Has It Has Really Been a Quarter Century?

Early search marketers literally created on-the-fly the methodologies that are still in use today. Clever developers constantly wrote and marketed new tools that would gather the data more rapidly that we needed for deeper insights and better campaign performance.

Most early Internet marketers came into the online space accidentally. I was no exception. We all raised our hands at an opportune moment. We stepped off the edge into a void. For me, building a website seemed like a good way to increase the reach of a public relations client’s message. It was a good idea. It was 1995 — a quarter of a century ago. In fact, this good idea launched the second half of my marketing career, with a focus on search marketing.

Lots of Energy and Sharing

Early search marketers literally created on-the-fly the methodologies that are still in use today. Clever developers constantly wrote and marketed new tools that would gather the data more rapidly that we needed for deeper insights and better campaign performance.

There were numerous search engines and directories all vying for dominance, and Google wasn’t even founded until 1998. The big names were Alta Vista, Yahoo! As the industry has matured, it has lost the edginess of the early days. Today there are monoliths that dominate the search industry.

Early on, the sharing of information was essential. The industry grew through sharing what was online in forums like Webmaster World, in person at conferences bearing titles like Search Engine Strategies (that by the title alone clearly gave the prospective attendee a clear picture of what might be learned from attending), and in the written word through numerous online and print publications. I trained to be a college professor, albeit not in technology, but I jumped at any chance to teach/share with my colleagues (and anyone who would listen) my digital marketing insights and discoveries.

It was a wonderful heady ride, but for me the carousel of speaking and traveling came to an abrupt halt five-plus years ago when I returned home from a Pubcon in Las Vegas with my arthritic knees too painful to walk through the airport. I decided to hang up my spurs and stay at my desk and write instead of speaking at conferences; to travel less and train smaller groups.

Grateful for the Opportunity

An opportunity met my decision to focus on writing when I was approached to write a search marketing regular column for Target Marketing. It has been a wonderful opportunity for me to continue having my voice heard without the stress and strain of travel. I will confess that writing a regular column has often forced me to think more deeply about strategies my clients might use — a bonus. I am grateful for this opportunity.

Not Yet Over

Writing a monthly column about search marketing is an excellent discipline, but it can be a distraction. I have found myself increasingly unwilling to let it distract me from other writing tasks. So, as you may have guessed, I am signing off. I am not gone yet, for I am working on a monograph on search and have other writing projects outlined that are calling me. For now, let me say thank you once again for listening to my conference panels and reading my columns.

Why Google Going to the Dark Side Is Bad for Advertisers

Over time, the simplicity of Google’s results page has clearly eroded. In the beginning, Google’s clear user interface was beloved to search users for its ease of access and clarity. It was easy to spot ads, because they were clearly marked. The Google SERP today is visually very noisy, with lots of distractions.

Over time, the simplicity of Google’s results page has clearly eroded. In the beginning, Google’s clear user interface was beloved to search users for its ease of access and clarity. It was easy to spot ads, because they were clearly marked. The Google search engine results page today is visually very noisy, with lots of distractions.

Google rolled out its new UX on mobile several months ago, and — in mid-January — applied the changes to desktop search. Contrary to the company’s claims that the new design “puts a site’s brand front-and-center, helping searchers better understand where information is coming from, more easily scan results and decide what to explore.”

But the change, in fact, blurs the user’s ability to easily differentiate ads from organic listings. These most recent changes have taken the desktop search engine results page into the dark side, for its UX exhibits “dark patterns” in how it differentiates advertising from organic results. This has a significant downside for advertisers, organic search marketers, and their audiences.

Dark Patterns

Coined by Harry Brignull, a London-based UX designer in July 2010, “dark patterns” are user interfaces that are carefully crafted to trick users into taking an action. Although the current layout places a bold “Ad” indicator next to text ads, and shows favicons next to organic brand listings, it is easy for the user scanning a search page quickly to overlook the ad notation or confuse the ad notation with the similarly placed favicons. Many users choose not to click advertisements, preferring to skim the listings for the page that most clearly suggests the answer to their search query. Savvy users know that the ad may not, in fact, deliver the most relevant page for their query and are wary of paid advertisements.

