Author: Rob Watts

Writing for The Web – How to Create Great Content Pieces That Fly

writing for the web

Writing for the web what should a person be considering?

Creating good content isn’t as easy as people like to think, it takes thought and intelligence and an awareness of all the factors that make content stand out. In this piece we’ll take a look at the topic of writing for the web and the best practice you should use. We’ll think about what we’ll do before, during and after producing and our content and learn how a few simple disciplines can help improve the work that we produce.

So you want to create something for your niche?

It’s important to understand the factors that influence performance as without them, it’s difficult to appreciate the various nuances that come together to make up the whole.

We need to give people readable content that they’ll like; content that they might be inclined to share, content that they’ll want to click on when they see it appear in the search results.

Understanding the reasons for these will help us.

It’s pointless writing content that has a very limited audience or is devoid of aspects that’ll make it noteworthy. We need to create content that seeks to inspire, excite, inform, encourage, create and motivate.

From a technology perspective, we need to make sure that our content will be favourable towards the search engine algorithms too so that it is returned for the keyword phrases and queries that we’d like to see it appear for in Google or Bing.

The performance of a page in search is often influenced by four categories of on-site factors, offsite factors, keyword and competitor research.

On-site Factors

On-site factors relate to most of the things that happen on the web server which we or our team can control directly. Things like website structure and architecture (navigation, site speed, crawl-ability, content mark-up, page urls, domain name, hosting etc.)

Off-site factors

Off-site factors relate to site authority — links citations and variety, and to a lesser degree social signals from social media. The more of these link signals that sites have, the better they tend to perform amongst competing sites in their respective query space.

Keyword Research

Keyword research is an important part of the content creation process as we need to consider what it is that people search for and the volumes in which they do so. It’s pointless writing a piece that has no keyword phrase or aspiration in mind. We need to think of our intended audience and give them what they need in a way that helps support our business aims and growth by looking at key phrases that have search volume.

Competitor Research

Competitor Research is also vital in understanding our niche and what our competing brands and services are doing in the space.

The content that we write and the page URL’s we create will be largely based on our product or service knowledge and what we learn in our research phase.

The Pre Writing Phase

So, you are about to write or edit an amazing piece of content that you’ll get 1000’s of social shares, links back to the website and visitors that’ll convert to sales.

What should you be doing, what kind of thinking mode do you need to have, in order to be the most effective that you can? We’ll need to think about how others are doing things and ask how we can do it all better. We’ll need to think about who it will be who helps float our content and take notes on what works and what doesn’t. We’ll need to source images and ensure that they are well optimised and fit for purpose and to help us, we’ll need to use the search engine to find things out.

Keyword and Competitor Research

Whilst much of the initial keyword research may have already been undertaken, it’s a very good idea to take a quick look at what it is you have been tasked to write about, as it will help solidify the need and give you a broader understanding of who’s already succeeding and why.

Using Social Media

Conduct a Twitter search and make note of who’s tweeting in the space.

Consider the installation of chrome plugins like list builder and Klout to help build your Twitter network and to identify potential influencers in the space. Look at other tools like Peer Index and Kred too.

Use a tool like http://analytics.followthehashtag.com/ and take note of who’s talking about your topic in that space, they could be great advocates post publish point.

If you have other tools that work for you, use those instead or in conjunction.

Look at LinkedIn and see if there are any stand out brands or people and take a note of who they are.

Check out Pinterest and Instagram, weigh up whether your content could cater to these audiences too.

Not every piece can, but if it’s particularly visual, it might have a good home on Pinterest but if it’s more about charts and numbers then perhaps not.

Use #hash tags to supplement any products or content you share. In the example of a gift shop sign selling wedding signs, then hash tag the image with #wedding #weddinggifts #weddingideas and related words.

The same applies for images or pages that you share on Twitter.

It’s super important to get people onside and make them aware of what it is you do.

Don’t assume it’s as obvious as you think it is.

If you are producing excellent useful content then people who have interest in the space will want to share your stuff within their networks.

Set aside some time in identifying who these people are and follow them on social media just after you publish.

Image Selection and Naming

The best content pieces are a mix of text and imagery. Images are important to both content and search as they help break up big chunks of text and make a piece more visually attractive too. We’ve all heard the story of a picture and it painting 1000 words…

It’s best to have original images but if you can’t source one locally then use an image bank to find one. Be sure that your image is optimised for the web.

Keep it to a decent file size, optimise it for the web. Not everyone has superfast broadband and many of your visitors will be reading the content from a mobile device with a limited rendering or download speed. Keep these factors in mind with your use and selection.

When selecting your images think about the topic you are writing and aim for at least one or two directly related images that can be used to increase image content relevancy for your target phrase.

In addition to social media, Google image search is a great source of traffic. Name your images in ways that are likely to help in this regard. Using wedding-sign.png is infinitely better than image_43294.png.

You can of course source imagery from the web generally, but it’s best to avoid this where possible.

If you do, then it’s important to give attribution or to seek permission prior. Don’t just take it.

Using Search Engines

Search your primary keyword phrase in Google and Bing; take a look at who is and what is ranking for the phrase and take notes:

  • Look at the content that is currently winning and ask yourself how you can improve upon what they’ve provided.
  • Look at competitor page <titles> and headings and note why they had appeal
  • Look at the types of content that are being returned in the search results images, video, text, rich snippets etc
  • Are there bloggers or Tweeters appearing in the SERP?
  • Is there a structured data result that appears in the Google knowledge graph perhaps?
  • Look at the snippet and note any specific calls to action

Through looking at the SERP (search engine results page) we can gauge what it is that Google likes for the query set and what we will need to do to occupy the positions and raise our visibility.

We’ll also show opportunities for sharing post production (bloggers, Tweeters, related communities)

Pre Post Actions and Takeaways:

  • Assess the organic SERP competition.
  • Assess PPC competiton and see what people paying for ads are saying
  • Ask yourself critical questions around your content plan.
  • Look for opportunities within the SERPs and factor these into your content piece.
  • Assess the social media space.
  • Identify potential advocates for post publishing activities and to gain greater understanding of what’s happening in the keyword space.
  • Name images in relevant ways, optimise image sizes, seek permission of copyright owners and give attribution where free or unpaid.
  • Separate image file names with hyphens to maximise image search relevance down the line

Thinking About Content Type and Audience

We need to think about the type of content that we are creating and its intended audience. Until we’ve really looked at the former it’s difficult to know exactly, what’s the best way forward.

Sure, we can say that “I want to write a blog post” or “I want to write a press release” or “I want to create a guide” but to do so in the absence of exploring the keyword space first is folly. We need to look at what ranks, what gets shared and try and figure out why. This will help inform our decisions, and focus thought on what kinds of content will work best.

Content Type

We can loosely categorise content in to a number of camps. I’ve put together a loose grouping of 6 which will give you some food for thought using a topic of gift signs to help illustrate the examples.

