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Jim Yu – Search Engine Land News On Search Engines, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) & Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Mon, 06 May 2019 16:18:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.2 The real-time SEO shift: Research, ranking and recommendations /the-real-time-seo-shift-research-ranking-and-recommendations-316458 Mon, 06 May 2019 16:18:04 +0000 /?p=316458 SEOs need to consider ways to put automation to work while also keeping up with Google’s visual and voice search landscape.

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Evolving consumer expectations driven by the breakneck speed of technological advancements are pushing marketing teams to the brink. Companies of all sizes strive to become “data-driven,” but few are doing so successfully – in fact, 72% of C-level technology and business leaders with some of the world’s largest brands recently reported that they have not yet been able to forge a data culture [pdf] within their organizations. What’s more, 53% said they aren’t even treating their data as a business asset.

SEOs have perhaps been able to realize and capitalize on the opportunities consumer data offers better than most, given how fundamental clean data is to success in search. However, consumers’ voracious appetite for content is generating many touchpoints across any number of devices and platforms – and a massive amount of data, as a result.

Consumers expect that data to be deployed immediately, to meet their needs; 63% expect personalization as a standard of service and believe they are recognized as an individual when sent special offers. Today’s SEO needs to understand the customer journey as it is happening and be able to adapt in real-time, optimizing content out of the gate. It’s an impossible pursuit with the technology necessary to activate data across the SEO lifecycle.

It’s time to get real, with real-time SEO that incorporates consumer data, your understanding of the buyer’s journey, and Google’s dynamic and visual search landscape. Here are three areas you need to focus your efforts.

Research intelligently in real-time and optimize with speed

Data has become the currency that drives competitive advantage, but point solutions are causing chaos and confusion for brands. Data silos have resulted in massive quantities of static data lacking in quality and actionability. Brands are unable to extract the value of this data, despite significant investments in technology.

SEOs can help drive the change that needs to happen by focusing first on improving workflow and operational efficiency. Your technology must be intelligent, to recognize optimization opportunities, the very moment they arise – and to act, creating the customer experiences your prospects crave.

The way SEO has been done since its inception looks something like this…

A category manager for a retailer approaches your team requesting a report on the current season, and recommendations on how to optimize for the upcoming one. As the head of SEO, you report on last month’s trends. You provide an overall report on rank, keyword volume, keyword trends, keyword ideas and recommendations. It’s a multi-step, arduous, time-consuming process which utilizes numerous tools and Excel analysis – and still, you’re presenting historic data and making recommendations based on previous performance.

According to BrightEdge market research, typical organic search practitioner uses an average of six tools and can spend up to four hours a day on research, reporting and analysis. In the past, it was difficult for search marketers to truly understand the customer journey as it happens and maximize revenue. But today, the real-time SEO shift allows SEOs to provide real-time recommendations with real-time data, driving even more revenue to their organization.

Point solutions are valuable depending on your business type, but for large enterprises unnecessarily complex and time-consuming. They are not scalable. They limit your reach. Marketers need to embrace automation to maximize SEO performance, but the quality of the solution will make or break your campaigns. Site audits, competition research, rankings monitoring and analysis and more are made both efficient and effective with automation. Today, you can have access to real-time, on-demand data which empowers you to ask specific questions and discover quantitative, data-driven answers with rapid speed, ease and accuracy.

For large enterprises and global marketers:

  • Utilize platforms to automate these tasks and make good use of the data when it is coming from multiple sources and in various formats.
  • Use intelligent automation to schedule tasks, analyze and activate data, and even perform optimizations in real-time.
  • Utilize real-time research to answer questions and uncover opportunities as they happen.

Make voice a reality

Know that consumers looking for instant answers to their needs are more and more often searching hands-free. Gartner predicted some years ago that by 2020, consumers would be performing 30% of searches by voice – and we are almost there. It is critical though that the results consumers are finding via voice search and relevant and trustworthy. Research from Higher Visibility suggests that consumer confidence in voice search results fell from 2017 to 2018.

As an industry, we’ve been talking about voice, but no one is doing anything about it. Even so, SEOs at large organizations are expected to have a voice search strategy and understand the conversations that are happening in the market.

The challenge is that conversational queries change so fast that it’s near-instantaneous. When strategizing for voice, the SEO must understand the conversational journey as well as the next three follow-up questions someone is going to ask. Your current strategy may involve wading through a list of keywords from keyword planner manually looking for conversational searches, or turning to a point solution with display-only capabilities and lacking in search volume, as it’s completely disconnected from your SEO workflow.

A data-driven approach to voice means understanding conversations as they are happening in your space. SEOs need technology to help identify top-of-funnel, awareness-generating question keywords with search volume and to analyze the keyword landscape. Understand which portion of your keywords are quick answers, and which percentage you are winning. Listings and business data accuracy are crucial in both regular and voice search. In every result it brings back, Google aims to provide users the best solution to their problem.

Making it happen:

  • Enable voice search on your site by incorporating speech recognition. In doing so, you can extend the hands-free functionality that brought a consumer from search to your website as they continue their journey with you.
  • Make sure that your content is optimized, structured, and marked up properly to show Google you are the best answer – and then to deliver on that promise to searchers with top quality content, whether the query was text or voice-based.

Improve local rankings on a global scale

Large organizations need to be able to rank on any search engine or device, and often across countries, languages and regions. Local search is a critical facet of the overall experience you provide your customers. However, there is a scalability problem. You may have different inventory and content in the various regions in which you operate and as an SEO, need to understand location for every part of your business worldwide. For organizations with thousands of locations worldwide, it’s impossible to accurately research and report on keyword performance in each of your key markets if you are trying to manage it manually, or with disparate tools.

Google is constantly testing and launching new features in the SERPs. It’s not a static space, and you cannot afford to sit still. Use automation to regularly analyze your search presence, as well as that of your most important competitors. Ensure that you have properly formatted, optimized and marked up content in place to take advantage of new SERPs features.

Don’t forget: YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world, and it’s a great discovery and engagement tool for brands. Consumers increasingly turn to YouTube as part of their shopping process. According to Google, 80% of shoppers who watched a YouTube video related to a planned purchase did so at the start of their shopping purchase. Once your brand videos are published, they are live, and the goal is immediate engagement and traction. Marketers need to be set up to measure their video performance and rankings in real-time.

Make it happen:

  • If you cannot understand how you’re ranking for any keyword in real-time, on a global level on the most popular local search engines, your technology is not supporting your SEO needs.
  • Over 80% of Google search queries return universal results. Properly mark up your content to trigger these enhanced results and increase your visibility in the SERPs.
  • Make sure that video optimization and performance tracking are part of your SEO platform.

Tanu Javeri, Global SEO Strategist at IBM, advises that, “Responding to changes in the customer journey with speed and agility begins with identifying and understanding even the most subtle shifts in search patterns in real-time and optimizing accordingly.”

SEOs cannot afford to stand still. You have a real opportunity right now to emerge as leaders in the race to realize and maximize the value of organizational and customer data. Today, you need to be in a position not only to respond but to anticipate searcher needs and have technology in place to trigger the optimizations to deliver the experience your customers expect – in real time, every time.

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Building and scaling global SEO Centers of Excellence /building-and-scaling-global-seo-centers-of-excellence-315475 Wed, 17 Apr 2019 12:00:17 +0000 /?p=315475 Before you can involve your company’s executives in SEO advocacy, you need a set of best practices and clear goals to share. Here's how you do it.

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Wider spread internet adoption and mobile use worldwide are opening up lucrative new markets in Latin America, China and the rest of Asia-Pacific and more. Global opportunities bring with them a whole new realm of user behaviors, language and intent considerations, and search engine expectations for SEOs to navigate. Google is practically nonexistent in China, for example, where more than 800 million Internet users choose Baidu – which handles an average of 6 billion queries daily in China alone – Haosou, or a handful of others instead.

How can you ensure that your SEO is built to scale as you expand into new global markets?

Being one of a handful of SEOs constantly attempting to explain and justify your needs, budget and activities is a constant uphill battle. Instead, I’ve long been an advocate for the development of Centers of Excellence inside enterprise brands as a proven way to decentralize critical knowledge and best practices. In doing so, SEOs can win buy-in and cooperation across the brand.

In developing Global SEO Centers of Excellence, you can win support and share in SEO successes across the brand. Here’s how.

Promoting SEO maturity in your organization

You have to walk before you can run. Before you can involve your company’s executives and other teams in SEO advocacy and process, you need a set of best practices and clear goals to share.

