AudienceBloom

CALL US:  1-877-545-GROW

Category Archive: Google

  1. What Your Clients Should Know About Keywords in 2016

    Leave a Comment

    You depend on your clients for success, and they depend on you for results, but sometimes, simple misunderstandings or inefficiencies can get in the way of an otherwise perfectly functional relationship. Of particular note are “best practices” in SEO that are no longer best practices, or elements of SEO that are poorly understood. A client may demand a certain approach even if it may end up hurting their campaign, or they may blame you if they aren’t getting results in the exact form they wanted.

    Few SEO areas are as hotly debated or as dynamically evolving as keywords—in research, targeting, and optimization. Keyword-based strategies still exist, and are still effective, but they’re almost unrecognizable from their older counterparts, and as a result, many clients enter into an agency agreement with unfounded expectations or preconceived notions about how keywords are supposed to function.

    It’s your job as an agency to stay up-to-date on the latest best practices for keyword-based optimization, and make sure your clients understand these standards perfectly well. Otherwise, you risk damage to the relationship when they believe your side of the bargain to be unfulfilled.

    A Brief History of Keywords

    First, I want to address some of the old ways that keywords permeated SEO as a sharp contrast to the way they’re used today. You may already be familiar with these standards, and you may believe some of them to still be how the search world works. If you or your clients currently still accept or operate by this old model, you’re in desperate need of an update.

    Google’s search algorithm once relied on exact keywords matches to produce results. If a user searched for “chicken tacos,” for example, it would scout for all the pages on the web that featured the phrase “chicken tacos,” and then sort them based on how many times that phrase was used, along with the authority ranking of the site itself.

    This led to a series of practices designed to exploit this keyword basis for search; companies would research the most competitive keywords, then stuff them into page titles, body copy, and anchor text for links in order to maximize their relevance for those terms. Analysts would then monitor ranking progress for those specific keywords, gauging campaign effectiveness on this upward trajectory.

    If you’re still using these strategies today, the same way you would have a decade ago, there’s something wrong.

    The “Modern” Era of Keyword Optimization

    There are a number of interrelated factors for why keyword-based optimization is so different today than it was several years ago. Make sure your clients are aware of these factors, even if it’s only at a cursory glance, to help them understand the “modern” era of keyword optimization.

    The looming threats of Google Panda and Penguin

    Hopefully, your clients already know what Google Panda is. At its core, Panda is a quality update, focused on content, designed to penalize sites with low-quality content in any capacity, and reward sites with higher-quality content. One of the biggest offenses Panda targeted was “keyword stuffing,” the act of deliberately placing targeted keyword phrases in the headlines and bodies of articles throughout your site in an effort to achieve higher ranks. Panda introduced natural language detection and quality evaluation into Google’s algorithm, weeding out any articles or sites that were thought to be using too many keywords in their content. Today, if you try too hard to squeeze unnatural-sounding keywords into your content, you’re going to trigger this algorithm—plus, you’ll turn your readers away.

    Google Penguin, equally recognizable, offered a similar quality update for links, rather than content. The old-school keyword practice here was to build links with anchor text that included your target keywords, or at a minimum choose offsite articles with headlines that included the keyword in question. Thanks to Penguin, the “quality” of links is more easily detectable by Google, so if you try to stuff keywords here, you’ll also be penalized.

    The bottom line here is that domains that try to exploit keyword stuffing are going to be penalized, no matter what.

    The rise of Hummingbird and RankBrain

    Google Hummingbird came out back in 2013, and completely overhauled the way Google evaluates user queries. Rather than taking a look only at keyword phrases, Google introduced a semantic focus to the search engine, making it capable of evaluating and meeting user intent. Instead of mapping instances of keyword phrases to exact matches on the web, Google now dissects the intention behind a user’s query and attempts to grab results that meet that intention. In some cases, this results in radically different SERPs, but Google still relies on keyword detection to understand the subject matter of various sites and web pages. The power of keywords has been weakened, but not obliterated.

    RankBrain is a machine-learning modifier that was added to Hummingbird just last year, and it’s a sign that Google’s semantic capabilities are only going to grow more sophisticated. RankBrain’s purpose is to better understand complex and ambiguous long-tail user queries, essentially boiling them down to a more manageable level for Hummingbird to take over.

    There’s a great example of RankBrain’s effects floating around:

    rank brain effect

    (Image Source: SearchEngineLand)

     

    search engine results rank brain

    (Image Source: SearchEngineLand)

    Notice how the second query is asking the same thing, but in a more complicated, convoluted way. RankBrain’s job is to take the second query and figure out that it’s just a long way of asking the first query.

    The Knowledge Graph and local SEO

    Keyword optimization gets more complicated with the rise of the Knowledge Graph and local SEO, two very different concepts that share an undermining effect toward keywords.

    The Knowledge Graph is the system of indexed information that Google uses to provide you answers to specifically or concisely answerable questions. As an example, when you type in “why do baking soda and vinegar react,” you’ll see a short explanation pop up above all the organic search results:

    knowledge graph seo results

    There are many forms and types of queries that allow the Knowledge Graph to kick in. It’s a great resource for users, as it saves them the step of sorting through organic search results, but it has the indirect tendency to divert organic traffic, and it increases Google’s capacity to provide direct answers to queries, rather than mapping queries to existing locations on the web.

    Local search has the same “diversion” and “query answering” effects, but for a slightly different reason. Here, local searches operate using a separate algorithm, which kicks in when user location data is available (or when a user utilizes geographic-specific keywords). Older local SEO techniques, like stuffing unnatural phrases like “best plumber dallas tx” into content, are no longer valid here.

    Personalization

    Personalization is also affecting the significance of keywords in the modern era, thanks to Google accounts, browser histories, and personal digital assistants, all of which can feed or use data on your history and geographic location to alter your personalized search results. Two users who search for an identical query—let’s call the “chicken tacos” reference back to the forefront—might get totally different results. One might get chicken tacos recipes, based on his/her strong disposition for recipes in the past, while another gets chicken taco restaurants. This makes it harder to predict what your users are actually searching for, and more difficult to guarantee any kind of visibility from a ranking increase. After all, your ranking increase will only be for a part of the audience doing the search in the first place.

    Are keywords still important?

    After reading all this, you might start to wonder whether keywords are important at all these days, and if not, what the alternative might be.

    The answer isn’t exactly straightforward. In response to Hummingbird, some optimizers have suggested that a suitably alternative for keywords is “topics,” which gives you more freedom when it comes to phrasing. The goal here is to predict types of user queries and write topics that address those queries, such as answering common user questions or proactively addressing user concerns. You’d do topic research, much like keyword research, tracking down popular topics and ones that haven’t been suitably covered by competitors, then produce high-quality content that naturally contains contextual clues that help Google categorize it and call it up for the appropriate queries.

    Topic-based SEO is highly effective, and a suitable alternative to keyword-optimization in some ways. However, keywords still have a power of their own, giving you shorter, more precise phrases to work with, more trackable results, and generally higher potential volume. Even though Google doesn’t map keywords from queries to pages like it used to, it still uses keyword phrases to help it understand site pages, so they’re still a valuable strategic focus in an SEO campaign.

    Doing the Research

    One of the most important parts of a keyword optimization strategy is the research. The entire point of keyword optimization is to choose the most valuable keywords to optimize for, so getting the right information (and therefore, the best list of possible targets) is essential if you want your clients to see progress. Modern keyword research is a bit trickier than it used to be, but with the right tools, the right approach, and enough communication with your clients, you’ll do fine.

    keyword research

    (Image Source: AHrefs)

    Long-tail keywords vs. head keywords

    First, you need to know the difference between basic keywords (sometimes called head keywords) and long-tail keywords. There’s no exact cutoff here, but long-tail keywords are essentially the same as basic keywords, but… well, they’re longer. These are long phrases, sometimes colloquial, like “where’s the best place for chicken tacos” instead of the basic “chicken tacos.”

    Generally, the longer the query becomes, the lower the volume and competition become. This makes them easier to rank for but also makes them yield a lower potential traffic rate with a high rank. Compared to head keywords, they offer fast-paced gains, but a lower long-term payoff (assuming you invest sufficiently in the basic keywords). They’re also great material for topic-based optimization.

    A good, balanced strategy should have both basic keyword and long-tail keyword topics as part of your research, though depending on your approach, you may qualify your long-tail research separately, or as part of your topic research.

    Individual brainstorming

    When you first get started generating keyword ideas, you’re going to rely on your own brainstorming (and don’t worry, we’ll dig deeper in a minute). For this, you’ll definitely want to consult with your client; they know their industry, their business, and their customers far better than you do. Together, come up with a big list of various keyword terms you think your client’s customers might search for, and try to target specific products or services if you can. This will get you started in the right direction as far as relevance is concerned.

    Start compiling your keywords in a spreadsheet; we’ll be expanding on this shortly.

    brainstorming keywords

    (Image Source: AHrefs)

    Awesome tools to help you out

    After you’ve got an initial list scrapped together, you’ll have a working foundation for some heavy expansion. For this, you’ll probably need to rely on some external tools to help you get the job done. It’s almost impossible to pull all this data in by yourself.

    Google’s Keyword Planner.

    Google’s Keyword Planner is a tool within Google AdWords designed to help advertisers plan their campaigns, but the information it offers can be used for an organic campaign as well. Plug in all the keywords you came up with (and any subsequent keywords you find with the tools below), and it will tell you the average volume and competition rating for each; this will be vital in narrowing down your list of targets.

    google keyword planner

    (Image Source: Software Insider)

    AuthorityLabs.

    AuthorityLabs is a major name in the industry, because it helps you come up with new keyword ideas, measure things like search volume and competition for each, and even track your ranks as you implement them as part of your strategy. There are also a number of filters to play with to see how keyword results play out in different scenarios.

    authoritylabs report

    (Image Source: AuthorityLabs)

    SEMRush.

    SEMRush takes things a bit further by offering a number of research tools. If you enter a specific keyword, SEMRush will help you break it down in terms of its fluctuations, current competition, and volume. You can also find related terms here, and chart differences in desktop and mobile devices.

    semrush report

    (Image Source: SEMRush)

    Google Trends.

    Google Trends is a better tool for topic research and long-tail keyword results, but it’s still useful to see how your user demographic trends change over time. Start general here, and work your way toward more niche topics; you’ll learn much about user behavior and search patterns to inform your growing keyword list.

    google trends report

    (Image Source: Google Trends)

    Spyfu.

    Plug in a competitor’s URL here, and Spyfu will tell you some of their most profitable keywords and search positions. This is useful for finding key opportunities to outrank your closest industry competitors.

    Auto-Suggest.