Google has made it harder for the user to rapidly differentiate, particularly on noisy desktop pages, paid ads from organic content. This new layout is not as distracting on mobile, where the small screen makes each listing stand out. The smaller screen visually reduces the clutter, forcing the user to focus on each result card.

A single search for “high heels shoes” on a desktop yields a cluttered page that includes “sponsored” shopping ads, ads (marked with bold Ad indicator), a set of accordions with “People also ask,” a map and local listings box, and finally organic results.

With all of this distraction, the user is likely to click unintentionally on a poorly differentiated ad. In the future, it will be easy for Google to slip more ads into the pages without creating user awareness of the volume of ads being served.

Why Is This Bad?

When the user cannot clearly differentiate an ad from an organic listing, the advertiser pays for clicks that are unintentional. This depletes the advertiser’s budget, without delivering sales conversions. It is too early to tell the exact levels of the unintentional clicks, but it is my clear bet that there will be a significant volume of them.

Contrary to claims, the new UX is not good for the user. It forces the user to slow down to avoid making a perhaps erroneous decision. Rather than enhancing the user experience, the user will be less satisfied with the results delivered.

For organic search marketers, the redesign makes it imperative to have a favicon that works and clearer branding in the search Titles and Descriptions — because the actual link has been visually downgraded. It is now above the Title.

It is expected that Google will continue to test new ways to demarcate ads from content, but the continued blurring of paid and organic results only really benefits Google.

2020: A Big Year for Media Spend Will Underscore Data’s Role in Marketing Strategy

With the longest U.S. economic growth span on record, one might think the wheels may be about to come off of the economy — and marketing spend along with it. Not so, says Bruce Biegel, senior marketing partner at The Winterberry Group, during his annual forecast about marketing strategy.

It is the best of times.

With the longest U.S. economic growth span on record, one might think the wheels may be about to come off of the economy — and marketing spend along with it. Not so, says Bruce Biegel, senior marketing partner at The Winterberry Group, during his Direct Marketing Club of New York annual presentation, “The Outlook for Data Driven Advertising & Marketing 2020.”

marketing strategy
Source: Winterberry Group (2020), with Permission | Credit: Winterberry Group

Sure, there is caution. The Great Recession displaced many — and served to accelerate digital disruption from retail to finance to certainly marketing, forever. Perhaps businesses have never felt safe, sound, and secure ever since. One might call it “wise agitation.” And it really has been consumer spending that has served as the primary driver of growth, particularly in 2019.

Not the R Word …

Outside of business caution and flat earnings, where are the signs of another recession? They are hard to find.

Inflation and wage growth are hardly sputtering — even as the nation’s unemployment rates are at record lows. Trade rows and impeachment proceedings only appear to buoy the stock market. Even inside the world of marketing, privacy restrictions have not diminished the luster of data deployed for marketing and insight. And with the Olympics and a General Election this year, it should be times aplenty for many media channels, agencies, data providers, and tech companies — as these events are traditional hallmarks of spending.

So who are some of the winners in the current marketing and media environment?

… But plenty of D, Even Still

D, as in Direct: Biegel noted that “Buy Direct” is creating continuous rise and sale in DTC [direct to consumer] brands. The subscription economy is booming and traditional distribution channels — read, retail — continue with a “D” of their own, “disintermediation.”

“The five-year growth (through 2019) of DTC retail is four times that of the retail market revenues — 7.64% growth vs. 1.78%,” he reports.

That doesn’t translate to digital-first success, however, as such approaches are not scaling as rising costs in paid social, for example, are inhibiting customer acquisition.

marketing strategy
Source: Winterberry Group Spend Estimates (2020)

D, as in Digital: Online media spending overall grew by 19.1% in 2019 — compared with a 5.9% decline in offline media spending for the same year. Among all digital media categories in 2019, paid search grabbed the largest share — followed by display and paid social. Yet search spending “only” grew by 13.2%, compared to 21% growth for display, and 23% growth for paid social. For 2020, online media spending will continue to climb — reaching $166.4 billion in spending, while offline media will reverse its decline and post a 2.3% climb this year (remember, Olympics and Elections) to $223.1 billion.

