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The Search Agency Predicts the Future of Voice Search

Mon, 06/05/2017 - 10:13

Voice search is new, exciting and a bit of a Wild West as consumers and marketers try to figure out what this new paradigm means and how it will change our lives. We here at The Search Agency are looking ahead and asking ourselves, “How will voice search evolve and how will we be using it in five years?”

How will voice search change the marketplace?

As demonstrated at Google I/O 2017, Google Assistant is already making huge advances, showing the ability to shop via Google Assistant through voice. Although limited in some commands, as natural language understanding research continues, we should see as large a shift as we did with the explosion of mobile. Retail and local will take the first hit, with travel not too far behind. I would expect real estate industries to probably be the last to adopt this technology, as their dev cycles are usually longer. What may add some interesting attributes here is how deep voice search entry paths may go into applications available on devices. For instance, Google just released Instant Apps for all.

– Brandon Schakola, Earned Media

We should expect to see an increase in long-tail search queries. Currently, something like 25 percent of search queries are new, and with a new influx of converting long-tail, this is likely to increase. Search marketers will have to re-think their keyword strategies, at least in part, to better accommodate future long-tail queries.

– Deniz Boysan, Paid Media

Voice search will create new opportunities to intrude on consumers via aggressive marketing, and some businesses will pursue this to the detriment of their shoppers. However, voice search also provides an opportunity to give consumers exactly what they need, regardless of the size of the business. For example, if I say, “Give me directions to a running shoe store,” I am just as likely to reach an independent store as a major retailer. It’s all about what Google recognizes as a running shoe store. Businesses will have to more carefully categorize themselves in order to meet exact requests.

– Aryn Kennedy, Earned Media

Longer queries mean more focus on long-tail terms instead of core header terms. Marketers will have to be more diligent with search-query mining and building more comprehensive keyword strategies.

– Luke Hubbard, Paid Media

Will results be served to a screen somewhere or returned by a home device? How will those vary (one result versus many)?

People appreciate having choices, so I think voice search will be most effective when linked to a screen. Even simple queries can have complex variables that your voice assistant may not know about, which would make single answers less useful. For example, you might ask the device to “find a pizzeria with good ratings,” but what you really mean is “find a pizzeria with good ratings, but not AAA Pizza, because that place is gross.”

– Greg Sidor, Earned Media

In this case, I think Google has a lasting advantage over Alexa (although Alexa sold more devices than Google Home) with its Google Home push-to-screen integration with Chromecast/Google TV, which was shown off this past week at Google I/O 2017. We should expect similar experiences once AR devices kick off alongside more automotive integrations (with both Apple and Google competing for that space). We may see in-dash console integrations, projections onto windshields or perhaps better versions of what once was Google Glass.

– Brandon Schakola, Earned Media

It will depend on the question. If you just want a quick answer to a question like, “What sound does a fox make?” then an audio response is the most appropriate. However, if you ask, “What are Barack Obama’s key accomplishments as president?” then a visual response is the best way to provide a detailed answer.

– Aryn Kennedy, Earned Media

Google Home already offers vocal responses with the option to view more info in an accompanying smartphone app, so we will see this continue.

– Luke Hubbard, Paid Media

Will big brands or local stores benefit more? For example, who will win between Pizza Hut and a local indie pizza place in a search for “pizza nearby”?

Device manufacturers have a lot of sway here. Will they sell voice recommendations? If so, big brands stand to benefit greatly. Will they tap into review sites like Yelp, which may skew towards neighborhood favorites? Or will the same rules of organic search apply? If that’s the case, anyone willing to put in the effort to optimize their sites could see good results.

– Greg Sidor, Earned Media

I think local will be the bigger winner at first, especially in larger cities, where foodies seem to be more interested in food tourism than the status quo. Larger brands, especially in retail, have been taking a hit in organic search as of late, and we should expect that to continue for quite some time. What could happen, however, is that folks with preferences in their histories towards certain stores will only see more of the same, and the filter bubbles will continue to change audience behaviors in rather drastic ways — more normalization rather than personalization, in some cases.

– Brandon Schakola, Earned Media

Voice search will serve as an opportunity for smaller businesses (like pizza places) to offer proactive search results, rather than several results or explicit ads. For instance, I could see someone saying, “Hey Google, I feel like pizza tonight.” Here, Google could respond with something like, “I know you like pepperoni, and Mario and Luigi’s Parlor has a special this week on a large pepperoni pizza which has a 4.8-star average rating. Would you like to have one delivered, or choose a different place?” Here, Google may use your previous behavior, including what type of pizza, price range, coupon availability and locations you’ve opted for in the past to make more specific recommendations.

– Dirk Williams, Earned Media

Voice search has the potential to be an equalizer. Rather than just going by authority, consumers may want the nearest or highest-rated, regardless of whether it’s a local store or a chain.

– Aryn Kennedy, Earned Media

Bigger brands will benefit more because they have more resources to create content that will rank No. 1 for long-tail searches.

