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How verticalization and zero-click will impact local search in 2020

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In a recent post on the SparkToro blog, Moz founder and search guru Rand Fishkin predicted that 2020 will be the year Google is transformed “from everyone’s search engine to everyone’s competitor.” Fishkin cites Google’s monopoly on web search and the trend toward zero-click searches, then outlines a dizzying range of examples to prove his case, from dictionaries like Merriam-Webster to lyrics sites like Genius, from news sites like USNews and FiveThirtyEight to travel sites like Expedia and Kayak … and the list goes on. Restaurant recommendations, weather, celebrity net worth, video games: just about every vertical you can think of has been impacted by a few related threads in Google’s recent development:

  • Featured answers
  • Knowledge cards
  • Verticalized search experiences
  • Zero-click transactions (Reserve with Google)
  • Transactions further down the funnel (Google Shopping, Google Travel)
  • Carousels
  • Local packs

All of these trends are related both technologically and strategically. From a technological perspective, they speak to the building out of the Knowledge Graph and the ubiquity of machine learning in just about everything Google touches in search. From a strategic point of view, along the lines of Fishkin’s argument, Google is pushing every potentially minable source of information, including those that hope to generate commercial transactions, further into the margins, and occupying more and more of the center of the experience.

I want to share some thoughts about how all of this impacts local search, in ways that are very likely to expand in the coming year. My sense is that Google has looked very hard at the way consumers search within different types of verticals, from travel to shopping to restaurants to services and beyond, and has been tweaking the local search feature set subtly, in particular over the last year, but in some cases for much longer than that, to create ever more verticalized search experiences and own an ever-greater share of the funnel.

Google wants to do this in part because of the never-ending quest towards stickiness and protection against competition. In other words, Google wants to be the best local search engine in the world, and having more or less conquered the generic use cases, verticalization is an obvious next place to go. But of course, it’s about more than that. In a scenario where the search engine succeeds beyond its wildest dreams, niche sites and directories that still serve significant margins of the population will simply be removed from the equation, leaving only Google to connect consumers with businesses.

Here are a few examples of the trend.

Retail shopping

This is a case where many subtle changes over time have coalesced into what is now a vastly different product search experience than Google has presented in years past. Google is much more likely now to indicate local availability of products, even when the search has no obvious local intent:

Further down the page for the same search, Google is essentially using the local listing as a conduit for customized presentation of content that meets the searcher’s needs. Note that the primary category of Target has been switched to “toy store” to help satisfy the searcher’s intent, and all three listings show that Google has mined data from the business website to determine relevance, making it unnecessary for the business to explicitly broadcast via Google My Business the availability of individual products:

Particularly with product searches, Google has also focused heavily in recent months on drilling into photo content and modifying the display of listings in order to feature photos that match specific search queries. As Mike Blumenthal has demonstrated, this seems to work especially well when searching for jewelry. In my example below, Google pulls photos of earrings from among the available photos in each listing and displays them prominently in the local pack. In the third listing, Google can even tell earrings are present in a photo that also contains other items.

Hotels

Fishkin talks about this as well, but I still think it’s worth discussing hotels specifically in the context of local, because of how dramatically hotel search has changed in comparison with other local categories. This year, the local pack became the “hotel pack.”

Though it looks similar to the local pack, the hotel pack is in reality a portal to a completely different search experience. You may recall that in late 2018, Google introduced a new version of the Local Finder for hotels, with a greater number of filters and a nine-by-nine grid of hotel listings; that’s already gone and replaced by the hotels section of Google Travel, which has hugely expanded the profile information available for each hotel:

Tabs in the hotel profile now include Prices, Reviews, Location, About, and Photos, with data including a much-expanded list of amenities compared to what was previously available in Google My Business, as well as recommendations of things to do in the area near the hotel and photos from the business, Google users, and third-party sources.

