to hand executives the ready-made case they need to fully convince both themselves and others how a greater investment in SEO will positively affect the bottom line.

2) Prepare a presentation that’s focused, powerful, and to the point

Take the time to practice and refine your presentation, focusing on a tight collection of points that you want – and need – to make. It also doesn’t hurt to use a few tricks from the advertising world, from plain old flattery to the bandwagon approach.

Make it clear that a proper focus on SEO is what smart companies are doing to succeed, and that this focus will serve to increase exposure for the tremendous work being done by creative and other teams. Also explain how “everyone else is doing it,” especially through presenting information that highlights where competitors have superior SEO practices and are beating your company in search rankings.

A little competitive spirit and FOMO can help put the push for SEO in perspective and get executives animated about how your company can respond – a response plan you ought to have ready as well.

3) Stick to terminology your audience can understand

Remember that the executives in your audience probably don’t understand SEO terminology at an expert level. That said, you shouldn’t hesitate to provide specific examples and information that will help draw them in; just be sure to avoid SEO jargon with which non-experts aren’t familiar.

For example, you may want to talk about metadata and KPIs, but your audience may need a bit of guidance to navigate these terms. You can accomplish this with rephrasing, such as changing metadata to “how searchers view your result on the search engine results page”, and KPIs to “specific data points that matter.”

4) Present those specific data points that matter

When weaving the narrative you present to executives as to how an investment in SEO will achieve intended results for your company, ensure that they take it as more than a fairy tale: ground everything in actual data.

From an internal execution standpoint, this means getting specific with the costs, personnel, and bandwidth required. It also means setting target goals the potential visibility and profit your company’s SEO efforts will deliver.

Don’t be afraid to dive into the real metrics that your proposal has been crafted to improve. This will likely include specific information like customer acquisition cost (CAC), the marketing percentage of CAC, the ratio of customer lifetime value to CAC, the time to payback the CAC, and the marketing originated/influenced customer percentages.

If your presentation can convincingly demonstrate how your SEO efforts will return favorable numbers for these metrics, there’s a good chance that executives would be smart to listen to you – and that they will.

Kevin Gamache is Search Strategist at Wire Stone, a digital marketing agency part of Accenture Interactive.

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4 safe search engines for kids

Young children are using the internet to search and find content more than they ever have before—but we can all understand some of the trade-offs that come with this technological advancement.

Typical search engines (think Google, Bing, etc.) do not default to kid-friendly settings, and it takes a lot of adult monitoring to make sure that nothing is appearing and getting clicked on that isn’t age-appropriate.

Luckily in recent years, more and more safe search engines for kids have been emerging. Today we are going to talk about four of the most popular safe and kid friendly search engines, and why they should be on your radar if you are a parent, teacher, or child development professional.

1. Kiddle

Kiddle.co is a “safe visual search engine for kids” developed by Google. It has all of the power and resources of Google, with all of the safe search filters that parents and educators need.

In addition to traditional web and image searches, they also have “Kimages” or popular kid images, and “Kpedia”, a kid’s version of Wikipedia. In addition, there is also a video search feature, a news search feature, and resources for parents and educators.

The bottom toolbar also has more information on kids’ safe search and keyword blocking, making the platform a very transparent and understandable alternative search option.

What is really awesome about platforms like Kiddle is that there are very different approaches to how content is displayed, depending on the word. For example, typing in the word “boob” will give kids this error message:

We can understand how this is limiting (what if a kid is genuinely curious about body parts in a scientific or sociological way?) However, as pointed out by Mashable, not all terms have this “oops, try again” landing page.

In fact, when the word “transgender” is searched there are definitions, “kids of trans” resources, and other helpful information for kids that may have first hand experience with transgender communities, or may just be genuinely curious about the term and people who identify as trans.

4 safe search engines for kids

2. Wacky Safe

The Microsoft version of a kid-oriented safe search engine is called Wacky Safe, and it comes in the form of an app that is specially made for PCs and Android phones. I’m sure you will not be surprised to find out that it is rated E for everyone.

4 safe search engines for kids

It claims to provide an “ultra-safe” environment so that parents and educators can be worry-free about children surfing the web. As with other safe search sites for kids it blocks inappropriate content and images, uses strict keyword filtering, and allows for searching of information that is “kid-friendly.”

The app also blocks and filters harmful websites that would typically be blocked by parental controls.

3. KidRex

KidRex has to be one of my favorites—if for no other reason than because the home page contains a wonderfully drawn image of a T-rex.

4 safe search engines for kids

This search engine, which is also powered by Google, is an independent organization that claims to be kid-centric with their “safe search for kids, by kids slogan.”

The organization (a division of Brent Media) was founded in 2016, and as you would expect, it addresses all of the parent/educator concerns that are associated with children searching online.

4. Safe Search Kids

You may think you’re experiencing deja vu at this point, but here is yet another available safe search engine that is geared toward kids and utilizes the power of…you guessed it…Google! (Seriously, can any company come out swinging and outshine Google in this area?).