– Luke Hubbard, Paid Media

Will a voice search-enabled device look at your purchase history to provide more personalized results?

Probably. Both Google and Amazon love aggregating data, so they’d certainly have this capability. A case can be made that consumers who install devices in their homes are looking for this personalized experience.

– Greg Sidor, Earned Media

I don’t think this will be device driven, but platform driven, depending on how cross-device tracking develops. It will really depend on how much information Amazon, Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft are tracking, and how in-store or offline integrations continue to change. We should expect more fracturing of the consumer journey, but also more sharing of information across platforms.

– Brandon Schakola, Earned Media

How will marketers use it?

I wouldn’t expect to see a large push in 2017. Instead, we’ll see it happen in the next two years as we seek to grasp the full extent of how voice search takes hold, in addition to the rise of chatbots and assistants. Siri, Hound, Alexa, Cortana and Google Assistant are making strides, but are not yet fully integrated. It will be a complicated push, as some are tied to specific platforms, while others like Cortana and Google Assistant are taking a different, platform-agnostic approach. Behind them all, the basics of SEO for each instance will still exist. We should expect to see some dramatic shifts in terms of variations between platforms as we move from early adoption to more mainstream usage.

– Brandon Schakola, Earned Media

Marketers will increase their chances of being returned as a voice result by ensuring that every aspect of their business is detailed on-site. Every product, every service, every possible thing that someone could search for must be found by spiders. In addition, businesses will need to step up their customer service game to ensure that bad reviews don’t drag them down in the SERPs. Search engines want to provide the best result, and a store everyone hates will never be the rest result.

– Aryn Kennedy, Earned Media

Marketers must develop a strategy around the “questions asked” so they can be an informational resource, which will improve brand awareness and recognition for other questions. SEO will also become even more important because the No. 1 slot takes priority in vocal responses.

– Luke Hubbard, Paid Media

How will consumers use it?


 

Right now, voice search is more of a convenience than a helpful tool in itself. I think the value comes when you can tell a device to complete an action in one fell swoop. I can ask for movie times, but in most cases I still have to buy the tickets myself. Soon I’ll be able to say something like, “Buy tickets for the 8:30 pm showing of Star Wars at Joe’s Cinema. Find seats towards the middle of the theater.” At that point, voice search will be more than a gimmick.

– Greg Sidor, Earned Media

This will vary wildly by context: device, platform, immediate physical environment, static versus dynamic (home versus car) and whether or not a consumer has access to apps (if on mobile or TV/AR-driven devices). We might grocery shop via voice from our refrigerators, order flights and make flight changes from our Lyft ride, get our Airbnb situated last minute while boarding a flight and possibly rent a suit for tomorrow’s meeting in another city from our shower the night before. What will be drastically different is that since this technology will be deeply intertwined with search, our getting used to not having 10 or so blue links and only one answer could severely disrupt markets in ways we cannot predict at any moment.

– Brandon Schakola, Earned Media

Consumers will use it to make their lives easier. For example, getting directions to a place that sells a specific kind of shoe. Finding out how to remove a particular stain while standing in the laundry room, and then ordering whatever product will do it. Adding milk to the grocery list when a carton is finished. Answering a homework question while helping their kids at the end of a long day. Finding out the weather when deciding what to wear in the morning. Basically, consumers will use voice search the same way they would their phones, but in an easier and more precise fashion.

– Aryn Kennedy, Earned Media

Consumers will use it to find answers to their questions and to have fun conversations with their robots.

– Luke Hubbard, Paid Media

What is your prediction for the state of voice search five years from now?

Voice search is here to stay. The question is how integrated it becomes with things like televisions, refrigerators and cars — the Internet of Things. If marketers end up creeping people out with aggressive listening or damaging data breaches, the potential could be limited to phones and dedicated devices, like Amazon Echo.

– Greg Sidor, Earned Media

Personal assistants will be more mainstream and take care of a good amount things for us. The danger is in how our preferences will drive our own bubbles or break us out of them. Businesses of all kinds will be rattled continually by how these assistants and other conversational applications become a new platform for discovery or the latest social media leviathan reaction. They may also face the possibility of quickly tumbling out of favor, losing revenue based on whatever search algorithm supports the one-and-only best answer at all times for the given audience and context.

– Brandon Schakola, Earned Media

I think voice search will be most heavily used by Gen Z and Gen Alpha, who will fully integrate it into their lives as just another tool, followed closely by senior citizens who have a hard time with small buttons on screens. My young daughter already refers to my phone’s Google Assistant as “she” and will say things like, “Tell Google to set the timer” or “Is she taking us the right way?” Once she’s old enough to have her own phone, it will only be natural for her to interact with it as if it were a person.

– Aryn Kennedy, Earned Media

It will be integrated into VR and AR, giving the illusion of life within our electronics. In other words, these systems will continue to learn to speak more intuitively and sound more human.

– Luke Hubbard, Paid Media

What are your thoughts about the future of voice search? Let us know in the comments below.

