Going beyond keywords to write high-quality content that attracts new customers and is SEO-friendly is the way to go, says contributor Jessica Foster. Here she shares eight ways to create content that satisfies people and engines.
Just when we thought the saying “Content is king” was gone for good, there it goes showing its sneaky little face again in the search engine optimization (SEO) world.
Bearing in mind also that “Content is queen,” it appears that content is, in fact, pretty danged important — so important that a new sub-industry has squeezed its way into the search engine world: SEO content writing.
Otherwise referred to as “SEO copywriting,” SEO content writing has a bad reputation for being chock-full of keywords and little else. Though this may be more of a stereotype than reality, there is something to be said for going beyond keywords to write high-quality content that attracts new customers AND is SEO-friendly.
What’s the deal with ‘high-quality’ content?
The focus is typically on “high-quality” content — a term that becomes more subjective by the minute. It leads to questions like
- What really makes SEO content “high-quality?”
- Is it measurable?
- More importantly, can it be recreated again and again?
The standard formula of:
keyword research + good writing + on-page SEO = high-quality content
may not be the move anymore. It’s simply not enough. In fact, keywords may be even less important than we all think.
Beyond keyword research
Being consistent with great SEO content writing doesn’t mean it should be formulaic.
Depending too much on robust keyword research and on-page SEO will result in dry content that appeals more to search engines than it does your target audience. Mastering the art of SEO content writing can be the difference between attracting a few website visitors and creating dedicated customers
That all being said, there is a sweet spot between creative content and “content” as we know it. The key lies in going far beyond keyword research and really understanding how words can be used to both attract traffic and drive conversions.
1. Keyword research, the right way
Though this post is all about going beyond keywords, it’s worth addressing what level of keyword research should be done before hopping into content writing. Keywords are still a component of SEO content — but perhaps shouldn’t be as important a component as traditionally thought.
First, your approach to writing new content should fit in with your existing SEO strategy. This should be a no-brainer, but it is a frequent issue I see in SEO content.
For instance, many business owners and SEOs outsource copywriting with little collaboration with the writer on what keywords are to be used. And, even if keywords are provided, it is unlikely that the writer really understands the fundamentals of using keywords in their writing beyond “keyword density.” This results in content that is incohesive and not SEO-friendly.
Second, when it comes to performing keyword research for your new content, look beyond the data. Sure, SEO tools can tell us a lot in terms of search volume and competition level, but can they tell us what content is really engaging to users? Doing a Google search on your target terms and seeing what post titles come up and how many comments and even social shares they get will give you some ideas as to what content is drawing people in and enticing them to engage.
Finally, SEOs and copywriters alike can spend far too much time focusing on terms they think are relevant without stepping back to see the full picture.
Sure, your rankings may increase due to great SEO, but there are many other factors to consider. Is your audience reading through the entire post? Are they sharing it? Are they opting into your calls to action? These elements of your writing should be your main focus. Be sure to have an outline in place, along with your keyword research, to ensure that you aren’t skimming over what matters most: what is going to help you drive conversions.
2. Get organized
How often have you had a new content idea pop into your head and instantly put fingers on the keyboard?
As much as I am a fan of writing when you feel inspired, there needs to be a structure for your content from the very beginning. Content that is too “stream-of-consciousness” or unorganized simply doesn’t convert well. There is a difference between having a conversational tone and writing whatever comes into your brain. I’m here to say that there is a way to capture that creative flow, all while putting out content that works.
Create an outline of the potential post or page, including the title and headings. Organize your content into sections that are cohesive and keep the reader interested. Figure out if and where the content fits into your website overall and what purpose it serves. You can even go as far as to decide what internal links will be used. Having a plan will both help in overall organization and ensure that it fits into the framework of your existing site.
3. On-brand is your best friend
One component of SEO content writing that is rarely, if ever, talked about is branding. As more SEO experts become aware of the intersection between SEO and a larger marketing strategy, it becomes apparent how big a role branding plays in a business’s success.
Your website content is no exception. This is why hiring out for copywriting outside of the brand, or even the industry, can be a risky move. For one, you risk having the overall tone of the writing shift and become incohesive with the rest of the brand message, and even the most subtle variations can be picked up by readers.
A good way to ensure that your content is on-brand and stays true to the business message is to utilize language that is used throughout the existing site and marketing materials.
- Does the brand use the word “passionate” rather than “driven?”
- Are there elements of their tagline that can be broken down and used throughout the text?
- Does their About page have a conversational tone or a professional one?
These are all subtleties to look out for that can make all the difference.
A great SEO copywriter will be able to pick up on the tone, vocabulary and message a brand is putting out and capture it in the posts and pages. There should be no question from the target audience who the content came from and what the message is.
On-brand content means that users can come to depend on the brand acting and sounding a certain way. It ultimately comes down to trust. If a user trusts a brand and understands its core mission, then they are more likely to buy.
4. Integrity & authenticity matter
Integrity and authenticity may seem like “fluffy” words that have no place in the often formulaic world of SEO. But when it comes to writing content that drives more than just traffic (i.e., sales), then these two elements can be the difference between website visitors and paying customers.
There are many SEO and marketing strategies that can drive traffic to a page. What matters is what actions users take once they get there. No amount of strong-arming will convince a user to buy. It takes integrity and authenticity to get them there.
People are becoming more and more aware of shady marketing tactics, and traditional methods of manipulation simply don’t work anymore. A website that makes it clear what the brand’s message is, the service it provides and how it can help potential customers truly has a leg up on the rest. Your content should be authentic, honest and in line with the ethics of your business. Otherwise, you will lose your customers before you even get them.
5.Know your target audience
Creating great SEO content goes beyond writing what you think your target audience wants to read to truly listening to what they want to know.
Are you in tune with their needs? Are there questions in the comments section that should be addressed? Are you writing down their common concerns and pain points? If so, these all open the door to creating solid content that will meet their immediate needs and drive them to seek out your services.
It is not enough to do keyword research to see what they are searching for. If that is the foundation of your content, you are likely to attract some readers but little else. But if you are able to keep them on site longer by creating a vast web of information, you are more likely to get them hooked from start to finish.
Even more, if you engage with them using language they understand and bring up their pain points, you are likely to convince them to fill out that contact form, subscribe or pick up the phone.
If you are struggling to think up fresh and engaging content ideas, be intentional about paying attention to what your customers and potential customers are telling you and asking for. Then, do a quick search to see if any other sites have addressed this issue, and how.
If you aren’t snatching up those opportunities, and another business is, you may be leaving money on the table.
6. Micro-engagement makes the difference
Long-form content can be a bore. For that reason, keeping readers engaged throughout the content can be quite difficult. However, mastering the art of micro-engagement can take your SEO content to the next level.
When it comes to informative content that can be a bit of a yawn, it’s a good move to try some different tactics to keep users engaged. Micro-engagement, as I refer to it here, means incorporating elements in your content to keep readers clicking, scrolling and reading more.
This is where a solid understanding of your target audience really comes into play. You should have a sense of what kind of content keeps your audience engaged. Testing different approaches and looking at the results can be a great data-driven method for seeing what works and what doesn’t.
Here are some suggestions to boost micro-engagement:
- Numbered or bulleted lists.
- Engaging photos (that are relevant to the text).
- Funny GIFs or memes.
- Informative and interesting videos.
- Quizzes or surveys.
- Visually appealing design.
- Calls to action.
- Block quotes.
- Bold text.
- Thought-provoking questions.
- Helpful tips.
Incorporate a few of these ideas into your SEO content and see the difference. Over time, you will get a sense of what your audience likes, what keeps them engaged and what entices them to perform certain actions on your site. This list is by no means exhaustive; feel free to get creative with it and see what happens!
7. Content ‘freshness’ and competitive analysis where it counts
“Freshness” usually refers to having fresh new content on your website, but I believe this should extend beyond that. In other words, you should be putting unique ideas out into the world. How do you do that? By making competitive analysis a part of your SEO content strategy.
Scroll through any SEO or digital marketing site, and you are likely to find the basic posts and pages: “What is SEO?,” “Why You Should Hire an SEO Expert” and the like saturate these sites, and these topics are covered ad nauseam.