    There used to be several keyword idea generation tools leveraging the power of Google’s auto-suggest API. Google’s auto-suggest comes up with popular related keywords, saving you the trouble of trying to think them up on your own. However, now that Google has privatized that API, these tools don’t have quite the power they once had. Ubersuggest is among the best here.

    ubersuggest google

    (Image Source: Content Marketing Institute)

    Three factors for success

    Ultimately, you’ll want to work with your client to narrow down your list to the top potential candidates, zeroing in on a dozen or two strong keywords with the highest potential return. You’ll want to look at three factors here:

    1. Relevance. Realistically, how close is this keyword to your client’s products, services, and target niche? This is going to be a subjective question, but you can ask more critical questions here; for example, how far along in the buying cycle would a customer be if they were searching for this? How informed is a customer who is searching for this? Who wouldn’t be searching for this?
    2. Volume. The volume is another important factor, as it controls how many people could ultimately be influenced by a high-ranking site for this query. However, there’s one limiting factor that could compromise volume’s effectiveness, and that’s competition.
    3. Competition. A keyword with a lot of competition will be nearly impossible to rank for. On the other hand, lower competition keywords tend to carry lower volume. You’ll have to find a balance if you want your strategy to work.

    At this point, you’ll have a solid list of target keywords with which to begin work.

    Finding the Balance

    Modern keyword optimization is all about balance, in more areas than one. Let your clients know that there’s no one right way to optimize for keywords, nor is blunt force ever a good strategic approach in the realm of keywords.

    Splitting focus between keywords and topics

    First, you’ll need to split your attention between optimizing for keywords and optimizing for topics. As we’ve seen, both are important if you want to host a successful strategy. However, it’s not always as simple as splitting your efforts down the middle, fifty-fifty. Instead, you’ll need to actively monitor the ebb and flow of your work, and make adjustments accordingly. Are there a lot of potential news topics to cover? Start optimizing for those topics. Is your client on the verge of a page-one ranking for a specific term? Start putting more effort into that term. And of course, if you find that your progress is slowing or that you aren’t getting the results your client needs, you can make adjustments to your strategic lineup.

    Keyword density

    You’ll want to include keywords in your blog posts, and meta data, and really, throughout your site. But thanks to Panda and Hummingbird, if you include too many, you’ll end up getting your client’s site penalized. What’s the solution? The old method was one of percentage, making sure your targeted keyword phrases don’t appear more than 2-3 percent of the time. However, a better solution is to avoid stuffing keywords at all; the less you think about it, the more naturally you’ll write, and the less you’ll have to worry about a penalty.

    For starters, only choose keywords that you can work into your content naturally, and then, work them into content titles only when they’re appropriate. From there, they’ll probably appear naturally as you complete the content work. For some keywords, this is easier said than done, but your first job is choosing the right keywords to begin with.

    How to observe rank changes

    Reporting is a big deal for agency-client relationships, and keyword ranks tend to be a sensitive issue. You’ll find your clients want high ranks, as fast as possible, and may grow irritated if they aren’t getting the ranks they want (or overly complacent if they are).

    First, set the expectation that ranks aren’t everything. Yes, you have target keywords and your goal is to rank for them, but you’ll be rising in rank for dozens of long-tail keyword phrases you didn’t even know you were optimizing for (thanks to your brilliant content marketing strategy). Plus, keyword rankings can only tell you so much—what’s really important is your inbound traffic.

    Second, set the expectation that ranks are volatile, and aren’t entirely predictable. Your rank may change from day to day, and may appear differently for two different people in the same room. There’s a degree of relativity to be expected in the modern realm of keyword-based optimization, so try not to let your efforts be judged too precisely.

    The Importance of Communication

    When it comes down to it, the vast majority of issues with keyword-based optimization can be avoided with a bit of proactive communication with your client. Here are some of the most important points to touch on, early in your relationship.

    • SEO isn’t magic. There’s no secret formula for how to get ranked number one for a given query, and even if you did, this isn’t a shortcut to positive ROI. This delusion needs to end now.
    • Keywords carry lots of misconceptions. The biggest is that keywords and queries have the same one-to-one relationship they did back before Hummingbird took over.
    • Keywords are still relevant. Despite the fact that Hummingbird is prevalent and topic-based optimization is a viable strategy, keywords are still very much a relevant (and some would argue, necessary) part of a modern SEO campaign.
    • Not every strategy is a guarantee. Strategies are just that—strategies. Not every stock investment you make will pay off, but you can be informed and make an educated decision about how to move forward. SEO is all about making the most educated, reasonable choices you can—and they won’t all pay off the way you thought they would.
    • Mutual work to find the right balance. If you want to be successful, you need to work together with your client. They know far more than you do about their business, and you know far more than they do about SEO. Only by pooling your strengths and making up for each other’s weaknesses will you be able to develop a strategy that really hits home.
    • Adjustment and refinement. You aren’t going to have a perfect keyword approach the first time you make the attempt. Only through adaptation, adjustment, and refinement are you going to find a strategy and a rhythm that works for your brand.

    If you make these points clear, and you follow the keyword strategies I’ve outlined above, you should have no trouble keeping your client happy and up-to-date with the latest best practices in keyword optimization.

    The Future of SEO Keywords

    It’s hard to say exactly what the future holds for keywords (or SEO in general). But I suspect that the world of keywords and topics is only going to get stranger. Technologies like Hummingbird, RankBrain, the Knowledge Graph, and digital assistants are evolving at a remarkable pace, and all of them are, in some way, making it harder to get your site ranked for a specific keyword term. Overall, keyword focus is only a part of SEO—building your authority, earning links, providing great content, and offering the best user experience are other fundamental pillars you need to worry about. So instead of trying to perfect the keyword side of things, hedge your bets, and try to develop the best overall strategy you can with your clients.

  2. How to Characterize a Software Product Through Branding

    Leave a Comment

    As a SaaS company, the heart of your business is your core software product, but unfortunately, until you grow to a much bigger size and reputation, your product isn’t going to sell itself. You can describe the logical benefits of your product, compare your price to your competitors, and demonstrate expert salesmanship when pitching it to new potential clients, but if it’s missing that “extra ingredient” to compel new users, even the best product on the market can fall flat.

    What is this extra ingredient? Branding. With it, an ordinary product can become extraordinary, and an extraordinary product can become unstoppable. But why is this branding element so important, and how can you characterize an inanimate, intangible product with it successfully?

    Why Is Branding Important for SaaS Companies?

    Branding is important for all companies for the following reasons:

    Recognition and customer acquisition.

    Branding allows your product (and company) to be recognized at a distance, much in the way that McDonald’s arches and the Nike swoosh have become simple symbols of much bigger, more complicated organizations. Over time, reiteration of these symbols and general atmospheres can lead to higher brand awareness, a better brand reputation, and therefore, a higher customer acquisition rate.

    Trust and loyalty.

    Consistent branding can also help you establish trust and loyalty in your existing population. When a user has a consistently positive experience, associated with some aspect of identity (such as a visual, or a tone of voice), he/she starts to associate the identity with the positive experience. It makes the decision to switch to a competitor that much harder, and encourages them to stay with your brand, specifically, for as long as possible.

    Foundation for advertising.

    Branding also gives you a solid direction on how to develop your advertising campaigns. It may give you a tone of voice, limits in terms of humor and sensationalism, visual cues, or a running theme you can exploit many times over. Not only does this make your advertising more effective; it also makes the conceptual process easier.

    Internal factors.

    Branding isn’t only for your customers. Creating a strong brand for your product, and your organization in general, can help you create a strong internal company culture as well. For example, let’s say you characterize your product as fun, energetic, and down-to-earth; in the right environment, you can nurture these characteristics in your employees, resulting in a more unified, productive, satisfied workforce. Google’s company culture is a perfect example.

    google company culture

    (Image Source: Google)

    But it’s even more important to SaaS companies because:

    Competition is fierce.

    Everyone realizes what a profitable and scalable model SaaS is, and as a result, the market’s been flooded with software products hoping for a piece of the action. Odds are, you have several competitors with few distinguishing factors between you. Branding can be your key distinguishing factor, edging out the competition immediately.

    Face-to-face interaction is nonexistent.

    Because most SaaS platforms are hosted online without a physical office, there’s almost no chance of face-to-face or personal interaction during the sales cycle. At the same time, personal connections are important to make strong sales and keep good customers. The solution? Use branding as a personal surrogate, demonstrating brand qualities the way you would a real personality.

    Short sales cycles.

    Your users are going to make a decision within a minute or two (for the most part). That’s not a lot of time to give your users a tour of your product or exhaustively list all the objective benefits of it. Instead, you have to give your potential customers a quick gut-level feeling that this is a good idea—and branding can help you do it.

    Retention is the gold standard.

    Finally, you have to know that SaaS companies aren’t won or lost in customer acquisition—it’s retention that separates the winners and losers. Branding can help you breed the familiarity, “personal” relationships, and commitment that keeps your customers subscribing to your service through thick and thin.

    The Trouble With Characterizing a Software Product

    Unfortunately, branding a product isn’t as simple as flipping a switch. You need something compelling, or else your brand won’t attract any new customers (or retain old ones), you need something that fits with your mission and vision as a company (or else it will be unstable), and you need something sustainable in the long-term (or else it won’t pay off). On top of those requirements, you’re working with something intangible and flexible, rather than a physical product.

    Throughout this guide, I’ll walk you through the main strategies you can use to develop a workable framework for your software brand, and implement it across your product, your site, your support network, your social media profiles, and of course, your advertising campaigns.

    Establishing Your Brand Standards

    Before your start applying your brand to the different areas of your SaaS business, you need to know what your brand standards are in the first place. I’ve written an extensively detailed guide, How to Build a Brand from Scratch, on the matter, so I’ll stay out of the weeds here, but I do want to highlight some of the most important components of a brand, and where those components are going to apply in your main strategies.

    Main Goals

    There are many goals for a brand to accomplish, but SaaS companies specifically need to zoom in on four of them:

    Differentiation.

    As noted above, one of the biggest challenges for SaaS companies in the current era is competition, so branding must serve as a differentiating factor. What is that factor? That’s up to you and your target audience. For example, compared to your competitors, could you be more professional in tone to appeal to more business people? Could you be more casual in tone to appeal to a younger audience? Do you want to be edgier? More traditional? There’s no right or wrong answer here, but when it’s all said and done, your brand should stand out from anything else on the market.

    Connection.

    Your brand needs to have a personal appeal to your target demographics. For this goal, it’s helpful to think of your brand as a kind of avatar for your company, representing it in a personal way so that your customers can form a personal attachment. Accordingly, your brand needs to embody characteristics that are approachable, familiar, or otherwise engaging to your target market (and you may need to do some research for this). As an example, take MailChimp’s literal “chimp” mascot, who makes everything seem friendlier, funnier, and more approachable.

    mailchimp

    (Image Source: MailChimp)

    (Side note: you don’t need a mascot to accomplish this)

    Immersion.

    The immersion factor is one unique to SaaS companies, since some brands have the luxury of limited customer interactions. Your customers, however, will be using your product for extended periods of time, and engaging with your brand in many different mediums, from your app itself, to your content, your website, your help pages, and even your social media accounts. If you want to be successful, you need to nurture an entire environment where people feel connected to your brand—not just one-time representations or one-sided interactions.

