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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
If the words are not on the page then you are unlikely to rank
Fact is that for many businesses serving local communities today in September 2016 , 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 bit mad and 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 market.
For 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 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 Organic SERP
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 Carousel of Hope
They 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.
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.
Few local businesses appear, and the two that do is made up of a 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
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 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 Pokemon Go for Local Business Purposes
But I’m not here to talk about those, I’m here to continue with the local business angle touched upon by Forbes.
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 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.
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!
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
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.
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.
The guys at verve search have an excellent run down of the considerations involved so do check out their post.
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.
The code that makes that happen can be viewed below
<meta name=”twitter:title” content=”Plan your travels from Bayeux France to La Rochelle France” />
<meta name=”twitter:card” content=”summary_large_image“>
<meta name=”twitter:site” content=”@distantias” />
<meta name=”twitter:creator” content=”@distantias” />
<meta name=”twitter:image” content=”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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
The YouTube copy which we know to date has generated 5 million plus page views also acquired (according to AHREFS) 656 backlinks
A write up by aleteia.org generated 48 (according to AHREFS) backlinks to the url
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Interruption Is The Prelude to Engagement
“Don’t interrupt, it’s rude” at least that’s what I’d hear when I was little.
So eventually, you learn how to interrupt in a way that isn’t rude. You do so with timing, with skill and grace that reads the right moment and has the most impact. No point barging in all guns blazing, you’ll be heard but you won’t be really, people will switch off and carry on. You’ll get no engagement.
So, most of the time, I really don’t like ads. It’s mainly me, a little cynical at times. It’s an over 40’s thing.
I’ve been known to sit there and curse when they interrupt my favourite TV show, or when they stemmed a flow of really good tunes on some cool radio station or on my Spotify cheapo account when I had one.
If I had a list of pet hates they might go something like this.
- Happy Background Chirpy Builder Whistle tunes as some mellifluous sounding voice actor does the whole reasons to buy this product schtick
- The Hijacking of a great old tune I love to promote a product I don’t really care about.
- Charity ads that play mournful music as the next sad deserving case is rolled out full of desperate imagery of a life painted extreme
- Ads that use ringtones or factors of technology I own that make me reach for my phone or look door wards thinking the doorbell has rang
- Ads that use stereotypes to reinforce a perception via accents for example
- The John Lewis Ad.
- Ads that prey on the vulnerable – Loans, Insurance etc
- Ads that tell big fibs
- Ads that promote controversial products and use sex and style and the desire to be exclusive as part of their appeal – Vaping ads being one very recent type that makes me snarl.
- Quit smoking ads and their disgusting visuals
Of course, many of us seem to like them, I’ve heard friends sing renditions of Go Compare adverts, I’ve had a friend mimic the Flake ad in humourous mockery and who hasn’t had a friend use the word “Simples”!? Crikey, I myself have been guilty of singing the We Buy Any Car ad in a Nelson Mandela accent. Any, any, any…
There’s no getting away from them really.
You can turn off the tv or switch over (like many of us do) or watch stuff on catch up and FF the ad breaks, make a cup of tea (that’s four cups in an episode of Jekyll and Hyde or Homeland) yet unless you’re profoundly hard of hearing then their ear worms will continue to get through to your brain. Sheer volume and weight of numbers over time means they’ll find a way through.
They certainly work else, we wouldn’t see them anymore.
Look at the analytics packages of a big brand that uses TV or Radio and you’ll see little spikes in web traffic. Look at the social media platforms for ads that the ad lovers like and you’ll see #tags and reposts and poses and skits and all sorts.
I’ll even confess to having a soft spot for the Malteser cup cake ad, but only because it’s genuinely funny and I fancy the lead.
And I guess that ultimately, that’s the thing isn’t it? Interrupting people sufficiently to gain their attention has to be packaged in all manner of ways to suit different styles and tastes. One man’s meat is another man’s poison after all.
I’m certainly no great ad creator but I do have an inkling for the processes that are at work. It isn’t so difficult to work it all out if you stop to think about the ads and what they are trying to do. And if they aren’t funny or interesting or visually and/or audibly appealing or sexy or ear wormy or shocking or endearing or otherwise noteworthy then they’ll have no impact.
A good ad will of course be memorable for all sorts of reasons – they’ll have impact and make a mark and leave us with an impression of the brand and the message that will linger. It’s a whole lot easier to achieve with a well thought out tv ad and that’s probably why they’re usually the preserve of big brands with the scope and budget to monetise them. They get to interrupt us when we are at our most pervious, when we are at home relaxing, watching our favourite things, off guard.
Online marketers do get to do the same of course.
They get to interrupt people virtually 24/7 via desktop computers, tablets, watches and phones via app alerts, emails, well crafted headlines and snippets that appear in the SERPS, content shared across social media, retargeted ad creatives that follow users around the web.
Those that do it correctly, get an engagement, get that all important piece of attention, that opportunity to convert the user and encourage a repeat transaction – but it all starts with an interruption of sorts, if it’s annoying, then you’re doing it wrong or they’re just not your audience.
Hat tip to Mr Trott for the thought train.