Google and Mobile SEO

Google and Mobile SEO

Google and Mobile SEO

On 21st April, Google is going to release an update to its algorithm. No surprise there, these updates happen on a very regular basis (just count the grey hairs on anyone who works in SEO!). But whats unique about this update is that it is focusing on mobile.

The update will focus on mobile user-friendliness. Currently around 30% of all traffic on the total web is from a mobile device and the number is growing rapidly, so mobile should already be on your agenda – your analytics package will be able to tell you the split of traffic by device.

Mobile is a more complex website than your desktop website in many ways, especially from a visual perspective: what features do you include on the site, which do you remove, should my site be responsive, should I even have an app?

So, in the face of this complexity, what can you do to ensure your website is ready for this update?

The best place to start with any SEO based exercise is not with a search engine – it’s with the user. So spend some time getting into the head of the mobile visitor of your website. Spend some time actually on the site and try to complete the simple tasks that you want the user to complete – find contact details, navigate around your product / service pages, complete an enquiry form. Objectively ask yourself, how easy is it to complete these tasks? And take a look at how your site renders on different devices – you can check on your analytics package what devices people are using, so check the website out from that screen (there are lots of developer tools to enable you to do this).

Then visit Google’s developer page to test the mobile friendliness of your website: This will highlight any issues that Google is particularly concerned with, making it a good place to start getting into some of the technical side of mobile optimisation.

Then start challenging your website with the following questions:

  • Site speed – This is notoriously an issue in mobile websites, but how long does your mobile site take to load? More than a couple of seconds, and you’re losing visitors.
  • Flash – If you are using Flash, your content is not supported by Apple mobile devices, and is really slow on Android devices: not a great user experience. Try HTML5.
  • Mobile Site Maps – Like your desktop site, you should put a site map in place to allow Google to crawl your mobile site easily. Crawl errors incidentally are another reason for a bad experience, so use the Google developer tools to check these.
  • Be Local – A large number of mobile web searches have local intent, so if you have a local element to your business, make sure that you are registered on Google’s My Business.
  • Meta Data – Mobile screens are smaller than desktop screens, so this should be reflected in your meta description and title. Keep your title to under 60 characters, and your description under 90 characters.

What about an app though? This is a standalone application and is not subject to Google algorithms. But that does not make it a cheaper or better solution. Apps can be eye-wateringly expensive, and the majority do not deliver a positive ROI. You need to be very confident that you have the user need for an app before launching it as a mobile website alternative.

Good luck in getting ready for the update, it will be interesting to see what impact this has on search results – according to Google it will be, rather ominously, ‘significant’….

Why Google+ Didn’t Work

Google Plus

Google Plus

Earlier this week, Bradley Horowitz, one of Google+’s key architects and a Google VP, announced that he has been appointed as head of Google’s Photos and Streams products.  It is strongly implied that these are not additional features to Google+, but two new products which will effectively replace Google+.

But how can a social network with the backing of one of the biggest companies on earth be effectively wound down after just three and a half years?

Too late to the party?
Was Google+ flawed straight from the off?  Well, it was only launched in September 2011 by which time Facebook had 750 million members, LinkedIn had over 100 million members and Twitter was adding 500k new users per day.  A lot of ground to make up even with brains as big as Google’s.

Its stats were impressive though?
Yes, they were – very impressive in fact.  Google+ recruited 10 million users in just 16 days (the same feat took Twitter 780 days and Facebook over 850 days).  And it seemed that even up to 2014 there were 540 million active monthly users of Google+.  However, looking round Google+, it didn’t feel like there were that many people were actually contributing to the network.

The stats were boosted by the fact that if you have a Google account (e.g. Gmail), then you could integrate all Google tools under one account – this seemed to annoy people and turn people off Google+.  Also, it was always a social network where discussions got quite technical – a good analogy is if a car was being discussed on Facebook, it would be about the looks of the car: on Google+ it would be about the engine components!

And it had good features?
It did!  In my opinion, two features in particular were really quite clever.  The concept of Circles was good – you could group your contacts into different Circles, and when you post just make your posts visible to a particular Circle.  For example, I might have two circles, one for digital marketing and one for football, and Circles ensures that football fans don’t hear about the latest SEO news.  The second feature was of course Hangouts.  This was hugely successful, and offered live broadcasting as an opportunity for anyone (who could generate enough of an audience).