    Reinforcement.

    You need to use your brand to reinforce positive experiences with your product, and continually remind users why they signed up for your service in the first place. A good brand will have the potential to summarize all the visions and values of your company, and repeat itself throughout many channels, mediums and applications. The more places you are, the more you’ll be seen, and the more easily recognized you’ll be.

    Main Applications

    Now that you know what you need to accomplish, you need to know the main paths through which you can accomplish them. Creating a brand isn’t easy, but it helps if you can reduce your identity standards down to four main “groups” of characteristics.

    Logo and colors.

    Up first are the logo and colors of your brand, which are usually the first elements that people notice. There’s a reason for this; humans have strong visual senses, so we naturally lock onto and remember visual patterns. You’ll need to select a color scheme that fits your company’s tone, mood, and target audience (as well as your competitive landscape), and your logo should attempt to concisely represent who your company is and what it has to offer.

    Image and character.

    This set of characteristics is a bit more abstract, as it defines the “concept” of your brand more so than any tangible assets. For this, it’s often best to visualize your brand as a character, and imagine what that character might be like (as well as how it might be different from your competitors). Apple took this step literally in its now-landmark advertising campaign pitting Macs against PCs with actors representing each brand. You don’t have to go this far, but you do need to be able to describe the “type” of person your brand would be.

    image and character

    (Image Source: Business Insider)

    Voice.

    As another outlet for your brand’s communication, consider the tone and shape of your voice. I alluded to this a bit earlier, but you’ll need to consider a number of questions regarding how you write; how advanced is your vocabulary going to be? How casual can you be with your words, in terms of colloquialisms, abbreviations, and profanity? Will your sentences be short and concise or long and descriptive? These choices help shape your brand identity, and make a big impact on users whether they realize it or not.

    User experience.

    Finally, there are user experience factors, and this set of identity standards is unique to SaaS companies. Your users are going to be engaging with your software regularly, so how they interact with your software may help them form a stronger brand impression. For example, how does your app respond to their inputs? What feelings do your users get when they log in? We’ll explore some specific applications and examples of this later on.

    Be sure to formally document your strategy for each of these key areas, as this will serve as your identity guidelines moving forward. Keep this document handy as we move through the next few sections.

    The following sections will each touch on one area of application for your new brand standards, exploring how best to integrate the concept of your brand in a way your consumers will identify and relate to.

    The Product

    First, we need to take a look at the product itself, the reason you’re in business. You may already have a set framework or concept for your app, but the final layer of design and development should be heavily influenced by the type of brand you want to create.

    Overall design

    The type of basic design you offer can make a radical difference in how a user receives your app. Here, you need to think beyond what’s the most aesthetically pleasing (though that helps too) and think about what’s going to cement your brand’s identity in the minds of your users.

    These are just a handful of questions to get you started:

    • Do you want to look futuristic, or do you want a throwback look?
    • Do you want something fun and idiosyncratic, or something serious and precise?
    • Do you want something colorful and creative, or something more analytical and defined?
    • What colors should be prominent in your app, and what level of contrast do you want to achieve?

    There are no right or wrong answers to these choices; again, this all depends on who your target audience is and how you want to differentiate yourself. Whatever you choose, your choice should be apparent throughout the application, aiding the “immersive” experience that a successful brand-consumer relationship demands.

    Take Workday’s app as an example; it uses bright, palette colors throughout its app and precise, formal design choices to demonstrate an aura of professionalism while still being friendly and approachable.

    workday

    (Image Source: Workday)

    Functionality

    Of course, the design fun doesn’t stop at these basic design questions. You’ll also want to consider what types of functionality you want to include, and how those functions might signal different brand qualities to your users.

    For example, imagine you have a row of tabs on the main part of your app, and whenever you hover over one, it pops up, growing bigger and changing colors dynamically. Now imagine a wheel of options in the center of the page, and whenever you hover over one option, the others fade away. These produce two very distinct “feels,” the former being more fun and out-of-the-way, and the latter being more pragmatic and efficient.

    The type of functionality you present can be at a high level, such as deciding what features to offer your users or how to incorporate those features in a basic design, or at a more specific level, such as coming up with Easter eggs and quirks that your users can find by exploring your app.

    A “claim to fame”?

    If your software has a “claim to fame,” or some kind of functional distinction that separates it from other brands in your niche, you need to play this up throughout your product wherever you can. For example, let’s say your uniqueness rests on your app’s ability to perform functions faster than any other app on the market. In this case, you may want to include subtle reminders of this “speed” factor, such as tongue-in-cheek references on loading pages, or timers for specific functions.

    You don’t need to have one of these, but it can be helpful in securing your users’ loyalty. Brainstorm about the different advantages your company could offer, and settle on at least one that you can play up. This will also help you when you create advertising and social campaigns for your brand.

    Site and Support

    If you’re like most SaaS companies, you’ll have a website and a support/help center for your users in addition to wherever your software is hosted (website, mobile app, etc.). This is another great opportunity for you to show off what makes your brand special, appeal to curious new users, and of course, retain the users you’ve already collected.

    Layout and design

    Your first look should be at the layout and design of your website. For the most part, you can follow the same rules you followed in the design portion of your software development. Think about the way your colors and logo can integrate into your design, and question what types of functionality you want to offer your users. Obviously, you want your site to be intuitive and functional, but how are your choices affecting users’ perceptions of your brand identity?

    Copy and content

    Copy and content are both forms of writing for your audience, but the former is about quick-hitting headlines and opportunities for conversion, while the latter is about presenting information.

    In the former case, your web copy can do an awesome job of presenting exactly what kind of character your brand is. Carefully consider your tone, as every word here is going to count, and inject your headlines with bits of humor, or pride, or exclusivity, depending on your brand and goals. Zendesk has an excellent example with this headline, where they reveal their approachable vocabulary and throw in a vanilla punchline to get a quick laugh while avoiding rocking the boat:

    copy and content

    (Image Source: Zendesk)

    Your content marketing strategy is another powerful opportunity to demonstrate your brand, and it can manifest in a few different areas. First, you’ll want an ongoing content strategy to fuel your SEO campaign and attract new readers; this will likely reside in your blog. Second, you’ll want a comprehensive help and support section, full of interactive and searchable documents to help users when they (inevitably) encounter trouble with your software. In both cases, you’ll need to keep your content concise, and strictly adherent to the tone you’ve established for your brand. When users encounter this content, they’ll either be seeing your brand for the first time, or they’ll be in need of help—either way, they’re especially vulnerable, and your angle could make or break their impression of your brand.

    Examples and Easter eggs

    Throughout your help section especially, you’ll have the opportunity to include Easter eggs and subtle tidbits that your observant users will pick up on. They can be inside jokes, subtle references, or unique pockets of functionality that aren’t otherwise visible.

    For example, take MailChimp’s sample template referencing “adorable kittens” as an amusing alternative to something like lorem ipsum text. It falls in line with the amusing and friendly nature of the brand:

    mailchimp template design

    (Image Source: MailChimp)

    Personal exchanges

    Finally, whether it’s in a live chat, on a forum, or in some other method of exchange, you’ll probably be communicating with customers directly to resolve issues. When you do this, make sure your customer service representatives are using a voice and approach that falls in line with your brand standards. This will add a layer of comfort and familiarity to the experience, and if consistent enough, will lead to higher feelings of brand trust and loyalty. From there, your customer retention rates will skyrocket.

    Social Media and Advertising

    I’ve lumped the two of these applications together because, while independent, they are related. Both involve communicating directly with an audience outside the scope of your software product itself (or your website, in most cases). Ultimately, your brand standards should govern your approach to each.

    Personality and content

    Social media gives you the chance to truly show off your personality, and you better take advantage of it. Social media is where your users are going to turn when they want to contact you directly, the “you” in this case being your brand. Remember my example earlier, where I alluded to the fact that your brand should be a stand-in for a real person? The concept applies here too. Whenever you make a post, or respond to a user, or do anything on social media, you need to do so in a “voice” that matches your brand standards. This is going to be tough, especially since you’ll probably have multiple people working on one account, and you’ll often be posting as a reactionary measure, rather than a premeditated one. However, with solid and consistent brand standards, you can keep this atmosphere consistent and enhance the approachability and familiarity of your brand.

    Multiple social arms

    It’s also a good idea, if your audience is large enough, to segment your social media presence into different designated arms, such as one for customer support and one for regular updates. SalesForce takes this to another level, with no fewer than six separate Twitter accounts to follow, depending on your goals.

    salesforce twitter accounts

    (Image Source: Twitter)

    This will help you maintain consistency and delegate responsibilities for different engagements while keeping your overall brand consistent. You’ll also need to apply your brand standards to multiple social profiles at once, simultaneously following best practices for each app.

    Community building

    The more your brand is mentioned, the more popular and visible it’s going to become; when you develop a powerful enough community, you can ease off the gas and let your community start doing the promotional work for you. At higher levels of development, some SaaS companies start earning more customers simply because they have so many existing customers talking about them and working with them on a regular basis.

    You can encourage the development of a community in your own social spheres (and on your site) by creating a forum, engaging with your customers regularly, rewarding customers for engaging with others, and encouraging more brand engagements with contests, questions, and requests for user-submitted content.

    Brand as a foundation

    There are tons of advertising options beyond content marketing and social media; PPC advertising, banner ads, and even traditional forms of advertising like TV and radio are just a handful of examples. Your brand needs to serve as a foundation for all of these if you want to maximize your potential; if you’re consistent, this will greatly increase user familiarity with your brand, and keep your company top-of-mind with those already engaging with it. Before you develop the concept for a new ad campaign, ask yourself, does this fit in with my company’s image? Is the tone right? Are the company’s colors and logos visible? Does this accurately represent the type of experience a user might have with the app? You need to answer “yes” to all these questions before proceeding.

    Parting Thoughts

    Consistency.

    I’ve covered a lot of information in this guide, and most of it has focused on creating your brand standards and where you can apply those standards to fully characterize your brand. This will help you conceptualize a brand, and it gives you a good visual map for how your brand needs to develop, but there are a handful of further considerations I want to leave you with as you begin your SaaS brand journey.

    Branding is one of the most powerful and important marketing strategies you’ll use, in part because it affects all your other strategies, but it’s only going to be effective if you’re consistent with it. You can’t apply your brand to just your product, or just your social media campaign, and hope to reap the full benefits of the integration, nor can you change your brand standards a few months into the game. You can tweak your brand, gradually over time, but you have to give users that consistent look, feel, and comfort, or you’ll never be able to build the recognition or retention you need.

    Invisible values.

    It’s hard to directly measure the results of your branding efforts; you can’t calculate a brand ROI the way you can with just a social media marketing or just an SEO strategy. Branding’s most impressive values are actually somewhat invisible, unless you try to measure them with qualitative user surveys; for example, how can you measure the average person’s “awareness” of your brand? How can you measure a person’s disposition toward staying with your brand (especially when compared to a hypothetical scenario in which you have a different brand entirely)? You’ll have to rely on indirect indicators here.

