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How to Think About Them for SEO

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Everything that is man-made is knowable.

That includes the Google algorithm.

But that doesn’t mean the algorithm is known.

In the 20+ years, I’ve been doing SEO, I’ve seen thousands of theories around how the search engine algorithms work – specifically Google’s algorithm.

Everyone from Ivy League PhDs to street smart elementary school dropouts search for a silver bullet – a trick or technique that will allow a website to rank for any keyword or topic desired.

I’ve seen some SEO professionals find things that work for a time.

I’ve seen black hats seemingly rank at-will for anything they want – for a time.

But the tricks never work for long.

I’ve never been a fan of silver bullets or manipulative tricks to rank for specific terms or topics.

I don’t believe that SEO is rocket science.

There are those that would have you believe if you can just plug the right numbers into a mathematical formula, you’ll be able to rank.

The problem is those numbers are constantly in flux – and if Google sees that someone has figured out how to mathematically manipulate their system, they change the numbers.

Let’s face it, when we try to reverse engineer Google algorithm, no matter how smart we are, we are akin to someone trying to find a specific red dot in a Jackson Pollock painting while blindfolded.

No, SEO isn’t rocket science.

It’s more like plumbing.

You don’t need to understand how to build a sewer system, you just need to understand how the pipes work and be willing to get your hands dirty while working hard.

The Rise of the Baby Algorithm

Earlier this month at Pubcon, Google’s Gary Illyes said something that validated my current thinking around rankings in general.

Illyes said:

“We have probably millions of baby algorithms and they act differently. They might do something that triggers more crawls on certain sites. It solely depends on the algo and what it’s trying to do.”

In other words, what works in Google for one topic may not work for other topics.

Each topic might have its own “baby algorithm.”

That means that the ranking criteria for keywords around mortgage topics will be different from the ranking criteria for recipes.

This makes sense to anyone optimizing for topics in multiple verticals.

There is no overarching, unified tactic that will definitively get any site to rank for a topic.

What works in vertical may very well flop in another.

The confirmation of many different Google algorithms by Illyes solidifies that adage that there is no one-size-fits-all strategy in modern SEO.

Modern SEO is tried and true best practices coupled with marketing nuance and hours and hours of testing.

SEO as Fishing

I love metaphors.

When I heard Illyes talk about baby algorithms – it wasn’t cute cuddly infants that came to my mind.

It was ponds, lakes, rivers, and oceans.

And fish.

In my mind’s eye, I saw a vast interactive landscape filled with thousands of varied bodies of water.

In each pond were different types of fish.

The ponds that held bass didn’t have sharks – the sharks were in the bigger bodies of water.

Lots of folks were casting lines into the ponds.

Some of these folks were using the wrong bait.

Some folks were trying to catch sharks with worms while others tried to catch bass with large squid.

Periodically, a fishing guide would help a fisherman by suggesting a different bait – or moving them to another pond that had the type of fish they were looking for.

What can I say, I have a vivid imagination.

Of course, in this metaphor, the bodies of water are the aforementioned baby algorithms.

The fish are potential leads or customers.

The guides are SEO professionals.

If you’ve done much fishing, you know that the right bait and the right placement can determine success or failure.

The same goes for SEO.

Some of the baby algorithms Illyes refers to appear to be more sensitive to technical SEO aspects.

Some of these baby algorithms respond best to great content.

Some are more prone to rank sites with solid backlink profiles.

The trick to not just to understand what is working in the baby algorithm where you are “fishing”, but to be able to find the right baby algorithm body of water.

You won’t catch freshwater fish in the ocean.

And you won’t get customers for a mortgage company if you are trying to optimize for a travel-based baby algorithm.

There are plenty of people out there that can catch fish without a guide.

If you are dropping a line in a well-stocked pond, it’s hard not to catch a fish.

But in SEO, there aren’t very many well-stocked ponds and the competition among fishermen can be brutal.

That’s where the SEO comes in.

Think of an SEO as the fishing guide who can understand what types of fish lurk in each body of water.

