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Rand Fishkin on optimizing for and against Google

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NEW YORK – Google’s relationship with brands has shifted from referrer to competitor, SparkToro CEO and co-founder Rand Fishkin said at SMX East on Wednesday during his keynote about how the search engine’s business model has been evolving.

Now that the majority of Google searches are no-click, companies will have to find on-SERP opportunities to reach their audiences and strengthen their branding so that users will actively seek them out, said Fishkin.

The zero-click search trend

More than half (56.1%) of Google searches conducted from a mobile browser and 34.9% of Google desktop searches ended without a click to other content, according to Jumpshot data. “However, the trend is the same: organic, going down; while paid and zero-click searches are on the rise,” said Fishkin.

Source: SparkToro.

“In September, 7.5% of all searches resulted in a click to an Alphabet property,” said Fishkin. “Google is the biggest beneficiary of Google Search today. Nobody else comes close to that 7.5% number.”

From middleman to “competitor”

In addition to organic click volume eroding, Google’s direct answers and its foray into verticals resolves searches in numerous industries, such as weather, travel, local, and reviews, without the user ever having to click through to the sites that originally published that information.

“This is widespread, friends,” said Fishkin, citing results from Google Hotels, Flights, Jobs, the local pack and other types of rich results surfacing on the main results page. “We are talking about results that are taking business away from Skyscanner and Kayak in travel, from Eater and Yelp in local results, from U.S. News and FiveThirtyEight in the college rankings, from Wunderground and Weather.com, from MetaCritic and PC Gamer, and basically everybody but Alphabet when it comes to a lot of popular culture and media stuff.”

What brands can do about it

“We have to find ways to make our brand what searchers seek out,” said Fishkin. “I don’t want searches for ‘weather’; I want searches for my brand: I want searches for ‘Weather Underground’ and ‘Weather.com’ and ‘Weather Channel.’ I want to find ways to benefit from zero-click searches.”

Despite the bleak outlook for organic traffic in certain industries, there are still a number of ways that brands can influence what Fishkin refers to as “post-search behavior.”

Source: SparkToro.

Designing content with rich results in mind is one way companies can increase their visibility on the search results page — what Fishkin refers to as and “on-SERP SEO” — and the attribution from those results may help familiarize users with your brand. Buying ads will also help you do this, Fishkin said.

Offline brand campaigns, such as billboards, radio and TV ads can also influence search behavior. If users are actively seeking out your brand, claiming or suggesting changes to your knowledge panel can help you positively influence brand perception. To bolster your brand even further, Fishkin recommended reputation management SEO to help control branded search results.

The prisoner’s dilemma for brands

“The prisoner’s dilemma is ‘Do I optimize for zero-click searches, for providing these answers, for marking my results the way Google wants them — and potentially losing traffic as a result?’” said Fishkin, highlighting the predicament that many brands are now finding themselves in.

If your brand doesn’t benefit from ranking for a given query without traffic or doesn’t receive credit for it, you should instead optimize for keywords that do send traffic, Fishkin said. Source: SparkToro.

Fishkin’s mechanism for navigating this dilemma divides the issue into two categories: one for all types of content that can surface as a rich result (above), and another specifically for search results derived from structured data (below).

Brands should consider whether they will gain or lose value from adding structured data, and whether it’s more practical to cede the answer box to a competitor and pursue other keyword opportunities. Source: SparkToro.

“All of us have to try and build walls to protect against the competition that will absolutely come to sector after sector from Google as they search for growth … that is just the reality,” said Fishkin. “But, I think we have an opportunity to build our own brands and still succeed.”

Relying on search engines to reach your customers inherently makes brands susceptible to the way those search engines deliver results. However, by complementing your SEO efforts with a strategy that creates demand for your brand, you may be able to insulate yourself and stay ahead of the competition.


About The Author

George Nguyen is an Associate Editor at Third Door Media. His background is in content marketing, journalism, and storytelling.



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Google Search Console unparsable structured data report data issue

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Google has informed us that you may see a spike in errors in the unparsable structured data report within Google Search Console. This is a bug in the reporting system and you do not need to worry. The issue happened between January 13, 2020 and January 16, 2020.

The bug. Google wrote on the data anomalies page “Some users may see a spike in unparsable structured data errors. This was due to an internal misconfiguration that will be fixed soon, and can be ignored.” This was dated January 13, 2020 through January 16, 2020.

To be fixed. Google said they will fix the issue with the internal misconfiguration. It is, however, unclear if the data will be fixed or if you will see a spike in those errors between those date ranges.

Unparsable structured data report. The unparsable structured data report is accessible within Google Search Console by clicking here. The report aggregates structured data syntax errors. It puts all the parsing issues, including structured data syntax errors, that specifically prevented Google from identifying the feature type.

