12 SEO tips for large ecommerce websites

Approaching SEO for large ecommerce sites can be overwhelming.

With more pages than you can even get your head around and issues like product variants, complex filtering systems and expired products, SEO for ecommerce sites requires a different kind of SEO strategy.

Let’s be clear: all of the same keyword research and onsite optimization practices apply to ecommerce sites as they would for your standard brochure site. That’s the first step in the process, and we won’t cover those points here.

However, for ecommerce sites, it’s necessary to take things a step (or ten) further. In this post, we share our SEO tips for large ecommerce sites. Optimization for ecommerce takes time, but we’ll also provide tips to help streamline the process without scrimping.

Here goes…

Ensure your site is on HTTPS

Safety first! Although this falls under general optimization for all sites, switching to HTTPS is particularly important for ecommerce sites. With exchanges of personal details and users trusting you with highly sensitive payment information, security is of the utmost importance.

As well as ensuring that your SSL certificate is correctly implemented, make sure to be transparent in communicating your security compliance to users.

Provide detailed information on the steps you have taken to offer utmost levels of security, and display any relevant logos to demonstrate that you comply with certain security standards.

Optimize category pages

Now that your website is more secure than Fort Knox, it’s time to focus on optimizing those all-important category pages. These are the pages on which to target those top-level keywords and should be high traffic generators.

Category pages often flop due to issues with thin content. Text is frequently left by the wayside in favor of showcasing the products. However, this approach is potentially catastrophic in terms of rankings. It always pays to have at least a solid paragraph of copy to describe the category.

To further bolster the ranking potential of your category pages, try to focus your link-building campaign on generating links to them. Since the category pages serve as gateways to your products, it is a good idea to prioritize these in your site optimization efforts.

Optimize product pages

Product pages can cause a real headache for optimization. The same issues often occur for the products pages as they do for the category pages – except there are tons more product pages to deal with. Think thin content, duplicate content, and non-existent metadata.

A good place to start is with the product descriptions. Get into the habit of writing unique descriptions for each product. It can be tempting to copy and paste the description from the manufacturer, but this means placing duplicate content on your site. And that’s SEO suicide.

SEO aside, don’t forget that these descriptions are fundamental in actually selling the product and increasing conversions. Try to tell a story with the description – make it interesting, enticing and in line with your brand personality. Speed up the process by devising a format for the product descriptions.

For example, one format could specify a title, short description, bullet point list of features, and a final note on the product. This will ensure consistency and also speed up the content creation process for your writers.

Consider including user-generated content on the product pages, including social media mentions and reviews. This will provide social signals, as well as helping to increase conversions and bring further unique content to the page.

Don’t forget to write unique title tags based on careful keyword research. Again, it’s worth creating a standard format for these titles, for ease and consistency. Enticing meta descriptions may not help you rank higher but they will increase click-throughs from the SERPs. Try to include popular, eye-catching words or phrases, such as ‘free delivery’, ‘buy now’ ‘sale’, ‘reduced’ or ‘new’.

If you have thousands of products then you’ll need to prioritize. You may be an SEO whizz, but you’re not Superman/Wonder Woman/insert superhero of choice. Adopt a top-down approach and start by optimizing the most popular products first.

Product variants

One of the questions we get asked a lot is what on earth to do about product variants. By this we mean different styles, sizes, colours and models of one product. If flicking between these different options generates a new URL for each variant, then you’ll be running into some serious duplicate content and keyword cannibalization issues.

So what’s the fix? The best approach is to display options where the user can change the color, size or model but without the URL changing in the process. The exception to this would be if different colors or other variables are crucial to the product and will rank separately in the SERPs.

Ultimately, though, you don’t want these pages to be competing with each other. If you do have different product variants, then be sure to canonicalize the main product version.

‘Purchase intent’ keywords

We’re not going to provide a complete guide to keyword research in this post. But what we will say is this: be sure to include plenty of purchase intent keywords, e.g. ‘Buy [insert product]’.

Users typing in such search terms are likely to be further down the sales funnel and therefore more likely to convert. Remember that SEO is not just about driving traffic; it’s about driving conversions, and therefore revenue.

Images

Let’s not forget the images: humans are visual animals at the end of the day. Deploy only the highest quality images to entice potential customers. Ensure product images are not too large or they could slow the page speed.

Plus, don’t forget the importance of image search – add appropriate alternative text to all images.

Be wary of filters

The vast majority of ecommerce sites have some form of filtering system to help users find the products most relevant to them. Although these are super handy for the user, the trouble is that some filtering systems generate unique URLs for every type of filter search.

What’s so bad about that? Well, it means that one site could have thousands and thousands of indexed pages, all with duplicate content issues. As a result, it can make your site look frighteningly like a content farm in the eyes of Google’s pet Panda.

Check Google Search Console to see how many pages have been indexed for your site. If the number is unfathomably high then the best solution is to add a meta robots tag with parameters noindex, follow to the filtered pages. It will lead to these pages being dropped from the index, and you’ll no longer have to lose sleep over them.

Expired or out of stock items

One of the key issues with ecommerce sites is that products come and go a lot. There’s no need to remove out of stock items from the site, as you could be missing out on valuable search traffic.

Instead, leave the product page live, but specify when the product is due back in stock and provide similar options in the meantime.

If a product expires and will no longer be sold then you’ll need to remove the page. However, do not forget to redirect the page! Set up a permanent 301 redirect for a newer version of the product, a similar product, or to the relevant category page.

Site architecture

Providing seamless internal navigation is essential not only for good user experience but also to help Google crawl and index your site. Ensure that categories are linked to from the homepage and that products are linked to from the category pages.

Provide links to products in blog content in order to continue the user journey and funnel them towards making a purchase. Try to link any new products from the homepage, as it will increase their chances of being indexed quicker by Google and getting found faster by users.

Breadcrumbs are also an important addition, as they ensure that every part of the user’s path is clickable. This helps users navigate back to parent categories as quickly and easily as possible. Plus, they also appear in Google’s search results, giving users an immediate overview of the site structure.

Pay attention to URLs

With large ecommerce sites, it’s all too easy for URLs to get overly complex. Keep them clean and ditch parameters to ensure they are devoid of jumbled, nonsensical characters.

Be neat and tidy by sticking to lower case letters, utilizing hyphens instead of underscores and keeping them short but sweet.

Schema for product pages

Adding schema markup to your product pages is absolutely crucial for improving the appearance of your site in the SERPs. Enhanced results means greater click-throughs.

There are two types of schema that you should add to your products: product schema and review schema.

Each product page should use the same template and therefore have a consistent layout. This means you can add schema markup to the template using microdata and the schema will be generated for each new product page.

Just make sure that you regularly test your schema using Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool, and if you’re new to it all, then utilize Google’s Markup Helper.

Monitoring

As with any SEO strategy, you need to be continually monitoring and analyzing the results. This is even more important for ecommerce sites, due to the scale and constant changing of products.

Stay on top of identifying broken links and error pages. Analyse what’s working and what’s not, note popular keywords and pages, and address those not performing well for organic search. For the best results, it’s always worth engaging in some A/B testing – whether this is for keywords, product description formats or images.

There’s no doubt that SEO for large ecommerce sites is time-consuming. That’s why so many ecommerce sites don’t have the level of optimization they should, which presents a fantastic opportunity for those who are willing to put in the grind. Small, incremental changes can make a big difference.

Related reading

6 common international SEO fails and how to avoid them

If you already run an international website or have international expansion on your road map, there are several common SEO issues which can hold back your success.

In this article we’ll look at six international SEO mistakes that you could be making, to help you look out for and avoid them on your site.

Domains

One mistake we see with people taking their first step into an international market is not considering the current domain they have.

If you have a .co.uk domain name, for example, you will need to consider getting a new domain for each market you go into, as a .co.uk won’t perform as well in international search engines as it is a UK-focused ccTLD.

IP serving

This is something which, from a development point of view, sounds like the perfect fix. Automatically redirecting people to the correct international version of your website based on their IP address, and so location, does sound really useful.

In its truest form, IP serving cannot be overwritten and a user in a specific country will always be redirected to the site for that country. There are, however, a number of reasons why this isn’t always the right approach to take.

Firstly, you can’t assume that all users in a particular location are from that country. If your IP serving can’t be overwritten by a user, this will mean that anyone in a particular country will be forced to use the site in that language/currency, which doesn’t then take into consideration someone who is travelling or not native to the country in question. This isn’t a great user experience.

The second issue of IP serving is that it will affect your SEO, as search engines aren’t able to crawl your site from every country you may cover. As a result, you will find that your international sites won’t perform as well in the search engines as you would expect.

On many occasions I’ve seen websites with IP serving being used which have real issues in their visibility, with the wrong website appearing in the search results. Google in particular, has real issues with this and I’ve seen local and US sites swapping in the search results on a weekly basis.