What these sites, and others outside of the SEO industry, fail to do is proper competitive analysis when coming up with new content ideas. That is, they are rewriting and reworking the same content that their competitors are using. This is not a good move.
What takes businesses to the top is looking at what competitors are doing and doing it better. Sometimes this even means doing something different. Whenever you are about to write a new piece of content, look to see what your competitors are doing, and consider how you can take it up a notch.
Your best approach is to stay ahead of the curve.
8. Data is everything
You simply can’t create great SEO content without looking at the data.
With a vast array of tools, SEOs and business owners alike should be looking to see what content is performing well, and why. They should be tracking conversions everywhere users are performing an action and seeing what works. This data will indicate the kind of content they can and should create in the future.
Staying on top of your analytics will not only show you the numbers in terms of traffic, but time on page, bounce rate and other valuable metrics that indicate how your content is performing. Through these, you can learn from your mistakes and imitate the strategies that are working. Without this knowledge, you are essentially flying blind and are again playing the guessing game.
Following the data throughout the process will help ensure that you are on the right track and that your utilization of the above principles is working for your business.
There is no cookie-cutter approach to SEO content, but the fundamentals are still there. Write content for people, structure it for search engines and create an experience that is engaging and bound to drive the traffic you deserve.
An SEO powerhouse may rank well in search results, but that doesn’t mean the website gets the conversions it deserves. Finding a balance between form (user design, infographics, videos) and function (Google-friendly SEO, content length, authority) is difficult for small businesses and their marketers. It’s great to have an attention-grabbing, visually appealing site, but that doesn’t guarantee a local search presence for small, competitive companies.At our web design and marketing agency, we work with businesses to improve their SEO, with one of these areas being content marketing. Placing a priority on using conversion-based content is one way to change visitors into conversions while staying within Google’s ever-changing guidelines.The challenge is writing content that is informative, engaging, rankable and visually appealing enough that it convinces visitors to contact you or fill out a form. Here are five ways I recommend writing SEO-ready content that actually converts.1. Hook Them EarlyIt’s high summer. Your air conditioner is busted. Discluding AdWord pages, do you want to waste time getting suckered into keyword-stuffed, high-ranking HVAC websites that repeat the same information over and over again? No. You want to open a page that says the company provides emergency air conditioning maintenance in your area and to call this number right now.SEO can be a distraction. It takes away from conversion- and design-friendly elements on the top of a page. It’s smart to weave the SEO tactics in there, but always picture your mobile and desktop pages through a potential customer’s eyes. Use your big hitters early on. These include a straightforward headline, a nice banner image, testimonials, charts, bullet points, stats — leave the company history and technical rants for later on. If visitors scroll that far down, they’re likely interested enough to continue reading and will probably convert anyway.2. Write Logical ContentThe disgruntled homeowner wants to know if you are a reputable business that can fix his AC unit over the weekend. A good page will satisfy the homeowner’s concerns.Conversion pages — or pages that lead to forms or phone numbers — need to flow in regards to design and content. Most visitors skim website content, but there still needs to be a sense of order. One paragraph leads to the next, each section transitions to the next logical point down the conversion rabbit hole.An example of this top-to-bottom flow might include: who you are, the services you perform, evidence that you know what you’re doing, proof of it in the form of testimonials or reviews, and your contact information. A decent SEO writer has an abundance of opportunities to optimize those sections without slowing down a reader’s progression.3. Trim The FatRemove superfluous information.From an SEO standpoint, it’s easy to flood pages with internal and external hyperlinks in big blocks of content. This adds value, of course, but it can distract readers. The purpose of the page is two-fold: to show up in search results and to convert. When you start adding on third, fourth and fifth priorities — showcasing your new company video and slideshow widgets that have nothing to do with fixing someone’s air conditioner — you’re going to lose a potential customer to slower load times.4. Keyword Variation And Low-Key PromotionMost people have at least a slim understanding of how Google displays search engine results pages (SERPs). But the person reading about your “best HVAC repair” services, time after time, is going to know that “best HVAC repair” means nothing. It’s an empty phrase.But guess what? Search engines are smart. They provide hundreds of millions of answers per day to questions asked by all sorts of people. You might search for “weekend HVAC repair,” but I might search for “AC tech nearby.” Smart content writers study key phrase variance and match what their ideal client base will likely search for.There’s a complex science in this, fit for a different article. Long story short, overhaul the obvious, spammy keywords to keep your readers engaged in your content. You can look at promotion-heavy material the same way. Keep the “We’re the best, call us now!” talk to conversion areas. Let web visitors determine on their own that you’re the best through the well-written content you provide.5. ‘Better’ Is MoreBetter content and user experience can lead to more website visitors, which will likely lead to more conversions and a higher ranking on Google due to improved authority.The way search is going, it’s crucial for businesses to showcase themselves on sleek, mobile-friendly pages that get the job done. Overdoing SEO could backfire in later Google updates, and minimalist sites may have a tough time ranking them.Taking your time to write straightforward content that reads well is the best way to get an edge. Pages that rank high are worthless if they have high bounce rates.If your content is high ranking but your conversions are lacking, evaluate what pages your visitors go to next. Do visitors do background research on your business? Do they read reviews? Does the homeowner end up calling you for your emergency AC repair service? If they don’t, take another look at the actual value of your SEO and make sure you’re meeting these five standards for SEO-ready content that converts.
If your sales and SEO team need a refresher on how to work together, Columnist Casie Gillette has the answer with five communication tips that will get them talking in no time.
It’s no secret that marketing and sales don’t always see eye to eye.
The sales team gets mad at the marketing team for lack of leads and marketing gets mad at sales for not closing deals.
For two areas so closely tied to one another, the lack of cooperation is pretty amazing.
In fact, according to a recent study from InsideView titled, “The State of Sales and Marketing Alignment in 2018,” only 37 percent of salespeople reported meeting with marketing to discuss lead scoring.
Even more telling, Hubspot’s State of Inbound 2017 report noted only 44 percent of marketers feel they are aligned with sales. Yikes!
Breaking down silos isn’t simple, and it certainly isn’t a new concept. We’ve been talking about this for years, and while technology has made it much easier for sales and marketing to align, many companies still treat these departments separately.
How can we better align our sales and marketing efforts, specifically when it comes to search engine optimization (SEO)?
Obviously, there isn’t one answer, and for each organization it will be different. However, when thinking about SEO and sales, there are a few things we can do:
1. Set up monthly integrated meetings
When I worked in-house, the marketing team held weekly calls with the support team. The goal was to discuss common issues facing customers, identify problems or gaps on the site and ensure the marketing and support team were aligned with communication.
The same thing can apply to sales and marketing.
Set up monthly meetings to discuss goals, strategies, results and campaigns. The key to being successful is ensuring everyone knows what is happening, why it’s happening and how to address it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a marketing team launch a campaign without telling the sales team. How are they supposed to sell something they don’t know anything about?
Consider creating a Slack channel for the teams to communicate. Open lines of communication and shared knowledge equate to a more cohesive team.
2. Use sales data to inform SEO tactics
When we bring a new client on board, we spend a considerable amount of time talking through the sales process, evaluating existing sales materials, and in many cases, sitting through product demos and sales pitch decks.
We ask questions like:
- Who is the target buyer?
- Who is the decision-maker?
- What are key issues you hear during the sales process?
While these questions may seem basic, they help determine how and where buyers search and what type of content we need to give them.
For example, if a client only sells to companies with over $100 million in revenue, addressing the challenges facing small business doesn’t make any sense. If the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) is the decision-maker, their main concern is likely tied to how your product or solution will help them financially.
Understanding the nuances of the buyer, the sales process and everything that comes with it is key to creating an SEO strategy that helps drive sales — which leads us perfectly into our next point.
3. Map your keywords to the customer journey
What is the goal of an SEO program? To be found by the right people, at the right time, in search results. More or less.
Easier said than done. We need not only to understand the buyer but also to understand the keywords our buyers are using and the search intent behind them throughout the entire customer journey.
That feels like a lot!
Fortunately for us, the data found in the material used to bring on a new client, the sales process, the pitch deck and common problems can help form the keyword research process.
A keyword research process must also adapt. It has to focus on themes and intent and can no longer be about selecting a few phrases and calling it a day.