So, was Google’s approach wrong?
Yes, kind of.  Google’s strategy behind Google+ was to be the one social network that satisfied all of someone’s needs.  But this is flawed – people enjoy different networks for different purposes, and that’s why so many varied networks still thrive: Facebook (friends network), Twitter (quick-fire real-time messaging), Instagram (images), Pinterest (images), Tumblr (images and videos), and LinkedIn (professional network) all prove this point.

Is this really the end?
Even though all of the vital signs of Google+ are heading downward, if there was ever a company that can pull it round, it is probably Google.  But I think with the latest announcement from Horowitz, and Google’s track record of killing off products that don’t work (Google Buzz and Google Reader anyone?), this is the end of Google+ at least in its current guise.

How to Manage a PPC Campaign

PPC Management

PPC Management

I read earlier this week that spend on Pay Per Click (PPC) search engine advertising is set to continue to grow in 2015, and this isn’t too surprising.  The quest to get onto page one of Google’s results page for your most important keywords is a difficult and time-consuming one if you go down the Search Engine Optimisation route – PPC will get you to the very top of that page in no time at all.

Not only that, but one of the criticisms of traditional advertising is that it doesn’t segment the audience – PPC audiences segment themselves through their search terms, so you know the audience is showing interest.

But effective PPC is more than just setting up your account, hitting ‘go’ and sitting back waiting for the cash to roll in: this method will result in a lot of money being wasted very quickly.  So, how do you manage a PPC campaign?  Here is my six step process:

1) Set-up Multiple Campaigns
Campaigns are an important part of the structure of PPC campaigns – within these you can select different groups of keywords, and try different types of creative.  Campaign-level is a good way of looking at your top-line results, so make sure that the campaigns are easily distinguishable.

2) Choose the URL
You need to choose the URL which the advert will send people to, but the landing page is often forgotten as part of the PPC campaign process.  The landing page should give the viewer the option (or options) to do what most people do on your website – whether that is a buy-now button or a contact form.  You can track the success of your landing page through your analytics package.  In terms of the URL itself, you should make it trackable so that you can tell the keyword which has referred it – I find Google’s URL builder really easy to use and it ties in with Google Analytics.  You should also test different landing pages to optimise the advert’s effectiveness once they arrive on your site.

3) Select Keywords
Selecting keywords is not as easy as you would think!  If you know the business that you are working for, you should have an idea of where to start: asking some customers what terms they would use is also a good starting point.  You should also use Google’s Keyword Tool for some inspiration, but don’t get too carried away – if your landing page does not relate to the search term, this will count against you.

4) Write the Advert
You are limited by the number of characters in your advert, so all you budding Don Drapers may already start feeling a little restricted.  Your title should be punchy and to the point, with the rest of the advert explaining why your advert is the one that the customer should click on – what is different about your business?   The domain is also restricted to just 35 characters, so it is unlikely that you will be able to use the actual destination URL: your domain needs to be the same as the destination URL, but you can release some (short) creativity with the page name.

5) Time for Extensions?
On top of a standard PPC advert, there are a number of extensions that you can add to make your advert more eye-catching, and some great ways of honing your advert.  But I recommend that you don’t start looking at this until your feel comfortable with the basics of PPC management.  You can tailor your advert in the following ways:

  • Bidding by day of week
  • Bidding by time of day
  • Click to call (i.e. your phone number on your advert)
  • Seller ratings (useful for building trust)
  • Site links (showing a range of pages which should help to entice people to click on your advert)

6) Keep Reviewing:
PPC campaign management is not just a one-off task – the campaigns with the best ROI are monitored and tweaked on a continual basis.  So, you should become very familiar with the PPC metrics:

  • Impressions – the number of times that your ad has been shown
  • Clicks – the number of times that your advert has been clicked on (you can calculate your Click Through Rate [CTR] by dividing clicks by impressions)
  • Average Position – where your advert is shown on page, so the lower the better
  • Cost Per Click – self-explanatory!
  • Quality Score – this has a blog all of its own!
  • Conversions / Cost per Conversion – use conversion tracking codes when linking through to your site to be able to track the consumer through to conversion

Do you manage your PPC campaigns, or is it managed by an agency?  Do you have any top tips?

5 SEO Myths

SEO Myths

SEO Myths

One of the reasons why I love digital is because the landscape changes so quickly – there are always new tools, new techniques and new best practices emerging which you can use on your digital proposition.  Keeping up to date with all of these changes is not easy, but offer new opportunities on almost a daily basis.

If you fail to keep up to date with the latest trends, then there is a chance that your understanding of a subject area will become out of date – and never has this been more applicable than to Search Engine Optimisation.  It is a fast-moving area which is driven by virtually constant changes from (on the whole) one organisation who has a secret formula which you are trying to crack!  This means that there are a lot of SEO myths which need to be addressed.