In organizations with high SEO maturity, we see several common positive traits across the people, process and platforms involved, including:

People

  • The SEO team is supported by strong, cross-organizational executive support for search
  • A central SEO team owns the Center of Excellence and drives network-wide activities that support its goals
  • The organization boasts a digitally native community that supports skills development and certifications

Process

  • There are formal, documented engagement and SEO models deployed throughout the process of content development
  • Customer-driven insights drive data-backed content decisions
  • Social, paid search, and SEO are tightly integrated

Platform

  • Standardized dashboards and reporting capabilities integrate on-page and off-page data, automating where possible and enabling the activation of data in as near to real-time as possible
  • Audits, insights, publishing and other core SEO activities are integrated at the platform level

Only once your people, processes and platform in place are you ready to scale your global SEO efforts. These are the backbone of your Center of Excellence – it’s the foundation on which your organization-wide understanding of and advocacy for SEO can be built.

Below is an example of a framework for broader Digital Centers of Excellence that you can also map to.

3 Key Traits of Successful Global SEO Centers of Excellence

With that baseline in place, what do these centers actually look like? As you set out to build yours, pay particular attention to these three critical areas.

1. An inherent understanding of demand in each region

Does your team understand searcher behavior as well as the powerful search engines in each region?

Even here in the United States, where Google takes the lion’s share of queries, the way search results come back varies wildly across regions. The content will be different, but the entire structure of the SERP may change, as well. A query that brings back a Map Pack result in one region may generate plain blue links in a different (perhaps underserviced or rural) area.

In this “where to stay” example, you can see that Google and Yandex are offering different types of enriched Local Pack results, while Baidu opted for text links (with the top result geared to tourists, a clear reflection of my querying in English from the other side of the world).

Results are going to vary widely across industries and verticals as well as search engines, geographic regions and languages. They may also be influenced by the search engine’s perception of the searcher’s intent, how well prospective sites are marked up and potentially hundreds of other factors.

Inside your SEO Center of Excellence, you need to have a documented process for investigating and optimizing for different kinds of search results in the areas in which you do business. Make sure that you account for the following:

  • Who owns the responsibility of investigating the opportunity in each region;
  • Wow the opportunity and requirements to achieve various search results are communicated internally;
  • Who is responsible for staying on top of new features, updates, and other search engine changes;
  • How the results of these optimizations will be tracked and measured across regions
  • How wins will be communicated to executives;
  • How progress and success will be measured, tracked, and reported to inform operations throughout the organization.

2. Content is localized for each market

Localizing content goes far deeper than translation, and it begins with the definition of each market. In some cases, a market may be a neighborhood, postal code or city. In others, an entire country might constitute a single market.

Your content needs to help audience members in each market with their decision-making. It needs to appeal to them; to answer a question or need and resonate on a level that moves them to the next stage in their purchasing journey. Truly localized content reflects:

  • Local language, dialect and slang
  • Search trends in the region (mobile vs desktop, keywords, etc.)
  • Local knowledge, via photos, videos, references to local landmarks and more

A Global SEO Center of Excellence has a defined and documented process for ensuring that content is properly localized and updated as needed. For factors such as on-page SEO ranking factors can vary from engine to engine.

Source: BrightEdge International Search Success

3. Global, mobile, and local SEO are all part of the framework

Even as SEO teams strive for unity and recognition among departments, there can be division inside the team. Yes, your SEO strategies for mobile, local and global look different. No, they should not be siloed and operate independently of one another.

Your comprehensive global SEO strategy will include technical best practices that support all efforts, such as the proper use of hreflang tags. This code will help Google understand the intended country and language for each piece of content, helping it appear for the right audiences and reducing the likelihood of Google perceiving content intended for different groups as duplicate.

That foundation supports your global, local and mobile optimizations. Because some mobile optimizations can impact local rankings, and local can impact organic and so on, careful coordination is needed between the specialists in each area.

Aligning these specialists within the broader context of your Global SEO Center of Excellence ensures:

  • that decisions and optimizations consistently factor in the corporate framework and strategic goals of the organization;
  • that cross-functional SEO knowledge can be shared throughout the organization to support all search-related initiatives;
  • that efficiencies are realized wherever possible in the sharing of resources, data analysis, keyword research, etc.

Ensure the stability and longevity of your global SEO efforts

SEO is not an island. To ensure the success of your SEO efforts in a global enterprise, you need to get everyone from IT and web development to operations, communications and marketing, and product on board. The Center of Excellence model gives you a centralized hub of SEO efforts, but also a framework by which to decentralize that knowledge and support your best practices for search across the organization.

This definition and structure help you deliver the best content and most engaging, relevant experiences to the right audience members at the right time – wherever in the world they happen to be.

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Embracing automation and maximizing SEO performance /embracing-automation-and-maximizing-seo-performance-313610 Wed, 06 Mar 2019 19:12:45 +0000 /?p=313610 Intelligent automation allows SEOs to schedule tasks and immediately activate data to inform smarter optimizations.

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Creating an automation strategy should be top of mind in 2019 – indeed, it was identified by 61 percent of marketers as the top priority for optimizing marketing automation efforts in a recent industry survey. Researchers also identified the delivery of personalized content and integration of marketing systems as the most challenging barriers to your success with marketing technology. SEO and Automation is a big part of the solution.

Automation is critical in making informed, data-driven decisions in a world in which the amount of data companies are attempting to manage is unprecedented. But we’re at the point now where, as marketers have attempted to automate various tasks, many are struggling with unwieldy stacks of different technologies all vying for resources and budget.

If you or your clients are spending more time trying to find workarounds for your tech than putting insights to work, money is being left on the table. As creative marketers with technical and analytical skills, SEOs are in a great position to lead the creation and implementation of automation strategies companies now need to succeed.

SEO, automation and the customer experience

Automation in your SEO and content process can create efficiencies and ease the burden of redundant tasks, but we’ve evolved so far past that (and quickly). Today, automation alone is not enough. SEOs must automate intelligently — not only to complete tasks but to analyze data and make decisions about which tasks to prioritize (and how to carry them out), as well.

AI is enabling the collection and analysis of datasets we simply cannot get through on our own. Layers of natural language processing and machine learning enable smarter optimizations driven by predictive analytics, pattern recognition, and evidence-based learning.

Source: Search & the Customer Experience: Utilizing AI to Drive Continuous Performance

Site audits, competitive analysis, monitoring rankings and other SEO tasks are made easier and more efficient with automation. But are you ready to take the next steps?

AI is already reshaping content marketing, all the way from ideation, planning and optimized content creation through to promotion to specific market segments. This isn’t new technology; in fact, the Associated Press has been using artificial intelligence to write business news since 2014 (and even then, the program could churn out 2,000 articles per second). We’re now at the point where automation can help identify new revenue opportunities and make recommendations on content topics, attributes, optimizations, strategic CTAs and more.

Intelligent automation also allows SEOs to schedule tasks and immediately activate data, to inform smarter optimizations. You can target specific content to searchers who interact with your chatbot, for example, depending on what led them to the interaction in the first place.

Automation – Data analysts, real-time research, content and communications

Intelligent automation is giving SEOs greater insight into – and control over – how search optimizations impact customer experience throughout every stage of the journey. Now, the insights gleaned from the real-time analysis of customer interactions can help shape every aspect of the customer experience, from discovery to conversion.

Source: PWC

How AI is driving superior search performance

Google’s dedication to AI is resulting in far more interactive search results that speak directly to searcher intent, as in these three similar queries that each produces different results:

Google is using taller organic cards, the local three-pack, Quick Answers, images and video, carousels, site links and dozens of other enhanced results to better answer searchers’ needs. The algorithm is listening to searcher cues and constantly learning to bring back the most relevant result. More and more often, that result will answer the need in such a way that the searcher doesn’t even need to click through to learn more. This is Google’s RankBrain technology at work.

Last year, research by BrightEdge (my company) revealed that 80-plus percent of queries return universal search results. Optimizing, structuring and marking up your content to show Google its relevance for queries of varying intents helps increase your visibility when and where it matters most. At the same time, you’re providing more compelling content and may even convert searches to sales without the consumer ever having visited your site.

SEO is moving further away from the static website; what you are optimizing for spans the entire search-based experience. And as Google’s ability to determine intent continuously improves, SEOs and marketers need to keep pace with AI and automation to stay on top and produce properly structured content.