Blog type content — Conversational, topical, aimed at a specific aspect of what we do or personality/innovation/event/niche type thing. Content that has personality with a distinct user voice that encourages user engagement via comments or social sharing perhaps.

News type content — Some content is often newsy, directly informative, and not overtly sales like in tone — a piece announcing an acquisition or investment perhaps. Industry specific, breaking news type stuff

Core content piece — this will be product specific content. Highly targeted at a specific aspect of what we do or the product we have. This wedding signs page is one such top level example that we’d need to improve upon and create a new product item for perhaps, we’d expand upon what is being presented, look at creating a new search friendly URL and talk about the different wedding signs at hand.

Guide piece — A piece of content that adds context to the general proposition. What it is, what it does, how it works, what are its benefits. “10 Top Signs For Loved Ones” might be a good example for our sign company, giving inspiration for people looking to get a loved one a gift.

Infographic — Infographics are a great way of getting shares and creating conversations. They are a visual mix of data and text and when done correctly, can garner huge attention.

Maybe this gift company could look at sales and best sellers and see what the data is saying. Is there a story to be told? What kinds of words are people entering into their personalised signs section for example.

Thought leadership — Most people like direction and look up to authorities for guidance and leadership. This presents great opportunities in what is a fun feel good space. They might talk about ethical sourcing of materials perhaps, enviro friendly aspects of what they do for example and talk about lesser alternatives like plastics and less bio degradable products perhaps

Understanding The Target Audience

It’s of course critical that we know and understand our audience. Who it is we are seeking to communicate with and why. Sometimes, we might wish to talk to our Twitter audience. We know what they want and know what gets them excited. Other times, we might be reaching out to a different constituency, the general press, the trade, the creative community or simply prospective consumers.

If we know who were are targeting, we can better shape the delivery of what we say by using language and imagery that resonates.

Simple Marketing and Promotion Writing Ideas

So, what else could this gift sign company be doing?

How could we help them succeed?

Controversy — We could be getting a little guerrilla and shaking the tree of an established mind-set that we believe is no longer relevant and challenge otherwise accepted traditions of thought and doing things. We might create a little controversy and stimulate debate as a result.

Piggy Backing — We might be mindful of an upcoming industry event that we’ll be looking to ride the coat tails of or draw awareness to our value add. A big craft fair, a regional exhibition perhaps, piggy backing anticipated search volumes, using prior knowledge or trend tools. We can use social media to use the awareness in the space, using hashtags on platforms like Instagram and Twitter.

News and Events Cycles — We might have knowledge of a general news cycle that again, we believe we can add to and perhaps occupy a news place in Google news through proactively creating content that’ll be a good fit for lazy journalists.

By knowing who we are aiming at and adjusting our message to suit we can help increase the likelihood that our content will be well received; be it a blog or a guide or a new product or a news piece or some fantastic thought leadership white-paper; through thinking about who it is we are talking to we can better deliver on our goals.

Network Utilisation and Strategy

It’s a whole lot easier to get content to fly if you have a cunning plan.

Thinking about how you can leverage your network post content completion is vital to gain traction and momentum.

Have a mini brainstorm in the office “Guys and gals, I’m creating x y z, does anyone have anything to throw in to the mix?”

Marketing Hooks — what will be yours?

This is a great look at the topic which might fire a synapse or two.

http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/234202

We could possibly be looking to massage the ego of a well-known voice in the space, someone with an audience of their own who’ll appreciate the recognition. Someone who has a high profile and who might be willing to talk about their purchase.

We might offer users the ability to tweet or Facebook or Instagram about their recent purchase at checkout perhaps, an easy click to share that enables for the image to be embedded within their social feeds and seen by their networks.

Any action that amplifies the content we create is worth considering. If it raises brand awareness and creates conversations about us and our products then it’s worth doing.

Editing Pre-existing Content

Sometimes, we might need to edit an aged or out of date piece of content that gets lots of traffic already (or doesn’t).

For pages with a lot of traffic, It’s important that we don’t make too many radical changes as if the page is performing well, then we wouldn’t really want to change the page title or the headings too much as to do so could lose us a fair degree of traffic.

On the other hand. we might notice that there are some great opportunities to be had, especially for page that isn’t performing at all, in which case some radical surgery might be required.

Generally, we should check the performance of the page we are seeking to edit using our analytics package. If the traffic is awful, then we have very little to lose and should edit to our hearts content using the knowledge we’ve acquired from our actions further up the page.

In cases where traffic is good we should go ahead with caution. We wouldn’t want to unnecessarily edit a page URL for instance nor would we want to change a page title or core heading (date related aspects excepted)

There may often be cases where traffic is good and engagement is poor. In most cases the reasons should be obvious, in which case edit away and add value.

We might want to add some value (images/rich media/new data) or make subtle edits to copy. In most cases these shouldn’t present many, if any difficulties.

If we change a page URL then we of course need to put in a specific redirect so that the engines and crawlers know the new location. Talk to the tech team or SEO around the need for a 301 redirect.

During Content Creation

Having established what it is we are writing, it’s important that our content piece has a clear page structure with a good mix of related keywords and phrases with our core keyword phrase at the centre of it all.

We’ve thought about layout, message and flow, we’ve sourced our images and have named them appropriately and optimised them for use on the web and we are ready to put it all together.

What are the key structural components of a good piece of content?

Evidence shows that pages that do well in search engines share a number of key characteristics.

  • Well thought out page titles <titles>
  • Good <meta descriptions> with calls to action that generate decent CTR (click through rates)
  • Good headings and hierarchy
  • Keywords in the page content
  • Visual Breakpoints
  • Good navigation

Page Titles <titles>

The page <title> is the most important part of the page. It is the part of the content that will appear in the SERP’s and is used by the search engines as a primary means of establishing what the content is likely to be about.

Getting back to the gift sign company example, if we were creating a content piece that was to target the phrase “Handmade Wedding Signs” then we’d look to make sure that those words were present in our title. Of course, a page title that just said “Handmade Wedding Signs” would look exceedingly bland and would miss out on other opportunities to draw the click and to speak to humans, so we’d look at how we could make that work.

Our keyword and competitor research would have already established that competing pages have various characteristics that we can use too.

For a core content piece we might use the page title of “Buy Quality Handmade Weddings Signs, Environmentally Sourced” which would of course be better than “Handmade Wedding Signs” alone.

For a blog piece we might get a little more conversational and say “5 Little Known Rules for Creating the Perfect Handmade Sign”

People also love “How to’s” and “What” type queries. “How Can I Make the Perfect Custom Sign for less than £20?” or combined “How Can I Make the Perfect Custom Sign for less than £20 — What should I look For”

The variations above would also have a secondary benefit in that they’d target additional search phrases with search volume and use language that relates to what they do.

“Wedding Signs”, “Custom Signs” search query aspirations would all be assisted by the page title “Where Can I Find A Custom Wedding Sign Online — What should I look For?”

