Tag Archives: MOBILE

Smart shopping season checklists: Mobile and desktop, content and SEO

Constantly changing consumer behaviors and the demand for more personalized, meaningful experiences have retailers facing huge challenges this year.

Competition in the SERPs is stiff, but winning the click is still no guarantee that the consumer is invested in your shopping experience.

More than half of retailers (source: Soasta.com) have a bounce rate greater than 40%, and just one second in increased page load time can have a 50% impact on your mobile bounce rate. Today’s consumer has zero patience for a poor online experience and will pull the trigger instantly if your brand can’t deliver.

The holidays provide plenty of opportunities to create more personalized content and provide smart content and intelligent experiences both in-store and online. How can you best get in position this holiday season to not only be found, but to engage and delight consumers all the way through, from search to checkout?

Below, I share some tips to help marketers in the coming weeks to get their SEO and content in shape for the holidays (and beyond).

Smart holiday shopping

The holiday shopping season provides a great opportunity for marketers to get smarter about the way they develop and promote content. As SEO and content marketing disciplines converge, the need for smart content has become mission critical. Smart content is discoverable, optimized from the point of creation, and ready to be activated across channels and devices, making it both profitable and measurable.

New research (disclosure – carried out by my company, BrightEdge) shows that ecommerce behavior changes dramatically on major shopping days Black Friday and Cyber Monday. On these days, conversion spikes. Interestingly, online conversion rates increase across desktop, tablet and mobile increase from Thanksgiving to Black Friday and into Cyber Monday. Going into the holiday season, it is good to know that:

  • On Black Friday and Cyber Monday, conversion is double what it normally is
  • Cyber Monday conversion is higher than Black Friday conversion by 10%
  • Desktop takes 67% of overall conversions during the holiday season, with desktop traffic converting at a significantly higher rate than mobile visits.

When it comes down to making that final decision, consumers still like to see what they’re buying, and all of the information surrounding it, on a larger screen.

It is important to note though that our data suggests an earlier holiday shopping season, too, and that consumers were making their big purchase on Thanksgiving and then using discounts to buy things they would have purchased already but with big discounts. Hence the higher conversion rates for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Read the full report (ungated) for more findings from our research.

As you get ready for the holiday shopping season, make sure that you:

  • Create content that meets your customers’ needs at various points in their journey
  • Develop SMART content and engage audiences with plenty of content about upcoming deals and specials, holiday wish list must-haves and similar content published on your website or blog
  • Ensure that your mobile configuration is correct
  • Add images, icons, buttons and specific (seasonal offerings) calls-to-action as part of the experience
  • Set up your mobile analytics so it reports key metrics separately from desktop data
  • Maintain rank for your high value keywords by creating helpful, consultative evergreen content
  • Double-check your SEO strategy to make sure your content is optimized for organic discovery. Start with these 5 aspects of technical SEO you can’t neglect
  • Ensure that optimize desktop, mobile and tablet strategies and connect them along the buyers journey – from discover and engagement through to final purchase.

Maximize your organic presence throughout the holiday season

Schema markup helps you structure your on-page data in a way that it can be better understood by search engines. As we all know, Google’s #1 goal is to provide searchers the best answers to their needs. Schema helps you show Google all of the ways in which your site content is the best answer for relevant queries.

Schema can help you win extra visibility in the SERPs, too, with expanded results and extra features like Google’s Quick Answers box. It can help you add compelling content like ratings and other rich information that convince searchers to convert to site visitors. At the very least, check these off your list in your pre-holidays marketing prep:

  • Optimize key pages for Quick Answers and mark up accordingly
  • Mark up events you’re hosting in-store and online for inclusion in the Google Events SERP feature
  • Use structured data markup to define business attributes including your NAP (name, address, phone), business type, hours, latitude and longitude, and more
  • Make sure your product pages are marked up so reviews show in the SERPs. This is critical, as 61% of customers read online reviews before making a purchase decision, and 63% of shoppers are more likely to buy if there are product reviews (iPerceptions)
  • Put the most important ecommerce attributes to work for you. Add pricing and availability to your rich snippets, to help consumers make a decision quickly and avoid in-store or online store disappointment after the click
  • Check for common schema errors like typos or incorrect capitalization, and use Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool to make sure you’ve implemented your markup correctly.

Supplement your SEO strategy and deliver a relevant holiday shopping experience

Your PPC and SEO budgets shouldn’t be pitted against one another during holiday season, each fighting it out for their share of the pie. Organic search drives 51 percent of all visits to B2B and B2C websites, and it is important to use PPC to support your SEO efforts; to fill in the gaps in organic coverage and further your conversion opportunities for specific time sensitive promotions.

Ad extensions can give your ads greater functionality and more visibility, while targeting options like dayparting and device targeting reduce waste and get you in front of your ideal audiences when it matters most. And remember, when it comes to site visits, desktop dominates on Cyber Monday, mobile on Black Friday, and tablets on Thanksgiving Day.

These insights can help you tailor your ads and bids to the most receptive audiences on each major shopping day this season. How else can you improve your PPC game in time for the holidays?

  • Accelerate conversions and sales with targeted campaigns aligned with your content strategy or featured products
  • Focus your organic search efforts on aligning with consumer intent, and use PPC to tap into queries that indicate imminent purchase behavior
  • Take advantage of the second holiday shopping rush by advertising post-holiday sales over the holiday week, when many people are off work and traveling
  • Use social PPC (Facebook and Twitter Ads) to get your ads in front of super granular, targeted audiences in the moments that matter most
  • Make best use of each of the Bing Ads and Google AdWords features available to you, including targeting options and various ad formats that can help you stand out in the SERPs
  • Deliver an optimal experience after the click by following through on the promise of ads with a seamless shopping experience.

Optimize for experience to improve conversion

Your number one priority in conversion optimization this holiday season has to be mapping your content to the customer journey, then aligning this to the days that matter most for revenue. It’s not all about Black Friday vs. Cyber Monday; Thanksgiving Day might actually be your best day for revenue generation.

Run through this checklist in the holidays lead-up to turn more of your lookers into buyers:

  • Test and analyze your shopping cart and checkout experience via a mobile device
  • Use your category pages to guide users, who are often undecided about the exact product they’ll purchase, towards your product pages and ultimately, a decision
  • Address user uncertainty on-page by answering frequently asked questions where it actually matters: on category and product pages. Consumers won’t go digging for information on shipping, return policies, etc.
  • Provide social proof by way of embedded reviews on product pages. Consumers want to see what types of experiences others are having with your brand and products before they’ll commit to purchase
  • Examine conversion rates by page speed, and optimize for a more efficient shopping experience. Load only your best converting image on page load and use interaction triggers to add other items as needed.

