Tag Archives: Industry

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Pinterest Lens one year on: Where is Pinterest’s visual search tool now?

It’s been a year since Pinterest announced the launch of Lens, its new visual search tool. How has it evolved since then?

When Pinterest Lens launched in 2017, it was the latest – and boldest – step in Pinterest’s evolution from a visual social network into a powerful visual search tool.

Pinterest knew that there was great potential to blend its “inspiration”-focused online platform, full of enticing DIY, craft, beauty and recipe ideas, with the offline world to help its users make their ideas into reality. The goal was to offer a camera search that helps you discover online what you come across in the offline world.

The idea seemed ambitious, but Pinterest made it clear at the time that its Lens technology was still developing, encouraging users to help it build a powerful tool:

“Lens is still learning, and doesn’t always recognize exactly what you’re looking for.

Lens will stay in beta as it gets even better at recognizing all the things. And that’s where you come in!

If you get results that feel a little meh, tap the new + button to add feedback and help Lens get better at finding ideas inspired by whatever you just Lensed. As more and more people help teach Lens about more and more objects, soon it will earn its way out of the beta zone.”

A year on from this announcement, how has Pinterest’s visual discovery evolved – and what has the impact of Pinterest’s Lens tool been on the wider industry?

The evolution of Lens

In a news post celebrating the one-year anniversary of Lens, Pinterest revealed some significant stats about the growth of Lens:

  • There are now twice as many Pinterest users who use Lens every day, compared to 6 months ago
  • People carry out more than 600 million visual searches with Lens every month, which marks an increase of 140% year-over-year

According to Pinterest, the more people searched, the better Lens got. Several new developments over the past year have also contributed to Lens’ growth:

  • Lens was moved to the front of Pinterest’s app and they have also created shortcuts to facilitate the fast search
  • Pinterest introduced Pincodes, a QR-code-esque technology, to help users seamlessly switch between Pinterest and the offline world
  • Lens your Look has also been launched to “bring together text and image searches in one query”, and encourage people to use Pinterest for outfit inspiration
  • A partnership with Samsung brought the Lens to the latest smartphones worldwide, while Target activated visual search to their products
  • The visual search technology now understands more than five times as many things as it did a year ago. This means that you can now search for recipes, clothes, and countless objects for your home with increasing accuracy.

What’s next for Lens

Pinterest Lens one year on: Where is Pinterest’s visual search tool now?

Pinterest has announced that their next step includes an enhanced image search that also allows you to include it in your text search. Starting with iOS apps, people will be able to include an image to their text search to make their discoveries easier.

This will help users find exactly what they’re looking for by benefiting from all the elements of a consideration journey. They can start with an object they’ve come across in an actual shop, they use Pinterest’s Lens to discover it and if they are not able to purchase it directly through a pin, they can use the image to include text search and find more details about it.

This feature is also expected to roll out to Android users soon and it aims to make visual search even more useful. It is a clever way to include the benefits of visual and text search to help both the consumers, but also the retailers in strengthening their customer journey between the online and the offline world.

The future of visual search

Pinterest Lens one year on: Where is Pinterest’s visual search tool now?

The growth of Pinterest Lens shows how visual search is steadily gaining traction as a genuine tool and not just a novelty. Pinterest is also not the only player in this space: three months after the launch of Pinterest Lens, Google debuted its own version of the tool, Google Lens.

Soon afterwards, Bing released an update to its visual search capabilities which allowed users to search for a specific object within images – a noticeably Pinterest-like feature. 

Pinterest is clearly blazing a trail in the visual search space which has left the other big players in search scrambling to catch up.

Pinterest Lens one year on: Where is Pinterest’s visual search tool now?

Pinterest Lens one year on: Where is Pinterest’s visual search tool now?

Above, Pinterest’s “search within image” feature, and below, Bing’s strikingly similar capability

Pinterest seems to be aware of its product’s value, and is heading in the right direction to make it profitable.