  • Optimize for voice search. Use a more conversational tone in your content and incorporate longer-tail keywords. Applying a question and answer format to some content can help you rank in Instant Answers and as the best voice response. Be sure to apply proper schema markup, too. Read how visual and voice search are revitalizing the role of SEO for more.
  • Enable voice search on-site, where possible. Incorporate speech recognition in your app or on-site, if possible. You can extend the same hands-free convenience that delivered a searcher to your site by enabling some voice-free functionality.
  • Make good use of descriptive text. While many of your audience members crave visual imagery and video, some will not be able to render, watch or hear this content. AI can help in the creation of descriptive text and also with categorizing all kinds of content to improve both your accessibility and SEO.
  • Use intelligent automation to complement your skills. It’s important to understand that automation can’t ever entirely replace the creative and the strategist—they will continue to decide which technology to apply, and where. However, the Intelligent use of automation will help you do your job more effectively, so you can focus on more important and higher impact tasks.
  • Monitor regularly for new opportunities. Google is constantly testing and launching new features in the SERPs. It’s not a static space, and you cannot afford to sit still. Use automation to regularly analyze your search presence, as well as that of your most important competitors. Ensure that you have properly formatted, optimized and marked up content in place to take advantage of new SERPs features.

Embracing automation will be increasingly important to your ability to scale and succeed in all facets of digital. If you’re just getting started, try automating time-consuming, repetitive tasks like keyword research, data visualization, reporting, data collection, SERP similarity comparisons, testing JS rendering, generating content ideas, link building and technical auditing.

Next, look to AI to begin simplifying complex decision-making and prioritizing your SEO and content efforts, all with improved consumer experience in mind. SEOs who can embrace automation are making great strides in positioning themselves as the digital marketing leaders of tomorrow.

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New ways to approach SEO in 2019: Accountability and customer experiences /new-ways-to-approach-seo-in-2019-accountability-and-customer-experiences-309418 Thu, 13 Dec 2018 15:46:13 +0000 /?p=309418 Master your understanding of audience, measure beyond the click and find ways to mine data to improve efficiency are all ways you can improve your organic search performance in 2019.

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As all of the technological advance and possibility looms large on the 2019 horizon, this just might be the most exciting planning season yet for marketers. Consumer experiences, artificial intelligence and a granularity in tracking that were futuristic hopes not long ago are now commonplace — even expected.

Google continues to take the lion’s share of the search market, as over 88 percent of North American consumers turn to the search giant to answer their every need. Increasingly, those queries are expressed by voice, on mobile, or both.

The way consumers ask for information is changing, but so are their expectations as to what they expect for results. Fully 74 percent of shoppers report that text-only search results are insufficient for finding the products they want. Consumers demand rich, visual results and expect that those recommendations will have a great degree of personalization, as well, as AI experiences drive new search formats and channels.

SEO is a brave new world again. Where should you set your sights and really focus in for the best organic search performance in 2019?

Organic search is key to our understanding of the consumer experience

Today, the path to purchase is as unique as each customer, but there are still some compelling trends we can identify in consumer search behavior.

Consumers are not only looking to identify a product or service to meet their needs—they’re using search to learn everything they possibly can about what type of experience they can create. Mobile searches for “wait times” have grown by 120%, for example (Google Data, U.S., Jan.-June 2015 vs. Jan.-June 2017.) Searchers want to know when a business is open, how to get there, what it looks like inside and out, what the service is like, whether they should tip, and much, much more.

With that increased internet usage and constant connectivity comes myriad new touchpoints for marketers to connect with consumers, and in more meaningful ways than ever before. Searcher intent has completely redefined the marketing funnel and, as Google says, no two customer journeys are exactly alike. In their recent analysis of thousands of searchers’ clickstream data, Google researchers discovered that:

  • Consumers narrow and broaden their consideration set in unique and unpredictable moments
  • Some consumers research brands near-obsessively before purchase, scrutinizing every available aspect of competitors’ online presence to find one that truly stands out across platforms
  • Searches may continue long after a purchase is made, as consumers seek to optimize their experience with a service or product
  • Searchers have become increasingly detail-oriented and each fact (and subsequent attempt to verify it) generates new opportunities for brands to engage

Search used to be a great opportunity to move consumers from one point to the next in a strictly linear funnel. Today, search is a two-way communication channel that guides a brand’s understanding of how to meet the needs of its market, from marketing to operations, customer service, loyalty and beyond.

The integration of AI-powered search features is enabling brands to reach consumers in more granular, meaningful ways.

Earlier this year we learned that 60 percent of enterprise marketers planned to use AI in their content marketing. Among those already using AI, 31 percent said it gave them a better understanding of their customer and 27 percent said it drove more productivity and time savings.

Google itself is using RankBrain technology to understand the content better it’s crawling, in order to better meet the needs of searchers performing more — and increasingly complex and unique — searches.

Even as consumers are searching more often, they’re not necessarily digging deeper into the results. Searchers expect that Google’s AI will do the heavy lifting and sort out the best answers for them. As a result, as they try different queries and search more often to compare solutions, the number one Google result still gets 28 percent of the clicks (positions two and three get 13 percent and 9 percent, respectively).

It’s more important than ever that your content is discoverable and properly marked up for AI-driven search.

Tips for top search performance in 2019

With customer experience and taking advantage of AI-powered search features top of mind, here are a few areas of focus for marketers as we head into the new year.

Master your understanding of audiences and personas.
Personas give you a framework from which to ideate, create, optimize, distribute and promote the content most likely to resonate with your most desirable buyers. It’s not a new concept, but one that’s become both complex and increasingly important as the customer journey has evolved and changed shape. Greg Stirling shares some great advice on personas here.

Understand your customer in minute detail.
With those broad buckets of audience types in hand, you can begin to get more granular and truly personalize experiences. What are this buyer’s needs and wants? How do they consume media? At which stages in their journey will the personalization be most helpful and compelling? I talked about mapping content to various stages of intent and personalizing consumer experiences more effectively in this recent column.

Use artificial intelligence and machine learning to mine data, improving efficiency and scale.
This is no longer futuristic, but mainstream. The massive amount of data produced by all of this consumer interaction is meaningless with analysis and activation. Large, dynamic data sets enable you to identify patterns in real time, driving a greater understanding of changes in consumer base, the competitive landscape, and your market as a whole. AI and ML mean that data mining is not only the automation of the repetitive tasks involved in data collection but that your software can now make smart recommendations for performance improvement, as well.

Measure beyond the click.
Go beyond rank and click data with truly omnichannel and interdepartmental measurement. Revenue and attribution are critical, and not only for keeping teams cross-channel teams motivated and bought into your SEO strategy. Ensuring they have the proper resources and budget to execute is imperative, and that rides on your ability to communicate wins—large and small — to the C-suite.

Evangelize your SEO efforts and celebrate successes.
We operate in a new era of accountability, thanks to that mass of data we talked about earlier. CMOs are accountable for every penny of spending, whether inside marketing or recommending to another company leader to support marketing’s initiatives. Today, you’re just as accountable for the customer experience as those front-line team members dealing directly with consumers. Celebrate successes often and evangelize for the change that needs to happen as your SEO strategy evolves.

2019 is ripe with SEO opportunity for marketers committed to consumer experience and knowledgeable in the AI and machine learning arenas. You can learn more to help you prepare in our 2018 Future of Marketing and AI Survey Report (registration required).

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The revamping of AMP: Renew your commitment to mobile /the-revamping-of-amp-renew-your-commitment-to-mobile-306284 Mon, 05 Nov 2018 22:02:00 +0000 /?p=306284 Regardless of niche, it's time to up your mobile SEO game, and AMP can help with that. Learn specific steps you can take.

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Google’s commitment to the mobile consumer user experience has proven unrelenting; today, brands that fail to prioritize mobile are missing out on multiple opportunities.

Back in the summer of 2016, Google shared with us that 40% of consumers were leaving pages that took any longer than 3 seconds to load. This obviously presented a huge problem for U.S. retailers, especially since the average page load time at that point was more than double that threshold, at 6.9 seconds.

Improving those page speeds was the impetus behind AMP, the Google-backed Accelerated Mobile Pages initiative that launched in October 2015 with a handful of technology company partners. On Feb. 24, 2016, Google officially integrated AMP listings into its mobile search results and today, you’ll find AMP on over 25 million domains.

AMP continues to evolve. Google recently said there are “more than 700 folks contributing over 10,000 commits running on many millions of websites,” and AMP is moving to an “open governance model.” For its part, Bing finally announced the release of the Bing AMP viewer, enabling Bing mobile searchers to access AMP-enabled pages from the search results.

As you look ahead to 2019, you must consider mobile-friendliness in general, and AMP in particular, in every aspect of your marketing. This involves more than formatting content to render properly on a smaller screen. There are AMP-specific features to be taken advantage of in the SERPs — it’s the only way to be featured in a Top Stories carousel, for example. Given the impending holiday shopping season, there’s no time like the present to renew your commitment to mobile.

In this article I will explore three specific areas of focus for improving your mobile strategy:

Local

BrightEdge (my company) research found that, as of last year, 57% of all US online traffic now comes from smartphones and tablets.