The post The Search Agency Predicts the Future of Voice Search appeared first on The Search Agency.

When Big Companies Don’t Play Fair: A Lesson in SEO

Mon, 05/08/2017 - 11:15

Mom always said that life’s not fair, and we’ve all learned the hard way that even when we do everything right, things don’t always go our way. Nowhere is this more true than in the world of SEO, where some big corporations can practice old or even black hat SEO and still rank number one. But how?

As an SEO agency, it’s our job to advise companies on the best possible ways to reach their online goals. We’re constantly analyzing our clients’ data, following industry thought leaders and vigilantly looking out for Google algorithm updates. I think it’s safe to say that we know a thing or two about SEO. But, much to our frustration, one of the things we’ve come to know is that not everyone has to follow the rules to get ahead.

SEO No-Nos

Any good SEO agency will tell you that the following practices can drastically hurt your SEO performance, and it’s true… for about 90 percent of us. The other 10 percent are still getting away with:

  • Keyword stuffing
  • Thin content
  • Duplicate content
  • Paid links

But who are these rule-breaking rebels and what makes them so special? Well, when you look at who they are, you can’t deny that they are pretty special. However, that doesn’t make their SEO shortcomings any less annoying. As you’ve probably guessed by now, among these violators are some of the biggest online brands: Amazon, eBay, Target, Best Buy, etc.

For instance, look at the top three sites ranking for “kids bike”:

The top three search results are big e-commerce sites that are loaded with duplicate content and thousands, if not tens of thousands, of pages that are cannibalizing each other. Some are even teetering on the edge of keyword stuffing:

Besides having so-so SEO, there’s another thing these companies all have in common, and it’s probably the main reason why they’re able to get away with what most of us cannot: trust — Google trusts them.

Earning Google’s Trust

Here’s where the “life’s not fair” analogy really comes into play. For many big brands, like Target and Best Buy, all they need to do in order to earn Google’s trust is just be big brands. When you’re a huge, successful corporation like Target, you really don’t have to do very much SEO optimization to rank well on the search engines. Google trusts sites that have a lot of authority, and big brands generally have a lot of authority because they have the budgets to produce large, offline campaigns that bring them scores of backlinks, shares and other social signals. They also get a lot of clicks because consumers know and trust their brands, as well.

But not all big brands get away with shady SEO practices. In 2011, both JCPenney and Overstock.com suffered the wrath of Google when they were penalized for buying links and offering discounts in exchange for .edu links, respectively. The good news here is that big brands can get penalized, no matter how authoritative they might be. For JCPenney and Overstock.com, it was just a matter of time before their bad SEO practices were found out. Obviously, buying links is a much more serious violation than keyword stuffing or having duplicate content. But what about the companies that are still getting away with smaller infractions yet still ranking extremely well? Is it ever possible to compete with these giants?

How to Stand Out in a Crowd

As long as authority and trust are among search’s biggest ranking factors, competing head-to-head with a business like Amazon will be an exercise in futility, and most of us have the good sense to realize that it’s simply not a realistic goal. That is, unless you’re a well-established, well-known brand like Schwinn or Huffy and you’re competing on brand terms. In this case, it’s fair to aim for #1 in the SERPs.

But what about newer or lesser-known brands? There are quite a few ways that these types of companies can compete online. What’s more, many of these businesses actually have an advantage over big corporations because they have the creative freedom and the motivation to disrupt a marketplace that is already saturated with copycats. Here are a few ways smaller companies can stand out online:

Promote Your Unique Value Proposition

One of the best ways to get potential consumers to take notice of your company, products or services is to highlight what sets you apart from the competition — your unique value proposition (UVP). But first, take the time to understand and analyze your target audience so you can identify what their biggest needs and pain points are. This way, you’ll be able to position yourself as a company that understands them and can offer them truly effective solutions.

Start by focusing on a small, target market that you’ve researched well. By doing so, your UVP and messaging will resonate strongly with them, giving them confidence in your brand. Nurturing smaller, niche consumer groups will take significant time and effort in the beginning, but the idea is that their positive experiences with will encourage them to like, share and promote your brand on social media to a much wider audience.

Local SEO

With the increase in personalized search results and mobile, on-the-go searching, local SEO should be an essential part of every small business’s online marketing strategy. In fact, if you’re not implementing local SEO, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity. Here’s why…

According to Marcus Miller from Search Engine Land, “Having a physical address and proximity to the searcher as ranking factors gave every local business a potential shot at attracting customers from search engines.” Did you read that? “Every” local business. Local SEO, while not a magic bullet, can help level the playing field for smaller companies.

For details on how to maximize your company’s local search visibility, check out my colleague Nic Jolin’s post, Local SEO: How to Gain Visibility in 2016.

Mobile SEO

Another area where small companies have an advantage over online giants is in mobile SEO. Surprisingly, many of the biggest players in search aren’t sufficiently optimized for mobile, despite the fact that today, more people search on mobile devices than desktops. If your site isn’t mobile-friendly, you are missing out. Today’s mobile users don’t have the patience or time to deal with sites that aren’t mobile-friendly or take more than three seconds to load.