Once you have your keyword themes, you can review with your sales team, start mapping them to the customer journey, and more importantly, begin applying them to the overall content and SEO strategy.
4. Create assets that work for everyone
As an SEO, you typically have firsthand knowledge of what content is needed, what content is being created and where that content lives. That isn’t the case for every department.
A few days ago, a client mentioned she found a bunch of really great content on the site that wasn’t linked from anywhere and was only being used for sales. The marketing team didn’t know about it, and we didn’t know about it. What could we do with it?
Understanding what is out there and how it can be used across marketing and sales can be beneficial to your overall strategy.
Let’s take webinars, for example. Most companies hold a webinar, and then you never hear about it again. But what if we took that webinar and used it across departments? What if we took that one piece of content and turned it into several? We could have:
- A blog post summarizing the webinar which can be optimized for search, shared across social and sent out to everyone who registered for the webinar to re-engage them.
- Short clips from the webinar which can be shared on YouTube, added into the blog post and embedded into landing pages for the sales team to utilize.
When creating assets, we have to think beyond search and consider how we can create something that benefits the organization as a whole.
5. Use SEO data to inform sales
We already talked about using sales data to inform your SEO strategy, but it also works the other way around.
As SEOs, we spend a lot of time in analytics working to understand how our site is performing, what our visitors like, what they don’t like and where we can improve. We also spend a lot of time looking at search results and competitors.
How much of that are you sharing with your sales team?
During the monthly meeting I mentioned above, make sure your sales team is aware of the following:
- Top-performing content themes. They don’t have to know the exact pieces of content, but if specific areas are resonating with visitors, they can push that topic during calls or share the materials with prospects.
- Competitor updates or campaigns. Very few people are looking at one solution and one solution alone. They are also looking at your competitors. The team should be aware of how competitors are performing, the type of messaging they are using and any other updates coming from them.
- Customer reviews or complaints. What are people saying about you on the internet? What are the positives and the negatives? By sharing these with the sales team, they can proactively address potential concerns and promote positive reviews.
Sharing information between departments will go a long way in helping the organization. While the three bullets mentioned above may not seem significant to your efforts, they could be to someone else’s.
Tying it all together
Aligning efforts across the organization, specifically between SEO and sales, can make both teams better and drive growth faster. It may not be easy to get a process in place, but if you start with communication, the rest will follow.
Digital marketing is like playing the drums; everyone thinks they can do it.
Inevitably, the layman writes content stuffed to the brim with a target keyword and cannibalizes his/her own webpages by using the same five keywords across all of their webpages.
As infallible as we sometimes think we are, even the best of our industry can make some pretty hairbrained mistakes.
Sometimes the best way to move forward is to take a step back and go back to SEO basics.
As Google and Bing’s algorithms continue to evolve and incorporate new technologies for search, so do our strategies.
Between optimizing our content for voice search, desktop visitors, mobile swipers, and our social media followers, the task can feel impossible and overwhelming.
Breathe a little, you’re not alone.
As much as the medium may change, the same principles still remain in place and so too do the same basic errors.
Here are eight common SEO mistakes that even the experts still make.
1. Presenting a Poor Internal Link Structure
As your website balloons in size with all of your awesome content, you’re bound to encounter some pretty basic internal linking errors. This includes everything from producing mass duplicate content to 404 page errors cropping up.
Internal links provide five valuable functions for your website:
- Providing clear pathways to conversion pages.
- Spreading authority to webpages hidden deep on your site.
- Providing additional reading or interactive material for users to consume on your site.
- Organizing webpages categorically by keyword-optimized anchor text.
- Communicating your most important webpages to search engine crawlers.
Resubmitting an XML sitemap to search engines is a great way to open up crawl paths for search engines to unlinked webpages.
Along the same lines, it’s important to use your robots.txt file and noindex tag wisely so that you don’t accidentally block important webpages on your site or a client’s.
As a general rule of thumb, no webpage should be more than two clicks away from the homepage or a call-to-action landing page.
Reassess your website architecture using fresh keyword research to begin organizing webpages by topicality.
HubSpot provides a great guide for creating topic clusters on your website that arrange webpages by topic, using semantic keywords, and hierarchy to their shared thesis.
2. Creating Content for Content’s Sake
Best practices dictate that you should produce content consistently to increase your brand’s exposure and authority, as well as increase your website’s indexation rate.
But as your website grows to hundreds of pages or more, it becomes difficult to find unique keywords for each page and stick to a cohesive strategy.
Sometimes we fall for the fallacy that we must produce content just to have more of it. That’s simply untrue and leads to thin and useless content, which amounts to wasted resources.
Don’t write content without completing strategic keyword research beforehand.
Make sure the content is relevant to the target keyword and utilizes closely associated keywords in H2 tags and body paragraphs.
This will convey full context of your content to search engines and meet user intent on multiple levels.
Take the time to invest in long-form content that is actionable and evergreen. Remember, we are content marketers and SEO specialists, not journalists.
Optimized content can take months to reach page one results; make sure it remains relevant and unique to its industry when it does.
3. Not Investing in Link-Worthy Content
As we understand it, the quantity and quality of unique referring domains to a webpage is one of Google’s three most important ranking factors.
The best way to acquire links is naturally, leveraging stellar content that people just want to link to.
Instead of investing time in manual research and creating hundreds of guest posts a year, why not invest in a piece of content that can acquire all of those links in one day of writing?
Again, I bring up HubSpot, which provides a great example of this. Every year, they provide a list of industry statistics they scour from the internet, such as “The Ultimate List of Marketing Statistics”, which serves as an invaluable resource for anyone in the digital marketing industry.
As previously stated, invest the time in crafting long-form content that adds value to the industry.
Here, you can experiment with different forms of content, whether it’s a resource page, infographic, interactive quiz, or evergreen guide.
Dedicate some of your manual outreach strategy to promote a piece of content published on your own website and not someone else’s.
4. Failing to Reach Customers with Your Content
Continuing this discussion, you need to have a strategy in place to actually get people to view your content.
I believe that much of the industry and many businesses don’t invest as many resources into content promotion as they do production.
Sure, you share your content over social media, but how much reach does it actually acquire without paid advertising?
Simply posting your latest article on your blog, social media channel, and e-newsletter limits its reach to a small percentage of your existing audience.
If you’re looking to acquire new leads for your business, then you’ll need to invest more resources into promotional tactics. Some strategies include.
While it’s rather chicken and egg, you need to promote content to get links to it. Only then can you begin to acquire more links organically.
5. Optimizing for the Wrong Keywords
So you invested the time in crafting a piece of long-form content, but it’s not driving large-scale traffic to your website.
Just as bad, your visitors have low time on page and are not converting.
More than likely, you’re optimizing for the wrong keywords.
While most of us understand the importance of long-tail keywords for informational queries, sometimes we run into some common mistakes:
- Failing to segment search volumes and competition by geography.
- Relying too much on high volume phrases that don’t convert.
- Focusing too many resources on broad keywords (external links, internal link anchor text, etc.).
- Ignoring click-through rates.
- Trying to insert awkward exact match phrases into content.
- Ignoring AdWords value.
- Allocating target keywords to irrelevant content.
- Choosing keywords irrelevant to your audience.
It’s important to actually research the search phrases that appear in top results for both national and local searches.
Talk to your customers to see what search phrases they use to describe different elements of your industry. From here, you can segment your keyword list to make it more relevant to your customers.
Use keyword tools like Google Keyword Planner and SEMrush’s keyword generator for relevant keyword ideas.
Don’t forget to optimize for informational and commercial search queries.
6. Not Consulting Paid Media
As the industry currently stands, SEO focuses on acquiring and nurturing leads, while paid media focuses on acquiring and converting leads.
But what if we broke down those silos to create a cohesive message that targeted the buyer at every step of the journey?
As an SEO provider, do you even know what your client’s advertising message is or the keywords they use? Are you promoting the same products/service pages with the same keywords as the paid media department?
There is a lot of insight that SEO consultants can learn from PPC keyword research and landing page performances that can aid them in their own campaign.
Beyond this, Facebook and Twitter’s advertising platform offer robust audience analysis tools that SEO consultants can use to better understand their client’s customers.
By focusing on a unified message and sharing in each other’s research, SEO consultants can discover keywords that convert the highest and drive the most clicks in the search results.