Safe Search Kids is a download that is also available as an app, and can deliver filtered search results when your kids use the internet. This search tool automatically activates Google Safe Search—and ultimately helps to keep kids from landing on websites that contain inappropriate content.

4 safe search engines for kids

Some extra considerations

It is fantastic that these tools are available and that there are increasingly more ways for parents, educators, and child development professionals to be proactive in what their kids are seeing online.

With that said, these search engines are not foolproof (ever) and there are some things to consider as a parent or educator who is letting their children absorb all of the wonderful information that is available online.

Blocking out keywords could potentially block out useful or educational content

There is no good solution to this, but by hyper-filtering the internet, you could also be filtering and screening out some valuable and educational information. Think human reproduction, cultural genocide, or other historical events that could easily be erased from a G-Rated search.

Ultimately, there is no replacement for parents and educators supervising and teaching children how to use the internet. These tools can help, but they are not the ONLY solution to enhance children’s experience online.

Who is hand-picking?

Safe search that is geared towards children has always had to answer the question: who picks the inappropriate keywords? Who decides what content is child-friendly?

It should be no surprise that not all parents agree on what is appropriate, let alone different cultures, religions, and other social positions.

In other words, what Google or other search engines feel is appropriate or inappropriate does not necessarily capture every parent’s wishes. This makes it all the more important for parents and educators to continue to be proactive, even with these powerful tools.

While these tools are incredibly powerful and can allow children to be much more curious and independent online, there is really no substitution for parent and teacher involvement when it comes to learning about the internet and the power of search engines.

By teaching kids HOW search engines work, what they can do, and the kind of content that is fully at their fingertips, kids can feel empowered to research and learn in ways they never had imagined!

What are your thoughts on these safe search engines for kids? Have you tried any as a parent or teacher? Let us know in the comments section below!

Amanda DiSilvestro is a writer for NoRiskSEO, a full service SEO agency, and a contributor to SEW. You can connect with Amanda on Twitter and LinkedIn, or check out her services at amandadisilvestro.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Source: Power Reviews)

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

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

Showcase shopping ads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local inventory via Google Assistant

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

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

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

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

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

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

Automated pricing and product availability

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

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

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

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

Store visits measurement

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

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

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

Three new reports will be available for advertisers:

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

Key takeaways

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

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

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

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

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What do you need to know about Chinese search engine Sogou?

A few days ago, the news emerged that Chinese search engine Sogou (搜狗) is aiming to raise up to $585 million in a U.S. Initial Public Offering.

Sogou, which is owned by internet company Sohu, Inc., announced the terms for its proposed IPO on Friday.

The news has caused a stir among those keeping an eye on the Chinese tech space, as Sogou is backed by Chinese tech giant Tencent, the company behind the hugely popular messaging apps WeChat and QQ.

But for those of us who might not be up on the state of search in China, what do you need to know about Sogou, and how does its IPO play into the wider search landscape? And could there be any potential knock-on effects for the rest of the industry?

What is Sogou?

Sogou (whose name, 搜狗, literally translates as “searching dog”) is a Chinese search engine that was launched in 2004, and is currently the third-largest search engine in China.

Well, depending on who you ask. As tends to be the case with all things China, the statistics can vary from source to source.

Baidu, China’s largest search engine, is the undisputed king of search in China, but lower down the rankings things get a little murkier. In a January article, Bloomberg stated that “some surveys” have Sogou as China’s second-largest search engine, and it is often referred to as China’s second-largest mobile search engine, with 16.9% market share based on mobile queries (iResearch – Chinese-language source).

Meanwhile, statistics from China Internet Watch put Sogou’s overall share of the Chinese search market at just 3.31% as of May 2017 – fourth behind competitors Baidu, Shenma, and Haosou.

Baidu is the undisputed king of search in China

But regardless of its exact ranking, Sogou is still widely agreed to be a key contender in the contest for Chinese search dominance. Crucially, it’s backed by Tencent, the world’s fifth-largest internet company in terms of revenue, and is the default search engine for Tencent’s QQ mobile browser and on QQ.com, giving it prime access to QQ’s close to 900 million active users.

Other things to know about Sogou are that it has a web browser, launched in 2008, and is the company behind Sogou Pinyin, China’s most popular pinyin input software. (Pinyin is the official romanization system for Chinese characters).

Sogou Pinyin makes use of Sogou’s search techniques to analyze and categorize the most popular words and phrases, and could be a major advantage in Sogou’s future plans for getting the edge in search – more on that later.

So is Sogou the Bing to Baidu’s Google?

If Baidu is the top dog in Chinese search, and Sogou is a smaller contender (albeit with the backing of a huge tech company) trying to make its mark, does that make Sogou the Bing to Baidu’s Google?

Well, not exactly. As you’ll have gathered from the previous section, things are a little more complicated than that.

