Just 61% of 6,399 global professionals believe their marketing strategy is effective, with many putting SEO as their top priority for 2018, according to new research.
Online marketing and SEO firm Reboot sought to investigate how companies feel toward marketing in 2018 – establishing what is a priority, challenge and trend.
Key findings include:
• 61% of 6,399 professionals believe their digital marketing is “effective.”
• Generating website traffic/leads: This year’s biggest marketing challenge.
• Growing SEO/organic presence: The top marketing priority in 2018.
• Paid advertising named “most over-rated” marketing tactic.
To achieve this, Reboot extracted data from the report State of Inbound by HubSpot. It revealed, it is likely marketers will focus first on converting leads into customers (70%) and growing traffic to their website (55%.) To achieve this, global professionals will observe the following digital marketing priorities in 2018:
1. Growing SEO/organic presence – 61%
2. Blog content creation – 53%
3. Content distribution and amplification – 47%
4. Marketing automation – 40%
5. Interactive content creation – 38%
The most over-rated marketing tactics, and therefore the least priority, were defined as: paid advertising (print, outdoor, broadcast) – 32%, social media organic – 13% and online paid advertising (social media ads, PPC) – 11%.
However, with change comes challenge. Echoing their priorities, marketers today have expressed they feel “generating traffic and leads” (63%) to be their biggest challenge, followed by proving ROI (return on investment) – at 40%, and securing budget (28%) for marketing programs. The full five 2018 digital marketing challenges denoted as:
1. Generating traffic and leads – 63%
2. Proving the ROI of marketing activities – 40%
3. Securing budget – 28%
4. Identifying the “right technologies” – 26%
5. Managing the company website – 26%
Alongside this, global professionals identified the main disruptors in marketing – moving into 2018 – to be: Artificial intelligence (A.I.), Virtual Reality (V.R.) and social platforms.
Interestingly, just 61% of company respondents are happy with their marketing strategy, and believe it is effective. To combat this, Reboot chose to look at five effective marketing swaps to transform your business in 2018. Press information for immediate release Reboot
View an infographic from Reboot Online outlining the data below:
As we enter 2018, it’s time to say goodbye to some old SEO habits.
These are SEO tactics that just plain don’t work, or even worse, can get a website penalized.
Below is a list of the top nine habits that need to be kicked to the curb.
1. Creating One Page for Each Keyword Variation
With semantic search, we are well past the days where we optimized one page for one keyword.
The focus is now on the overall topic for each page, which can help support themes within a website.
There is still remnants of the one keyword, one page approach, though, and it often shows up with local pages.
Barry Schwartz talked about the issue of “keyword permutations” in December 2017 after an unconfirmed Google update (the Google Maccabees Update).
After reviewing websites that people submitted to Schwartz to review, one common issue found was related to local landing pages, such as [city name] + [service A] and then [city name] + [service B].
The additional issue that often comes up with these types of pages is that they provide little value for users.
You need to have content that is valuable to your visitors.
That means no more boilerplate content!
2. Aggressive Link Building
Links. Will we ever get away from them?
Before we talk about poor link building habits, it’s important to mention that links still mattertoday.
Eric Enge wrote a great article here on Search Engine Journal, Links Are Still Fundamental to Organic Search Rankings – Here’s Proof, about the subject.
Links are a public endorsement and reflect that a website has valuable information.
Google gives a lot of weight to links as a ranking signal.
Where the problems occur, though, is when links are gathered in an unnatural way, such as through link schemes, poor link directories, purchasing links, and other spammy tactics.
As we start the new year, these aggressive link building techniques should be abandoned and the focus should be on a link strategy that is more marketing and user-focused.
3. Adding Marginal Content for SEO Purposes
You can’t have SEO without content.
SEO and content are intertwined.
If you don’t optimize your content, searchers won’t find you.
So, there is no question that we need content, but there is still a problem.
Marginal content is often added to websites simply for the purpose of “improving SEO.”
However, having just any content isn’t good enough.
The content has to be considered high quality, especially when compared to the competition.
Glenn Gabe talked about this issue over the summer after checking out multiple sites following an unconfirmed Google update.
4. Not Fixing (or Identifying) Harmful Technical Problems
After doing countless technical SEO audits, I can confidently tell you that most websites have some type of issue that hurts their search performance.
Adding content and attracting links is great.
But if your website has underlying technical issues, rankings could still be negatively impacted.
The most common technical problems include:
- Improper redirects (i.e. redirect chains, 302s instead of 301s, non-use of redirects, etc.).
- Slow page load time.
- Mobile errors.
- Duplicate content.
- Unintentional blocked pages.
Here is a great Search Engine Journal article with more insight on technical SEO: Most Common Technical SEO Mistakes: How Severe Are They?
5. Forgetting to Optimize Images
One of the often-overlooked SEO opportunities has to do with images.
As SEO professionals, we need to take every opportunity to show up in search results, including optimizing for image search.
When adding images to your website, don’t forget about the image filename and alt attribute.
Instead of an image filename of XYZ123.jpg, consider including a keyword that is descriptive of the image, such as organic-coffee-beans.jpg.
As far as the alt attribute, it should not be keyword stuffed, but should be descriptive of the image.
If the image is in line with the topic of the page, which it should be, then it would be natural to have a keyword in the description.
6. Linking Excessively Between Your Websites
I’m including this one because not only do I get this question when teaching SEO workshops, but I heard someone recently give the recommendation to link frequently between your websites because it will help you rank. That advice is inaccurate.
Linking excessively between your websites with the intent to boost your backlink profile has the potential to hurt you more than it does to help you. It’s an outdated SEO technique.
7. Trying to ‘Trick’ Google Versus Playing by the Rules
“Good” SEO means you are in the business of earning rankings, not exploiting the search engines.