I’ve also seen brands who use IP serving, having to buy local language ads in a market to make up for the fact that their local language site doesn’t show up in the search results.

Below is an example of the US Calvin Klein website showing as the top search result for a brand search in Sweden. This is because they use IP serving, and Google is following this to the US site only.

Assuming English is OK

Another big issue for people taking the first steps into an international market is assuming English is OK for certain markets. Common assumptions in this area include assuming that English is OK for the Scandinavian countries, because they all speak English right?

Depending on what the purpose of your website is, this approach might not work. For example, B2B brands looking to encourage people to make a large financial commitment, or high-end retailers, might want to avoid doing this. Generally, the more people are spending the more they will want to see content in their own language, they are investing in you, so you should invest in them.

The other issue with this assumption is that the users in your international markets are more likely to be searching in their local language and not in English, so even if they are comfortable purchasing from you in English, they might not find your site as they will be searching for your products or services in their local language.

Automatic translation

Moving on from using English, some people think the easiest way to implement translation on a website is to use some form of automated translation tool. This is not recommended.

Firstly, these translations, while often dictionary perfect, don’t necessarily reflect how people in any given market speak, they may also miss the nuances of search behavior which could result in you losing out on using words on your website which potential customers are using.

For example, the dictionary correct German word for tickets (such as attraction tickets) is ‘Karten’ but we find there is often more search volume around this topic using the English word ‘Ticket’ in the German market.

Another note on Google Translate as a plugin on your site; although the Google translate tool is super useful it doesn’t change anything on your website which Google the search engine will see.

This means that the translated content it creates in every possible language, isn’t indexed in Google’s results and so does not help you to become findable in the search results when someone searches for you in Brazilian Portuguese, for example.

Getting the language wrong

This is the worst-case scenario, and thankfully something I’ve only seen a handful of times to it’s worst extent. This is the process of completely missing the language you should be using.

A few years back I was reviewing a website which was looking to promote its business into Hong Kong. The website was well put together, and all their SEO was in place and working well. The images were showing local people and the content was all in Chinese.

The issue was that the content was all in Simplified Chinese. Simplified Chinese is used in mainland China. For Hong Kong, the target market of this website, the language should have been Traditional Chinese.

Smaller less dramatic examples of this are forgetting that sometimes users are separated by a common language. Everyone knows the trite “differences” between English for the US and the UK (use of S or Z in some words and whether or not there is a U present in other words).

There are other differences which you need to be aware of depending on the products you are selling.  For example, Egg Plants vs Aubergines and Football vs Soccer.

Hreflang tags

This is one of the biggest areas where people experience problems with their international website strategy. In fact, John Mueller from Google said in February that Hreflang tags are hard!

I’ve seen some humorous attempts at getting the tags right in my time, including people making up countries (Arabia for example) or trying to target an English language .eu domain to every country in Europe with something like 23 individual tags!

There are number of things to watch out for with these tags, mainly around making sure you format the code correctly, don’t make up language and country combinations and that you aren’t linking through to pages which are different from those in your canonical tag, or broken pages!

These are just some of the biggest fails I’ve seen over the years, but hopefully enough to give you a clue as to what you should be avoiding with your website.

Like all SEO, when going international it’s important to make sure that things are right from day one but to keep an eye on things to make sure no issues creep in over time. Your international websites can help your brand grow and get more business, but only if they are set up correctly and nurtured.

Related reading

7 Google Tag Manager courses to prioritize in 2018

If you love data (and what marketing expert doesn’t?), then learning Google Tag Manager should be high on your priority list this year.

Unfortunately, many spend so much time on Google Analytics that GTM gets pushed to the wayside. Google Tag Manager (GTM) is a powerful, versatile tool that helps you track and manage your own website data.

Since understanding analytics is increasingly important for businesses of all sizes, there’s no better time to start learning GTM than right now.

So what exactly does Google Tag Manager do for you? In a nutshell, this tool lets you easily add snippets of code called tags to your site. These tags track things your visitors do.

For instance, you could set up tags to track how many people download a specific file, which channels bring visitors to your site, and even how quickly visitors scroll through your pages. The tags then send your information to your third-party sites of choice, such as Google Analytics or Bing Ads.

The GTM web interface is easy to use and requires no in-depth coding skills, so you can stay on top of your tracking without relying on your web developer to do everything for you.

Getting started with Google Tag Manager isn’t always an intuitive process. You’ll probably want to seek out some training instead of trying to figure things out as you go.

Whether you’re brand-new to this tool or you have some basic knowledge about it already, here are seven courses that will help you get the hang of GTM and take charge of your data.

1. The 2018 Google Analytics Bootcamp on Udemy

If you’re not sure where to start learning GTM, the 2018 Google Analytics Bootcamp on Udemy is a great place to begin. I’ve found that this course is unique among the many other Google Analytics courses out there because it doesn’t just teach you the basics of Google Analytics – it also shows you how to combine that tool with Google Tag Manager.

GTM is essential for making the most of Google Analytics, yet many marketers don’t learn it until long after they’ve mastered the GA basics. Learning both together is a smart way to ensure you make quick progress right out of the gate.

The 2018 Google Analytics Bootcamp on Udemy will get you up to speed with both Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager

If you know a little bit about Google Analytics already, but you want to start getting more out of it, you will most likely find this course helpful. You’ll learn how to set up a Google Analytics property the right way, read and understand reports, and track different kinds of data using Google Tag Manager.

If you’re an intermediate-level marketer, some of this course’s Google Analytics information may be familiar to you already, but it’s still a great introduction to GTM.

I was able to get this course during a Udemy sale for less than the original cost, and with the course you’ll get lifetime access to three hours of instructional videos, several supplemental resources, and a certificate of completion.

Udemy has frequent sales, so if this price is a little steep for you now, keep an eye on the course – you may be able to snag it at a discount later.

2. Google Tag Manager Fundamentals course by Google

If you’re just getting started with Google Tag Manager, why not go straight to the source for information?

Google’s own course provides a solid and comprehensive overview of using GTM. And like Google’s other analytics courses, this course is free. Just keep in mind that you’ll probably want to combine this course with at least one other.

This will ensure you get a well-rounded perspective on GTM.

After you finish the Google Tag Manager Fundamentals course, you can brush up on your skills with some of Google’s other free courses

3. Google Tag Manager Essential Training on Lynda.com

If you’ve ever browsed through Lynda.com’s extensive library of tech-related videos, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that they offer a Google Tag Manager course.

This course is just over two hours long and provides an overview of the most important aspects of using GTM, from creating containers to understanding the data layer.

Google Tag Manager Essential Training on Lynda.com

If you don’t already have a Lynda.com subscription, prices start at $25/month. You may also be able to get free access to the site through your workplace, school, or public library.

4. Google Tag Manager YouTube Series by Weboq

YouTube can be a great place to learn about almost anything, including Google Tag Manager.

If you’re a beginner or intermediate-level marketer, you may find Weboq’s GTM playlist very useful, even though it’s not a course per se. This playlist starts with the basics and tackles more complex topics later on.

If you want to learn to do something specific with GTM – like installing Hotjar or remarketing with AdWords, for instance – you’ll find plenty of specific, step-by-step how-tos here.

Weboq’s Google Tag Manager YouTube playlist starts with the basics

5. Google Tag Manager Tutorials on YouTube by Measureschool

Measureschool’s channel is another good resource for learning about Google Tag Manager on YouTube. There’s a lot of content here, directed towards a wide range of skill levels – beginners as well as advanced users will be able to find something helpful.

This channel is updated with new videos regularly, so if you like the material, check back for fresh GTM tips and tutorials every week or two.

Measureschool publishes new Google Tag Manager tutorials on YouTube regularly

6. Master the Fundamentals of Google Tag Manager by CXL

This results-oriented course, led by marketing expert Chris Mercer, is designed to take you from beginner to proficient in GTM in just eight classes.

Starting from the very first class, which walks you through setting up a tag, you’ll practice essential hands-on GTM skills. This course also gives you access to 10 video lessons that explain the more conceptual side of GTM, such as understanding what tags, triggers, and variables are.

After you finish the course, you’ll get a certificate of completion. This course is on the pricey side at $299, but if you’re motivated and want to see results ASAP, it may be worth the cost.

CXL’s beginner-level Google Tag Manager course will get you up and running in eight classes

7. Google Tag Manager Workshop by LunaMetrics

Online classes are convenient and accessible, but sometimes, the ability to ask questions and discuss new concepts in person is priceless.

If you learn best in a real-life classroom environment, LunaMetrics’ in-person GTM training sessions might be ideal for you. These day-long workshops are offered in major cities across the U.S., from Los Angeles to Boston.

Cities where LunaMetrics holds training sessions for Google Tag Manager, Google Analytics, and more. Source

Prices start at $799 for a one-day workshop. While this isn’t a cheap way to learn Google Tag Manager, keep in mind that you’re also getting a unique opportunity to network with other marketers and collaborate while you learn – something that’s hard to replicate over the internet.