The sky is the limit and ultimately it’s bound by your creativity. The central message is that you of course need to include the primary phrase within your page title (as near to the start of the sentence as makes sense) and talk to humans at the same time gaining their attention and getting that all important click.

Try to keep your page titles sub 60 characters in length as Google typically shows just the first 60 or so characters; anything longer than this is truncated. This doesn’t mean that you can’t use titles that are longer but be sure to have your most important messaging and keywords within this limit.

Meta Descriptions

The <Meta name=”description”> tag is important as it is used by Google and Bing to surface a snippet of content in their SERP’s. It sits in the code section of a HTML page.

Meta descriptions are a great opportunity whereby you can reinforce your message and add extra content and calls to action for the page that you are trying to attract that all important click from.

You should seek to add effective context with words that are related to the query space in a way that also talks to human beings.

Meta descriptions should be around 160 characters most but can be longer. Anything over 160 is truncated and will not be displayed.

Be sure to think about how you’d like your message to appear in the SERP’s and be mindful that the meta description will often be the search engines first port of call when adding supplemental information about a page.

Page Headings <H#>

Similar to books, good web pages have good structure and are headed up by relevant headings and subheadings.

HTML hierarchy dictates that headings are number 1–6 typically with <h1> being the largest and most important.

Heading tags are an opportunity to arrange your content in a way that is logical and readable to your user. They’ll help break up the content and make sense of what it is you are communicating.

The <h1> tag should be the first heading on the page and should only appear once. Typically, it often closely mirrors the page <title> which when you think of it, makes sense from a user readability perspective.

Additional subheadings <h2> <h3> <h4> <h5> should be used throughout the document as appropriate, in a clear hierarchy.

Note: You don’t have to use all of those headings. Pages rank well in absence of H1’s or through a mix of different headings to0. Structures like H1, H2, H3, H3,H3 H4, H2, H2, H2 are often used too and don’t appear to negatively impact performance to a large extent. The takeaway is, that logical structured headings are a good habit to get in to and help signify important aspects of the document or places within it.

Do’s and don’ts for headings and subheadings

  • Resist the temptation to keyword stuff your target phrase in to every subheading that you use. If you do, then your piece will read poorly and will possibly be marked downed as keyword stuffy!
  • Ensure that your primary keyword phrase appears in your <h1> heading
  • If it makes sense, then use it in your first <h2> subheading too and subsequent or latter subheadings, but don’t over do it.
  • Look for opportunities to use keyword variations — If your content piece is targeting Birthday Signs then be creative and think of variants that you can blend in to your subheadings “70th Birthday Wooden Signs” perhaps, or “Birthday Gift Ideas and Inspiration” or “Examples of Our Most Popular Wooden Birthday Signs” all of these titles are related and the search engines will get that too. Through adding variance and semantic relationships in your copy, you’ll help elevate relevance and increase readability.
  • Don’t over use headings either. No point having a subheading for every sentence or paragraph.

Content Copy

When writing your copy, try to ensure that you make mention of your primary target phrase in the first or second sentence that you use. Make it stand out so the reader recognises the core message early into the piece consider the use of or tags where appropriate.

Search engines are relatively dumb so we need to give them as many clues as we can. Page titles, Meta descriptions, headings and content mark-up are ways in which we can do this.

That said, they are getting smarter so we need to be mindful that we don’t overdo things and resist the urge to keyword stuff. Keyword stuffing will damage our ability to rank and switch our readers off so it’s important to bear that in mind and not overdo the keyword phrase thing!

When writing, we should look to use related phrases and words where we can. We want to be on the lookout for easy related ranking opportunities and send out that strong message that our content is thematically related to our niche and contains strong word correlations throughout.

Our ultimate aim site wide is to be recognised as THE authority on our topic so through using words that have semantic relationships we help ourselves achieve this. Antonyms, synonyms, hypernyms, hyponyms, meronyms will all help, use them with gusto!

The most important factor of course is to write for humans.

We can have the most amazing rankings in the world, but if our content reads like crap and people hit and run or fail to engage then we will fall at the first hurdle and will see our rankings go backwards.

Do’s and Don’ts for Content Copy

  • Do not keyword stuff — write for humans, your core keyword phrase shouldn’t appear more than 5–6% of the time typically, but this will vary across niches and isn’t set in stone.
  • Do use variations of your target key phrase, think of related words you can include, think semantically.
  • In most cases, try to keep your web documents to a decent readable length.
  • Don’t consign yourself to TL;DR hell. Try to keep your blog posts to less than 1500 words. No one wants to read a long piece of content unless it’s really useful and merits their time. If it’s going to be long, then try and engage people along the way,
  • Different types of content such as comprehensive “how to guides” and “white papers” may well be longer of course, simply because people are expecting highly detailed specific information.
  • There’s a great piece on content length generally here https://blog.bufferapp.com/the-ideal-length-of-everything-online-according-to-science

Internal Link Reinforcement

One of the ways in which we can help ourselves is to continually reference our most important content pieces. We can do this by linking to such pieces as we create new content. If we are writing about topic x y or z and happen to use the term gift signs, then it makes sense to hyperlink that phrase and point it to the page that we would like to rank.

Less is often more of course, so we don’t want to overdo things. Who wants to read a document of a zillion hyperlinks!? If it makes sense, then do it. If you look back over your finished article and see some way of weaving in an internal link opportunity then do so.

Vary Your Anchor Texts

Try to add some variance to your internal links too. A page that targets birthday signs would also benefit from being linked to with variations of anchor text (the words contained in the hyperlink).

So, if we used the term birthday in our piece, then we might hyperlink that to our birthday signs page.

The same would apply for related variants. Birthday | signs | plaques | gifts etc.

External Linking

Links are the glue of the internet, without them we’d all be a little lost. When creating your content, you’ll often link out to other sites and partners.

General rules of thumb are:

  • Don’t link to spam sites! Think about who you are linking to and how — no point helping a competing service with a juicy link to their competing page.
  • Is there a blogger in the space with influence who has said something cool? Link to them! They’ll love it and might even talk about you.

Using Images to Break up Your Copy

You may have already sourced your images in your research phase. If you have then great just be sure that they address the following:

Sources referenced where external or unpaid for and permission sought

Optimised for fast loading times (where the platform doesn’t do so automatically perhaps)

Solid naming conventions with references to keywords where appropriate separated by hyphens.

Through using well named imagery that’s related to the content and theme, that’s well named and engaging we can help improve performance in Google image search and raise our profile and traffic.

Page URLs

The page URL (web address) is an important element of search performance.

We should look to make sure that our page URL’s contain our target keywords and or variants.

URL’s have no limitation in length, but it’s sensible to keep them relatively short and punchy as they are often displayed in the SERPs. Page URL’s will be truncated if too long so try to limit them to 100 characters max. It doesn’t matter if you overstep this limit, but be mindful that any characters after will not be seen.