While it’s important to know what Google rewards and focus on those areas, by no means should those areas be exploited.
I have heard people make comments that they are implementing techniques that are getting them ranked while flying under Google’s radar.
That doesn’t work for long.
Usually it’s only a matter of time until a site is hurt by those tactics.
For example, after AMP rolled out, some websites started creating teaser pages using AMP technology. These pages would show just a snippet of the content and then direct users to click through to the original page.
Google eventually enacted an AMP policy that went after these sites. You can read more here: Google to Go After Sites That Use AMPs as Teaser Pages.
Changing article dates to show content freshness is another trick that could come back to bite you. Read more here: Safe or Risky SEO: How Dangerous Is It REALLY to Change Your Article Dates?
8. Focusing on Keyword Rankings as the Main Measurement of Success
In a world of personalization, location tracking, web history, and now voice search, keyword rankings don’t always give us a true picture of how we are doing.
People use a wide variety of queries to search for products and answers.
I’m not saying that you ignore keyword rankings, but what I am saying is that you have to start diving deeper into the data.
- What type of traffic are you getting?
- What are the conversions?
- Are people engaging with your website?
These are the questions you should be answering.
9. Practicing SEO as if Nothing Ever Changes
The fact that you are reading this article likely means you are someone who keeps up with changes in SEO.
Failing to stay up-to-date on best practices, algorithm changes, and webmaster guidelines is detrimental to your SEO success.
A habit that you should take into 2018 is to spend time weekly (even daily) reading up on the latest in SEO.
Here’s to an exciting 2018 in SEO. Cheers!
That fact, more than anything else I’ll say in this article, explains the importance of SEO.
As I said last week, there are a variety of internet marketing strategies that can help your business get found online. But one of the most important is organic search: instead of reaching out to people who may or may not want your service, it allows you to be present at the exact moment your potential customer is looking for a business just like yours.
There are two components to any successful SEO strategy: On-Page SEO and Off-Page SEO. To begin, let’s look at On-Page SEO.
On-Page SEO is everything you do on your website to make it seen by search engines.
A lot of this is the more technical side of SEO. So you’ll want to make sure your site runs quickly enough. Check your site speed on Pingdom. If it takes more than three seconds to load, you’re in trouble, since 40% of people leave websites after the first three seconds of load time.
To speed up your site, you might want to reduce the number of images on your site. You can check out this article for a more in-depth dive into site speed.
Once you’ve tackled the more technical stuff, it’s time to make sure all your pages follow basic on-page optimization rules. This means coming up with keywords for all your most important pages.
To start, you’ll want to think of they keywords that your customers will type in while trying to find you. For a plastic surgeon, this might be “Boca Raton Facelift,” “Boca Raton Plastic Surgery,” etc. Plug variations of these terms into Google Trends to see which ones people search for the most (“Boca Raton Facelift” or “Facelift Boca Raton”, for instance). Then head over to SEMRush to get an estimate of how many searchers you’ll be targeting.
Once you have your list of keywords — in a perfect world, you’ll have a keyword for most of your pages, but if you don’t hire an SEO you can probably get away with optimizing your highest-traffic pages — you’ll want to assign each keyword to a page.
Make sure each keyword has one associated page. Otherwise two of your own pages will be competing for the same keyword, which is counter-productive.
You’ll want to make sure the title of your page features the keyword as soon as possible. Then, you’ll want to use the keyword several times in the page itself. This should come naturally, since the keyword you’ve chosen for the page should also be the chief topic of that page.
Pay special attention to the bold headings that demarcate subsections of the page. Keywords in these headings, known as H2 Headings, have more weight for search engines.
Each page you write should have a decent amount of content, because this will help search engines determine if your page is authoritative on the keyword it’s targeting. For competitive keywords, it’s recommended to write 2,000+ words, but for less competitive keywords you can get away with a little less.
Don’t just add random fluff to a page. You want to have a lot of text on your pages in order to write authoritatively on the subject. If you feel the subject of the page deserves less words than that, go with your gut.
This is just a quick summation of On-Page SEO, but if you follow these rules, you should be ahead of your competitors who know nothing about SEO.
Off-Page SEO, also known as Link Building, is the art of getting other people to link to your website.
It’s significantly harder than On-Page SEO, because with Off-Page SEO you have less control.
You can’t just choose keywords and implement them on your site. You have to figure out ways of convincing other people to link to your site.
How do you do this? There are some great articles out there that list a variety of methods.
You can create infographics, submit them to infographic websites, and get links that way.
You can guest post on blogs.
You can reach out to journalists and get them to write about your business.
These are all valid tactics, but the best tactic I’ve found is somewhat simpler. Create a good piece of content, something people in your industry will want to share. Then, market that content any way you know how: email people in your industry, post it on social media sites, talk about it in your newsletter.
Let everyone know that you’ve created a link worthy piece of content.
If you do this at least once a month — making sure your content really is good — you’ll eventually get people talking. That means links to your site.
These links have the most value, because it’s what Google recommends you do. They don’t like Link Building tactics that look unnatural, which is why I don’t recommend things like putting links to your site in the comments of a hundred blog articles
Instead, they want to see that people are linking to your site because your site offers them value.
Hiring an SEO
Of course, this article just skims the surface of SEO. It should help you rank above people who don’t know anything about SEO, but a lot of businesses at this point have invested significantly in their SEO efforts.
In this column, we’ll attempt to dive deep into the various components of SEO, allowing you to more fully compete with other businesses. At a certain point you’ll probably be interested in hiring an SEO, but if you’re trying to do it yourself, this column should help you get a clearer understanding of what SEO entails.
There are almost always risks involved when optimizing a website.
Say you’re planning on re-platforming your website with a new site design and URL structure change; you risk the rankings that you currently have. They could plummet, or maybe not — it’s a risk you have to weigh.