D, as in Data: Data spending also posted healthful growth in 2019 — up by 5% — with another 6.2% growth expected in 2020. Is data working harder for marketers — as in, increasing marketing efficiency? Possibly. Spending on offline data dropped 5.5% in 2019 — while spending on email data and analytics posted 22.4% growth, and spending on digital media data and analytics (other than email) grew by 14.4%. Yet businesses are wholly satisfied with their own level of “data-centricity.” Biegel says, “Organizations are slightly more ‘data-centric’ this year than when asked in 2017 — on the whole, industry data-centricity is not progressing as envisioned.”

marketing strategy
Source: IAB-Winterberry Group Data-Centric Org (2020)

What’s Driving Data Strategy at Businesses?

Beigel reports three primary facilitators:

  • A desire to deliver better customer experiences;
  • Heightened regulatory compliance requirements and need to honor consumer preferences; and,
  • Increased demand to better leverage both first- and third-party data assets.

With a data-for-marketing marketplace in the United States now valued — both offline and online —- at $23 billion, those are three very important drivers that marketing professionals needs to get right. Or else our C-suite credibility may be diminished.

Artificial intelligence also has benefited from this reverence for data. Beigel reports that $11 billion has been invested globally in AI in the past five years — with 80% of marketers seeing AI “revolutionize” marketing in the next five years. Much of this investment is set on drawing insights from both structured and unstructured data sources.

And Where Are There Lingering Concerns?

Besides enterprise command of data assets, which could go either superbly or not, there are other concerns — both macro and micro, Biegel reports.

U.S. economic growth will likely slow to 1.9%, with global growth at pronounced risk. Corporate earnings may disappoint — leading to tightened purse strings. Tariffs may be reduced – nation by nation, region by region — but to what immediate impact? In short, Biegel says, “Limited tailwinds indicate that growth must be earned or bought.”

Among offline media there will be pockets of growth — outdoor, shopper marketing, linear and addressable TV — though direct mail will only squeak growth, with radio, newspaper, and magazines continuing their declines (even as their digital counterparts grow).

Search, display, and social will continue to dominate online media spend — but less mature channels, such as influencer marketing, digital video, and OTT [over-the-top] streaming, and digital audio will post rapid growth from much smaller bases. That portends good times for online data — but is it all rosy?

marketing strategy
Source: Winterberry Group Spend Estimates (2020)

For example, are customer acquisition and retention costs, though, declining in these channels? It may be that media inflation will eat into marketing efficiency, particularly if “targeting” data gets less precise and, as a result, relevance gets more elusive. Privacy restrictions, while well-meaning, are not always implemented in such a way that serve best consumers. Still, only 16% of businesses have reduced their spending and reliance on certain kinds of data as a result of new and potential data privacy regulations, Biegel reports.

So, come December 2020, will all of these predictions and concerns bear out? That’s one of the reasons I attend Bruce Biegel’s Annual Outlook at DMCNY each year. As great a prognosticator as he is and as on-target as his business, data, and economic models are — he’s always close enough to the market to say where struggles remain, where the work of data-driven marketing is hard, where hiccups happen, and the like. These are all of the many micro and macro reasons that any best of times can go awry.

His January 2020 predictions are now in the books — and we will all be back again in January 2021 — barring any hiccups.

Search Needs Computational Linguistics to Solve Its Problems

The increased use of mobile devices means search must learn to answer questions posed in natural language. Research and tech development at Google on natural language processing is filtering into the search results. So SEOs need to step beyond the keyword into computational linguistics.

As users have become increasingly dependent on their digital devices, they expect to search on them using more natural language to shape the queries. Search is deeply embedded in the fabric of our lives, and we expect more from it than previously.

We spend hours on our mobile devices every day and have devices that rely on natural language processing in our homes to turn the television on or entertain us. Every search is a quest, and users are constantly looking for and expect answers.

The terrain and contours of most e-commerce quests are reasonably easy to interpret, and SEOs have carefully developed methods for identifying keywords and concepts that apply to the most important quests that buyers/searchers will undertake for the products on offer.

Does this extend far enough? Not hardly.

We must stay with our consumers and develop an understanding of the challenges of search and how they are being addressed by those who build and operate search technology.

What’s Going On?

Each day, Google processes billions of searches and has publicly noted that 15% of those queries were previously unseen. This means that Google has no history of what the most relevant pages are to deliver for the query. These queries represent unfamiliar terrain, and Google has built ways to navigate this space.

