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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 brings ‘Interpreter Mode’ language translation to the Assistant on smartphones

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Google introduced its real-time translation feature, “Interpreter Mode,” for Google Home and smart displays earlier this year. It tested the feature in several hotels in Las Vegas, New York and San Francisco at concierge and registration desks.

Now the company is more broadly rolling out Interpreter Mode to Android devices and iPhones. Where there were 26 languages available on Google Home, there are now 44 on the smartphone Assistant.

Google Translate also works. While the capability is impressive, people have been using Google Translate in real-world travel or foreign-language contexts like this for some time. This is just a more elegant and enhanced presentation of Google’s underlying machine translation capabilities.

‘Help me speak [language].’ In order to invoke Interpreter Mode, users say something along the lines of “Hey Google, help me translate [foreign language].” It will then enable real-time translation. Google also says the Assistant “may present Smart Replies, giving you suggestions that let you quickly respond without speaking.”

Interpreter Mode works automatically on Android, but iPhone users will need to install or update the Google Assistant app. Without updating the app, I tried to invoke it on the iPhone, and it prompted me to use the Google Translate app instead. Indeed, real-time translation can be accomplished with Google Translate, though somewhat more awkwardly.

Why we care. As Google continues to add capabilities and features to the Assistant, it reinforces usage and loyalty. The Assistant is Google’s cross-platform UI that spans multiple channels and hardware devices.

Yet we still don’t know how frequently consumers are using the Assistant on smartphones or whether there’s any substitution of the Assistant for more traditional Google Search on mobile devices. I suspect the Assistant as a search alternative is still a small minority use case. Earlier this year Google tested ads in Assistant smartphone search results.


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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Amazon ad spend rises over Cyber 5, but most efficient sales days still ahead

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On Cyber Monday alone, consumers spent $9.4B via online channels – that’s up $1.5B from just last year, according to Adobe, and another record-breaking figure in terms of e-commerce sales. For marketers, the entire five-day stretch known as Cyber 5, but dubbed “Turkey 5” by Amazon, was likely a banner sales weekend, but looking at year-over-year Amazon data, what’s clear is that your holiday fortunes are not made or broken on that period alone.

As part of the research my company conducted, it is clear that on a conversion rate and cost-per-conversion basis, some of the best sales days on Amazon come after Cyber Monday. To maximize your total sales, and potentially capture market share from competitors, your advertising budgets and strategy on the site needs to align with this reality.

As seen in the below graphs, which are drawn across a same-set of more than 700 Amazon sellers, ad conversion rates continue to rise from Cyber Monday all the way through the Dec. 22 shipping cutoff. Yet, the average cost-per-conversion declines over the same period.

Click to enlarge

This is likely due to two contributing factors.

Perhaps most impactfully, many brands budget to spend aggressively during that five-day period and, due to the extremely high volume of consumers on the site, blow through a fixed budget for the season. While those holiday period campaigns may have driven high sales volumes at profitable costs, those same brands now don’t have the ability to stay aggressive over the intervening days, substantially tapering down spend and bids through the remainder of the year and missing out on these additional profitable sales.

Secondly, when consumers are shopping on Amazon a matter of weeks or days before Christmas, they are less inclined to do a great deal of research when buying their gifts. Time is of the essence, and the data bears out that users are more likely to click and convert on a sponsored product ad during this period.

In 2019, that latter point may be even more important, as the time between Cyber Monday and Christmas nearly a full week shorter, lending itself to more “last minute” holiday gift buying.

The bottom line is that on Amazon, it’s imperative that you consider uncapping budgets around holiday periods and other high-traffic events on Amazon in particular, provided you have the ability to set and adjust bids to align with the value of a given sale after discounts, fees, etc.

This is driven home by the overarching trend over the five-day period itself. Even in the face of a large number of sellers aggressively advertising during this time, the massive amount of consumers coming to Amazon and subsequently clicking on ads outpaced that rate. Across gift-giving categories and more than 219,000 products, Amazon ad spend was up significantly, but CPCs either remained flat, declined, or rose at a level far below the corresponding spend increase – compared to the prior four-week average.

Click to enlarge

In a sense, it was easy for a brand to spend substantially more on Amazon advertising over “Turkey 5” – we saw a 92% increase from pre-holiday levels on average – but they were likely driving sales at a more profitable rate from that ad spend. With conversion rates remaining high following Cyber Monday, that efficiency is likely to increase, albeit with less traffic overall.

Maximizing the holiday home stretch and beyond

With some time still remaining until the Dec. 22 shipping cutoff, there are some tactical levers brands can pull to capture more of those profitable sales. We talked about the value in uncapping budgets through Dec. 22, but that needs to be paired with bids that are set in line with any promotional or non-promotional pricing which may be in place for a given product.

By consistently bidding to value on an individual product level, brands can bring in more profitable sales on Amazon during these high traffic periods. Additionally, this is a good practice year-round, as it minimizes the risk of wasting ad spend while allowing for scale when a bump in user purchase activity warrants additional investment.


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

Andrew Waber is the director of insights at retail optimization platform (ROP) provider Teikametrics. In his current role, Andrew manages the analysis, editorial direction and strategy for Teikametrics’ reporting on online retail advertising and the larger online retail marketplace. Prior to his time at Teikametrics, Andrew served as the manager of data insights and media relations at Salsify, the manager of market insights and media relations for advertising automation software provider Nanigans, and as the market analyst and lead author of reports for Chitika Insights, the research arm of the Chitika online ad network. Andrew’s commentary on online trends has been quoted by the New York Times, Re/Code and The Guardian, among other outlets.