The holiday shopping season provides great opportunities to create more personalized content and provide intelligent experiences both at the store and online.

To maximize performance, marketers need to focus on understanding and creating smart content and shopping experiences to attract, engage and convert customers at the right time and on the right device.

4 common mistakes that tank responsive mobile conversion

About a decade ago, almost everyone who accessed the internet used a desktop computer. Just two screen sizes accounted for 77% of all web usage in 2006.

This pattern has completely shifted. Research by mobify.com found that today, ten screen sizes – different laptops, tablets, smartphones, monitors, netbooks and web-enabled TVs – account for 77% of web usage.

Interestingly, none of the screen sizes have over 20% of market share each. Today, when designing a website, marketers must plan for all kinds of mediums accessing the web grid, from smart TVs to heavy-weight iMacs down to the cheapest Android device out there.

The solution for a digitalized planet where smartphone and tablet users expect rich and intuitive web experiences as found on desktops will be responsive mobile design.

But responsive mobile design isn’t a magic bullet. It might solve the screen-size layout problem, but there are other intrinsic problems with the responsive approach that a lot of marketers skim over.

Below are some common mistakes that could affect your responsive mobile conversion.

Mistake #1: Bloated images

Images pose a leading responsive conversion problem. Because a responsive website makes use of a single markup across devices, it’s important to ensure that only large, attractive images are served to Retina iPad displays, whilst old smartphones acquire lesser low-resolution images that will load fast.

For image-rich websites, their woes begin with mobile page speed due to size of high-res images rendered to the wrong device. In addition, the cost of the wasted bandwidth used in sending weighty images to the wrong devices is basically throwing away money.

Paul Gian, marketer at Beyond4C’s recommends the following ways for optimizing images for all screen sizes and resolutions:

  • Running images through Imagemagick (back-end process) for an optimal size.
  • Using Lossy Compression to completely reduce the image size while maintaining depth.
  • Rendering images through multiple servers, Amazon Cloudfront CDN preferably.

With these hacks, Beyond4C’s saw a 135% increase in mobile conversion as the hacks guarantee that you can constantly send the right images to the right devices.

Mistake #2: Slow page load time

Web pages with slow loading times have a major problem because mobile users are very irritated with slow web pages. The typical U.S. retail mobile site loads in 6.9 seconds in July 2016.

But, according to the Akamai study, “40% will abandon a web page if it takes more than three seconds to load”. And “64% of shoppers who are dissatisfied with their site visit will go somewhere else to shop next time.”

Web visitors have a tendency to get aggravated if they have to wait too long to see your web content. In his book Usability Engineering, Jakob Nielsen says people can handle up to 10 seconds of load time before they leave, but even a few seconds’ delay is enough to create an unpleasant user experience.

A number of the world’s largest companies understand that site performance and placing importance on their users’ time can be a competitive advantage in the market. It’s a big part of Google’s philosophy.

And Facebook’s design team has this to say:

“We value our user’s time more than our own. We recognize faster experiences are more efficient and feel more effortless. As such, site performance is something our users should never notice. Our site should move as fast as we do.”

Mistake #3: Long forms

Nobody enjoys having to fill out long forms on desktop sites; however, this becomes even more loathsome when you have to type several details with your thumbs on mobile.

Avoid the use of long, tiresome forms that make users type a lot. Long forms do not only frustrate your users, but also hurt your conversion rates when you use them for any kind of transaction. Take for instance Expedia, who lost $12 million dollars in revenue because they were making use of an unnecessary form field that confused their users.

By reducing their form fields from four to three, HubSpot improved their conversion rates by 50%. When it comes to forms, shorter is always better, particularly on mobile.

Mistake #4: Ignoring mobile user intent

Another common mistake that hurts responsive mobile conversion is the assumption that responsive design will fix all problems. Though a responsive design takes care of many mobile UX issues, it doesn’t necessarily take user goals into consideration.

According to smartinsights.com, there’s a 270% gap between desktop and mobile conversion rates, because people get mobile websites all wrong.

On desktop computers, long titles and many words have an effect that is sometimes totally opposite to mobile devices. More text on mobile devices will hide the page and push away the user from accessing their goal, which is most of the time the call to action.

Aside the menu bar, always focus on helping your visitors to navigate your web page easily, especially the call to action buttons. When designing your site, have mobile device users in mind and make their journey through your website much simpler, targeting your conversion rate.

Conclusion

Mobile media usage is growing faster than desktop, TV, radio, and print. More people are using mobile devices to access the internet more than ever before, so, it is of the essence to design mobile sites that are simple and pleasant to use. Sites that are difficult to navigate infuriates mobile users, making them leave your sites and locate other sites.

If you don’t make your website truly mobile-friendly, your visitors won’t complete your forms, will abandon their shopping cart, leave your site, and transact business with your competitors. This of course, would go a long way to adversely affecting your conversion rate.

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The 5 best tools to develop a mobile-first SEO strategy

Search marketers rely on tools to make sense of what is a very complex, fluid environment. With the increasing importance of mobile, the list of tools grows even longer. Which platforms should search marketers use to devise a mobile-first SEO strategy?

While we await the launch of Google’s mobile-first index, search marketers are aiming to capitalize on the growing quantity of searches made on smartphones.

We spent a long time anticipating the ‘mobile era’, but for many businesses it has been a reality for some time now.

The numbers certainly tell their own story. Mobile searches now outnumber desktop queries, and mobile advertising spend is projected to exceed $100 billion worldwide this year.

(Source: Statista)

Of course, this means that the ranking signals for mobile are different to those used for desktop results. That stands to reason; smartphones are used for different purposes and they provide Google with different data sets to calculate its rankings.

Mobile websites often differ from their desktop counterparts too, so marketers need to be sure that their online presence is prepared for a mobile-first world.

Recently, we wrote that there are three areas that really matter for mobile SEO performance:

  • Context: How many people search for your products online? When and where do they tend to search?
  • Speed/accessibility: How quickly does your mobile site load? Are there differences in the internal linking structures of your mobile and desktop sites?
  • User engagement signals: How well does your site render on a mobile device? Are you tracking the right metrics for mobile performance?

These are complex questions, but there some tools that can help us arrive at quantitative answers. The list below highlights 5 of the best tools to shape and measure your mobile SEO strategy.

SimilarWeb

For on-the-spot digital consumer research, SimilarWeb is a fantastic place to start. SEO does not exist in isolation, so it is very helpful to have an overview of how consumers are discovering a website across all channels and devices before we zoom in.