Pinterest already had a strong business proposition which capitalized on the fact that its users would come to its platform for inspiration on everything from fashion to design, food to furniture. With the introduction of Shoppable Pins, Pinterest was able to monetize this, allowing users to actually buy the components of their new dream house, garden or outfit. 

Now, Pinterest Lens has made that possible in the offline world, too.

Business Insider has foreseen a bright future for mobile visual search technology, releasing a new report which cites “strong evidence that mobile visual search technology will take off in the near future, including growing access to technology, strong usage rates of camera-related apps, and early indication of potential revenue growth”.

By getting into the visual search space early and investing heavily in developing the technology, Pinterest has put itself in an excellent position to be the leader in visual search going forward.

While visual search has yet to truly cross over into the mainstream, the foundations have been laid, and the statistics shared on Lens’ one-year anniversary paint a positive picture for the future.

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Everything you need to know about the Google Chrome ad blocker

Google launches a new version of its Chrome web browser today (February 15), which will include an in-built ad blocker to try and eradicate intrusive ads from the browsing experience.

There are some clear standards and some unanswered questions relating to this new approach, so what exactly do marketers need to know?

Google announced last year that certain ad types would be blocked automatically within Chrome. This seemingly seismic update is due to go live today in the latest upgrade to the world’s most popular web browser.

The integration of an ad blocker within Google Chrome is just a small part of a much bigger movement to improve the quality of online advertising, however.

This has been driven by consumers, who are increasingly frustrated with ads that interrupt and distract them from the content they want to view. As people spend more time on mobile devices and advertisers invest more in video, that tension has only heightened. 

The survey results in the image above tally with the findings from Google’s own research. Axios revealed recently that Google has found two concerning trends when analyzing user behavior on Chrome:

  1. One-in-five Chrome feedback reports mentions annoying/unwanted ads
  2. There were 5+ billion mutes from people using Google’s “mute this ad” feature in 2017

Of course, this has led to huge growth in the adoption of ad blockers over the last few years. Consumers have found these to be an easy and convenient solution, but this is not a permanent stance.

There is a widespread acceptance that if advertisers can provide some value to consumers, the latter will be much more receptive to the messaging.

Everything you need to know about the Google Chrome ad blocker

Worryingly for advertisers and publishers, the growth in mobile ad blocker usage has been very notable and that trend has been particularly marked in the Asia-Pacific region over the past 12 months.

Many publishers have implemented “ad block walls”, which do not allow access to their content for users with an ad blocker installed. That approach is only a stop-gap measure and does not strike at the heart of the issue, however.

It is pretty clear which way the wind is blowing, so Google is aiming to take a modicum of control over the prevailing trend rather than ignore it altogether. Third-party ad blockers, after all, might also end up blocking ads from the Google Display Network.

Moreover, Chrome accounts for 62% of the mobile browser market and 59% of desktop, so it certainly has the clout to make a difference.

And yet, there is a fine balance to strike here between permitting the ads that fuel so much of the digital economy, while precluding those that are overly intrusive. Google, of course, has much to lose if it adopts an overzealous approach, but much to gain if it can become the arbiter of the correct standards for digital advertising.

Which ads will be affected?

The standards by which the Chrome ad blocker will operate are based on the guidelines set by the Coalition for Better Ads. Google is on the board that sets these regulations, but so are many other influential bodies, including the Association of National Advertisers, Unilever, and Facebook.

This collective set out to pinpoint the ad experiences that consumers found to be overly negative when browsing. The research (which can be viewed here) revealed certain types of ad that are most typically tied to negative experiences.

The desktop web experiences that will be affected are:

Everything you need to know about the Google Chrome ad blocker

While the mobile ad types that will be affected are:

Everything you need to know about the Google Chrome ad blocker

Of course, these are broad categories and there are levels of sophistication within each. Google has added the stipulation that publishers have a 7.5% non-compliance threshold before their ads are blocked.

There is also an element of common sense to be applied here. We have all been subjected to the kinds of ads that this initiative targets, whether they are full-screen auto-play videos or pop-up ads that feel impossible to close.

