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Optimization scores, recommendations and their impact on Google Partner agencies

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Are agencies going to be expected to “manage to the recommendations”? That’s among the concerns I heard from many marketers after Google announced the performance portion of the Google Partner program requirements will be evaluated based on manager account optimization scores starting in June, with added focus on Google’s automated recommendations.

This change, in particular — and reaction to it — strikes at the tension between the benefits and limitations of automation and marketers’ relationship with the platforms designing the automation. There are the positives of big data insights, time-saving efficiencies. And yet, the systems don’t have the full view of an individual business, they are still training (on advertisers’ dime) and there are the inherent conflicts of interest concerns when the algorithms are designed by the very platforms that advertisers are paying to serve their campaigns.

Optimization score. Google shows an optimization score at the manager account, individual account and campaign levels. It’s defined as “an estimate of how well your account is set to perform.” Google already evaluated agency performance, but it was never explicit about what criteria was being evaluated. The idea for using optimization score as an external gauge is to offer more transparency about what is being evaluated and how to improve.

Agencies must have an optimization score of at least 70% for Partner status Google clarified since first announcing the change in mid-February. It also added a note stating that its internal data shows “advertisers who increased their account-level optimization score by 10 points saw a 10% increase in conversions, on average.”

If agencies fall below the 70% threshold (or fail to meet the other requirements), they’ll be notified and given suggestions for meeting the requirements and have 60 days to get back in good standing before losing their badge. Agencies can regain their badge when they meet the requirements again.

Source: Google help page on Partners badge requirements.

“Over the years, we’ve all seen various automated scorecards used by aggressive SEO or PPC agencies when they audit a company’s marketing efforts. Typically these things are meant to find fault and to achieve a specific goal [that’s] not 100% aligned with the client’s objectives,” said Andrew Goodman, founder and president of digital marketing agency Page Zero Media, which has Google Premier Partner status. “Google’s scorecards are a highly sophisticated version of the same phenomenon. Recommendations as aids to busy / stretched account managers are certainly a good idea.” His concern comes in using them to judge account or agency performance. That “is jumping the gun, IMO,” said Goodman.

Bad recommendations. Google offers dozens of auto-generated recommendations in Google Ads accounts that range from keyword additions and removals to budget changes to bid strategy switches to feature adoptions. They have improved as Google’s machine learning has matured, but they’re by no means perfect. Since the announcement, I’ve spoken with numerous Google Partner agency representatives — at SMX West last week and since — about the changes, and routinely heard complaints about bad recommendations. Poor keyword suggestions; pushes to adopt dynamic search ads; and smart bidding strategies that don’t align with the business goals.

“Working alongside the Google team can bring many, many benefits. From access to beta programs to knowing about updates and changed to the ad platform is a huge benefit to CMI and our clients,” said Justin Fried, EVP growth and innovation at CMI/Compas. “With that being said, it is important to remember that they are publicly traded company and while the titles of [the] team you work with may not say ‘sales,’ the team does have specific goals to get their clients to increase spend and adopt new features. Knowing this, we have to assume some of the optimization recommendations coming from the Google team are self-serving. So when we receive recommendations, we ensure anything we implement is in the best interest of our client.”

For some, the optimization score criteria was the final straw. “The recommendations, for the most part, are not helpful to good agencies, or anyone that should be fully trained and at ‘Partner’ status,” said Greg Finn CMO and partner at digital marketing agency Cypress North.

Finn has been outspoken about his frustrations over the change and what it says about the value of the Partner badge. The agency has dropped its badge and replaced it with an alternative “ClientPartners” badge it created for agencies to show “that you won’t put Ad Platform profit over client performance.” Finn also questions why Google is dropping the requirement for agencies to have proven experience in Google Ads of at least 12 months. “You can now set up an account… take that test…apply all recommendations and you are a partner.”

Are agencies expected to manage to the recommendations? Will they be forced to either accept recommendations that will have a negligible or negative impact on performance)? That’s the big concern. Google says it understands not all recommendations will be appropriate and that the leeway in the 70% underscores this.

“Optimization score is one of the best signals for partners to determine if their campaigns are reaching the right customers for their clients effectively,” a Google spokesperson told Search Engine Land. “Agencies will continue to have the control and autonomy to make the right choices from the recommendations page for their clients, while benefiting from the efficiencies the optimization score brings.”

The spokesperson added, “We are committed to helping our partners who currently do not meet the necessary new requirements, including how to best use the recommendations page and maintain a 70% optimization score, with a suite of training and tools.”

Analysis in the age of automation. Automation requires a healthy level of skepticism, an understanding of how the various optimizations are designed to work and savvy analytical skills to determine whether the automation is working as intended. But in the end, everything goes back to business fundamentals.