SEO professionals also understand the bait to use to catch particular fish.

A good SEO will move you from a baby algorithm pond to the baby algorithm ocean if you need to catch sharks.

SEO professionals may not know each individual baby algorithm, but experience has taught them how to find the right place and use the right bait for each type of fish – even if it may take some trial and error to land the right combination of bait and location.

Just throwing a line into a pond won’t work for most companies.

Sure, you might get lucky and catch a few small fish.

I’ve fished a lot in my life, and I can tell you when I can afford a good fishing guide, I hire one.

I will always catch more fish with a guide than on my own.

In SEO, if you don’t know the right bait or the right body of water to cast your line in, you need a guide.

Good SEO professionals are those guides – we find the right baby algorithm and right bait for our company or our clients to catch the fish they need to feed their loved ones.

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Featured Image: Unsplash / Modified by author, October 2019



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How to tackle rising Facebook CPAs

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SAN JOSE – With more advertisers and bigger budgets crowding onto Facebook and Instagram, acquisition costs are climbing. Advertisers can make their social ad dollars go further by re-thinking campaign fundamentals.

“You need to make sure you’re scaling your available inventory for click-through rates, mirroring your audience, and being dynamic,” 3Q Digital’s Senior Strategy Development manager Madeline Fitzgerald said in sharing tips for lowering CPAs across Facebook at SMX West Thursday.

Deconstructing Facebook CPCs

Audience size: bigger is usually better. CPCs on Facebook are affected by audience size, account structure, and click-through rates (CTR). The narrower and smaller your target audience, the more competitive your bid will need to be, Fitzgerald explained. The competition in the auction will ultimately impact the CPC outcome.

“If you’re noticing that your CPCs are really high, one of the first things you should do is check your audience sizes. If you’re seeing that [it’s] getting too specific, see if there are any other interests, behaviors, demographics that we can add.” Doing so, she explained, will help to broaden the target pool and give the Facebook algorithm more options to show your ads.

If you’ve reached a ceiling, broad targeting might be the next step. “If you already have a mature account, don’t go straight to this if you’re still early on in your testing phases. But if you’re trying to get to that next level, broad targeting is great way to do so,” Fitzgerald explained.

Account structure and segmentation. Account structure and the way we segment our ad sets can also determine the available ad inventory. Ads can run across a range of Facebook properties – from News Feed and Messenger to Stories and Instagram feeds. When we add segmentations like placements or geographies, the audience pool becomes restricted and advertisers might miss out on more efficient inventory.

“The algorithms are smarter than we are,” she reasoned. “Let the robots have it on factors like devices and placements. A couple of years ago, we laughed at everyone who did that. But we’re actually seeing a 13% lower CPA with some of our clients who [no longer segment those].”

Segmentation can be valuable when focusing on the funnel stage – i.e. audience personas, creative, and destination pages. But Fitzgerald recommends skipping demographics, geographies, devices, and placements — any of the factors you can’t edit after you set them up.

Campaign budget optimization. Soon, ad set budgets will be going away, in favor of campaign budget optimization (CBO), which uses machine learning to automatically serve ads to the target audience based on predictive analysis.

“I think the biggest way to figure out how to work this into our strategy is to think about the language Facebook is using to tell us about how the algorithm operates. Facebook tells us that CBO looks at the available opportunities – which is a combination of audience size and the audience’s propensity to actually convert into billable opportunities.”

Facebook’s algorithm prioritizes volume over potential for conversion,
which is why CBO works, she explained. Marketers can group together audiences with
similar potential reach or size and the budget optimization tool will see more
conversion potential for larger audience within the budget.  

Conversions are in the creative

Mirror your audience. “As advertisers, it’s our job to help users see themselves
and their goals – what they want to accomplish – in our creative. We need to
make sure we’re making it very obvious for them,” said Fitzgerald.

Compelling ad creative should be able to clearly visualize
the value proposition of what’s being promoted. And it’s not just about getting
more users in the door, it’s about getting the right users in the door
because they were drawn to your creative.