While the Chinese search market is as unequivocally dominated by Baidu as the western search market is by Google, there are several contenders for the number two spot. These include Shenma, a “mobile-first” search engine by the titan of Chinese ecommerce, Alibaba; and Haosou (formerly known as 360), a search engine by Chinese security company Qihoo 360.

(If you’re wondering where the heck Google itself is in all this, it holds a paltry 1.84% search market share in China, according to China Internet Watch. Google and China do not have the happiest of histories).

What do you need to know about Chinese search engine Sogou?

Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent are three of the leading internet companies in China – as well as the world – which means that the battle for search dominance for China has become a face-off between some of the biggest players in its tech industry.

This is not unlike the way in which the voice search and visual search spaces have become a battleground between major tech companies such as Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Pinterest.

And while Qihoo 360, with an annual revenue of $1.39bn as of 2014, may not be in the same league as three of the world’s largest internet companies, it’s still a force to be reckoned with. Qihoo 360 led a group of investors which purchased most of Opera Software, the company behind the Opera browser, in 2016.

It has also entered into strategic partnerships with Sina (the company behind Chinese social media platform Sina Weibo), Google, and even Alibaba at different times, and in 2013 reportedly considered purchasing Sogou for around $1.4 billion.

So how does Sogou plan on setting itself apart against its heavyweight competitors in the Chinese search market – and can it succeed?

Artificial intelligence and natural language search

Sogou announced in August that it was planning to focus on artificial intelligence and natural language processing in its bid to build a next-generation search engine, with the aim of becoming an “innovator and pioneer in artificial intelligence in China”.

It also plans to shift its emphasis from more traditional keyword-based search to answering questions, in line with the trend towards natural language search prompted by the rise of voice search and digital assistants.

Sogou has joined major search players such as Bing, Baidu and of course Google in investing in artificial intelligence, but its small size may put it at a disadvantage. A huge search engine like Baidu, with an average of more than 583 million searches per day, has access to reams more data with which to teach its machine learning algorithms.

But Sogou has an ace up its sleeve: it is the only search engine formally allowed to access public messages on WeChat – a massive source of data that will be particularly beneficial for natural language processing.

What do you need to know about Chinese search engine Sogou?

Plus, as I touched on earlier, language is something of a specialty area for Sogou, as Sogou Pinyin gives it a huge store of language data with which to work.

Sogou also has ambitious plans to bring foreign-language results to Chinese audiences via its translation technology, which will allow consumers to search the English-speaking web using Mandarin search terms. These will be automatically translated by Sogou, and the resulting content translated back into Chinese for the user.

What this all means for the Chinese search market

Sogou has reportedly been flirting with the possibility of an IPO since 2015. So what’s significant about its timing in seeking an IPO now, and what could it mean for the wider search industry in China?

While Baidu may unquestionably be the dominant force in Chinese search, the company is not immune to scandal, and last year it was hit by a big one. A 21-year-old college student named Wei Zixi died after pursuing an unsuccessful cancer treatment at a hospital which was promoted to him on Baidu, sparking outrage over Baidu’s perceived valuing of profit over safety.

Baidu’s shares dropped almost 14% following the scandal, and regulators quickly clamped down on medical advertising in search results pages, which accounts for some 30% of Baidu’s online ad revenue.

This was by no means the first time that Baidu had come under fire for the commercialization of healthcare. Baidu’s history with dodgy medical advertising dates back as far as 2008, and includes a number of controversies in which Baidu sold off several of its health support communities to private hospitals, leading to a widespread public backlash and an apology by Baidu’s CEO.

What do you need to know about Chinese search engine Sogou?

The Baidu support forum for hemophilia, which Baidu was accused of selling off to a private hospital, sparkling public outcry and a public apology from the search engine’s CEO in January 2017.

Up until now, disaffected users haven’t had any viable alternatives for search engines to use if they want to boycott Baidu, which is increasingly gaining a reputation for being untrustworthy and profit-driven.

But search engines like Haosou and Sogou have been slowly but surely eating into Baidu’s market share, and if Sogou’s investment into AI and natural language pays off, it could shape up into a serious competitor.

How could a Sogou IPO affect search outside China?

What do these shifts in the Chinese search market mean for the world outside of China?

At the moment, unless you’re a business looking to invest in or optimize for search in China, not a whole lot. Even if you are looking for a way into the Chinese market, optimizing for Baidu is still your best bet, as Baidu is unlikely to lose its total market dominance overnight.

But these developments are worth keeping an eye on. A successful IPO for Sogou could be a big win for Tencent in the war for supremacy over rivals Baidu and Alibaba, all three of whom are global powerhouses with investments in media, entertainment, ecommerce, gaming, social networking and more.

And with a reported 731 million internet users in China, any search engine which can capture a significant portion of that market wields some serious clout.

So keep Sogou on your radar; it will be worth seeing how this one plays out.

What are the best free SEO resources online?