Wrapping up

Google Tag Manager is a must-have tool for every marketer and data-savvy webmaster out there. While it has a bit of a learning curve, GTM opens up tons of possibilities for tracking and improving your site’s performance, so it’s well worth putting in the time and effort to learn how to use it.

Which of these Google Tag Manager courses are you going to focus on this year?

 

Amanda DiSilvestro is a writer for No Risk SEO, an all-in-one reporting platform for agencies. You can connect with Amanda on Twitter and LinkedIn, or check out her content services at amandadisilvestro.com.

Related reading

Image of a person typing on a laptop with paper and pens by the side, and a variety of different analytics icons sketched above it, such as graphs, charts and a clipboard.

Experts agree: Social media is ineffective in local link building

As anyone who’s tried to develop links to a local business will know, the link building game for local SEO is a very different beast to standard link building.

For a start, Domain Authority isn’t as critical as local relevance. Then there’s the realization that nofollow links are actually fine and really do count towards brand awareness.

When working on local link building, you notice that the biggest successes can be achieved by establishing connections in the local community; something that has the added, knock-on effect of improving how the local business looks in the eyes of the community.

These are things that are tried and tested, but now also verified in BrightLocal’s latest survey of local SEO experts on link building. The company asked 20 leading lights in the local SEO industry which local link building tactics worked for them, along with a host of other questions designed to give the wider industry an insight into best practices.

Links in social profiles count for nothing, nada, zip, zilch

(Respondents were allowed to pick their top three link sources)

A lot of what was found reinforces reasonably common knowledge. For example, it was unanimously agreed that links from social profiles don’t count a jot towards search rankings (see above).

Here we can see that the most active and regularly updated community and news sites are seen as the most valuable by the panel of experts. High domain authority sites are obviously helpful but it’s clear that this element isn’t as important to rankings as local relevance.

Although links from citation sites weren’t seen as particularly important to rankings, it’s worth noting that accurate citations are very much a ‘table stakes’, foundational element of local SEO. The links might not count as much toward rankings as they used to, but for reach, awareness, visibility, and getting into the places people look for local businesses, they’re still critical.

Among the reinforcement of common knowledge, there were also several surprises in the survey results. For me, personally, the biggest shock came from seeing how little these experts valued social media in the outreach process.

Don’t share, care

Here’s where things get really interesting. As you can see above, 60% of the panel of 20 experts agreed that sharing on social media is ‘not very valuable’ when trying to build backlinks to local business sites.

This comes as a bit of a surprise, as social media is now one of the key ways that content creators and PR people can get their work into the hands of influencers in the local community, so I would imagine this would work as a tactic for local link building.

After seeing these results, though, I’ve reconsidered my position. This is again an area where local link building differs from standard link building, and it’s all down to the people you’re trying to get links from.

With non-local link building, you can generally assume that the people you’re trying to connect with will view social media as as relevant a communications channel as networking or email.

However, if you’re trying to build links to a local business, the sorts of places you’ll be trying to get links from (smaller, community websites, church groups, local charities) are more likely to be a bit ‘old-school’ and prefer a knock on the door, an in-person meeting, a phone call or an email over the more impersonal use of social media.

Instead, you can see above that that sponsoring charities and organizations is considered the number one strategy for local link building. So the takeaway is simple: don’t share, care.

Want to succeed with local link building outreach? Go old-school

(Respondents were allowed to pick their top three link sources)

The assumption that local community sites prefer non-social forms of contact is firmly backed up by what the local SEO experts said were the most effective forms of link building outreach. As you can see above, relatively few felt that Twitter and LinkedIn outreach was effective, and Facebook outreach was an absolute non-starter.

Instead, the survey found that short, personal emails (closely followed by more detailed, personal emails) were the most effective way to do outreach for local links. In the middle we have other, more traditional outreach tactics like slow-burn relationship building, relationships through events, and phone outreach.

It’s funny to think that what matters here is not so much the content of the outreach message, it’s the platform. You could feasibly write exactly the same short, personal message in an email as in a Twitter direct message or LinkedIn InMail, but these apparently won’t be as effective as writing it in an email.

Of course, the content plays a huge part, but when the experts agree that email is the way to go, it’s hard to conceive of a reason to use social media over email when embarking on an outreach campaign.

Quality trumps quantity

Finally, I’d just like to touch on link traits. A question many ask is whether quality or quantity of links is more important when it comes to link building. In the above chart, we can see that quality of links trumps quantity in a big way. In fact, 90% of respondents agreed that quality or authority of links are ‘highly valuable’ when local link building.

Of course, quality is a big factor when it comes to non-local SEO, too, but it’s interesting to see that diversity of link sources (root domains) isn’t seen as quite as important, while in non-local SEO the diversity of your linking root domains is a critical factor.

This is just another way that those experienced in non-local SEO need to adapt their strategy when tackling the more niche practice of local link building.

Conclusion

I’ve discussed some of the things I found most surprising in this research, but there are plenty of other areas covered that should give local SEOs pause. For example, all experts agreed that local link building will not get any easier in the coming year.

One thing to take away, for sure, is that local SEOs shouldn’t be putting too much focus on using social media to get backlinks to local business websites, and instead they should be focusing on developing real, personal relationships using the comparatively ‘old-school’ method of email.

It looks like it may well be a tricky year for local SEO, but hopefully, with the raft of updates Google is making to Google My Business, and the renewed focus the search engine has on local SEO, it could also be very interesting, too!

Related reading

5 advanced Google AdWords features to enhance your PPC

advanced PPC features

Google AdWords is a highly effective marketing channel for brands to engage with customers.

The auction-based pay-per-click (PPC) model has revolutionized the advertising industry, but beneath the seductive simplicity of this input-output relationship lies a highly sophisticated technology.

Within this article, we round up five advanced features that can help you gain that vital competitive advantage.

Google AdWords has undergone a host of changes over the past 12 months, some cosmetic and some functional. Google’s prime revenue-driver has a new, intuitive look and feel that makes it even easier for marketers to assess performance and spot new opportunities.New-Adwords-InterfaceUnder the hood, AdWords is home to some increasingly sophisticated machine learning technology. Everything from bid adjustments to audience behavior and even search intent is now anlyzed by machine learning algorithms to improve ad targeting and performance.

All of this is changing how we run search campaigns, largely for the better.

Meanwhile, there are broad trends that continue to converge with search. Voice-activated digital assistants, visual search, and the ongoing growth of ecommerce all center around Google’s search engine.

At the intersection of Google and these emerging trends, paid search will evolve and new ways to reach audiences will arise.

Though this future-gazing reveals just how exciting the industry is, marketers also need to keep one eye firmly on the present.

As it stands, AdWords provides a vast array of features, all of which can impact campaign performance. Though automation is taking over more aspects of the day-to-day running of an account, there is arguably more need than ever before for seasoned paid search experts how know how to get the most out of the platform.

Below are five advanced AdWords features that can boost any PPC campaign.

Demographic targeting

For all of AdWords’ virtues, it has not been able to rival Facebook in terms of sheer quantity of demographic targeting options.

As part of Google’s ongoing shift from a keyword focus to a customer-centric approach, demographic targeting has improved very significantly.

This feature now allows advertisers to target customers by income and parental status, along with gender and age. Targeting by income is only available for video advertising and is restricted to the U.S., Japan, Australia, and New Zealand for the moment.

Nonetheless, this is a noteworthy update and provides an advanced feature that many brand will welcome.

The available options now include:

Demographic targeting for Search, Display or Video campaigns:

  • Age: “18-24,” “25-34,” “35-44,” “45-54,” “55-64,” “65 or more,” and “Unknown”
  • Gender: “Female,” “Male,” and “Unknown”

Demographic targeting for Display or Video campaigns can include:

  • Parental status: “Parent,” “Not a parent,” and “Unknown”

Demographic targeting for Video campaigns can include:

  • Household income (currently available in the U.S., Japan, Australia, and New Zealand only): “Top 10%,” “11-20%,” “21-30%,” “31-40%,” “41-50%,” “Lower 50%,” and “Unknown”

Combined with the improved user interface, this can lead to some illuminating reports that highlight more detail about audiences than we have ever seen in this platform.

It’s not perfect yet and has some drawbacks in practice, as creating audiences can be quite labor-intensive when combining different filters. Nonetheless, demographic targeting is improving and will be an area of focus for Google this year.

Our previous article on demographic targeting goes into more detail on how to set this feature up.

Click-to-call

A very natural byproduct of the increase in mobile searches has been an explosion in the number of calls attributed to paid search.

In fact, BIA/Kelsey projects that there will be 162 billion calls to businesses from smartphones by 2019.

click-to-call

Search forms a fundamental part of this brand-consumer relationship, so businesses are understandably keen to ensure they are set up to capitalize on such heightened demand.