Some CMS’s like WordPress create our URLs on the fly, taking the page title or heading of the content piece.

The WordPress CMS presents us with an opportunity to edit our URLs.

Where appropriate, we should apply similar thinking to that of our page title selection looking for variance opportunities where they present themselves.

Google News — There is discussion within the tech team for content that is newsworthy or aimed at a specific news element to be tagged or identified as a news piece.

Where this occurs, it’s important to ensure that a 6 figure number is appended to the end of the URL. Failure to do so, will mean that the piece will unlikely be included within Google news.

Tagging and Topics

WordPress gives us the option to tag our content and file it under various headings. Try and categorise your content in to 4 or 5 relevant camps if possible. Most CMS’s allow for this, so use it if it exists.

Through doing so, we create content diversity for a variety of singular topics and increase the likelihood of ranking for a variety of related terms.

After You’ve Completed Your Content

So, you’ve created your content and have spell checked the hell out of it and ran it by a colleague for sanity checks. Woot! Well done, what next?

In our pre writing phase above, we looked at the various social media opportunities and took notes around who was talking in the space.

It’s a good idea to have a post publish process that makes the most of what you learnt in your research phase and try to build up a head of steam.

Fledgling content will not fly alone, it needs the help of friends and colleagues to gain wings and help it grow.

The following list of bullet points will help your content get eyeballs and create additional impetus.

It only really applies to blog posts or special reports/white papers , guides and news items so bear this in mind before you do. Don’t use it for boring old product pages, unless they are super awesome or innovative perhaps

  • Follow folks and brands that were tweeting or visible in your key phrase space and seek to engage with them over time.
  • Use a social scoring metric as an aid in identifying who might be worth the largest investment of your time.
  • Publish your post to Twitter and tag it with #hashtags relevant to the topic — determine the ideal time to do so aiming for your largest GEO audience
  • Utilise your internal office/company network and let them know that you’ve posted and ask them to retweet, favourite and share your post.
  • If appropriate — Post your link to LinkedIn and linked groups that you participate
  • Post the link to your Facebook page and consider a small post boost targeted at Facebook user cohorts interested in your space
  • Evaluate any other spaces that could be good conduits for your piece. Reddit for instance
  • Include your latest blog post in any email footers you may use
  • Did your post have a cool image? Is it Pinterest or Instagram worthy? Tag and send it to these networks.
  • If someone shares or retweets or comments on your stuff, then thank them for doing so. Be social.
  • Monitor the performance of your post in Google analytics. Spend a few minutes each day looking at your recent posts or content pieces and see how well they are doing.
  • Talk to Rob about tracking new keywords and URL performance

Rinse, refine, and repeat.

Things to Consider to Improve On Page Conversions

Want to improve your page conversions?

I was talking with someone the other day about the challenges faced with getting new business for what was a very niche product. The product is the type that has limited demand, is very niche but adds huge value to the people who want it.

We briefly talked about what they do and how they currently do it, what appears to work and what doesn’t. We touched upon the various online channels particularly with regard to PPC, SEO and Social media. I didn’t get too deep, but my takeaway was that it wasn’t really working as well as they’d liked or expected.

It might be useful to others, to run through a few things as they come to me. Nothing too structured, just a general meander through some of the issues and what we can at least begin to try and do about them. Continue reading

Local Business Marketing – SEO – PPC – Social Media – Kent UK

Understanding Local Business SEO and Marketing with Google

If the words are not on the page then you are unlikely to rank

Fact is that for many local businesses serving local communities today, they just aren’t going to (nor should they) rank globally or nationally for singular business keywords like “Plumber” or “Electrician” or “insert common service”.

If they did, the SERPs would be a little useless.

It’s one of the reasons why we get personalised and localised results. Results returned based on where we are searching from, returning (in theory) results from those localities serving that marketplace.

For local businesses looking to play, their route to market online is a mix of advertising or being listed in local directories that rank, or paying for PPC or social media ads to raise awareness.

There’s a tiered ecosystem in place – and the SERPs (search engine results pages)  are structured to maximise return for Google and the players who make it to the top.

If we look at this SERP for “electricians”  we will see that at the top above the fold so to speak, we have ads. Google ads, that look a little like organic results but to the trained eye are just ads.

Paid Inclusion   Local Organic SERP

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-09-13-43

These ads are paid for by companies (usually not direct service suppliers) who act as lead generation vehicles offering placement via a combination of CPL (cost per lead), CPA (cost per acquisition) or straight up paid inclusion ( pay a joining or monthly fee).

Local trades people seldom (if ever appear in these ads) simply because the CPC’s are often out of their price band. They just fail to see the value in paying £2 or £3 per click for an unknown quantity. Many have websites that are years behind the curve in terms of layout or ability to convert and track the sale and for a lot of them, the whole Internet marketing gig is just headache inducing.

Local Pack – The Carousel of Hope

Businesses do get an opportunity to appear in the  ‘local pack’ as it’s known, but these are limited and often randomised to show whoever the algorithm at the time deemed worthy. In areas of high concentrations of competing businesses and population, those chances to be seen are ever diminished.

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-09-14-13

The “Organic” SERP

Here’s the stuff that appears below the fold and the local pack SERP for “Electrician in Folkestone”.

Full of directory type websites.

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-09-59-36

Few local businesses appear here, and the two that do is made up of  the savvy guy who bought a decent domain name, and another who uses rich snippets generated by a * hubspot local page product.

* Golly gee, they even get the privilege of being able to link back to the people they paid for the local SEO service too, so no footprint there…

The Aggregators Are The Innovators

In short, the aggregators are winning and the small guy isn’t and despite Google’s efforts to half heartedly level the playing field, the fact is that for most local businesses looking to appear in search, they need to work real hard to win and pay a small fortune for the opportunity.

Factors like a local address, postcode and phone number on a webpage help (I’ve seen local websites appear organically for some local queries whereby they had local info on the page) but for the most part, they simply aren’t set up to target their local areas effectively, they lack the authority, and most crucially lack the landing pages.

Take a pretty dominant site like this for example. Look at the query for site:www.checkatrade.com/Search/Electrician/in/ and we’ll see that Google lists around 2050 urls

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-09-40-27

All of their pages are listed with local business who pay to be included. Including a map and a list of services. Premium spots appear to exist upon some of the pages and… in essence, it’s a search engine within a search engine for local results with reviews.

Just like a Yell, a ThomsonLocal or whatever other local directory type service you care to mention.

I guess you could say it’s a great business model for Google and lucrative for the aggregators but not such a great deal for the local businesses with services to offer who are having to pay. This then drives up costs for consumers as businesses seek to turn a profit.

CPC’s north of £5 per click – 1000’s of monthly searches for variants of Electrician in London (postcodes boroughs etc)  for example, it soon adds up and there’s money on the table.

