Your New Homepage: The Branded Search

 

 

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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. 

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?

networking

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).

college

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.

Takeaways

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 Retailmenot.com and Ask.com.

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 Time.com and Techcrunch.com came out with better rankings after June 16, 2015. See this chart below via Searchmetrics as evidence of the increase in search visibility for Techcruch.com

techcrunch-visibility-searchmetrics-1024x588
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.

Near Me Or Bust

I’ve always found it funny, and somewhat fascinating how the internet works. In a lot of ways the “world wide web” stands true to its name of truly being world wide, and has contributed in many ways to globalization in the 21st century. The online marketplace is thriving, and the collaboration of various individuals across multiple continents is happening every second of the day. Brands could broadcast a product or service on a global level. Global celebrities could happen overnight via a viral Youtube video.   So that’s why it’s funny to me that in the last few years local search has become more and more relevant. We have the world at our fingertips and yet our search results are tailored to uncover things in our own backyard?

There are probably a lot of reasons for this, but I think one stands out among the rest. That reason is we as a society are impatient and that impatience is a result of world wide web (talk about irony!).

“We have the world at our fingertips and yet our search results are tailored to uncover things in our own backyard?”

We have become accustomed to having answers right when we need them, to having devices in the palms of our hands that can be our wallet, communication device, and answer all of our questions. True, we can order things online and have it shipped to us in a day (perhaps in a few years via a drone in mere minutes). But we are more impatient now, we want services and things as fast as we want Google to answer “What’s the tallest building in North America?”

I think this impatience is why local search has become so important today. Also, it’s important to mention that the fact a person is using a search engine in the first place shows some intent on their part to travel to, to buy, or otherwise take action from that search. That’s also why local search matters so much because someone can act on their intent right that second. They can drive to that hair salon right now.

As a business owner it’s important to recognize local search and to leverage it. This all ties into an announcement from Google recently that caught my attention. Google announced a study that shows “near me” searches have surged 34 times since 2011  and 80% as to be expected came from mobile devices. The study goes on to say that brand loyalty did not seem to be a factor in these searches, users actually preferred the closest, or most convenient location for whatever particular service or product they needed.

So have we officially entered a new era of the internet? An era of localization? I don’t think it’s safe to say we’ve completely gone local, as there are still aspects of search that will forever be global. But being “near me” is definitely more valuable these days.

The Simple Guide To Multi-Channel Funnels In Google Analytics

No Conversion Is An Island

Just like no man is an island, no conversion happens without the help of multiple marketing channels. True, there are plenty of these “assists” that we cannot track. For instance, word-of-mouth is nearly impossible to track. If a friend tells you she loves her new shoes, and you go buy the same pair of shoes that shoe company may never know that it was your friend’s endorsement that got you to type their brand name into a google search bar. However, in the online world we do have the ability to track these assists to some extent, we call them “assisted conversions.” So what is an assisted conversion?

Here’s the technical definition via Google:

“This is the number of sales and conversions the channel assisted. If a channel appears anywhere—except as the final interaction—on a conversion path, it is considered an assist for that conversion. The higher these numbers, the more important the assist role of the channel.”

And here’s another way of explaining things, let’s say instead of hearing about that shoe company from your friend offline, instead you saw her comment on a photo on their company’s Facebook page. I go to that shoe company’s Facebook page, decide I really want to know if the shoes worn by the model in the cover photo come in red so I venture over to the site. BINGO! I get to the site and see that yes in fact they do come in red. But before buying, I just want to be sure there’s no other place I can find these shoes for less. So I check out a few department stores online, but they carry this specific red shoe I want. At this point I google the name of that shoe company again (because its’ easier to google things than type out the whole URL, right?) and I end up ordering those red shoes. In Google Analytics, organic search will be the channel that gets credit for this conversion, but since my first interaction with the shoe company was on social it will be considered an “assisted conversion.”  Social assisted organic in making the final conversion.

So why does this matter? Because oftentimes the assisted conversions provide us with some of the most valuable insights and we ignore it because frankly its hard to see. However, Multi-Channel Funnels in Google Analytics is here to solve that problem!

If you think “multi-channel funnel” is slightly intimidating, don’t worry, it’s actually one of the easiest things to understand in Analytics (in my opinion). You can get to it by navigating to the conversions tab on the bottom left hand side of your screen and then clicking Overview under “Multi-Channel Funnels.”

On the first half of the page, itScreen Shot 2015-04-15 at 9.23.17 PM breaks down how many conversions you had and how many were assisted.

As you scroll down to the second part of the page this is where things get interesting. You can place up to four channels in your Venn Diagram. It will show in the time frame selected how many times Direct & Social, Direct & Organic, and so forth assisted each other in making a Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 9.27.24 PMconversion.

I normally only look at two channels at a time. You can scroll over the shaded area where the two circles overlap to see the percentage of conversions the two channels assisted each other on, as well as the actual number (in case you didn’t want to both doing the extra math).

This is a fantastic way to see which of your various channels are assisting each other in Google Analytics. And the best part is Analytics does all of the work for you!

SEO Basics

I thought I would go ahead and share some basic tips them here to give people some background on SEO principles as well as some places to go to get your SEO questions answered.