Whether you are a fresh-faced SEO newbie just starting to learn the ropes, or an SEO veteran who can recite the ins and outs of every Google update ever, it is safe to say that we can all agree on one thing: SEO is a complex subject.

Sure, the basics of SEO aren’t difficult to grasp. The issue lies in the fact that there is no exact formula for achieving that coveted number one spot.

Everything we know is based on the small amount of guidance provided by Google, a good dose of speculation, a healthy amount of testing and the general consensus from the SEO community.

With so much information about SEO available online, compounded by a fair amount of conflicting opinions, it can be difficult to know where to turn for the most accurate guidance.

In this post, we share our pick of the best free SEO resources. These resources have been chosen for their accuracy, reliability and ease of understanding.

The Big G

What better place to find out what Google wants than from… well, Google? It therefore makes sense to kick off our list with the Big G themselves, as they have a number of resources available for keen SEOs.

For anyone new to SEO, you may be wondering why on earth you would need to look elsewhere for learning resources, when Google is surely the most reliable source. The trouble is that Google doesn’t give that much away. Google’s SEO Starter Guide is a great place to begin, as is their help center on How Search Works.

More of a video person? You’re in luck, because there’s even a Google Webmaster YouTube channel.

Google may be head honcho in the search engine world, but it’s certainly not a lone wolf. It would be remiss of us not to also give a shout out to Bing’s webmaster guidelines for SEO and Yahoo’s website ranking help page. They are not quite as detailed as Google’s offering, but it is still worth familiarizing yourself with the approaches of each search engine, albeit very similar ones.

Moz

Although Google provides a lot of helpful information, it is not always particularly easy to digest. Written by the uber nerds at Google, the information does not often translate smoothly to the layman. This is where Moz excels.

Having been around for 13 years, Moz is the go-to resource for many SEO practitioners. It is run by SEO super guru Rand Fishkin, who has a knack for explaining things so as to not make you feel like an idiot. He also has a completely wacky but utterly endearing range of shirts.

As well as providing wonderfully useful and actionable information, it is presented in a way that is genuinely easy to understand. Start with the Beginner’s Guide to SEO for a solid grounding and then explore the plethora of other handy info.

A particular favourite of mine is the Whiteboard Fridays. In our Yellowball office, we take ten minutes every Friday afternoon to gather around and watch the latest Whiteboard Friday. Popcorn optional but encouraged.

Backlinko

If link-building is the absolute bane of your life, then Backlinko is for you. Run by link-building mastermind Brian Dean, he provides clear link-building strategies, advice and case studies to help you break through the inertia of building backlinks.

Utilizing a healthy combination of text and videos, the content is engaging and extremely useful. His suggestions are clever and make absolute sense but are not difficult to understand. You’ll come away wondering why on earth you didn’t think of it.

Okay so it’s not completely “free” in that you do have to provide an email address to unlock the content. But trust me, it’s so worth it.

Quicksprout

A great all-round resource for SEOs and marketers alike, Quicksprout is run by Neil Patel – certified online marketing wizard. His most handy learning resource to date is The Advanced Guide to SEO. Formatted as an infographic, it looks good, it’s detailed and it’s highly useful. What’s not to love!

Neil Patel is also a big advocate of longer form content, often posting articles in the 5000+ word range, diving into a subject head first and emerging with actionable points. These in-depth pieces can be particularly useful if you are looking for more information on a specific aspect of SEO.

Search Engine Watch

Okay, so we may be a little biased here, but we couldn’t not mention our own free SEO resource. With a range of highly talented and in-the-know contributors (ahem), the articles cover a range of topics within the expansive SEO universe.

From addressing simple how-tos for beginners through to tackling the more complex issues that nobody wants to talk about but everyone wants to learn about, Search Engine Watch is a treasure trove of handy resources. You’re welcome!

Best SEO blogs

SEO is constantly changing and if you want to stay ahead of the game then you have to keep learning. This is why it is crucial to stay up to date on the latest updates and trends. Below we share our favorite blogs for staying tuned in to the strange inner workings of the SEO industry:

There are loads more authoritative blogs on the topic of SEO and if we were to provide an exhaustive list then we’d be here all day. And so would you. Knowing you’re a busy person, the above blogs are a useful place to start and you’ll soon work out your own favorites for staying up to date.

Twitter accounts to follow

Sometimes it can be difficult to stay afloat of all the latest news and insights across all the various SEO blogs. So why not follow the best SEO practitioners on Twitter and absorb your daily SEO insight whilst mindlessly scrolling through your Twitter feed? Here are the ones to follow:

Practice makes perfect

You can read all the free SEO resources in the world but if you’re not putting what you’ve learnt into action then you’re not going anywhere. SEO is a fine art. Trying, testing and reiterating are all necessary in order to improve on your strategy and success rates.

You can’t master SEO overnight, but with a little resourcefulness and dedication, you’ll soon be taking your place among the SEO professionals. Practice makes perfect; there’s nothing better than learning from experience.