7. Forgetting About Local
Google’s Pigeon update completely opened up an entirely new field of local SEO.
Between local directory reviews, customizing a Google My Business page, and the local three-pack, local SEO is highly targeted and high converting.
Consider some of the statistics:
- 50 percent of searches over a mobile device result in an in-store visit that day.
- Half of local, mobile searches are for local business information.
- Anywhere between 80-90 percent of people read an online review before making a purchase.
- 85 percent of people trust reviews as much as personal recommendations.
It’s important to segment your keyword research for both local and national intent.
If you provide local services, be sure to create content that reflects local intent, such as including city names next to target keywords and in the body of content.
While most of us focus on growing business at the national scale, the importance of local SEO should not be ignored.
8. Not Regularly Auditing Your Own Website
One of the biggest mistakes we all make is not continuing to optimize our own site and fix mistakes that crop up over time.
A site audit is especially important after a site migration or implementation of any new tools or plugins.
Common technical mistakes that occur over time include:
- Duplicate content.
- Broken links.
- Unoptimized meta tags.
Duplicate content can occur for a number of reasons, whether through pagination or session IDs.
Resolve any URL parameter errors or duplicate content from your cookies by inserting canonicals on source webpages. This allows all signals from duplicate pages to point back to the source page.
Broken links are inevitable as you move content around your site, so it’s important to insert 301 redirects to a relevant webpage on any content you remove. Be sure to resolve 302 redirects, as these only serve as a temporary redirect.
Auditing your website is paramount for mobile search. Simply having a responsive web design or AMP is not enough.
Be sure to minify your CSS and JS on your mobile design, as well as shrink images, to provide a fast and responsive design.
Finally, one part of the audit that is often overlooked is reevaluating your onsite content strategy. Most industries are dynamic, meaning that new innovations crop up and certain services become obsolete overtime.
Remodel your website to reflect any new product offerings you have. Create content around that topic to showcase its importance to your hierarchy to both search engines and users.
Continually refresh your keyword research and audience research to find new opportunities to scale and stay relevant.
Everyone is susceptible to mistakes in their craft and one of the best ways to rectify them is to consult the best practices.
My best bit of advice: Keep your mind nimble and always take a step back here and there to evaluate whether you are doing the best to scale your or a client’s business.
Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising remains an effective way to grab the attention of your target audience and drive them back to your site so they can engage with your products and services.
Obviously, the higher your ads appear to the top, the more likely that someone will click on that ad.
That said, just getting the click isn’t the goal.
Getting a click that results in a sale, phone call, or lead is the goal.
In order to ensure the best opportunity for success, it is incredibly important to establish some sort of regular daily cadence or task list for your PPC campaigns.
While the rise in AdWords automation is helping with some, here are three PPC tasks that you should be doing every day to ensure nothing in the account is broken.
1. Check Your Key Performance Indicators
Key performance indicators (KPIs) are an important metric to help marketers determine the effectiveness of many different kinds of campaigns.
When you decide to invest in PPC, you need some way of measuring the performance of your ads, or you’re just throwing away money without knowing whether your campaign is working.
The types of KPIs that you choose to prioritize will depend on your marketing goals.
Some of the most common types of KPIs for PPC campaigns include:
- Number of clicks: This KPI tells you how many people actually clicked on your ad, which gives you a good idea if your ad is grabbing people’s attention. Clicks won’t always give you a full picture of how well your ads are doing, but they are an important piece of the puzzle.
- Click-through rate: This KPI is calculated by dividing the number of clicks by the total number of impressions (views). There are different sweet spots for click-through-rates based on your industry.
- Cost per click: This measures the amount of money you’re spending on your ad campaign based on how many people click on that ad. It is calculated by dividing the total amount you paid for a campaign by the number of times someone clicked on the ad. It’s a good way for you to determine whether your budget for that campaign was too high, too low, or just about right. A good rule of thumb is to check in on your brand CPCs. If you see a spike there, it can negatively affect performance.
- Conversion rate: This measures the number of conversions that were directly generated by your ads. It is calculated by dividing the number of conversions by the total number of clicks.
These are just a few KPIs that are important in a PPC campaign.
Checking through these numbers on a daily basis can help you see if there are any outliers like a sudden surge of clicks or higher conversion rates on a particular day.
2. Review Your Negative Keyword List
One of the best ways to attract more clicks is to make sure that the language of your ads optimizes the most appropriate keywords for a search.
But when you’re running a PPC campaign, it’s equally important that you create and monitor your negative keyword list.
If you fail to include a negative keyword list on their campaigns, it can seriously dent the ROI for your ads.
Let’s say you’re selling shoes online.
You will want to include keyword variations that include gender, intent-based queries (e.g., “buy” and “on sale”) and qualifiers (e.g., “running”).
But what if you wanted to exclude higher-volume, lower converting terms (e.g., “womens shoes”).
In the below example, you can see how excluding terms based on match type will impact your ability to target specific types of keywords:
By creating a list of negative keywords, you’re telling search engines that these are not relevant words for your business and that your ads shouldn’t show up when people conduct searches using those words.
You should review your negative keyword list daily because search behavior changes regularly.
Make sure your list is updated to avoid spending money on ads that show up in front of people who aren’t part of your target audience.
There are two quick ways to find potential negative keywords:.
Popular Search Terms
The new ‘Searches’ card in Google AdWords will highlight the most popular words and phrases driving traffic to your site.
Click the Words tab for an even more granular look.
In this example, we discovered two potential negatives to include in the campaign:
Knowing which keywords a majority of searchers are using to find your website can help you both add valuable new keywords, and create lists of negative keywords you discover to be irrelevant.
Search Query Reports
Google’s Search Query Reports will give you the most comprehensive way to check for negative keywords that you may need to add to your list.
While getting this granular may not be a daily task, if you see some warning signs (like those in the previous example) a dive into your search query report from the previous day may be warranted.
3. Review Your Daily Budget
Your AdWords average daily budget is not fixed, which means that as you review your campaigns daily, you can change that budget based on analyzing some key KPIs.
Combine that with Google’s daily budget change that increased daily budgets by 2x and you have a good reason to monitor this daily.
The most common application of budget management involves shifting across days of the week.
For example, if you notice that your ads are generating more traffic on a Wednesday, but are dead on a Monday, you may want to shift some of your budget to take advantage of what’s happening on Monday to maximize your ROI.
Ad Delivery Method
Reviewing your budget can also help you determine whether you need to change your ad delivery method.
AdWords has two types of delivery method:
- Accelerated delivery: This shows your ads earlier in the day and typically chew up your daily budget before noon. You can only choose accelerated delivery if you’re using AdWords’ automated bidding.
- Standard delivery: This displays your ads more evenly during the day. If you choose manual bidding, your campaigns automatically default to standard delivery.
Another quick check-in on your daily budget spending is how your budget is being spent across devices.
With the explosion of mobile, if not kept in check, the percentage of mobile spend compared to conversion can become skewed – essentially stealing your opportunities for desktop conversions.
Similar to the Popular Search Terms card, Google also has a “Device Type” card that will show differences across devices for clicks, impressions, and conversions.
Visually, this is a no-brainer to add to your daily budget checks.
Adaptation Is the Key to PPC Campaigns
When you launch a PPC campaign, one of the keys to success is making sure that you stay on top of KPIs, keywords and budget so that you can quickly determine if something is awry, and change how you’re approaching things.
The whole idea of PPC is to generate more quality visitors so they can turn into customers, but if you’re not performing daily reviews of your campaigns, a small problem can quickly snowball into a crisis.
Google AdWords is a highly effective marketing channel for brands to engage with customers.
The auction-based pay-per-click (PPC) model has revolutionized the advertising industry, but beneath the seductive simplicity of this input-output relationship lies a highly sophisticated technology.
Within this article, we round up five advanced features that can help you gain that vital competitive advantage.
Google AdWords has undergone a host of changes over the past 12 months, some cosmetic and some functional. Google’s prime revenue-driver has a new, intuitive look and feel that makes it even easier for marketers to assess performance and spot new opportunities.Under the hood, AdWords is home to some increasingly sophisticated machine learning technology. Everything from bid adjustments to audience behavior and even search intent is now anlyzed by machine learning algorithms to improve ad targeting and performance.