Arguably you could also say it’s a good deal for the searcher as they get to see grouped listings with reviews, and social proof scores and what not. However, that’s not to say that today in 2016 small business owners can’t or shouldn’t be doing the same.

What should a small local business do?

If they can’t get passionate about their business online and talk to their customer base, and interested parties then they’re missing a trick and can’t really complain when their competitors are suddenly everywhere.

If site owners made more of an effort to be strategic in what they do, then they too could begin to rank for queries like these through creating content that was more tightly focused on their areas of service. Some do already, but a lot don’t and that contributes to the reason why they end up paying third parties to be listed, who then drive leads via PPC or other channels.

If only these businesses took the time to build out some localised content that contained the words that people search for, then perhaps they too could begin to compete. (Really!!)

It’s one of the reasons I put this landing page tool together, a tool that enables people to build specific localised landing pages based on their own web templates and the ability to then create landing pages for very specific localities.

It’s no panacea; people still need to put the effort into what they do.

More effort equals more reward is still a truism, nothing new there but it is a time saver, it does give people a little more focus and subject to HTML chops is a handy way of creating content that’s useful for PPC , social media marketing and local SEO campaigns.

Ok end of advert – fact is, some small businesses could do a whole lot better in the SERPs,  if only they made the effort.

Using Pokémon Go for local business marketing

Using Pokemon Go for Local Business Purposes

Pokémon GO  first came to my notice when a friend was live streaming on Facebook a walk with his son whilst playing the game.

There’s a great piece on Forbes today looking at the digital phenomena that it is and you may have also read the odd random scary story or two

But I’m not here to talk about those, I’m here to continue with the local business angle touched upon by Forbes.

We started a conversation on our Romney Marsh Marketing Facebook group and Al from Tepfu is bang on the money.

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 10.30.30

There really is a big potential to get in at the ground floor here and stand out from the competition, IF your local offer is compelling enough.

Where I live it’s both rural and coastal and it’s peppered with various little cafés and small eateries – tourist trade is everything and at this time of the year they really must do everything they can to earn their coin.

There’s a beach hut type place that sells teas and coffees and chips and bacon butties, it’s made of plywood and painted brilliant white – For me, it’s just aching to have a huge pokeball painted on its side along with a few strategically placed sandwich boards doing similar to this.

Such an approach would tap in to a phenomena that has kids and adults alike talking and even gain attention from the local press.

POkemon GO Twitter Vs Android
source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jasonevangelho/2016/07/10/pokemon-go-about-to-surpass-twitter-in-daily-active-users/

Pokemon Go has more search term interest than any of our leading news storiesin the UK and it hasn’t even launched yet

The rise in search volume is pretty stratospheric, outstripping searches for news media saturated terms recently like Theresa may, Leadsom and Corbyn. That’s some  pretty stellar WOM activity right there demonstrating the power of app charts and social mentions to influence user behaviour and interest.

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 10.46.02

I tried downloading the Pokemon GO app from my iTunes, but it seems it’s not available (account is tied to UK iTunes and I can’t be bothered to switch it) so I haven’t yet had the opportunity to play it, but it does look like fun and I’d imagine that people up and down the country will get pretty hooked on it, especially in the summer months with warmer weather whereby a nice walk is just the ticket.

We’ll no doubt see a slew of topical discussion on this soon, with an explosion of stories in local and national mainstream media, augmented reality apps like these are likely to grow in use and popularity as companies and providers look for ways of utilising the power of mobile and its ability to gain new customers via innovative use of features and gameplay.

Whilst Pokemon GO may well not be a best fit for your local business, AR and VR as concepts present definite opportunities which if used creatively could well help boost passing and local interest.

Be you a small business or a large brand you should definitely get in early while you can, and think creatively around how you can use opportunities like these, to boost your brand or business!

SEO Advice For Business Owners and Marketers

Standout SEO Advice For People Like You

Ok, so you have your web domain. It’s hosted on a fast platform and you have a cool funky site, great! Now what?

The Google of today looks at many aspects of a domain when deciding how to rank it.

Page Speed is Important

Make sure that your content loads fast and use a tool to assess this. If it isn’t, then make it so, through on page changes and solid hosting.

Mobile Friendly and Useable Across Devices

Make sure that your content renders across devices in ways that users will find useful and useable. Use the mobile friendly page tester to ensure that your site meets the requirements. Strongly consider looking at an AMP (accelerated mobile page) version of your site and seize the opportunities that this presents.

In addition to page speed and user experience, being relevant to the query is the biggest factor in its decisions I could get super granular and break it down further but confusion isn’t the aim.

Being Relevant to the Query

source:http://www.insightsnow.com/blog/importance-of-being-relevant-tmre-01
source:http://www.insightsnow.com/blog/importance-of-being-relevant-tmre-01

Well duh, who’d have thought that people will actually want to see stuff that’s related to what they searched for! So how does it all work?

In short, you could break it down in to two distinct camps. What you show on the page and what happens off the page.

What you show on the page is…Onsite SEO

When you create a piece of content that you are looking to rank in Google or Bing, you should (in most cases) be in the habit of researching your subject and ensuring that you have an audience that actually searches for what it is you are about to write. You should do this via keyword research, using a tool like Google Adword’s keyword planner. You can get an idea for what it is that people search for, in what volume and where, along with related phrases that you can weave in to your copy.

Research your intended audience

Keyword volumes are a handy way of gauging the potential traffic you’ll receive and enable you to make better investment decisions around the products you are looking to sell or the ideas you are looking to promote. They are the corner-stone to success, as without them, you are shooting at fish in a pond in the dark, and why would you want to do that?

Assess the competition and be realistic

You also need to gauge the likelihood of success – To quote an extreme example, there’s little point in being Joe Bloggs the insurance agent on main street and seriously expecting to be able to rank for ‘car insurance’ simply because the level of competition for such phrases is insane and is targeted by multi nationals with weekly budgets larger than the probably value of your entire business. So take a considered view on what it is you aspire to and be creative in how you are going to target it.

You might have a particular angle for your locality perhaps and you might well have enough local understanding of issues and the landscape to get your content picked up by local news outlets or shared on social media which may then appear in Google in related tweets.

Look at people who you consider to be the competition in your space, see what they rank for, look at the type of content they create, note who shares it, take notes and emulate the best aspects of their strategy, dig deep and see what applies to you.

Put the right pieces in the markup at the right places

The code that outputs your pages is often referred to as mark up – mark up encompasses a multitude of html tags that are interpreted by the browser to display your content and informs the way in which Google and Bing and other properties may output their search results.

If we think of document relevancy and how search engines decide what is and what isn’t relevant we find that some html tags have more weight than others and that the placement and incidences of words throughout them can have a substantial bearing on how relevancy is interpreted.

In the <head> of your documents. ensure that your page contain your aspired to key phrases and ensure that yourdo the same.

