Your New Homepage: The Branded Search




If you’ve done a search in Google recently you’ve probably noticed there is a lot more going on on that SERP (search engine results page). As I mentioned in my last post, with the new beta test it looks like Google Posts also previously nicknamed by the SEO blogosphere  “local business cards” will be adding more engaging elements to a branded search.

A picture below depicts a branded search for “A Healthy Choice Spa” (a local business part of the beta test of Google Posts). The Google Posts take up prominent real estate right below the first organic spot. One thing not as obvious in this screenshot is the fact that the photos in this Google Post are in fact gifs, which you can check out here. Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 9.07.22 PMThe only thing that is more eye-catching on the page appears to be the local knowledge panel.

The local knowledge panel is just one part of the knowledge graph which been around since 2012 but it’s risen to prominence in the last few years. Whether it’s getting the latest score to a game, information on the election or even the answer to a common question Google will now answer it for you. Wikipedia describes the knowledge graph as:Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 9.10.37 PM

The Knowledge Graph is a knowledge base used by Google to enhance its search engine’s search results with semantic-search information gathered from a wide variety of sources.

So you’re probably  wondering at this point will anyone ever get to my website if they get the answer to their question from Google?

There are few things to take into consideration.

  1. The knowledge graph does not exist without websites from which to not only pull information but to confirm the “accuracy” of that information.
  2. For the most part the knowledge graph appears most on queries that are relatively broad questions or general questions without high user intent to take an action. That being said, if the user is able to find their answer more quickly this leaves more qualified users coming to your website. A good example of this would be to imagine someone querying a treatment for a medical condition. With a knowledge graph answer they can more quickly understand what treatment they need and seek out pharmacies or doctors to him or her attain that treatment.Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 9.19.32 PM
  3. Sometimes Google gets it wrong. Just today, a coworker brought to my attention that the knowledge graph was serving up a not so helpful quick answer. A query for fashionable jackets yielded this result you can see to the side here. So even as much as Google may try, in this specific instance the user is probably going to click on another result on the page.

While the knowledge graph is a tremendous part of the modern SERP, it’s just one part of a bigger picture. Now with tweets pulling into SERPs, Ads, local packs, organic sitelinks, and more (for which Moz has a great breakdown ) the SERP has become a much more engaging, user-friendly place. So friendly in fact that  I believe that the modern query, specifically the branded query, is the new homepage of your website.

It’s easier to type your business into Google than to navigate to or remember the exact URL. When a user does that search they can get your contact information, hours, reviews, and figure out the best time to visit you to avoid the crowds.

You may have sitelinks on your organic listing or your paid ad likely outlining your key service or product pages. In a lot of way your sitelinks have become your website navigation. If you’re running ads or if your number displays in your local knowledge panel  it’s even possible for the user to go ahead and with the tap of button on their mobile device call you. The best part is they never needed to go to your homepage! Your branded query sold your business to that user.

I view this shift in search that’s been underway for a while now as a tremendous opportunity to dominate your branded SERP. In fact there are more ways than ever to showcase your business in Google. This means investing in ads, updating your Google My Business listing and making sure the best pages are showing up in those first results. Google’s entire search business relies on there being websites to search for on a daily basis. Google wants to keep users on their search engine by creating a user-friendly search experience which at the end of the day is to your website’s benefit as well.  Besides if you don’t take advantage of your branded SERP, there’s always a chance a competitor will.

Google’s Spring Cleaning: Local Business Cards

In a lot of ways Google SERPs are going through a “spring cleaning.” Out with the old features and in with the new. Last month we bid a fond farewell to right-column ads, this month we got introduced to Google Local business cards (still in beta).  Local business cards (given this name but the SEO blog world not officially by Google) are a fantastic blend of the immediacy of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, with the authority of those top spots in Google. A snapshot of what these look like is in my screenshot below. 

local business cards

The barrier I see at least currently is how effectively the average small business will be able to leverage this?  I can definitely see these local business cards being updated once and never changed again. I would assume this isn’t what the intention is at all. I’m interested to see exactly  who will use these and if cards from only one business be allowed or multiple ones. 

It’s worth noting that these cards are similar to candidate cards which Google rolled out in January of 2016. If the system works like candidate cards work then each candidate ,or in this case local business, can push information to the cards but over time based on Google’s algorithm Google will decide which ones display first. 

All of this has me and probably a few others wondering are the SERPS too crowded? Let’s not forget AMPs, accelerated mobile pages, rolled out recently as well. If we imagine a SERP world filled with AMPs, local business cards, knowledge graph results and ads just think about how crowded the space will get. All of this considered, I guess getting rid of those right-column ads is making even more sense in light of these new features. 