Restaurants

Here’s a vertical with a long history of specialization. A very long history, if you remember back to the days of Hotpot and a range of other Google experiments designed to raise the profile of restaurants in search and capture traffic that might otherwise turn to Yelp or elsewhere for restaurant recommendations. That’s not surprising given the popularity of restaurant search, which must have made it seem like low-hanging fruit to Google from the beginning. In fact, in a recent survey we conducted at Brandify (written about in Search Engine Land by Greg Sterling), we found that 84% of consumers have looked up a restaurant online in the last 30 days, far more than any other category of business.

Today, search for restaurants doesn’t look dramatically different from generic search, but there are several subtle differences, including prominent photos of dishes. Restaurant local packs also include special filters for ratings, cuisine type, price, hours (planning ahead to see if they’re open for brunch on Sunday), and “your past visits,” where you can ask Google to reference your location history to only show you restaurants you’ve been to before — or those you’ve never visited.

In addition, editorial descriptions, such as the line “Relaxed spot for traditional meals” in the listing for Divine Thai, are far more common for restaurants than any other non-chain listing, due to the dedicated efforts of Google’s editorial team to build out that content and make restaurant search appear much more recommendation-oriented than other verticals.

Service-oriented businesses

Though Google has been steadily rolling out new features over the last couple of years for its Local Service Ads, such as the Google Guaranteed money-back program and the Google Screened license verification service, the initiative feels only half realized. Perhaps this is because so many verticals are still excluded from buying Local Service Ads — real estate agents, attorneys, and financial planners were added in 2019, augmenting a list that currently includes about 30 other business types such as locksmiths, plumbers, pet groomers, photographers, house cleaners, and pest control. Local Service Ads are also not available in all regions of the U.S., though coverage has been growing.

The user experience for Local Service Ads is somewhat anemic when compared with Google Shopping or Google Travel. When I search for “house cleaners anaheim ca” I see an ad carousel at the top of the screen, with a local pack right underneath competing for traffic. Compared to Google Hotels, I have much less of a clear incentive to choose the sponsored path:

Once I enter the Local Service Ads interface proper and select a business, I’m presented with a profile much simpler than that of the hotel example I shared above. If this is supposed to stand in for a business website, it’s not particularly impressive.

Still, the very existence of Local Service Ads speaks to Google’s interest in becoming the HomeAdvisor of the future, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a leap forward at some point where Google provides a more robust recommendation service, perhaps with a basic level that is free to businesses.

Today, service-oriented businesses are caught between having to pay for ads (if they qualify) or trying to rank alongside brick-and-mortar businesses in Google Maps and the local pack, which has traditionally been a huge challenge for them — no doubt one of the reasons service-oriented categories like locksmiths, garage door installers, and even attorneys have become notorious for listing spam.

Where is Google headed next?

Given the momentum Google is building around verticalized experiences, there’s every likelihood that the company will continue to add more verticals to its roster in the coming year and beyond. In fact, a recent Think with Google report may provide a hint to the company’s direction in this regard, given that it specifically calls out grocery, automotive and finance in a section called “Traditional industries are transforming with digital.” Google notes that in the past two years, mobile searches for “grocery app” have increased 900%, mobile searches for “electric car(s)” have grown by 85%, and mobile searches for financial planning and management have grown by 70%. These are the kinds of demand signals a data-driven company like Google surely looks to when determining where to build out new feature sets.

Speaking of mobile searches, verticalization is a curious case where desktop is actually out in front of mobile as a locus of innovation. Though, for instance, the mobile browser version of Google hotel search is more or less the same as desktop, all those extra tabs feel crowded in, and the search experience isn’t as strong. And Google Maps — where much of the growth in local search is currently happening — still hasn’t switched over to the new interface for hotels, constrained no doubt by the need to present a unified in-app experience. It will be especially interesting to see how Google balances the priority of verticalization against the growing popularity of Google Maps as the first choice among searchers.