Goodman points out, for example, that the 10% lift in conversions cited by Google from accepting recommendations might not benefit the bottom line. “No cost figure is cited, so this 10% increase in conversions could have come with a 10% or even 25% increase in cost. Who knows?” said Goodman. “The second flaw is simply that it could skew towards highly under-managed, clumsily-optimized accounts.”

“The score is divorced from business growth and profitability metrics; we’ve retained and delighted clients precisely because we leave no stone unturned to help their businesses grow profitably, rather than optimizing to perverse or unrelated metrics.”

Will it change how agencies manage campaigns? What was clear in my discussions is that agencies are not expected to manage their campaigns solely via the Recommendations tab nor that they should accept recommendations that don’t make sense for the business. Dismiss or simply ignore those that you determine aren’t good for the account.

Some Partner agencies had already made reviewing recommendations part of their account management routines.

“In an account with hundreds of campaigns, the Recommendations page gives me a place to start my optimizations. I like how easy it is to apply simple suggestions and to dismiss other recommendations that may not be relevant to my account,” said Carrie Albright, director of services at Hanapin Marketing.

WPromote has done the same, seeing the recommendations as a kind of system check when making big changes to accounts. “We wanted an additional set of eyes on our account performance to roll out any changes at scale,” said Angelo Lillo, general manager of paid search, at Wpromote.

Whether reviewing recommendations is part of their workflow or not, the marketers I spoke with said the new requirements won’t affect how they approach client work. “We will not change how we operate,” said Fried. “Our clients are our main priority and we will only implement optimizations that support their overall goals and move their business in a positive direction.”

Most acknowledged they’ll pay closer attention to the recommendations and their optimization scores after this change, but the approach to clients won’t and shouldn’t be affected.

“It is OK to put extra rigor behind our analysis of the recommendations,” said Fried. “We will continue to review the recommendations and only implement things that are in the best interest of our client.”


About The Author

Ginny Marvin is Third Door Media’s Editor-in-Chief, running the day to day editorial operations across all publications and overseeing paid media coverage. Ginny Marvin writes about paid digital advertising and analytics news and trends for Search Engine Land, Marketing Land and MarTech Today. With more than 15 years of marketing experience, Ginny has held both in-house and agency management positions. She can be found on Twitter as @ginnymarvin.



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Navigating a cookieless future – Search Engine Watch

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30-second summary:

  • On September 16, Apple launched iOS 14, which is a major overhaul of the Apple operating system and would require users to authorize information known as (IDFA).
  • This was followed by announcements from Google that they will be following a similar path for Google Chrome, effectively turning off tracking on Safari, which commands 90 percent usage on iPhones, and Chrome, which commands five percent.
  • These moves towards user privacy and marketing compliance are effectively a pivot away from the traditional advertising and search marketing industry, which will impact later players like Facebook to national media agencies like GroupM.
  • More details on how marketers can navigate in a cookieless world.

One of the most impactful changes to internet advertising and media has stayed mostly unspoken in agency and SEO chatter. However, like the switch from a desktop landscape to a mobile landscape, there is no reprieve from the coming cookieless world.

On September 16, Apple launched iOS 14, which is a major overhaul of the Apple operating system and would require users to authorize information known as (IDFA). IDFA is used to track user behavior for advertising.

This was followed by announcements from Google that they will be following a similar path for Google Chrome, effectively turning off tracking on Safari, which commands 90 percent usage on iPhones, and Chrome, which commands five percent.

These moves towards user privacy and marketing compliance are effectively a pivot away from the traditional advertising and search marketing industry, which will impact later players like Facebook to national media agencies like GroupM.

Content created in partnership with SherloQ™, Inc.

National TV advertisers and PPC advertisers are not waiting around

Once again led by the advertising and search category of injury law, due to the highly competitive and expensive nature, we are seeing a couple of key movers.

Smith & Hassler, a nationally recognized personal injury law firm that famously uses Judge Alex Ferrer and William Shatner as TV spokespeople, and Mike Slocumb Law, a firm that is known for its use of celebrity spokespeople and a sometimes outrageous style. They are both first use cases of using Natural Language Understanding (NLU) for content and first-party data extraction, and automatic AI, which assists in marketing automation to Google without the use of cookies.

In both cases, the companies are working with and have implemented  SherloQ™, powered by IBM Watson, to implement cookieless changes and compliance to market their websites.