Click-to-call can be an overlooked opportunity, as it does require a little bit of setup. If advertisers want to add call extensions, report specifically on this activity, and even schedule when these extensions appear, it is necessary to do this manually within AdWords.

reporting

Helpfully, it is now possible to enable call extensions across an account, simplfying what was once a cumbersome undertaking.

This is becoming an automated process in some aspects, whereby Google will identify landing pages that contain a phone number and generate call extensions using this information. However, some manual input will be required to get the most out of this feature.

Our step-by-step guide contains a range of handy tips for marketers who woud like to enable click-to-call campaigns.

Optimized ad rotation

Google made some very notable changes to its ad rotation settings in the second half of 2017.

In essence, ad rotation constantly tests different ad variations to find the optimal version for your audience and campaign KPIs.

Google’s machine learning technology is a natural fit for such a task, so it is no surprise that Google wants to take much of the ad rotation process out of the hands of advertisers and turn it into a slick, automated feature.

Perhaps this focus on the machine learning side of things has led advertisers to beleive that the process now requires no input from them.

A recent study by Marin Software across their very sizeable client base found that many ad groups contain fewer than three creatives:

Ad rotation

This is very significant, as Google recommends providing at least three ads in every ad group. Their official stance is, “The more of your ads our system can choose from, the better the expected ad performance.”

Creating a range of ads provides the resources Google needs to run statistically significant tests. No matter how sophisticated the machine learning algorithms are, with only one or two ads in each group there is very little they can do to improve performance.

There is a broader lesson to be taken here, beyond just getting the most out of this AdWords feature.

Even the most advanced technology requires the right quantity and quality of inputs. Although more and more elements of AdWords management can be automated, this doesn’t mean we can leave the machines to their own devices.

There are plentiful best practices that we still need to follow. Optimizing your ad rotation by including at least three ads in each group certainly counts as one of these.

Custom intent audiences

Google is clearly making a play for more of the traditionally ‘top of funnel’ marketing approaches.

The launch of more granular custom intent audiences with the Google Display Network is part of a wider strategy to take on the likes of Facebook by providing greater control over target audiences.

Google’s guidelines provide clear definition over how this recently launched feature works:

For Display campaigns, you can create a custom intent audience using in-market keywords – simply entering keywords and URLs related to products and services your ideal audience is researching across sites and apps.

In-market keywords (Display campaigns)

  • Enter keywords, URLs, apps or YouTube content to reach an online audience that’s actively researching a related product or service.
  • It’s best practice to add keywords and URLs (ideally 15 total) that fit a common theme to help AdWords understand your ideal audience.
  • Avoid entering URLs that require people to sign in, such as social media or email services.
  • Include keywords related to the products and services that this audience is researching; these will be used as the focal point for building the custom intent audience.

Custom intent audiences: Auto-created (Display campaigns)

To make finding the right people easy, Google uses machine learning technology to analyse your existing campaigns and auto-create custom intent audiences. These audiences are based on the most common keywords and URLs found in content that people browse while researching a given product or service.

For example, insights from existing campaigns may show that people who’ve visited a sporting goods website have also actively researched all-weather running shoes. AdWords may then auto-create a new ‘waterproof trail running shoes’ custom intent audience to simplify the process of reaching this niche segment of customers.

Once more, we see the addition of machine learning into a core Google product.

These automated audience lists are generated based on activity across all of your Google marketing channels, including YouTube and Universal App Campaigns, along with Search and the Google Display Network.

Although this does not yet provide the level of targeting that Facebook can offer, custom intent audiences do dramatically improve the product and they move Google closer to a truly customer-centric approach.

Sophisticated advertisers will find thata this advanced feature improves performance for both prospecting and remarketing.

Smart bidding

Smart bidding has some crossover with the other AdWords features on our list. In a nutshell, smart bidding uses machine learning to asses the relationships between a range of variables and improve performance through the AdWords auction.

It is capable of optimizing bids to ensure the best possible return on investment against the advertiser’s target KPIs. Smart bidding does this by looking at the context surrounding bids and isolating the factors that have historically led to specific outcomes. Based on this knowledge, it can automatically bid at the right level to hit the advertiser’s campaign targets.

These targets can be set based on a target CPA (cost per acquisition), ROAS (return on ad spend), or CPC (cost per click).

The latest option available to brands is named ‘maximize conversions’ and this will seek to gain the optial number of conversions (whatver those may be for the brand in question) against their set budge.

As we have noted already, these algorithms require substantial amounts of data, so this is a feature best used by this with an accrual of historical AdWords performance data.

Smart bidding is also not quite a ‘set and forget’ bidding strategy. Some marketers will still prefer the control of manual bidding and it would be fair to say that smart bidding levels the playing field somewhat across all advertisers.

Nonetheless, it is a hugely powerful AdWords feature and can create multiple account performance efficiencies.

Google provides some thorough detail on smart bidding on the Google Support blog.

Related reading

A graphic with the words PPC chat live in pink and blue, framing a conical flask with a brain floating inside it.

How a World-Class Museum Inspires Millions of Followers on Social Media

Every year the British Museum welcomes millions of people through its doors. And on social media they attract equally large crowds—nearly 4 million followers between their Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter handles.

In this episode of our Hootcast podcast, the British Museum’s senior digital marketing manager Kate Carter tells us how they keep their millions of fans engaged on social media.

In this podcast you’ll learn:

  • Storytelling strategies for social media
  • Ways you can challenge and educate your audience
  • How to engage a large following

Press play to hear the show in its entirety, or if you don’t have a set of earbuds handy, read the transcription of our conversation below.

Q&A with the British Museum’s senior digital marketing manager Kate Carter

When you think of a museum you don’t immediately think of social media. So, what is the British Museum’s mission and main goal on social media?

It’s essentially interpreting the museum’s mission, which is we are a museum of the world, for the world. We have over two million years of human history brought together under one roof here in London, which includes some of the greatest cultural achievements of every culture that has ever existed across two million years. We’ve got over eight million objects, a repository of human achievement from across the world.

And so, social is kind of the perfect space really for us to be trying to tell that story. The audience we have across Twitter and Instagram is in the millions. We hope that that will continue to grow. And it’s hugely international; it’s between 80 to 90 percent overseas. So, what we believe we’re doing with social is really fulfilling our mission, which is to bring this world collection to the world.

How do you measure your success on social, what are your KPIs?

It’s something we’re constantly re-evaluating. We started off with the usual metrics around how many followers we have and then trying to make that grow, which is still important.

Increasingly, we’re looking at the number of interactions that we’re generating and the rate of engagement for different platforms. How fast is the growth, how engaged is a percentage of our followers with the content that we’re posting.

We’re benchmarking more and more against our peers as well, so we compare ourselves not just against other museums in London or the U.K., but across the world. We look at who is doing that really well and make sure that we’re constantly trying to be up there amongst the best.

So you’ve gone from measuring social following to also looking at engagement and diving a little bit into competitor analysis as well.

And also looking at our responsiveness, so the customer service part has become an increasingly important, too. We’re now looking at how many people have tweets, you know, when they have questions, how many of those are we replying to, how quickly are we replying, how much added value are we bringing to people by being able to respond to feedback or being able to answer those questions to be able to navigate our website etc.

So, like you said, you’re a museum of the world, for the world, and your social following definitely reflects that. You have over a million followers on Twitter and Facebook and almost a million on Instagram.

We were thinking you likely have two separate audiences, people who come into the museum and they follow you and are fans, and then people who are also fans who may never come and may want to learn about the history you share. How do you balance that experience on social?

It’s really interesting that you define it like that because I guess the way I like to think about it is that everyone in the world is someone who has maybe visited the British Museum once in their lives or potentially will one day visit. And maybe that visit becomes something that we can provide through a virtual reality experience. I don’t believe there’s anyone out there who might be choosing to follow us or engage with us on social who has no intention of ever stepping through our doors in some form.

I like to think of it more as a continuous lifetime relationship that we have with people, that they’re either hoping one day to come or they’re physically here right now, they’re planning their visit onsite. We still get comments from people on Facebook saying I came to that exhibition in 1972 and I had the most amazing time and there’s a lot of nostalgia for that. It can be a really special visit for people.

Yeah for sure. So even the people who may have not come yet you would still consider like an aspirational audience rather than defining that bucket as people who may never come.

Exactly. Because that’s reading into the sentiment that we see in the comments on our content. People talk about how much they’d like to come or how much they loved coming in the past. And so, that’s really informed my way of thinking about that audience. And rather than putting them into a box of assuming that they’ll only have this relationship with us through interacting with our Facebook posts, I like to think that there could be potentially something more substantial that we can offer them.

And like you said even offering like a virtual tour, that in and of itself is a form of visiting the museum.

Exactly.