But the risk of decreasing the SEO value can be worth the opportunity of SEO gains, especially if you’re experiencing decreases in organic rankings across the board.
Below are five SEO tactics that are worth the risks – and three you must avoid at all costs.
When to Take SEO Risks
Before you undertake any risk that involves your SEO rankings, you must weigh the risks versus the rewards.
For example, if a webpage ranks for a bunch of keyword phrases in the top 5-10, what could you lose by making a change compared to what you would gain?
In SEMrush, you can see what pages rank for which keyword phrase. You can look at the entire site for site-wide changes or individual pages.
In the example below, this page currently already ranks for a ton of phrases in Google. Therefore, making substantial changes to it could severely decrease the rankings and drastically hurt your SEO efforts.
However, on the flip side, the example below shows rankings in the top 4-6 range for its main keyword phrases. This could be a good opportunity to better optimize this page to try to gain higher rankings. The traffic you’ll get from positions 4-6 is much less than from positions 1-3.
You can also go into Google Analytics (Acquisition > Channels > Organic Search > Landing Page) and compare year-on-year (YoY) data for the performance of all landing pages from post-click hits from Google.
If key metrics (e.g., traffic, revenue, conversion rate, bounce rate, time on site) are decreasing for pages, this could be a good opportunity to start optimizing those pages.
In the example below, I would want to look at the homepage and understand more about why the traffic, revenue, and other key metrics are decreasing to identify a plan to remedy the situation.
SEO Risks to Take
Once you have identified and evaluated the risk and reward, it’s time to figure out different tactics that you could implement.
Here are some notable SEO risks that I have taken with different websites.
1. A/B Testing Meta Information
Some believe organic click-through rates impact rankings, which makes sense. Google wants the most relevant listings to come up when someone searches.
If no one is clicking on your listing, then Google might deem that page to be not relevant for that search phrase and will not list you moving forward. Also, they won’t list you if the keyword strategy/content on your meta titles and descriptions are poor.
This creates a good opportunity to A/B test different meta title and meta descriptioncombinations on various pages.
For instance, using the example above from SEMrush (screenshot with rankings 4-6), here is our meta information for the page:
<title>Ford Ranger Lift Kits | Company Name | Company Name</title>
<meta name=”description” content=”Lift kits for your Ford Ranger from Company Name. Shop today and find the right kit for your truck!”/>
These title tags and the meta description are incomplete and have room for improvement to optimize for CTR and a broader set of keywords outside of “Ford Ranger Lift Kits.”
This would be a good opportunity to optimize this page, document when you optimized it, and then evaluate the results.
If this produces positive results, then you can do this for multiple pages.
2. Changing URL Structure
Many times, in the e-commerce SEO space, retailers use old e-commerce platforms with poor site structure navigation.
This comes from custom cart solutions or outdated cart solutions using inferior site architecture compared to keyword-rich URLs.
Optimizing your URLs and making them simpler and more keyword friendly can provide a lot of benefits from higher correlations of high rankings with having short keyword-friendly URLs in subfolders — i.e., example.com/benefits-10-teas compared to example.com/main-page-here-describing-the-best-health-benefits-of-10-teas.
This also makes it easier for users to know what a page is about in Google’s search results.
Below is the top Google search result for [10 best teas for health]:
It has a clear URL structure.
If you decide to change your URL structure, I would recommend not doing it site-wide to begin with. Start by optimizing 20 or so pages, and then make incremental changes to the pages you have.
Always make sure that you measure the results after any changes you make to make sure that it’s having a positive impact.
Assuming you see a positive result, continue changing your URLs until they are all complete.
Also, it’s important to make sure that you 301 redirect old URLs to their new URL paths; otherwise, you could lose out on the link value the old pages used to have.
If you find yourself in a situation where you have to change all of your URLs, such as migrating to a new platform, I would still recommend changing 20 or so and analyzing your results.
Changing all of your URLs at once can hurt your organic rankings, and this is the least desirable option.
Always try to do a small experiment first, measure your results, and then make larger scale changes.
3. Improving User Experience
In my opinion, user experience just might be the most important Google ranking factor.
This study showed a small player was able to compete with much larger companies and rank higher with only a higher Alexa rating and Instagram pretense.
Optimizing for the user experience and looking at your metrics (e.g., time on page, bounce rate, site duration) will be paramount for winning in a competitive Google landscape moving forward.
Using the example from Google Analytics above, I would audit the landing pages and identify any underperforming pages.
We want to optimize these pages to give a better user experience, which will, in turn, increase the usability metrics and, in theory, increase our Google rankings.
There is not an exact template out there on how to improve user experience, but some examples I have used in the past which have worked included:
- Putting reviews on product pages.
- Implementing video content on category and product pages.
- Putting explanatory content on category pages.
- Removing content from category pages.
As you might have noticed, improving user experience is a bit of a gray area. It’s not clearly defined, so the only way that you know if it improves your user experience is through an increase in usability metrics outlined from Google Analytics.
Again, just always make small changes, measure and analyze your results, and then make changes on a larger scale once you find success.
4. New Holistic Website Design
If you have limited resources for a website that is decreasing in usability metrics YoY (even compounding YoY), then it might be a good idea to look at a holistic website redesign compared to making incremental changes.
A good website design and strategy can build trust with consumers and make it more likely that they will interact with your content.
Creating a new website always carries a risk and, in a lot of situations, it can drop your conversion rates initially.
However, over time, with the right strategy and design, a new website design will improve upon the usability metrics; hopefully, improve your organic rankings; and help your business grow.
Just to note: you always want to think of external factor as well, such as new competitors, decreased market demand, and more before you decide if a new website design will correct any decreases in your usability metrics.
5. Acquiring High-Quality Backlinks
Unfortunately, I still find many websites that are scared of backlinks and Google penaltiesthat are associated with them.
