Sunday, February 28, 2016

Google is Changing its SERP (Search Engine Results Page): What You Need to Know

To appear on the first page of search engine results, a website has two options: organic SEO or paid advertising. Many websites choose to use a mix of organic SEO and paid advertising to ensure placement on the first SERP (search engine result page).

Organic SEO is the most cost-effective solution to online marketing, yet SEO can take time to produce a first page result. For most websites, the result is worth the wait. A first page organic ranking is the most effective means of attracting an audience.

For new websites, however, paid advertisements can be a quick, easy way to attract an audience. With Google AdWords, for example, you can quickly target a specific search to display your own text ad--traditionally above or below organic results, or to the right side of the SERP.

Yet paid advertising--referred to as PPC (Pay-Per-Click) or CPC (Cost-Per-Click) by Google--is a costly marketing method.  When a visitor clicks on your ad, you pay a fee.

Google ads traditionally appeared at the top and right side of a SERP. 
Despite the prominence of AdWords, many browsers choose to trust 
the first organic result. [Photo Source]

Traditionally, a Google SERP included up to eleven paid advertisements and eleven (or more) organic results. Last Friday, Google announced a major change to their SERP. The search engine confirmed it will no longer display ads on the right side of the page.

The change now limits SERP ads to a maximum seven-per-page--three (or four, in cases of highly "commercial queries") above the organic search results and three below the organic search results.

For most browsers, this change will likely go unnoticed. For online companies, however, the evolving Google SERP is, indeed, major news.

To our view, the change elicits two fundamental concerns:

The Cost of Paid Advertising

AdWords works on bids. As Google writes:

"AdWords runs an auction every single time it has an ad space available -- on a search result, or on a blog, news site, or some other page. Each auction decides which AdWords ads will show at that moment in that space. Your bid puts you in the auction."

Logically speaking, then, with fewer ads on any given page, the cost of each ad will likely increase. This is, of course, basic supply and demand.

Yet, the increase of top-of-the-page ads (from three to four) might actually decrease bids at the top--and potentially increase bids for bottom ads.

Then again, the efficiency of top-of-the-page ads (when compared to right side ads) might negate the addition of an additional spot. After all, many of the companies that formerly placed bids on right side ads, may shoot for the top. As Search Engine Land notes: "Ads in the banner positions receive 14X the click-through rate of the same ad on the same keyword on the right-hand side."

What is clear, as Search Engine Land notes, is that AdWord strategy is now in flux:

"Advertisers running bid-to-position strategies will need to make updates. That alone may cause auction patterns to fluctuate for a period as advertisers react to one another’s adjustments."

The Value of Organic SEO 

In his post on the new SERP layout, Larry Kim wrote, "the clear loser with this change is organic search. Paid position #4 is the new organic position #1."


Now, Kim's foreboding does dovetail with the notion that certain consumers do not distinguish the difference between ads and organic results. In fact, a few years ago, a research study revealed that 40% of consumers did not distinguish the difference. As Econsultancy reported:

"41 out of the 100 individuals tested did not know that Adwords were paid-for adverts, believing them instead to be the most authoritative links."

Still, even the findings of this study reveal that a majority of consumers do understand the difference. And even more comprehensive research, cited by Econsultancy in 2011, revealed that most browsers prefer organic results:

"Paid search only accounts for 6% of total clicks from search engines versus natural search at 94% of clicks, according to research from GroupM UK carried out with Nielsen."

For those browsers who understand the difference between ads and organic results, organic results will likely always be the top choice. For these browsers, another AdWord does not at all diminish the effect of the first (or subsequent) organic results.

In reality the change to Google's SERP layout increases the value of organic SEO. Or, as Search Engine Land noted, "increasing [costs] will mean that your SEO has to do more work than ever before."

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Friday, February 19, 2016

How to Analyze Three Key Website Data Points to Improve SEO

Most website owners do not use (or understand) website data--the rich analytical statistics that detail the performance of a website. This data is available to all websites for free via Google Analytics, or for a fee via enterprise SEO platforms. Yet most website owners ignore data in favor of intuition and guile.

An intuitive understanding of your audience is crucial to your website's success, but the combination of intuition with knowledge of website data--and how to use the data to your advantage--is the surest path to profits.

Website data can tell you precisely how people discover and interact with your website. With the help of this data, you can tweak your content to focus more specifically on the browsers who truly want or need your service; more importantly, you can perfect your "user experience," a term used in the SEO world to describe the experience of browsing your site.