How will Google enforce this?

Significantly, Google estimates that just 1% of publishers will be affected in the short-term by the new ad blocker. It would be fair to say that the approach to cutting out sub-par ads has more in common with a scalpel than an axe. After all, Google knows better than anyone that advertising supports the vast majority of what we see online.

Wes MacLaggan, SVP of Marketing at Marin Software, commented to Search Engine Watch that:

These new standards are meant to create a better user experience for consumers, and ultimately encourage fewer ad blocking installations. In the short term, we’ll see some ad formats and advertisers shut off. These advertisers and publishers will need to invest in more quality ads, while publishers will no longer be able to rely on monetizing with intrusive formats.

Google will also alert sites that are at the “warning” or “failing” level on its scale, to provide an opportunity to clean up their ads. The search giant reports that 37% of sites that were initially in violation of their standards have since made changes to improve the quality of their ads.

Websites that violate the new standards will be given 30 days to remove the offending ads from their sites or Google will block their ads.

Everything you need to know about the Google Chrome ad blocker

How will this affect advertisers and publishers?

It is a sign of how much the industry has changed that this is not quite the doomsday scenario it would have been for many just a few years ago.

The business model that drives so many publishers has been under threat for some time now. The move to a digital-first publishing world could only really be supported by a revenue model based on digital advertising, but unfortunately it has proved highly challenging to square this with the consumer’s best interests.

The ultimate aim for Google, via Chrome, is both ambitious and idealistic: to work with publishers and advertisers to create a customer-centric browsing experience. There are some clear statements on this from the Coalition for Better Ads, including the following:

The Coalition encourages advertisers, publishers, and advertising technology providers to review its research and the initial Better Ads Standards, as part of their efforts in the marketplace to improve the online ad experience.

  • Advertisers can use the initial Better Ads Standards to inform campaign development and execution
  • Publishers can use the initial Better Ads Standards to develop improved experiences for their audiences
  • Ad technology platforms can use the initial Better Ads Standards in the development process for new ad experiences
  • Providers of measurement technologies can use the initial Better Ads Standards to develop new ways to assess marketplace prevalence of the ad experiences preferred by consumers

Wes McLaggan of Marin Software has some further advice for advertisers as they take stock of how this update may affect them:

High quality, relevant ads are always going to perform better than those shouting to get a user’s attention. Marketers should leverage all targeting options to put the right ad in front of the right person. Ads should also reflect the user’s frame of mind when they are on that platform. There isn’t a one-size fits all approach for in-stream video on Facebook, Instagram Stories and display ads on a website. In short, digital advertisers should let user engagement, relevance, and ad quality be their guide.

Although an in-built ad blocker that initially affects 1% of publishers will not drive a fundamental shift in digital consumer-advertiser relationships on its own, it is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.

The 2018 guide to free SEO training courses online

Over the past decade SEO has been growing into its position as a critical marketing channel for businesses.

You might be new to this environment, or you may have new team members that need to be trained up on search engine optimization.

Before you go handing over your gold coins to a training consultant, we suggest you read this article where we have outlined some of the best (and importantly, free) SEO training courses and websites to take your knowledge to the next level in 2018.

This is an update to a guide written by Chuck Price in 2016, with many of his suggestions still holding value so after you’ve finished with this article we would recommend jumping over there for some additional pointers and a look at some of the skill sets needed to become a skilled SEO.

Google – Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide and Google Webmasters Learning

It’s a favored description by the doubters and the uninitiated: SEO is all tricks, underhand manipulation and most importantly, guess work. In actual fact, good SEO is far from guess work. Google may not give us complete visibility into the workings of their search algorithm but they more open than the doubters think!

What better place to start than with two guides provided by Google, the globally dominant search engine and therefore the target platform for lots of SEOs worldwide.

Starter guide

Updated in December 2017 Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide is an up to date resource from the Big G, targeted at those starting right from the very beginning.

Be warned, Google may have trendy offices but their guides lack the same personal touch. Their starter guide is dense and rather dry, but useful nonetheless.