This is part of a special feature from our community of experts on what successful marketers will do in 2020. Read more >>


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

Damian Rollison is VP of Product Strategy at Brandify, a leading local search solution provider specializing in multilocation brands. Damian has more than ten years of experience in SEO, reputation management, and listings management, having previously served as product lead at UBL and Moon Valley Software. Damian writes a regular column at Street Fight covering various topics in local.



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The anatomy of a negative SEO attack

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30-second summary:

  • SEO can just as easily destroy websites’ rankings as it can build them up.
  • Newer websites or startups with smaller backlink profiles are the most vulnerable to negative SEO attacks.
  • Webmasters need to regularly monitor their backlink profile to make sure their site is not keeping company with any questionable web properties.
  • Negative SEO can be remediated through manual outreach or Google’s disavow tool, but high-quality link building campaigns are the best way to minimize the impact of low-quality links.

In the early days of search engine optimization, a variety of black-hat techniques allowed SEOs to dominate the first page of search. Cloaking, keyword stuffing, backlink spam, and other strategies could catapult websites to the first page. But those days are long gone. Google’s algorithms are extremely powerful and can easily result in a negative SEO attack. Not only will black-hat strategies no longer work – they will destroy your site’s rankings and even prevent your domain from ranking permanently. 

So for those out there on the internet who are not interested in seeing your domain move up the first page, black hat SEO is an easy way to harm your website. Many new site owners are so eager to get any backlinks that they can, they allow low-quality links to populate their profile without ever thinking about where those links are coming from, or why those other site owners linked to them in the first place. 

Negative SEO attacks are real. I’ve helped many clients recover from them. They can come from competitors, hackers, or seemingly out of nowhere, but without a quick response, a website’s reputation with search engines can be permanently harmed. 

Although Google algorithm updates or technical issues with your website can impact your keyword rankings, an unexpected drop could be a sign of negative SEO. The good news is, the anatomy of a negative SEO attack is clearly recognizable. If you take quick action, you can protect your website and minimize the damage.

The websites that are most vulnerable to SEO 

The reality is, every time your site moves up a spot in the SERPs, you knock another site down. It’s not fun to imagine that other people would use negative SEO to harm your efforts, but if you offer great service or product that could take business or traffic away from someone else, then your site is at risk.

Any website can experience a negative SEO attack, but local businesses and startups with less than 300 referring domains are the most vulnerable. The smaller your backlink profile, the more impactful any low-quality or unnatural links will be. If 50% of your links are spammy and you’re a brand new site, Google crawlers are going to look at your backlink profile and assume your site is trying to cheat your way to the top. 

For new webmasters, in particular, it’s critical to pay close attention to every backlink you acquire. This is also true when you pay for the services of a link building company. Some site owners are hesitant to pursue link building because they have had negative experiences with SEOs in the past who engaged in these spammy techniques that ended up tearing their site down rather than building it up. 

As your backlink profile grows, spammy links will not have as much of an impact on your domain authority or rankings. Still, it’s good to keep an eye on the referring domains and anchor text diversity of your backlink profile.

How to identify a negative SEO attack

There are a variety of common negative SEO techniques that people may use to harm your website. After handling negative SEO attacks with my own clients, these are the most common types I’ve come across and that I encourage webmasters to be on the lookout for.

1. Toxic backlinks

Backlinks from low-quality sites that have low domain authority, little relevance to your industry, or very little site traffic should always be suspect. If you receive a large influx of these low-quality links, they may be coming from a link farm that has the infrastructure to build a massive amount of links quickly. If you’re a new site with a large percentage of toxic links, Google will likely assume you’ve been participating in black hat manipulation.

A negative SEO attack can be cause by toxic poor quality backlinks

2. Comment spam links

One way SEOs used to manipulate their site authority was by leaving backlinks in the comment section of blogs or forum sites. If you suddenly receive backlinks in the comment section of older blogs with no relevance or traffic, someone might have placed them there maliciously. If it’s an SEO agency that placed the link and you paid for it, fire them immediately. Google indexes those links in the comment section, and it will not look favorably upon your site if you have a lot of these unnatural backlinks.