Obviously, this presents an enormous opportunity for smaller players to gain a competitive edge in mobile search, so be sure to follow industry best practices for mobile site optimization and craft your content to speak to mobile users. Particularly with voice search, the keywords you’re optimizing for are going to be vastly different, depending on whether your intended audience is driving down the freeway or sitting at their desk.

Good Guys Don’t Always Finish Last

While it’s very disheartening to see big companies outranking your site in spite of their lackluster SEO, there is absolutely no reason to throw in the towel. We’ve shown that not only are there ways help close the gap between large and small companies online, but there are even instances where the little guy has the advantage. So don’t think your SEO efforts are all for naught. In the world of search, the good guys can often win.

The post When Big Companies Don’t Play Fair: A Lesson in SEO appeared first on The Search Agency.

Is Your Brand Safe on GDN?

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 13:25

The short answer: It can be.

Brand safety has become the latest buzz phrase among agencies and advertisers alike, with major brands having knee-jerk reactions upon discovering slews of grossly irrelevant, low-quality, borderline fraudulent ad placements –- and rightfully so. After all, if spending exorbitant amounts of marketing dollars on phony sites does not warrant such a reaction, I’m not sure what does.

Although fake news and questionable content placements were the most recent triggers for the outrage, brand vulnerability on Google Display Network is hardly a recent dispute. In fact, GDN is plagued by some harsh realities, many of which are widely known. An overwhelming majority of GDN placements are low quality. To add to that, there’s a likely chance that less than 10 percent are valuable contributors to your campaigns — and that’s a generous estimate. In most cases, it will be less than 5 percent. That means that the rest of the 95 percent and above of placements are a complete waste of your marketing budget. In addition, trying to counter that by making daily, weekly or monthly exclusions will be futile considering GDN’s infinite catalog of sites.

Consequently, gauging GDN will not be a reactive approach, but a proactive one through the process of exclusion layering and managed placements.

How narrow, or broad, you decide to make your exclusions will ultimately depend on your brand’s tolerance level. However, the following four steps can be used as a general guideline to ensure the most appropriate targeting for your brand.

Category Exclusions

Category exclusions are the first step for advertisers of all tolerance levels. Google has millions of sites that are part of GDN, so it’s important to ensure that you are targeting the most appropriate sites and content for your audience base. Although this is a great first step, do not rely solely on it, as you will be disappointed in its inability to work to your advantage. Sure, categorical exclusions help, but they’re hardly a primary solution in a catalog of millions of websites. Their generic nature allows for many sites to slip through the cracks and their category thresholds are nothing short of a mystery –- I mean, who decides what’s bizarre and gross? Perhaps that discussion is best saved for another time.

Here’s what your categorical settings should look like:

Optional Exclusions: Any in-video options and/or live streaming video placements and below-the-fold.

Keyword Exclusions

Keyword exclusions will serve as an additional layer and assist in areas that categories may have missed. They can range based on preference and tolerance, like general profanity to more specific themes relating to site content. You can create a general profanity exclusion list that you’re comfortable with or, if you’d like to take it one step further, consider grouping thematic keywords for greater leverage over the content of publisher sites.

Topic Exclusions

There are only a handful of category exclusions, but there are numerous topic exclusions that can serve as a filter for everything that category exclusions will miss.

For example, there are no category exclusions for political sites; however, those related topics do exist and are available for topic exclusion.

If you’d like to find a general theme among the placement you’d like to exclude, go to the Google Display Planner, enter the website(s) that you’d like greater detail on and see which topics it’s associated with:

If there are common topics that the websites you’d like to exclude fit under, you can look for them in the Topics exclusions section to prevent your ads from serving on similar placements.

Managed Placements

If you are a low tolerance or direct response-focused advertiser, using managed placements is the most recommended course of action and, while this may limit volume, performance won’t be compromised.

This is the most appropriate action for almost any advertising objective in this day and age. Until there are greater restrictions placed on which sites are eligible to be part of GDN, managed placements/channels are the surest way to protect your brand.

In fact, Chase has recently made a bold move in their display advertising efforts by eliminating the use of automatic placements and relying on managed placements following a thorough vetting process. They went from advertising on over 400,000 placements down to 5,000 with no change in performance, thus proving that, when it comes to GDN, less is more.

The post Is Your Brand Safe on GDN? appeared first on The Search Agency.

Got the Link-Building Blues? You Might Have a Case of Authority Metric Blindness

Mon, 04/24/2017 - 10:38

Any of my colleagues here at The Search Agency can attest to the fact that I’m a big fan of authority metrics -– specifically, Majestic’s Flow Metrics. Whether I’m auditing a client backlink profile, lifting a manual penalty, or training my team, you can put money on the fact that I’ll eventually start talking about Trust and Citation Flow. In fact, I originally planned on writing a post to help you quickly and easily identify potentially harmful links –- using authority metrics alone -– to assist with link cleanup projects. Sounds cool, right? (That post will come, I promise). However, as I began writing, I realized my love of Flow Metrics was shining through a bit too much: I was putting so much emphasis on authority metrics, I was unintentionally promoting authority-first logic (or worse: authority metric blindness).