Is your content easily discovered and shared. Do your pages load quickly? Is your website structure seamless? If so, your site will be viewed favorably by search engines.

As Moz notes in its "The Beginner's Guide to SEO",

"Usability and user experience are second order influences on search engine ranking success. They provide an indirect but measurable benefit to a site's external popularity, which the engines can then interpret as a signal of higher quality."

So how can you use your data to improve your user experience?

Click-Through Rate

Click-through rate (CTR) is a term used in AdWords to describe the difference between the number of people who see your ad and the number who actually click through.

Yet SERP CTR can be a helpful metric, too. SERP (search engine results page) CTR is the difference between how many people see your results in the rankings and how many people actually click-through to your page.

In either case, a higher CTR means that your website intrigues browsers by name and/or description alone. A lower CTR means that you're not successfully marketing your brand on the most basic level--you're not creating, as Neil Patel (see below) says, "a sizzling title or an appealing meta description."

Even then, CTR viewed by itself can be misleading. Once a browser clicks through, you want to make sure your content convinces him/her to stick around.

Dwell Time

"Dwell time" is a bit of SEO jargon coined by Bing's former webmaster, Duane Forrester, to describe how long a user dwells on your site before returning to the SERP.

As defined by Moz, dwell time is "an amalgam of bounce rate and time-on-site metrics."

When viewed in combination with SERP CTR, Moz believes, dwell time can be a "killer combo" for evaluating your site.

In case this makes no sense to you, let's take a step back.

Bounce rate is a Google term for the percentage of your visitors who only visit your site for a brief time before navigating away.Unfortunately, Google's definition of bounce rate "time" is somewhat vague:

"Bounce Rate is the percentage of single-page visits (i.e. visits in which the person left your site from the entrance page without interacting with the page)."

A Google Analytics image of "Bounce Rate" from Neil Patel's helpful article on dwell time.

To Google, bounce rate is a signal that the SERP did not adequately fulfill your needs--after all, you clicked on a result, then clicked away. A certain result might rank high on a given SERP, but if the bounce rate is high the site will inevitably decrease in the rankings.

Time-on-site (AKA: session duration) is a measurement of the total time a browser spends on your site.

Session Duration in Google Analytics [Source]

Since Google's definition of bounce rate is vague, some in the SEO world combine bounce rate with time-on-site to create the seemingly more accurate "dwell time."

Neil Patel combines dwell time with CTR to create an even more durable representation of website performance. His description is very easy to understand:

"If a user is spending time on a site, interacting with it, not bouncing, and going deeper within the content, it’s evident there is something of value on the site for that particular user. As this happens, SEO improves.

SERP CTR and dwell time converge in the nexus of SEO for this reason. A CTR is not alone an accurate presentation of user behavior. High CTRs can merely reflect a sizzling title or an appealing meta description.

CTR is not an indication of the quality of the content on the page itself. That’s where dwell time comes in. If dwell time is low, then the high SERP CTR is discounted in the algorithm’s calculation. If, on the other hand, the dwell time is high, then the CTR receives its due value."

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Saturday, February 13, 2016

Good SEO is Good Customer Service

SEO is not commonly paired with customer service. We tend to think of SEO (or marketing, in general) as the work that attracts customers. We tend to think about customer service as the work that retains customers. Yet the two practices should not be viewed as independent.

Good SEO is good customer service--and vice versa, of course.

To attract and retain customers, in fact, you must practice both in equal measure.

Good SEO Saves Customers Time 

One difference between traditional marketing and SEO: Traditional marketing often tries to convince a customer they need something new; SEO, on the other hand, simply helps customers find what they're already looking for. 

The great misconception about SEO is that website optimization is somehow equitable to spam. The opposite is true. Spam works by quantity. Blasting emails, for example, spammers play the numbers game, hoping for minimum conversions: 1% or less. Spam is so annoying because it applies a blanket approach to marketing: emailing everyone, regardless of the recipient's preferences,

SEO is, by nature, targeted marketing. Good SEO saves a customer time by promoting the most relevant, quality results for any given search. In fact, in this way, SEO works in tandem with search engines, which aim to streamline search, yielding only the best results. Instead of clicking pages deep, today's browser expects quality on the first page.

Spam = quantity and low conversions

SEO = quality and high conversion

By saving customers the hassle of browsing multiple pages, SEO and search engines promote good customer service Internet-wide.

Good SEO Creates a Pleasurable Customer Shopping Experience

A well-optimized site is not merely easy to find; a well-optimized site is, by nature, easy-to-use. We know that the better a site's structure, the better the user experience. We also know that ease-of-use is a crucial determinant of a website's ranking.