Interestingly you may gain more value reading it first and then coming back to it once you have had certain aspects explained in a less matter of fact manner.

Webmasters learning page

This web page overlaps with Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide to an extent. However, this resource provides a wider breadth of information including web developer specific advice. In fact, the initial module titled ‘Webmaster Academy’ has now been replaced with the Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide.

The information and links on this page are applicable to marketers, designers and developers alike, with Google providing useful YouTube, Blog and forum links to turbocharge your learning.

Moz – Beginner’s Guide to SEO

Moz is one of the most well known platforms and information sources within the SEO industry. The clean aesthetics of the website and easy to understand language make digesting the information presented much easier than for Google’s Starter Guide.

Made up of 10 chapters on critical areas of SEO (such as how search engine operate or myths and misconceptions) this guide is full of analogies which can be a real benefit for the newbies to formulate their own mental map of the SEO ecosystem.

A must-read, and one of the most frequently-mentioned recommendations for those discussing SEO guides online!

Quick Sprout – The Advanced Guide to SEO

Neil Patel loves long-form content, and he’s rather good at it. Heavily researched and highly detailed, his Advanced Guide to SEO makes no apologies for being a continuation for those who no longer gain value from the more basic guides. Through 9 chapters Neil will take you through his course, tackling more advanced link building theories or technical items.

Much like Moz’s guide, Neil speaks to you as a person, using more colloquial language than more corporate led guides. The plethora of screenshots and infographics also help you to tackle each chapter in a step by step, linear process

HubSpot’s Certifications

The guides by Google, Moz and Quick Sprout are great for those looking to learn the ropes of SEO and gain an understanding of the specific elements that make up an SEO campaign. For newcomers, the guides above will certainly have an impact on your site’s rankings when implemented.

However, to really make the most of your SEO efforts, you need to look at the bigger picture. SEO has a habit of sucking you in and making you focus on the minutiae – take the time to really understand your audience and buyer personas, subsequently creating a long term strategy that delivers greater results.

HubSpot are inbound marketing specialists that offer a range of free online learning tools, all engineered to help you create more effective inbound funnels and deliver conversions. Resources include an onsite SEO template, a variety of ebooks and free digital marketing courses that will earn you a certificate when complete

They’re simple and easy to understand. We would recommend starting with the Inbound Certification which provides a general structure for your inbound sales funnels and content strategies.

Both video content and transcripts come in multiple chapters, with a multiple choice test at the end and certificate. They also take it further than just SEO, training you on sales techniques so that your customers get the very best experience possible, are delighted, and become promoters for your business.

Continuous learning

Gaining an understanding of the SEO ecosystem and the basics of on-site optimization, content creation, link-building and analytics is critical in ensuring that you set off on the right path. The courses above are very valuable in providing this initial overview, but you also need to make sure that you are keeping up to date and adapting your campaign strategy accordingly.

The ‘goal posts’ for user-focused campaigns rarely change, but updates do occur which you need to be aware of in order to react. We have included below some of the main SEO-specific sites that you can bookmark and follow on social media, not only to keep up-to-date, but also to build on your foundations.

Search Engine Watch

At Search Engine Watch we provide a blends of tips, industry news and how-to guides to help you further your knowledge around search engine optimization. With a blend of in-house expertise and industry contributors, we publish articles regularly.

Make use of our checklists (such as Christopher Ratcliff’s Technical SEO Checklist) to methodically ensure that you have covered all bases. We may be biased, but it’s a rather good resource!

Embrace the community

There are a plethora of sites on the web publishing helpful (and not so helpful) SEO related content and guides. Some of the most popular being Moz Blog, Search Engine Watch and Search Engine Journal.

However, there are a number of individuals and businesses that you should follow on their blogs or social media to utilize multiple sources throughout the SEO industry:

  • Rand Fishkin
  • Larry Kim
  • John Mueller
  • Neil Patel
  • Danny Sullivan
  • Barry Schwartz
  • Vanessa Fox
  • Bill Slawski

These individuals (amongst others) will crop up time and again as you dive deeper into the SEO world. It is also valuable to follow the various platforms available to businesses.