Traffic from wireless and mobile devices will account for more than 63 percent of total IP traffic by 2021, according to networking firm Cisco. The world is online, and the majority of people on the planet are using mobile devices to find answers to their immediate needs.

When it comes to local content, mobile use is even more prevalent, as 30% of mobile queries are location-based. Mobile searchers demonstrate great intent to buy, too; 76% who perform “near me” searches (whether or not they use that actual term) visit a local business within a day, according to Think With Google research. What’s more, 28% of those searches result in a purchase.

For national brands, 85% of all engagement takes place on local media assets such as local landing pages. How can you tap into mobile-local opportunities, whether it’s for your single-location business or for hundreds of locations across the country?

  • Use location data to target customers. Already, 50% of brands are doing this. You need to get in the game and there’s still room to surpass local competitors who’ve been slower on the uptake.
  • Narrow down your local marketing radius. Consumers will travel farther for less frequent purchases like clothing or auto repair, but 93% typically travel 20 minutes or less for their general shopping needs. According to the Local Search Association, “Urban consumers, who represent 83% of all shoppers, prefer even shorter distances, with 92% traveling 15 minutes or less…. Thus, local businesses must adjust their marketing reach to account for the small radius of their audience. However, that audience might include local residents, commuters who work nearby or out-of-town travelers. So remember that distance becomes relevant at the micro-moment when a need arises and isn’t a static point for each individual.”
  • AMP your local landing pages. Frederick Vallaeys wrote a great piece about this with a few case studies, Q&A with a Google rep and tips for getting started. Whether you’re selling online, reliant on ad revenue or driving traffic to real-world stores, you’ll find his AMP tips useful.
  • Prioritize your AMP efforts. AMP improves mobile user experience by reducing the weight of HTML pages through superior code hygiene and the AMP cache. Essentially, AMP markup enables you to deliver a separate version of a page optimized for fast delivery on mobile. Google hosts AMP files on its own content delivery network (CDN), so content behaves as if it’s loading from the browser cache rather than a remote server. Even so, it’s not necessarily needed across your entire site.
  • Audit your domain for site errors. Be on the lookout for slow load times and noindex tags, and use average time on page and bounce rates to better understand how users engage with your content.

Visual

The number of image thumbnails displayed in Google’s mobile search results has risen dramatically recently. Google continues to invest into visual search. Recently, Google announced that it’s making visual content more useful in search by “helping people better find information visually, and making it easier to pursue the things people come to Google Images for help with.” Among these latest updates:

  • AMP Stories will now be displayed in Google Images and Discover, in addition to Search and News.
  • Google is beginning to use AI to intelligently construct AMP stories and surface this content in Search.
  • Users can now visually preview topics with Featured Videos in Search
  • The Google Images algorithm has been “overhauled” over the last year to rank results that have both great images and great content on the page. Page authority and content freshness are two ranking signals with substantial weight in this algorithm.
  • Google Images will show more context around images, including captions that show users the title of the webpage where each image is published.
  • Google Lens is being incorporated into Google Images, to help searchers explore and learn more about visual content they find during Image searches.

It’s all part of Google’s ambitious, just-published 20-year search outlook, which as you might have guessed, relies heavily on AI. (Read that outlook piece from Google VP of Search, Ben Gomes.)

What can you do to step up your visual search performance, with an eye to mobile?

  • Focus on the data that tells searchers and search engines what your images are about. Optimize image labels, data, tags and descriptors to help Google better index graphics and images.
  • Choose images carefully. Pay attention to image quality, load speed, viewability, context, authenticity and general visual appeal of the image.
  • Be cognizant of image placement. This latest announcement from Google states, “We now prioritize sites where the image is central to the page, and higher up on the page.”
  • Use both videos and images for products. According to Google, “Using computer vision, we’re now able to deeply understand the content of a video and help you quickly find the most useful information in a new experience called featured videos.”
  • Get familiar with AMP Stories. This is a great opportunity for early adopter brands to align with Google innovation here and gain visibility in competitive SERPs.

Voice Search

The prevalence of voice-activated assistants and the tendency of searchers to use voice for mobile queries has given rise to two distinct, lucrative types of “position zero.”

The first is via a direct answer at the top of the SERPs, which eclipses not only organic results but ads, as well. Google chooses a resource that best answers the user query in a succinct few sentences or single paragraph, and gives it the most prominent page placement.

The second type of “position zero” is the single result that comes back on a voice query to a digital assistant. Of course, with no visual interface, there are no other blue links to click or videos or images to peruse.

Shoppers aren’t satisfied with voice search alone yet, though. According to a report from Slyce.it, 74% of shoppers report that text-only search is insufficient for finding the products they want.

How can you increase your voice “visibility” and deliver a more satisfying user experience for voice searchers?

  • Pay attention to site structure and architecture. If you have separate URLs for desktop and mobile, make sure that all desktop content maps one-to-one to your mobile URLs.
  • Structure content for verbal queries. Voice searches tend to use full sentences and natural language, as opposed to shorter, keyword-focused text searches. Voice queries may also be more specific and contextual, which demands a different method of structuring content. Google recommends, “For optimal audio user experiences, we recommend around 20 to 30 seconds of content per section of speakable structured data, or roughly two to three sentences.”
  • Mirror the Q&A style by which voice results are delivered. What question is it that your content answers for searchers? Include that in your title or subheadings to increase the chances that Google will choose your answer as the most relevant.
  • Apply Google’s best practices on speakable structured data. For example, use concise headlines and/or summaries that provide users with comprehensible and useful information. Read more on that.

 RE-AMP Check-list

  1. Evaluate your site’s mobile readiness for speed and usability.
  2. Track and trend mobile rank by device.
  3. Check your mobile share of voice and be aware that you might have different competitors in the mobile SERPs and the desktop SERPs
  4. Track AMP visibility on important keywords and prepare to migrate the content and pages as you see higher AMP utilization.
  5. Configure your tracking for local search and voice search.

AMP is just the tip of the mobile iceberg and recent changes and news mean that you should all be prioritizing how mobile fits is search, content and digital marketing strategies.

The post The revamping of AMP: Renew your commitment to mobile appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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How Visual and Voice Search Are Revitalizing The Role of SEO /how-visual-and-voice-search-are-revitalizing-the-role-of-seo-303958 Mon, 20 Aug 2018 17:23:00 +0000 /?p=303958 Contributor Jim Yu outlines how savvy marketers are using voice and visual search to engage more meaningfully with audiences at each stage of their purchase journey.

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The component parts of a successful search engine optimization (SEO) strategy may have remained relatively constant, but their definition and purpose have changed entirely. Driven by trends like visual search and voice search, the industry’s scope has expanded and evolved into something more dynamic.

This delivers on a genuine consumer need. According to a report from Slyce.it, 74 percent of shoppers report that text-only search is insufficient for finding the products they want.

It is unsurprising that Gartner research predicts that by 2021, early adopter brands that redesign their websites to support visual and voice search will increase digital commerce revenue by as much as 30 percent. Through visual and voice search, marketers can engage more meaningfully with their audience at each stage of their purchase journey. This means moving beyond the static websites of old toward more interactive experiences that can be accessed anywhere, any time, on any device.

Sensory search

Search visibility still matters, but the concept of “rankings” is hard to pin down when we factor in the proliferation of the Internet of Things (IoT) devices and the machine learning algorithms that fine-tune the search results.

Brands’ content must be relevant to a query, but those queries are getting more specific and contextual; relevance must be combined with usefulness at the moment.

Underpinning these shifts are two trends that are revitalizing the search industry: visual search and voice search. Though these are linked and can be grouped under the umbrella of “sensory search,” they are separate disciplines with different implications for search marketers.

For those that engage early by implementing technical best practices and adapting SEO strategies, they represent some of the foremost opportunities in digital marketing for the coming years.

Visual search

For many years, Google has provided the ability to upload an image or image URL to generate a search engine result page (SERP) in the search toolbar within Google Images.

The next generation of visual search turns a smartphone camera into a visual discovery tool. It can use an image as a search query, which allows consumers to search for styles and objects that they would otherwise struggle to define. The most popular visual search technologies are Google Lens and Pinterest Lens, but Amazon, Bing and a growing list of major retailers are all investing heavily in this area. Visual search is also a building block for augmented reality and virtual reality interactions.

There is a growing swell of evidence to substantiate the claims this technology is taking off with consumers, too:

  • There are now more than 600 million visual searches each month on Pinterest.
  • Images are returned for 26.8 percent of search queries on Google.

According to Grand View Research:

The global image recognition market size was valued at USD 16.0 billion in 2016 and is likely to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 19.2 percent from 2017 to 2025.