All of this is changing how we run search campaigns, largely for the better.
Meanwhile, there are broad trends that continue to converge with search. Voice-activated digital assistants, visual search, and the ongoing growth of ecommerce all center around Google’s search engine.
At the intersection of Google and these emerging trends, paid search will evolve and new ways to reach audiences will arise.
Though this future-gazing reveals just how exciting the industry is, marketers also need to keep one eye firmly on the present.
As it stands, AdWords provides a vast array of features, all of which can impact campaign performance. Though automation is taking over more aspects of the day-to-day running of an account, there is arguably more need than ever before for seasoned paid search experts how know how to get the most out of the platform.
Below are five advanced AdWords features that can boost any PPC campaign.
For all of AdWords’ virtues, it has not been able to rival Facebook in terms of sheer quantity of demographic targeting options.
As part of Google’s ongoing shift from a keyword focus to a customer-centric approach, demographic targeting has improved very significantly.
This feature now allows advertisers to target customers by income and parental status, along with gender and age. Targeting by income is only available for video advertising and is restricted to the U.S., Japan, Australia, and New Zealand for the moment.
Nonetheless, this is a noteworthy update and provides an advanced feature that many brand will welcome.
The available options now include:
Demographic targeting for Search, Display or Video campaigns:
- Age: “18-24,” “25-34,” “35-44,” “45-54,” “55-64,” “65 or more,” and “Unknown”
- Gender: “Female,” “Male,” and “Unknown”
Demographic targeting for Display or Video campaigns can include:
- Parental status: “Parent,” “Not a parent,” and “Unknown”
Demographic targeting for Video campaigns can include:
- Household income (currently available in the U.S., Japan, Australia, and New Zealand only): “Top 10%,” “11-20%,” “21-30%,” “31-40%,” “41-50%,” “Lower 50%,” and “Unknown”
Combined with the improved user interface, this can lead to some illuminating reports that highlight more detail about audiences than we have ever seen in this platform.
It’s not perfect yet and has some drawbacks in practice, as creating audiences can be quite labor-intensive when combining different filters. Nonetheless, demographic targeting is improving and will be an area of focus for Google this year.
Our previous article on demographic targeting goes into more detail on how to set this feature up.
A very natural byproduct of the increase in mobile searches has been an explosion in the number of calls attributed to paid search.
In fact, BIA/Kelsey projects that there will be 162 billion calls to businesses from smartphones by 2019.
Search forms a fundamental part of this brand-consumer relationship, so businesses are understandably keen to ensure they are set up to capitalize on such heightened demand.
Click-to-call can be an overlooked opportunity, as it does require a little bit of setup. If advertisers want to add call extensions, report specifically on this activity, and even schedule when these extensions appear, it is necessary to do this manually within AdWords.
Helpfully, it is now possible to enable call extensions across an account, simplfying what was once a cumbersome undertaking.
This is becoming an automated process in some aspects, whereby Google will identify landing pages that contain a phone number and generate call extensions using this information. However, some manual input will be required to get the most out of this feature.
Our step-by-step guide contains a range of handy tips for marketers who woud like to enable click-to-call campaigns.
Optimized ad rotation
Google made some very notable changes to its ad rotation settings in the second half of 2017.
In essence, ad rotation constantly tests different ad variations to find the optimal version for your audience and campaign KPIs.
Google’s machine learning technology is a natural fit for such a task, so it is no surprise that Google wants to take much of the ad rotation process out of the hands of advertisers and turn it into a slick, automated feature.
Perhaps this focus on the machine learning side of things has led advertisers to beleive that the process now requires no input from them.
A recent study by Marin Software across their very sizeable client base found that many ad groups contain fewer than three creatives:
This is very significant, as Google recommends providing at least three ads in every ad group. Their official stance is, “The more of your ads our system can choose from, the better the expected ad performance.”
Creating a range of ads provides the resources Google needs to run statistically significant tests. No matter how sophisticated the machine learning algorithms are, with only one or two ads in each group there is very little they can do to improve performance.
There is a broader lesson to be taken here, beyond just getting the most out of this AdWords feature.
Even the most advanced technology requires the right quantity and quality of inputs. Although more and more elements of AdWords management can be automated, this doesn’t mean we can leave the machines to their own devices.
There are plentiful best practices that we still need to follow. Optimizing your ad rotation by including at least three ads in each group certainly counts as one of these.
Custom intent audiences
Google is clearly making a play for more of the traditionally ‘top of funnel’ marketing approaches.
The launch of more granular custom intent audiences with the Google Display Network is part of a wider strategy to take on the likes of Facebook by providing greater control over target audiences.
Google’s guidelines provide clear definition over how this recently launched feature works:
For Display campaigns, you can create a custom intent audience using in-market keywords – simply entering keywords and URLs related to products and services your ideal audience is researching across sites and apps.
In-market keywords (Display campaigns)
- Enter keywords, URLs, apps or YouTube content to reach an online audience that’s actively researching a related product or service.
- It’s best practice to add keywords and URLs (ideally 15 total) that fit a common theme to help AdWords understand your ideal audience.
- Avoid entering URLs that require people to sign in, such as social media or email services.
- Include keywords related to the products and services that this audience is researching; these will be used as the focal point for building the custom intent audience.
Custom intent audiences: Auto-created (Display campaigns)
To make finding the right people easy, Google uses machine learning technology to analyse your existing campaigns and auto-create custom intent audiences. These audiences are based on the most common keywords and URLs found in content that people browse while researching a given product or service.
For example, insights from existing campaigns may show that people who’ve visited a sporting goods website have also actively researched all-weather running shoes. AdWords may then auto-create a new ‘waterproof trail running shoes’ custom intent audience to simplify the process of reaching this niche segment of customers.
Once more, we see the addition of machine learning into a core Google product.
These automated audience lists are generated based on activity across all of your Google marketing channels, including YouTube and Universal App Campaigns, along with Search and the Google Display Network.
Although this does not yet provide the level of targeting that Facebook can offer, custom intent audiences do dramatically improve the product and they move Google closer to a truly customer-centric approach.
Sophisticated advertisers will find thata this advanced feature improves performance for both prospecting and remarketing.
Smart bidding has some crossover with the other AdWords features on our list. In a nutshell, smart bidding uses machine learning to asses the relationships between a range of variables and improve performance through the AdWords auction.
It is capable of optimizing bids to ensure the best possible return on investment against the advertiser’s target KPIs. Smart bidding does this by looking at the context surrounding bids and isolating the factors that have historically led to specific outcomes. Based on this knowledge, it can automatically bid at the right level to hit the advertiser’s campaign targets.
These targets can be set based on a target CPA (cost per acquisition), ROAS (return on ad spend), or CPC (cost per click).
The latest option available to brands is named ‘maximize conversions’ and this will seek to gain the optial number of conversions (whatver those may be for the brand in question) against their set budge.
As we have noted already, these algorithms require substantial amounts of data, so this is a feature best used by this with an accrual of historical AdWords performance data.
Smart bidding is also not quite a ‘set and forget’ bidding strategy. Some marketers will still prefer the control of manual bidding and it would be fair to say that smart bidding levels the playing field somewhat across all advertisers.
Nonetheless, it is a hugely powerful AdWords feature and can create multiple account performance efficiencies.
Every picture tells a story and also may help you build links. Contributor Pratik Dholakiya shares four solid ways to use images to attract links.
“Create visual content and the links will follow” is a nice sentiment, but in reality, it’s a prerequisite, not a guarantee of the fulfillment of a promise.
If you want to use images to earn inbound links, you need a concrete plan with some specific actionable goals.
Here are four ways you can use images and visual content to build links and drive traffic. Use the following tactics to get the ideas and inbound links flowing and build a smart strategy for your brand.
1. Become your industry’s stock photo site
It’s become more or less a standard in this industry to ensure that every blog post needs to feature at least one image to keep people engaged and be taken seriously, with a few exceptions.
In many cases, those images are stock photos with some thematic connection to the topic of the post, rather than original image content.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with using stock images, but you can take advantage of it by becoming a go-to resource in your industry for visual content.
Here are some ideas to help you do that:
- Make a list of niche keywords in your industry, and perform an image search on Google to see if there is a lack of good images out there.