SimilarWeb uses proprietary, anonymized data from its own customers along with clickstream data to understand how people access sites, how long they stay, and where they go next.

The 5 best tools to develop a mobile-first SEO strategy

This ecosystem incorporates apps too, which are of prime importance as we consider a mobile-first strategy. The mobile web is merging with the app world, with Google pushing both progressive web apps and Android Instant Apps.

SimilarWeb is excellent for competitor research too, making it a great all-rounder for any digital marketer as they start plotting a mobile strategy.

How SimilarWeb can help shape your mobile-first SEO strategy:

  • Consumer insights across all channels, devices and territories
  • Helpful for mobile SEO keyword research
  • Includes app analysis alongside mobile web statistics
  • In-depth competitor analysis reveals other sites’ strengths and weaknesses

SEMrush

SEMrush packs in an impressive amount of features for both organic and paid search. Most importantly for the scope of this analysis, it contains a host of mobile-specific SEO charts and graphs that provide insight into any website’s performance.

By identifying the frequency with which a website shows up within their index of search results, SEMrush provides an overview of the mobile rankings and traffic a brand receives. This serves as a useful barometer of current performance, and the competitor analysis features provide further reference points.

The 5 best tools to develop a mobile-first SEO strategy

The new Sensor feature (in BETA) monitors search results page fluctuations across devices, in a welcome development that reflects the constant flux of ranking positions in 2017.

Too many rankings platforms provide a static position on a weekly basis and, while it would be impossible to measure the true volatility of rankings, this new feature from SEMrush is at least a step in the right direction.

Users can set this up to monitor specific keywords for both mobile and desktop, and it will provide a daily update on the differences noted across the relevant results sets. The 5 best tools to develop a mobile-first SEO strategySEMrush’s focus on both organic and PPC provides a more holistic overview of search results pages, too. This combination of functionalities puts it just ahead of its competitors, which include BrightEdge, SearchMetrics, and SEO Monitor, for mobile SEO research.

How SEMrush can help shape your mobile-first SEO strategy:

  • Identify target keyword groups
  • Track keyword performance over time
  • Analyze competitors
  • Monitor SERP volatility
  • Overview of both paid and organic search performance

Google Mobile Site Tests

Google’s mobile-friendly test tool was launched with the aim of helping site owners get their house in order for the mobile age.

Users can enter a URL into the test, which will then tell them if their site is fit for purpose when rendered on a smartphone:

The 5 best tools to develop a mobile-first SEO strategy

The mobile-friendly test creates a list of the issues found in loading the page, which can be assessed and addressed with the web development team.

Site owners have had plenty of warning and plenty of time to align themselves with Google’s mobile-friendly guidelines, so the next priority is speed. This has been no secret, with initiatives like Accelerated Mobile Pages making it abundantly clear where site owners should be placing their focus.

Google provides another essential resource to support marketers’ efforts with its site speed test, which has improved quite significantly this year. What had previously been quite a rudimentary tool that returned vague platitudes about “Compressing images” is now a much more sophisticated and thorough analytical tool.

The 5 best tools to develop a mobile-first SEO strategy

Tests are performed using a simulated 3G connection to mimic the majority of global smartphone traffic today and Google even estimates how much traffic a site is losing due to slow loading times.

The free report can be emailed to a user (it usually arrives within an hour), with plenty of actionable details to help improve performance.

Given the paucity of great mobile-specific web tools out there, it really is an essential guide for search marketers aiming to get their site in line for the mobile-first index.

How Google’s Mobile Site Tests can help shape your mobile-first SEO strategy:

  • Quick snapshot of any mobile site issues
  • The estimate of lost traffic is great for demonstrating to senior leaders how important mobile SEO is
  • Option to download a detailed, free report
  • Clear, actionable tips to improve site speed
  • New competitor analysis shows how you fare against the industry standard

Screaming Frog

Screaming Frog is a technical SEO analysis tool that will quickly crawl and analyze a website across a range of important factors. For a snapshot of site-wide adherence to Google best practices, it remains a central part of any SEO’s toolkit.

From a mobile perspective, these technical factors are of great significance. Many sites are rendered slightly differently depending on the user agent, so marketers need to be aware of what these differences are for their URLs. As we move to a mobile-first index, those differences could affect vital ranking positions.

The 5 best tools to develop a mobile-first SEO strategy

In particular, elements including internal links, multimedia assets, and structured data may differ when rendered on mobile versus desktop.

Screaming Frog provides some valuable insight into these factors, along with standard SEO considerations like meta descriptions and title tags.

For enterprise-level businesses, Botify and DeepCrawl are great paid solutions for ongoing technical SEO. However, for smaller sites or one-off spot audits, Screaming Frog remains the go-to tool.

How Screaming Frog can help shape your mobile-first SEO strategy:

  • A quick and effective way to analyze technical SEO performance
  • Can help identify areas that are holding back site performance
  • Some visualizations of issues such as overly long meta descriptions
  • Very useful for a site-wide look at mobile SEO elements

Google Analytics; Google Search Console

I am cheating a little bit here to squeeze these two into the list, but they are complementary and pretty important for any mobile-first SEO strategy.

Google Analytics allows users to filter their data by device and by channel, making it very easy to isolate mobile SEO performance data. This can be compared to desktop and to other channels to see how SEO fares. Given the growing impact of user engagement signals on SEO rankings, marketers should really be focused on ensuring their content is meeting user demand. The metrics in Google Analytics provide the ideal starting point for this assessment.

It is possible that sub-par mobile SEO performance is related to lower rankings on mobile devices, which is where Search Console can start to prove its worth.

Google Search Console provides some good insight into mobile search volumes (found in the Impressions column), along with the ranking positions for each query.

Search Console is far from the full package for SEO, but we should expect Google to add more and more new features as the industry changes. In particular, I would anticipate the release of more mobile- and voice-specific filters to reflect the changing landscape.

The 5 best tools to develop a mobile-first SEO strategy

The Page Analytics Chrome extension is the perfect complement to these, allowing users to analyze user interactions at a page level while browsing their own site. As we continue to see the convergence of UX, CRO and SEO, these considerations should be foremost for anyone aiming to create a mobile-first strategy.

And to add one more Google tool in and complete the set, Data Studio is a user-friendly way to create mobile-specific performance dashboards using metrics from a range of analytics platforms. Once a mobile strategy has been devised and implemented, these Google tools will allow SEOs to monitor the impact closely.

How GA and GSC can help shape your mobile-first SEO strategy:

  • Accurate reflection of session-level interactions with a mobile site
  • Insight into mobile search volumes and ranking positions
  • Clear comparison with performance on other channels and devices
  • Great way to track performance for core business metrics.
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How does Bing’s voice search compare to Google’s?