Engage audiences with video. Facebook has been pushing advertisers
to use animation and video for some time now, but Fitzgerald argues advertisers
still aren’t doing enough with it.

“A lot of advertisers take existing creative and put a slow
zoom on it, or pull a three-minute explainer video and think that counts as an
ad. But that’s not really what we’re being called to as advertisers here,” she said.
“It’s our job to figure out how to leverage movement in a more disruptive way,
and think about new original ways to talk to people.”

Highlight clear value in the copy.  Effective copy isn’t about being brand heavy. It’s about
making users comfortable with clicking on an ad. Fitzgerald explained that advertisers
can build that trust and comfort by keeping ad copy directly tied to the value of
what you’re selling.

“We want to make sure users don’t need to go through any guesswork to figure out what’s going to happen next,” Fitzgerald said. “People don’t want to have to read through your whole website to understand why they should engage with your brand.”

This story first appeared on Marketing Land. For more on digital marketing, click here.

Original URL:https://marketingland.com/how-to-tackle-rising-facebook-cpas-276352


About The Author

Taylor Peterson is Third Door Media’s Deputy Editor, managing industry-leading coverage that informs and inspires marketers. Based in New York, Taylor brings marketing expertise grounded in creative production and agency advertising for global brands. Taylor’s editorial focus blends digital marketing and creative strategy with topics like campaign management, emerging formats, and display advertising.



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New local SERP live in Europe

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In April 2019, Google was experimenting with a new local SERP that highlighted alternative directory sources for the same query. At the time, we saw an example in the wild for Germany. Now, an updated version of the SERP featuring branded directory buttons appears to be live in the UK, Belgium, Spain, Greece, and France – if not already throughout Europe.

A more prominent directory box. Below is an example screenshot from a UK search, showing directory links above the map and local pack.

SERP showing results for ‘asbestos removal Halifax UK

This change in the SERP grows out of Google’s continuing effort to comply with the European Commission’s antitrust decision in shopping search. It’s also an attempt by the company to preempt a separate antitrust action in local search.

Yelp previously criticized these types of screens as a return to Google’s “rival links” remedy, which was originally proposed in 2013 and ultimately rejected by the European Commission.

UK SERP showing a local carousel above the map

How are the directories selected? One obvious and immediate question is how are the displayed directories chosen? This isn’t an ad unit, in contrast to the solution implemented in shopping search. In the latter context, comparison shopping engines and Google Shopping bid against one another for placement in PLAs. However, there’s no comparable “sponsored” or “ad” label in the directory box or carousel above.

We must assume that Google is algorithmically choosing the directories to display. In the UK example above, clicking on the directory box links takes users to a category page in the case of Yell but a business profile page in the case of Cylex. Other searches (e.g., “dentists, London”) show a carousel with multiple, alternative directories.

In some cases, the directories appear on the first page of the organic results, below the map. In other cases, they do not.

Why we care. It remains to be seen whether this approach is acceptable to the European Commission. Part of that will depend on whether the buttons drive meaningful traffic to these publishers. If so it could revive the fortunes of at least some of them (think “barnacle SEO”), which have continued to see declining traffic as Google My Business and zero-click search grab more user focus and engagement.


About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor to Search Engine Land, a member of the programming team for SMX events and the VP, Market Insights at Uberall.



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E-commerce category pages outperform product detail pages in SERPs

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E-commerce category pages represent a larger opportunity for ranking and driving organic search traffic than product detail pages, according to research unveiled at SMX West 2020 on Thursday. 

Across nearly 30 top U.S., e-commerce sites ranking for more than 25 billion keywords, category pages outperformed product detail pages, driving more keyword rankings and estimated traffic, as well as showing higher potential to capture additional traffic with optimization.

The data – culled by JumpFly and seoClarity from Google’s rankings in the U.S. – highlight the outsized role that category pages play in upper-funnel marketing efforts to drive brand awareness and interest.