The Problem with Authority-First Logic

While authority metrics like Trust and Citation Flow are very handy, the best link builders know that following authority blindly can be detrimental to the success of a campaign. Old-school SEO tells us that when faced with the choice of getting a link from Big Site A or Small Site B, Big Site A wins every time. Sounds right to me… you might be thinking. But what this authority-first logic fails to consider is one of the most important factors in determining the value of a link: relevance.

 

The Plight of the Old-School Link Builder

If you’re a fellow link builder, you’ve probably heard the ominous question, “Would you still build that link if Google didn’t exist?” As link specialists, it sometimes feels like we’re faced with an impossible challenge: We’re expected to build links at scale, but we’re also expected to make our efforts look “natural” and hide the fact that a link was ever “built” at all. We’re expected to build links — without building them. Too few links? You don’t rank. But build too many links with the same anchor, too many links at once, too many links from sites in the same IP subnet…? Time to pray you don’t get hit with a manual penalty. So, we do a delicate dance with link prospects: We want the link, but we can’t let on that that’s what we’re after. How? We ask without asking -– we hide links in “guest posts,” we embed links in widgets, we stroke the ego of prospects by personalizing our outreach templates with “I came across your site, and I really loved your post about [INSERT RECENT POST TOPIC]” -– anything to get that link. But if the savvy blogger you’re reaching out to questions the link, abandon ship! You’ve been caught; you lost the game.

Sound familiar? You’re not alone -– in fact, I found myself frustrated with this delicate link dance not too long ago, and I’ll offer some advice to those in the same boat: If you can’t win the game, change the rules. Lose the authority metric blindness (Domain Authority >40), stop tying yourself to quantity (x links/month), and start resetting expectations. If you’ve got the link-building blues, it’s time to adopt a relevance-first mindset.

The “Glory Days” of Link Building?

In a digital environment where uncontested truths become baseless overnight, there is one thing you can count on: that link-building tactic that you just discovered will soon become wildly popular, then mercilessly abused by black hats and lazy link builders –- and, just as you’re mastering the process and high-fiving yourself for getting some links, you’ll open up Search Engine Land and learn that your shiny new tactic is the next target of Penguin’s wrath.

To illustrate my point, I’ll share a quick story with you: I started working at The Search Agency at the end of 2012 -– the heyday of “guest blogging” as a link-building tactic (in quotes because, let’s be honest, this wasn’t real guest blogging: it was paying for a blog to post your content that just so happens to have a link to your client [wink]). And it worked! By the end of 2013, I thought I was a pro. Then, in January of 2014, Matt Cutts said in plain English, almost as if he were talking straight to me, “Stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done; it’s just gotten too spammy.”

Immediately, I went from cocky link builder to an empty-handed, badly-bruised SEO. I was faced with a choice: chase after the next “shiny new tactic” or change the rules of the game. I scrapped client deliverables that focused on quantity of backlinks in favor of more quality-focused reporting. I introduced secondary link metrics to our audits, providing deeper analyses on the value of relevant links vs. sheer volume of links. And I vowed not to let the next post from Matt Cutts derail me like that again, by designing a sustainable, full-funnel content marketing strategy that uses links as one of several KPIs of a successful campaign -– not as the end goal. Links are an output, not an outcome. Remember that.

Link Building and Today’s Digital Landscape

Link building is more about relationship building than anything else, and outreach is 90 percent of that relationship-building work. As one of my agency’s resident inbound marketers, one of the things I often remind clients is that links, and links alone, are not the golden ticket to shoot you to the top of the SERPs. Links are not the only thing you should invest in or focus on. It’s NOT that you just need “more links” to be successful online. It’s crucial to invest in technical SEO, the structure of your site, the strength of your content, the removal of spammy/irrelevant links in your backlink profile, etc. It’s about doing everything holistically (or finding an agency that takes a holistic approach to SEO to do it for you). Links are just one ingredient in the secret recipe that is Google’s ranking algorithm. Links are not going to be effective if you’re not taking care of the bigger picture.

The question then becomes, “How can we develop an internal link-building process that will gain momentum, be self-sustaining and be naturally scalable?”

Success in the digital marketing world is not about links, or keywords, or even rankings: It’s about delivering the right content, to the right person, at the right time. It’s about getting your audience to achieve a desired outcome, by moving them through the sales funnel, and helping them along their journey from unaware prospect to brand advocate. From a tactical content marketing perspective, it’s really all about 1) creating killer content, 2) promoting the hell out of it to influencers, and 3) optimizing nurture paths to conversion.

What About Relevance?