Google remains the dominant player in search marketing, but the industry is changing very rapidly and the old certainties may erode. Does voice search provide a platform for Microsoft to compete?

A study earlier this year revealed that Microsoft’s speech recognition technology demonstrated only a 5.1 percent word error rate in Switchboard, a conversational speech recognition task. This shows impressive development and shows that Microsoft is more than competitive in this domain, but it is only part of the picture.

Speech recognition and voice recognition are significantly different. The former extracts words and comprehends what is said; the latter also understand who said it. We could frame this as content and context.

Context will be the defining factor in who becomes the dominant player in voice search, with an increasing amount of internet-enabled devices providing the opportunity for a seamless, conversational experience.

No doubt, search is at the very heart of this battle.

Bing has positioned itself as simply a more effective search engine, with campaigns like Bing It On aimed at showing users the quality of its results compared to those of Google.

Occasionally we see stories of impressive user growth for Bing, but never quite enough to suggest a significant threat to Google’s totemic stature. Latest estimates from Smart Insights put Google’s global share of the search market at 77%, with Bing on about 8%.

The signs so far suggest that Google will remain the dominant search player in the West, but the sands are shifting and it is increasingly difficult to predict where the industry will go. With a newly-announced partnership with Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft is clearly not going to give up the fight.

So, if search is the glue that holds this together, what is Microsoft’s strategy to compete with Google? We know Microsoft’s speech recognition technology is effective, but how do its voice search capabilities stack up?

Microsoft voice search: the key details

Microsoft’s digital assistant, Cortana, is embedded into Windows-enabled devices and into Microsoft’s Edge internet browser. That provides access to over half a billion users, once we factor in Microsoft’s Xbox gaming consoles.

Cortana has a multitude of uses. It helps users navigate the Windows interface and can respond to a multitude of wider queries, powered by Microsoft’s Bing search engine, for example.

Of course, mobile is a core focus and therefore Cortana is available via a range of Microsoft mobile hardware and software.

Like other digital assistants, Cortana is always ready to answer queries on a Windows device. It now prompts users to test its broadening functionalities by pushing notifications like “Ask me to remind you to buy eggs next time you’re at the supermarket” or “Would you like to know which song is playing?”

It can be a bit creepy and intrusive, but for the most part users will only really notice Cortana when they need to use it. The list of prompts is quite formulaic and Cortana simply searches a query on Bing when it can’t understand what the user wants.

How does Bing’s voice search compare to Google’s?

All of this functionality is at its best when a user is logged in across a range of Microsoft devices, however. The same is true of any digital assistant, but the the respective cases of Apple and Google this is simply more likely to occur.

This means that Cortana misses out on vital context, not through any technological shortcoming, but rather through the lack of mass adoption of Microsoft’s hardware.

On the software front, Microsoft fares better. There are now over 100 million monthly users of Cortana via Windows 10, and the latest edition of the Edge browser continues to bring voice search to the fore.

This is still not quite enough to make a significant dent in Google’s lead, however. One of the most searched-for technology-based phrases on Bing is [google], after all.

Microsoft’s voice search strategy

The challenge for Microsoft has always been to gain enough of the valuable mobile software market to compete with Apple and Google.

Where Apple controls a very profitable section of both the hardware and software ecosystems, Google has historically focused on its Android OS as a Trojan horse to ensure continued use of its products on a wide range of devices.

With Google Home, the Google Pixel smartphone, and Google’s soon-to-be-completed purchase of Taiwanese smartphone company HTC, the focus has shifted to hardware as the Internet of Things comes of age.

Microsoft’s Invoke smart speaker ensures it has a seat at the table, but it is the partnership with Amazon’s highly successful Echo speakers that should increase usage numbers for Cortana.

How does Bing’s voice search compare to Google’s?

Microsoft has always fared well in the enterprise market (albeit under increasing competition from Apple and Google here, too), but the personal smartphone market has been harder to break.

Further integrations with popular platforms such as Spotify, to go along with Microsoft’s ownership of Skype, could start to position Cortana as an appealing alternative to the walled garden approach of Apple.

How does Microsoft voice search differ from Google voice search?

Although both function in similar ways, there are some core areas of differentiation:

  • Speech recognition: Cortana does this fantastically well and, although Google Assistant is still very accurate, small margins do matter in this arena. Although only a sample size of one, I can also attest that Cortana comprehends my Irish brogue much more accurately than Google Assistant.
  • Business task management: Cortana can be a huge timesaver with commands like “Pull up the latest version of my task tracker.” With full access to the Windows OS, it can locate documents quite easily and reduce time spent on laborious document searching.
  • Context: When a user is logged in across Windows products, Cortana can serve accurate contextual results. See below for an example of the same phrase searched by voice on a Windows laptop using Cortana and Google:

How does Bing’s voice search compare to Google’s?

The differences are slight, but telling. Cortana knows that I am currently in Spain (I am using a Windows laptop), and therefore provides the kick-off in my local time. Google is not privy to this information and serves the result in Eastern Time, as my account is based in the US.

When results default to Bing, it all gets a little hairier.

I follow up by asking who will be in the starting lineup and receive a bizarre result about the USA soccer team, a news story about a Leeds starting lineup from three years ago, and some news about the Leeds music festival.

How does Bing’s voice search compare to Google’s?

Google does a better job of this, but both lack the immediacy that integration with a social media feed would provide:
How does Bing’s voice search compare to Google’s?

This same pattern plays out across a wide range of travel, weather, and commercial queries. When Cortana can pull an immediate answer, it does so very capably; when it resorts to providing a list of search results from Bing, the quality varies. Google therefore represents a much more consistent, reliable option.

The new partnership with Amazon may open a range of avenues for Microsoft to reach a wider audience, which will only help to refine these recommendations. For the moment, Google’s superior search experience remains its trump card in the battle for digital assistant supremacy.

In summary

How does Bing’s voice search compare to Google’s?

Image created by Clark Boyd

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What is Google Stamp and what will it mean for marketers?

Google is set to launch a competitor to Snapchat Discover, known as Google Stamp. This new product will bring with it a host of opportunities for publishers and advertisers alike, but it brings with it some challenges too.

What do marketers need to know about this new service, and how successful will it be?

Early in August, news leaked via the Wall Street Journal that Google has been preparing a direct rival to one of Snapchat’s most popular and profitable features, Discover. This new product will be integrated with Google’s core services, and will be known as Google Stamp.