The content produced by these organizations are often heavily focused around utilizing analytics to improve campaigns:

  • Ahrefs
  • BuzzSumo
  • SEMRush
  • Kissmetrics
  • Searchmetrics
  • Backlinko

This is not an exhaustive list, but is a great place to start. It takes a certain amount of research to understand which individuals, businesses and organisations produce content that is most applicable to your requirements and current level of knowledge.

We would, however, advise that utilizing as many courses, guides and sources as possible will give you a well rounded view of SEO and allow you to make your own decisions, draw relevant insights to your campaigns and get great results.

What we believe you will find is that the SEO industry is actually reasonably open in terms of disseminating guides and discussing techniques or new updates.

This provides an environment in which a newcomer can learn a substantial amount about running a successful SEO campaign just by reading and engaging with the online SEO community.

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Looking through the artificial intelligence mirror: insights and automation

We have entered a new era of search where SEO and content marketing have converged.

AI technologies are providing a whole new world of insights so marketers can make impactful – data-informed – decisions. The AI revolution is here and now, and early adopters in SEO and content marketing are already one step ahead of the competition.

Artificial intelligence

While Artificial Intelligence has slowly become a part of everyday lives, growing all around us. It was only when Google introduced RankBrain in 2015 when search marketers started to see the potential use cases for AI and machine learning. As Albert Gouyet wrote in his recent piece, ‘Artificial intelligence and machine learning: What are the opportunities for search marketers?‘:

  • Artificial intelligence is the science of making machines do things requiring human intelligence. It is human intelligence in machine format where computer programs develop data-based decisions and perform tasks normally performed by humans.
  • Machine learning takes artificial intelligence a step further in the sense that algorithms are programmed to learn and improve without the need for human data input and reprogramming.

Machine learning is all around us and has been part of people’s everyday lives for many years now. The most relevant examples for SEOs are based around voice-enabled technologies that are used in more than 20% of mobile queries.

When people are on their way to work, they use voice search to send messages and navigate via their in-car system. When people are at work, they use voice search on their laptops to manage diaries and schedules. At home, people may use Amazon Echo or Google Home and watch films on Netflix.

The two key AI and machine learning benefits I want to focus today on are centered around:

Insights that are accurate, actionable, and impact revenue

Automation of labour-intensive tasks and programmatic scale.

I: Data-driven insights

Marketing today is very labor-intensive, often requiring marketers to dig through too much data that may not even be giving them the bigger picture they need to make impactful business decisions. More than 80 percent of the world’s data is unstructured–for example, data from text, video, images, and user-generated social and blog content–and marketers need to break this down into structured formats that they can act on.

To do this effectively and in a manner that produces impactful business results, requires planning, process discipline, and advanced technology. By leveraging AI and machine learning systems that leverage both historical and real-time data, SEO and content marketers can map out in advance what types of content will perform best.

Marketers can use these insights in so many ways to blend the best of search marketing and content marketing practices in two key ways.

1. Targeting demand: Discovering new data patterns and industry and competitive trends

Targeting demand requires a deep understanding of your audience and AI-based insights help marketers decide which channels and types of content consumers are searching for. Data-driven insights into consumer demand set marketers up for success with a content marketing strategy built specifically for their target audience.

Intent data offers in-the-moment context on where customers want to go and what they want to know, do, or buy. Organic search data is the critical raw material that helps you discover consumer patterns, new market opportunities, and competitive threats.

2. Personalizing the customer experience: Producing content that resonates, engages and delights customers

This is one of the areas where AI and machine learning can have the biggest impact. Rich (deep) data-led insights can help incorporate content and present people with choices and promotions at the right time based on their past preferences. This is where deep learning can have a massive impact.

Deep learning is the next generation of machine learning where massive data sets are combined with pattern recognition capabilities to automatically make decisions, find patterns, and provide accurate insights that help drive SEO and content marketing strategies.