How does a relevance-first mindset fit into all this? Well, have you ever tried reaching out to influencers with irrelevant content? Were they eager to help? I didn’t think so.

  • Relevant links are easier to build: Outreach is easier, because links make more sense.
  • Relevant links are how the web is connected: Relevant links are what Google wants, so building relevant links will never get you penalized.
  • Relevant links are more valuable in achieving larger business objectives: Readers are much more likely to click on links they feel are relevant to them. This means more traffic, more qualified traffic, and, if you’ve optimized your nurture paths, more conversions.
Relevance: Links You’d Build if Google Didn’t Exist

So, what qualifies as a relevant link? To put it simply, relevant links are links that should exist to make the worldwide web a better place. Relevant links improve our digital experience by making the web easier to navigate, they help make our quest for information easier and more productive, and they provide value outside of inherent link equity.

While authority metric blindness limits your outreach, putting relevance first helps to capture those opportunities that may not meet your authority requirements, but are highly relevant to your target audience and will be more likely to drive qualified traffic to your site. When prospecting for outreach targets, ask yourself, “Is this domain relevant to my target audience (domain:domain relevance)? Is this page relevant to my audience (page:domain)? Is this page relevant to readers of my post (page:page)?” Once you start link-prospecting using relevance as your guide, you will notice that you’re doing less mindless “link building” and more purpose-driven “relationship building” with sites that are in your niche — and thus much more likely to engage with your emails than a high-authority, low-relevance recipient.

I began this post with this: Old-school SEO tells us that when faced with the choice of getting a link from Big Site A or Small Site B, Big Site A wins every time.

But what if Small Site B is hyper-relevant to your niche, and building a link from here would expose your site to a passionate, engaged audience that is more likely to send qualified referral traffic? And what if that link from Big Site A was hidden on a page buried deep in the site and failed to send any traffic your way?

My point is this: Authority signals are important, yes, but following authority blindly can be detrimental to your success as a link builder. By putting relevance at the forefront of your link-building efforts, then moving on to authority and engagement signals, you can build the links Google WANTS and you NEED.

Are you using relevance to guide your link-building efforts? Share your experience in the comments below!

The post Got the Link-Building Blues? You Might Have a Case of Authority Metric Blindness appeared first on The Search Agency.

The Long & Short of Voice Search

Wed, 04/12/2017 - 15:53

Virtual assistants, voice commands and artificial intelligence are all driving a huge change in the online search industry. Based on available statistics, 20%-25% of searches on Google apps /Android phones are voice-based and Comscore has predicted that by 2020 that number will increase to 50%.

The search industry has been trying to dissect and make sense of this statistic in numerous ways. However, Google does not make this evaluation as easy as search queries in AdWords. Google does not show you what is text based and what is voice based. Sure, we can segment the data by device and get a ballpark figure. But then virtual assistants and voice commands are available for use even on desktop. So, in that scenario, what does this exponential growth mean in terms of how we analyze, optimize and expand our online marketing efforts? Here are some thoughts based on a number-crunching effort that analyzed data across AdWords search queries for multiple brands, across Retail, Real Estate, Travel and B2B industries.

Queries Are Getting Longer

Queries are getting colloquial and therefore, verbose. What’s interesting though, is that these longer queries are eating into the share of 1-token and 2-token queries. So, over a 12-month period, while the percentage of clicks on 3 and above token queries has been increasing, the same has been on a decline for 1-2 token queries.

Figure 1: Percentage of total clicks based on number of tokens in queries

5Ws & 1H Are Even More Important Now

Virtual assistants have been built in a way that you humanize them. So, you talk to them like you would, to a personal assistant or a friend. Which means if you were looking for best restaurants for Italian food, your query in Google while typing would possibly just be ‘best restaurants for Italian food’. However, if you were asking a friend (or your virtual assistant), your query would be a complete question like, ‘Where can I find the best restaurants for Italian food?’.

This leads us to our second learning that the 5Ws (Who, What, When, Why, Where) and 1H (How) are even more valuable now.  Along with these, ‘Show me’ related queries (eg: Show me green shirts) have been on the rise too. And of course, ‘Okay Google’ related queries as well. In most cases, over the past one year, the queries with these token words have doubled. The maximum increase has been in ‘Where’ related queries, leading to the increased relevance of Google Maps and location settings.

Figure 2: YoY Comparison of queries in a sample account

CTRs Are Increasing, Thanks to Longer Queries

Longer queries are usually very specific. In the consumer decision journey, they typically fall in the ‘Active Evaluation’ or ‘Purchase Decision’ stage. Eg: ‘What movies are playing at a theater near me’, ‘When is the store open’, ‘How do I get to the store from my location’ or ‘Where can I find the best pizzas in town’. Not surprisingly, the CTRs for these queries are very high. Based on the analysis, queries with 7+ tokens had the highest CTR compared to other queries.

Figure 3: CTR Changes in March ’17 based on query tokens

So now we are back to the basic question. What should our next steps be based on these findings?