The name Stamp is a portmanteau created by uniting the abbreviation ‘St’ from the word ‘stories’ and the acronym AMP, from the Google-led Accelerated Mobile Pages initiative.  That quite succinctly sums up the purpose of Stamp: it will be a publishing platform that allow brands to tell stories in a new fashion, optimized for mobile.

It seems that after a reported bid of $30 billion dollars to buy Snapchat was rejected in 2016, Google has decided instead to mimic some of the functionality that has made Snapchat such a hit with younger audiences. This will be a further blow to Snap, after Facebook copied so many of their features to launch Instagram Stories last year – followed by additional imitators in Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.

Although a firm launch date is still unknown, there has been plenty of noise around this latest Google product.

So, what do we know about Google Stamp so far?

The core platform is expected to function in a very similar manner to Snapchat Discover. Users will be able to swipe between different pieces of content and there will be a healthy mix of video, images, and text to keep readers engaged.

What is Google Stamp and what will it mean for marketers?

Of course, the Google ecosystem is very different to the social networks it will be competing with in this space. Users come to Google to make a search, with a topic or product in mind. That is a different mindset altogether to that of a user browsing a social network, a fact that Google is painfully aware of and it is a gap they have tried to bridge many times.

Google has made a play to take some of the ‘discovery phase’ market recently, through its new homepage experience and the use of visual search technology in Google Lens.

This is seen as a significant growth opportunity in the industry. If tech companies can start suggesting relevant products to consumers before the consumer even knows what they want, they can open up a range of new revenue streams.

What is Google Stamp and what will it mean for marketers?

Source: Pinterest

Advances in machine learning technologies and predictive analytics mean that this is now possible, and there is an ongoing battle between Google, Pinterest, Amazon, and many others to claim this fertile ground.

All of these technological developments open up novel ways of communicating with audiences, particularly when it comes to storytelling. This has never truly been Google’s home turf, however, and it will need to give significant backing to Stamp if it is to convince users to change their long-held behaviors.

It is therefore anticipated that Stamp articles will feature just below the search bar within the Google interface. Giving Stamp this level of prominence will bring publishers’ stories to the attention of billions of daily users.

If we factor in the full suite of software and hardware that Google owns, it is easy to see the scale that Stamp could have. All of this is integrated through Google’s sophisticated DoubleClick technology solutions, so there is reason to believe that Google could finally start to crack the content syndication market.

Who will be able to publish Stamp stories?

Some large publishers, including Time Inc. and CNN, have been approached as potential launch partners for Stamp. However, it will be interesting to see how quickly this is opened up to the next tier of content creators.

The exclusivity of Snapchat Discover in its early days was cited as a reason for a damaging exodus to Instagram from a range of content creators. Publishers wanted to get involved and had a message to communicate, but Snapchat was slow to open up access to the platform.

The relationship between large publishers and the AMP project has at times been fractious, with the main bone of contention being that these pages are hard to monetize. Advertising revenues are as important to publishers as they are to Google, of course, so this is a course that all involved would like to see corrected.

Stamp gives us clear insight into how Google would like to do this. In essence, Stamp allows for a much more customer-centric form of adverting than we have traditionally seen from the search giant. By inserting native ads within content, Google would be making a significant shift from its AdWords marketing model.

From a business perspective, all of this ties in with the recent updates to Google’s AdSense products. The investment in improving AdSense will see display ads appear in much more relevant contexts and they will be less disruptive to the user experience. Once more, we see customer-centricity come to the fore.

What is Google Stamp and what will it mean for marketers?

What will Google Stamp mean for advertisers?

Advertising via Google Stamp will mean engaging with and understanding a new form of storytelling. Advertisers should therefore no longer see this just as a traditional media buy, as there will need to be close collaboration between content creators and content promoters to ensure that ads are contextual.

Of course, this will be similar to launching a campaign on Instagram or Snapchat, but it will be interesting to see where responsibility for Google Stamp media buys sits, purely by dint of this being Google rather than a social network. The same teams who handle AdWords campaigns would need to integrate new skillsets to make the most of this opportunity.

The ability to think creatively and forge connections with consumers continues to grow in importance, rather than interrupting their experiences. Combined with the targeting technologies and data at Google’s disposal, this will be a potent mix for those that are equipped to take advantage. Advertisers expect good returns from Google campaigns and will still get them, but they will need to approach campaigns differently.

Some unanswered questions

Of course, much is still unknown about Google Stamp. We know it will be very similar to Snapchat Discover and we suspect it will be given a prime position just below the Google search bar. However, the following questions remain unanswered for the moment:

  • How frequently will Google Stamp be featured in search results?
  • Will Stamp be a fixed feature of Google’s new homepage experience?
  • Which types of queries will trigger Stamp results?
  • What options will be open to advertisers? Will Google introduce innovative new formats to maximize Stamp’s potential?
  • How will Google rank Stamp posts?
  • Will publishers create different content for Stamp, or just re-use Instagram or Snapchat assets?
  • Will users migrate over to Google to use what seems likely to be a very similar product to Snapchat Discover?

We expect all of these questions to be answered in due course, although Google is still reticent on a firm release date for this ambitious venture.

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How to optimize VR content for search

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

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

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

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

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

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

Increasing accessibility of VR

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

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

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

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

Optimizing VR for search

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

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

Embed using Google VR View

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

Write relevant metadata

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

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

Add schema markup

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

Optimize the page itself

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

SEO 101: valuable, shareable content

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

Final words

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

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

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

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How to optimize featured snippets for voice search

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

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

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

Featured snippets

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

Source: Stone Temple

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

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

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

Long-tail keywords

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

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

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

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

Optimizing content

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local searches

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

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

How to optimize featured snippets for voice search

Source: Google Official Blog

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

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

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

How to optimize featured snippets for voice search

Mobile ready

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

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

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

Conclusion: User intent is key

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

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

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

So you’d best be ready!

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Why SEOs can’t afford to wait around for a mobile-first index

We’re often told that the web is increasingly mobile, and that it is imperative for businesses to adapt their marketing strategies to be ‘mobile-first’ in order to capitalize on this shift in internet behavior.

But just how mobile is the web in 2017, and what does this mean for search?

Leading SEO and content performance platform BrightEdge today released a new report which sheds light on this question, and on the steadily widening gap between mobile and desktop search.

I spoke to Erik Newton, VP of Customer Marketing and Head of SEO at BrightEdge, about the report’s findings, Google’s mobile-first index tests, and how SEOs can adapt their strategy to account for the increasing divergence between desktop and mobile.