Let the de-bunking begin:

SEO Keyword Stuffing: In the old days of SEO, there were a lot of people who thought that the more mentions of a particular keyword on a page, the higher this is likely to rank against a search query.  This doesn’t work now!  If you check out a page which is written in this style, it is terrible to read and that’s the problem.  Search engines want to refer pages which are relevant to the search that you make – not to a page which is artificially stuffed with keywords.  Search engines are getting smarter, your content needs to do the same.

Just Focus on Google: Google is not the only website that you need to worry about.  Other search engines are available, like Bing, but check your country’s search engine shares – for the UK, Google represents 89% of search engine use, but in China it is just 3%.  And you should not just focus on search engines.  Social networks are important to SEO and it’s easy to understand why – if people like a company or post on social media, then this is an endorsement of the company which search engines can include.  Indeed, Bing has started trialling the number of Twitter followers for companies which appear in its search results.

Links = Rankings: If your strategy for link-building is centred on the quantity of links, you are about to get bad news!  There are still a lot of companies which offer to sell links, but signing up for this means that your site is going to get links pointing at it from all sorts of websites, the vast majority of which are not relevant for your site.  Such links are simple for search engines to spot, and if they think you are trying to game their algorithm, they may well drop you from their results.  Instead, focus on quality of your links, not quantity.

It’s All About Content: Writing good quality content is really important to every website – if you can entertain, inform or help out your visitors, then it is likely that they will be engaged when on your site, so Google will like this, right?  Yes, but only if it can see the content!  There are a number of steps which you can take to make your website visible and accessible for search engines, so take these steps as well as creating great content.

SEO is King: SEO is important, but it should not operate in isolation.  It should be part of a wider Search Engine Marketing strategy which will include social media and paid advertising.  SEO is a useful tool and should be used in conjunction with other marketing tools to drive good quality traffic.

Has this list included your favourite SEO myth?

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Paid Search Campaign Tips

Paid Search Marketing

Paid Search Marketing

If you are looking to capture new visitors to your website in the short- term then paid search advertising might well be the tactic you are looking for. It is a great way to get your company in front of people who are searching for your product or service – and a handy short-cut to a good position on a search engines ranking!

I am going to focus on Google here because it is so dominant here in the UK. It might be that Google is not the most popular search engine where you are, but hopefully these principles will help you with your search engine of choice.

So, you have decided to launch a paid search advertising campaign, but what are the ingredients of a great PPC (pay per click) campaign?

Good Targeting – Before you start unleashing your creativity on ad copy, you need to work out what keywords to target. This can be done by spending time on Google looking at what your competitors are bidding on (and using Google AdWord’s keyword tools), but you should also consult some customers or prospects. How do they describe your product; do they search for the problem that they have (e.g. searching for ‘cash flow issues’ instead of a ‘business loan’). Understanding this may help unlock some keyword gems – keywords which don’t receive a lot of bids meaning that their cost per click is low but are being searched for by your audience.

Stand Out (it’s tough!) – The click through rate (i.e. the number of times your ad is clicked divided by the number of times your ad appears) of PPC ads is notoriously poor – the low single figure percentages are not uncommon. But smart ad copy will help you stand out – just by addressing your credibility (the searcher may not have heard of you before) or answering the issue that the searcher has, when accompanied by a call to action, will put you ahead of most PPC ads – most ads don’t contain these!

Utilise the Tools – there are a number of advert extensions that can enhance your PPC advert. Enhanced site links offer a number of paid links to your site, it’s like having multiple adverts in one, and this will definitely help your click through rate. Or, if you are trying to build credibility, why not add reviews onto your advert? Or if you are advertising on mobile, maybe you should add a ‘call’ button to your advert? The tools are available, so you should be using them to drive more traffic to your website.

Test, Test, Test – one of the great elements of PPC advertising is how quickly you can measure the ad’s performance. You will be able to check your click through rate (i.e. how good is your ad at standing out), number of clicks to your website and your average advert position (if this is low, you should probably increase your bid). Amend your advert following this feedback and check the results again – get into the habit of continual improvement.

Joined-Up Thinking – don’t lose sight of what role you want PPC to play. It is a channel for driving traffic to your website, and it’s the website where the campaign can succeed or fail. Your landing page should be directly related to your advert – don’t direct people to your home page, it’s not specific enough, direct them to a specific landing page that contains a call to action. And when someone is on your site, monitor what they are doing. Are they bouncing right out of the site because your landing page isn’t effective? Your analytics tool will help with this, and investigate linking AdWords to your analytics for the ultimate in joined-up thinking.