  1. Do not ignore longer queries simply based on low impression / click volume. The total volume of such queries is increasing and there will be a pattern that you could use to add value to your keywords.
  2. Experiment with questions in ads. See if words like ‘Why, Where, When, How & What’ can fit in. Analyze if it helps increase CTRs even further.
  3. Pay close attention to images on Shopping Campaigns. This is to ensure good consumer experience for ‘Show me’ related queries.
  4. Set up the right location extensions. The ‘Where’ and ‘How to reach’ related queries would map to your local search ads including your location extensions.
  5. Make sure your site is mobile friendly. If you’ve put optimizing your mobile site on the backburner for long, it’s high time you start giving it more than a step-motherly attention.

And finally, filter for ‘Okay Google’ related queries. Have you made any additional discoveries about targeting voice queries?

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How to Create Effective Seasonal Content

Tue, 03/14/2017 - 03:00

Seasonal content is a crucial aspect for businesses around the globe as many industries rely on the changing seasons, changing weather, holidays and other variations throughout the year to sell their products and services. The benefits of creating seasonal content include connecting with your user base and the various needs they have throughout the year, in-addition to sending valuable refresh signals to search engines indicating you’re actively adding new content to your website.

Creating both evergreen and seasonal content are highly important to connecting with your audience as they make their way through the consumer decision journey. Most businesses experience variations based on the time of year. As a marketer, being able to determine how and when to create seasonal content based around your business is critical to capturing these time-sensitive needs from both new and existing customers.

In this post, we’ll outline the best approach to creating your content to give it a higher chance of connecting with your target audience when the time comes.

Timing is Everything

One of the first keys to successful seasonal content creation is ensuring it’s live and indexed before the given target dates. Many marketers fail to plan ahead and find themselves scrambling at the last minute to create and post their content. By then, the opportunity has already passed.

It is important to remember that search engine indexation of content can take time. If, for example, you have created a Mother’s Day gift guide for your ecommerce website and post it one week before the actual date, you have most likely missed the window of opportunity for it to find your audience. Because It takes time for content to be indexed, your competitors have likely already created and posted their gift guides well in advance, gaining the attention and authority of users and search engines. At this point, your late-arrival is unlikely to attain visibility in search and attract more users.

Be sure to plan ahead and give yourself adequate time to fully research and create a unique piece of content that will stand out from the rest. A general rule of thumb is to start planning your seasonal initiatives 4-6 months in advance and think strategically about when to post, which brings us to our next point.

Use Tools to Find Seasonal Trends

Tools can be of great use for both creating content, in addition to discovering when seasonal interest rises and falls. This information provides the knowledge of what users are searching for and when they are searching for it.

Google AdWords

To find the specific queries your target audience is searching for, Google AdWords is a useful tool. You can find search volume for keywords and segment the data by month and even location if your business is concerned with local SEO efforts.

Google Trends

As one of the quickest and easiest ways to find the time of year interest in a particular subject peaks, Google Trends is a helpful tool for finding seasonal patterns.

Using our Mother’s Day example from above, you can discover that search for the holiday first begins to rise in mid-February before falling and rising back again in early April and peaking in early May.

 

You can use this simple information to plan ahead and understand when Mother’s Day content should be posted. Publishing content just before the seasonal spike ensures it is not posted too early or too late. This means if your content is going to be discovered ahead of time, going live with a Mother’s Day gift guide sometime in mid-March may be the best approach.

Get Creative with Holidays

It is important to understand what seasons or holidays may or may not be appropriate to create content strategies around. At first thought, a particular holiday may not seem appropriate for your business, but there may be hidden opportunities that come to light after a little brainstorming and creative thinking. For example, a car tire and maintenance shop may focus their content around the winter and summer seasons when drivers are in need of winter tires, or new tires for summer road tripping.

Valentine’s Day may not be a day where people think of repairing their vehicles. But imagine a Valentine’s Day sale with content centered around reminding people to avoid breakdowns and have their cars serviced before heading out with their significant other.

Pay Close Attention to Headings

After successfully identifying the opportunities and planning ahead with seasonal content, the task of writing/creation is next in line. As with any piece of content, whether evergreen or seasonal, the traditional methods and techniques to writing content for both the user and search engines apply. Write for the intended user first, answering their possible queries, and search engines second. Pay close attention to headings. Not everyone wants to read an entire article and many first look at the headings to find the sections most relevant to them. For example, if you’re creating an article about construction during all seasons of the year, be sure to include keyword-rich headings for every season: Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall.

Consider the Competition

There can be a lot of value in paying attention to what similar competitors are doing. What type of content are they creating? When are they publishing seasonal content? Are there any seasonal elements not being created that can be leveraged? This is important knowledge to have when creating seasonal initiatives. You can also learn what to avoid if competitors have saturated and seem to own a particular seasonal category or subcategory.

By considering some of these elements, your company can better leverage the many variations throughout the year whether they be holidays, changing seasons or otherwise. With a little creativity, careful planning and strategic timing, your seasonal efforts are more likely to connect. Engaging with your target audience by capitalizing on changes we all face throughout the year can be a powerful instrument in extending your brand.