    Company culture.

    I mentioned this earlier, but it’s worth repeating. If you want to reap the full value of a comprehensive SaaS brand, you can’t think of it as only existing for your customers. Your brand’s character and style should permeate your entire organization, giving your employees a standard to aspire to and giving them a foundation for how to interact with customers and vendors. It’s going to leave you with a more powerful, more cohesive organization—even if you don’t notice it right away.

    When characterized with a carefully considered and thoroughly described brand, your software will do a better job of standing out, pleasing your customers, and ultimately making you more money. Don’t take this strategy lightly.

  3. How Do Click-Through Rates Affect Search Ranks?

    Leave a Comment

    For as long as SEO has been around, search optimizers have debated how much “user experience” factors into a search rank. According to some data, qualitative factors like how long a user spends on a page can influence how that page ranks—but you could also make for a case of correlation influencing this relationship, rather than causation. On the other hand, you have classic “standbys” as ranking influencers, such as inbound link quality, with all other measurable ranking factors being secondary, correlational, or purely coincidental.

    Now, thanks to some insights from Google engineer Paul Haahr, we may have a clue as to whether one of the most hotly debated topics in the user experience debate (click-through rates) is just a myth, or if it truly does influence how your site ranks in Google.

    The Idea Behind Click-Through Rate Influence

    The concept behind CTR influence is pretty simple, and it’s likely the reason so many search optimizers have found it easy to believe that it’s a verifiable ranking signal.

    Google has an anticipated spread of CTRs for its various search results ranks. For example, let’s say it expects 1,000 click for the top query, 200 for the second, and 100 for the third. Now, let’s say after a while, the three sites in these positions offer a major discrepancy; the first site is only getting 400 clicks, the second site gets its expected 200, and the third gets 700. That’s an anomaly, and Google might come to the conclusion that this third entry is way more relevant than the other two. Accordingly, it may boost its rank.

    Google Click-Through Rate

    (Image Source: SearchEngineLand)

    Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to account for this pattern in a controlled experiment, keeping all other ranking factors consistent.

    Negative Evidence?

    There have been some interesting and, admittedly, persuasive studies in the past that have seemingly disproven, or at least suggested evidence to the contrary of the idea that organic CTRs influence search rank potential. One in particular used a “click bot” to automatically click on certain results for a small range of keywords as a controlled experiment to see if additional clicks from searches alone were enough to move the rankings of a particular entry. The results, as you might imagine, were nonexistent. There was no upward momentum whatsoever.

    click bot

    (Image Source: SearchEngineLand)

    However, as others have pointed out, there’s a serious flaw in this study: it used click bots. Google is no stranger to the use of bots in manipulation of search ranks (and other online advantages), and it has precautions in place to guard against these negative techniques. While the experiment is interesting, it doesn’t offer conclusive proof that organic CTR isn’t a ranking signal.

    Recent Evidence and RankBrain’s Influence

    A recent experiment done by Wordstream (and published by Moz) illsustrates a very interesting relationship between CTRs and search, and it goes a step further by drawing in possible effects from RankBrain, which helps Google decipher and understand semantically complex user queries.

    Here’s the basic rundown of the experiment. Wordstream examined the relationship between CTRs for given search queries and how they relate to a given search position. The key here is that basic keyword “head terms” are plotted separately from long-tail keywords, which is a major focus of RankBrain.

    CTR vs organic search position

    (Image Source: Moz)

    As you can see, long-tail keywords tend to carry a higher CTR, on average, than their basic counterparts. The same keyword niche was used to attempt to isolate variables that may have otherwise influenced the difference—so what could account for this?

    You could make the argument that the big difference here is the fact that long-tail keywords have a higher likelihood of premeditated user intent, which in turn could influence higher CTRs in general. However, note that in high-position ranks, long-tail terms greatly outperform basic keyword phrases, while in lower organic ranks (10 and lower), the difference is almost negligible.

    Keep that in mind when looking at this graph of similar keyword terms in paid results:

    CTR vs paid search ads

    (Image Source: Moz)

    The same pattern is not visible here. In the top ranks, the differences between shorter and longer keyword phrases is much tighter together, following a much more linear path as the ranks get lower.

    What’s the key takeaway from this study? There’s something interesting going on with CTRs and specifically organic search ranks. There’s just one thing stopping us from certifying this as evidence that CTRs positively influence search rank.

    The Co-Dependency Problem

    The big problem is that CTRs and search ranks are co-dependent variables. Assuming that CTR does influence search rank, the two become mutually inseparable. Did a search rank increase because it got a higher CTR, or did its CTR grow higher because it got a higher search rank? It’s almost impossible to isolate the factors here.

    How This Affects Your Strategy

    As there’s no direct proof of causation between CTRs and organic search ranks, and because even if there was, there are dozens of factors that are more important (including site structure, content, and external links), this shouldn’t affect your strategy too much. Click-through rates are still a good thing, and you should still aim to optimize for them with compelling title tags and accurate meta descriptions, but they may not directly affect your search ranks. Until we have more information, keep user experience optimization as a strategy separate from your SEO, and improve both for the best possible results for your site.

  4. 5 Ways Search Is Becoming More Personalized (and How to Adapt)

    Leave a Comment

    Search is facing yet another revolution, and this one has everything to do with the individual. When Google first launched, every user in the world viewed the same results. Today, its capacity for personalization has evolved to such a sophisticated degree, most of us don’t even realize what’s happening in the background. Individual attention and customization are the next big barriers for technological development, and search engines are working quickly to bring more personalization to the users who are craving it. If you want your business to be prepared, you need to be aware of these changes, and how your SEO strategy needs to adapt.

    Facilitators of Personalization

    First, it’s important to realize the mechanisms behind these personalization changes. There are several major technologies all advancing in different lines, in some cases working together to integrate these changes:

    Search algorithm complexity.

    On one hand, search algorithms themselves are getting more and more complex. As an example, when Hummingbird broke onto the scene in 2013, it completely changed how Google “understood” search queries, shifting its focus on keywords to a semantic deciphering of user intent. As search engines evolve, even incorporating AI and machine learning, they’ll “get to know” users even better.

    Big data.

    Technology is growing capable of gathering and better understanding deeper, more complex information like user behavior and demographic information. Search engines can use this data to inform their algorithm updates or direct their future plans.

    Shared account access.

    Tech companies are attempting to reduce logins by spreading one account over several platforms and products. This allows companies to use information from multiple apps in a single, cohesive understanding of a user.

    Digital assistants merging offline and online.

    Personal digital assistants, like Siri and Cortana, are blurring the line between offline and online search, tapping into existing files, apps, and information hard-stored on devices for other forms of digital search.

    Modes of Personalization

    Through these vehicles of advancement, we can identify five main modes of personalization, each present in modern search but increasing in sophistication:

    Geographic location.

    Geographic location has been an influential factor in search results for some time now, especially with the onset of mobile devices. Google is adept at delivering a list of results based on what companies or facilities are around your “current” location. Over time, this location has grown more specific, ranging from regions, to cities, and now getting down to a neighborhood level. Other geographic factors include national differences, such as how “football” might mean something different to a Briton than it does to an American.

    Local SEO

    History.

    Your personal browsing history is another mode of personalization; Google may favor sites or domains that you’ve frequented in the past, or take a look at how you’ve responded to various search entries in separate instances in the past. It uses this information to get a better understanding of your personal needs, and as long as you’re logged into your account, it can pull this information to personalize your search results. In time, this degree of personalization may increase in intensity, as search engines have more information to work with and more options for display.

    Social connections.

    Currently underdeveloped compared to the other items on this list, Google can tap into your social Google+ account to highlight articles or websites that your connections have shared or found helpful in the past. The sky’s the limit for how this may develop, especially as Google works on more potential partnerships with other social media apps.

    Bookmarks and apps.

    Thanks mostly to personal digital assistants, the apps and bookmarks you have stored on your device and browser can influence the types of results you receive in search. A perfect example of this is app deep linking; under the right conditions, you may encounter a link in your search results that leads to the interior page of an app that you have downloaded on your device. This link would not appear if you didn’t have the app (though app streaming may soon change that).

    bookmarks apps

    Habits and personality.

    Though currently on the back burner, digital assistants are starting to tap into this customization potential. By getting to know your habits, how you use your device, and what your personal preferences are, digital assistants may soon start categorizing us into archetypes, or making bold assumptions about our behavioral and display preferences—but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here.

    How to Adapt

    This is a search change that doesn’t offer any straightforward route to adaptation. Unlike previous Google updates, like ones that refine content standards, there’s no single reaction your strategy can have. Instead, you have to work around this personalization trend by making your company (and website) more appropriate and specific to your audience:

    Optimize for local keywords.

    Make your local presence known, to a hyper-specific degree.

    Reward loyalty.

    User retention can translate to positive ranking signals, and you’ll appear in more searches among your frequenters.

    Encourage social integration.

    This is a good strategy anyway, but it doesn’t hurt to give it an extra boost.

    Revisit and re-optimize for your target niche.

    Zoom in your laser-focus and optimize your site for your target demographics only.

    These strategies are somewhat general, but these personalization trends are hard to pinpoint with the precision of older strategies like keyword-based optimization. Keep giving your users what they want, be straightforward and accurate with your onsite company descriptions, and you should have a higher chance of showing up in more searches.

  5. The Future of Onsite SEO (in 2016 and Beyond)

    Leave a Comment

    SEO is always in a state of fluctuation, but most of the updates and changes we pay attention to are ones that affect some small component of our overall strategies. For example, the Panda update of 2011 affected how the algorithm evaluated the quality of content, and the Penguin update the very next year changed how Google evaluated links. What if there’s a change coming that fundamentally overhauls one of the biggest pillars of successful optimization?

    The Role of Onsite Optimization

    “Onsite optimization” covers a lot of ground, but essentially, it’s a system of constructs, rules, and tactics that you can use to modify your site and make it more visible to search engines, as well as more authoritative in those engines’ eyes. Historically, there have been some significant changes to how onsite optimization works—for example, a decade ago, it was neither imperative nor even appropriate to optimize your site for mobile devices. Today, having a non-optimized mobile site is archaic, and can significantly stifle your potential growth. However, by and large, most onsite optimization factors have remained consistent.

    onsite optimization

    (Image Source: SearchEngineWatch)

    The bottom line for onsite optimization is that it sets your site up for the search engine rankings you want. If you’re interested in a fairly exhaustive guide on the subject of onsite optimization, you can check out AudienceBloom’s (Nearly) Comprehensive Guide to Onsite Optimization.