Spam comments could cause a negative SEO attack

3. Exact match or unnatural anchor text

Natural anchor text will most often include your brand name, the services or products your business offers, or more generic wording like, “Click Here.” If all of your anchor text has the exact keyword you’re trying to rank for, that will come across as manipulation to Google. If the anchor text is irrelevant, it will confuse Google bots about the content of your site. It’s important to pay attention to the most common ways that other sites link to yours so if new links don’t share at least some similarity, you can investigate them accordingly.

4. Fake negative reviews

Although negative reviews don’t have as drastic of an impact on your site authority as your backlink profile, Google does crawl and render those sites when considering whether to rank web pages. Local and small businesses with bad reviews, in particular, will not rank, so in addition to reviewing your backlink profile on a regular basis, site owners should also be monitoring the important review sites in their industry. Most major review sites allow you to report reviews if you have reason to believe they are fake.

There are other types of negative SEO that I haven’t listed here such as content scraping, links hidden in images, and more, but the above are very easily identified using Google Search Console or any type of backlink analyzer. Familiarizing yourself with the many ways that others may try to link to your site in a harmful way will help you be able to identify those problematic links right after they show up in your backlink profile.

How to perform negative SEO remediation

Digging yourself out of a negative SEO attack is never fun, but it can be done. If you’re being a responsible webmaster and monitoring your backlink profile regularly, you should have a solid understanding of what a healthy backlink profile for your website looks like, and will therefore be able to recognize the moment that something appears off.

If you believe that the influx of links is indeed the result of nefarious intentions, you have a few options to repair the damage, and hopefully, before Google penalizes your site. Some of these options are more expensive than others, but if you’re not an experienced webmaster, it is probably best to get the guidance of an SEO expert. If you remove the wrong links, you can end up performing negative SEO on your own website by mistake.

1. Request removal

The first step with any link is to reach out to the webmaster to ask for the link to be removed. Admittedly, this is not always successful. However, before you move on to option two, you want to make sure you have exhausted every effort to have the link removed before requesting Google to get involved. If the link was the result of comment spam, the owner of the blog may be willing to moderate or delete the comment. There have been webmasters who have charged my clients a fee to have links removed. Depending on the price you’re willing to pay, you can choose to do so or move on to other options.

2. Disavow file

In 2012, Google added the disavow tool in Google Search Console to give webmasters more agency in their off-site SEO. The reality is, no one can fully control the websites that choose to link to theirs in a harmful way, so it’s not really fair for search engines to penalize your site as a result. Google recognized this and created the disavow tool, however, they still advise site owners to use it sparingly.

A disavow file is essentially a list of links that you want invalidated on your domain, or that you don’t want Google to consider when evaluating the quality of your website. There are detailed instructions on how to submit a disavow file in the Google Search Console help center. Take note though that these links aren’t actually removed, Google just no longer takes them into consideration the next time they are crawled and indexed. If you’re using an SEO software that measures the quality of your backlink profile, you will likely have to submit the disavow file there as well if you want their metrics to accurately reflect how Google understands your site.

3. Link building campaigns

High-quality, contextual link building is different from black-hat SEO in that it uses original content to earn links on relevant, industry-specific publications. The best SEO agencies will increase site authority the right way, through techniques that are Google compliant and don’t harm your rankings in the long-term. If you are not actively trying to earn high-quality links for your website, not only are you missing out on the opportunity to improve your overall keyword rankings, you place your site in a more vulnerable position. If you pursue consistent link acquisition and build up a healthy backlink profile before a negative SEO attack occurs, you are more well-positioned to avoid a Google penalty.

It is certainly frustrating and unfair when negative SEO occurs, but there is really nothing that a webmaster can do to prevent it. So in the case of negative SEO, preparation is the best medicine. Knowing what to look for will help you be more prepared to take immediate action and minimize the damage. 