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Seven SEO trends to watch in 2018

As we reach the fourth quarter of 2017, it’s time to start thinking about the year ahead and what to expect from SEO in 2018.

There are number of search industry trends that we’ve seen the very beginnings of this year and last, which will come into greater prominence in 2018.

Here are seven you should be keeping an eye on in order to stay ahead of the curve.

Voice search and digital assistants 

Voice search technology presents a big opportunity for changing the way we communicate and process information. The rise of digital assistants has presented a growing market that can change the way search queries are performed. According to Google, 1 out of 5 searches already come from voice queries.

This changes the search market and we’re expecting to see an even bigger shift towards voice search in 2018. When it comes to setting up an SEO strategy, the rise of voice search brings out the need to focus on more long-tail search keywords and a natural language that matches the user’s conversational tone.

As accuracy improves in digital assistants, there will be more people using voice search from their mobile devices, seeking for quick and relevant answers. It becomes important to research the voice user intent will provide more accurate results, helping the algorithms provide the best answer.

Moreover, voice search is expected to grow even more with its integration in smart home hubs, helping companies access new data, while users enjoy a seamless experience through everyday devices. As digital assistants go beyond smartphone devices, there is a great opportunity both for SEO and content, taking advantage of a growing market that connects the brand with a user in a unique but still relevant and useful way.

Link building

Link building is not expected to disappear in 2018, but it will be more important than ever to create a strategy that seeks out quality links. There’s no need to aim for new links if they don’t add value and help you build an authority in your target niche.

This doesn’t always mean that the best backlinks come from the most popular sites, but it’s still crucial to seek coverage from sites that are relevant to your industry. Referral traffic can still contribute to your site’s organic search rankings, while it is also useful to start thinking of link building as a long-term process.

A successful SEO strategy in 2018 will move towards relationship building, helping a brand develop powerful contacts and links that will be beneficial in a longer term.

A challenge for 2018 will be dealing with guest blogs and how to involve them as an integral part of a link building strategy without hurting a brand’s reputation. Back in May Google warned publishers who rely too much on guest posting for link building that there will be a closer look at guest blogs in an attempt to control spammy and questionable links.

This brings out the need for a more diversified link building strategy, aiming for a complete backlink profile, rather than single links that can bring successful results.

User experience 

User experience for SEO will become even more important in 2018. Google has made it clear that the focus is on the user and this should make more sites deliver a smooth UX for their visitors.

A good user experience increases the chances of people engaging with the pages that they visit. This helps search engines discover which pages are more useful for people, favoring them over others.

The first step is to monitor a site’s speed, its readability and its navigation structure to examine how these can be improved through the right changes. A closer look at your visitors’ browsing habits can offer helpful insights. For example, if the visits coming directly from search last just 30 seconds, then this probably means that the content or the user experience is hurting your site’s conversions.

Moreover, as more people consume content from their mobile devices, there is a growing need to provide an excellent user experience across all devices.

As SEO heads towards more relevant and personalized experiences, UX will be key to maintaining search traffic by creating an engaged audience. It’s not enough anymore to see a rise in search traffic if it’s not converting or bringing the desired engagement to create a loyal audience.

Featured snippets and Quick Answers 

Seven SEO trends to watch in 2018

The popularity of featured snippets has increased the competition among companies trying to appear in “position 0” in the SERP. Gaining a featured snippet in search requires catering to a specific combination of factors, which has opened up SEO beyond the traditional race to the top of Google.

According to Stone Temple Consulting, almost 30% of the test Google search queries show Featured Snippets. This brings out the need for a strategy on how to optimize a site’s content to meet Google’s standards for Featured Snippets.

Lists, tables and graphs tend to be popular, while it’s also useful to create content in a Q&A format, making it easier for Google to extract the right content to show up as a featured snippet.

An interesting angle to focus on during the next year is the optimization of featured snippets for voice search. The combination of two growing trends in the search market can create a great opportunity for more companies to show up at the top of the SERPs. This will involve considering the changes in the search queries, focusing more on longer keywords and natural language.

A similar way to reach the top of the SERPs is to create content that serves as a Quick Answer. Google’s Answer Box is an enhanced type of featured snippet that aims to answer a question in a more appealing way.

It usually follows a “how” or “what” structure and is Google’s attempt to use search intent to organize the search results in a more useful way. It has been observed that the results that show up in an Answer Box can see a CTR of 32.3%.

This will bring out the need for more companies to learn more about search intent and how they can optimize their content to show up in an Answer Box. Thus, a carefully crafted Answer Box strategy can increase both a site’s authority, but also a brand’s conversion.

Mobile-first index

2018 is more than likely to be the year that brands realize the potential of putting mobile first, rather than catering to mobile as an afterthought. This is particularly true if Google decides to make 2018 the year it finally deploys its mobile-first index.