- Create images that represent something insightful about those keywords and their related topics. This could be in the form of original journalistic photographs, data visualizations such as infographics or visual metaphors.
- Create a blog post around your visual content and include an embed code to make it easy for people to reuse the image with credits. Look for an “embed code generator” tool to help create embedded code.
- Create a “stock photo” page on your site that collects all of your original images, along with embed codes. The title of the page should include those phrases bloggers use when searching for images, such as “free stock photos,” “public domain images,” “creative commons images” or similar phrases, as well as the relevant niche terms. Make sure to include image alts and image labels in text for the more specific keywords. Include your embed codes here as well to make sure it’s easy for people to link to you with credit.
Bear in mind that your visual content doesn’t necessarily need to be the most amazing thing ever, as long as it addresses topics that aren’t as readily addressed in other images.
Examples of this are the top image results for Moz. Their Whiteboard Friday images lack visual flair, but they get the point across.
2. Identify image keywords bloggers are likely to search for
This is related to the tactic above, but it’s a topic with enough depth that it deserves its own section.
The goal here isn’t just to identify keywords your consumer audience is searching for, or even keywords that other influencers in your industry are searching for.
You need to specifically identify keywords that bloggers and influencers are using images for and linking to.
Start by scraping a few prominent sites in your niche and looking for patterns. Here is one approach I recommend using:
- Use Screaming Frog to crawl a top publisher with an audience similar to yours.
- Go to the “External” tab and select “Images” from the filter.
- Export the image links and analyze the image alt text for any patterns.
Unfortunately, most publishers these days don’t use external links to display images; instead, they host the image on their own site, with an image credit link. Since these links aren’t embedded in the same hypertext markup language (HTML) as the image itself, there’s no easy way to identify image credit links.
What you can do, however, is crawl the site for their internal images and analyze the image alts they are using for some ideas:
While you won’t be able to immediately tell which images are credited to other sources and which were produced internally, you can quickly determine what topics their visual content tends to focus on.
You can also do a crawl of all external links and export the anchor text:
While this won’t limit the external links to image credits, it will help you identify the kind of topics they are most willing to link out to. Combining that with your image alt data and some manual inspection, you can start to get a clear idea of what kinds of keywords to target with your images.
Repeat this process for several top publishers until you have a clear, extensive list of keywords to target, with your original images.
Now test the viability of your keywords by:
- Testing the keyword volume in the Google Keyword Planner. You don’t need a lot of volume, since the keywords you are focusing on should be keywords searched for by bloggers, not general audiences. But you will need to make sure enough people are searching for the topic that bloggers would regularly come across the image.
- Search for the keyword with Google image search to see what comes up. Image quality is a big factor, but relevance is even more important. What you are really shooting for is a keyword without a good image designed to convey the idea clearly. As long as you go tight enough with your niche, this is more common than you might think.
- Avoid generic keywords. Generic keywords should be a jumping-off point only. You should be looking for highly specific keywords that convey very clear concepts that can be presented visually.
- Use a tool such as SEMrush to estimate the difficulty of ranking for the keyword.
3. Reach out to people using your original images
If you are creating original visual content and publishing it to your site, and you have a decent amount of exposure in Google Images, there is a very good chance people are using your images without linking to you.
Capitalize on this by contacting these people and politely asking them to give you credit with a link. (In all but the most egregious monetized cases, I would avoid making copyright threats, especially since it is more likely to result in their removing the image than linking to you for credit.)
To find sites that are using your image, go to Google Images and click the camera icon:
You’ll be asked to paste an image URL or to upload an image:
Now, paste the image URL (pointing to the image itself, not the page it’s on) into the “Paste image URL” tab, or click “Upload an image” and browse through your folders to locate the image if you are storing it locally on your machine. You can also just drag and drop an image into this pop-up.
Then click “Search by image.”
Scroll past the “Best guess for this image” and “Visually Similar Images” results, down to the “Pages that include matching images.” Click through to verify that they are still using the image, find their contact information, and send them an email requesting they cite your image with a link.
If you are producing a lot of image content on a regular basis, this process can get tedious, so it’s better off being automated. In that case, you can use the sites that allow you to do “reverse image search” for a larger number of images on a periodic basis.
4. Perfect your image-to-word ratio
According to a study by BuzzSumo, the blog posts that receive the most shares on Facebook and Twitter are the ones that include one image for every roughly 75 to 100 words.
Since there’s a relatively strong correlation between social sharing and the number of inbound links you earn, getting the right mix of images and words can be a smart link-earning strategy.
As with any statistic, especially one based on observational analysis instead of experimentation, it should be taken with a grain of salt. Rather than considering this “best practice,” use it as a jumping-off point, test a few different ratios over time and measure what seems to work best within your niche.
In most niches, the more hardcore your fan base, the more knowledge-hungry they are, meaning that they will be more willing to read walls of text (although you’d better be leveraging your white space even if that’s the case).
You may also find that your link-earning and social media activity aren’t as heavily correlated in your industry.
Regardless, the point stands. Measuring your image-to-word ratio — and how it correlates with the number of inbound links you earn — will help inform your link-earning strategy and allow you to make more optimized decisions.
Now, it’s time to put these ideas to use and up your visual SEO game!
Earlier this year, Facebook broke some bad news. Organic reach is officially being choked, making it harder for brands to reach the audiences they’ve worked so hard to build.
Because of this, I believe marketers will look to SEM (search engine marketing) to recapture lost attention. The problem is, there’s already so much competition. How do you get past the noise and generate PPC (pay per click) results, and which KPIs (key performance indicators) should you be tracking to measure success?
Optimizing conversion rate (CVR) is one of the fastest ways to improve AdWords efficiency. It allows you to test new approaches and boost ROI without having to expand target keywords, campaigns or budget.
Here are five approaches to PPC that will help you generate more conversions and better results in 2018 and beyond.
1. Optimize keyword quality score
Google’s entire business model relies on providing searchers with relevant results. This goes for organic results as well as AdWords.
To do this, Google assigns your target keywords a Quality Score (QS). This QS, along with your CPC (cost per click) bid, is what then determines your “Ad Rank.”
The three elements that determine your QS are:
- Ad relevance (in other words, how relevant the keyword is to the ad copy you serve).
- Landing page experience.
- Expected CTR (click-through rate).
Many PPC experts consider CTR the most important factor when determining QS. Therefore, when looking to optimize your QS, start with CTR.
Analyze the keyword relevancy of your campaigns. Is your ad copy aligned with the search intent of the keyword?
It’s good practice to create separate Ad Groups for each of your keywords. Also known as Single Keyword Ad Groups, this is where you cater to the intent of specific searchers rather than a larger group.
In the example below (courtesy of ConversionXL), ASDA is the only advertiser for the term “womens red dresses” with copy tailored to that search term.
As well as relevancy, your ad copy should quickly sell the benefits of the “click.” In other words, why should the searcher pay attention? Make your headlines relevant, focusing on the desires and pain points of your audience.
By optimizing CTR, and therefore quality score, you’ll generate more qualified traffic. And high-quality traffic delivers better conversion rates.
Once you’ve optimized CTR, your landing pages should be the next target. Dynamic text replacement (DTR) can provide some quick wins. This “swaps” specific copy in your landing page based on the keyword the user searched to find you. DTR can improve quality score and therefore contribute to a higher CVR.
2. Intelligent remarketing
When it comes to AdWords, high bounce rates are a fact of life. Users who come to your landing pages are at various stages of the customer journey. For example, a call-to-action (CTA) for a demo won’t work on a searcher who is still educating themselves on different solutions.
To capture these missed opportunities, use remarketing to cross-sell and “down-sell” bounced visitors. Let’s start by expanding on the example above. If you’re offering a demo of your software to someone who is still in the awareness phase, this approach won’t be as effective as something that answers their questions.
Therefore, an e-book that teaches prospects how to overcome specific challenges is an appropriate down-sell. It would educate them on the options available to them while providing information about how your product makes the process easier.
Of course, these challenges will vary depending on personas and customer segments. Therefore, you must personalize your ad creative where necessary.
Retargeting in this way allows you to capture lead information that would have been otherwise lost, boosting the CVR and overall ROI of your campaigns. The mistake many marketers make here is to “re-sell” the demo request. Use it as an opportunity to educate them and add more value instead of forcing them further down the funnel.