Manick Bhan is the founder and CTO of LinkGraph, an award-winning digital marketing and SEO agency that provides SEO, paid media, and content marketing services. He is also the founder and CEO of SearchAtlas, a software suite of free SEO tools. You can find Manick on Twitter @madmanick.





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7 changes make a big difference with your Digital Marketing Strategy

We know that the face of marketing has changed from past few years as people are more informed while making purchases, thanks to the information available online. These people become potential customers, and so companies prefer digital marketing over all other forms of marketing.

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We know that the face of marketing has changed from past few years as people are more informed while making purchases, thanks to the information available online. These people become potential customers, and so companies prefer digital marketing over all other forms of marketing. Businesses need a robust digital marketing strategy since they are not harnessing the full power of this online trend. For companies to be successful in 2020, digital marketing needs to be more than just posting on Facebook. They will need to improve their existing digital marketing continually.

2020-State of Digital Marketing

Online and digital media has changed – it is no longer a world of random things and what is hot now may change later. However, there are a few simple facts that we need to consider your general digital marketing efforts:

Newcomers will enter, but there will not be new social networks every other day.

Digital marketing strategy should rely on current and upcoming new data.

Why you need a robust digital marketing strategy

It will help you focus and come up with a plan to determine how many followers you want and by how much you need to increase the conversion rate

A strategy will inspire you to get your digital marketing game healthy and be in competition.

A well-written plan will regularly check in on your current methods and see if they are working as per plan. You can optimise and adapt accordingly.

A digital marketing strategy will limit the duplication of content or resources.

It will help you experiment with new approaches to gain and keep customers.

By creating a strategy, you will be able to understand what your customers want and provide services accordingly.

Let us discuss in detail some changes that can make a big difference to your Digital Marketing strategy in 2020

1) Plan new SEO friendly content

One of the best ways of improving SEO is to create new content regularly. The content should be mapped to relevant keywords . Include an SEO friendly title that will directly impact the quality score and ranking. You need to ensure that the material consists of researched keywords in the first 100 words of an article to follow best practices and get credit for your business.

2) Revamp your social media presence

One way to engage your audience and refresh your social media presence is to leverage the trends and bring your brand’s personality to life. We can do it in the following ways

Evaluate your content and ask yourself these questions: How is it different? What engaging content can I create?

Moreover, start conversations with influencers, research for relevant topics and provide insight on articles concerning your brand.

With social media, you can keep on trying to get the best content mix, and with platformance analytics, you can understand the what is working and what is not.

3) AdWords and Content Shock

AdWords is one of the most effective methods of online advertising since the business of all sizes can use it to increase leads and customers. With AdWords, you can spend less and still understand how your audience is searching. AdWords is similar to SEO which takes time to evolve your keyword research and strategy to yield results. Google will reward you with an increase in leads to your site if you stick to it. When the creation and distribution of content are costly than the ROI it generates, it is known as Content Shock. It becomes a great asset for small players since they don’t reach the big numbers from the start. Hence, it becomes the tremendous start for small players as they do not need to scale up their digital marketing strategy.

4) Use Analytics to inform A/B testing

Analytics drives digital strategy, and one of the most important things to do with analytics is to engage in A/B testing. You can use the incoming data to apply A/B testing strategy. Finally, A/B testing is the best way to understand your customers. Resources like Google Analytics, Social Media and AdWords, are the best way to improve your digital efforts.

5) Understand the changing environment

Your biggest enemy when it comes to digital marketing is complacency. Due to changing consumer views, marketers need to identify obsolete strategies and adjust accordingly. The brand now focuses on providing content when the user needs it instead of creating content hoping users will need it. This approach requires a strategy. For a full proof strategy in 2020, marketers need to focus on three main elements: Artificial Intelligence, Social Media and Customer. If you look closely at these elements, they influence all the trends like augmented reality, influencer analytics, video marketing, personalisation, native advertising and content marketing.