But even if it doesn’t, brands and businesses need to put mobile first anyway: a recent study by BrightEdge found that, 57% of web traffic comes from mobile devices. More than this, there is a significant difference between the way that keywords rank on mobile and the way they rank on desktop – so mobile-first content is needed in order to have the best chance of being visible in mobile search.

Seven SEO trends to watch in 2018

As mobile searches are all about context, brands should provide the best possible results for every question, while local SEO is going to become even more popular. Mobile users will seek for more content while they are on the go, which means that brands will face a big opportunity of marketing their business at a local context.

Mobile optimization for local users, along with the rise of voice search, can provide an excellent way to create a successful SEO strategy in 2018 by facilitating the search experience through personalized and relevant answers.

Site speed is critical for search engines and your page’s performance at the SERPs and Accelerated Mobile Pages can make a page load up to four times faster than a standard mobile page. According to Chartbeat, AMP load in a second and they also see a 35% improvement in engagement time.

Google’s focus on AMP has made more publishers consider their use, currently counting more than 2 billion Accelerated Mobile Pages.

The demand is expected to grow in 2018, helping companies improve their engagement and the overall user experience through fast and responsive mobile pages. Brands that want to keep up with the changes in mobile search has to keep up with the trend and experiment whether they need AMP or any other fixes to improve their site speed.

The rise of visual search

Seven SEO trends to watch in 2018

Visual search is an exciting area and the combination of technological innovation and user experience can take searching to the next level.

As the internet becomes more visually-focused, there is a great opportunity to explore the power of visual search. Major tech companies including Bing, Pinterest and Google have already invested in developing powerful visual search engines in a bid to capitalize on this new trend.

An SEO strategy in 2018 needs to consider the way we consume visual content and how search engines now go beyond text to explore the changing habits of search. Rich visuals now become more engaging and the use of neuroscience and innovation bring out an interesting and competitive market.

As the competition increases, more companies seem to acknowledge the potential of a successful visual search, while brands need to focus even more on optimizing their visual content for SEO purposes.

AI and machine learning

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are already changing the way that search results are ranked. Machine learning can also facilitate the way searches take place, helping users find contextualized results.

This will lead to a more personalized experience, while the rise of voice search and digital assistants can offer the ideal ground to develop artificial intelligence and reward successful SEO strategies that keep up with the trends.

Google’s RankBrain, or else Google’s deep learning algorithm, is also expected to affect the search landscape. Catering to RankBrain often seems like an intimidating prospect to SEOs, and the term “Artificial Intelligence Optimization” has been bandied about a fair amount.

But as Dan Taylor explained in a comprehensive look at RankBrain and SEO, there is no set way to optimize for RankBrain, although certain search practices are now more relevant than ever.

We can expect more changes to come in 2018 where AI and machine learning are concerned, and Google’s determination to develop in this area indicate that there are many more innovations on the horizon.

Improving SEO in 2018

As it seems, 2018 will be an interesting year for SEO. Traditional SEO techniques are still effective, but a number of trends are in the works that could significantly alter the practice of optimizing for search.

What is useful to understand while we proceed towards is 2018 is that SEO is already changing, and the ranking in the first organic spot is not the ultimate goal anymore. As search engines evolve, there are multiple opportunities to increase your search traffic without necessarily focusing on organic SERPs.

The rise of featured snippets, PPC, voice search and local SEO can often yield better results than an organic ranking. That’s why it’s useful to keep up with the latest trends and discover how your brand can maintain a successful SEO strategy for the year ahead by blending established and growing trends.

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Amazon SEO: A guide to improving your rankings on Amazon

Did you know that 55% of online shoppers turn to Amazon to begin product searches?

“Amazon has become the reference point for shoppers,” Jason Seeba, head of marketing for BloomReach told Bloomberg Tech. “Shoppers will go to Amazon first to find a product and check prices.”

If you are looking for a launching pad for your products that your target audience likes and finds useful, Amazon is it. To get the most from your listings on Amazon, however, you will need to employ some SEO tactics to showcase your products and business.

The following will serve as your guide to expert Amazon SEO and ranking your products on the largest online retail site in the world.

Understanding Amazon results pages

Knowing the intricacies of how Amazon displays products can be very beneficial to getting your products seen. They pretty much have two results page formats.

There is the list view with 15 product results covering all departments.

Also the gallery view with 24 results per page displayed when specific categories or departments are searched.

Amazon SEO: A guide to improving your rankings on Amazon

Understanding the results pages is kind of like knowing how many positions there are on a Google results page, with their own types of ads and organic results.

Other key aspects of Amazon’s results pages are the filter fields located on the left hand side of the page (sidebar).

Amazon SEO: A guide to improving your rankings on Amazon

A user that navigates the filter will get a subset of the originally search query. This makes completing all the fields in your product listing increasingly important.

For example, if you are listing a “16GB” iPhone 6, you will want to make sure that field is filled in when listing the iPhone. Otherwise, shoppers interested ONLY in the internal memory size of 16GB could possibly miss your listing.