You have to work very hard to achieve a manual Google penalty. I have only seen it a handful of times, and that was back in the 2012-2013 era when many online merchants were trying to spam backlinks.
Backlinks have a high correlation to ranking high in Google, and you should always look to acquire them when you can.
Google is more likely to reward than penalize you.
If your current backlink strategy isn’t working then, it may be because Google is not giving credit for those links.
Instead of writing off backlinks or giving up, look to improve the quality (not the quantity) of your efforts.
SEO Risks to Avoid
While there are some SEO risks that are worth considering, there are also some that you want to avoid like the plague.
Please note, I understand that some of these are somewhat outlandish. Even though some would not be utilized for the vast majority of SEO professionals out there, I still hear of SEO practitioners who think that using these tactics will work in their favor.
1. Disallowing Neutral Backlinks
Finding a way to describe this is difficult, so I came up with the word “neutral” backlinks.
Many SEO professionals will disavow low-quality backlinks, even though Google has said disavowing links is not really needed unless Google has taken manual action on your website. I do this myself.
However, many professionals out there don’t understand how backlinks work and will disavow backlinks that I would refer to as neutral. They aren’t helping your site rank higher, but they aren’t hurting your rankings, either.
But why even risk disavowing them in the first place?
I don’t think it’s a risk worth taking, and I always recommend being very conservative with any disavow lists.
The Penguin 4.0 update removed site-wide penalties for bad backlinks and, honestly, it’s very difficult to achieve Google penalties for backlinks.
Google understands you cannot always control which websites link to yours, which is why they are ignoring backlinks instead of punishing.
Therefore, you don’t know what is helping, but you can infer they are not hurting you – so why disavow them in the first place?
I still recommend doing disavow files, but only disavowing links you wouldn’t want to show your mother. If they don’t provide any value, then just let them stay there, out in the interwebs, but keep it away from your disavow file.
2. Deleting or Consolidating Pages
I never understood the need to delete pages of content or URLs.
Nevertheless, if you need to delete pages, you risk your site not ranking for those keywords anymore. That might be fine, especially if they are categories of products you no longer wish to sell, but, if you want to keep those keyword rankings, then don’t delete the page.
If you are deleting product pages you no longer carry, then make the page say, “This product is no longer available, and here are some relevant products you may be interested in.”
This way, you are not deleting the URL, and you are still offering the searcher something when they get to your page.
If you are consolidating pages, then make sure the old URL 301 redirects to the new URL – and make sure the new page can cover the wide range of keyword phrases the old pages were ranking for.
3. Making Site Wide Changes First
This one cannot be avoided if you are limited on resources.
I always highly recommend making a small incremental change first, measuring the results, and then making larger incremental changes afterward based on the results you have achieved.
Hopefully, these SEO risks worth taking (and not taking) will help you in your SEO journey.
It’s also important to note that not doing anything when it comes to SEO is also a risk. Every day Google gets more advanced and competitors get better; therefore, you need to continuously optimize your website.
If you’ve been thinking about starting a search engine optimization (SEO) campaign, you’ve likely run into a serious obstacle: money. Big-name agencies charge upwards of tens of thousands of dollars a month to manage a campaign, and hiring a new full-time manager and/or a suite of specialized contractors to help you execute the work could cost you just as much.
So is there a way to start an SEO campaign without a significant monetary investment?
The Three Ingredients of SEO
Let’s explore the question by first describing the three main pillars of SEO:
1. On-site optimization. On-site optimization is all about making sure search engines will index your pages, providing a functional website for users, and including enough content so that search engines will be able to present your site for the right types of queries. Most on-site optimization tactics are one-time changes with occasional tweaks and upgrades in the future.
2. Ongoing content development. Publishing new content for your site on a regular basis increases your site’s domain authority, which in turn increases your likelihood of ranking. It also provides more keyword-rich content for search engines to index, and gives you a chance to earn more inbound links.
3. Link building. Finally, you’ll want to spend time building or earning links for your site. The quality and quantity of links you have will dictate your overall authority, so it’s not something you can afford to neglect.
All three of these strategic areas, when developed over time, will cumulatively result in higher domain authority, which will lead to higher rankings for all queries relevant to your site.
What You Can Do With (Almost) No Money
Let’s say you don’t want to spend much money a campaign—or that you want to try to spend no money whatsoever. What can you do to get started in SEO?
- Choose a website builder that supports SEO. If you’re trying to save money, you probably won’t be able to afford a custom build. Instead, you’ll need to rely on a free or inexpensive website builder, using design templates to put your site together. Thankfully, most modern website builders support SEO, offering professional coding that search engines will index cleanly, and guides to help you set up your site to be found in search engines. This will help you get off to a good start.
- Choose strong keyword and topic targets. Next, you’ll need to spend some time researching which keywords and topics you want to target in your on-site optimization and ongoing content. Moz’s Keyword Explorer tool is relatively accessible to newcomers, with helpful descriptions to guide your research and final decisions. Once you have a set of keywords and topics to work with, you can make progress in other areas.
- Optimize your titles and meta descriptions. The titles and meta descriptions of your site’s pages are what will show up in searches for your site. Make sure they’re optimized with keywords relevant to the on-page content, and are phrased in an enticing way (to maximize click-throughs). Depending on the size of your site, this will likely only take a few hours.
- Write strong content on all your core pages. Every main page on your site should have at least several hundred words of content on it; this is the “meat” that Google will use to analyze the purpose of your content, and the context by which it will judge the quality of the page. Be accurate, concise, and descriptive.
- Produce new content at least once a week. You don’t need to spend money if you create your own content, but make sure you’re writing high-quality material that your audience actually wants to read. If you’re just getting started, a post a week should be enough to help you build momentum, but you’ll eventually want to scale up.