Majority mobile: 57% of web traffic is now mobile & tablet devices

In one of the key findings of the research, BrightEdge reports that 57% of web traffic now originates from mobile and tablet devices – meaning that close to 6 out of every 10 consumers are using a mobile device. Businesses who still aren’t optimizing for mobile, therefore, are ignoring a decisive majority of potential customers.

Even more noteworthy is the finding that the same query on the same search engine generates a different rank on mobile and desktop 79% of the time.

Among the top 20 ranked results, the gap is less pronounced, with 47% of queries differing between devices – but this still means that close to half of rankings differ.

Why SEOs can’t afford to wait around for a mobile-first index

And 35% – more than a third – of the time, the first page that ranked for any given domain was different between mobile and desktop SERPs.

In a press release about the research, BrightEdge commented that these figures indicate a “significant shift to a new mobile-first index”. I asked Erik Newton whether this means that BrightEdge believes Google’s mobile-first index is already being rolled out. Most SEOs believe we are still awaiting the official launch of the new index, but is BrightEdge seeing otherwise?

“We are seeing a divergence of rank and content between the two devices, and we have seen the data move in both directions over the last few months,” says Newton. “We believe that Google is testing and calibrating, as they have with other major shifts, to prepare for the separate mobile index.”

This fits with Google’s usual M.O. around big algorithm updates, but it also means that whatever strategies SEOs are planning to deploy when the mobile-first index finally rolls around, now might be the time to start testing them.

And for those who are still biding their time, they may already be losing out.

How are businesses really doing on mobile?

In the marketing industry, we’ve been talking for what feels like years, with increasing urgency, about the need for our campaigns and our web presences to be mobile-friendly. Or mobile-responsive. Or mobile-first.

But how are businesses really doing with this? Are marketers doing enough, even in 2017, to optimize for mobile?

“For most of the businesses that grew up on desktop, we see them using a desktop frame of reference,” observes Erik Newton. “We see evidence of this tendency in web design, page performance, analytics, and keyword tracking.

“We believe that Google gives the market signals to move forward and toward mobile faster. This is one of those times to push harder on mobile.

“Some of the newer companies, however, are mobile-first and even mobile-only. They are more likely to be app-based, and have always had majority mobile share.”

Why SEOs can’t afford to wait around for a mobile-first index

As we’ve seen from the figures cited in the previous section, using desktop as a frame of reference is increasingly short-sighted given the widening gap between desktop and mobile rankings. But how, then, should marketers plan their search strategy to cater to an increasing disparity between the two?

Should they go so far as to split their SEO efforts and cater to each separately? Or is there a way to kill two birds with one stone?

“The research report has some specific recommendations,” says Newton.

“One – Identify and differentiate mobile versus desktop demand.

“Two, design and optimize websites for speed and mobile-friendliness. Three, use a responsive site unless your business is app-based and large enough to build traffic through app distribution.

“Four, understand different online consumer intent signals across desktop and mobile devices. Five, produce separate mobile and desktop content that resonates on multiple device types.

“Six: focus on optimizing mobile content and mobile pages to improve conversions. Seven: track, compare, and report mobile and desktop share of traffic continuously.

“Eight, measure and optimize the page load speed of the mobile and desktop sites separately. And nine, track your organic search rank for mobile and desktop separately.

“The first challenge is to be even equally attentive to both mobile and desktop. We find that many brands are not acutely aware of the basic stat of mobile share of traffic.

“Additionally, brands can analyze the mobile share among new visitors, or non-customers, to see what kind of a different role it can play for people at different stages of the customer journey. For example, my mobile traffic is 32% higher among new visitors than overall visitors, and my mobile-blog-non-customer is 58% higher. That’s a place I should be leaning in on mobile when communicating to non-customers.

“Brands do not need to split their SEO efforts, but they do need to decide that some content efforts be mobile-first to be competitive.”

It can be difficult for brands who have traditionally catered to desktop users and who are still seeing success from a desktop-focused strategy to break away from this mindset and take a gamble on mobile. However, the figures are convincing.

What’s most evident is that it isn’t enough for SEOs and marketers to wait around for the launch of Google’s mobile-first index: it’s already being tested, and when combined with the growing proportion of mobile web traffic, brands who wait to develop a mobile-first strategy are increasingly likely to miss out.

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Mobile SEO: The 3 areas that really matter for SEO performance

With the upcoming launch of Google’s mobile-first index, digital marketers are preparing for a proliferation of “micro-moments”.

There has been a lot of noise around this seemingly seismic shift, but this trend was set in motion years ago and we have plenty of data to hand on what makes or breaks a mobile SEO campaign.

Undoubtedly, mobile SEO is distinct from its desktop counterpart in significant – sometimes very subtle – ways. As mobile usage continues to grow, user behaviors and expectations change too. Simply resizing the desktop site for a smaller screen won’t do.

Moreover, the evidence that the desktop and mobile algorithms must function based on different factors is right in front of us.

We can see from these screenshots of mobile results (above) and desktop results (below) for the query [credit card], taken from a collocated laptop and smartphone, that there are many differences across the two devices:

Mobile SEO: The 3 areas that really matter for SEO performance

Looking at this from the cold austerity of a rank tracking dashboard might not highlight just how different these experiences are. The order of the listings is very similar across devices, but they way a user experiences and interacts with them will vary.

This example is purposefully taken from a finance search query, less prone to location-based variations that we would see for a term like [coffee shop near me]. And yet, the mobile results page contains enough embellishments to distinguish it from the desktop version.

Rather than try to break down Google’s algorithms into the comforting-but-illusory format of a list of ranking factors, we should focus our efforts on what actually helps websites get more mobile traffic.

Based on experience of what a successful mobile SEO campaign entails in 2017, we can distil this into three categories: Context; Speed and Accessibility; and User Engagement Signals.

Within this article, we will first assess the reasons that mobile SEO stands apart, before delving into some practical tips in each category that can help all marketers drive improved performance via organic search.

1. Context

Smartphones contain an array of sensors that allow them to understand our environment. Everything from an accelerometer to a magnetometer to a proximity sensor is contained within the average mobile device nowadays.

Mobile phones create a huge amount of data and smartphone companies aren’t afraid to capture and use it. We shouldn’t be surprised; even our vacuum cleaners are mapping out our homes, hoovering up data along with dust.

The below is a very much redacted list of factors Google uses to shape mobile search results (taken from a patent approved way back in 2013):

  • Current time,
  • Current date,
  • Current day of the week,
  • Current month,
  • Current season,
  • A current, future, and/or past weather forecast at or near a location of a previous event in which a user and/or a user’s friends participated,
  • Information on user’s calendar, such as information regarding events or statuses of a user or a user’s friends,
  • Information accessible via a user’s social networking account,
  • Noise level or any recognizable sounds detected by the mobile platform and/or a monitoring device,
  • Health statistics or characterizations of a user’s current health

Even without reviewing the unabridged Ulysses-length list, we can get a clear sense of what’s going on here. Tech companies know a lot more about us than ever before, and they get a lot of this information from our phones.