Amazon SEO: A guide to improving your rankings on Amazon

There are also sponsored products listed in the bottom section of the results page. These products are PPC optimized, just like the AdWords ads you can find on Google SERPs.

Amazon SEO: A guide to improving your rankings on Amazon

Just like Google ads, you want to have a tight grouping of keywords, only this time you want them stuffed into your title or description bullet points.

Understanding Amazon’s query parameters

The next bit of Amazon anatomy you should take note of is the query string parameters the platform uses. Having a working knowledge of these query parameters will help get your products in front of consumers who are more likely ready to make a purchase.

If you are familiar with how Google builds URLs based on their set of query string parameters, Amazon’s will be easier to mentally digest.

The top three worth examining are:

  • Field-Keywords: This one is rather straightforward simply the keywords a user types in the search field. For example, “iPhone” or “Samsung 7 Case” would qualify as field-keywords, and Amazon will place them in the results URL.
  • Node: This is a very good query parameter to know, since this is the numeric number relevant to Amazon’s categories. For instance, if you were selling a camera, you would enter the node ID 502394 representing the “Camera, Photo & Video” category.
  • Field-BrandTextBin: This is essentially the brand field, and it can be quite useful for measuring your products with others of the same brand. If you are an iPhone reseller, than iPhone should be in your field-keywords, as well as your field-brandtextbin.

The hierarchy of nodes is also important:

Amazon SEO: A guide to improving your rankings on Amazon

To get more insight on how Amazon builds query parameters for products you can navigate the filter fields a bit. Clicking around on it will show how each category or selection can manipulate the URL.

Ranking on Amazon like a boss

To maximize your Amazon SEO efforts there are a few foundational ranking factors to put into action. Knowing exactly what to focus on when listing your products will get your products in front of more consumers.

Amazon uses data to determine what a user sees after a search query.

This data can be:

  • Product Pricing
  • Search Terms (keywords)
  • Range of Selection (color, models, etc.)
  • Product Availability (stock)
  • Sales History
  • Customer Reviews (star ratings and comments)
  • Click volume

There are two main categories the above factors fall into, Performance Factors and Relevance Factors. Performance factors are interesting, because these are what signals Amazon to rank products based on how much money they will make by doing so. Relevance factors are the relevancy the product has after a user search.

Performance based ranking factors

The following performance factors are vital, because they essentially equate to more profit for Amazon. This compels them to rank products with these optimized factors higher. Simply put, if your product sells well when ranked higher, it will be sure to get more search love.

Conversion rate

Conversions are pretty obvious ranking factors, but one of the most challenging ones to pin down. There are a few tactics you can employ to potentially show Amazon your product is converting well.

Amazon is tricky when it comes to getting a clear picture of conversions. You can see metrics such as units and sessions, but not enough data to really control, or A/B test.

First, find your conversion data in Seller Central by going to Reports > Business Reports > Detailed Page Sales > Traffic.

You will need to see the Unit Session Percentage to get the information needed. The Unit Session Percentage is (units ordered/number of Sessions) per product listing.

To ensure you are getting the most from your conversions in order to improve your rankings, you will need to adjust your buy box percentage. This is especially important if your products are in high competition.

For example, weighting your units ordered per buy box will signal to Amazon that you are converting more.

Optimized images

Images are important performance factors to improve your Amazon rankings. If you are not following their image guidelines, you may be losing a lot of potential customers.

Amazon requests that sellers upload product images 1000 x 1000 pixels or larger. Why? This will make your images compatible with Amazon’s zoom feature, and images optimized for zoom sell better.

Amazon SEO: A guide to improving your rankings on Amazon

Remember, performance factors are all about how you can provide a higher profit for Amazon. If they say zoom increases sales, then your images better be zoomable. This simple tweak to your listings can boost your rankings, and have a snowball effect for increasing conversions, which in turn will also impact your rankings in a positive way.

Product pricing

Price is another major factor in the ranking snowball effect you can leverage for optimal Amazon SEO. There is no secret that price is a major buying decision for consumers. If your product pricing is better or comparable to other sites, chances are, consumers will opt to buy your product via Amazon.

The more sales you receive on Amazon, the more sessions, the more conversions, and better rankings of your products.

A good example of comparable prices across similar products is for refurbished iPhone 6 16GB smartphones.

Amazon SEO: A guide to improving your rankings on Amazon

The market for iPhone 6 mobile devices is so saturated, sellers need to make their products as marketable as possible.

You should do a bit of Amazon product research in your category as well. You want to make sure your product price is also better or comparable to other sellers that will be alongside you in the results pages.

For instance, if you are selling refurbished iPhones $100 more than other sellers, you may find your rankings less desirable. This could happen due to low conversions based on higher pricing, or Amazon concluded your products would not fare well, thus ranking them lower from the get go.

Amazon ranking factors based on relevance

Now that you know how to optimize for the performance factors that Amazon uses to calculate its profit, it’s time to look at relevance factors. Relevance factors are all about search query relevancy, and can be easier to optimize for than performance factors.