    Why Onsite SEO Could Be in for Massive Changes

    So why are we on the verge of a potential disruption in the world of onsite optimization? There are three factors working together here:

    • Different forms of search. First, you have to recognize that there are different types of search engines entering the game. Personal digital assistants, which would have been considered impossibly futuristic just a few decades ago, are now commonplace, and users are searching in new ways—mobile devices alone have had a dramatic impact on how people use search in the modern world.
    • Advanced data interpretation. If you’ve been plugged into any tech news in the past few years, you know the power of big data and how much insight we’ll be able to gather on users and systems in the near future. More user data means more sophisticated ways of evaluating user experiences, which could lead to further refinement of onsite ranking factors.
    • New types of “sites.” Finally, we have to recognize that what’s considered a “site” may be undergoing a significant evolution. I’ll touch on this more in the next section, but suffice it to say, the traditional website may be on its last legs. How can you perform onsite optimization where there is no site? We’ll explore this idea later on.

    With that being said, let’s explore some of the potential game-changers in the onsite optimization world, some of which could start having a massive effect on how we optimize websites as early as this year.

    App-Based SEO

    The first and potentially most significant trend I want to explore is the development of app-based SEO. Obviously, apps have permeated our society thanks to the popularity of mobile devices and the convenience of app functionality. Since apps don’t require the intermediary step of firing up a web browser, they’re becoming a more popular means of discovering online content and using online-specific functionality.

    What does this have to do with onsite SEO? Everything.

    Existing App SEO

    First, it’s important to acknowledge the amount of app SEO already relevant to today’s users. Apps are starting to serve as an alternative to traditional websites, occasionally offering what websites can’t, but more often offering what websites do, but in a more convenient, device-specific package.

    The fundamental crux of app SEO is optimizing your app to be indexed by Google (and other search engines), much in the same way that onsite optimization ensures your website is indexed. For most apps, this involves setting up communication between your app listing and Google’s search bots, so Google can draw in information like your app name, a simple description, an icon associated with your app, and any reviews. Google can then provide your app (along with an “install” button) in SERPs whenever a user types in a relevant query.

    mobile app seo

    (Image Source: Google)

    There’s also an app SEO feature known as “app deep linking,” but I’m hoping there’s a catchier name for it in the near future. This functionality allows you to structure links that point to interior pages or screens of your app, giving Google the ability to link to those pages or screens directly in search results.

    http url in app

    (Image Source: Google)

    There’s one limitation to this process: users must have the app already installed to see these deep links in their search results. But there’s a solution in beta!

    App Streaming

    Google’s latest brainchild is a functionality called “app streaming,” which allows users to access deep linked content within apps, and sometimes entire app functions themselves, without ever downloading the app to their devices. The premise is somewhat simple; Google hosts these apps, and allows users to use only the relevant portions of them, much in the same way that Netflix streams movies and shows as you’re watching them.

    app streaming

    (Image Source: TechCrunch)

    The concept is even expanding to advertising, which is great for companies that revolve around the use of mobile apps. Companies may allow for an in-results “trial” offer of their apps, giving users a chance to stream the app before they buy it:

    trial offer word search

    (Image Source: SearchEngineLand)

    So what does all this mean? It means that apps are developing their own “kind” of onsite optimization, unique from what we’re used to in traditional websites. For now, it might seem like a gimmick, but there’s reason to believe this change could be coming to all of us, sooner than we might think.

    Directional Shift

    The most important factor to remember here is the way consumer trends are developing. Mobile traffic has rocketed past desktop traffic, and there’s no signs of its momentum stopping anytime soon.

    global mobile users

    (Image Source: SearchEngineWatch)

    App adoption is also on an upward trend, correlating strongly with mobile traffic data (as you might have predicted). Because of this, users will demand more app functionality in their search results (however those results might be generated), and search engines will do more to favor apps.

    Could Apps Replace Traditional Websites?

    The most important question for this section is whether all these fancy app SEO features and rising app use could eventually replace traditional websites altogether. Conceptually, apps are just “better” versions of website. They’re locally hosted, so they’re somewhat more reliable, they offer more unique, customizable experiences, they can be accessed directly from your device, sparing you the intermediary step of using a browser, and there’s nothing a website offers that an app can’t.

    But just because apps “can” replace traditional websites, it doesn’t mean they inevitably will, especially with older generations who might be reluctant to adopt apps over the traditional websites they’ve known throughout the entire digital age. Still, even if apps don’t replace traditional sites entirely, they’ll still be significant players in how SEO develops in the future.

    Does Your Business Need an App?

    As a related note to this discussion, you may be wondering if your business “needs” to adopt an app, since they’re becoming so popular and influential in the SEO realm. The answer, currently, is no. Traditional websites are still used by the vast majority of users, and the cost of developing an app is often only worth it if you have a specific need for one as part of your business model, or if there’s significant consumer demand.

    Rich Snippets and Instant Answers

    On another front of development are rich answers, sometimes referred to as instant answers, or Knowledge Graph entries. These are concise answers that Google provides users who search for a simple, answerable query, and they come in a variety of forms. They may be a few lines of explanatory text describing the solution to a problem, or a complex chart, calendar, or graphical depiction, depending on the nature of the query.

    Take a look at these examples:

    google instant answers

    instant answers google search

    Note how the answer in the bottom example contains a citation, with a link pointing to the source of the information. Google draws all its Knowledge Graph information from external sources, and if yours is one of the contributors, you’re going to earn this visibility. Since users are getting the answers they’re looking for, you may not get as much traffic as an ordinary top position, but you will be the most visible in the results.

    The Rise in Rich Answers

    The most important optimization influencer here is the sheer increase in how many rich answers are provided. Google is developing this functionality at a fast rate because it understands the sheer value to users—getting the answer you wanted, immediately, without ever having to click a link, is the next generation of search engines. Just in the past year, there’s been a massive surge in the number of queries that are answered with rich answers, corresponding with Google’s increasing ability to decipher and address complicated user queries.

    growth in rich answers

    (Image Source: StoneTemple)

    Personal digital assistants, too, are capable of providing more direct answers to users. So what does this increased ability to provide direct information mean for onsite optimization?

    Structured Data as a Ranking Signal

    The first possibility is that structured data might become a ranking signal. Google and other search engines depend on websites to use a specific architecture, a structured markup, to provide information that can be used for such answers. Schema.org is a great resource for this, and even amateur coders can implement this markup on a site in relatively little time. Accordingly, Google may start rewarding sites that offer more completely adherent pages, or ones that offer better information.

    John Mueller addressed this recently:

    structured data

    (Image Source: SearchEngineLand)

    Competition and Complicating Factors

    There are a handful of factors to consider here that complicate the relationship of onsite optimization to rich answers:

    • The competition factor. There’s only one spot for the top position in a rich answer situation, which means competition is fiercer than ever. You have to provide not only the most relevant answer for a user’s query, but also earn the highest authority out of anyone competing for the spot. This demands more offsite optimization and authority-focused SEO.
    • The decline of organic traffic and traditional SERP entries. The provision of instant answers makes it somewhat less likely that users will click through links. They will also be less likely to see organic search entries further down the list, decreasing the significance of the “traditional” SERP layout, and possibly affecting the relevance of existing onsite factors like title tags and meta descriptions (more on this later).
    • Alternative targets. In the short-term, it’s better to target and provide complex information that Google may not currently be able to provide answers to. However, as the Knowledge Graph becomes more advanced, this will be harder and harder for businesses to do.

    The bottom line here is that directly provided answers are morphing the traditional SERP, the average user experience, and are changing what it takes for your site to be perceived as an authority.

    User Experience Factors

    The bottom line for search engines is to make users happy, and they’re going to evolve as they learn more information about what workers want and need. Technologies are becoming advanced enough to draw in big data about huge swaths of users; this will soon make it possible for Google and other search engines to learn even more about how their users interact with sites. This, in turn, will force webmasters to adopt more onsite changes that favor beneficial user experiences.

    User Behavior and Engagement

    Currently, user behavior serves as a peripheral ranking factor; longer time spent on page is a general indicator of a high-authority or otherwise high-value site, while higher bounce rates is an indicator of much lower authority. In the near future, Google may be able to look at even more specific usability factors as ranking signals, such as how quickly they scrolled through the site, whether or not it appeared as though they were reading content, and in what order they clicked your links.

    User engagement factors may similarly come into play. For example, how quickly a user moves to leave a comment on your blog, or what other apps the user connects to may indicate how authoritative your site is.

    Qualitative Optimization

    These new features, combined with other applications of big data, will make onsite optimization more qualitative in nature. In addition to hitting the mark with the “fundamentals” (some of which are described in the next section), your site will be required to qualitatively please your user base, which will require significant testing and adjustment. For some webmasters, this is nothing new; it’s what’s required for conversion optimization, but soon, search engines may demand it.

    Existing Factors

    So far, I’ve mostly been exploring how new technologies and trends will influence the development of new additions to the onsite optimization world. But what about the onsite optimization strategies that already exist? How are they going to be affected over the next few years? Will they remain the same? Disappear? Evolve? I want to take a quick look at some of the most important factors, and how they might develop with the times:

    • Basic functionality. The “basic” functionality of your site refers to users’ ability to access your site, load all of its content (including videos and images), and consume that content without any significant barriers, across all devices and browsers. As a general concept, this is going to remain identical—you’ll always need your site (or app) to perform. However, those performance standards might change with consumer adoption of new technologies, similar to how mobile devices spurred the necessity of “mobile optimization.”
    • Mobile optimization. This is the perfect segue for mobile optimization, another major tenet of modern onsite optimization. What’s going to happen to mobile optimization? For starters, it’s probably going to stop being a term. We’re a few years away from mobile devices becoming so entrenched in our society that we stop seeing them as “new,” and start seeing mobile optimization as a standard by default. From there, there will probably be even stranger devices and user experiences to start worrying about.
    • URL structures and sitemapping. Currently, search engines demand some level of sitemapping to easily categorize and interpret your site, and a URL structure that’s easy for users to follow (with appropriate names to help search engines understand your page intent). For as long as traditional websites remain alive, URL structures will remain important, and it’s doubtful these standards will change. However, apps will likely demand a new kind of infrastructural mapping, and a replacement for URLs (as all content is hosted within the app).
    • Internal links. Internal links make it easier for users to navigate your site, and help search engines understand the unique relationships between all your pages. I imagine these will remain important to some degree, but with increased emphasis on user experience, this will have to evolve. Your anchor text and link placement will need to be further optimized to improve user experiences (not just stuffed in to make your site a tighter network).
    • Site speed. Site speed is always going to be important, even if traditional websites die and apps take their place. Users are impatient and demanding, and I can’t imagine them becoming less so over time. Regardless of whether they’re trying to access a traditional page of web content or they’re trying to use your app, they need their experience to be immediately gratifying, and it’s up to you to provide that to them.
    • Encryption. User security concerns are growing somewhat consistently, thanks to data breaches and similar scares. Combined with increasing sophistication of cyber-security and ever-evolving threats from hackers, it’s likely that encryption and user security will become greater ranking signals over time.
    • Title tags and meta descriptions. Title tags and meta descriptions are features I’m divided on. On one hand, search engines needs some kind of concise data to let them know what a page’s intention is, and what kind of content a user might expect on that page. On the other hand, traditional SERPs may start to evolve beyond the need for any title and description entries. This is thanks to the rising trend of voice-based search and the provision of direct answers. There will probably be some form of titling and describing, but it may decline in significance since it will influence click-through rates less.
    • Onsite content. Finally, there’s onsite content, which is the amount and quality of content you have on each of your internal pages. Users will grow accustomed to faster content consumption experiences in the near future, so onsite content may start coming into play less when it comes to evaluating the quality of a site. It will always be important, but apps may make content less structured by necessity, and users may prefer more concise experiences.