A recent story from AdWeek quoted Andrew Casale about a cookieless future for publishers, who said it best,

“Publishers haven’t seen a recovery in their CPMs, and similar to Root, believes the focus of online media trading will be publishers’ first-party data as such a method of audience targeting will mean less personal information is traded between (comparatively) anonymous ad-tech players.”

The rapid move towards using first-party data and AI automation will not be limited to a single industry. Privacy is a big selling feature and while Apple has allowed an extension to IDFA, mostly due to the time needed for developers to employ these new frameworks, Apple and Google are not going to wait for the advertising industry’s input.

If your agency or enterprise wants to learn more about how SherloQ™, powered by IBM Watson, can help navigate a cookieless world, please download our white paper to learn more about our framework.



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Synergized search is key to success in the new normal

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30-second summary:

  • Given that consumers run billions of searches every day — with Google estimated to process 40,000 per second it’s clear marketers need a smart strategy to cut through the competition.
  • The question is: Will they drive the highest traffic and performance with SEO or PPC?
  • Head of Paid Media at Tug shares insight on how perfectly balancing these two facets can lead to success in the new normal.

Consumer activity online is at an all-time high. So, it’s no surprise many marketers are aiming to make the most of it by hooking their attention early, at the point of search. But deciding how best to do so isn’t necessarily easy.

Given that consumers run billions of searches every day — with Google estimated to process 40,000 per second — it’s clear marketers need a smart strategy to cut through the competition. The question is: will they drive the highest traffic and performance with search engine optimization (SEO) or pay per click (PPC)?

Both have their own advantages and drawbacks. PPC is a quick win, enabling businesses to rapidly reach consumers and boost visibility. But its lead generation power only lasts while the money flows and, depending on campaign scale and scope, those costs can run high. Meanwhile, SEO delivers more lasting rewards and higher click-through rates (CTRs), often for less investment. Yet marketers might have a long wait before organic searches pay off, and may still fall behind dominant digital marketplaces for certain keywords.

Ultimately, the smartest route lies neither one way nor the other, but in a combination of both. Blending PPC and SEO not only generates stronger results but also balances out their respective shortcomings, offering marketers the best chance of success in the new ever-changing normal.

Utilizing a combination of paid and organic search tactics isn’t new – but it’s never been clear how marketers can best do this, or a way to visualize the data for optimization. Leveraging PPC and SEO in conjunction with one another can be challenging, but creating the perfect synergy is possible if marketers focus on the following three factors:

Unify search operations

With consumers spending a quarter of their waking day online, marketers have plenty of chances to spark their interest through search. To outmanoeuvre rivals and capture eyeballs first, brands must make fast yet informed decisions about which approach will produce the ideal outcome.

Achieving this requires holistic insight which, in turn, calls for greater unity. Due to the general view of PPC and SEO as separate entities, teams often operate in silos, but this isolates valuable knowledge around consumer behaviour and the tactics that generate the biggest rewards. Simple as it sounds, removing divisions and encouraging teams to share their insight can significantly improve campaign execution and drive more efficient CPAs.

For example, information from the PPC teams on the best performing keywords and ad copy will help SEO teams to optimize meta descriptions and website content.

Sharing information on what keywords campaigns are covering will also prevent the doubling up of efforts – for example, as organic keyword positions improve, there might be an opportunity to pull back PPC activity and reallocate budget to other keywords to increase the overall coverage. Similarly, updates from the SEO team on keywords that are particularly competitive to rank in top positions are an opportunity for PPC to drive incremental conversions. And, on a more fundamental level, by sharing any new or emerging search terms with each other, both SEO and PPC teams can ensure they are up-to-date and reacting as quickly as possible to opportunities.

Select tech that drives collaboration

The next step is integrated technology. Implementing tools that collate and merge data from multiple sources — including PPC and SEO campaigns — will make collaboration easier. That’s not to mention generating a complete overview of collective search operations, performance, and opportunities for businesses.

A holistic and unified dashboard, for example, can provide visibility of combined search performance against KPIs and competitor activity. This enables PPC and SEO teams to identify where there are opportunities and how strategies can be adjusted to leverage them, without duplicating each other’s efforts. Marketers can understand where organic rankings are high, and competitor activity low, and vice versa, which means they know when to reduce PPC activity, as well as opportunities where it can drive incremental conversions over and above what SEO can deliver.

All of this, however, depends on accuracy and usability. Information needs to be reliable and actionable, which means simply joining up the data dots isn’t enough: in addition to robust cleansing, processing and storage, tools must offer accessible visualization.

Although frequently overlooked, clearly-presented data plays a huge part in enhancing everyday activity. Providing a streamlined picture of keywords and performance data is vital, but to ensure teams can pinpoint prime SERPs, accelerate traffic, and increase conversions, businesses also need tools that allow their teams to quickly find and activate key insights.