This is still a sizeable opportunity for retailers, too, as only 32 percent are either already using artificial intelligence (AI) for visual search or plan to do so within the next year:

Visual search optimization tips

Here are some tips to help you optimize for visual search:

  • Add multiple images to each product or topic page.
  • Optimize the images for the web and swift page load.
  • Consider adding raster images and add message and call to action (CTA) in the photo so it is more compelling when viewed in Google Images or repurposed.
  • Upload image eXtensible markup language (XML) sitemaps and ensure that product inventory is updated across all search engines and retailers.
  • Maintain a logical site hierarchy that is connected through relevant internal links.
  • Make sure your images are hosted on authoritative pages that respond to a specific user intent.
  • Map keyword categories and themes to your images, and then use these queries to optimize image alt tags, titles and captions. Put relevant keywords in the image file name.
  • Develop a unique brand aesthetic across all visual assets. This will help search engines relate your brand to a particular style.
  • If you use a stock image, tailor them to ensure they are not identical to the hundreds of other instances of that exact image. Search engines will find it difficult to understand your image if it is replicated across the web in different contexts.
  • Although visual search reporting is still very limited, keep a close eye on your image search traffic to keep track of any increases in demand.

Voice search

Voice search has had much more publicity than its visual counterpart, fronted by glitzy demonstrations from the likes of Apple, Google and Amazon. In the “age of assistance,” it seems voice will be the preferred mode of access to AI-driven devices. Undoubtedly, some impressive statistics substantiate this claim:

Sixty-five percent of people who own an Amazon Echo or Google Home can’t imagine going back to the days before they had a smart speaker.

Voice commerce sales reached $1.8 billion in the US last year and are predicted to reach $40 billion by 2022.

Fifty-two percent of voice-activated speaker owners would like to receive information about deals, sales and promotions from brands.

These are still experimental times for voice search, and many brands are trying to ascertain just how much it will affect their industry. As with visual search, reporting is limited at the moment, but there are still plenty of opportunities for innovation. Brands need to think about how they want to sound, rather than just look. Voice search naturally opens up conversations, and it is certainly possible to foresee a future where digital assistants relay messages directly from brands, rather than just reading the text.

A step in this direction is the launch of the Speakable structured data format, now available in beta via Schema.org. Although it’s only available for news at the moment, it will surely open up to other industries after this test period.

Voice search optimization tips

Google’s guidelines point out some important points for any brand that wishes to optimize for voice search:

  • Content indicated by speakable structured data should have concise headlines and/or summaries that provide users with comprehensible and useful information.
  • If you include the top of the story in speakable structured data, we suggest that you rewrite the top of the story to break up information into individual sentences so that it reads more clearly for text to speech (TTS).
  • For optimal audio user experiences, we recommend around 20 to 30 seconds of content per section of speakable structured data, or roughly two to three sentences.

The concept of a ‘“brand voice” looks set to take on a very literal dimension as voice search evolves into something more conversational.

Technical SEO for visual and voice search

If brands can’t predict the variety and volume of demand with precision, they must ensure they are in prime position to attract qualified traffic.

As we move into an era of ambient search, with consumers looking for instant information on the go, it is imperative that content can be served quickly and seamlessly. One technical consideration is that a higher quantity of pre-rendered content needs to be served to the user and to search engines. This is more important than in the past, when a significant amount of processing could occur within the browser.

However, to respond to (and even pre-empt) user queries via voice or image, pre-rendered content should be delivered to search engine user agents. Structured data is often mentioned in relation to visual and voice search, with good reason. The premise of semantic search, which is an essential development for visual and voice search, is built on the idea of entities and structure. By understanding entities and how they are interconnected, a search engine can infer context and intent from search queries.

For visual search, Google’s Clay Bavor summarized the size of the challenge:

In the English language, there’s something like 180,000 words, and we only use 3,000 to 5,000 of them. If you’re trying to do voice recognition, there’s a really small set of things you actually need to be able to recognize. Think about how many objects there are in the world, distinct objects, billions, and they all come in different shapes and sizes.

Brands need to help Googlebot by structuring and labeling their own data so that it can be served instantly for relevant queries.

There are some vital structured data elements that brands should focus on for visual and voice search (if applicable):

  • Price.
  • Availability.
  • Product name.
  • Image.
  • Logos.
  • Social profiles.
  • Breadcrumb navigation.

Summary

Visual and voice search are taking hold for a host of intertwined reasons, both psychological and technological. They allow users to find new ideas in more effective and efficient formats. They also intersect with numerous technological trends, including digital assistants, artificial intelligence, and vertical search.

In the case of vertical search, the discovery of content within specific verticals is a natural fit for targeted information retrieval.

One of the prime benefits of both visual and voice search is that they simply create a platform for more effective communication with consumers. As the role of search expands to cover every step on the path to purchase, the number of search-based micro-moments will continue to proliferate. To capitalize, brands need a deep understanding of their consumers, a multimedia content strategy that caters to their audience’s requirements and the technical knowledge to communicate these messages to search engines through text, voice and images.

The future of search lies with voice, visual and vertical optimization. While that may sound disconcertingly nebulous, savvy marketers are defining what this new order means to them and acting to implement their strategies today.


Want to learn more about voice search? Plan to join us at SMX East for our Optimizing Content for Voice Search & Virtual Assistants session in October.

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Improving the customer experience means getting search right /improving-the-customer-experience-means-getting-search-right-301800 Wed, 11 Jul 2018 17:10:00 +0000 /?p=301800 As consumers search from more places than ever before, it's vital that marketers deliver experiences that perform. Contributor Jim Yu shares tips on how to deliver a great experience at every search touch point.

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The role of search is expanding and diversifying at an accelerating pace. In the age of assistance, search is everywhere and embedded within a range of home devices and smartphones. You can search from more places than ever before, through voice, image or text.

A report by Brightedge (my company) reveals that 57 percent of all website traffic is mobile and 20 percent of mobile queries are voice-activated. These trends look set to become even further embedded over time. Simultaneously, search is moving beyond the traditional web and will soon incorporate augmented reality, alongside existing elements like podcasts and videos.

This has made search more complex for marketers, but its significance is growing, too, as is evidenced by reports being published.

More than 90 percent of consumers report they use search at every stage of their customer lifecycle, a statistic that highlights just how wide-ranging a modern search strategy should be.

A different Brightedge report shows that 51 percent of all website traffic comes from organic search, and according to Forrester Research, 72 percent of businesses report that improving the customer experience is their top priority.

Put simply, improving the customer experience means getting search right. As empowered consumers become more knowledgeable and demanding, the emphasis is placed squarely on marketers to deliver experiences that perform — at every stage of the purchase cycle.

The tips below will help marketers deliver great experiences for their customers across all search touch points.

Be discoverable 

Today’s consumer has a reduced attention span and access to an unprecedented trove of information at their fingertips. With a simple search, they can find out whether a brand’s advertising promise becomes reality when the product is purchased.

Unsurprisingly, consumers are taking advantage of this opportunity: On average, they seek out 10.4 pieces of information before making a purchase. Furthermore, according to a BrightLocal study, 88 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation, so these impressions really do count when it comes to making commercial decisions.

According to Google, 75 percent of smartphone owners turn to search first to address their immediate needs, so we can conclude that search is a vital component of this process. This suggests that search serves immediate needs, but the wider picture is more complex still.

Google’s research also reveals that searches including “ideas” have increased by more than 55 percent.

Once, consumers would reach for search when they knew at least what type of product they wanted, but now they go to search engines for inspiration, too.

This is not the final destination for the industry, however. The overt signifiers of intent (in this instance, the word “ideas”) will lead to the discovery of implicit intent. Search engines, at their optimal level of functionality, will use other signals to understand this intent and serve personalized results. What matters is that brands are present, relevant and useful at these stages to establish a connection with their audience when they are receptive to new ideas. This means that when consumers reach for search in their moments of need, they are more likely to re-engage with the same brand that initially inspired them.

This is new ground for many search strategies, and it sees the industry overlap with customer experience. Rather than focusing exclusively on last-click return on investment (ROI), search must now provide a seamless brand experience across all touch points, too.

Here are some tips to ensure your brand is discoverable:

  • Create a finely tuned website. Focus on cleaning up technical errors, such as 404s, duplicate content and orphan pages. Without this ongoing work, search engines simply cannot crawl and index content effectively.
  • Optimize for mobile. Ensure that pages load quickly across all devices and that the site is both secure and reliable. Particularly on mobile devices, consumers communicate with search engines to get things done. Any friction on this process will severely diminish the chances of success.
  • Target striking-distance keywords. Pinpoint the queries that are relevant to your business and also realistic short-term targets. Typically, long-tail queries will make great candidates for this category, as they are more specific and tend to have less competition.
  • Use structured data. Structured data is a great way to communicate with search engines to inform them about the nature of your content. Mark up videos and images, and follow best practices for image search optimization to ensure maximum visibility.
  • Connect. Engage with your users, and be relevant.