Changes to how Google designates the centroid for a search have made a difference, too. The user’s phone now acts as the centroid, fundamentally shifting the notion of local search to a hyper-personalized level.

This applies to the local listings within Google Maps, but can also affect the content shown in ‘traditional’ SEO listings.

Combined with advances in semantic search, it is now essential for marketers to understand a user’s context if we are to satisfy their search query.

In spite of the absence of clear rules to follow across the board, there are still some practical ways that we can use context to improve SEO performance.

  • Split out search volume by device type. This will help you understand which queries tend to occur predominantly on either mobile or desktop. Knowing this will allow you to create content that caters for the preferred user experience. Desktop content is typically one-third longer than mobile content, for example.
  • Download a user agent switcher to view your content as it looks on a variety of different devices. You can get the extension for Chrome here, or for Firefox here. If you need to get really specific about the phone dimensions or location, try Mobile Phone Emulator.
  • Create content that responds to user needs, rather than just matching their search query. That may mean using image-heavy content, for example, rather than sticking with strictly text-based pages. Tracking universal search results will allow you to pinpoint these queries.
  • Track ranking performance across devices, territories, and media formats. This will give a truer picture of how frequently your domain is showing up in search results. You can achieve this through Google’s Search Console and Data Studio, combined with your rank tracking software.

2. Speed & Accessibility

SEO isn’t just about having the most relevant, thorough answer anymore. You also need to be the quickest site to provide it, or run the risk that users will simply go elsewhere.

Mobile SEO: The 3 areas that really matter for SEO performance

Source: Google

This is more important than ever, with Google’s quick answers pulling responses into the search results pages directly, and its Android Instant Apps project allowing consumers to use an app without installing it.

Google has given significant backing to its Accelerated Mobile Pages initiative too, and the evidence so far suggests it is paying off. AMP pages were introduced in early 2016 and run on a stripped-back version of HTML that very significantly decreases page load times. They also use a lot less data to load, so the benefits for users on the go are plentiful. A recent survey corroborated this, with over 60% of respondents saying that they would seek out AMP results due to the faster, lighter experience they provide.

AMP pages were initially seen as a boon for publishers (about 70% of Google News stories are AMP-enabled now), but retailers like eBay have started to adopt this standard too. In fact, publishers have had challenges in monetizing these light-touch formats, while ecommerce sites look likely to be the long-term beneficiaries. With AdWords and AdSense support for AMP continuing to increase, there is really no option other than to get on board with AMP if you want to maximize your content’s mobile opportunity.

Add in Facebook’s Instant Articles or Twitter Moments and the picture is clear: speed is of the essence.

This is not just a matter of removing assets to strip down individual pages, however. Websites are more than just the sum of their parts, so we need to ensure that our site structure is sound and, of course, that our content is accessible by Google, Facebook, Apple, et al.

  • Mercifully, Google has upgraded the Mobile Site Testing Tool, which now generates reports with recommendations you can send to your development team.
  • Remove any interstitial pages that stand between a user and access to the page they want to see. Google’s position on this has grown more severe over time; from mildly humorous posts through to an algorithmic penalty to dissuade sites from using interstitials in early 2017.
  • Android Instant Apps is a clear indication of the direction the industry is going in. People don’t want to install and load separate apps; this initiative allows them to enjoy the benefits of apps without the drawbacks they typically bring. It is open to all developers now, so it is worth getting started if you haven’t done so already.
  • The AMP Project website contains a host of useful tutorials that will get developers up to speed in no time. There are also plug-ins available for content management systems like WordPress, so you don’t even necessarily need to know AMP code in order to use it.
  • Use AMP for AdWords landing pages. Google provides plenty of handy advice on this and it is essential to adopt this practice early.
  • Google lists its mobile SEO best practices, in a rare example of olive branch extension to organic search marketers. However, these are quite basic tips that will get your site indexed. They won’t make a huge difference is such a competitive market.
  • Consider what you are willing to sacrifice in the name of faster loading times. AMP HTML provides a great solution, but there is a further temptation to minimize JavaScript to improve loading times further. This can come at the cost of user experience, so be sure to weigh up the pros and cons of removing each element before you do so.
  • Don’t just think of accessibility in technical terms. Your content needs to be accessible for the right audience once it loads; tools like Readable.io can help ensure that you are writing with an appropriate level of complexity.

3. User engagement signals

The shift to mobile devices has caused Google to change the methodology behind how it indexes and ranks websites. This has proven to be a much more complex task than many expected. As a result, Google has delayed the launch of the mobile-first index and is now prepared to launch on a website-by-website basis.

Google’s Gary Ilyes said of the mobile-first index at SMX West earlier this year:

“Mobile sites don’t have a lot of the metadata that desktop sites have. We’re aiming for a quality-neutral launch. We don’t want users to experience a loss in quality of search results. We need to replace the signals that are missing in the mobile web.”

This is a significant statement for SEO practitioners. Google wants a quality-neutral launch, but it has to do so by replacing some signals it has traditionally used to rank results. No wonder the mobile-first index is taking some time to get right.

Aside from the reduction in the quantity of metadata that mobile sites have versus desktop sites, we also need to bear in mind that links become less important on mobile. People share content via messaging apps much more frequently, which poses a problem for a search engine that has typically relied on links to navigate the web.

Other reinforcement signals for Google’s algorithms are harder to pin down in the mobile age too. One of Google’s most celebrated engineers, Jeff Dean, said in an interview with Fortune last year:

“If a user looks at a search result and likes it or doesn’t like it, that’s not that obvious.”

The advent of RankBrain in late 2015 was driven by a desire to do exactly this; to understand whether a user is satisfied with search results or not. Google now assesses whether a user stays on a website (known as a ‘long click’) or if they return to the search results page to find a more suitable result (a ‘short click’). A high click-through rate alone won’t suffice – we need to focus on what users do once they’ve landed on the site.

A SearchMetrics study last year summed this up quite nicely:

“User experience factors that improve mobile sites are related to better SEO rankings; external links continue to decline in importance.”

Links do still matter on mobile, of course; just not to the same extent. That’s a good thing – links can be manipulated (even bought), but it’s harder to falsify user engagement factors over a long period of time.