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SMX Overtime: Managing your online business reviews

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Last month I spoke at SMX East about scaling online reputation management – specifically reviews. At the end of my presentation, “14 Tips to Scale Reviews Across Multiple Locations,” I fielded a number of fantastic questions from session attendees and wanted to follow-up on some additional ones.

How do I convince clients to respond to reviews on Google?

First and foremost, responding to customer reviews builds trust. When a business responds to reviews, it demonstrates that it cares enough about its customers to respond to them. Being responsive builds trust not only with the person who wrote the review but also with future customers who might be looking at reviews as they evaluate you against your competitors. 

Responding to reviews specifically on Google also improves your visibility. Reviews have been the fastest growing signal in Google local ranking factors for the past three years, according to the annual Moz Local Search Ranking Factors study. Review signals were overwhelming correlated with higher rankings in Local SEO Guide’s Local Search Ranking Study from two years ago. And Google itself cites managing and responding to customer reviews as an important ranking factor.

Strictly looking at GMB and reviews, wouldn’t negative reviews actually be helpful in rankings?

Google stresses that “High-quality, positive [emphasis mine] reviews from your customers will improve your business’s visibility and increase the likelihood that a potential customer will visit your location.” So, strictly speaking, negative reviews won’t help.

But the bigger question is this: how can negative reviews help your business beyond rankings? They can if you are willing to learn from them. No business is perfect. Negative feedback identifies vulnerabilities that you need to address before they mushroom into bigger problems.

Responding to reviews by improving your business creates a virtuous cycle: a better customer experience leads to more positive reviews, which leads to improved visibility online. So, long story short, indirectly negative reviews could help your rankings in local search by improving your business.”

Many of our clients like us to handle reviews on their behalf. Do you have any recommendations on how to monetize that as a service?

Don’t try to manage reviews manually – especially if your clients operate multiple locations. Trying to monitor and respond appropriately and quickly to reviews can be overwhelming unless you have a tool that does everything from sentiment analysis to natural language processing of the reviews as they come in. (Full disclosure: my company offers one.) But don’t take my word for it: ask someone who has tried to manage reviews manually at scale. They’ll tell you the same thing: you need the right tool to manage this process well.

What’s a typical workflow like when outsourcing reviews? How do you onboard the new people responding to reviews?

First, talk with your client and establish a protocol for how to respond to reviews. Is the client going to split duties with the outsourcing partner, or is the partner going to handle them all? In addition, what’s the protocol for writing original replies versus using some agreed-upon, preformatted replies? Those (and many others) are the types of questions you need to address. Get the protocol sorted out and documented. Once you do that, onboarding new people comes down to relying on the protocol to train them.

What’s your position on review gating? Only targeting people who give us the best feedback or would asking all be more beneficial?

Don’t do it. Review gating goes against Google’s terms of service and violating that can get you in hot water with the world’s most popular website. Incidentally, as reported in Search Engine Land, review gating won’t materially impact your business’ overall ratings anyway. It’s not worth the risk.

When businesses ask customers for reviews say, for urgent care, what ratio of positive to negative reviews might the business expect?

If you take good care of your customers, then expect a high ratio of positive reviews! The important thing is to ask for reviews. Don’t be afraid of negative ones happening. People who have a bad experience with your business are going to share negative reviews whether you ask them or not. It’s not like asking for reviews will trigger a flood of damaging feedback. Trust me – upset customers need no encouragement. But sometimes happy customers just need a little nudge to share the love online.

How do you combat fake reviews and irrelevant negative reviews? Flagging doesn’t do crap!

Fake reviews are a problem and no doubt that flagging reviews has little effect on having them removed. While there is no guarantee this will work, typically the best course of action to have reviews removed is to post to the GMB forums and hope Joy Hawkins or another Product Expert takes up your cause.

That said, what you can do is ask customers to review your business and make it easy for them to do so. The uptick in authentic reviews will counter the spammy ones.

How do we decide which platforms to focus our review asks on? Zillow? Google? Facebook? Especially given a limited number of transactions.

Focus first on the review amplifiers, Google and Facebook. Review amplifiers have an inordinate impact on your reputation because of their scale and influence. It’s better to focus on a small number of review amplifiers than spread yourself thin trying to be present on every location where someone leaves a review.

Start with Google. Google reviews have the biggest impact on your reputation and search rankings. Google owns 93 percent of the search market, and as noted earlier, reviews are one of the most important local search ranking signals on Google. Accumulating customer reviews on Google is most important for both your reputation and your visibility online.

Facebook remains an important number two choice to focus your time. Research from Vendasta shows that Facebook is a critical site for reviews owing to its traffic and review volume, which is true in my experience working with clients. After all, next to Google and YouTube, Facebook is the world’s most popular site – and its user base is growing.

After Google and Facebook, pick some vertical sites that pertain to your industry – such as TripAdvisor for travel and Zillow for real estate.

But in a world of limited resources and budget, you need to focus first on the review amplifiers: Google and Facebook.


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

Adam Dorfman is a technology and digital marketing professional with more than 20 years of experience. His expertise spans all aspects of product development as well as scaling product and engineering teams. He has been in the SEO and Local SEO space since 1999. In 2006, Adam co-founded SIM Partners and helped create a business that made it possible for companies to automate the process of attracting and growing customer relationships across multiple locations. Adam is currently director of product at Reputation where he and his teams are integrating location-based marketing with reputation management and customer experience. Adam contributes regularly to publications such as Search Engine Land, participates in Moz’s Local Search Ranking Factors survey, and regularly speaks at search marketing events such as Search Marketing Expo (SMX) West and State of Search as well as industry-specific events such as HIMSS. Follow him on Twitter @phixed.



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