Don’t forget human checks

Dialing up tech use, however, does come with a word of warning – no matter how smart platforms may be, they can’t entirely replace human experience and expertise. On their own, sophisticated tools bring a range of benefits that go far beyond translating data into a more cohesive and user-friendly format. The most advanced boast immediate alerts that tell PPC teams where their competitors are bidding — or not — and use artificially intelligent (AI) analysis to deliver a cross-market, sector, and classification perspective on SEO activity.

Human knowledge is still paramount to steering search campaigns in the right direction and picking up on the nuances that machines miss. For instance, problem-solving machines might take the quickest path to objective completion for certain pages or messages, but seasoned search professionals may see the potential for longer-term uses that deliver higher incremental value.

As a result, organizations must avoid the perils of over-reliance on their marketing tools. By persistently applying manual reviews and checking automated conclusions against human knowledge, they can tap the best of tech and people power.

Today’s marketing leaders are grappling with multiple uncertainties, but when it comes to search, the way forward is clear. PPC and SEO are complementary forces; producing deeper insights and higher returns together, as well as minimizing risk. By connecting the two and taking a considered approach to data-driven search strategy, businesses can ensure campaigns are strong enough to succeed in the new normal and take on whatever tomorrow brings.

Asher Gordon is Head of Paid Media at Tug. He leads a multi-disciplined media team who plan, buy, and deliver integrated media plans for a diverse set of clients. With over 10 years experience working across multiple markets and brands at PHD and Wavemaker, Asher works with clients to better their marketing goals and drive their business forward.



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Guide to using interactive 404s to boost your SEO

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30-second summary:

  • Reducing bad user experience of 404 errors by branding and customizing them.
  • Including links to 404s allow users to navigate the website even when they come across a potential dead end.
  • Boost SEO by placing your sitemap, homepage tab, and search bar.
  • Usage of conversational language along with attractive visuals reduces user’s contempt and frustration.
  • Mention of blog on your customized 404 error page promotes your intellectual prowess for possible users who might be interested in your content.
  • Amanda Jerelyn shares some amazing methods to improve the SEO of your site even through 404 pages.
  • Lastly, some tips to help you avoid 404 errors wherever possible.

Bad user experience can lead to your website’s demise and can also adversely affect your website rankings. This is why 404 errors are considered deplorable when taking into their perspective regarding both user experience and the search engine rankings of your website.

However, there are ways through which you can use 404s to boost your SEO, as in some situations, it is not a broken link but an error by the user that can cause them.

A 404 can be generated when a user types in a faulty address, and this may result in an error being generated on their browser that may look bad, but you can definitely address the situation.

According to a recent study conducted by Gomez, a commercial platform that runs tests for web performance, 88% of online consumers are less likely to return to a website after a bad experience.

In the light of this information, let us take a quick look at some of the ways you can use 404s to negate such inferences and strengthen your SEO.

1. Add links to them

Creating interactive 404s - Add links

Screenshot Credits

Perhaps one of the best ways to make use of 404s is to design them so that it can link random internal pages from your website. This will allow you to get more website pages indexed through your 404 error pages. This can be achieved by running an algorithm that can help you to link out to a random number of internal pages.

Hence whenever a 404 page is generated, the links also change each time. According to Neil Patel’s own practice, he was able to boost TechCrunch search engine traffic by 9% in just a matter of 30 days. As far as search engines go, Google itself encourages developers to create custom 404 pages.

Since it is a standard HTML page, developers can customize it the way they want to, hence adding links to 404 pages shouldn’t be a big hassle.

2. Brand and customize them

Creating interactive 404s - Brand and customize

Screenshot Credits

The inconvenience user experiences when they run into a 404 can be quite infuriating; however, this is also a moment where you can use creativity to capture their attention. By branding and customizing your 404 pages, one can actually boost their website revenues and increase their conversions.

However, this might involve additional effort where a 404 page has to be properly designed and optimized in order to turn lost visitors into loyal customers. A standard 404 page doesn’t look good at all. In fact, it seems like coming for an era that was far less progressive. We understand that visuals play a huge role in attracting customers.

Several social media and marketing statistics proclaim the power of visuals, such as the fact that 96% of online shoppers watch a video about a product or a service before making a decision and that 88% of marketers prefer visuals in their published content.

So why refrain from using visuals and not branding your 404s? The answer is that you should definitely not only brand them but also customize them to make them even more appealing for your users.

3. Put in a search bar

Creating interactive 404s - Add a search bar

Screenshot Credits

Another great tactic to follow with your 404 pages is to add in a search bar. This is further reflected by the study published by the Search Engine Journal, where 81% of users think less of a brand if it’s outdated, and that 40% of users consider search box as the most important feature.