This leads us to a few valuable points to bear in mind when optimizing for user satisfaction:

  • Data analysis should be the cornerstone of your SEO efforts. Assess how customers access your site, what they do when they get there, and where the primary exit points are. This should all be built into your analytics dashboard to give you real-time access to invaluable user information. You can be pretty sure that Google is utilizing similar metrics to see if your site satisfies a user’s request.
  • Look at how your landing pages have performed since the launch of RankBrain to see if there are any correlations between user engagement metrics (such as time on page, bounce rate, and so on) and your SEO rankings. Often, you will notice that your best performing pages from a UX perspective have seen a  notable SEO boost too.
  • Links still matter. We should just think of them differently. Consider whether the links you attract will actually drive qualified traffic to your site, rather than just adding to antiquated metrics like external link volume.
  • Encompass UX and CRO within your SEO campaigns. Without improving your site experience, any SEO rankings improvements you achieve may lack staying power.
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What do we know so far about Google’s new homepage?

Google has released a new, feed-based mobile homepage in the US, with an international launch due in the next two weeks.

This is perhaps the most drastic and significant update of the Google.com homepage (the most visited URL globally) since Google’s launch in 1996.

The upgraded, dynamic entry point to the world’s biggest search engine will be available initially on mobile devices via both the Google website and its mobile apps, but will also be rolled out to desktop.

Let’s take a look at what’s changing and how, as well as what it might mean for marketers.

What’s different about the new homepage?

Google’s new homepage allows users to customize a news feed that updates based on their interests, location, and past search behaviors.

On the Google.com website (via a mobile device), there are now four icon-based options: Weather, Sports, Entertainment, and Food & Drink.

The ‘Weather’ and ‘Food & Drink’ options can be used straight away, as they take the user’s location data to provide targeted results. The ‘Sports’ and ‘Entertainment’ options require a little more customization before users can benefit from them fully. Without this, Google will just serve up popular and trending stories within each category.

In the example below, I tapped on the ‘Sports’ icon, then selected to follow a baseball team, the Boston Red Sox. Based on this preference, Google then knows to show me updates on this team on my homepage. The results varied in their media format, with everything from Tweets to GIFs and videos shown in my feed.

What do we know so far about Google’s new homepage?

This means that rather than encountering the iconic search bar, Google logo, and the unadorned white interface we have all become accustomed to, each user’s feed will be unique. As I start to layer on more of the topics I am interested in, Google gains more information with which to tailor my feed.

On the Google mobile app, based on my selection above, my homepage looks as follows:

What do we know so far about Google’s new homepage?

This is quite a big departure and is an experience we should expect the Google.com website to mirror soon. For now, the latter retains enough of the old aesthetic to be recognizable, but the app-based version is more overt in its positioning of suggested content.

The trusty search bar is still there, but users are encouraged to interact with their interests too. The interface is designed for tapping as well as typing.

Sashi Thakur, a Google engineer, has said of the launch,

“We want people to understand they’re consuming information from Google. It will just be without a query.”

It is essentially an extension of the functionality that has been available in Google’s Android app since December. Google will also continue to use push notifications to send updates on traffic, weather, and sports, based on the user’s set preferences.

Why is Google launching this product now?

Google has struggled to find a significant commercial hit to rival its hugely lucrative search advertising business. That business relies on search queries and user data, so anything that leads users to spend more time on Google will be of significant value.

The same motive has led to the increased presence of Google reservations, which now allow users to make appointments for a range of services from the search results page.

As Google stated in their official announcement, “The more you use Google, the better your feed will be.”

Users type a query when they have an idea of what they want to find; Google is pre-empting this by serving us content before we are even aware of what exactly we would like to know. By offering a service that will increase in accuracy in line with increased usage, Google hopes users will get hooked on a new mode of discovering information.

What do we know so far about Google’s new homepage?

This also allows Google to incorporate a number of other initiatives it has been working on, such as fact-checking and Google Posts.

You’d be forgiven for wondering whether Google is trying to find its way into social media again. After the demise of the short-lived Google+ platform, Google has seen Facebook grow as a credible threat in the battle for digital advertising dollars.

Facebook’s algorithmic news feed has been a significant factor in its rise in popularity, and with Google Posts incorporated into this news feed, there are certainly elements reminiscent of a certain social network in Google’s new homepage initiative. Readers may also recall the launch of iGoogle in 2005, a similar attempt to add some personalization to the homepage.

That said, it seems more likely that these changes have been rolled out in response to recent launches from Amazon than as a direct challenge to Facebook.

Amazon has made an almost dizzying amount of product announcements and acquisitions of late. As a pure-play ecommerce company, their rapid growth will have been cause for consternation at Google and there is a need to respond.

Of particular interest in relation to the new Google feed is the very recent launch of Amazon Spark, a shoppable feed of curated content for Amazon Prime members. It is only available via the iOS app for now, but it will be launched on Android soon too.

What do we know so far about Google’s new homepage?

Spark is a rival to Instagram in some ways, with its very visual feed and some early partnerships with social media influencers. It is also similar to Pinterest, as it encourages users to save their favorite images for later and clearly tries to tap into the ‘Discovery’ phase that Pinterest has made a play for recently.

Amazon has also launched its ‘Interesting Finds’ stream, which works in a noticeably Pinterest-esque fashion:

What do we know so far about Google’s new homepage?

Google has taken aim at Pinterest with its ‘Similar items’ feature and its revamped visual search technology, which feeds the new Google Lens.

In Google’s announcement of the new homepage, they make use of the verbs “discover” and “explore”. Both Amazon and Pinterest have tried to shape and monetize these phases of the search-based purchase journey; Google evidently thinks its homepage needs to take on a new life if it is to compete.

Will it open new opportunities for marketers?

Almost certainly. We should view this as a welcome addition to the elements of current search strategies, with a host of new opportunities to get in front of target audiences.

Google is not launching this product because of any existential threat to its core search product, which still dominates Western markets:

What do we know so far about Google’s new homepage?

Source: Moz/Jumpshot

The update should encourage a shift in user behavior. As people get used to the new experience, they will interact with Google in new ways and marketers need to be prepared for this.

From a paid perspective, we can expect to see new options open to advertisers, but not in the immediate future.

Amazon has two innate monetization mechanisms within Spark: users have to sign up to Prime (for an annual fee) to get access and, when they do, they are served a shoppable list of results. It comes as no surprise when we are on Amazon that we will be asked if we want to buy products.

That is not always the case on Google, where the initial purpose of the news feed is to gain traction with users and encourage them to spend more time within the site.

Options for sponsored content and (almost inevitably) paid ecommerce ads will come later, once a large and engaged user base has been established.