What Needs to Happen?

The increased use of mobile devices that encourage the use of natural language means search must learn to answer questions posed in natural language. Current research and technology development at Google on natural language processing is filtering into the search results. SEOs need to step beyond the keyword into — are you ready — the arcane science of computational linguistics.

Computational linguistics is an interdisciplinary field that studies language from a computational perspective. Computational linguists build statistical or rule-based models and approaches to linguistic problems, such as natural language and search. The huge computational power available today has opened the door for rapid advances in the last five years. It is time for SEOs to integrate some of these learnings into their SEO practice.

Improving Natural Language Search

In October 2019, Google announced that it would be launching worldwide the BERT algorithm. BERT, short for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, is a neural network-based technique for natural language processing (NLP) pre-training. Training and tuning are very important steps in developing working search algorithms. (For more on the science, see this Google blog.)

Google expects this improved model to impact 10% of all searches. It will be particularly helpful for improving queries written or spoken in natural, conversational language.

Some savvy searchers search in keyword-ese, putting long strings of disconnected words together in their queries. By keyword stuffing their query, they hope to get better results.

My own research has shown that the most frequent queries are multiple nouns strung together with an occasional adjective for refinement — long (adjective) house (noun) coat (noun). This is a simple example, but queries that are questions are much more difficult to parse. BERT will go a long way toward eliminating the need to use keyword-ese.

BERT is not to be confused with Google’s improved AI-based system of neural matching that is used to understand how words and concepts relate to one another, a super-synonym system. Combine BERT with the other advances, and we can surely expect better quality results.

Search, as a Study, Is Not Static

SEOs need to learn as much as they can about these technologies. Although it seems — at first blush — that we cannot optimize for it, we can create better content that reacts better to the new technology, watch our performance metrics to see how much and if we are improving, and then make more changes as needed. Now, isn’t that optimizing?

3 Tips for Search Engine Optimization on a Budget

You do not have to break the bank to get quality SEO results. But you do need to figure out the metrics that matter when it comes to delivering a return on your investment. It is also important to temper expectations, when it comes to results. Search engine optimization typically takes longer to drive leads and sales, when compared to PPC advertising campaigns.

You do not have to break the bank to get quality SEO results. But you do need to figure out the metrics that matter when it comes to delivering a return on your investment. It is also important to temper expectations, when it comes to results. Search engine optimization typically takes longer to drive leads and sales, when compared to PPC advertising campaigns.

Getting the Most for Your Money

Let’s go over some ways that companies can make their sites SEO-friendly, without breaking the bank.

1. Get the Architecture Right

If you are going to spend money anywhere, make sure some of it goes toward building a quality website. It should have a clean design, an intuitive navigation experience, and be accessible to search engines. Menus, content, and other information should be organized in a way that makes sense and is easy to find. There are plenty of SEO-savvy developers capable of providing a new website or revamping your existing one for a reasonable price.

Google and Bing both offer free webmaster guidelines that businesses can use as a guide to creating search-friendly websites. They are an excellent resource for businesses, even if they are unfamiliar with the ins and outs of technical SEO.

2. Small Details Matter

With SEO, small details can make all of the difference in your rankings.

Here are some cost-effective ways of upgrading your website’s SEO.

  • Page Titles — Google uses the page title (aka, Title tag, or <title> in HTML) as a shortcut to know what the page is about. Think of it like the chapter name in a textbook. Include the most relevant keyword(s) you’re trying to rank for in the title so that Google knows the page is 100% relevant to those search phrases.
  • Meta Descriptions — Take the time to fill in the meta descriptions for your website content. Search engines like Google will use this as the excerpt below the hyperlink to your website. A clean, precise description can be the difference-maker in getting a visitor to click through to your site.
  • Header Tags — No one likes reading big walls of text. You could have the most amazing, enlightening content on your web pages, but no one is going to read it without proper formatting. Headers and subheaders are vital in making content easier to read and absorb. Search engines also use the headers to better understand what the page is about, so make sure to include variations of your target keywords in your page headers.