Deep learning is particularly important in search, where data sets are large and shifts are dynamic. Deep learning allows you to identify patterns and trends in real-time. SEO and content marketers can immediately turn these insights into a plan to win.

A: Machine Learning and Automation

Being armed with smart insights to uncover potential topics that are hyper-relevant to their target audience and automation allows SEO and content marketers to scale their programs and maximize working efficiency.

Speed will be a critical part of getting ahead of others within your market space, and automation will be the foundation of achieving this goal.

Automation allows marketers to:

  • Act on recommendations faster
  • Get content in front of their audience before the competition
  • Ensure that content is optimized from the moment it goes live.

For example, Kraft used a combination of machine learning and insights to optimize their content creation process. Kraft tracked more than 22,000 different audience characteristics then used these insights to inform their content creation process. The result was a 4x increase in ROI from content, when compared to targeted ads.

Automation is helping marketers do more with less and execute more quickly. Routine SEO and content tasks can be implemented with little effort, allowing SEO and content marketers to focus on high-impact activities and accomplish their personal and professional objectives at scale.

Conclusion

AI, machine learning and deep learning is going to transform how SEO and content marketers operate via the utilization of data-driven insights and give marketers the competitive edge to formulate impactful content marketing strategies.

Source: Marketing in the Machine Age

Marketers will use AI to respond to complexity and rapid change that is beyond the normal human capabilities, like the search algorithm changes and evolution of the layout of the SERPs.

AI will improve marketers’ agility–having the flexibility to adapt quickly to changes in the market and change content strategy in line with competitive market trends. This includes having the ability to scale content marketing efforts effectively through entire organizations.

In addition, AI will help marketer capture and satisfy customers by optimizing customer experience and content personalization, issues that present dozens to hundreds to thousands of combinations to satisfy  a range of customer personas at different points on the lifecycle.

Providing users with highly relevant, optimized, and engaging content tailored to the customers’ expectations, needs and goals will improve all marketing metrics.

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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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The future of visual search and what it means for SEO companies

The human brain has evolved to instantly recognize images.

Visual identification is a natural ability made possible through a wonder of nerves, neurons, and synapses. We can look at a picture, and in 13 milliseconds or less, know exactly what we’re seeing.

But creating technology that can understand images as quickly and effectively as the human mind is a huge undertaking.

Visual search therefore requires machine learning tools that can quickly process images, but these tools must also be able to identify specific objects within the image, then generate visually similar results.

Yet thanks to the vast resources at the disposal of companies like Google, visual search is finally becoming viable. How, then, will SEO evolve as visual search develops?

Here’s a more interesting question: how soon until SEO companies have to master visual search optimization?

Visual search isn’t likely to replace text-based search engines altogether. For now, visual search is most useful in the world of sales and retail. However, the future of visual search could still disrupt the SEO industry as we know it.

What is visual search?

If you have more than partial vision, you’re able to look across a room and identify objects as you see them. For instance, at your desk you can identify your monitor, your keyboard, your pens, and the sandwich you forgot to put in the fridge.

Your mind is able to identify these objects based on visual cues alone. Visual search does the same thing, but with a given image on a computer. However, it’s important to note that visual search is not the same as image search.

Image search is when a user inputs a word into a search engine and the search engine spits out related images. Even then, the search engine isn’t recognizing images, just the structured data associated with the image files.

Visual search uses an image as a query instead of text (reverse image search is a form of visual search). It identifies objects within the image and then searches for images related to those objects. For instance, based on an image of a desk, you’d be able to use visual search to shop for a desk identical or similar to the one in the image.

While this sounds incredible, the technology surrounding visual search is still limited at best. This is because machine learning must recreate the mind’s image processing before it can effectively produce a viable visual search application. It isn’t enough for the machine to identify an image. It must also be able to recognize a variety of colors, shapes, sizes, and patterns the way the human mind does.