Writing on website structure recently, we quoted Kasia PerzyƄska of  Positionly:

"Shaping a thoughtful and engaging user experience helps readers perceive your website positively and triggers return visits. Usability and user experience provides measurable profits to a site’s visibility, which search engines interpret as being higher quality."

By nature then, the top-ranked sites (with good SEO) provide a pleasurable customer buying experience.

Imagine your favorite grocery store. You likely enjoy the store for its navigability: you find the foods you want easily; the aisles are wide; the shelves are stocked. To replicate this positive shopping experience online, optimize your website structure. Each page should provide easy-to-find links; and, of course, each page should itself be easy to identify and discover.

Good Customer Support Amplifies SEO

This is a no-brainer. If you offer easily-accessible customer support--via chat, responsive email, or a quality call center--your website will likely convert many potential customers. The more customers you convert, the more customer will return to buy more. The more returns, in turn, will improve SEO, creating a positive cycle of clicks and conversions.

The key here is to maintain a consistent level of quality. According to Kissmetrics, "71% of consumers have ended their relationship with a company due to poor customer service." Poor customer service will lead to decreased visits--negatively influencing SEO.

To succeed in business you must follow the wisdom of this Mo Hardy quote: "Customer service is an attitude, not a department.

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

SEO 101: How to Optimize Title Tags and Meta Descriptions

SEO is part technical, part creative. When optimizing a website, we focus on technical aspects first, but the real the work of SEO is in content marketing--creating and sharing your message.

Even then, however, the technical work of SEO never really ends. Each piece of content stands to benefit from SEO technical know-how. Without this technical know-how, in fact, any new content--no matter the quality--will likely fail to rank.

Today we will speak about two crucial technical strategies for optimizing each and every page on your website. Before you publish any new page to your website, make sure you optimize your title tags and meta-descriptions.

Optimize Your Title Tags

Title tags can work as both a page title and a description of the content of a page. On search engines, the title tag is displayed in search results as the title of any given web page. Once you click on the page, the title tag may or may not be displayed at the top of the browser (Firefox does this; Chrome does not).

In the image below--the top two results for a Google search of "title tags"--the title tags are:

Title Tag - Learn SEO - Moz

How to Write Title Tags For Search Engine Optimization.

Title Tag Examples from Google

These two websites, Moz and Search Engine Watch, utilize two different approaches to writing tags. Moz prefers a bare-bones approach: keyword phrases separated by dashes.

This title falls well within Moz's advice to keep titles under 55 characters. Beyond a certain (variable) number of characters, your title might get cut off. Yet, as Moz notes in its "Title Tag Guide," "a cut-off title isn't the kiss of death." Google ranks keywords beyond the cut-off.

That said, the SEO proverb, "write for people, not search engines," applies here, too. If your title is too long, and not specific, the cut-off might repel potential visitors.

Contrary to Moz's bare-bones approach, Search Engine Watch prefers a descriptive sentence. For some readers, a descriptive sentence might feel more attractive. The Search Engine Watch title jives with their advice to "write title tags for humans; format them for search engines."

In both cases, the title tag accurately describes the content of the page, and both titles include similar keywords.

Optimize Your Meta Descriptions

The meta description is the text that falls below the title tag in search engine results. In the example above, the meta description for Search Engine Watch begins "Properly written title tags are critical to your SEO strategy."

Actually, that's not entirely true. The Search Engine Watch meta description really begins at: "December, 31, 2012." By stating the date first, Search Engine Watch is hoping to impart relevance--although, this particular piece of content would ideally benefit from a "refresh."

Although the title tag should be fairly descriptive of the page content, the meta description is an opportunity to provide a more detailed description of the page itself.

Google claims that meta-descriptions do not effect search engine ranking, but they're vitally important to attracting a click-through to your page--and your click-through rate (CLR) certainly does effect search engine ranking.

Beyond your title, which is often self evident for any particular search, the meta description is an opportunity to stand out from other results. Write a description that will inspire browsers to click.

Like title tags, you're likely to see a variety of opinions on how to write an effective meta description. We happen to prefer the Search Engine Watch example above, which details information about the page. The Moz description, on the other hand, offers the beginning of the page's content (which is also descriptive).

In any case, meta descriptions should be relevant to the page, intriguing, and unique. And you want to make sure you limit your description to 156 characters--16 more characters than Twitter's famous 140 limit.

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