    These are mostly speculative, based on historical patterns and possible technology developments, so take these predictions with a grain of salt.

    Conclusions

    Over the course of this article, we’ve taken a look at some of the boldest new technologies and consumer trends shaping the future of search, and how those changes could impact what we currently identify as onsite optimization. These may be enlightening, interesting, or amusing to you, but remember the only way to earn the practical value from this piece is to leave with actionable takeaways. If we’re truly on the verge of a new search disruption, you need to be ready for it. SEO favors the competitors who can adapt to the latest trends quickly, and that means taking action with every new development or revelation.

    Key Changes to Watch For

    In an effort to stay ahead of the competition, you need to remain vigilant and keep watch for how these onsite trends develop. Overall, the changes in onsite optimization will reflect a change in the role of traditional websites in general. In the next few years, this change will manifest in three key areas:

    • The rise of app importance. Apps are starting to become more important to users and search visibility in general, and that importance is only going to increase in the next few years. Eventually, that may lead to the demise of the traditional website, leaving “onsite” optimization to the realm of “app” optimization.
    • Prioritization of information. Users are hungry for faster, more accurate, more immediate information, and tech companies want to provide that. Rich answers and personal digital assistants are two examples of technologies attempting to bring this information to users, and future onsite optimization techniques will likely require some provision of this fast, concise, accurate information—even more so than today.
    • Sophistication of user insights. Search engines will have more information on users, which will make the process of onsite evaluation far more complicated (and rewarding for users). That means more experience-based ranking signals, and possibly more ranking factors beyond our direct control, such as greater SERP personalization.

    How Quickly Do You Need to Adapt?

    It’s hard to say exactly when or how these changes will develop—app-based SEO is already alive and well, and companies are starting to take advantage of it for their businesses, but we’re not in any immediate danger of traditional websites going extinct yet. Technology tends to develop faster than most consumers and business owners anticipate, and you certainly don’t want to get left behind, so err on the side of caution by hedging your bets. Invest in select new strategies you feel are pertinent for your site’s visibility, but don’t be too quick to abandon your old techniques. If I had to guess, these changes will probably manifest gradually over the next five years, so you have plenty of time to make your evaluations.

  6. How to Use Google Analytics to Audit Your Content Strategy

    Leave a Comment

    It’s not enough to merely have a content marketing strategy. No matter how perfectly thought-out your approach was, how brilliant your tactics are in theory, or how successful you are in executing your campaign, there’s still one more step preventing you from fully reaping the rewards of content marketing: review.

    Reviewing your procedures and results is a necessary step if you want to know whether all your efforts were worth it; skipping this process is akin to throwing darts at a dart board, blind, and never checking to see if you hit the target. Not only will you remain ignorant of whether or not your content strategy is working, you’ll never gain the opportunity to make improvements, because you’ll never figure out what weaknesses you can compensate for or which strengths you can enhance.

    Moving Parts

    There’s a big hurdle most companies face before even beginning a content marketing audit, however: the many moving parts of a content marketing strategy. Though the basic concept of content marketing is simple (attracting more people to your brand through the publication of unique, valuable content), the reality touches many areas at once. This makes measuring the effectiveness of your campaign and diagnosing potential problems equally difficult.

    For example, let’s say you’re trying to figure out how much value your content is brining you. Which channels do you look at? Theoretically, content can bring you organic traffic from search engines, direct traffic from repeat visitors, referral traffic from outside sources, and social traffic from your social media platforms. Besides that, how do you measure brand loyalty you’ve gained, or what kind of impressions you’re making?

    The Right Tool for the Jo

    It’s tough to hit all these points with only one tool, and even harder to reduce them all to quantitative values, since so many content effects are both qualitative and long-term. Rather than explore the many types of tools you can use to evaluate different angles of your campaign (perhaps I’ll save that for a future post), today I want to narrow my focus to one tool that can help you get a “big picture” snapshot of your campaign. It’s highly effective, easy to pick up, and best of all, it’s free for everyone: it’s Google Analytics, and we’re going to use it to audit your content marketing strategy.

    Topic Success

    We’ll be getting into some of the measurable effects your content has, including how much traffic it generates, a bit later, but first, let’s take a look at how well your posts are performing in general. Performance, or “success” here is hard to pin down, since there are so many factors you’ll want to consider:

    These are mostly qualitative measures, but we can indirectly infer how your content is performing with a couple of key areas in your Analytics dashboard.

    How to Measure

    We’re going to be looking at the “Behavior” section of Analytics, where we can learn how people are accessing and engaging with your site. To start, open up the Site Content submenu and click on All Pages.

    behavior google analytics

    Here, you’re going to see a pretty massive breakdown of all the pages of your site, along with a number of metrics relating to those pages. At the top will probably be your “main” navigation pages, such as your home, about, and contact pages, but as you scroll down (and expand the chart to account for all pages in your sitemap), you’ll start finding your individual blog pages.

    analytics per page

    There are a number of dimensions to look at here:

    • Pageviews, which tell you how many people visited this page of your site.
    • Unique pageviews, which tell you how many “unique” visitors you had for this page (i.e., no repeat traffic).
    • Average time on page, which tells you how long a user has spent on this page.
    • Entrances, which tell you how many people used this page to first enter your site.
    • Bounce rates, which tell you how many people left this page after viewing it as the first page of your site.
    • Exit rates, which tell you how many people left this page after viewing it as the final page of your site.

    You should also note the degree of control you have over this menu. For starters, you can adjust the date parameters to reflect a certain time period. If you want a “zoomed out” look at your content strategy overall, you can set this to months or years, but for most people, the past month is a good range to look at. You can also segment the traffic that appears in this breakdown, which is extremely useful for determining your content’s effectiveness in different sectors. For example, you can look at how only your social-originated traffic engages with your content. Play around with your options here.

    traffic segment

    Key Takeaways

    There are a handful of key indicators to look for here to evaluate your content performance:

    • Post popularity. Which posts are receiving the most pageviews? This report filters pages by this statistic by default, so take a look at your top-performing posts. What do they have in common? Similarly, which posts seem to be underperforming? This will give you a general indication of how attractive these topics are.
    • Time on page. This is an excellent measure of how interested people are in your content after visiting it, and will tell you how “good” your material is. This is different from initial attractiveness; for example, let’s say you have a post with only a handful of pageviews but the time spent on page is extraordinarily high. This tells you your headline isn’t very attractive, but your content is engrossing. In the opposite scenario, your headline may be powerfully compelling, but your content can’t back it up.
    • Exit rate. Your goal should be to have your content be so interesting, or so positive that it encourages people to explore your site further. If your exit rates are unnaturally high, it means your content isn’t doing a good job of making people interested in your brand.

    We’ll be taking a look at a few more “performance” metrics in the “bottom line” section of this guide, but these should get you started in the right direction.

    SEO Benefits

    The SEO side of content is at once harder and easier to explore; you can gather tons of data about how you’re doing from a search optimization perspective, but it’s difficult to tie this specifically to your content marketing campaign. For the most part, you’ll have to look at the broad strokes of your SEO efforts, and make adjustments to your content strategy to compensate for them. For example, if your rankings and organic traffic are stagnating, you know something needs to change in your approach.

    How to Measure

    There are a few different places where you can learn about the state of your SEO campaign (and a ton of third party tools that can dig even deeper), but we’re interested in the big picture here. Let’s start by taking a look at the Acquisition section, where we can learn about where your site traffic is coming from. Start by heading to the Overview section.

    acquisition google analytics

    Here, you’ll see a handy breakdown of the four main sources of traffic your site receives: direct, referral, social, and organic traffic. You can compare and contrast various metrics related to these traffic streams, which is valuable, but for right now, we’re only interested in organic traffic (traffic that comes from search engines).

    traffic sources

    Click on “Organic Search” here, and you’ll see a breakdown of your traffic similar to the breakdown you saw for all the pages of your site, with information about the visitors coming in.

    google analytics chart

    On the left, you’ll see a “keyword” section which may provide you information about the most popular queries that led people to your site. However, Google has gotten stingy about providing this information (since it prompts people to try and manipulate their ranks). For the most part, you’ll see “not provided” listed here. There are some ways around this data hurdle, especially with third party tools, but again, we’re looking at the big picture here.

    Key Takeaways

    The biggest factor you want to monitor is how your organic traffic is developing. With a proper and upward scaling content strategy, your organic traffic figures should increase month over month (with occasional discrepancies for seasonal changes or random fluctuations). If you aren’t seeing this growth, or if you suspect something’s wrong, you can gather that at least one of the following is true:

    • Your onsite SEO is flawed. This is unrelated to your content strategy, but is important to note.
    • Your onsite content has dropped in quality. This could result in less engaged traffic, lower authority measures, or fewer inbound links, all of which could negatively affect your SEO growth.
    • Your offsite content has slowed or dropped in quality. Your offsite content efforts are responsible for building the links that pass authority to your site. If there’s a flaw in the quality of your material, your sources, or your patterns of growth, your momentum could suffer.
    • You’ve failed to scale. As your business climbs in ranks, gaining more and more visibility, you’ll have to pour more and more effort in your strategy if you want to continue growing. Of course, if you’re happy where you’re at, it’s possible to maintain your traffic flow with consistent continued efforts—but why stay satisfied with where you are, when you have the chance to grow even further?
    • A competitor has emerged. Your drop in organic traffic could be the result of a newly emerged competitor, and there’s not much you can do about that other than step up your strategy to fight back against their arrival.

    Any of these could be the root problem, and it’s up to your personal insights to figure out which. With a little digging—such as evaluating your backlink profile to determine the state of your offsite strategy, or conducting competitive research to see how your content stacks up against a competitor’s—you should be able to pinpoint the problem further. Otherwise, take note of your traffic figures and count them as a beneficial effect of your strategy. If you’re consistently growing, month after month, you know you’re doing something right!

    Social Influence

    This section assumes you’re using social media to syndicate, promote, or otherwise enhance the visibility of your content marketing strategy—as well you should. One of social media marketing’s most significant benefits is increasing the reach of your onsite material, and it also helps you realize how effective your campaign is at attracting attention. It’s hard to filter out non-content-related social factors as influential here, such as engaging in conversations with other influencers or responding to social comments; however, these can be interpreted as forms of content in their own right.

    How to Measure

    Remember that Acquisition Overview where we just looked at organic traffic? Now we’re going to take a look at social traffic. You’re going to see a fairly similar chart here, broken down by the individual social media source:

    traffic from social media

    The basic stats here are going to be familiar. Sessions, new sessions, new users, bounce rate, and pages per session are the main indicators here. You can also click into any of your social media profiles for more details about the types of people visiting your site and what their resulting behavior is.