In the <body> of your content use <h#> headings to head up your copy with headings that work closely with your target key phrase aspirations and ensure that what you write in your copy also contains mentions of your target phrase, along with semantic variants where possible. Write naturally, don’t force it, and don’t ‘keyword mention’ spam.

Some folk will talk of italicizing certain words, or bolding certain phrases. Others talk of using different font sizes to tell the search engines that some words are more important than others. Like most things, there are sensible things you should do and things that you shouldn’t. If it feels right to play with font sizes to make things stand out, then do so, but don’t expect any direct search benefit as a result.

If you look at how many standard content pieces are written, you’ll pretty much see that most ranking documents use a wide range of methods for displaying what they say. Don’t waste your time trying to reverse engineer some secret sauce, because it doesn’t exist. Just write for your users and pepper your content with a liberal dose of words that make sense to your reader, reinforcing the core of what it is all about.

You can read more about how to position your page content here, from Google itself.

Create keyword relevant urls

Make sure that the urls you create contain your target key phrases – this might be achieved via /filename-with-keyword-phrase-alone.html or use a directory type /key-phrase/related-branch.html approach. It doesn’t really matter which, but it’s important that you use one or the other as to not include the core aspect of your target phrase may well hamper your ability to rank for your aspiration.

Through using keyword rich URL’s you not only give your users a good indication what the page is about should the link be shared in an email, but you may also increase the incidence of keyword diversity when such links are shared as urls.

Use hyphens as a separator, not underscores, partly because that’s what Google used to advise (some Googlers say it doesn’t matter anymore) but also because if shared as hyper links, the underscores can be missed and can create confusion in type in scenarios, whereas hyphens are clear and unambiguous.

They also appear in the search engine results page and act as a re-enforcement in the users mind when submitting their query. Google often emboldens words that match the query, so it’s a good thing to do.

Use a logical navigation structure on your domain with useful anchor text

Make sure that your users will have some insight in to the pages that they are clicking through to.

Don’t use words like product 1 or service 2, be specific, in your menus and site navigation be sure to think about the types of things that users search for and inject these into your structures.

Use solid tried and tested practices that users like and reinforce these throughout.

Consider the use  of bread crumb trails to enable the user to see where they are in their journey and reinforce the message to both people who read it and the bots that will spider and index your content.

Home > SEO Services > SEO Consulting > Local SEO Advice

Is infinitely better than nothing or something that was devoid of links or product/service mentions. Shows your users where they are, adding context and meaning.

Think about how you name your files and images

Similar to using target key phrases in your URLs, you should also consider how you use and name imagery or files within your content. An image named image1.gif isn’t very useful to bots or people, whereas descriptive-file-name.gif is. This will increase the likelihood of your images appearing in image search and may also have a direct ranking benefit too.

Images should also contain descriptive alt attributes and it certainly doesn’t hurt to use the title attribute too. Be sure to be sensible avoiding the urge to be spammy or ridiculous.

For the more technically adept there’s of course a whole host of other considerations to be had too which will enhance how your content appears across search and other platforms.

Ever wonder how some results in the SERP (search engine results page)  have stand out extra graphical elements? These are commonly referred to as rich snippets. Here’s an example of them in action.

Rich Snippet Mark Up

Rich snippets are pieces of code that often generate enhanced search displays, making your content more visible to your target audience. They do this through the use of structured data standard called schema.org microdata. There are a range of different types:

 

To quote one example, “events” are often seen in the SERPs, and they might look a little like this. We can produce an example of a fictional event, showing both the markup and the visual representation.

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 19.21.32

The guys at verve search have an excellent run down of the considerations involved so do check out their post.

Twitter MarkUp

Ever noticed how some tweets seem to have an image associated with a shared link?

That’s twitter cards in action and it’s a very simple addition to do.

We can see how it works with this page here – when the page is shared on Twitter, it receives an enhanced preview.

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 19.01.04

The code that makes that happen can be viewed below

<meta name=”twitter:titlecontent=”Plan your travels from Bayeux France to La Rochelle France” />
<meta name=”twitter:cardcontent=”summary_large_image“>
<meta name=”twitter:sitecontent=”@distantias” />
<meta name=”twitter:creatorcontent=”@distantias” />

<meta name=”twitter:imagecontent=”https://mw2.google.com/mw-panoramio/photos/medium/94269660.jpg” />

You can read more about adding Twitter cards here.

Facebook Open Graph Code

We’ve all shared content on Facebook and seen the previews created as we do. The cool thing is, you can actually control how your message is presented and display a custom image to fit.

The code that makes it happen is this.

<meta property=”og:title” content= “Journey Planning From Bayeux France to La Rochelle France “/>
<meta property=”og:description” content=”Plan your travels from Bayeux France to La Rochelle France Create friendships, Earn points , Book Hotels and more”/>
<meta property=”og:site_name” content=”Distantias” />
<meta property=”og:image” content=”https://mw2.google.com/mw-panoramio/photos/medium/94269660.jpg”>
<meta property=”og:image:type” content=”image/png”>
<meta property=”og:image:width” content=”100″>
<meta property=”og:image:height” content=”70″>
<meta property=”go:image:height” content=”70″>

When shared on Facebook, this produces this.

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 20.01.30

HREFLANG – Calling International SEO

Some companies target international audiences. You can use hreflang to target different geolocations and languages.

The implementation is too lengthy to go into detail here, but if you’d like to know more than you can read all about it here or hit me up and I’ll walk you through it.

 

What Happens Off the Page is…Off Site SEO

So, in the previous part we took a quick look at various on-site or on-page factors that help influence ranking and page performance, this being just one part of being “relevant to the query”.

In this part, we are going to look at the off page factors and talk about how things work and what you can do to influence your domain in the best most effective way.

As previously discussed, Google use a variety of signals to determine relevancy.

In addition to what they say on the page, websites can boost their perceived importance and score through obtaining citations from across the web from other websites through using a variety of anchor texts (the text used in a link to reference other pages on the web).

The facts of life are that for many queries, in terms of the content contained within the pages that discuss them, there is often more than one relevant useful page for a query.  So, when faced with this predicament, the algorithm uses external citations (effectively votes ) in an attempt to sort it all out and decide who should be shown and who should not.

The idea being, that if a page has more links to it around a topic and those pages are adjudged to be authoritative on the topic,  then that’s a good signal to use when sorting any wheat from the chaff.

How to determine authority from linking pages

So, this begs the question of what IS an authoritative page and how should you get them to talk about you?

In the old days, people would talk of the concept of PageRank. PageRank was once a a publicly accessible metric displayed by google in its toolbar. Various tools  used this number to assess link acquisition worthiness. It was a useful, easy to understand metric.

Google eventually took this number away from the public domain, mainly because it was no longer necessary for public relations purposes and it was used and abused by people seeking to influence its algorithm.