This is a deliberately quick tour of PPC advertising – there are a number of issues raised here which justify a better explanation that can’t be covered in a short blog. But, if you follow the above principles, your should start to see paid search becoming an important part of your digital marketing strategy.

Bounce and Exit Rates

Bounce and exit rate

Bounce and exit rate

From chatting to other digital marketers online, one of the questions that we dread when presenting analytics is ‘what’s the difference between bounce rate and exit rate?’ I used to find that the more I tried to explain bounce rate, the more it sounded like I was explaining exit rate!

So, here is the difference presented simply (well, as simply as I can!)

Exit rate is the percentage of times that the page is the last one that the user sees in their session.

Bounce rate is the percentage of times that a page is the only page within a session. So, bounce rate is only relevant if the page that you are analysing is the only one in the session.

The natural reaction to a high bounce rate is panic. But it’s not necessarily time for that – if your website has answered a long-tail question, you may see a bounce; or if someone is looking for your phone number, that might be a search, once page and then bounce. However, these pages are normally fairly deep within the structure of the site: a high bounce rate on huge home page is normally a sign that something is wrong.

Context is important for exit rate too. If you have a user journey that is 3 pages long, then a high exit rate on the last page might not be such bad news.

Analytics often asks more questions than it answers, but hopefully this answers one of the trickiest questions in analytics – if you’ve got a better way of differentiating, please leave a comment!

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Is My PPC Working Well?



This week, I was asked a question by my boss who is not a marketer – is our PPC working well?  Hmmm – that is a tricky question, because it is such a vague question.  However, I needed to think of a better answer than that for my boss, so I quickly ran through four areas to give him a feel for how things are going.

I thought I would share these in case you get cornered too with a vague, albeit very valid question!

Click Through Rate – How is your advert performing against the competition?  CTR will help you see!  It will show you how effectively the advert is attracting people’s attention.  So, if you are running different combinations of keywords and product benefits, you should be able to see what turns your target audience on fairly quickly.  When you combine this with clicks, then you will be able to get a view of how popular the search terms that you are bidding on are.

Quality Score – A great overview metric.  The Quality Score is a combination of a number of factors which includes your budget, your advert relevance and your landing page relevance. You should be tracking your quality score month on month, because if you are forever tinkering with your PPC campaigns (and you should be!), then you will be able to track any improvements through a rise in your quality score.

Landing Pages – You should use your analytics package to understand what the bounce rate is of your landing pages, i.e. the page that you are sending the PPC traffic to.  You should compare bounce rate and pages per visit to organic search and all of your different referral traffic.  For example, if the bounce rate is high, then spending more on PPC means you will be wasting more and more money.  There are two halves to PPC – the advert and the landing page, so don’t forget to give both regular TLC!

Linking PPC to CRM – If you don’t have this yet, then this should definitely be on your agenda for 2014.  Being able to link these two elements will mean that you have an understanding of which PPC keywords deliver the most leads / sales / profitability into your business.  This is super powerful data, and will allow you to truly optimise your PPC campaigns.

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2013 Digital Review

2013 in Digital

2013 in Digital

As we are approaching the end of 2013, I thought now would be a good time to review the most significant digital marketing stories of the year.  And what a year it has been, eh?!

Facebook Graph Search is launched:  This relies on people having pretty relaxed privacy settings, as only public info can be shared in search results.  Hmmm….don’t think Google will be losing too much sleep over this yet.

Twitter Vine launched:  Feels like a product with a great fit for the 21st Century – short, visual, lots of feline potential.  I think that in 2014, brands are going to start to see this as an opportunity (there are already some brands and sports teams using it excellently).

Google releases enhanced PPC campaigns:  The best advertising channel in the world just got better.  The level of detail which you can set your ad up with now is fantastic, and it’s tough to think of a business that would not benefit from PPC now and into 2014.

Google hits Interflora…hard:  Following Google algorithm updates, Interflora found itself on the receiving end of a Google penalty.  It sent its product out to bloggers in the hope that they would write about the product and provide a link.  Result – Interflora temporarily disappears.  Expect more updates and penalties in 2014.

Google Glass:  Hipsters of the world unite!  Google Glass is being trialled by a select group of volunteers (and their $1500).  I think it’s too early to tell what impact this is going to have, but with 2014 due to see a rise in 4G coverage, this could be big in 2014.