- Build your off-site presence. Spend some time building up your off-site presence; make sure you’ve claimed your brand’s social media profiles on each major social platform, and write rich content for their description sections. Start posting regularly on each channel, with occasional links to your on-site content.
- Encourage sharing and linking. Through your social media channels, off-site forums, and other outlets, try to encourage your earliest audience members to share and link to your content as much as possible. The more links you earn naturally, the higher your domain authority will grow, and the more shares you get, the more people you’ll have reading and engaging with your material.
- Start building links. Link building is usually difficult for newcomers with a small budget, but it’s not impossible. You’ll need to invest time in landing guest authorship spots on external publishers, and work to get your content featured in as many external sources as possible. You’ll also need to support your work with ongoing syndication and sharing, maximizing your chances of earning links from your audience. Without links, you can’t build authority, so make sure this is a part of even your earliest fledgling strategies. Link building is the most difficult of the SEO pillars, but I’ve written a full guide on how to do it called SEO Link Building: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide.
When You’ll Need Money
These strategies can get you started with an SEO campaign, even if you don’t have much money to spend, but alone, they probably won’t earn you the results you want. If you want to be successful in today’s highly competitive SEO market, you’ll need to invest some serious time into the quality and frequency of your published content.
You’ll need to earn links on high-authority publishers, and you’ll need to build a loyal audience, and relatively quickly. And while it’s certainly possible to do all this yourself, it’s far more efficient, especially if you’re new to the world of SEO and you’re wearing many startup hats, to pay an expert to help you out, providing direction and accomplishing the legwork.
Every dollar you spend on SEO, so long as you spend it with the right agency or contractor, will provide more than its share of returns.
The arrival of the Pinterest Lens and Google Lens has ignited a battle for visual search engine supremacy. Beyond opening up a new revenue stream for e-commerce stores, visual search could completely alter consumer habits and purchasing decisions.
In a world driven by instant gratification, visual search can open the door toward “snap and surf” purchasing, streamlining the search interface. This provides a promising outlook for e-commerce stores that develop their product listing ads (PLAs) and online catalogs for the visual web.
While still in its infancy, optimizing for visual search could greatly improve your website’s user experience, conversion rate and online traffic. Yet images are often given very little attention by SEO experts, who generally focus more on optimizing for speed than for alternative attributes and appeal.
While visual search won’t displace the use of keywords and the importance of text-based search, it could completely disrupt the SEO and SEM industry. I’d like to discuss some of the fundamentals of visual search and how it will affect our digital marketing strategy moving forward.
What is visual search?
There are currently three different visual search processes being employed by major search companies:
- Traditional image search that relies on textual queries.
- Reverse image search that relies on structured data to determine similar characteristics.
- Pixel-by-pixel image searches that enable “snap and search” by image or by parts of the image.
In this article, I’m focusing mainly on the third type, which allows consumers to discover information or products online by simply uploading or snapping a picture and focusing their query on the part of the image they’d like to research. It’s essentially the same as text search, just with an image representing the query that’s being matched to it.
TinEye provided the first visual search application, which is still in use today. This form of image search matched the image to other images on the web based on similar characteristics, such as shapes and colors. Unfortunately, TinEye provided a limited range of search applications by failing to map out the outlines of different objects in an image.
Today’s image recognition technology can actually recognize multiple shapes and outlines contained within a single image to allow users to match to different objects. For example, Microsoft’s image search technology allows users to search for specific items pictured within a larger image.
Microsoft is even working on detecting when the selected portion of the image has a shopping intent, showing “related products” in these instances. Unfortunately, Microsoft’s visual search is fairly limited to a few verticals, such as home appliances and travel.
Right now, this technology is limited. What companies like Pinterest, Microsoft and Google are investing in is a visual search application powered by machine learning technology and deep neural networks.
The idea is to get machines to recognize different shapes, sizes and colors in images the same way the human brain does. When we look at specific pictures, we do not see a sea of points and dotted lines. We immediately identify patterns and shapes based on past experiences. Unfortunately, we still barely understand how our minds interpret images, so programming this into a machine presents some obvious complications.
Visual search engines have come to rely on neural networks that utilize machine learning technology to improve upon its process. Companies like Google benefit from their wealth of information that allows its Lens application to constantly improve upon its search functionality. Google Lens is not only able to identify different objects within pictures but is also able to match them to locations near you, provide customer reviews and sort listings by the same principles that govern its own search algorithms.
Implications and future
So, what does this technology entail for users and businesses? Imagine being able to snap a picture of a restaurant and have a search engine tell you the name of the restaurant, the location, peak demand times and menu specials for the night. This technology could feasibly be used to snap a picture of a pair of shoes from a magazine or from a stranger and enable you to order them right there.
For e-commerce stores, visual search puts people very high in the funnel. With some unique images, product reviews and a good product description, you can entice buyers to make a purchasing decision on the spot.
This will also open up the field of competition a little bit. The Pinterest visual search engine is by far one of the most disruptive on the market. However, Pinterest’s search engine only redirects pinners to posts on Pinterest, meaning you’ll need to develop a presence on this platform to reach those audience members.
With the rise of voice search and natural language processing (NLP) accompanying this trend, this technology could help kick-start the trend of interface-free SEO. (Although I suspect that keywords and text-based search will still retain its importance, even for shopping and purchasing decisions.)
In terms of optimizing for visual search, some of the most fundamental SEO practices will still apply. Structured data remains incredibly important, especially for visual search algorithms like Microsoft’s that still rely on it to match characteristics.
It’s important that images are displayed clearly and free of clutter so that visual applications have an easier time processing them. Beyond this, you should stick to the basics of image-based search optimization:
- Add descriptive alt-text to images for indexation.
- Submit images to an image sitemap.