6) Encourage personalised interactions

Based on a report, 73% of customers will do business with your company if you provide a customised experience. Personalising your communication helps to engage with your customers. Sending personalised emails, modifying templates, using recipient’s name, personally responding on social media and segmenting the email list based on persona are a few ways that can work very well.

7) Build your network

Try to gain information and experience of others in your field. By building your network, you can predict and work as per changing times. The network will help you prepare for challenges in future.

Your 2020 Digital Marketing strategy needs to be like the playbook which is tailored to the team and team’s competition. A simple principle in the digital world is if you don’t establish a baseline of where your company stands concerning the competitors, you will have no idea of the areas you would need to focus on beating them. Your company will really benefit if you make little changes in your digital marketing strategy by keeping track of upcoming trends and changes in the environment. If this seems like a lot, give VajraGlobal a call.

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Why SEO is important for your online success?

A famous saying about SEO is, ‘Google only loves you when everyone else loves you first’. There are some SEO importance statistics which resonates the same.

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A famous saying about SEO is, ‘Google only loves you when everyone else loves you first’. There are some SEO importance statistics which resonates the same. According to a popular report, about 93% of online experiences commence with the search engine. But even then, for a lot of people, SEO is an afterthought, which should not be the case. Instead, SEO is the base, unlike a mere topping on the pizza. Whether you are looking at the importance of SEO for small businesses or a bigger business, the rule of the thumb is to have an SEO strategy right at the beginning. The reason is SEO is all about improving user experience. While you design your SEO strategy, do not forget that search engines measure the overall user experience and decide whether a particular site can go up the search results.

What is SEO?

Before you understand the importance of SEO for small businesses and all the hype that is created around SEO, you would like to understand more about SEO, right. Let us see if we can develop a fair idea about SEO and the important SEO factors.

Search Engine Optimization or SEO is the method of optimizing your content so that a search engine likely shows it up as a top rank after users search for a specific keyword. As per Neil Patel, SEO is that magic that you must perform on your content so that Google includes it as one of the top results when someone performs a keyword search. The SEO importance statistics are enough to highlight the essence of SEO to survive in an online venture.

Why SEO is Important for Online Success?

Now that we have a fair idea about SEO let us understand why SEO is important for online success? In simple words, amateurs might say that it offers greater searchability and visibility, but the truth is it provides a lot more value than that.

SEO helps to get targeted visitors: Among important SEO factors, bringing in targeted prospects plays a critical role. With SEO, you can attract the exact audience you are looking at. Along with apt keywords, quality content, and good backlinks, SEO helps bring in the target audience to your website. The chances of conversion are higher.

Good SEO also ensures a better user experience: Most often, it is seen that businesses want more visibility and higher rankings, but they forget about optimal user experience. Google, which holds a 75% market share in the search engine market, can differentiate between a good and bad user experience. When you invest in quality SEO, you are investing in good user experience. 

SEO impacts the buying cycle: The importance of SEO for small businesses is that it affects the buying cycle. With good SEO, you can convey your messages about the great deals that you are offering to your customers or the uniqueness of the products or services that you are selling to your customers. If done right, it can have a positive impact on the entire buying cycle, thereby contributing to the online success of a business.

SEO is cost-effective: Running a business in itself is a costly affair. To add salt to the wound, marketing costs add to the daily expenses. However, if you are thinking to stretch your marketing costs a bit, then SEO is the economic way to go about it. SEO is a long-term strategy wherein you will get the results after investing the time and effort. 

SEO builds brand awareness: If you are looking at brand building, then SEO has a crucial role to play. One SEO importance statistics : 33% of the average visitors share the first organic search result that Google brings. Few go to the second and from then the numbers dwindle. Ranking high on the search engine helps you build a brand amongst your customers as well as competitors.

Are you still wondering if SEO is essential for online success? If you are, then the answer is, yes it is, Period! People need to find you first to buy your product or services, right?

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