Here are some tips you can apply to your remarketing ads to capture the attention of lost leads:
- Test different lead magnets: Different personas and customer types respond to different forms of media. Split-test your remarketing ads to offer an e-book and webinar. See which generates the highest conversions and double down on those formats.
- Name-drop influencers: If you work with well-known influencers in your space, consider including them in your remarketing ads. This association adds an element of trust like no other.
- Use dynamic targeting: Serve specific ads to different audience segments. More on this later.
The point of remarketing is to capture lost users and retain customers. Don’t waste the opportunity by serving the same messaging. Look for ways to add value up and down the funnel.
3. Tap into the power of machine learning
AI and machine learning bring the promise of higher-performing marketing at speed. From an AdWords perspective, this would mean automated bid and budget management, using more data than a human can handle to make adjustments in real time.
To find out exactly what impact machine learning has on PPC performance, we analyzed 32,858 paid accounts using the Acquisio Turing platform to uncover the truth. Here’s what we found out about conversions and machine learning:
- An average increase in conversions of 71 percent.
- A median increase in conversions of 22 percent.
Discussions of landing page quality aside, the huge difference between average and median is explained by the fact that a certain number of accounts saw extremely high increases in number of conversions, which skews the average in a meaningful way. If we wished to exclude those extremes from the discussion, we would look at the median score, which tells us the percent increase in conversions that was observed for the 50th percentile.
The plot thickened because this increase in conversions came with an overall decrease in cost per acquisition (CPA). In fact, the median CPA had a decrease of 18 percent, with 64 percent of the group enjoying a decrease in CPA overall.
While the report above focused on the increase in conversions made possible by machine learning, our most recent study examined 50,000 campaigns to determine Google AdWords Industry Benchmarks and looked at conversion rate (CVR) with and without machine learning by industry. Here are the CVR findings segmented by business category:
Conversion rate (CVR) by industry with and without machine learning
Machine learning martech helps PPC marketers scale and optimize marketing activities efficiently, but it’s also a serious contender for conversion boosts.
Here’s the thing: Machine learning technologies get better the more they learn. In other words, results will improve as machine learning algorithms react to new findings. Check out The Marketer’s Field Guide to Machine Learning for more information.
4. Test new ad extensions
To cut through the noise, you must capture as much SERP (search engine results page) real estate as possible. This means not only standing out with your creative but also expanding how much room your ads take up.
To do this, test different ad extensions on your top-performing campaigns. Ad extensions, as defined by Google, “expand your ad with additional information — giving people more reasons to choose your business. They typically increase an ad’s click-through rate by several percentage points.”
Ad extensions come in several forms, the most popular of which are:
- Sitelink Extensions: Provide links to other relevant pages on your website.
- Callout Extensions: Additional information on what you’re offering, e.g., limited stock and free delivery.
- Structured Snippets: Allows you to highlight specific elements. For example, if you’re selling “Italian vegan leather boots,” you can include a list of shoe sizes.
- Location Extensions: Include your business address and telephone number in your ad copy.
As you’re well aware, mobile user behavior is very different from desktop users’. Indeed, 61.9 percent of all PPC clicks were from a smartphone during Q3 of 2017.
Google has reacted to this shift in behavior by adding additional extensions for ads that appear on mobile devices. These are:
- Message Extensions: Allow users to send an SMS to your business directly from the SERPs.
- Call Extensions: Similarly, users can dial a phone number provided within your ad copy.
As always, test different extensions on a small scale before applying them to all of your campaigns. Keep the customer’s journey and intent in mind. Are they searching for a term with several possible outcomes? Consider using a Sitelink extension. Does it look like they’re searching for your retail store on a mobile phone? Include mobile extensions.
5. Advanced segmentation with in-market audiences
Facebook Ads are popular among marketers due to the advanced targeting available. But many are still unaware of AdWords’ functionality to do the same.
Google collects a tremendous amount of data on their users. So it was only a matter of time before they allowed marketers to use it themselves.
That’s where in-market audiences come in. By using in-market audiences within your display ads targeting, you can target users based on their consumer behavior, as well as the content they have expressed an interest in online.
The data available is sorted into several market categories, including real estate, travel and telecommunication. You can then set targeting on a granular level, all the way down to specific interests and brand names:
So, how does it work? According to Google, data such as sites browsed, the proximity of visits, relevant ads clicked and conversions are all taken into account to categorize users by intent.
This means that, while this is limited to the Display network only, you’re able to serve hyper-specific ads to those who have expressed an interest. From persona segments to product categories, the options are many.
Did the introduction of semantic search change the SEO industry for the better, or for worse?
Some search optimizers like to complain that “Google is always changing things.” In reality, that’s only a half-truth; Google is always coming out with new updates to improve its search results, but the fundamentals of SEO have remained the same for more than 15 years. Only some of those updates have truly “changed the game,” and for the most part, those updates are positive (even though they cause some major short-term headaches for optimizers).
Today, I’ll turn my attention to semantic search, a search engine improvement that came along in 2013 in the form of the Hummingbird update. At the time, it sent the SERPs into a somewhat chaotic frenzy of changes, but introduced semantic search, which transformed SEO for the better—both for users and for marketers.
What Is Semantic Search?
I’ll start with a briefer on what semantic search actually is, in case you aren’t familiar. The so-called Hummingbird update came out back in 2013, and introduced a new way for Google to consider user-submitted queries. Up until that point, the search engine was built heavily on keyword interpretation; Google would look at specific sequences of words in a user’s query, then find matches for those keyword sequences in pages on the internet.
Search optimizers built their strategies around this tendency by targeting specific keyword sequences, and using them, verbatim, on as many pages as possible (while trying to seem relevant in accordance with Panda’s content requirements).
Hummingbird changed this. Now, instead of finding exact matches for keywords, Google looks at the language used by a searcher and analyzes the searcher’s intent. It then uses that intent to find the most relevant search results for that user’s intent. It’s a subtle distinction, but one that demanded a new approach to SEO; rather than focusing on specific, exact-match keywords, you had to start creating content that addressed a user’s needs, using more semantic phrases and synonyms for your primary targets.
Voice Search and Ongoing Improvements
Of course, since then, there’s been an explosion in voice search—driven by Google’s improved ability to recognize spoken words, its improved search results, and the increased need for voice searches with mobile devices. That, in turn, has fueled even more advances in semantic search sophistication.
One of the biggest advancements, an update called RankBrain, utilizes an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm to better understand the complex queries that everyday searchers use, and provide more helpful search results.
Why It’s Better for Searchers
So why is this approach better for searchers?
- Intuitiveness. Most of us have already taken for granted how intuitive searching is these days; if you ask a question, Google will have an answer for you—and probably an accurate one, even if your question doesn’t use the right terminology, isn’t spelled correctly, or dances around the main thing you’re trying to ask. A decade ago, effective search required you to carefully calculate which search terms to use, and even then, you might not find what you were looking for.
- High-quality results. SERPs are now loaded with high-quality content related to your original query—and oftentimes, a direct answer to your question. Rich answers are growing in frequency, in part to meet the rising utility of semantic search, and it’s giving users faster, more relevant answers (which encourages even more search use on a daily basis).
- Content encouragement. The nature of semantic search forces search optimizers and webmasters to spend more time researching topics to write about, and developing high-quality content that’s going to serve search users’ needs. That means there’s a bigger pool of content developers than ever before, and they’re working harder to churn out readable, practical, and in-demand content for public consumption.
Why It’s Better for Optimizers
The benefits aren’t just for searchers, though—I’d argue there are just as many benefits for those of us in the SEO community (even if it was an annoying update to adjust to at first):
- Less pressure on keywords. Keyword research has been one of the most important parts of the SEO process since search first became popular, and it’s still important to gauge the popularity of various search queries—but it isn’t as make-or-break as it used to be. You no longer have to ensure you have exact-match keywords at exactly the right ratio in exactly the right number of pages (an outdated concept known as keyword density); in many cases, merely writing about the general topic is incidentally enough to make your page relevant for your target.
- Value optimization. Search optimizers now get to spend more time optimizing their content for user value, rather than keyword targeting. Semantic search makes it harder to accurately predict and track how keywords are specifically searched for (and ranked for), so we can, instead, spend that effort on making things better for our core users.