The breach was filled by companies like, MajesticSEO and SEOMoz who effectively reverse engineered aspects of how they believed PageRank  may have been calculated and so, developed scoring systems of their own. Domain authority for Moz and Trust and Citation Flow for MajesticSEO to use similar principles to that of PageRank. Not prefect and devoid of other factors used for ranking, but an indicator nonetheless and, in the world of understanding the machinations of black box technology – they are therefore, useful.

Competitor analysis

You should have already identified a handful of competitors and gained an understanding of what they rank for, what they write about and generally assessed their abilities via some kind of SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats)  These would have helped inform your content production decisions and given you a pretty good idea of the kinds of things you need to be doing onsite.

Additionally,  they should also have informed you on some of the other reasons why they were succeeding via an analysis of the linking domains to their website.

This post from Koozai looks at the variety of tools that exist that help you to do this and there are many of them. SEMRush is my current favourite as it’s highly flexible, and gives you a  lot of insight that is actionable in simple easy to understand ways.

Obtaining links

So you’ve done your analysis and you have a hatful of linking opportunities.

If you are thinking of emulating link profiles (think mixed competitor mashup) then you’ll need to asses the likelihood of obtaining those links and ask yourself a few hard questions.

Will they link to you? Are they a direct competitor perhaps? Why should they link to you? What value do you offer to their readership, what’s in it for them?

If you think about those questions first, you’ll be better placed to succeed in your request.

If you are thinking of emulating ideas, then look at how successful those ideas were and do some leg work in investigating why. Use tools like BuzzSumo to evaluate those social shares and take note of who shared and why.

Here’s a couple of other things you should do when link building

Don’t go in cold, take the time to build a relationship.

If they are a blogger, then read about them, find out what motivates them, look at how they write and what they write about. Follow them on social media perhaps, engage with them a few times, retweet their stuff. After a period of time, send them a little email or if you are great on a phone, pick up a phone and talk to them.

Talk about how you can help them, think about how you can help them, in fact make that your focus. If you do that (genuinely) then they’ll be far more receptive and you won’t have to work that hard to get them to like you and talk about you.

If they are operating in the same business sphere as you, then think about partnerships. Talk to them about how you can help each other, focus on the mutually beneficial aspects of the web and your brand and your products and use these to make your case.

If they are a community like a forum, then take the time to contribute, but do so in a way that adds value.

Here’s a couple of things you shouldn’t do when link building

Don’t just send out a boiler plate shitty email, saying your site is great, here is my link, please link to me. That’s lame of course, but don’t think that by tarting it up with sophisticated language that it’ll be any less so.

Don’t pick up the phone and call cold and tell them the benefits of  how linking to you can help them.

Don’t go on forums or other places related to your niche and spam the hell out of them. It’ll bite you on your bum if you do. Don’t just expect to be able to rock up and leave your deposit on someones manicured lawn.

In Conclusion

There’s many things that influence ranking, and it’s often an ever shifting thing that you need to watch and refine. You should ensure that you look at your site analytics and webmaster tools daily and keep up to speed with change and innovation in your space. Failure to do so, could cause all manner of downsides for your business, a lot of which can be avoided through regular assessment. I hope this has given food for thought and is of use to you!

Need help with your domain? Hire Rob Today

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Getting links like a laughing lady chewbacca style 2016

The Candace Payne Chewbacca Mask Lady Story

I love the Chewbacca mask toy story of Candace Payne and whilst some believe it may have been intentional and designed to generate sales for a new toy, do you know what? I really couldn’t care if it was. It’s a great happy feel good thing and it’s made lots of people smile.

Candace Payne It's the simple joys of life 154 million views
Candace Payne It’s the simple joys of life 154 million views

It also reveals some interesting stats for those who rode the coat tails.

Generating page views on Youtube like a star wars droid on acid

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 14.00.43

The success on youtube was phenomenal – A sea of copies and copycats rushed to jump on the happy train in a bid to emulate the success or just have a bit of fun with it and as the above youtube search results show, they attained quite healthy channel views as a result.

Jon Deak (I’ve no idea if him and Candace are connected but he owes her a beer or two) 5 million page views. Incredible.

Newworld, 500,000 and rising.

Tyrone Magnus on a reaction video 270,000 +

Numbers to get advertisers moist in the jowls.

Search Volume Explodes Like a Death Star

A look at Google trends, shows the explosion of interest too. From nowhere, to ubiquity.

 

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 14.08.11

Where there’s search volume, there’s content…

A look at the web results, reveals that here in the UK too lots of folk jumped in and wrote about it, and why not, it was funny after all and Candace has a great infectious laugh.

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 14.12.45

Let’s look at three of those urls and see what traction they attained using a few tools out there.

The Facebook URL with Candace’s video has  (according to AHREFS) generated 674  unique domain citations.

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 14.25.40

The YouTube copy which we know to date has generated 5 million plus page views also acquired (according to AHREFS)  656 backlinks

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 14.30.18

A write up by aleteia.org generated 48 (according to AHREFS) backlinks to the url

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 14.46.39

As a result alteia.org (according to SEMRush ) has seen a healthy uptick in its organic traffic recently of 29%. Not bad for a story about a lady in a mask.

 

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 14.53.39

The story that just keeps on giving…

Even today June 2nd 15:00 GMT the meme continues and the story keeps growing new legs as Candace does the rounds and people continue to chat about it. Source: socialmention.com

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 14.34.37

So what are the takeaways?

What characteristics does this story have and what can we learn from them?

Well, I’m not going to say there’s a blueprint and here it is, ( I’d be fabulously wealthy cash wise if I could) but it’s useful to look at it and see if there are any common threads that we can at least consider and think about how things like this work and why they do so well and get traction and adoption.

The story is: Funny

People like funny, people like to laugh, who knew! If we can make people feel things with our content, then we are usually on to a winner. Do you remember the laughing baby thing? 4.7 million views and rising.

The story is: Original

How many videos have you seen recently that featured a cool new toy that was hilarious? Not only did you find the video funny, you also secretly wanted your own mask too, right?

The story had: Mass Market Appeal

Everyone (apart from Trekkies perhaps) loves Star Wars right? The franchise has instant mass market appeal across international boundaries.  A character like Chewbacca has been mimicked by many a person, in many a city across the globe. Laughter and Chewbacca in this example are pretty much international

The story didn’t seem to be: Contrived

We all hate fake – this story just didn’t seem so at all and as a result Candace was invited to lots of talk shows and has been enjoying her new found mini celebrity status

The story speaks to: Us

We love the story because it’s human and talks to us. We love an infectious laugh and we love that this could so easily be one of our funny friends, back from a store, in their car blah blah blahing incidentally on social media about a cool product or some other experience they had

The story is: Creative

Whether Candace intended it to be or not the story is pretty unique and creative! No one alive had ever shoved a chewy mask on their face and laughed inanely as an electronic Chewbacca cried out for affection.