Do you find since you’ve really ramped up your social, that it’s been an important way for you to reach out to young people to discover the British Museum and learn about historical collections that they might not otherwise see?

Absolutely, we obviously see the trends and audiences that are engaging with us on social that might be different to the ones that we’re picking up through other more traditional methods like surveys.

And by channel there are big differences. So our Instagram audience is, you know, on average much younger than our Facebook audience, which doesn’t mean that we necessarily think about the content differently because we think about people more in terms of their areas of interest rather than grouping them by age. But certainly looking at the youngest end of the spectrum and thinking about how we engage kids and young people; we do a lot of programming around that.

We have an amazing schools and families program. We have the Samsung Digital Discovery Centre in the museum, which has this incredible program of digital-based activities for young people. Increasingly, we’re looking at how we integrate social media into those experiences but also how we use social to better promote them as well.

That’s something that a lot of brands can learn from. I think we get hyperfocused on targeting millennials or a certain age demographic and making assumptions about what they would want to see. So you’ve actually noticed through sharing content that you see a wide range of interest across age groups based on different types of content.

Yeah, exactly. And you receive different audiences for exhibitions we might be putting on, for example a live broadcast we’re doing. You can bring together a community of people who might seem demographically quite diverse by those sort of traditional categories but have a really shared interest, something like history or art is something that does connect across those different segments. There are people here who are real history buffs, who read a lot in their spare time or people who are specialists working in the field, they can all have that shared interest even though they’re in kind of very different places in their lives.

Do you have any channel-specific strategies or tips that you could share?

I think we realized that by becoming more channel-specific, that in itself has made us more successful across the board. A couple of years ago we were in a situation where we were cross-posting a lot. We were thinking about what are we going to share on social media on Wednesday and would adapt that message, like we would edit the characters down to fit it on Twitter. We might think of the image differently for Instagram but essentially we were sharing the same kind of stuff.

Now we plan totally differently. We plan every channel separately as well as thinking about what’s coming up this week, next week, next month etc. We’re also thinking about what does that trajectory look like on Facebook and on Instagram and we do different climatic series of content on the different channels and they really kind of standalone now in a way that I think has helped them all grow and become more engaging.

You do a lot of cool stuff on Facebook and with Facebook Live as well, do you think you could tell us a little bit about that?

Facebook Live has definitely become really important to our strategy. We’re trying to do a lot more live broadcasts. We find that they do something quite special that other video formats don’t do, which is that sense of bringing people together around a moment. And just for that kind of maybe half an hour or something that you’re broadcasting, you know, you manage to bring together thousands of people who are all over the world.

We did a few live events recently where we had comments from people in over 90 countries, which is phenomenal to see. And what we always do is get people to tell us where they’re watching from so you can see comments flooding in from all these different cities and states and countries. I think the audience get a kick out of that as much as we do because it feels exciting to have that sense that somehow these people are collectively experiencing something even though they are in completely different environments.

Would you say that one of your goals is to connect people from around the world, around one central experience or one learning experience?

Yeah, I mean I don’t want to start sounding like we’re Facebook connecting every human on the planet. But yeah, I think there is something about that. And I guess for us it’s that we have such a range of experiences to offer, you know, the content, the collection, from contemporary art to ancient sculpture and everything in between.

We feel like we are in this really privileged position of being able to offer this series of unique experiences that people can choose to come together and be a part of if they follow us and choose to tune in.

What are some ways that you’re using Instagram? Do you do anything with the stories, is it just images? What are your strategies around that?

Yeah I think we’d like to do more with Instagram stories, we’re definitely ramping it up. It’s sort of similar to that realization we had a couple of years ago around being more channel specific. I think that Instagram news feed and Instagram stories are two different channels. Now that we’ve separated them a bit more in our minds that’s really helped with loosening up and being a bit more creative with Instagram Stories. We try to use them to be a bit more playful, a bit more spontaneous. It changes things knowing that it’s only going to last 24 hours and that it’s ephemeral. Whereas, with our feed, there’s a lot more thought that goes into that in terms of the image selection and the length of information we share.

We try and make sure that each post has a really quality story to tell and a visual that’s strong and enduring and that they sit together. We tend to post things in threes so that they have the sense of this automatic journeys, which is quite a considered approach I guess, whereas Instagram stories is, as I say, something that feels much more ephemeral.

I really like the 360 virtual tour that you guys have on your Facebook. Would you mind dabbing a little bit more into that?

Yeah, sure. This has been a collaborative pilot that we’ve done with Oculus. So, we’ve kind of worked with them directly and it’s you can say it’s on our Facebook page at the moment but it’s the first of its kind experience where you’ve got an interactive 360 virtual reality experience directly with a newsfeed. You don’t have to go outside of your newsfeed to experience it.

So, it works if you’re using a Facebook app on your phone but if you want to go all the way into immersing yourself then you can put that phone into a Samsung Gear VR headset and then you feel like you’re walking around the galleries.

We were really getting a kick out of trying it out. And I think it’s such a cool way to offer that experience to people who haven’t been to the British Museum or who would love to come but haven’t had that in-person experience.

Yes. What was exciting for us about it is that VR still feels like something that a lot of people don’t have the devices yet and it still feels like people are in the early stages of exploring that. And what’s nice is this really puts it straight into people’s phones and puts the museum at your fingertips.

We notice that you use long captions to describe a scene or provide a lot of context for what people are seeing. How does that fit into your digital strategy around storytelling or education or both?

We are the custodians of this amazing collection and lots of the objects are visually stunning in their own right and maybe it would be enough to look at them. But with every object there’s a story behind it, there’s a reason why it has this particular status that it’s now part of the British Museum collection.

For us it’s about bringing the people to life that are a part of the object’s story. So, who made it, who was it made for, who’s worn it, who’s used it, how is it used? How might that relate to something that’s happening today? And we try to kind of bring the objects to life with that human aspect. And that does require a few words to sort of tell that story.

I can imagine too that providing that context for people also helps them to appreciate what they’re seeing more as well.

I think so. I just personally I feel that it’s when the curators start describing an object to me that I get excited about it. That’s the stuff we want to capture in a bottle and share with our followers on social. Not everyone finds world history instantly accessible. If something is not really familiar to you in your culture it sometimes takes a little more of an explanation to relate to an object and kind of get inside the heads of the people that made it thousands of years ago.

Yeah for sure. I mean I definitely have the same experience when I have a better understanding of what I’m seeing. I have so much more of an appreciation for what it is and where it’s come from. So how do you feature exhibits on social? What makes certain exhibits social media friendly or do you not divide out exhibitions that way or do you have certain ones that you choose?

I think every object that’s in the collection has a story to tell and therefore has its place on social media. And over the years hopefully you’ll get around all eight million of them.

Our selection criteria in terms of what are we posting now, is about trying to find balance. We’re always making sure that we’re being representative and sharing a range of objects that come from different parts of the world, different cultures, and different religions. We try to have a balance in terms of things that maybe were made or are about men and women, so the diversity of the collection is something that’s really important.

It would be easy for us to default to sharing the things that we know are super popular. You know, we could look at our analytics on social and see okay, people love Egyptian stuff and we could just only talk about that and it would go really well. But it would be neglecting our duty to actually share some of the lesser known parts of the collection. And there are some amazing objects that are far less famous that have incredible stories to tell. Part of the job is unearthing some of those and bringing them into the spotlight as much as the ones that we know have huge appeal and that people want to see and we’ll always continue to share on a regular basis.

In that way you are really important educators and using social to educate as well, not just get the highest engagement on every single post but also to inform your audience.

Exactly. We want to take the audience on a bit of a journey with us. Something that’s really important to us is that sense that people trust the British Museum and that they trust us to take them to places that they might not have gone themselves. So, whether that’s a culture they’ve never heard of or an aspect of the past that might surprise them or the fact that the museum is continuingly making new acquisitions from around the world to carry on telling that story of humanity. And that’s one of our challenges as well as one of the real joys is trying to get that across, there’s so much to share.

I think that’s something any business or brand can learn from the British Museum is that if you’re telling stories and you’re actually generating interest and educating and sharing things that are genuinely engaging then it resonates with people instead of just being talked at or told things to.

Do you have any stories of a strategy or campaign that really worked well, something that you did that you saw a huge engagement or really good results from?

Something that really worked really well for us was based on the Rugby World Cup and the Football World Cup. We did some really cool object pairings where every time a match was played we took an object from each of the countries that was playing and paired them up. So we’d have two different necklaces or two different helmets, something like that. And you can see visually the fact that these two countries have this kind of shared history, they have things in common, but also that they have distinct styles.

That worked really well. People really responded to that and we got a lot of interest not just from the public but some of the football teams themselves. The official World Cup account shared one of our posts and some embassies around the world who were supporting their teams. And that was a really nice way of us bringing something into a much bigger conversation that perhaps no one else could do.