Why we care. The main thing here is that if you see a spike in errors in that report between January 13th and 16th, do not worry. It is a bug with the report and not an issue with your web site. Go back to the report in a few days and make sure that you do not see errors occurring after the 17th of January to be sure you have no technical issues.


About The Author

Barry Schwartz a Contributing Editor to Search Engine Land and a member of the programming team for SMX events. He owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on very advanced SEM topics. Barry’s personal blog is named Cartoon Barry and he can be followed on Twitter here.



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Google rolls out organic ‘Popular Products’ listings in mobile search results

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Several years ago now, Google made the significant move to turn product search listings into an entirely paid product. Shopping campaigns, as they’re now called, have accounted for an increasing share of retail search budgets ever since. More recently, however, Google has been augmenting organic search results with product listings. It’s in a product search battle with Amazon, after all. On Thursday, the company announced the official rollout of “Popular Products” for apparel, shoe and similar searches in mobile results.

Organic product listings. Google has been experimenting with ways to surface product listings in organic search results, including Popular Products, which has been spotted for several months now. The section is powered by those organic feeds. Google says it identifies popular products from merchants to show them in a single spot, allowing users to filter by style, department and size type. The listings link to the retailers’ websites.

Popular Products is now live in Google mobile search results.

Why we care. This is part of a broader effort by Google to enhance product search experiences as it faces increasing competition from Amazon and other marketplaces as well as social platforms. Earlier this week, Google announced it has acquired Pointy, a hardware solution for capturing product and inventory data from small local merchants that can then be used in search results (and ads).

In the past few years, Google has also prompted retailers to adopt product schema markup on their sites by adding support for it in Search and Image search results. Then last spring, Google opened up Merchant Center to all retailers, regardless if they were running Shopping campaigns. Any retailer can submit their feed in real-time to Google to make their products eligible in search results.

Ad revenue was certainly at the heart of the shift to paid product listings, but prior to the move, product search on Google was often a terrible user experience with search listings often not matching what was on the landing page, from availability to pricing to even the very product. The move to a paid solution imposed quality standards that forced merchants to clean up their product data and provide it to Google in a structured manner in the form of product feeds through Google Merchant Center.


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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Google buys Pointy to bring SMB store inventory online

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Google is acquiring Irish startup Pointy, the companies announced Tuesday. Pointy has solved a problem that vexed startups for more than a decade: how to bring small, independent retailer inventory online.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Pointy had raised less than $20 million so it probably wasn’t an expensive buy for Google. But it could have a significant impact for the future of product search.

Complements local inventory feeds. This acquisition will help Google offer more local inventory data in Google My Business (GMB) listings, knowledge panels and ads especially. It complements Google Shopping Campaigns’ local inventory ads, which are largely utilized by enterprise merchants and first launched in 2013.

Numerous companies over the last decade tried to solve the challenge of how to bring small business product inventory online. However, most failed because the majority of SMB retailers lack sophisticated inventory management systems that can generate product feeds and integrate with APIs.

Pointy POS hardware

Source: Pointy

How Pointy works. The company created a simple way to get local store inventory online and then showcase that inventory in organic search results or paid search ads. It utilizes a low-cost hardware device that attaches to a point-of-sale barcode scanner (see image above). It’s compatible with multiple other POS systems, including Square.

Once the device is installed, it captures every product sold by the merchant and then creates a digital record of products, which can be pushed out in paid or organic results. (The company also helps small retailers set up local inventory ads using the data.) Pointy also creates local inventory pages for each store and product, which are optimized and can rank for product searches.

Pointy doesn’t actually understand real-time inventory. Cleverly, however, it uses machine learning algorithms to estimate this by measuring product purchase frequency. The system assumes local retailers are going to stock frequently purchased items. That’s an oversimplification, but is essentially how it works.

Pointy said it a blog post that it “serve[s] local retailers in almost every city and every town in the U.S. and throughout Ireland.”

Why we care. The Pointy acquisition will likely help Google in at least three ways:

  • Provide more structured, local inventory data for consumers to find in Search.
  • Generate more advertising revenue over time from independent retailers.
  • Help Google more effectively compete with Amazon in product search.

Notwithstanding the fact that e-commerce outperformed traditional retail over the holidays, most people spend the bulk of their shopping budgets offline and prefer to shop locally. Indeed, Generation Z prefers to shop in stores, according to an A.T. Kearney survey.

One of the reasons that people shop at Amazon is because they can find products they’re looking for. They often don’t know where to find a particular product locally. But if more inventory data becomes available, the more people may opt to buy from local stores instead.


About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes about the connections between digital and offline commerce. He previously held leadership roles at LSA, The Kelsey Group and TechTV. Follow him Twitter or find him on LinkedIn.



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