Facebook hashtags:  As part of Facebook’s plan to encourage its network to interact, the hashtag was released onto Facebook in 2013.  Like Graph Search, this relies on people relaxing their privacy settings, which I think is unlikely right now.

Hummingbird long-tail search:  Google introduces the Hummingbird update, to understand the context which the user is searching with in order to provide more accurate search results.  This encouraged most SEO experts to push the virtues of the long-tail search in response.

Rise of Not Provided:  The same SEO experts were disappointed if not surprised that Google has started to not provide keyword data for SEO keyword referral.  The rise of ‘Not Provided’ was happening throughout 2013, so no shocks – just a hole in the data right now until someone finds a solution!

Facebook loses teens:  Teenagers are switching from Facebook to Twitter and Instagram – after all, what teenager wants to be on a social network where their whole family hang out? This is a key demographic for future growth, so expect Facebook to address this in 2014.

Mobile consumption doubles over last 12 months:  Mobile is becoming more and more important, with consumption doubling over the last 12 months.  This will continue into 2014, with the reduction in smart phone cost and the rise of 4G.

What does 2014 hold?  I’ll let you know on the 20th December, so remember to check back!

Pillar Three: Under The Bonnet

Three Pillars of SEO

In the final part of my series called ‘The Three Pillars of SEO’, I am tackling ‘under the bonnet’, or the more technical way to influence SEO.  There are a lot of areas that could fall into this category, so I am not going to cover all of them: I will just deal with just 4 of these that I think are pretty important.  You probably have a different view, but remember: – if we knew how search engines prioritise elements of SEO, we would be wealthy people!

Case sensitive URLs: very few people actually capitalise a web address into their browser, but when you go to sites which have been managed by non-digital experts, you will often find capitalised URLs.  Google may think that even though the words in the URL are the same, the capitalisation denotes something different – which means that you may have a duplicate content issue, which you really don’t want.  Most developers would be able to sort this problem out pretty quickly.

Site Speed: this is one of the most over-looked areas of SEO and general website user experience.  In the modern age with high speed internet, a slow pay load may really kill off your chances of conversion.  47% of consumers expect a page to load fully in 2 seconds, so the window is small.  Solutions to page load speed can get a little technical, so consult and expert who knows your site.

Upload an XML sitemap: you are able to upload a sitemap of your website to Google to ensure that when Google are crawling your website, they are looking for every page.  There are free tools which you can use from the web to generate a sitemap, and they can be uploaded via Google Webmaster Tools.

Keep tagging: When you read about search engine’s sophistication in 2013, it is easy to forget how much information they still need to be told.  This information is told to the search engines in the shape of tags – small pieces of data which tell a search engine what the page is about.  This is the information which should go into your meta descriptions, as well as your alt tags for images.

The Three Pillars of SEO hopefully illustrate to you that SEO works best when there is activity happening with all three pillars – a website that is not technically sound will remain problematic even with some amazing off-page activity, and vice versa.  And SEO is a moving topic – there will always be updates from Google and other search engines which means that great SEO practitioners will have to continually adapt.

Pillar One: On-Page Content

Three Pillars of SEO

Three Pillars of SEO

Last week I introduced the concept of the Three Pillars of Search Engine Optimisation – on-page m content; off-page networking; under the bonnet.

This week, I am going to summarise the first column, on-page content.

As with all areas of SEO, on-page best practice has developed dramatically over the last few years.  Keyword stuffing was the previous order of the day, but search engines have become savvy over the years – they are now able to understand the context of the page (kind of!), and the unnatural frequency of keywords will count against you.

So, what actually are your keywords?!  The identification of your keywords is an area that is worth researching in more depth, but broadly speaking, you want to find keywords that are popular enough to have people searching for them, but not so popular that there is a lot of competition from websites with huge budgets: not an easy brief!  But you can test the quality of keywords with a PPC account fairly quickly and at a relatively low cost before you commit any SEO resource to them.

Once you’ve got your keywords, the content on page should be written about the keyword – it should be easy to read, be written naturally, interesting and helping the user out with a problem, e.g. to provide information.  It also needs to be shareable, as this will help our second pillar (but more on that next week!).  Depending on the content that you are providing, you should have social sharing buttons on your site so that your internet user can become an advocate of your website – this is a huge contributor to SEO success.

One of the most important things to remember with SEO is that it is a means to satisfying your internet users.  SEO is just a means of getting the users to come to your site.  So on-page, your focus should be on satisfying the user – giving the user something that they will find interesting, would like to share, and can help them solve the issue that they are looking to solve.