3. Use Free SEO Tools

What better way to understand how Google views SEO than by using the tools it provides? Google Search Console (formerly known as Webmaster Tools) gives you incredible insight into your SEO, all for free! Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to evaluate your website speed and identify opportunities to improve. Plus, with Google’s move to a mobile-first Index, you’ll want to take the Mobile-Friendly Test and fix any issues right away.

For a more advanced analysis, I highly recommend the Screaming Frog SEO Spider. You’ll be able to quickly review all the pages on your website to identify issues with your page titles, descriptions, headers, and even broken links.

Final Thoughts on SEO on a Budget

Businesses can use a variety of resources to improve their SEO without breaking their budget. Improving the architecture of a website is a great place to start, because a poorly structured site will be very difficult to rank high in Google.

And pay attention to the details. Make sure your page titles, descriptions, and headers are all optimized for search engines.

Lastly, take advantage of the free tools and resources available online. Just because they are free, doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable. In fact, many of the tools mentioned above are as good or even better than the paid options.

Want more tips to improve your SEO?  Click here to grab a copy of the “Ultimate SEO Checklist.”

 

Flash — It’s Gone: In 2020, Google Search Will Ignore Adobe Flash

When it first launched, Flash was the answer to a static Web, providing rich animation and action. Flash was eagerly welcomed and embraced by Web developers and users. It grew so popular that the Adobe Flash Player runtime, which lets users play Flash content, was installed 500 million times in the second half of 2013.

When it first launched, Flash was the answer to a static Web, providing rich animation and action. Flash was eagerly welcomed and embraced by Web developers and users. It grew so popular that the Adobe Flash Player runtime, which lets users play Flash content, was installed 500 million times in the second half of 2013, with 300 million installations on Android and iOS alone.

Even with this huge popularity, Flash is going to be gone by the end of 2020, replaced by new, faster, more efficient, and secure open standards development technologies, such as HTML5. These newer technologies are more search-friendly than Flash, which required significant efforts to ensure successful indexing.

The lifespan of webpages in search does not neatly coincide with corporate end-of-life announcements for support of specific technologies; therefore, Google’s Oct. 28, 2019, announcement is noteworthy. It says that later this year, Google Search will stop supporting Flash content, will begin ignoring it for search, and will stop indexing standalone SWF files.

Flash Has Burned Out Slowly

In July 2017, Adobe announced that it would no longer be updating and distributing the Flash Player at the end of 2020, and has been actively encouraging content creators to migrate their existing Flash content to the new open formats.

Browser developers have been sunsetting their support for Flash content, forcing users into elaborate workarounds to view Flash content. For example, Microsoft Edge, FireFox 69, and Chrome Version 76 launched in July 2019, and have — by default — disabled Flash.

However, a large volume of Flash content remains on the Web.

In the search-related announcement, Google blithely noted that “Most users and websites won’t see any impact from this change.” I would like to suggest that, as they say in the auto industry, mileage may vary.

How to Check for Search Impact?

Many large sites have thousands of pages, a volume containing valueless antiques. They are in the company’s digital attic. These treasure troves of forgotten content are often the product of unredirected orphaned initiatives.

Did your site once have a little Flash game or a Flash-powered carousel?

These once loved, but now forgotten, pages may still be in the Google index. To ensure that you indeed see no impact from the end of Flash, run a quick check for Flash files on your site. If you have converted all of your content to new technologies, you can still not rest. Just run a check for Flash files from your site that may be in Google. If you do not find any, then enjoy the ride.

If you still have Flash content, you need to convert it to a newer technology. Don’t just use an online converter. These are not necessarily secure. If the file is worthy, redevelop it or make sure that it is properly redirected.

3 Tips to Refine Your Current SEO Strategy

It’s a good time of the year for digital marketers to take a closer look at the success of their SEO efforts. What SEO strategy seems to have worked best? How successful have you been in attracting your core audience? Now is not the time to coast on what you are doing, even if you’ve hit or exceeded your goals this year.

It’s a good time of the year for digital marketers to take a closer look at the success of their SEO efforts. What SEO strategy seems to have worked best? How successful have you been in attracting your core audience? Now is not the time to coast on what you are doing, even if you’ve hit or exceeded your goals this year.

Use the last few months of the year to refine your SEO strategy and pinpoint opportunities for driving more high-converting visitors to your website. A quick audit like the one below can highlight places where these SEO tactics could yield better results.