- Optimize image titles and alternative attributes with targeted keywords.
- Set up image badges and run them through a structured data test.
- Optimize for ideal image size and file type.
- Utilize appropriate schema markup for images and content pages.
- Optimize images to render on mobile and desktop displays.
Visual search will provide a new revenue stream for e-commerce stores and vastly improve the user’s shopping experience. This could have a major impact on SEO and paid media, bringing back a renewed focus on image optimization, which has long been ignored by SEO practitioners. This new frontier of search will only reinforce existing strategies for SEO and make the need to optimize for mobile search and your visual web presence more prescient.
A research from OMD China tracked search behaviors of 150 individuals for two weeks across all their devices to understand what truly works for search advertising.
Search remains an essential component of every marketer’s arsenal, yet in China there is little understanding of the practice beyond spends, keywords and bidding.
Bhasker Jaiswal, managing partner of marketing sciences at OMD China, added that China’s search landscape has changed so fast that generic (pay-per-click) strategies don’t suffice.
Generic PPC strategies just don’t suffice anymore.
And it was marketers’ duties to delve further. The latest industry research report from OMD China, dubbed “DIVE SEARCH”, tracked search behaviors of 150 individuals for two weeks across all their devices, collecting over 13,000 search strings to shred some lights on consumer search behaviours, as well as how search advertising influences their purchase decisions.
They don’t really care about your product.
According to the study, a majority of the consumer searches are actually about basic life necessities. Product and service related searches only make up 19% of total search.
The less they know, the more they search.
Interestingly, females search far more than males in the automotive category (8.1 vs 5.8) and males search more on skincare than females (6 vs 4.7), indicating that those who actively search your products online are not always your target customers.
When they search, they dive.
Consumers are also found to be “information-hungry”. 90% of searchers go beyond the first search page, and 80% use more than one search engine.
No surprise, mobile eclipses PC.
Consumers switch search device depending on time of the day, but in general, mobile is used for its availability and PC for viewability. Mobile has exceeded PC to become the number one device used for search (52% vs 41%).
Search advertising does have a role
Impact of search advertising on consumer purchase decision is still significant, and it’s figure-proven. For the auto category, 69% of users find Brandzone more attractive than regular search pages, and 83% of them will click on promotional links to get more information.
Older generations adopt audio-search more than younger ones
Consumers are adopting new search technology; 97% of searchers use auto-completion while searching, and 68% use voice or picture search. Older generations use these features more often than the young for convenience.
Google and Amazon both announce new device partnerships; the Google Assistant will be on new “smart display” devices, more TVs, speakers and in cars.
Last week Google announced that the Google Assistant was available on 400 million devices. At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this evening it announced an array new device partnerships.
Rival Amazon is also making announcements at CES with a range of device makers. Alexa is being integrated into a set of expensive augmented reality glasses ($1,000) from Vuzix. More significantly, it will be added to PCs and laptops from Acer, Asus and HP. This represents a significant potential challenge to Cortana.
It’s safe to say that Amazon has now taken over from Apple as the virtual assistant leader, if not in absolute device numbers then in terms of visibility and momentum. According to a range of third party estimates, Amazon has roughly three-fourths of the smart speaker market to Google’s 25 percent.
Suggesting that it’s gaining on Alexa, last week Google said there was robust demand for Google Home. The company asserted it “sold more than one Google Home every second since Google Home Mini started shipping in October.” That means, since approximately October 19, Google has sold nearly 7 million devices. That’s not all of Google Home sales but suggests the totality of devices sold is below 10 million.
Among the list of devices the Google Assistant is being integrated into are “smart displays” (see video below). They will initially come from JBL, Lenovo, LG and Sony. Google was rumored to be working on its own answer to the Amazon Echo Show, which of course has a screen. It’s not clear if a Google Home branded smart screen device is still in the works or if the company will rely on these and other third parties instead.
The screen creates a range of obvious new user experience possibilities as well as new marketing and commerce capabilities for brands, publishers and marketers. That same potential with the Echo Show has to date been mostly unrealized.
The new smart screen Google Assistant devices will make video calls, access Google Photos and show YouTube videos. Amazon’s Echo Show and Fire TV have been blocked from showing YouTube for allegedly violating Google’s terms of service and not offering Google products reciprocity on Amazon.com.
The Google Assistant is also coming to more smart TVs. In addition to existing offerings from Sony and NVIDIA, introduced last year, TV makers integrating the Assistant include including TCL, Element, Hisense, Westinghouse and LG.
There will also be new, third-party smart speakers incorporating the Assistant, from Bang & Olufsen, Braven, iHome, JBL, Jensen, LG, Klipsch, Knit Audio, Memorex and SōLIS. New headphone partners include JBL, LG, Jaybird and Sony.
Finally, Google said the Assistant will roll out to all cars that feature Android Auto, now available from most major car makers on more than 400 models. Google Assistant is also compatible with more than 1,500 smart home devices and accessories.
Google Assistant: Smart Displays
They get better rankings with fewer links. They get “penalized” for improper conduct, only to resurface a few weeks later.
Small brands, on the other hand?
Never get the benefit of the doubt. Need to earn twice as many links. And never resurface. Ever.
And this is only accelerating. It’s only getting more pronounced.
So much so, that there’s virtually nothing else you should focus on in 2018, besides building a brand. Big brands will get showcased in the SERPs. And small companies will be left in the dust.
SERPs Are Changing Dramatically
Google is known for tinkering. Thousands of times a year.
But it isn’t just the algorithm updates we should pay attention to. The cause and effect of layout adjustments also changes user behavior.
For example, featured snippets have been on the rise.
Moz found that they’ve risen from 5.5 percent to 16 percent in just two years. But they recently saw a 10 percent decrease in featured snippets in a matter of four days.
So, what happened?