The technology surrounding visual search is still limited at best

However, it’s difficult to recreate image processing in a machine when we barely understand our own image processing system. It’s for this reason that visual search programming is progressing so slowly.

Visual search as it stands: Where we are

Today’s engineers have been using machine learning technology to jumpstart the neural networks of visual search engines for improved image processing. One of the most recent examples of these developments is Google Lens.

Google Lens is an app that allows your smartphone to work as a visual search engine. Announced at Google’s 2017 I/O conference, the app works by analyzing the pictures that you take and giving you information about that image.

For instance, by taking a photo of an Abbey Road album your phone can tell you more about the Beatles and when the album came out. By taking a photo of an ice cream shop your phone can tell you its name, deliver reviews, and tell you if your friends have been there.

The future of visual search and what it means for SEO companies

All of this information stems from Google’s vast stores of data, algorithms, and knowledge graphs, which are then incorporated into the the neural networks of the Lens product. However, the complexity of visual search involves more than just an understanding of the neural networks.

The mind’s image processing touches on more than just identification. It also draws conclusions that are incredibly complex. And it’s this complexity, known as the “black box problem”, that engineers struggle to recreate in visual search engines.

Rather than waiting explicitly on scientists to understand the human mind, DeepMind — a Google-owned company — has been taking steps toward programming the visual search engine based on cognitive psychology rather than relying solely on neural networks.

However, Google isn’t the only company with developing visual search technology. Pinterest launched its own Lens product in March 2017 to provide features such as Shop the Look and Pincodes. Those using Pinterest can take a photo of a person or place through the app and then have the photo analyzed for clothing or homeware options for shopping. 

The future of visual search and what it means for SEO companies

What makes Pinterest Lens and Google Lens different is that Pinterest offers more versatile options for users. Google is a search engine for users to gather information. Pinterest is a website and app for shopping, recipes, design ideas, and recreational searching.

Unlike Google, which has to operate on multiple fronts, Pinterest is able to focus solely on the development of its visual search engine. As a result, Pinterest could very well become the leading contender in visual search technology.

Nevertheless, other retailers are beginning to catch on and pick up the pace with their own technology. The fashion retailer ASOS also released a visual search tool on its website in August 2017.

The use of visual search in retail helps reduce what’s been called the Discovery Problem. The Discovery Problem is when shoppers have so many options to choose from on a retailer’s website that they simply stop shopping. Visual search reduces the number of choices and helps shoppers find what they want more effectively.

The future of visual search: Where we’ll go from here

It’s safe to assume that the future of visual search engines will be retail-dominated. For now, it’s easier to search for information with words.

Users don’t need to take a photo of an Abbey Road album to learn more about the Beatles when they can use just as many keystrokes to type ‘Abbey Road’ into a search engine. However, users do need to take a photo of a specific pair of sneakers to convey to a search engine exactly what they’re looking to buy.

The future of visual search and what it means for SEO companies

Searching for a pair of red shoes using Pinterest Lens

As a result, visual search engines are convenient, but they’re not ultimately necessary for every industry to succeed. Services, for instance, may be more likely to rely on textual search engines, whereas sales may be more likely to rely on visual search engines.

That being said, with 69% of young consumers showing an interest in making purchases based on visual-oriented searches alone, the future of visual search engines is most likely to be a shopper’s paradise in the right retailer’s hands.

What visual search means for SEO

Search engines are already capable of indexing images and videos and ranking them accordingly. Video SEO and image SEO have been around for years, ever since video and image content became popular with websites like YouTube and Facebook.

Yet despite this surge in video and image content, SEO still meets the needs of those looking to rank higher on search engines. Factors such as creating SEO-friendly alt text, image sitemaps, SEO-friendly image titles, and original image content can put your website’s images a step above the competition.

However, the see-snap-buy behavior of visual search can make image SEO more of a challenge. This is because the user no longer has to type, but can instead take a photo of a product and then search for the product on a retailer’s website.