I think that’s the tricky thing about getting a campaign right is working out what you can bring that’s unique—and sometimes the answer to the question is nothing and therefore you have to step away and let other people take the stage. That’s been a big learning for us as well is trying to figure out what we can bring that will add something really special as opposed to just jumping on the bandwagon for the sake of it.

Yeah, I think that’s really good advice for brands out there to make sure that any campaign that you build is relevant and that, as you said, you are adding unique value to people’s experience. Thank you so much for joining us today. You’ve given us so many good insights.

Thanks for having me.

Listen to the Full Episode

8 Essential Skills a Social Media Manager Must Have

There’s not one secret recipe to becoming an amazing social media manager (if only it were that easy), but making sure you have the full range of essential skills to do the job well certainly helps.

And it’s a good time to be getting in the game. Social media manager was number 42 in CNN and PayScale’s list of the top 100 careers for “big growth, great pay and satisfying work.”

It makes sense. As people look to connect with brands on social media, companies need social media managers who can help grow their business online.

Whether you’re already an experienced social media guru or you’re just getting started, by the end of this post you’ll have everything you need to create compelling content and understand how it relates to your business’s bottom line.

(P.S. If you’re a hiring manager looking to add a social media-savvy team member, these are the skills you want to look for.)

The most important skills for social media managers (and the tools to help you get there)

1. Writing and editing

Whether you’re writing Instagram posts or Pinterest captions, words matter. Good writing can boost engagement, extend your organic reach, and help social media managers create an unforgettable brand.

Think of a few brands with strong social media followings—All Birds, Old Spice, Taco Bell. Love these brands or hate them, a distinct writing style is part of why they gained a following online.

But fear not! If writing doesn’t come naturally to you, there are tools that can help. One of our favorites is the Hemingway App, which helps you eliminate extra words and get straight to the point.

And while there’s no substitute for a good, old-fashioned edit of your posts, creating a brand style guide may also help.

2. SEO

Understanding the link between search engine optimization (SEO) and social media reach can be a bit confusing. Google suggests that social signals do not overtly affect your SEO rankings, but the full picture is more complicated.

Content that has a high social reach and gets lots of shares, likes, and comments is likely going to get similar engagement metrics that will be read by Google’s algorithm and positively impact your rankings. This is a correlation rather than a causation, so while you don’t want to build your social media plan around SEO, it’s a good idea to be aware of the common mistakes that social media managers often make.

Luckily, there are some great SEO tools out there. LSI Graph will identify relevant keywords and phrases according to what’s been searched on Google along with your primary keyword. This comes in handy if you’re looking for related topics to write about.

But, if you feel overwhelmed by the intricacies of SEO, remember that it’s all about creating great content that people will like and share.

3. Customer service

I know I personally hate waiting on hold, so I often take to social media to engage with brands or air my complaints. And I’m not alone. According to a study by J.D. Power, 67 percent of consumers use social media to ask specific questions or find help resolving problems. That’s huge!

So it’s important for a social media manager to have some basic customer service skills like:

• Be timely. Over 72% of people who tweet their complains, expect a response within 1 hour.
• Know how to find and monitor conversations relevant to your business. (Tools like Hootsuite and Talkwalker allow you to set up social media streams that monitor conversations and keywords across several social networks.)
• Don’t wait for a complaint. Be proactive when it comes to engaging your followers.

And that’s just the beginning. Check out the full list of customer service skills here.

It helps that consumers love brands who respond to them. A customer who enjoys a positive service experience with a brand on social is nearly three times as likely to recommend the brand to a friend.

So being active when it comes to customer service actually helps the other half of a social media manager’s job—connecting with consumers to build brand awareness.

The bottom line? The job of a social media manager is also to be a community manager, so acing customer service is win-win for your customers and your business.

4. Design and photo editing

Thanks to the smartphones we all carry in our pockets, anyone can be a photographer now. That’s why it’s more important than ever for a social media manager to have a good eye for design and the ability to recognize and create images that are on-brand.

After all, people remember 65 percent of a message when it’s accompanied by an image and only 10 percent when it’s not.

But you don’t necessarily need to have a degree in graphic design to create awesome visual content for your social feeds. As a starting point, there are tons of sites that offer free stock photography and there are lots of other tools to help with data visualization, fonts, and much more.

Hootsuite Enhance is a free tool that takes the pain out of remembering optimal image sizes for every different social network and can help automatically crop and store images for all your social media accounts. Easy peasy.

5. Analytics and reporting

Business is a results driven, well, business. So being able to prove a return on investment is a must-have skill for social media managers.

With a tool like Hootsuite Impact, social media managers can accurately measure the ROI of social media across paid, owned, and earned social channels. The tool connects to existing analytics systems so you can integrate social data with the rest of your business metrics. It also makes it easy to produce executive reports, and delivers plain-language recommendations to optimize your social media strategy.

Understanding how to prove and improve return on investment is also a huge selling point when it comes to landing a job as a social media manager.

6. Video creation

Video content is unquestionably an important way to reach your audience.

Over 500 million people are watching video on Facebook every day, according to Cisco’s research into global IP video traffic. And four years from now, video content is poised to account for 80 percent of all consumer internet traffic.

The bottom line? Social media managers need the skills to create compelling content for platforms like Instagram Stories, Facebook Live broadcasts, and Snapchat Stories. And with all these options, you’ll also need to know how to optimize video for all of your different social media channels.

A tool like Animoto can help beginners create compelling video content. But check out the rest of our social video toolkit here for even more tools that will have you mastering video in no time. Did I just hear someone say Spielberg?

7. Paid social basics

Understanding the relationship between organic and paid social is a huge asset for a social media manager. After all, one of the most powerful marketing tools at your disposal is your organic social presence.

You’ve got a focus group at your fingertips that isn’t afraid to let you know when they like something and when they don’t. And this lets you test new ideas and products, and ultimately put your advertising money behind the best one.

So whether you’re running a paid social ad campaign or just trying to figure out which posts to boost, understanding how you can use social ads to increase your reach or boost your organic ads is a powerful skill for any social media marketing professional to have.

You might also want to invest in a tool like AdEspresso, which lets you create and test hundred of ads in minutes. You’ll never have to wonder if a different headline or photo might have made all the difference in your campaign.

8. Research and planning

If you thought research skills stopped being useful once you left high school, think again. After all, you can’t tailor content to your audience if you don’t know who they are or what they want.

Plus, as a social marketer and expert in your field, your reputation is on the line. Make sure that all your data and ideas come from credible sources.

We’ve got some tips and tricks that’ll make it easier to find results you can trust. But, when it comes to online searches, the best tool, or at least the best place to start, is learning how to refine your results. This will not only save you time, but make your results more accurate.

The other half of research is understanding how your findings fit in to a larger plan both for your social media accounts and for your business as a whole.

This may seem obvious, but things move fast in the world of social media and sometimes it’s easy to get swept up in the right-this-second. Regular planning will help you keep your eyes on the big picture and ensure that your social media goals are aligned with your business goals.

Need help getting started with some planning tools? Check out these helpful templates to start building your own social media strategy and editorial calendar.

Master these 8 essential skills and you’ll be one step closer to becoming a social media manager. Use Hootsuite to easily manage all your social channels, collect real-time data, and engage with your audience across networks. Try it free today.

Get Started

 

Event recap: State of Search with Brainlabs

A graphic with the words PPC chat live in pink and blue, framing a conical flask with a brain floating inside it.

On February 22nd, leading digital media agency Brainlabs hosted the latest in its series of PPC Chat Live events at its London HQ.

With speakers from Google, Verve Search, and of course from Brainlabs too, there were plenty of talking points to consider and digest. In this article, we recap the highlights from an enlightening event.

The theme for this edition of PPC Chat Live was ‘the state of search’, with the focus squarely on the trends set to shape the industry in 2018 and beyond. The speakers delivered a wide variety of presentations that reflected on the industry’s beginnings, not just for nostalgia’s sake but also to illuminate the future too.

Brainlabs has carved out a position as an innovative, data-driven search agency and this tone was carried through the evening, all ably assisted by Pepper the robot receptionist.

pepper

Although paid search took up the majority of air time, there was still plentiful room for ruminations on the evolving role of SEO and what the nature of search tells us about the modern consumer.

Digital assistants: empowering or simply enabling?

Peter Giles from Google opened the evening with a thought-provoking talk on the impact of new technologies on the way people find information.

Peter noted that the increased accuracy of voice-enabled digital assistants has led to a range of changes in consumer behavior. Some of these could be seen as empowering, while others perhaps play only to our innate laziness and desire for a friction-free life.

There were three core behavioral trends noted within this session:

Increased curiosity

Because people have access to an unprecedented amount of information, they are more inclined to ask questions. When the answers are always close to hand, this is an understandable development.