- Wiggle room. Semantic search considers synonyms and alternative wordings just as much as it considers exact match text, which means we have far more flexibility in our content. We might even end up optimizing for long-tail phrases we hadn’t considered before.
The SEO community is better off focusing on semantic search optimization, rather than keyword-specific optimization. It’s forcing content producers to produce better, more user-serving content, and relieving some of the pressure of keyword research (which at times is downright annoying).
Take this time to revisit your keyword selection and content strategies, and see if you can’t capitalize on these contextual queries even further within your content marketing strategy.
Discover some of the best practices on B2B PPC campaigns that you can use today, including attribution models, ad types, video, and more.
If you work in digital marketing, you might not normally think of B2B PPC (that is, pay-per-click for business-to-business campaigns).
Most digital marketers think of PPC as a B2C (business-to-consumer) discipline for either direct sales (retail, such as apparel or electronics) or for lead generation (identifying and matching potential customers for services, such as consultations for financial services or finding a new healthcare provider).
Your job as a PPC marketer in the consumer space is as you’d expect. You run paid search ads for your product or service that nudge searchers to your landing page and hopefully get them to convert. And as a B2C PPC marketer, you have a relatively short sales cycle.
Why the B2B PPC Conversion Funnel Is Different Than B2C
There are different rules of engagement for marketing toward a business audience than toward consumer audiences.
Let’s go over some of the bigger points of differentiation.
Multiple Decision Makers
While a consumer shopping for a new winter coat probably doesn’t have a lengthy approval process, multiple stakeholders, and a legal department to vet contracts with, your business customers do.
Longer Sales Cycle
One of the immediate effects of having multiple decision-makers in the sales process is a longer sales cycle.
A while back, Salesforce found that the average B2B sales cycle is 84 days long(though they vary wildly, and may be significantly longer for your company).
The longer sales cycle means business customers may take weeks or months to eventually choose to sign up for your subscription service or enterprise-scale product.
Need for Multiple Messaging Points Across the Funnel
Because there are multiple stakeholders involved in B2B purchasing decisions and because the sales cycle tends to be longer overall, it’s far more important to have relevant messages for the appropriate audience at different funnel stages.
Searchers in exploratory mode will respond better to upper-funnel messaging without a strong push to sell. On the other hand, searchers who are deeper in the funnel – reading reviews, comparing costs and individual service or product features – may instead be better served by a stronger call to action that drives them to convert.
The Beginning of the B2B PPC Funnel
The B2B PPC funnel starts out in a different manner than a consumer funnel. You can’t exactly hand out free samples of your enterprise-scale software on a tray at your local shopping mall.
Instead, you’ll likely introduce them to your funnel with a visit to your company’s online presence – if not your main homepage, then most likely a specific landing page on which you’re featuring a virtual offer, such as a webinar, eBook, infographic or another asset.
To procure that asset, visitors will need to sign themselves up for your funnel by filling out a lead capture form.
Once these visitors have become part of your funnel audience, your next task is targeting them properly by way of AdWords Audiences.
Presumably, you’ll also have your own specific qualifiers for types of leads for different stages.
At this point, you’re most likely using a CRM solution (if you have one) to score and qualify leads, after which, these audiences should be moved to deeper-funnel audiences for your PPC ads. Meaning, you don’t want to be showing top-funnel ads to these deeper-funnel leads, but rather, more-appropriate messaging to this warmer audience that will nudge them to the bottom of the funnel.
B2B PPC Tactics: Keywords, Attribution & Ad Types
Now that we’ve given an overview of B2B PPC and how to get prospects into the top of your funnel, let’s go into some actionable tactics you can start using immediately to nudge them through your sales cycle and get them to closed-won status.
1. Branded-Keyword Campaigns
It might not be obvious, but branded keywords are important for mid-funnel prospects in B2B PPC.
Specifically, once prospective customers become aware of you, unless they’re already breaking down your door to buy, they’re likely performing pre-purchase research.
They’re comparing features and price points between you and your competitors, and potentially performing searches either for your brand plus nonbrand terms (“ABC Software Inc. enterprise security”), comparison searches (“What’s the difference between ABC Software Inc. and XYZ Software Inc.”), or simply running repeated brand searches with your name as they go through the steps of their own due diligence.
2. AdWords Attribution
If you ask Google, the only attribution you need is data-driven attribution, which uses the publisher’s machine learning algorithms to precisely calculate and assign partial “credit” to different touchpoints in your funnel.
While the publisher will tell you that this black box algorithm is the only way to go, it should be noted that there are rather high volume requirements – 15,000 clicks and 600 conversions in the past 30 days (and subsequently, 10,000 clicks and 400 conversions per month).
For those businesses that don’t necessarily meet this threshold, alternatives such as time-decay attribution and position-based (U-shaped) may make more sense.
Position-based attribution assigns 40 percent of the “credit” for a conversion to the top of the funnel and 40 percent to the bottom, with the remaining 20 percent going to mid-funnel. This heavily weights top-funnel and bottom-funnel interactions and may make sense for businesses that strongly emphasize initial leads and closed deals only, such as commercial real estate, in which finding qualified buyers and sellers can be almost as important as closing on a property.
The time decay attribution model assigns “credit” to various touchpoints throughout the conversion journey, weighting the most recent more heavily and the older touchpoints less so.
This attribution model may make sense for highly competitive B2B spaces in which initial leads are less emphasized and closed-won deals are of paramount importance.
This attribution model may also be useful for testing purposes when comparing conversion journeys – if Conversion Journey A, which has a certain set of touchpoints and marketing content, consistently drives closed-won deals three months faster than Conversion Journey B, it may be time to more strongly emphasize the touchpoints in Conversion Journey A and do some retooling (or retiring) of the touchpoints in Conversion Journey B.
3. Remarketing & Retargeting – RLSA & GDN
Once your prospects have entered your conversion funnel, it becomes more important to serve them messaging and landing pages that are relevant to their specific needs and mindset in the current stage of their conversion journey.
In other words, it’s important to avoid inundating these prospects with top-funnel messages that no longer apply to them.
If you continue to serve these prospects ads to sign up the webinar they already watched two weeks ago, you won’t only annoy and confuse them, but you’ll also miss out on the opportunity to target them with a more-relevant, mid-funnel message.
This is what Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA) is for – these search ads help you provide varied messaging for these mid-funnel prospects.
The same can be said for targeting via Google Display Network (GDN). Remarketing via GDN should offer varied but targeted ad experiences that tie together your lower-funnel website offers, such as customer success stories, budget calculators, free audits/assessments and similar.
It may also be useful to experiment with the new Display Responsive Ad feature, which pairs a text ad with a Facebook-size image and seems to work well for mid-funnel display campaigns.
4. YouTube Video Ads & Bumpers
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is… well, it’s a lot easier to digest than yet another 5,000-word white paper.
Keep in mind that video ads, at present, aren’t necessarily the strongest channel to drive final conversions – you should go in with appropriate expectations here.
That said, due to the way certain video types are counted, YouTube videos may help you drive a great deal of awareness and keep your brand top-of-mind for mid-funnel prospects in a cost-effective way.
YouTube video ads most commonly take the form of a skippable pre-roll that loads before a standard video. Fortunately for you, if viewers don’t get to the 30-second mark in your pre-roll ad, YouTube classifies that interaction as an impression rather than a paid view, and such impressions are served free of charge.
Because you can serve an unlimited number of impressions for free so long as viewers don’t make it past 30 seconds, YouTube video ads potentially offer a very cost-effective branding opportunity.
Then again, given that video watchers are more impatient than ever, we don’t recommend videos that go much further than 30 seconds in length. In fact, YouTube’s 6-second bumper videos can also provide quick reminders of your brand and your products and services to mid-funnel prospects without being overly obtrusive.
These tips should hopefully help point you in the right direction for B2B PPC.
As mentioned, B2B PPC is a different beast with different properties and in many cases, significantly longer conversion/sales cycles.
Due to these relatively longer sales cycles, along with having more stakeholders involved and more proof points required, I recommend taking a holistic view of your B2B firm’s entire conversion journey, preferably collating all relevant data for every touchpoint to help you craft the best campaigns and drive more final conversions and sales.