The knowledge panels got a serious boost in visibility, for starters. Search terms like “Graphic Design,” that once had featured snippets, now have gone full knowledge panel:
And all those related searches above have it now, too. Even a generic search for “travel” will net you this:
Moz also found a 30 percent increase in knowledge panels for SERPs without a featured snippet in the first place.
So what’s happening?
Google is trying to answer the query. With content from other people. Without requiring them to click to view the source.
Where searches for “travel” would once net travel-based blog posts or definitions on branded sites, Google now pulls data directly into the SERPs.
And most of that content is coming from huge brands and definition-based sources like Wikipedia.
That means the pool of helpful content is narrowed down to a few big players.
People don’t have to click on an organic listing to get information anymore. And currently, only one brand is being featured in a given knowledge panel.
Spoiler alert: It probably isn’t you.
Less and less people are clicking on actual search engine listings now. We’re currently at a 60/40 split.
Only 60 percent of searches on Google results in a click. That’s 40 percent generating zero clicks. And smarter people than me expect that to hit 50 percent soon.
And for smaller fish trying to swim past the reef, that’s bad news.
Google’s implementation of the Knowledge Graph is solving user problems without the need to click. And the majority of brands ranking in the knowledge panels are the big ones.
That means less traffic, fewer clicks, and more importantly: less organically-driven sales.
Brand Recognition Is Critical to Getting Clicks
Do me a favor real quick:
Perform a basic test right now on Google. Perform an obscure, long-tail search for an industry keyword and analyze the SERPs.
What do you see? What sticks out instantly?
HubSpot. Search Engine Journal. Marketo.
bestmarketingblogger.com? Not so much.
Even if bestmarketingblogger.com is ranking #1, you’re probably going to skip right over it to a familiar site.
Just like you’d choose Coca-Cola over your local grocery store’s generic version.
Brand recognition is a powerful thing. Powerful enough for you to skip on Google’s top ranking post. Powerful enough to drive a more expensive sale.
We can’t help it. We’re creatures of habit.
We do what feels comfortable. What we know and what we can trust.
For example, a Nielsen study found that global consumers are far more likely to buy new products from brands that are familiar.
Sixty percent of consumers would rather buy new products from a familiar brand that they recall, rather than switching to a new one.
Take this “basketball shoes” sponsored search result for an example:
Which shoe would you buy? Probably Nike.
They’re a familiar brand that’s known for producing high-quality basketball shoes. Plus they’ve got Lebron and Kobe and Jordan.
Champion on the other hand? C’mon, son.
The Champion shoe could be cheaper. And you’re still more likely to click on Nike, first.
Trust is one of the most important factors in making a purchase decision. And it’s no different when it comes to organic search results.
You’re going to click on what you know and trust. And that all comes down to branding.
For example, with this SERP below, nearly every article is the same.
“XX SEO tips for small businesses.” The content is virtually the same. Meaning clicks are going to come down to one thing:
Does Forbes instantly stand out in your mind as a popular source of information? They get the click. Even though it has nothing to do with their content quality (another spoiler: It’s not good).
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Research from Search Engine Land and Survey Monkey again proves this underlying trend. They surveyed over 400 consumers on one specific question:
What is most important in helping you decide which results to click on in a search engine search?
According to their data, nearly 70 percent of U.S. consumers said they look for a “known retailer” when deciding what search results to click on.
The stronger the brand recognition, the higher the odds of generating clicks. Which means the higher the odds of getting the sale.
SERP CTR Is Beginning to Outperform Rankings
Ranking number one doesn’t mean what it used to anymore.
The stats I referenced above prove that’s not the case anymore.
If nobody knows who you are, you aren’t generating 30+ percent of the organic clicks. The content might be amazing. But you’re a nobody. So nobody’s giving you a chance.
SERP CTR is becoming more important than traditional rankings, too.
And in fact, SERP CTR likely has an impact on rankings.
While links and content are the top two direct ranking factors, SERP CTR is creeping up as an indirect factor.
Check out this tweet from Rand Fishkin of Moz:
That’s evidence of Google analyzing search queries and clicks to see what content users preferred.
No click on the first position? That’s a signal to Google that it’s not performing like a top piece of content.
More clicks might, in fact, result in a rankings boost.
And WordStream’s own data just backed this up, finding that the more your pages beat the expected organic CTR for a query, the more likely they are to appear higher in organic listings.
But when you don’t have the luxury of brand awareness, people don’t see your content until they click. So they really don’t know how amazing it is.
And sadly, they probably never will:
The vast majority are clicking because of brand recognition, not content strength.
It’s the same with digital advertising and purchase behavior too. Brand aware users are 2x more likely to purchase from you.
If HubSpot is two spots below you, you can bet that the lion’s share of “your” traffic is being stolen.
Those fancy headline hacks and meta description tweaks can improve your CTR, sure.
Going against the grain and producing clickbait-esque headlines might get you a 1-2 percent increase:
But not enough to have a big impact.
Not enough to take your traffic and double it.
Small changes won’t net massive results.
If they did, we’d all be dominating the competition, and I wouldn’t be writing this post.
Simply A/B testing or changing a button color won’t do it either.
Large-scale changes are needed to produce better SEO results.
Branding is the only way to do it, and it’s the most viable SEO strategy on the market today.
Focusing on branding will help drive higher click-through rates in organic SERPs, which correlates with higher conversion rates.
A fantastic, cheap way to put this into practice is using cheap social ads to drive brand awareness.
Facebook has the cheapest CPM out of any advertising platform ever created.
You can get away with spending $1 per day, reaching up to 4,000 new users with brand awareness ads.
That’s roughly 120,000 new faces coming across your brand monthly for just $30.
There’s no cheaper way to build brand awareness than with social ads.
Use them to drive traffic to your latest content and build a brand reputation in the process.