    If you’re engaged in an offsite SEO component to your content strategy (i.e., guest posting), you’ll also want to take a look at the referral traffic here. This is going to tell you where most of your external-link-based traffic is coming from, distributed by source. This is useful for determining not only which publishers are sending you the most traffic, but which posts are resonating with which segments of those audiences the best.

    Key Takeaways

    Your takeaways here will be dependent on a number of variables, so I’ll try to keep this high level:

    • Your most effective social distribution channels. This is an easy metric to spot, and should speak volumes about your target demographics. However, this is also dependent on how active you are on this platform and what tactics you’re currently using; for example, you might have tremendous potential on Instagram, but if you aren’t using it correctly, it may appear at the bottom of your list.
    • The appropriateness of your content strategy for each platform. Is there one platform that seems to be underperforming compared to the others, or one platform that’s a rock star? It probably means the appropriateness of your strategy matches its demographics better than the others. You may need to tailor your content strategy a bit differently to account for this.
    • Which topics perform best per platform. Once you drill down to the individual platform metrics, you’ll able to uncover which content topics are performing best on each platform. You can use this information to customize your content distribution to appeal to these segments. For example, you might find that your Twitter audience prefers “quick tips” style posts, while your Facebook audience prefers in-depth analyses.
    • Platform-specific engagement rates. Don’t forget to look at metrics like bounce rate and pages per session on a per-platform basis, as well. You’ll probably find that some of your platforms have higher engagement rates, which may mean that this platform’s demographics are closer to your brand’s target audience, or that your content strategy is simply better in these areas.

    Ultimately, you should be able to use this data to perfect your platform-specific strategies, and reallocate your resources to favor the most useful platforms to your brand.

    Bottom Line

    Traffic and engagement figures are nice, but what really matters to the overall “value” of a content strategy is how many conversions you’re able to earn. Once you calculate the value of a conversion (either with an average sale, or average close ratio and customer lifetime value, depending on the nature of your conversion), you can measure conversions and assign a roughly accurate figure to the overall ROI of your campaign.

    How to Measure

    First, you’re going to want to create “goals,” which are Analytics’s way of helping you identify, categorize, and track the meaningful conversion actions throughout your site. You can track things like checkouts, form signups, or other forms of interaction (like playing a video or clicking a specific link). Head to the admin section of your dashboard, and click on the Goals section.

    goals google analytics

    The process is relatively straightforward. Unless you’re doing something abnormal or crazy, you can use one of Google’s many approachable templates to build a goal that suits your needs.

    goal settings google analytics

    If you need further help getting set up with the goals you want to track, Google has a fantastic guide on the subject.

    Once your goals are created, you can track them in a handful of different ways. From the highest-level perspective, you can track your goals globally just by accessing the goals section and looking at each of your constructs. You can even assign a value to a goal to make your at-a-glance value even more apparent.

    You also have the ability to track goals as they relate to different reports you’ve already generated. For example, in our page breakdown (in the section on topic performance near the top of this guide), you can evaluate how many people from a specific page ended up completing each of your goals, which can tell you the conversion potential of each blog post you produce.

    Key Takeaways

    The biggest takeaway here is the conversion potential of your content strategy. When viewed as a percentage, you’ll be able to see exactly how well a piece of yours converts compared to your other pieces; from these, you can glean key insights about which topics have the greatest potential to convert, and which calls-to-action generate the best responses.

    Analysis and Action

    Throughout this guide, I’ve shown you all the ways that Google Analytics can help you understand the effectiveness of your content marketing campaign, but there’s still one more step to take. Data and conclusions are important, and can make you feel like you’ve accomplished something, but they’re only meaningful if they lead to some kind of action. Unless you compensate for the weaknesses you’ve uncovered, boost the areas of strength you’ve measured, or otherwise adjust your campaign to see better results in the future. Everything you glean from Google Analytics, or any other measurement platform for that matter, should be boiled down to some kind of actionable takeaway. Focus on doing, rather than just evaluating, and you’ll end up with a higher performing campaign in no time.

  7. 9 Ways to Make Your Mobile Site Faster for SEO

    Leave a Comment

    By now, you realize the importance of optimizing a site for mobile. You have a responsive design implemented, and you’ve used Google’s mobile-friendly checker tool to make sure every page of your site is loading properly for mobile devices. But how much attention have you paid to the speed of your site?

    The Importance of Site Speed

    Site speed is an underrated quality in website optimization because it’s affected by a number of individual factors, and can’t be directly controlled or changed the way your onsite content can. Still, site speed if vitally important if you want to give your visitors the best possible experience.

    For starters, slower page loading speeds lead to higher page abandonment, and every second here counts:

    page load time

    (Image Source: KissMetrics)

    Faster loading times lead to higher user satisfaction, higher user retention rates, and allow for more time for site engagement. Plus, Google considers page speed as a ranking factor, at least peripherally. The faster your website performs, the higher authority you’ll be seen to have, and the higher ranks you’ll be able to earn (the user experience factor helps here too).

    page speed ranking factor

    (Image Source: SearchEngineLand)

    All these factors are amplified by the fact that mobile devices tend to load more slowly than their desktop counterparts (and mobile users are less patient as well, since they’re usually after more immediate information). Cutting your page loading times, even by a second, can lead to a dramatic increase in user engagement. So how can you do it?

    Making Your Mobile Site Faster

    Let’s take a look at some of the main ways you can make your mobile site faster:

    1. Optimize your images.

    Your first goal should be to optimize the images of your site, since they’ll constitute the majority of your site’s data. Reducing this data as much as possible (while maintaining the integrity of your images) is crucial to shrinking your page load time. First, make sure your images are in a proper format, such as JPG, GIF, or PNG. Then, strip your images of any unnecessary meta data (while keeping them optimized for SEO with proper titles and alt tags). Once that’s done, shrink your file sizes as much as possible without compromising your quality.

    2. Use a content delivery network (CDN).

    Content delivery networks are systems of distributed servers that make the delivery of your webpage information faster and more streamlined. The technical details here aren’t important; just know that this makes the request and delivery process faster for mobile users.

    3. Delete any unnecessary drafts or meta data.

    Take a look at the back end of your site. Are there any unused content drafts floating around? Is there meta data that’s irrelevant? These things can bog down your site speed with unnecessary size additions, so get rid of them.

    4. Use HTTP “keep alive” response headers.

    This action is a bit technically complicated, but it’s actually much simpler than it sounds. In a normal environment, HTTP requests are done individually, but the “keep alive” response header keeps the connection open, allowing for multiple requests to be done simultaneously. The simple analogy? It makes the page loading process more efficient by letting your users grab more information at once. Setting this up takes a bit of technical knowledge, but it’s not totally unapproachable for a novice—you can read more about it here.

    5. Make use of a caching plugin.

    A good caching plugin will store some of your site’s data so users can access your site faster in the future. Try not to tinker with the settings too much or you’ll interfere with its ability to make your site faster.

    6. Get rid of any plugins you aren’t using.

    Most plugins increase your site size and decrease its ability to load quickly, so do a thorough audit of all your plugins, and get rid of any that you don’t actively need on your site. Don’t be afraid to keep a handful that you actually use—but most webmasters end up accumulating far more than they realize.

    7. Use Gzip compression.

    Gzip compression can help you reduce the number of bytes different elements of your site occupy. In short, it keeps the integrity of your site intact while reducing the total amount of size it occupies. The bottom line is that your site runs faster.

    8. Minify any CSS or JavaScript you run.

    All website transfers are based on the interpretation of code, so the simpler the code you use, the faster your site will be able to load. It’s on you to “minify” any CSS or JavaScript lines on your site; this means deleting any unnecessary lines of code, spaces or other “fluff” that takes up space and doesn’t objectively add to the value of your site. There are many tools you can use to help you here, including GitHub’s YUI Compressor:

    YUI compressor

    (Image Source: YUI)

    9. Upgrade your hosting package (or provider).

    By this point, your site is probably decently optimized for speed. If your pages were loading slow at the beginning, you may have been able to shave multiple seconds off your loading times. Even if not, you’ve at least earned a somewhat faster web presence. If you find that these changes aren’t enough to reach your page speed goals, it could be an indication that something is wrong with your hosting provider, or your specific package. Some hosting packages lump many businesses together on the same plan, forcing you to compete for resources. Consider making a change to earn your own dedicated set of resources.

    None of these site speed optimization tactics are inherently complicated or intensive. In fact, many of them can be accomplished in an hour or less. Once implemented, your site is going to run cleaner and faster, and all your mobile users will appreciate the increase in speed and availability. As competition continues to rise and Google continues improving the average user’s mobile web experience, any differentiating factor you can pull here is valuable.

  8. Why Did Google Update Search Quality Raters Guidelines?

    Leave a Comment

    Google’s “Search Quality Raters” guidelines (henceforth shortened to SQR guidelines) are something of a holy document in the SEO community. We live in a world where Google is pretty much the dominant force in search, dictating the trends and tropes we optimize our sites for (and influencing any other competitors who peek their heads out for search space), and it’s hard because they don’t tell us specifics about how their search algorithm works. Instead, we get hints and suggestions that indirectly tell us how to rank higher but mostly just prevent us from relying on black hat tactics to rank.

    The Original SQR Guidelines

    There have been a handful of “leaked” versions of the SQR document, and one official abridged version released by Google, but it wasn’t until last year that Google released the full SQR guidelines, in all their 160-page glory. Search marketers, once they got over being intimidated at the length, delved into the document to see what new insights they could uncover about how Google interprets the authoritative strength and relevance of websites.

    Google Search Quality Rating Program

    (Image Source: Google)

    The original document didn’t exactly revolutionize the search world, but it did bring up some important considerations and strategic takeaways we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.  Much of the document did, admittedly, tread old ground by covering things like the importance of high-quality content and how Google views relevance to search queries from a semantic angle. However, there were some noticeable new insights:

    • Google views pages that deal with your money or your life “YMYL” pages more significantly than other pages.
    • Expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (EAT) are the three factors that Google uses to determine a site’s domain strength.
    • Content positioning and design come into play. Google evaluates content differently based on how it’s placed.
    • Know queries and know simple queries. These are designations for different types of queries based on how they can be answered; namely, succinctly or with more elaboration necessary.

    Now, it appears Google has made some major modifications to the SQR document.

    The Changes

    Only four months after the document was originally published, Google has made significant changes. You might think Google added even more content to the 160-page behemoth, but actually, the document shrank, specifically to 146 pages.