Creating cool stuff isn’t usually this easy. It’s hard, especially if you’re in a boring old niche, but stuff like this shows that you need not have a massive budget to succeed. If you can come up with something that’s genuine and useful (this is useful as getting people to laugh is absolutely useful) then you are half way there.

I didn’t even touch on the number of social shares that the URL’s referenced generated, but they were pretty stellar too.

Candace, I tip my hat.

Update: I just also read that she and her family have also earned full tuition scholarships as a gift! Brilliant.

Breaking News: Google Continues Cannibalising Search Results

So the recent change in how Google displays its ads on its search engine has already pulled up a number of interesting outcomes with agencies that manage large accounts reporting a number of standouts.

An increase in CTR of 16% across SERPs should be pretty concerning to folks in the organic space, and frankly to advertisers as well. I’m not saying these results are instantly stealing 16% of traffic from organic results, but there’s certainly been a migration as a result of this change; however significant or insignificant is yet to be seen. Aaron at EliteSem

That’s quite a big chunk and is echoed by what icrossing saw too with big increases in CTR for the new ad slot.

  • Positive click-through-rate impact for top positions (+5%) and PLA (+10%), as competition at the top right has been eliminated.

  • Negative click-through-rate impact for positions 5–7 (-8%) as they moved from top right to bottom of the page.

  • Negative impression impact for positions 8–10 (-69%) and click impact (-50%). However since this segment accounted for a very small percentage of impressions in the “before” period, their loss doesn’t represent a significant impact.
    icrossing

There’s no doubt a slew of these across the web. Look at any account with a large enough dataset and you’ll likely see similar patterns.

But what does this really mean for organic? It’s pretty obvious what it means for PPC. In the short term, for competitive queries the new position four ad slot seems to be doing a sterling job at stealing organic click share. If CTR’s are up across ad slots, then it follows that available click share MUST be down for organic, even if we account for the loss of side ads, right?

I was talking with a client yesterday about conversion rates on site.

We had all been a little perplexed in how conversions rates had dropped off of late and had tried a variety of things to identify and reverse.

We looked at the usual suspects of onsite changes, page speed, competitor activity, sector innovations etc and were doing a degree of head scratching trying to establish what was going on. Most channel traffic was up, organic especially. The view was that maybe rankings had decreased for competitive head terms (nope) or that direct and referral traffic had increased due to PR activity and that was impacting conversion rates due to lower buyer intent (a fact, but also nope)

The client noticed that the conversion problem had occurred around the 22nd of February, which funnily enough was around the time that Google rolled out its new land grab. Aha! The smoking gun.

What was really interesting (but surprising) was that the inclusion of this new ad spot, appears to have impacted the click through on high converting pages for competitive search terms. Effectively, for every competitive position attained, visibility has dropped by an order of at least one position.

Is it really the case that people collectively have jumped the shark and no longer care about ads in google as they once did? Has Google created such a neat and compelling ad product that users are now more drawn to the ad than they would be the organic result? Are the ads more relevant today even? Is all that SERP diversity of images, videos, knowledge graph, news results and the like just a massive pain in the Goolies? Are ads the quicker route for commercial intent!? Maybe!

Of course, I’m surmising and using the data witnessed from one account. It may not necessarily be the same for every commercial query and determining what is and what is not a commercial query isn’t a walk in the park either. Just because a query doesn’t have ‘buy’ or ‘book’ in the string doesn’t mean that it’s an informational intent type query.

It’s only when you begin to dig in to your conversion data locally that you’ll even begin to notice, and even when you have your aha moment you’ll be none the wiser as to how to fix it.

In short, the only fix that matters is, to gain increased visibility for your commercial intent queries, and the only way you are going to do that in “Google Four Ad slots” is to buy ads.

Sure, you can up your activity in your other channels and up your efforts targeting queries of lesser commercial intent and create more wow moments in your PR and general marketing efforts but make no mistake. Those organic opportunities are continually diminishing as Google seek to eat more of that organic pie.

For those interested, it might also be interesting to take a little look at CTR generally and look at a few of the tactics Google has taken over the years.

Looking at CTR historically

If you look at click throughs around positions over the years you’ll see that it’s an interesting picture. Many of us will have read the various click through studies  detailing how pos #1 gets x % position #2 y% position #3 z% tailing off the further you go down the SERP.

Here’s an old  graph from Internet Marketing Ninjas showing the optify data

This is old of course and came from the days when there was a max of two ads above the fold at the top.

However, it does show the general picture and variations over the years show similar curves and it’s pretty safe to say that with the advances in PPC ads since (smart links, stars, better ad copy, blah blah) that those numbers and their respective share has likely diminished since as ad clicks, knowledge graph type distractions have gained click share.

Eye tracking and clicks

Heatmaps show us that generally, much of our attention is taken by the space above the fold.

A page loads, we scan it, see what we need and click it and many of the studies produced have helped inform ad placement, nav placement, button placement and the like.

This eye tracking study below shows the google of old 2005 and the google of  2015.  The golden triangle versus the um…red guy with no arms and legs.

2005 versus 2015

What’s really interesting is the whole background colour change in the ad slot in the image to the right. Note the background is some kind of distinctive yellowish colour.

Do a search today, and that colour distinction is no longer there. The only differentiator is the word “Ad” and that’s diluted by other distractions like ad links and gold stars.

four ads hotels in london
four ads hotels in london

Many of the features that Google used to show for its organic results, user rating stars for example are now seen in its ads, but increasingly, not in its organic results.

It would seem that increasingly in the organic portion, attention is taken away at every opportunity. One could be forgiven for concluding that Google sought to confuse the consumer by continually shifting such features around and blurring the lines between organic and paid. After all, we aren’t stupid are we? We don’t need to see the ads with a clearly defined different background colour, do we.

Some might say that it would appear that if it’s commercial and you monetise it, then the Google of today wants you to pay for those clicks.

For businesses looking to seek visibility for commercial queries, they are effectively a pay for inclusion engine today. If you want visibility, then they want you to pay for it.

It’s a risk laden strategy. Altavista did the same in 1998 and killed itself.

Users didn’t want ads shoved in their faces and users left in droves, enticed by the thing that was all Googley.

Google aren’t stupid and have learnt from the mistakes of their predecessors. They do lots of testing and use feature creep to change things. Revolutionaries they are not.

I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions around the bait and switch tactics and overlaps of paid serps versus organics. There’s no reason why they’d seduce users with rich snippets, only to snatch them away and leave them hanging around in their paid results, no reason at all.

If you are seeing similar things in your campaigns, decreased conversions whilst organic traffic has increased, and it fits in with these date ranges, do let me know in the comments.

Postscript

Just to be clear, I didn’t personally identify the reason for reduced conversions. A team member at the client put forward the hypothesis and the whole 4 ad slot scenario seems to fit. I’d love to say who that is, but client confidentially and all that stuff… Hat tip Nick!

 

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