Branding is an investment in your company’s future. Sure, the effects won’t be instant.
But when your organic traffic is declining, and brands are starting to overpower you, you’ll wish you’d invested in it sooner.
Google has given brands preferential treatment for years now.
And that preferential treatment only increases with each minor and major update.
It’s a vicious trap where the rich keep cruising, and the poor keep drowning.
Branding is our only hope for conducting better SEO in 2018.
The vast majority of consumers cite brand recognition as driving clicks and sales.
And that means those typical organic CTR graphs are a heaping pile of BS.
Brand recall drives more clicks and sales than positioning.
As Google SERPs shift more toward favoring big brands, it’s time for smaller brands to invest more of their SEO budget and strategy into building a memorable brand.
Due to the degree of difficulty and ever-increasing complexity of search engine optimization, you can’t fully erase the qualms of small businesses when it comes to ROI.
You can’t really blame them though. After all, if I’m pouring in over a thousand dollars a month on a strategy that doesn’t improve my sales, I’d begin to question my investment decisions, too.
But before you hit the brakes and abandon ship, you need to understand that SEO is a “go big or go home” kind of commitment. It’s not something you can casually do on the side — overshadowed by a collection of other marketing strategies — and expect it to produce substantial results.
Statistics show that the top result on Google has a 33.64% click-through rate. This is significantly reduced to only 5.61% on the fourth position — tapering off to only 0.95% by the tenth.
In other words, you either go all-in with everything you’ve got, or give up SEO altogether. Just do yourself a favor and decide now — will you keep pressing on, or call it quits?
Still here? Good.
It’s time to set the direction of your SEO campaign straight. But first, you need to identify the top reasons why it’s not producing results in the first place.
1. Your Campaign Is Led By Amateurs
It may sound harsh, but in SEO, there’s no room for amateurs.
You can’t expect to win against a stacked, full-service SEO agency if you only have a subpar “specialist” or team with half-baked strategies and truckloads of guesswork.
Sure, a budget SEO services company might be capable of putting your brand on Google’s first page. But even if they do manage to help you secure one of the top three spots, then they were most likely only targeting unprofitable keywords just to get you excited.
Remember that effective SEO requires a tremendous amount of work. It requires a team to be well-equipped and ready to take on even competitive keywords.
More importantly, they can design a system wherein your SEO efforts can directly translate to sales. This means they already know everything else in this list like the back of their hand.
2. You Didn’t Build Enough Branded Links
Here’s An Inescapable Fact: You’ll Never Snag One of the top three positions until Google trusts you.
From an SEO angle, brand building can be reflected across multiple areas. One of which is in the science of link building — more specifically, the aspect of keyword optimization.
A lot of new businesses make the mistake of optimizing too much for niche-related keywords. As a result, they build an unnatural backlink profile that doesn’t establish brand authority.
To help you understand this, let’s take a look at the homepage backlink profile of one of the biggest brands in the e-commerce space — Amazon:
- Amazon.com – 30%
- Amazon – 28%
- www.amazon.com – 16%
- https://www.amazon.com/ – 12%
- Niche-relevant keywords – 6%
- Others – 8%
Notice anything peculiar? Yes, up to 58% of their homepage backlinks contain a branded anchors — 86% if you include the naked URLs.
Put simply, you need to optimize for branded anchor texts on your homepage if you want to .
Think about it — authoritative brands that legitimately draw the attention of online users would naturally amass branded links to its homepage. That’s why you should aim to have at least 80% of your homepage links to have a branded anchor text.
3. You Forgot To Build Your Brand
In online marketing, brand building can pertain to different activities.
Influencer marketing, for example, is one endeavor that will definitely benefit your brand. It describes practices that will let you leverage the authority and online reach of other experts, brands, or other customers to improve your reputation and boost buyer confidence.
Granted, being on Google’s first page is impressive in its own right. But the influx of traffic you can achieve is meaningless if your visitors don’t have even an ounce of trust in your brand.
A common solution is to have a steady supply of relevant and useful content for your target audience. The more valuable and accurate information you freely provide, the easier your content consumers will turn into paying customers.
Another area of brand building is investing in social signals that incorporate social proof numbers and user-generated content.
For instance, if one of your posts have garnered thousands of likes, re-shares, and positive comments on social media, other users would become more receptive of your value propositions. Your content’s potential for links would also exponentially increase as more people share and engage it.
Some of the best ways to generate social proof is to launch social media contests and track brand mentions with a social listening tool.
4. You Don’t Score Your Seo Leads
Keep in mind that brand discovery through search engines is only the first step in the customer’s journey. They may not complete a purchase during their first visit, but you can show them the path to conversion by delivering content that matches their needs.
This is where the art of lead scoring steps in.
According to statistics, companies that have an effective lead scoring system can improve their lead generation ROI by up to 77%. It’s a marketing strategy that involves giving points to leads whenever they perform actions, and then sending them off to the sales team whenever they reach a certain “point threshold”.
For example, if one prospect clicks to a webinar landing page via a newsletter, then they can be attributed a point. But once they do attend your webinar, then their lead score can be increased by 5-10 points.
With SEO in mind, lead scoring begins by assessing the search terms and links they used to find your site.
If they used a keyword that signals a high purchase intent, then it might be ideal to send them off to the quickest path to sales. But if they arrived at your homepage via a branded link, then they most likely need a more proper introduction to your brand’s story and unique value propositions.
Remember, SEO is an incredibly intricate mechanism with a lot of moving parts. Considering the
fact that SEO can be bloody expensive, you can’t really blame small businesses who are hesitant to adopt an SEO strategy in their marketing.
Hopefully, learning the reasons why SEO isn’t affecting your bottom line would set your direction straight. If you’d like to know more about the SEO landscape in 2018, feel free to check out this post. Good luck!