Leveraging The Disappearing Right Column Ads

Google’s recent move to take right column ads took a lot of advertisers by surprise. A lot of us saw the negative in this announcement – less ad inventory on SERPS, higher CPCs, and more competition. So let’s address these concerns one by one.

Less Ad Inventory 

True, there is less ad inventory on the first page. However, only about 85% of all clicks were going to the top ads anyway. So while the ads won’t show on the side your ads probably weren’t getting clicks the majority of the time anyway. By giving your ads better visibility and a better chance of getting clicks you’ll have a better shot on a high quality score and ultimately driving traffic to your site.

Higher CPCs 

Not true, yet. Google has shifted the spots on the page to be at the very top but also the very bottom of the page. This makes those coveted spots at the top, above-the-fold so much more valuable. Therefore, it’s reasonable to assume that we’ll have much higher cost per clicks. It’s too early to tell if this will truly happen.

More Competition 

Somewhat true. Inevitably there is going to be more competition since there are fewer ads above the fold. To combat this Google is adding a “fourth” ad spot at the top for “highly commercial” queries.

This presents a unique opportunity for small to medium size businesses who may not be going after “highly commercial” queries. With just 2 or 3 ads at the top this draws even more attention to that first organic spot on the page or the local pack.

So how will you take advantage of this opportunity?

Hello Facebook Canvas

Facebook Canvas has finally been released to the general public!

Facebook Canvas solves a pain point for many advertisers, their landing pages. Now Facebook gives businesses the ability to send users who click their ads to a customized and mobile-friendly landing page within Facebook. These landing pages within Facebook load as much as 10 times faster than the standard mobile website.


Photo via Facebook

The steps for setting up a Canvas are here.

Link Building: The Art of Networking

If you think of your website as a person and their audience as their friends, link building is networking.  You want to make a connection and ultimately get that website to talk to their friends about you. In order to do this you need to be worthy of bringing up. What is going to incentivize your new connection to talk about you?


Just as you tend to seek out friends with similar interests think the same way about your website. You want to find similar websites who complement your interests. Getting a link on a automotive blog is great if you’re a mechanic but kind of pointless if you’re a bookstore.

And finally remember “you are who you run with” so keep yourself in good company. Avoid low-quality sites, a few good friends is much better than 100 bad ones.

As you embark on building new connections I’ve compiled just a few of my favorite tactics to help you with your link building efforts, but there are plenty more out there:

  • Become A Source

Press Requests are one of my favorite link building tools because it’s all about connecting people.  A few sites, such as HARO and Source Bottle,  will connect you with journalists who are looking for you or your client’s insight on whatever they may be writing on. Matthew Barby has a great article on it which you can check out here.

  •  Give Credit Where Credit Is Due 

Look for unlinked mentions. My favorite way to do this is to set-up a Google Alert. If your brand is mentioned somewhere on the Internet Google Alerts will send you an email of the mention. Oftentimes it may be a mention in an article that mentions your brand but does not link to your site. From there you can reach out to the author, webmaster or editor to ask if they would include the link in the mention.

  • Exclusive Discounts

Everyone wants a friend who works for their favorite brand – that means access to discounted merchandise! You need to become that friend. Offering discounts can definitely catch the eye of a blogger who might want to promote the discount to their loyal readers. However it’s importance to keep relevancy in mind. The more relevant your discount to the blogger the more likely they are to want to promote it. A simple way to do this is having a custom promo code for that blog that this blogger can offer to their audience.

  • Go Back To School

A school website is often a very authoritative site on the internet, they have plenty of traffic, provide strong content, and have domain authority. Going back to our earlier analogy, educational websites are like a friend who has been in the industry over 10 years and has tremendous influence. There are some different ways to go about this one obvious way would be offering a scholarship. For instance you may offer $1000 essay scholarship contest and reach out to educational institutions to promote it. However, you can take the same idea from the third tip and apply it here. Plenty of colleges showcase student discounts on their websites. Giving a special discount to students adds value to their site and gets you a link on your site (not to mention a new audience).


All of this said, even after you get your link keep in mind that websites are people. Building a good relationship with a particular site is just like keeping up a friendship (it takes work).

Happy networking and hopefully your site turns out alright when Google decides to free the Penguins sometime soon.🙂

What Happened In Google On June 16th, 2015?

Moz just released this month their MozCast year in review infographic which does a really good job breaking down some of the most volatile days in search over the last two years. I highly recommend checking it out!