Foundation strategy

Ensuring that all content can be discovered and served by search engine bots is the foundation of any SEO strategy. This foundation must be built on content that engages consumers and responds to a genuine need.

According to research from BrightEdge, 84 percent of keywords now have universal categories in their search results and there are 37 different search engine result page (SERP) types as Google deepens its understanding of search intent.

This creates the opportunity for brands to communicate with their audiences in a more authentic way, but it does also bring with it the need for a more varied and tailored content strategy.

As Google’s research shows, consumers now expect bespoke results:

This information is increasingly served in visual formats, whether via video or images. As such, brands need to dig deeper into the results within their industry to decide on the right content formats for different states of intent. At a broad category level, we can see how this plays out via Google Trends. If we analyze two very different topics like vacations and credit cards, the differences in search behavior become very apparent.

Through traditional web search, it is clear that credit cards are searched for more than vacations. Also notable is the seasonal nature of “vacations” when compared to the other categories, highlighting once more the need for timely content production.

Web search results

The picture is markedly different when searches are filtered to show only YouTube searches. Not only is the “vacations” topic the winner here; it also shows a steep upward trend over time as users seek out inspiration via video search in greater numbers:

YouTube search results

That said, there is also an increase in searches for finance queries like [credit cards] on YouTube, so this will require further investigation for all verticals as video broadens its reach.

Of course, these streams converge within Google’s universal results too, so marketers must pay close attention to which results most accurately respond to their audience’s intent. The key here is to use these developments to inform a content strategy that truly resonates with the target audience.

Here are some tips to ensure that your brand connects through content:

  • Analyze search intent. Cross-reference landing page and search query level data to pinpoint what consumers are looking for, and whether your site delivers on these expectations. Partnering with the right SEO technology will help to dig into these trends further and also identify opportunities at a broader scale.
  • Make use of artificial intelligence (AI) to automate insight. Personalization can only truly be achieved with technological assistance. Use an AI-driven platform to derive valuable insights from your data and help you communicate in more meaningful ways.
  • Create the right content formats. Search is a multimedia interface now, and it is increasingly competitive, so it is important to be efficient with content production. Analyze search results to help you deliver content experiences that convert and retain customers. A simple way to do this can be to find unanswered questions or questions that you can answer better than the competition.

Perform, measure, convert, attribute  

All of the above should be reflected in an accurate real-time measurement strategy that is fit for purpose in a modern landscape. That is much easier said than done, however. While Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) unanimously agree that demonstrating the business impact of digital marketing is a core concern, many of the CMOs we talk with still struggle to accurately show the effect of digital efforts on revenue growth.

This is a multifaceted challenge that’s comprised of data, technology and process. Once a consumer visits a brand’s site, they start to leave a trail of invaluable data points that can be used to improve the experience. The data must be captured and processed accurately to achieve this aim and also used to feed directly into content optimization.

The scope of this measurement framework is changing, too. According to a study by Eventbrite, 72 percent of millennials prefer experiences over things, which can be more difficult to measure. As marketers, it is essential to focus on what really matters to the business, rather than what we can measure with our legacy technologies. A modern approach to search will take this into account and synthesize metrics like average order value with impression share across the full consumer life cycle.

Deciding on which data to capture and selecting the right technology can go a long way to alleviating these measurement challenges. Introducing processes that facilitate collaboration between SEO, content and user experience teams will allow search to reach its full potential as a communications channel across awareness, conversion and retention.

Measure performance accurately

Process and analyze your data. According to a recent study by Dell EMC, organizations using data have 50 percent higher revenue growth.

The study also noted the vast majority of data is never analyzed! Bringing together multiple data sources can help to synthesize multiple perspectives, but maintain a focus on what is genuinely useful for your company. Analyzing broken paths within a website or the typical exit pages can help deliver short-term boosts, while audience data is likely to shape a longer-term strategy.

Create a flexible real-time measurement framework. Different types of content will serve different purposes, so a one-size-fits-all approach will always fall short. Create separate lists of metrics and dimensions for each stage of the purchase journey and tie them together under universal business goals like cost-per-acquisition.

Summary

It’s commonly accepted that search has changed more in the past two years than it did in the previous 10 years. With the increasing prominence of mobile, digital assistants and smart home devices, we are entering a new and exciting era for the industry. Brands that understand the varying shapes and contents of consumer intent can not only be in a prime position to convert but also to make meaningful connections. This places search as a much broader marketing discipline, encompassing elements of brand building and customer experience.

The fields of search and customer experience are now inextricably linked. By following the tips outlined above, brands can ensure that that experience is seamless, relevant and measurable.

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Supercharging your SEO with AI: Insights, automation and personalization /supercharging-your-seo-with-ai-insights-automation-and-personalization-299900 Tue, 12 Jun 2018 18:54:00 +0000 /?p=299900 The tech giants are fully committed to 'AI-first,' and marketers who follow suit can supercharge their SEO strategies. Contributor Jim Yu covers three core marketing areas to take advantage of.

The post Supercharging your SEO with AI: Insights, automation and personalization appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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Recently, I had the pleasure of presenting at SMX London on Supercharging your SEO with AI and thought I would share some of the insights with Search Engine Land readers.

Google made global headlines with the demonstration of its new Duplex at this year’s I/O developers conference. This artificial intelligence (AI) system can “converse” in natural language with people to schedule an appointment at a hair salon or book a table at a restaurant, for example.

To pass the Turing Test, AI must behave in a manner indistinguishable from that of a human. To many, Google Duplex has proven that it can pass this test, but in truth, we are only seeing the beginnings of its future potential.


This particular use of AI made headlines because people are drawn to applications of AI that can mimic human interactions, whether in science fiction or in real life. While that response is driven by fascination, it is also host to an element of fear.

Can AI replace people?

As marketers, we typically encounter two perspectives on this. Either AI will take our jobs and render us obsolete or it will complement our skills and make us more effective.

According to a study by the Economist,  75 percent of executives say AI will be “actively implemented” in companies within the next three years, so this is more than a hypothetical discussion.

As hype turns to reality, we are realizing that the second perspective is the likely outcome. This would certainly be the most beneficial outcome, with PricewaterhouseCoopers predicting that AI will add $15.7 trillion to global GDP annually by 2030.

Moreover, AI is already all around us, embedded in products and services we use every day, like Netflix and Pandora.

Perhaps most pertinently to us as marketers, AI is deeply embedded in search, and it opens a raft of new opportunities for SEOs that embrace this technology early.

The role of AI in search

Artificial intelligence is making search more human. Although search does not yet “speak” to users in the same way the Google Duplex demo could, its objective is very similar.

Google’s RankBrain technology uses machine learning to understand the meaning of the content it crawls; it infers intent from ambiguous search queries; and it uses feedback data to improve the accuracy of its results.

In other words, it listens and it learns.

Though we may not always have visibility over these processes, we do see the outputs very clearly. Research by BrightEdge (my company) into a dataset of over 50 million keywords revealed that 84.4 percent of queries return universal search results. This occurs as Google uses AI to match the layout of search results pages to the user’s intent.

There are now 37 different search engine result page (SERP) categories, a number that will only increase over the coming months and years.

The potential for personalization has not yet been truly tapped, but Google’s Sundar Pichai recently made public its goal to be an “AI-first” company. As such, we should all expect the search landscape to change dramatically as AI takes center stage in the way it has already done in products like Google Photos and Google Lens.

As co-founder Sergey Brin put it:

“AI touches every single one of our main projects, ranging from search to photos to ads.”

The pace of development on this front is accelerating, as Google is all too aware that AI can simply deliver better, more personalized experiences for consumers. However, search marketers need to pay close attention to these technological advancements if they are to avail themselves of these opportunities for SEO.

How to supercharge SEO with AI

There are three key areas in which AI can improve SEO performance:

  • Insights.
  • Automation.
  • Personalization.

Insights

Artificial intelligence can process and interpret patterns in data at a scale people could simply never replicate. This makes it an essential complement to any search strategist, as AI can deliver the information we need to make informed decisions out of noisy, unstructured data.

Some common tasks where AI can aid search engine optimization (SEO) performance include:

  • Market trends analysis.
  • Site performance analysis.
  • Competitor insights.
  • Customer intent reports.
  • SERP performance.
  • SEO and pay-per-click spend management.

In each of these scenarios, AI can surface new insights that may otherwise have gone unnoticed. As search moves beyond the traditional SERP and becomes a multidisciplinary channel, this will be increasingly important. New developments like visual search are bringing to light the central role of AI in processing new types of media, too.