1. Polish Your Technical SEO Components

You would be surprised at how many seemingly polished websites neglect basic SEO techniques, like optimal keyword placement and appropriate headers. Keyword research is one thing that remains vital in a sea of SEO changes over the years. Of course, don’t mistake an emphasis on keywords as an invitation to start using outdated keyword-stuffing tactics.

Unnaturally stuffing keywords into your pages is unnecessary and reads awkwardly to your target audience. Sprinkle your focus keywords throughout your content organically, in a way that makes sense. You can also target multiple, related keywords by optimizing their placement in the headings (H1, H2, H3, etc.) of your content.

Meta descriptions are another SEO component many marketers neglect. Optimizing meta descriptions is a quick, easy way to help drive more clicks to your website; which, in turn, can improve your search engine rankings. Don’t just let Google decide what to use as your description in its search results. Draft compelling meta descriptions that will help your business stand out to prospective customers.

The biggest thing to keep in mind when it comes to SEO is the intent. How well are you matching the page titles and descriptions to what your prospective customers are searching for?

2. Upgrade Your Content

You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating, content is king. Google’s goal is to provide the absolute best search results possible for its users, and that means you must have the best content if you want to compete in SEO.

What can visitors find on your site that they cannot get anywhere else? Home contractors can create video guides for common do-it-yourself scenarios that often stump potential clients, while making it clear when they should call in a professional. Creative types can take their visitors through their process of coming up with their final product, whether it is a song or a new cake design.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Look at what is already ranking at the top of Google for your target keywords. How can you do it better? What new angle can you cover that can fulfill the needs of your visitors? The voice of experience should be evident throughout, showing customers why you should be their top choice over other competitors.

3. Improve Tracking Across Your Pages

Tracking is a marketer’s best tool when it comes to finding SEO improvements. It can tell you exactly where the issues are and what changes can have the most significant impact, when properly implemented. If you haven’t done so already, then I suggest installing Google Analytics across your entire website and linking it up to your account with Google Search Console. Those two tools will give you invaluable insights into your SEO efforts.

You’ll be able to track keyword rankings, search engine click-through rates, and SEO landing page conversions.

For locally-focused businesses, I recommend BrightLocal for tracking your Google My Business rankings, over time. This will help you spot trends and continue to make improvements with your local SEO efforts.

It’s Time to Work on Your SEO Strategy

We’re in the fourth quarter, so it’s time to set up your SEO for success in the next year. Review the basics and make sure you’ve optimized your website correctly for your target keywords. Then review your content, compared to what’s already ranking in Google. How can you compete and create superior content for your target audience? Lastly, don’t forget about tracking. It’s never too late to get proper tracking installed so that you have the tools readily available to improve your SEO.

Want more tips to help you with SEO? Click here to grab a copy of my “Ultimate SEO Checklist.”

Site Redesigns Don’t Always Improve Search Results

Many e-commerce sites redesign and relaunch with a new look in the fall to capture the attention of holiday shoppers. One of the stated goals of most site redesigns is the endless search for … improved search results. In this article, I’d like to provide some cautionary observations on why these efforts sometimes fail.

Many e-commerce sites redesign and relaunch with a new look in the fall to capture the attention of holiday shoppers. One of the stated goals of most site redesigns is the endless search for … improved search results. In this article, I’d like to provide some cautionary observations on why these efforts sometimes fail.

A clumsy redesign can cause a decline in search results; however, here are four less obvious reasons for inadvertent failure: Putting old wine in a new skin, larding up the optimization, rushing to judgment, and neglecting the infrastructure. Let’s explore each of these in a little more detail.

Old Wine in a New Skin

It is an error to assume that simply changing the look of the site’s templates will yield improved search results. Unless there are changes in the code, a rerouting of the customer journey, and reordering of the presentation, the site has merely undergone a “reskinning” not a redesign.

If the site simply has new imagery slapped on the same old site, the old wine has been poured into a new skin.

It is the same old wine, and no improvements will ensue. It is unwise to expect improved search results when nothing has changed that directly influences what a search engine (or a customer) encounters. For improved search results, changes must be made to the elements of the site that provide search signals. If there are no changes to any of the elements that signal relevancy, Google does not really care that your site templates are a new chic color with pretty graphics.