Before we proceed any further it’s important to give some background on exactly how MozCast tracks things and what “volatile” means in this context. MozCast tracks a set of 1,000 keywords every 24 hours and pulls the top 10 organic results. MozCast then compares those set of kewyords to the top 10 keywords from the previous day. The hotter the temperature on MozCast the larger the change in those rankings. The bigger the change the more volatile the algorithm is that day.

One thing that may surprise you is while some of the higher temperature days (70 degrees being the average) do correspond with confirmed updates there are plenty of days where there was clearly some sort of change occurring in the search algorithm but no confirmed update. As Gary Illyes points out frequently, as seen in this tweet below, Google makes hundreds of changes to their algorithm.


Getting back to the infographic, some of the things I took away from this informative infographic were:

  1.  There appear to be a lot more confirmed updates in 2014 versus 2015.
  2.  I was pretty surprised the most volatile day June 16th 2015 was not attributed to a confirmed update. In fact the year before the closest date that was as volatile was May 19, 2014 which was the Panda 4.0 update. As a refresher, this update hit low-quality content. Some of the so-called losers of this update included popular sites like and

So what was the June 16, 2015 update?

We may never know definitively but there were some good theories. Gary Illyes came out and dismissed the theories that this was a Penguin or Panda update. Moz’s Dr. Pete had a good theory that it might have something to do with HTTPS but Gary from Google also dismissed that theory. So what was it?

One interesting part of the Dr. Pete’s theory was that Wikipedia was during this same time frame switching their site over to HTTPS. Could one very large site trigger tons of search term movement? Personally, I believed this theory originally only because if you think about it a lot of Wikipedia content is pulled into top search positions as well as the knowledge graph. Since MozCast is focused on the top 10 organic results it seems completely likely that a site that shows up in the majority of top organic results could be catalyst for all of this. However, this theory wasn’t quite accurate either.

Searchmetrics‘ founder Marcus Tober came out with what I consider to be the leading and best supported theory. It appears that news sites specifically such as and came out with better rankings after June 16, 2015. See this chart below via Searchmetrics as evidence of the increase in search visibility for


via Searchmetrics

Interestingly enough, Google Trends had a relaunch on June 17th, one day after all of this activity in the search engine. It appears this update allowed Google to immediately update based on the trending topics. For instance if a certain news event broke and this led to more searchers typing a query into Google the search engine could immediately serve up the most relevant content, both new articles and old articles about that same topic.

Personally, I have to wonder if this update had something to do with when RankBrain started to take a larger part in Google’s algorithm.

I think the big takeaway here is that the algorithm is quite literally always changing and we should by no means only pay attention to the Penguin, Pandas and Mobilegeddon updates.

Smart Goals In Google Analytics

I was excited to find out Google has announced and started rolling out  smart goals last week. This new feature is a valuable tool for many small to medium sized businesses who don’t have a way of tracking conversions on their website.

Smart goals are a type of goal within Google Analytics. So what’s so smart about these goals? For some websites you may not have a thank you page or any sort of goal that you can set. This is where smart goals are valuable. Smart goals use machine learning in order to pull data from other websites to determine which visits to your site would likely convert. By pulling data from those thousands of websites (which by the way are anonymous at this time) Google is able to determine what behavior on the site correlates with users converting. An example of this might be a user spending over 10 minutes on your site while also navigating to 4 or more pages.

Another aspect of this new feature which makes it incredibly compelling is the fact that it is relatively easy to set up by setting it up within Google Analytics (please note smart goals are only eligible in your account if you have your Adwords account linked to Analytics). There is no need to add a piece of code to your site, a task that might hinder many small businesses from being able to track conversions in the first place.

One you have smart goals set up you can then pull the data into Adwords and optimize for smart goals as your conversions.

In my opinion, smart goals are a win for Google in two respects. First, by being able to show some form of conversions Google gives many of those small and medium business advertisers a chance to see the return on their ad spend (potentially for the very first time).

Second, indirectly Google is further aiding businesses in improving their user experience on the site. Even if a small business owner doesn’t change a single thing on their website if they know that their existing landing pages convert better on 5 specific keywords out of the 100 keywords they have in their campaigns, that advertiser is likely to focus future spend on those 5 terms. This in turn drives the most targeted traffic to their site, which at the end of the day is what Google wants for users clicking on ads.

It’s also good to see such a valuable feature ,aimed at benefiting mainly small business owners, roll out not long after the not so local-friendly Google+ update around Thanksgiving.