Pinterest uses deep learning to interpret the content and context of images, opening up new opportunities for retailers to capitalize on “discovery search.”


Google Lens plans to use augmented reality to blend the physical and virtual worlds, using objects as queries rather than typed keywords.

Of course, these developments will lead to the creation of invaluable data, with each interaction revealing something new about our audience. As marketers, we should employ AI to ensure that we capture, process and use this data correctly to shape our search strategies.

How can you use AI for SEO insights?

  • Understand underlying need in a customer journey.
  • Identify content opportunities.
  • Define opportunity space in the competitive context.
  • Map intent to content.
  • Use structured data and markup.
  • Invest in more long-tail content.
  • Ensure content can be crawled and surfaced easily by all user-agents.

Automation

SEO is a labor-intensive industry that requires a huge amount of attention over the long term. Where we can automate tasks to receive the same output we could produce ourselves, we should make this a top priority. The time saved through automation can be applied to the areas that require our skills, like strategy and creative content.

The chart below shows the average amount of time spent on the essential but at times repetitive task of keyword research based on the size of the site in question.

Here are some of the tasks that are ripe for automation in SEO:

  • Technical audits.
  • Keyword research.
  • Content optimization.
  • Content distribution.
  • Tag management.
  • Internal linking.

In these instances, computers do replace people, but we are in control of what they do, and it is a logical decision to hand over such tasks to artificial intelligence. In the process, we can free up valuable time to take on the more challenging aspects of SEO strategy.

Some tips to get started with AI for SEO automation:

  • Break down tasks into sub-tasks, then score their potential for automation from 0-10.
  • Use rule-based automation to handle simple but time-intensive jobs.
  • Find the right balance between human labor and automation.
  • Feed ML algorithms the right quality and quantity of data.
  • Focus on user experience and speed monitoring and alerts; engagement rates will only increase in importance.

Personalization

Personalization allows marketers to create relevant, useful experiences for each individual customer. Achieving this at scale requires technological assistance, with AI an integral part of this process.

Amazon has long been regarded as the market leader in personalization, as it takes user data to suggest new products based on their historical activity. This allows Amazon to surface products that do not typically receive much visibility, based on their relevance to each individual consumer.


Search marketers can take a number of lessons from this approach.

By mapping content to different states of intent, we can capitalize on these opportunities to cross-sell additional products.

This starts to move beyond traditional SEO and into the realm of vertical search optimization. We can see this trend in Google’s recent announcements, namely the integration of Assistant into Google Maps and the upgraded Google News app.


Content discovery is no longer limited to the search results page, so marketers must truly understand their consumers to ensure they can engage with them, anywhere and at any time.

Artificial intelligence is of vital importance at every stage of this journey. The field of predictive analytics, which makes predictions based on patterns in historical data, can help marketers to plan their content to meet consumer demand states.

How can you use AI for SEO personalization?

  • Create content by persona, customer journey stage and delivery mechanism.
  • Enhance user experience and conversion through personalization.
  • Use semantically specific pages to associate query and intent.
  • Use personalization and audience lists to nurture leads across search and social.
  • Use AI to help publish content at the right times on the right networks.

Conclusion

The artificial intelligence revolution is already upon us, and sophisticated marketers are taking advantage!

Most AI systems are invisible, but that does not lessen the significance of their inner workings. The search landscape is in constant flux, and consumers are creating vast amounts of data, all of which can be turned into insights.

Automation can help us make sense of these insights and free enough time for marketers to develop innovative, personalized strategies. There can be little doubt that the tech giants have gone AI-first. Marketers who follow suit can supercharge their SEO strategies by using AI in three core areas: insights, automation and personalization.

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Search is more than Google: Mastering vertical search optimization /search-is-more-than-google-mastering-vertical-search-optimization-298123 Tue, 15 May 2018 15:38:00 +0000 /?p=298123 Vertical search engines, mobile and voice trends seem to be reshaping the search landscape, says contributor Jim Yu. Create a cohesive content strategy across a number of verticals and increase the touch points you have with consumers.

The post Search is more than Google: Mastering vertical search optimization appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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Whether spoken, typed or tapped, search queries are the medium through which consumers discover information and make decisions.

Search is all around us; it is embedded into smartphone devices and is the fulcrum of artificial intelligence (AI)-powered digital assistants. As search engines develop in sophistication, this relationship with consumers will only strengthen over time.

Moreover, recent research shows that mobile now accounts for as much as 57 percent of total search traffic. Search has become more powerful, dynamic and fragmented.

While this brings some challenges, it also brings great opportunity.

Opportunity knocks

The sheer quantity and variety of content online is necessitating this change.

Almost 45 percent of people watch more than an hour of video online each week on either Facebook or YouTube; Snapchat users share over 500,000 photos every minute; and according to Internet Live Stats, Google processes over 3.5 billion queries every day.

Even a search engine as universal (in many senses) as Google must evolve constantly to ensure it can serve the content its audience craves.

In order to sift through the information at their fingertips and arrive at the right result as quickly as possible, an increasing number of consumers prefer the specialized nature of a vertical search engine. For their part, search engines like Google are at pains to deal with the fragmented nature of both content and consumer demand within their own ecosystem.

At the crossroads of these trends, the rise of the vertical search engine has organically occurred — and it has significant implications for all marketers.

What is a vertical search engine?

Put simply, a vertical search engine focuses on one specific industry or type of content.

Common examples would include a travel search engine like Kayak, real estate site Trulia, or the image-based interface of Pinterest.

The term “vertical” applies to both the indexation and serving of content, which is neatly organized by category. Product searches may take place on Amazon (research shows this to be the most common starting point for product searches), or a consumer may go to a site like Indeed to look for a new job.

These slimmer indices of content have the benefit of a pure focus on one area of activity or business, which can facilitate faster, more accurate results for users.

For marketers with one specific type of product or service to sell, the lure of vertical search can be clear, too. They can meet their audience when their search intent is overt and can focus their energies on a platform that they know will deliver results.

This is not a new phenomenon, however.

Google’s universal search, which indexes and ranks image results alongside video and local listings, is an aggregation of verticals into what appears to be a more conventional, horizontal search engine. Recent moves into the jobs market, along with a revamped flights search engine, show Google’s ambitions to develop specific new technologies to gain market share in profitable verticals.

Google also indexes content hosted on vertical search engines, so it is possible to see social media and video results (from Twitter and YouTube, for example) within Google results. There can be no doubt that Google is observing changes in users’ behavior and wants to maintain their attention before they start their searches elsewhere.

Before marketers assess where to place their emphasis, it is worth assessing just how significantly vertical search is changing the landscape.

How is vertical search changing the search landscape?

If we analyze the recent clickstream data, we can see that vertical search is still taking off, outside of Google.

Google Web Search has merged with Google Images and Google Maps, and the likes of YouTube, Pinterest and Amazon are in the ascendancy while still remaining minor players in the grand scheme.

If we home in on the share of searches for all platforms in February 2018, it becomes clearer still that vertical search engines cater to specialized — but still very lucrative — audiences. Sophisticated marketers will pay close attention to search intent, as well as sheer search quantity.

The innately commercial nature of Amazon searches will be of interest to retailers, while Pinterest reports that 97 percent of its searches are non-branded.

Both of these platforms are improving their paid search offering at a rapid rate, which is again a sign of their increasing prominence in the search landscape.

Facebook, meanwhile, remains a significant influence on purchase behavior, with 36 percent of consumers using the social network to research new products. All of this is shaped by the adoption of voice-first devices, which surpassed 30 million units in the US alone in 2017.

Digital assistants do not typically show a conventional set of search listings, but rather source the most authoritative answer from one database.

Apple’s Siri now defaults to Google rather than Bing when it cannot provide a quick answer, but the growth of Amazon’s Echo devices provides a clear threat to Google’s hegemony.

We are therefore witnessing a lot of fragmentation across searcher behavior, which both plays into the hands of vertical search engines and creates new opportunities for Google to bolt on services to its already mammoth search offering. Brands are faced with a challenging set of decisions

The competition for consumer attention spans grows ever fiercer, and search engine optimization (SEO) is no longer just about getting Google right. Google itself is more complex than ever before, and marketers could also conceivably focus their attention on vertical search engines rather than the global search giant.

How can I make the most of vertical search optimization (VSO)?

The first point for marketers to consider is the nature of consumer behavior on the relevant vertical search engines for their brand. Consumer demands and expectations will differ based on the search engine, and they will have started their query there for specific reasons.

This leads into the types of content brands should create in response to those expectations.

In the case of Pinterest, the most obvious first impression is that it is an overtly visual search engine, driven by the power of the image. Pinterest also refers to its position as a “discovery engine,” as its users are typically open to new ideas and do not have a specific product in mind when they search.