Therefore this should be plenty of reasons for you to make this change happen. A search bar added to your 404 is like sweet candy to a small kid who just dropped their ice-cream.

Surely it is not what they were expecting, but with the power of search in their hands, they can begin their adventure anew. Plus, a nice consolidating message to go along with it would also work wonders.

It is all about compensating for the error they just ran into. Hence you are covering damages and making it easier for your users to recover from them.

4. Include mentions of popular landing pages

Creating interactive 404s - Add popular landing pages to encourage engagement

Screenshot Credits

Remember that your main goal is to create attention for your online users and direct them to your most profitable and viable landing pages. Hence even when your customers accidentally land themselves on a 404 error page, you can continue your efforts to divert their attention from the error and towards your most popular products and services. It is like a never-back down approach.

Sure, you would be offering them some comforting words to soften the impact created by the error. However, marketing is all about never quitting. Hence your 404 actually becomes like a landing page. It is true no one would actually land on a 404 with intention.

However, when they do, you will be prepared for them to divert the traffic to the most popular pages on your website. This can downright act out as a recommendation for your users. According to a recent report by McKinsey and Company, 35% of Amazon’s and 75% of Netflix’s revenues are generated by their recommendation engines, respectively.

5. Place your sitemap

Creating interactive 404s - Place your site map

Screenshot Credits

If you are from the SEO side of things and adept in the knowledge that encircles the mastery of search engine rankings, then you know for sure that sitemaps can be extremely good for your websites. Since they are listed in search control, there is no doubt that Google does pay attention to them. Hence it would be great for your 404s to include a sitemap on them.

This will allow users to easily navigate through your website without leaving your website or going back to the SERPs (search engine result pages) to start their journey all over again. Hence you would be effectively reducing pogo-sticking. This will thus enhance your users’ dwell-time.

6. Use conversational language

Creating interactive 404s - Use conversational language

Screenshot Credits

It must be pretty obvious by now that a remedy for a 404 lies in offering users a human touch that softens their impact, and this can be further augmented with the use of conversational language.

You want your customers and website visitors to feel less infuriated, and in order to do that, you need to spread out some comfort for them so that they do not feel agitated.

This can be reflected by a recent study by Business 2 Community, where they emphasize the use of conversational marketing. According to the study, 79% of consumers are willing to use messaging apps for customer service, 82% consider immediate response as extremely important, and 36% of companies are actively using live chat for marketing and sales.

Hence the idea over here is to make your users feel as if you are directly speaking to them, and this can help break the ice and reduce the tension created.

7. Get to homepage tab

Creating interactive 404s - Homepage tab

Screenshot Credits

Probably one of the easiest get around for your 404 pages is to link back to the homepage. What you are doing is here is giving your customers the easiest route to start their search all over again without letting them go and trying to keep them on your domain.

8.   Mention your blog

Mention your blog

Screenshot Credits

Blogs are considered a good choice for your audiences as well. While they may not be good for directly influencing their behavior, they can certainly create awareness that your domain does publish interesting content that users might find interesting to read.

It’s just a small nudge in the right direction. Obviously, customers who are looking to buy products or hire services would like to be directed to their requested pages, but mentioning your blog on a 404 is like saying, “hey there, we have more in store for you!”

Many students nowadays also go through blogs while they buy research papers online to increase their pool of knowledge relating to their field of study.

9.   Avoiding the 404 Error

Lastly, I would like to share some guidelines with you to help you avoid 404s where you can possibly manage to reduce them. This will only make your user experience skyrocket and help negate dissonance from users. Here are some quick tips:

  • Log into your Google Search Console account.
  • Check the Coverage report to see how many URLs are returning error codes.
  • Use the URL Inspection Tool to find more details about each error.
  • A 301 redirect is considered a good option for rectifying a 404 status.

Why are we doing this after all of the discussion above? This is because having too many 404s can prove to be detrimental to your user’s experience. Hence if you are notified about their existence, you should resolve them.

Conclusion

The 404 error codes undoubtedly leave a negative impact on your users and visitors. However, there are various ways you can make them add value for your customers.

I hope this post was able to offer you some meaningful ways through which you can use 404s in an interactive manner to boost your website’s SEO. For more questions regarding the topic, please feel free to post your queries in the comment section below.

Amanda Jerelyn currently works as a Marketing Manager at Dissertation Assistance, a perfect place for students to buy academic writing services from expert dissertation writers UK.  During her free time, she likes to practice mindful yoga to keep herself fit and healthy.



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