Product listing title

The title you choose for your product listings are in fact one of the most important relevance factors. It is where you will place your most valuable keywords, as well as a few other description related search terms to help users find your products on page one and above the fold.

A few essentials to include in your title are:

  • Product Brand
  • Description
  • Line of the Product
  • Color
  • Material
  • Size or Dimensions
  • Quantity

Amazon, like Google, does advocate against keyword stuffing, but valuable keywords should be placed in your product title. A good title will influence users to click on your listing. Giving consumers a very clear idea of what the product is will secure a higher CTR.

However, a title jam packed with just keywords may have the opposite effect, causing users to shy away from your listing. Keep it clear and concise for the best results.

Amazon SEO: A guide to improving your rankings on Amazon

The smart watch listing above is an example of what to AVOID.  You want users to BUY your products – so tread carefully that line between keyword stuffing and usability.

Brand

Including the brand of the product you are selling is very important. The brand field for a product listing will be shown and it will be linked to other products by the same brand.

Think about how you would search for your product as an Amazon user. For example, if you want to purchase a new Samsung smartphone, you would type “Samsung” as the first word in the search field.

Some sellers may find themselves in a bit of a conundrum if they have a product with different brand names. The Apple Watch Nike+ would be a good example of this.

You’ll see that this top rated Amazon seller used Nike twice in their product listing:

Amazon SEO: A guide to improving your rankings on Amazon

What exactly would you enter in the brand field for this one? The best place to start would be checking the highest monthly searches for each potential brand keyword. Google Keyword Planner or Moz Keyword Explorer are both good platforms for keyword research. Whichever brand gets the most monthly searches wins!

Bullet points vs. paragraph descriptions

There are a number of ways you can take your Amazon SEO to the next level. Some are slightly challenging, and some, like using bullet points in your product description are super easy.

Using bullet points rather than paragraph descriptions can give your products a rankings boost. Why? People like very concise information that is easy to digest. Amazon knows this and products with bullet points tend to convert better.

Here’s a perfect example of a bullet point product description that converts:

Amazon SEO: A guide to improving your rankings on Amazon

Including keywords, branding, size, color, and any other optimization factors in your bullet points will increase your products rankings. It is a quick tactic to employ, and you may just be surprised by the results.

Rethink your search terms

Relevancy factors on Amazon are all about fulfilling a user’s search query by meeting the expectations of their search terms. This Amazon SEO tactic can get confusing, because it is unlike the search engine optimization and PPC search terms you may be more comfortable with.

For example, let’s say you were selling an unlocked iPhone 6 with charger. You have five search term fields to make the most of, so what would you list?

Your search terms may have looked like this:

  1. Search Term: iPhone 6 16GB
  2. Search Term: Apple iPhone 6 “space grey”
  3. Search Term: “unlocked” 4G iPhone 6
  4. Search Term: iPhone 6 with original charger
  5. Search Term: iPhone 6 smartphone 16GB

Now let’s look at the Amazon guidelines for filling in product search terms:

  • You have 50 characters per search term
  • There is no need to repeat words
  • Commas don’t matter
  • Quotation marks are not good
  • No need to use variations of words
  • Leave out misspelled versions
  • Word order may make a difference
  • Spelling differences and synonyms are good

With the above in mind, here’s what your search terms could look like:

  1. Search Term: iPhone 6 16GB unlocked with original Apple charger
  2. Search Term: space gray 4G international unlock with accessories
  3. Search Term: Apple smartphone 6 generation factory unlocked GSM
  4. Search Term: iPhone 6 dual core mobile device 8mp camera
  5. Search Term: iOS Model: 51-F3A8-A92R 1.4 GHz Cyclone Processor

It may be challenging at first to make the most of your product search terms. However, one easy way to get the information you need to maximize this relevancy factor is to browse a few products on page one of Amazon similar to yours.

Make Amazon SEO part of your product listings

The above tips and tactics are some of the most important factors that you can use to improve your Amazon rankings. In some instances, Amazon SEO is similar to the optimization tactics you would employ for search engines. However, there are a few factors that are quite the opposite.

Make sure you understand how Amazon ranks products in your niche to get a leg up on your competition. Get the most from your conversions, keep your products in stock, and optimize for relevancy factors to ensure you land on page one of results pages.

What Amazon SEO tactics do you have the most success with?

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6 Imaginative Link Building Tactics from Industry Experts That Really Work by @malleeblue

Here are six creative link building tactics from industry experts that you should try out.

The post 6 Imaginative Link Building Tactics from Industry Experts That Really Work by @malleeblue appeared first on Search Engine Journal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pinterest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The differences in the results are telling.

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

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

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

Pinterest visual search: The key facts

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

Google

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Google visual search: The key facts

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

Bing

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

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

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

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

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

Bing_Pinterest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bing visual search: The key facts

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

So, who has the best visual search engine?

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

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

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