Google has seen some interesting trends over the past two years, including an increase of 150% in search volume for [best umbrellas]. What was once a simple purchase is now subject to a more discerning research process.

best searches

Higher expectations

Although there is initial resistance to some technologies that fundamentally change how we live, once we are accustomed to them we quickly start to expect more. In 2015, Google reported that it had seen a 37x increase in the number of searches including the phrase “near me”.

Consumers now expect their device to know this intent implicitly and Peter revealed that the growth in “near me” phrases has slowed considerably.

Decreased patience

As expectations grow, patience levels decrease. In fact, there has been an increase of over 200% in searches containing the phrase “open now” since 2015 in the US. Meanwhile, consumers are coming to expect same-day delivery as standard in major metropolitan areas.

consumer patience

Throughout all of these changes, Peter Giles made clear that brands need to focus on being the most helpful, available option for their target audience. By honing in on these areas, the ways in which consumers access the information are not so important.

The more significant factor is making this information easy to locate and to surface, whether through search engines, social networks, or digital assistants.

The past, present, and future of PPC and SEO

Brainlabs’ exec chair Jim Brigden reflected on the history of the paid search industry, going back to the early 2000’s when most brands were skeptical of the fledgling ad format’s potential.

In fact, only £5 million was spent on paid search in the UK as recently as 2001. The industry’s growth, projected to exceed $100 billion globally this year, should also give us reason to pause and consider what will happen next. The pace of change is increasing, so marketers need to be able to adapt to new realities all the time.

Jim Brigden’s advice to budding search marketers was to absorb as much new knowledge as possible and remain open to new opportunities, rather than trying to position oneself based on speculation around future trends. Many marketers have specialized in search for well over a decade and, while the industry may have changed dramatically in that time, its core elements remain largely intact.

This was a topic touched on by Lisa Myers of Verve Search too, when discussing organic search. For many years, we have discussed the role (and even potential demise) of SEO, as Google moves to foreground paid search to an ever greater degree.

Myers’ presentation showcased just how much the SEO industry has changed, from link buying to infographics, through to the modern approach that has as much in common with a creative agency as it does with a web development team.

Just one highlight from the team at Verve Search, carried out in collaboration with their client Expedia, was the Unknown Tourism campaign. Comprised of a range of digital posters, the campaign commemorates animals that have been lost from some of the world’s most popular tourist spots.

dodo

Such was the popularity of the campaign, one fan created a package for The Sims video game to make it possible to pin the posters on their computer-generated walls. Verve has received almost endless requests to create and sell the posters, too.

This isn’t what most people think of when they think of SEO, but it is a perfect example of how creative campaigns can drive performance. For Expedia, Verve has achieved an average increase in visibility of 54% across all international markets.

The core lesson we can take away here from both Jim Brigden and Lisa Myers is that the medium of search remains hugely popular and there is therefore a need for brands to try and stand out to get to the top. The means of doing so may change, but the underlying concepts and objectives remain the same.

The predictable nature of people

For the final part of the evening, Jim Brigden was joined by Dan Gilbert, CEO of Brainlabs and the third most influential person in digital, according to Econsultancy.

Dan shared his sophisticated and elucidative perspective on the search industry, which is inextricably linked to the intrinsic nature of people.

A variety of studies have shown that people’s behavioral patterns are almost entirely predictable, with one paper noting that “Spontaneous individuals are largely absent from the population. Despite the significant differences in travel patterns, we found that most people are equally predictable.”

As irrational and unique as we would like to think we are, most of our actions can be reduced to mathematical equations.

That matters for search, when we consider the current state of the industry.

After all, companies like Google excel at creating rational systems, such as the machine learning algorithms that continue to grow in prominence across its product suite.

As Dan Gilbert stated, this gives good cause to believe that the nature of search will be fundamentally different in the future.

Our digital assistants will have little reason to offer us a choice, if they already know what we want next.

That choice is the hallmark of the search industry, but Gilbert sees no reason to create a monetizable tension where no tension needs to exist.

Google’s focus has always been on getting the product right and figuring out the commercial aspect once users are on board and this seems likely to be the approach with voice-enabled assistants.

dan gilbert

In fact, the technology is already available to preempt these decisions and start serving consumers content and products before they even know they want to receive them. The field of predictive analytics has evolved significantly over the last few years and the capability to model out future behavioral trends is already in use for companies like Netflix and Amazon.

The inflection point for this technology is dependent on people’s readiness to accept such a level of intrusion in their daily lives, rather than any innate technological shortcomings.

History suggests that, while a certain initial resistance is to be expected, ultimately we will grow accustomed to this assimilation of technology into our lives. And, soon after, we will grow impatient with any limitations we encounter.

That will create a seismic shift in how the search industry operates, but it will open up new and more innovative ways to connect consumers with brands.

Related reading

PPC TOOLS
Vector graphic of a document with a key superimposed on top, and a red circle with a line through it on top of that.

15 actionable SEO tips to improve your search rankings

Google’s RankBrain is an algorithm that uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to rank results based on feedback from searcher intent and user experience.

Diving deep to learn what makes RankBrain tick, here are 15 actionable tips to improve your SEO rankings.

Optimizing keyword research

Keywords have long been the foundation to high-ranking SEO content.  Most of your content, whether it be blogs or website copy, begin with hours of definitive keyword research you could rank for, and outrank your competitors for.

However, RankBrain has in some ways changed those run-of-the-mill SEO keyword research strategies you may have used in the past. It is all about searcher intent when it comes to the future of ranking, so it’s time to adjust your keyword research strategy.

1. Rethink synonymous long-tail keywords

Long-tail keywords were once effective, before Google used semantic analysis and understood the meaning of words. You were able to compile a list of long-tail keywords from Google’s “related searches” at the bottom of a SERP and create a page for each keyword.

Unfortunately, synonymous long-tail keywords are not as effective in the RankBrain SEO world. RankBrain’s algorithm is actually quite intelligent when it comes to differentiating very similar long-tail keywords. Instead of ranking for multiple keywords, it will deliver pretty much the same results to a user.

For example, the long-tail keywords, “best automation tools for marketing” and “best marketing automation tools” will return the same results to satisfy searcher intent.

So what do you do instead of leveraging those long-tail keywords? Read on to find out how to do RankBrain-minded keyword research.

2. Leverage medium-sized keywords

Since long-tail keywords are on their way out, you should begin optimizing for root keywords instead. Root keywords are  the middle of the pack search terms with higher search volume than long-tail.  They are more competitive and may require more links and quality content to rank.

For example, let’s say you are crafting an article with “lemon tea” as your primary keyword. Your keyword research should look something like:

You’ll notice that there are a number of medium sized keywords to choose from. Interestingly, the primary keyword “lemon tea” only nets about 3,600 monthly searches.

However, medium sized keywords like, “benefits of lemon” and “honey lemon” drive around 8,000 to 9,000 monthly searches.

Using medium sized keywords in the RankBrain SEO world will also automatically rank your content for a number of other related keywords. If you want to optimize your content for highest SERP position possible, use medium-tail keywords.

3. Add more LSI keywords

Now before you toss out the idea of long-tail keywords altogether, it is important to understand that they still have some benefits. For instance, they help you identify the LSI keywords RankBrain loves to rank content for.

This doesn’t mean you should keep using those synonymous long-tail keywords, but you should leverage the LSI potential of them. These would be any words or phrases very strongly associated with your topic.

Using the previous “lemon tea” example, you can easily identify a number of excellent LSI keywords for that primary keyword. How? Good question!

One way is to use Google’s “related searches” and note any words in bold blue.

You can also use Google’s drop down to help you identify commonly searched for LSI keywords.

You can also use a handy little LSI keyword finder tool called LSI Graph:

Simply type in your primary keyword and LSI Graph will return a number of LSI Keyword rich phrases for you to choose.

Between Google and LSI Graph you can compile a number of powerful SEO LSI keywords like:

  • Disadvantages
  • Ingredients
  • Powder
  • Benefits
  • Weight loss
  • For cold
  • Brands
  • Recipe

These LSI keywords will give you more keywords, and pages, to rank for, as long as they are not synonymous like in the case of those traditional long-tail keywords.

Optimizing title tags for higher CTR

Organic click-through-rate (CTR) is a major signaling factor. In fact, the very nature of RankBrain is all about how users interact with the content provided in the SERPs.

Want to improve your SEO rankings? First improve your CTR!

What can you do to ensure your content is netting the CTR it deserves in order to get ranked accordingly? Well, there are actually a number of CTR hacks to improve your SEO rankings.

4. Make your title tags emotional

Putting a little emotion into your title tags can have a big impact on your CTR. Most searchers will land on page one of Google and start scrolling through titles until one hits home emotionally.

In fact, a study by CoSchedule found that an emotional score of 40 gets around 1,000 more shares.

Emotional score, what is that? CoSchedule actually has a Headline Analyzer to ensure your blog titles, email subject lines, and social posts are appealing to your audience’s emotions.