Relevancy signals might include:

  • Improvements to the customer journey that reduce bounce rate.
  • Recoding H1s and H2s can highlight the content that is significant for search.

Since search is signals-driven, there is no reason to expect improved results — unless the signals change.

Larding up the Optimization

Just adding content is not, in itself, a winning search strategy.

Yes! Today, content is king. And content provides the most essential signal for search. Adding content that is over-optimized, larded thickly with too many keywords, and offering nothing of value, is a recipe for harming the site’s search results, not improving them.

As I have previously written, sites perform better when the content is regularly refreshed and pruned to improve the search signals. Simply adding a large volume of new content without reviewing, trimming, and pruning the existing content will not yield the improvements in search results that can be seen with the use of a more strategic approach that views each piece of content as a signal flag. A large field of jumbled flags will not provide the same clarity that fewer more prominent flags will.

Rushing to Judgment

In almost 40 years working in technology, I have hardly ever worked on a project that was completed ahead of schedule with every planned element completed. If there are elements of a redesign that will influence search, skipping past them or only partially completing the tasks invites poor results.

In my experience, it is sometimes wise to focus keen attention on those elements of the redesign that will influence search ahead of other less sensitive areas. If tradeoffs must be made, it is important to focus on the search-sensitive elements (recoding, rerouting, and strengthening the search signals) as opposed to those elements that are visual only.

Neglecting Infrastructure

Site speed and a positive mobile experience are important for search results, as well as customer interaction. Therefore, it is important to include improving site speed and the mobile experience as part of a redesign or relaunch. If it is slated for post-relaunch, the search results will not necessarily improve. Fix infrastructure first, then improve the signals, and finish with the visuals and you can expect a successful relaunch.

Don’t put old wine a new bottle, Google is a connoisseur of site content.

What About Bing? A Guide to Understanding Microsoft Ads

Diversification is vital when it comes to long-term marketing success. Businesses that rely solely on one marketing channel are extremely vulnerable to competitors, shifts in customer preferences, and shifts in new technology. If all your eggs are in the Google Ads basket, then now is the time to consider Microsoft Ads.

Diversification is vital when it comes to long-term marketing success. Businesses that rely solely on one marketing channel are extremely vulnerable to competitors, shifts in customer preferences, and shifts in new technology.

If all your eggs are in the Google Ads basket, then now is the time to consider Microsoft Ads.

What Is Microsoft Advertising?

Microsoft Advertising, formerly Bing Ads, is the Bing search engine platform for PPC ad placement. Target audiences can see your ads in three different search engines — AOL, Bing, and Yahoo. Advertisers can have their campaigns viewed across those outlets, any sites owned by them, as well as partner sites.

Incorporating Microsoft Advertising into your PPC strategy expands your reach. The platform accounted for 25% of searches done using a desktop computer during June 2019. The number represents an additional 11 million searches outside of Google.

Understanding the Microsoft Advertising Platform

Microsoft Advertising has vastly expanded the array of tools offered since rebranding its former Bing Ads service. Here is an overview of those features and how they can be used to enhance your current marketing campaigns.

Targeted Ads

Ads on the Bing network can be geared toward specific audiences, thanks to the following targeting features of the Microsoft Ads platform.

  • Keywords — You can place bids on specific keywords and make changes based on conversion rates.
  • Scheduling — Microsoft Advertising allows you to time the display of your ads each day in 15-minute increments. Advertisers can also schedule ads to show up during business hours for their brick-and-mortar stores.
  • Demographics — You can design ads targeted at specific age groups and age ranges.
  • Location — You can target specific locations where your ads will be displayed and/or block locations from seeing your ads.

Shopping Campaigns

Microsoft Shopping Campaigns allow you to manage your product catalogs housed in the Microsoft Merchant center store. Product Ads include information about the product itself, an associated image, and any promotional text you may want to add. You can build them from scratch or import any Google campaigns you may have already built.

You can enhance the catalog feeds in your Microsoft Shopping Campaigns using the following attributes:

  • Product Category (max of five per offer)
  • Brand Name
  • Product Type
  • Condition of Product
  • Merchant Product Identifier (or Item ID)
  • Customized label (up to five per offer)

Microsoft Search Network

The Microsoft Search Network includes sites like MSN.com, Yahoo.com, and all other syndicated Microsoft and Yahoo partners. All search and audience ads are distributed across the network, aimed at your specific audiences.