Currently, SEO has been functioning alongside visual search via alt-tagging, image optimization, schema markup, and metadata. Schema markup and metadata are especially important for SEO in visual search. This is because, with such minimal text used in the future of visual search, this data may be one of the only sources of textual information for search engines to crawl.

Meticulously cataloging images with microdata may be tedious, but the enhanced description that microdata provides when paired with an optimized image should help that image rank higher in visual search.

Metadata is just as important. In both text-based searches and visual-based searches, metadata strengthens the marketer’s ability to drive online traffic to their website and products. Metadata hides in the HTML of both web pages and images, but it’s what search engines use to find relevant information.

The future of visual search and what it means for SEO companies

Marking up your images with relevant metadata is essential for image SEO

For this reason, to optimize for image search, it’s essential to use metadata for your website’s images and not just the website itself.

Both microdata and metadata will continue to play an important role in the SEO industry even as visual search engines develop and revolutionize the online experience. However, additional existing SEO techniques will need to advance and improve to adapt to the future of visual search.

The future of SEO and visual search

To assume visual search engines are unlikely to change the future of the SEO industry is to be short-sighted. Yet it’s just as unlikely that text-based search will be made obsolete and replaced by a world of visual-based technology.

However, just because text-based search engines won’t be going anywhere doesn’t mean they won’t be made to share the spotlight. As visual search engines develop and improve, they’ll likely become just as popular and used as text-based engines. It’s for this reason that existing SEO techniques will need to be fine-tuned for the industry to remain up-to-date and relevant.

But how can SEO stay relevant as see-snap-buy behavior becomes not just something used on retail websites, but in most places online? As mentioned before, SEO companies can still utilize image-based SEO techniques to keep up with visual search engines.

Like text-based search engines, visual search relies on algorithms to match content for online users. The SEO industry can use this to its advantage and focus on structured data and optimization to make images easier to process for visual applications.

Additional techniques can help impove image indexing by visual search engines. Some of these techniques include:

  • Setting up image badges to run through structured data tests
  • Creating alternative attributes for images with target keywords
  • Submitting images to image sitemaps
  • Optimizing images for mobile use

Visual search engines are bound to revolutionize the retail industry and the way we use technology. However, text-based search engines will continue to have an established place in industries that are better suited to them.

The future of SEO is undoubtedly set for rapid change. The only question is which existing strategies will be reinforced in the visual search revolution and which will be outdated.

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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.

[Report] Why should marketers care about transparency in paid media?

Paid media transparency has become an increasingly pressing industry issue over the last few years.

In January 2017, Chief Brand Officer of Procter & Gamble (P&G) Marc Pritchard drew attention to the issue of dishonest agency advertising practices, after an unpleasant surprise in its dealings with one agency led to the company reviewing all of its media-agency contacts.

Just two months later, the issue of transparency and brand safety in programmatic advertising came to a prominent head, when a number of major brands discovered their advertising being displayed next to objectionable content online.

These are not isolated examples. Rather, these well-known cases are symptomatic of an issue endemic to the entire advertising industry. The budgets, metrics, processes and other dealings that surround paid media campaigns are shrouded in obscurity, preventing the brands which buy advertising from knowing exactly where this spend is going, what they are buying, and how it is benefiting them.

In this report, we explore the benefits of transparency in paid media campaigns, with a view to strategy, brand safety and profitability, as well as furnishing brands with the right questions to ask their agencies to ensure full campaign transparency.

Click here to access the deep-dive report on transparency in paid media.

Content produced in association with Search Laboratory

Local search industry optimistic about 2018 — but less likely to hire

Columnist Jamie Pitman shares insights about the state of the local search industry from BrightLocal’s Local Search Industry Survey. The post Local search industry optimistic about 2018 — but less likely to hire appeared first on Search Engine Land.

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

How Ranking Factors Studies Damage the SEO Industry by @jennyhalasz

Ranking factors studies are detrimental to our industry. We have a responsibility to properly interpret them for non-SEOs.

The post How Ranking Factors Studies Damage the SEO Industry by @jennyhalasz appeared first on Search Engine Journal.