Specifically, e-commerce category pages – which include parent category, subcategory and product grid pages with faceted navigation – ranked for 19% more keywords on average than product detail pages ranked for. The additional keywords they ranked for drove an estimated 413% more traffic, based on the keywords’ search demand and the pages’ ranking position. With optimization, those ranking category pages also showed the potential to drive 32% more traffic.

Even though category pages drove strong traffic, there’s a significant amount of room to improve ranking performance. On average, each captured an estimated 9% of the share of voice in its search results page. That means that the other ranking pages captured an estimated 91% of the clicks. Product detail pages, by contrast, captured just 2% of the share of voice.

E-commerce sector trends

The strong-category-page trend was most apparent across sectors that naturally target more generic head and torso keywords. For example, sites that sold cordless hammer drills, table lamps and cowboy boots drove stronger performance with category pages, including fashion, home goods and home improvement, as well as department store sites.

Interestingly, the results varied for one sector tested: electronics. One likely reason that product detail pages perform more strongly in this sector could be that electronics keyword themes tend to contain more concrete product attributes than those in other e-commerce sectors. For example, common TV searches include specifics like the size, display technology, resolution, brand and whether it’s “smart” or not. Product names for electronics also tend to contain some of those attributes to differentiate the many similar products available. Therefore, the relevance between a detailed search query and the details in the product name is higher than it would be for other sectors.

Regardless of sector, however, the direct-to-consumer space drove the strongest category-page results, with category pages ranking for 356% more keywords than product detail pages. These brand manufacturers selling their own products on their sites – like Apple, IKEA, The Gap and Nike – drove an estimated 202% more traffic with category pages, and had the potential to drive 233% more traffic.

Marketplaces and auctions

No e-commerce story is complete without a look at marketplaces and auctions. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a strong consensus among the sites in either group.

Behemoth Amazon bucks the trend with product detail pages ranking for an incredible 21,847% more keywords: 34 million keywords compared to the meager 155,000 keywords that its category pages ranked for. Amazon’s product detail pages also drove an estimated 57.5 times more traffic, and had the potential to drive 275.7 times more traffic. 

This makes a certain amount of sense based on Amazon’s strength in media and electronics sales. Both sectors are more focused on the types of keywords that product detail pages would naturally win – book and movie titles, and product attributes. In fact, one of Amazon’s best practices for product detail pages involves placing as many product attributes as possible into its 50- to 250-character product names. 

Conversely, the product names, and consequently the title tags that are typically based on them, tend to be very short and vague on most e-commerce sites. One luxury jewelry site, for example, has more than 10 products named simply “Ball Ring.”

Walmart’s smaller marketplace system acted more like Amazon with product detail pages that ranked more strongly. Though technically classified as a marketplace since its Target+ expansion to include third-party sellers last year, Target’s much smaller network acted more like a department store with stronger category pages. 

On the auction side, eBay acted more like a department store with slightly stronger category pages, while Etsy drove more rankings with its product detail pages.

Why it matters

This research suggests that category page optimization is a valuable area to prioritize to boost your organic search rankings and traffic.

Category pages form the backbone of an e-commerce site as the clickable representation of the site’s taxonomy. Every category page naturally targets a series of keyword themes that form a path through the funnel. The head keyword sits at the mouth of the funnel, while the related, more detailed themes step lower to form the torso and long tail that move toward the tip of the funnel. Traditionally, the product keywords sit at the very tip of the funnel, converting the customer to a sale.

For example, an e-commerce site that sells clothing could have the following click path through a series of five category pages: women’s clothing > dresses > maxi dresses > black maxi dresses > XL black maxi dresses. Each of those five pages targets a unique keyword theme with a place in the sales funnel. Optimizing category pages enables you to capture those searching customers as they explore their purchase options.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Jill Kocher Brown is a 14-year SEO consultant, author, speaker, and editor. She loves data-driven decisions, scalable SEO strategies, e-commerce and technical SEO. A veteran of five agencies and in-house twice, Jill can be found these days at digital marketing agency JumpFly, Inc., where she’s pioneering the SEO practice.



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