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SEO’s Oft-Misunderstood Underdog: Metadata

Thu, 03/09/2017 - 02:00

Over the course of SEO’s long and ever-changing history, we’ve seen the perceived value of metadata slowly chipped away by Google update after Google update. First it was the meta keywords tag, left dying in the gutter and now barely hanging on as a simple reminder of days long ago. Now, there are indications that title tags and meta descriptions, too, are becoming less important. According to Searchmetrics’s 2016 study of Ranking Factors & Rank Correlations, the worth of keywords within both title tags and meta descriptions has declined, with approximately half of all observed landing pages ranking within the top 20 spots including relevant keywords in titles and descriptions.

Gone is the practice of strategically placing keywords within metadata, hoping your page on the health effects of inhaling sawdust will miraculously rank high with the title tag “The Health Effects of Inhaling Sawdust.” That isn’t to say including relevant keywords in metadata is totally unnecessary; you still want your title tag and meta description to provide some detail about the topic of your page, so including “sawdust” and “health effects” in there is probably a good idea.

Still, though, we’re seeing more and more indicators that keyword presence in metadata is growing less and less important. Does that mean metadata is irrelevant SEO-wise? Not at all: it continues to serve a vital role in the grand, algorithmic scheme of things. Now, crafting good metadata means writing title tags and meta descriptions that draw the eye and garner clicks. The more clicks your page gets, the higher your click-through rate (CTR) grows – and user signals like CTR are becoming increasingly more critical in securing high rankings, so says Searchmetrics’s latest study.

Making the CTR-Metadata Connection

Searchmetrics’s data shows a high correlation between click-through rate and SERP position. That seems obvious, though: higher-ranking pages will receive more clicks. That’s kind of the whole endgame of SEO. So does high CTR contribute to high ranking, or is it the other way around?

An experiment conducted by Moz last year sought to solve this chicken-or-egg (as Moz puts it) conundrum. In their findings, the folks at Moz came to the conclusion that pages that beat a so-called “expected CTR” for a given organic position will rank higher. So, for example, if your sawdust health effects landing page exceeds Google’s “expected CTR” for position 3 by 12 percent, you have a greater chance for that content to rank in position 2.

That isn’t to say CTR is the magic, end-all ranking factor. According to Searchmetrics, content quality, relevance, and other user signals like time-on-site and bounce rate are important elements with which to concern yourself, too. CTR being a ranking factor gives new life to metadata, though, and the decreasing importance of keywords in these tags means more creative freedom to help encourage clicks.

This means escaping formulaic approaches to meta descriptions and article or landing page titles that essentially function as keyword-stuffed sandwiches. Don’t shy away from writing a description that’s funny or outside the norm – something that will snag you those sweet, sweet clicks. Don’t be afraid that just because your title tag doesn’t include an exact keyword match for your targeted terms, you won’t rank well. If your content is relevant, valuable, and of quality, you have a good chance of ranking regardless of how keyword-friendly your title is. Use this information to build metadata that hooks searchers in, putting more eyes on your content and ramping up your click-through rate.

Increasing Social Engagement with OG Tags and Twitter Cards

Similar to the benefits of attention-grabbing metadata are those of attention-grabbing social sharing tags. I find that with my clients, Open Graph tags and Twitter Cards are among the most overlooked SEO elements. Open Graph (or OG) tags and Twitter Cards work like metadata specifically for Facebook and Twitter, respectively. Ergo, you can build these tags to suit your audiences on these social networks and reap the rewards of higher shares and click-throughs.

It’s unclear if social signals like Facebook Likes or tweets have a direct effect on SERP rankings. Searchmetrics’s study has found a correlation, but they mainly attribute this to sites in top-ranking positions usually being brand names with strong performance on social already. Moz, through yet another experiment, suggests a similar idea: pages that perform well organically will likely perform well on social, too, as the same things (humor, appeal to emotions) that facilitate engagement on SERPs will facilitate engagement on social.

Like metadata, putting together titles and descriptions for Facebook and Twitter that help your content stand out in users’ feeds will undoubtedly do a better job at pulling them in. That sounds like a “duh” piece of advice, but writing custom OG and Twitter Cards enables you to shape the way your content is presented on social to capture the types of users that would be inclined to click or share. A Twitter feed is a different environment than Page 1 of a Google SERP; it would make sense, then, that different copy in your tags might be needed to draw eyes.

Without good content, of course, no amount of dazzling, ground-breaking, mind-blowing meta descriptions or Twitter Cards are going to help you as far as organic and social engagement goes. If you have a page drenched in quality information, though, optimizing these tags to their fullest potential should give it that extra boost to harvest a click. In endless seas of blue links and shared articles, how will you make your content stand out?

The post SEO’s Oft-Misunderstood Underdog: Metadata appeared first on Search Marketing and Optimization Firm- SEO - SEM -.