1.Title Tags

The title tags on a site should be optimized to have  keywords in them so they have a better chance at ranking for them. This is a relatively high-priority item since it is arguably the second most important thing related to SEO on a site. Why are they so important? Title tags show up in browsers, search engine results, and even other websites.  An example would be if you have a site that sells shoes, instead of having the title tag just be the name of the item like “black pumps” try editing it to this phrase that a user might search for such as “stylish black pumps.”

Determining the keywords should be simple, right? If you know your brand, of you course you know what people should be searching for to find it. Not exactly…think about it this way, people often search for phrases as opposed to just words. Just think about Siri, how many times have you asked Siri to look something up? If you ask Siri for the best place to buy leggings in Chicago…it’s going to search for just that (unless of course, Siri interprets it as” the best place to buy Legos in Chicago”).  With the Hummingbird update recently Google has certainly updated in understanding what these semantic searches, searching for the phrase as opposed to the string of words appearing in any order on a page.

Beyond the phrasing, if the keyword you pick happens to be common, for example, leggings, there are probably a great deal of people searching for it. This makes leggings a highly competitive keyword. If your site and 15,000 other sites are all competing to rank for the same keyword it is going to make it harder to become visible. However, there are plenty of related keywords or phrases you can add into your title tags that will ultimately benefit your ability to show up in search results.

title_tagexample

2. URL Structure 

While we’re talking about title tags it makes sense to touch on URL structure. The URL should also include keywords. Ever paste one of those links that looks a mess of a foreign language? (Example: http://www.shopforclotheshere.com/urban/catalog/category.jsp?id=BRANDS&brand=adidas).  Everything after the question mark is not search engine friendly to Google crawlers. By adding keywords they would allow Google crawlers to pick them up and help them rank. You’re basically wasting space in your URL if you have that, why not 1) make it look a hell of a lot better and 2) add some relevant keywords for your brand.

URLStructure

3. Google +

I’m a big proponent of Google + because it really does matter, establishing Google Authorship for yourself is really important because it gives you legitimacy on the web, for more of an explanation, read my blog post on it here.

4. Blog Away

Text is really important because that is what Google crawls so keeping an updated blog that is relevant to what your site is about is really important.  If you’re not the blogging type offer guest posting on your site, whatever it takes to create new and relevant content on your site. Don’t steal content from other sites, create your own to make your site more legitimate and beneficial to the readers. Google basically just needs to know that you are offering value to those on your sites, then they will help you show up in search results. Think about creating a spreadsheet that keeps track of which pages and which relevant keywords relate to those pages on your site, it will help a bunch.

These are some quick tips, these are  far from in-depth but totally worth implementing on your site! To ask some SEO questions try participating in the weekly twitter chat on Thursdays at 11am PST for SEO appropriately called #seochat.

Why Google + Matters

My Google + Profile Let me start off by saying I know most people, especially young people are not on Google +, and I get that. However, I feel people overlook the importance and potential of this social platform. It took a really long time for me to understand the benefit of Google +, besides the fact that it felt less saturated that other social networks with cluttered advertising and posts from friends I found irrelevant. The Google + network has 396 active monthly users , which is significant but far from the 1.1 billion plus active monthly users on Facebook.

Understanding Google + 

I often explain Google + as a hybrid between Facebook and Twitter. Google +’s layout mirrors Facebook, though it is considerably less cluttered. The Circles feature which allow you to group friends, coworkers, and family separately reminds me of TweetDeck, a free tool to monitor twitter  activity. Obviously the ease of searching on Google + resembles the Google search engine.

As a social media user ,with many accounts, what’s the benefit of using yet another network that is arguably a hybrid of two of the major ones I already use?

An answer, in short: Google Authorship. It’s the one feature of Google + I think it is slowly going to become very important. It allows you to claim authorship over your content scattered around the web. The more content that is traced back to your common name will help you build authority on the web. You are able to also link your blog posts to your Google + account so that each time someone comments on your blog post the comment will appear on Google +. Google + will then also notify you whenever your content is shared or commented on anywhere the web.Google + is optimizing content marketing. It’s giving people more control over what they create AND share.

Why Google + Will Appeal to Younger Users 

I predict that heightened level of control will appeal to younger generations. There is already some evidence of this, though indirect, in a recent story published by Mashable, written by 13 year-old Ruby Karp titled, “I’m 13 and None of My Friends Use Facebook.” In the article, which created a great deal of discussion at the time of its publication, Ms. Karp cites the fact that family members constantly monitor activity on Facebook to the point younger users, such as herself, are being held accountable for posts on the social network as one deterrent from using the network. Additionally, those same family members and other adults are limiting the access to social networks such as Facebook so much so that younger generations are adapting different networks instead. Design also plays a part, Ms. Karp mentions the fact that Facebook lacks the simplicity of networks like Twitter.  Google + has the simplicity of Twitter and allows users to control which “circle” content is shared with, addressing the issues of concern with family members seeing everything on Google +.

So, will Google + be the social network of the future?  Google + will reinvent social networks, in the same way LinkedIn has, at least in my opinion. LinkedIn has created a professional social network. Google + I see more in line with LinkedIn, it will be one of those things most will need to have to establish authority on the web. So no, Google + is not the new Facebook. Facebook is Facebook, it’s informal and candid. Google + aspires to be much more than that. It’s aspires to be the hub of all our activity on the web.