    Among the most important changes include:

    • A decreased emphasis on supplementary content. Supplementary content refers to any on-page content other than the “main” source of information. For example, if your Contact page has a few paragraphs of text explaining who you are and what you do, you might have supplementary content in the form of notes in the footer, or testimonials. Supplementary content can help or harm you, and it was a major point of emphasis in the previous version. Now that Google has downplayed it, it might be a sign that it’s not as important to your rank as it used to be.
    • An increased attention to Local search, now called “Visit-in-Person.” Google spends more time talking about the importance of local ranks and how to achieve those ranks. It has also adopted new terminology, “visit-in-person,” which may explain how they perceive these types of user queries. Rather than simply relegating these types of entries, which function on an algorithm separate from the national results, to a geographic sub-category, Google is now boasting these entries as means for foot traffic. It makes sense, as most local searches happen on mobile and are related to some semi-immediate need.
    • Increased descriptions of YMYL and EAT concepts. I described both the YMYL and EAT concepts in the section above. The concepts themselves haven’t changed, but Google has increased its emphasis on them. This means the concepts may be becoming more important to your overall rank, or it may mean that there was some initial confusion surrounding them, and Google has worked to clarify those points.
    • More examples of mobile marketing in effect. It’s no surprise that Google is doing more to play up mobile, especially with another Mobilegeddon-style update in the works. Mobile is a topic that still confuses a lot of webmasters, but it’s still becoming increasingly important as a way to reach modern audiences. Mobile isn’t going away anytime soon, so this is a vital area (and Google recognizes that).

    If you’re interested in a much, much more thorough analysis of the changes, there’s a great post about it here.

    Google’s Main Priorities

    By examining Google’s motivations, we can better understand where the search platform hopes to be in the next few years, and get a jumpstart on preparing our SEO strategies for the future. For starters, Google is extremely fixated on the mobile user experience. With an expanded section on mobile compliance and a new frame of reference for local searches, it’s clear that Google wants mobile searchers to have an integrated, interactive, and seamless experience finding websites. The YMYL and EAT systems of rating content quality and significance are standbys, but the fact that Google is actively expanding these concepts is evidence that they’ll be around for the long haul.

    It’s uncertain exactly how often Google will update their SQR guidelines document, or what other changes might be in store for our future as search marketers. Certainly, there may be major new additions for new technologies like apps and interactive content, but in the meantime, keep your focus on producing expert, authoritative, trustworthy content, and optimize your site for mobile user experiences.

  9. What’s Google’s Plan for the Future of Online Reviews?

    Leave a Comment

    Google is, inarguably, the most powerful influencer in the tech world, being the sole provider of more than 3.5 billion searches per day and offering dozens of products that align themselves with various digital needs of users everywhere. With all this power, Google is attempting to shape digital user experiences that give us the greatest satisfaction, and connect us in simpler ways to the information and services we need.

    One of the most powerful forces in the online world, at least when it comes to purchasing decisions, has to be online reviews.

    Online Review Performance

    (Image Source: Moz)

    customer reviews

    (Image Source: SearchEngineLand)

    Over two-thirds of consumers are influenced by online reviews when making a purchasing decision. Even more impressive, 88 percent of consumers take online reviews as seriously as they would a personal recommendation.

    As you can see, how reviews are handled and displayed could have a massive effect on businesses everywhere. A blip in review displays could skew reviews negatively and cripple your marketing campaign, or skew them positively and give you an influx of new buyers.

    Google holds much power over this process, and it may have big things in store for how it’s handled in the future.

    Types of Online Reviews

    The term “online review” in itself is vague, as there are many types of reviews that could be written. For starters, reviews can be for a product, for a service, or for a company overall. They could also be hosted on branded sites, or on external sources.

    Let’s take a look at some of the most common types of online reviews, and how Google currently takes them into consideration.

    • Branded product reviews. First are branded product reviews. Typically left by users who have purchased the product before, these are featured on individual product pages of a website. eCommerce sites are the most popular for this, but they also may be featured on sites with a single digital good or intangible services. Typically, users will rate the product and leave a descriptive review containing their opinions. This text can be indexed by Google, which may help you rank for more relevant keywords. You can also use microformatting to properly categorize the review and possibly get your product’s average rating (or a review itself) featured as an entry in the SERPs.

    ratings and reviews

    • Branded testimonials and company reviews. These work similarly to product reviews, but are applied to an entire company. These are often featured on dedicated testimonials or “success stories” pages, but are held at lower value than product reviews because companies often have more control over what gets posted here.
    • Company reviews on third-party sources. Third-party sources, such as Yelp and TripAdvisor, are seen as much more authoritative and reliable in Google’s eyes. These sources have verified methods of collecting and processing reviews, and are popular enough to collect many reviews for any listed business. The quantity and quality of reviews comes into heavy play when factoring the local rank for a business.
    • Google reviews. Google reviews are also taken into heavy consideration for local rank, and the weighted average of Google reviews will often appear directly in SERPs for local results:

    ratings in search results

    These reviews are especially important because they could easily form a user’s first impression; they’re usually the first line of reviews a user will get to see. However, Google reviews don’t currently boast the same popularity as platforms like Yelp, which is frustrating the process.

    Recent Changes

    Over the course of the past few years, Google has implemented some massive changes in how it views, weighs, and considers these different types of reviews for business.

    The biggest change came back in 2014 with the so-called Pigeon update, which changed how Google’s local search algorithm functioned. After the search update, features and entries in third-party directories began to factor in more heavily to Google’s evaluative process; now, third-party reviews are extremely important in calculating a business’s local rank, and directory pages (such as a business’s Yelp page) are more likely to show up in search results as standalone entries.

    More recently, Google announced that Google reviews can now be left without being signed into a Google+ account. Reviews can’t be left anonymously, which addresses a major concern for review abusers, but this is a move to make it easier for users to leave reviews. A higher quantity of reviews is beneficial for brands, consumers, and Google itself—it means you’ll get a wider diversity, a “truer” picture of the companies and products in question, and hopefully better differentiation in search results.

    Goals for the Future

    Based on what we currently know about the online review world and some of the recent moves Google has made, it’s reasonable to predict a handful of ways Google may hope to change the interplay of online reviews in the future:

    • More, more, more. More reviews means better results for everyone involved, and Google is working hard to encourage more users to leave reliable reviews.
    • Better integrations of reviews in SERPs. Expect to see reviews integrated in more visible, interactive ways in SERPs.
    • Faster consumer decisions. If Google had its way, consumers would never have to leave SERPs. Online reviews are just one outlet to encourage faster consumer decisions.

    With these future developments in mind, it becomes obvious that online reviews are about to get even more important. Optimize your strategy now to attract the best possible reviews for your business and products, and stay one step ahead of the competition.

  10. Are We on the Verge of the Next Great Search Disruption?

    Leave a Comment

    Okay, so we all know that the search world is constantly evolving. It’s changed, radically, in many different ways since its general inception in the mid-1990s. Most of these changes, however, have been slow and gradual improvements to the core, original search engine algorithm. Search experts and marketers were quick to note when these things happened; for example, when Panda was released, 11 percent of queries were affected, and marketers couldn’t help noticing this extreme volatility because they were watching their ranks closely.

    Panda Effect

    (Image Source: Search Engine Land)

    But users didn’t really notice this volatility—to the average user, the changes and improvements in search are so gradual they’re barely noticeable, the same way it’s hard to tell when a child is growing when you see him/her every day.

    What Constitutes a Disruption?

    Because of this incremental phenomenon, it’s tough to categorize what might count as a search engine “disruption.” Usually, a tech disruption happens all at once—when a new product is released, a new trend takes off, or a new company emerges to challenge the norm. Now that all the norms of search are pretty much in place, the minor “disruptions” we’ve had so far (usually in the form of Google updates) can’t really claim to have that much impact. User search behavior has changed much in the past 20 years, but again, it’s done so incrementally.

    Still, knowing that, the search world may be on the verge of a major disruption in the truest sense—a new set of phenomena that may turn the nature of online search on its head. And it’s already starting to take place.

    Artificial Intelligence on Two Fronts

    Disruption is coming in the form of artificial intelligence (AI), and in two distinct modes of operation, it’s already here:

    • AI is powering diverse new types of virtual assistants. These include programs like Siri, Cortana, and Google Now, and are becoming more popular modes of search at an astounding rate.
    • AI is beginning to handle more search engine updates. Machine learning algorithms like RankBrain are finally starting to emerge as the future of search engine updating.

    So on one hand, you have AI interfering with the way users are searching, and on the other, you have AI taking over the updating process for search engines.

    Let’s take a look at each of these in turn, and how they could be considered disruptive.

    Virtual Assistants

    Chances are, you’ve used a virtual assistant at least once in your life, and in the near future, you’ll find yourself using them even more. Consider how these programs could cause the next major search disruption:

    • Voice search popularity. First, it’s important to address the rising popularity of voice search in general. By some estimates, voice-based searches have gone from zero to over 50 billion searches per month. That’s a huge jump, and it’s only going to get bigger. That means more people are using colloquial phrases and forgoing traditional search engines entirely.

    LSA Insider

    (Image Source: LSA Insider)

    • Cross-realm search. It’s also important to realize that most virtual assistants aren’t limited to one realm of search. For example, Cortana and Siri will search the Internet, your local device, your online accounts, and even files within your local device for your search queries. Search is no longer exclusively online, and the lines between online and offline are starting to blur.
    • User intent and semantic capabilities. Virtual assistants are also becoming more adept at recognizing natural language and user intent, which means it’s going to be harder than ever to “optimize” anything in specific ways, and users will have hyper-focused intentions when looking for solutions or content.
    • On-the-go searching. Virtual assistants are also driving more mobile and on-the-go searches, which is changing the way people form queries. They need more immediate, location-based answers, rather than the products of premeditated keyword-based research queries of old.

    Machine Learning in Search

    On the other front of AI development, you have new machine learning algorithms working to replace the previously manual job of improving search engines. This has started out small, with a modification to Hummingbird known as RankBrain, but we can expect to see bigger, better versions of these machine learning algorithms in place in the near future. There are three key ways it could be a disruptor:

    • Micro-updates. RankBrain doesn’t come up with major changes and then push them to a live environment. It runs through tons of micro-updates on a constant basis, meaning that incremental improvement is going to happen on an even more transformative level.
    • Unpredictable paths of development. Since human beings won’t be in control of algorithm updates forever, machine learning algorithms could take searches down new, unfamiliar paths of development—some of which may look very different to today’s average user. Entire constructs and norms may be fundamentally overwritten.
    • Rate of change. Perhaps what’s most scary about the idea of machine learning is the sheer pace at which it can develop. With algorithms perfecting themselves and perfecting how to perfect themselves, the pace of development may skyrocket, leaving us marketers in the dust.

    Key Takeaways

    Since these technologies are still being developed, it’s hard to estimate to what degree they’ll be able to redefine the norms of user searches. However, early indications show these two forms of AI to be powerful, popular, and for lack of a less clichéd phrase, game-changing. As a marketer, you can’t prepare for the future in any concrete way, since even the technology developers aren’t sure where it’s going to go from here, but you can prepare yourself by remaining flexible. Hedge your bets with lots of long-term strategies, try to jump on new trends before your competitors can, and always be willing to adapt.

Success! We've just sent an email containing a download link for your selected resource. Please check your spam folder if you don't receive it within 5 minutes. Enjoy!

Love,

-The AudienceBloom Team