Advertisers can narrow or expand the focus of their ads based on their current needs. You can choose to have campaigns seen everywhere or target a single channel. Microsoft Advertising also allows you to exclude your ads from being seen on partner websites.

AI Capabilities With Microsoft Audience Network

Microsoft tracks audience behavior patterns and uses that information to come up with new enhancements for advertisements while giving you a brand-safe environment. The Microsoft Graph visualization tool allows advertisers to view datasets and other information for better insight into the performance of various campaigns.

Advantages of Microsoft Advertising

Ads displayed on the Microsoft Search Network tend to attract an older audience, with 40% of those responding in the 35- to 54-year-old demographic. It’s an essential factor, because that age group accounts for nearly 75% of Bing users. Almost half the audience in that network makes at least $75,000 or more per year, making Microsoft Advertising an attractive prospect for those targeting high-wage earners.

Microsoft Ads campaigns tend to spend only a third of the amount that they would on a Google Ads campaign.

Why Bing

Microsoft Advertising allows you to diversify your PPC campaigns. Like Google Ads, it gives you control over your target audience and ad placements. Plus, Microsoft Advertising tends to cost less than Google Ads and will get your ads in front of an older, higher-earning audience.

Want more tips to improve your ad campaigns?  Click here to grab a copy of our “Ultimate Google Ads Checklist.”

The Search Marketer’s Challenge — Striking the Right Balance

Today, the digital marketer has at-hand a veritable arsenal of tools to reach potential customers. There is email, organic search, paid search, and display advertising, all on a dizzying array of platforms.

Today, the digital marketer has at-hand a veritable arsenal of tools to reach potential customers. There is email, organic search, paid search, and display advertising, all on a dizzying array of platforms.

Each platform is busily competing for the marketer’s precious dollars. In the past, organic search has been a dependable, albeit difficult to manage, source of traffic. The Merkle Q2 2019 “Digital Marketing Report” shows that overall in Q2, organic search visits declined by 6%. DuckDuckGo was the only major U.S. search engine to deliver site visit growth in Q2 2019. Organic search produced 23% of all site visits and 21% of mobile site visits in Q2 2019, a substantial share of the market. The sharp focus placed on SEO mobile is aptly placed, because phones and tablets produced 59% of organic search visits.

How are marketers to react to a declining volume of organic search visits when, for so many years, it has been on a nearly continuous rise. In the face of overall search volume declines, marketers must work harder to make sure that they are optimizing not just their organic results, but also the overall mix of platforms and media used: paid and organic search, social, and shopping.

What Are the Drivers?

The answer to what is creating the change in organic search visitors is complex, but one of the answers easily visible to mobile searchers. The small screen is now cluttered with display ads, and the user is likely to not scroll deeply into the results. Those who do and make that click into a site are seldom rewarded with an easy to navigate screen. All too often, the mobile site leaves the user wishing for a better solution.

It is vicious cycle.

A bad user experience discourages the user from making another attempt. Additionally, as users develop favorite sites, where they can dependably navigate and find what they want, they are more likely to direct navigate to them. Amazon is one of these go-to sites; therefore, I have strongly advocated developing a search strategy for Amazon.

In a nutshell, display and paid search, coupled with direct navigation, are creating the environment for decline.

What to Do!

As they say in auto parlance, your mileage may vary.

If you are doing SEO for a site that is in a market sector that does not lend itself to display or is underutilized for paid search, your experience may be different. Declining search results cannot be attributed to the structural changes noted above. A slightly deeper analysis is needed to determine if your decline is driven by SEO mistakes, algorithmic changes, or even market changes. An SEO audit will highlight both SEO mistakes and where algorithmic changes have impacted the site; however, you can easily check for market and consumer preference changes.

Try popping your “money keywords,” those which are key to your business success, into Google Trends using the drop-down to broaden the length of time out from five to 15 years (the max) and then examine the peaks. You may find that the terminology has changed and that you need to revisit your keywords, a tactical solution. If your market has changed, then the challenge shifts from tactical to strategic.