This has direct implications for a marketing strategy. Taking content from a brand’s website and simply adding it to the company Pinterest profile will reap suboptimal results.

On Pinterest, it is essential to develop a clear brand aesthetic across all images that makes them instantly identifiable, both by search engines and users. Attention must also be paid to the contextual signals this vertical search engine uses, such as the boards each image is pinned to. Those contextual signals may differ by search engine, so it is important to understand how its information retrieval technology works across other platforms, such as Amazon, Etsy or Kayak.

Nonetheless, while the mechanisms that drive each search engine may differ significantly, their underlying purpose is always the same. It is up to marketers to understand their audience, create the right content, then use each vertical search engine to engage with their consumers.

As a result, there are some best practices we can apply for any vertical search optimization campaign:

  • Research your audience behaviors across different search engines.
  • Maintain a cohesive brand presence across all major social networks.
  • Use structured data and Open Graph tags to help search engines locate and understand your content.
  • Assess behaviors across your websites and mobile apps; focus on unblocking any challenges users have in accessing content.
  • Master the foundational elements of site experience that will benefit performance on any search engine, such as page load speed
  • Adapt your content for each search engine. The audience may consist largely of the same people, but their expectations will be different based on the social network or search engine they are using.
  • Use specific integrations with vertical search engines that can allow your website content to be served within their results.

Summary

SEO is not just about trying to rank on Google anymore. Search behaviors are changing, and new content opportunities arrive constantly. We need to evolve our strategies to make the most of this set of circumstances. The industry is reaching a point now where deep learning allows search engines to understand both content and context with accuracy levels we could barely have imagined just a few years ago.

This does not mean we can simply publish content and expect search engines to do the rest for us, however. Each vertical brings with it a new set of consumer demands, and search engines still rely on contextual signals to filter through their vast index of content.

As marketers, we need to look at the skills that are common to horizontal and vertical search, optimize our site experience and ensure that our content can be served to our audience, across any search engine or social network. The technical staples of structured data and Open Graph tags are more important than ever, while content marketing remains at the core of any successful SEO campaign.

Overall, the growth of vertical search engines may suggest a fragmentation of the search ecosystem. The likes of Amazon, Pinterest, Etsy, YouTube and Facebook all look ready to grow in the coming months, which will undoubtedly reshape the search landscape.

In response, the challenge for marketers is to provide a cohesive strategy across the increasing number of touch points brands have with consumers. Technology can help us do so, but only when coupled with a deep understanding of our audience.

The post Search is more than Google: Mastering vertical search optimization appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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Google’s mobile-first indexing has set sail. Are you on board? 5 SEO essentials /googles-mobile-first-index-has-set-sail-are-you-on-board-5-seo-essentials-296302 Tue, 17 Apr 2018 13:35:00 +0000 /?p=296302 We've been hearing about mobile-first indexing forever, and now the changes are here. Contributor Jim Yu shares five ways webmasters can optimize their content and on-site technical elements to succeed in the new world.

The post Google’s mobile-first indexing has set sail. Are you on board? 5 SEO essentials appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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After a relatively lengthy wait, Google has started to roll out its mobile-first index. First announced back in 2016, the mobile-first index is a direct response to one of the most significant shifts in consumer behavior over the past few years.

Last year, research revealed mobile devices now account for 57 percent of all traffic, so it stands to reason that Google should use a mobile user agent to crawl and index content.

Google’s aim is to launch this index worldwide, in a move that will see the search giant access the mobile version of a website to index and rank content. Even if a consumer searches on a desktop device, Google will query its index of mobile content to find the most authoritative, relevant response. The mobile version of your site will become the primary version once the index switches over.

There has been a lot of speculation about this seismic shift since the initial announcement, but we are past the point of conjecture now. Search marketers need to be at their most vigilant to ensure their sites are optimized for mobile and in prime position to benefit from this development.

The five tips below should be the first ports of call for all search engine optimization specialists (SEOs) as we enter the mobile-first age.

Monitor Google’s crawl activity

Google will send a notification via your Search Console when your site has been switched over to the mobile-first index. This is welcome news, but site owners will want to dig deeper to see Google’s crawl activity in more detail, both before and after the switch occurs.

By monitoring log file data, it is possible to see how search engine bots access a website and what they see when they get there. This will flag any increased activity from smartphone user agents and highlight any decreases from their desktop counterparts. These patterns may not necessarily be conclusive, as there will be fluctuations as Google performs tests. A rise in smartphone user agent activity could be followed by a fall in the number of uniform resource locators (URLs) it visits each day while Google tries to calibrate your site’s performance.

That said, we know that Google will test each site’s readiness in isolation, so this analysis will help you identify and resolve any crawl issues you observe. If there are significant differences in the internal linking structure of your mobile and desktop versions, for example, this will be an essential task.

The mobile-first index is coming, so it’s best to keep an eye on this if you want to maintain and grow visibility when it inevitably does arrive for your site.

Understand the mobile user journey

Attention spans among audiences are even shorter on mobile devices than they are on a desktop, so it is vital to understand the concept of the micro-moment.

During these short windows of opportunity, brands can engage customers just as they express their desire to know something, go somewhere, or even be inspired by content.

This requires brands to meet users at the source of demand, which can only be achieved through a data-driven strategy. By incorporating intent signals into your content marketing plan, you can go beyond keywords to get to the heart of what your customers are really asking for.

This demand landscape is fundamentally different on mobile, so each brand should make this one of their first considerations for the mobile-first world.

Mobile devices also create and share more data than desktop devices, which creates new opportunities for content to partner with other marketing channels to create innovative mobile experiences. This could involve a voice search strategy to target specific micro-moments.

All of this data should be used to map out the structure of the mobile user journey, which can then be populated with increasingly personalized content.

Deliver tailored content for mobile

One of the great fallacies about the mobile-first index is that if you have a responsive site, there is very little you need to do in preparation.

For some, that may be the case, but only if your content already caters to a mobile audience.

If your content is the same across devices, there are no guarantees your rankings will remain steady, too. BrightEdge (my company) research found that 79 percent of keywords return different results across mobile and desktop, which points to the fact that users expect different content depending on their context.

Many brands will view the mobile-first index as an opportunity to provide a better experience for their audience, which may see them rewarded with higher rankings. Without necessarily doing anything wrong, those who don’t take the time to tailor their content could lose out.

Sophisticated marketers will use their mobile customer journey map to pinpoint the stages at which mobile is of the highest importance. Combined with analysis of current content performance across all devices, it will then become possible to tailor specific content assets for the mobile-heavy stages of the journey.

On mobile devices, content needs to help users achieve their goal quickly. That can mean incorporating progressive web apps into a mobile content strategy to provide the fastest experience possible, for example. Start with the data to understand where the demand lies, then devise the most appropriate strategy to delight customers.

Cover the technical basics

The greatest content in the world will still need to follow some technical best practices before it can be served in response to a text or voice query. A quick checklist to prepare for the mobile-first index would include:

  • Structured data. This markup helps search engines understand and retrieve your content, making it one of the cornerstones of a successful SEO strategy this year.
  • Verify the mobile site.  Add the robots.txt to your mobile site and verify in Google Search Console that it can be crawled, if you are still using a “m.” site.
  • Hreflang. Ensure that any hreflang tags on your mobile site point to the mobile versions of your URLs.
  • Metadata. It is worth revisiting metadata to see if you can optimize for higher click through rate (CTR) on mobile devices.
  • User experience. Analyze your data to see where the bottlenecks are within your site journey. These tend to occur when users have to wait a long time for a site to load, when content is simply too long to read on a smartphone or when they have to pinch and zoom to read text.
  • Test for speed. Use Google’s much-improved mobile site speed test to identify any areas you can accelerate. If in doubt with mobile optimization, make the site faster.

Set up a new measurement framework

Marketers need to know if their content is nurturing leads from awareness to research through to conversion and retention. Looking at this through the lens of a last-click attribution model will miss much of the picture. The industry is growing in sophistication in a lot of areas, including performance measurement. The mobile-first index is an opportunity to bring new metrics to your reports and go beyond conversion data.

By attributing some of the “credit” for each conversion to earlier stages of the purchase journey, you can start to understand the real value of those micro-moments in attracting new customers.

Combined with metrics like customer lifetime value, marketers can start to develop a much more nuanced picture of their audience. This approach helps to integrate content with other marketing channels, too, which only enhances its impact.

Of course, it is also essential to monitor your rankings across mobile and desktop. Performing a share of voice analysis both before and after the switch to the mobile-first index will reveal the positive impact of following these handy tips to get your site in shape.

The post Google’s mobile-first indexing has set sail. Are you on board? 5 SEO essentials appeared first on Search Engine Land.

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