Drawing from our “lemon tea” example, let’s say you type, “7 Lemon Tea Benefits” into the Headline Analyzer. Not a great title, and these were the results from the analyzer tool.

A score of 34 will get me near 1,000 shares, but it could definitely be better. The title definitely needs a bit more emotion and it needs to be longer.

Let’s try it again. This time with the title tag, “7 Lemon Tea Weight Loss Benefits for Summer,” which did much better.

It can be challenging to pick a title that brings about emotion. The best way to nail down the perfect title tag is to think like your audience, research other high-ranking titles like yours, and use online tools.

5. Use brackets in your titles

This is definitely an easy one to implement to quickly improve your CTR and SEO rankings. By using brackets in your post titles, you are drawing more attention to your title among the masses in SERPs.

In fact, research by HubSpot and Outbrain found that titles with brackets performed 33 percent better than titles without.

This was a study that compiled 3.3 million titles, so quite a large sample. A few bracket examples you can use include, (Step-By-Step Case Study), (With Infographic), (Proven Tips from the Pros), or (How I Got X from Z).

6. Use power words

In the same mindset of developing more emotional title tags to increase CTR, power words are, well, powerful. They have the ability to draw searchers in and will make your headline irresistible.

Power words include:

  • Insane
  • Effective
  • Case study
  • Fast
  • Proven
  • Best
  • Definitive guide
  • Scientifically

For example, these titles in page one Google take up the top three positions.

Increase your CTR and improve your SEO rankings by adding power words into your post titles. But don’t forget about those numbers either.

7. Use more numbers and statistics in titles

Lists are great, but don’t shy away from adding numbers and statistics to your titles. Numbers in titles highlighting percentages from research or a certain number of days can have a big impact on your content’s CTR.

Your headlines could look something like these:

For example, let’s say you are writing content about a new study outlining the benefits of a low glycemic diet for decreasing acne. If the study found 51 percent of participants to have decreased acne after 14-weeks, your title could be, “New Study Found a 51% Decrease in Acne after 14 Weeks.”

You can also combine your numbers with power words for the perfect CTR storm. Like this:

With your title tag optimization efforts well under way, it’s time to focus on those very important description tags.

Optimizing description tags for higher CTR

Title tags are not the only aspect of a higher CTR to improve your SEO rankings. Someone may have stopped scrolling at your title, but may read your description tag just to be sure your content is click-worthy. This makes optimizing your description tags a priority.

8. Make your description tag emotional too

Just like your title tag, you want to keep the emotional juices flowing if a searcher reads your description tag. This can be done in a similar fashion as your title tag, using those powerful emotion words that satisfy searcher intent in a meaningful way.

Here’s one example:

Not exactly stirring up the emotions you would want if searching for information on how to increase your website’s conversion rates.

Now how about this one:

This description tag points out a problem that many business owners have, traffic but not so many conversions.

And finally this description tag:

This longer form approach puts conversions into emotional perspective. It is personal and has a very clear emotional call to action.

9. Highlight benefits and supporting data

Why would anyone want to click on your content based solely on the description tag? This is the mindset that will take your CTR to the next level. Don’t be afraid to highlight the benefits or the supporting data you are serving up.

This is a great example of highlighting where the content data is coming from, as well as the benefits.

Creating content after an industry conference is the perfect way to highlight key takeaways for your audience. It is also makes developing those emotional description tags easy.

10. Make use of current AdWords content

One description tag hack many people fail to leverage is using keywords and phrases placed in multiple relevant AdWords description tags. If you want to optimize your description tags for improved SEO rankings, this CTR hack is a must.

For example, if your content was about marketing automation tools, you could run a quick Google search and find a number of ads. Then examine them to find recurring words or phrases, like “ROI.”

This would be a pretty good indicator that you should place ROI somewhere in your description tag. After all, companies are paying thousands of dollars to have these ads up and running daily, so capitalize on their marketing investment.

11. Don’t forget your primary keyword

This should be a no-brainer, but still happens. Placing your primary keyword in your description tag solidifies that your content is indeed going to fulfill searcher intent.

Like these examples:

Be sure to place your primary keyword as close to the beginning of your description as possible. You can also sprinkle in a few of your LSI and power keywords as well, if it reads naturally.

Reducing bounce rate and dwell time

The RankBrain algorithm looks at your content CTR and will rank it accordingly. However, if your content isn’t quality after a user clicks on it, they will “bounce out” quickly and keep searching.

This ultimately weeds out any clickbait and emphasizes the need to have a very low bounce rate and long searcher dwell time on page. The more you optimize for these two very important factors, the more your SEO rankings will improve.

But what is dwell time? Well, this is how long a searcher will spend on one particular page. Like anything sales minded, you want them to stick around for a while.

In fact, the average dwell time of a top 10 Google result is three minutes and ten seconds, according to a Searchmetrics study. How do you get searchers to stick around for three minutes or more? Develop quality, authoritative content that satisfies searcher intent.

12. Place content above the fold

When someone is searching for an answer to their question on Google, they want their answer immediately. This makes having your content (introduction paragraph) above the fold crucial to keeping bounce rate low.

An example of what could cause a quick “bounce out”:

You’ll notice that there is no content to be found but the title tag. In fact, the brand logo takes up much of the above the fold area. This could be problematic.

Instead, get your content front and center once a searcher lands on your post or page.

This will showcase your introduction right from the get go, making the searcher read on. But how do you hook them? Well, highly engaging introductions.

13. Develop concise and engaging introductions

By making your content above the fold, your introduction will be the first thing readers will see. This makes hooking them with a concise and engaging introduction essential. This will keep them reading and reduce bounce rate while increasing dwell time.

There are three main elements to a powerful introduction: Hook, Transition, and Thesis.

The intro hook should pull in the reader. It is specific, brief, and compelling. For example:

Introduction Transitions are usually connectors. They connect the hook to the posts content and supports the title (why a searcher clicked in the first place). An introduction looks like this:

The thesis of any post introduction strengthens why the reader should keep reading. Normally, if your transition is powerful, the thesis will simply fall into place. For instance:

Spend some time on your introductions. These are in many ways the most important element of any content and will improve your SEO rankings in the RankBrain world.

14. Long, in-depth content ranks

One way to improve your SEO rankings is to develop longer, more in-depth content. Long-form content also increases your backlink portfolio, according to HubSpot research.

More links and higher position on SERPs will definitely have an impact on your SEO rankings. If a reader makes it through your entire post, dwell time will definitely be in upwards of three minutes.

More in-depth content also showcases your expertise on the topic you’re writing about. This makes you and your brand more authoritative in your industry.

15. Make content easy to digest

You know that long, in-depth content improves dwell time, ranks better, and nets more backlinks. But how do you make 2,000-plus words easy to digest for your readers?

The best way to keep your readers from experiencing vertigo on page is to break up your content with lots of subheadings and actionable images. For example, you can do something like this:

Subheadings are very clear and there’s an actionable image that guides readers on just “how-to” achieve the answers to their questions.

Another important tip for breaking up your long-form content is to keep paragraphs very short and concise.

Paragraphs can be two to three sentences long, or simply one long sentence.

The main aim is to ensure readers can avoid eyestrain and take in all the authoritative information you outlined in your content. This will keep readers on page and increase your dwell time, thus improving your SEO rankings.

Conclusion

If you are ready to adapt your SEO strategies to new developments in AI and the evolution of Google’s algorithms, follow the tips above to start seeing improved rankings.

As algorithms evolve, so should your strategy. Have you tried optimizing for RankBrain? What are your favorite tips?

Related reading

SPI 306: Rise of the Youpreneur with Chris Ducker

Today I have a very special guest: Chris Ducker of ChrisDucker.com and Youpreneur, and author of the new book Rise of the Youpreneur!

Chris and I have been friends for eight years now. He’s been on the show before but we’ve never gotten this deep. A lot of people may not be familiar with the side of Chris we’re going to be talking about today. We’ll be discussing a time in Chris’s life when he was actually hospitalized due to burnout. That event, and everything that happened after, ultimately led Chris to a successful, enjoyable, and fulfilling business.

Chris understands how to be the best version of you, how to portray that so that you can hire people, coach people, and get your audience to trust you. This translates into every facet of his business: branding, content, and how he interacts with his audience. He’s going to be sharing some of his strategies today—you won’t want to miss out.

We’re also talking about legacy. What happens to your business when you’re no longer here? This is important. Online business hasn’t been around for a long time, and it’s necessary to have these kinds of conversations so that we can continue to make an impact in the long-run. What kind of legacy do we want to leave behind? How do we do that?

Today’s episode is packed and personal. You may even want to give it a second listen so that Chris’s experiences really sink in. Sit back, relax, and enjoy!

Thanks for Listening!

To share your thoughts:

To help out the show:

  • Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one.
  • Subscribe on iTunes or download our mobile app.

Special thanks to Chris Ducker for joining me this week. Until next time!