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Five most interesting search marketing news stories of the week

Welcome to our weekly round-up of all the latest news and research from the world of search marketing and beyond.

This week, Google has been spotted testing a new user ratings feature in film and television search results; the National Football League has rowed back its heavy-handed social media policy; and a new report has revealed the distance that still remains between the marketing and IT sides of a business in the digital age.

Google tests user ratings for films and TV shows

Google was spotted testing a new user rating feature in its search results for films and TV shows with a small sample of users this week. Searchers in Google’s test sample found ‘Like’ and ‘Dislike’ buttons appearing above the Knowledge Graph on the right-hand side, which pulls information from sites such as Wikipedia to provide a quick answer to search queries.

Tereza Litsa reported on the change for Search Engine Watch, observing that the new feature “is a quick way for Google to build user ratings depending on its own audience.

“Even if Google hasn’t revealed its plans yet [for the feature], it could be an interesting addition to its database which may even lead to further plans on building users’ reviews and gather more features on its own site.”

google user ratings

Digital to receive the lion’s share of new ad spending in 2017

Some good news for digital advertising business: according to GroupM, the world’s largest media investment group, digital is due to receive 77 cents for every new dollar spent on advertising in 2017.

Al Roberts reported for Search Engine Watch’s sister site, ClickZ, that “All told, GroupM predicts that global ad spend will top $547 billion next year, up from $524 billion this year. While television will still capture the biggest share of that 12-figure pie (41%), digital’s share will grow from 31% to 33%.”

But the picture for digital advertisers isn’t all rosy, as by some estimates, as much as 80% of this new revenue is being captured by Google and Facebook. According to Kirk McDonald, president of PubMatic, this overwhelming market dominance is set to “reach critical mass” in 2017, while competition heats up between other marketing organisations for the remaining 20% of new ad spending.

CMOs and CTOs need to be more aligned

A survey of more than 500 senior marketing and IT professionals has revealed the differences in perspective between marketing and IT when it comes to communications infrastructure.

The survey’s findings are explored in a new report, ‘Communications Infrastructure: The Backbone of Digital‘, published this week by ClickZ Intelligence and Zayo, a provider of communications infrastructure services. In an article for ClickZ this week, Linus Gregoriadis dived into some highlights of the research, which sheds light on the obstacles that marketing and IT need to overcome in order to truly work hand-in-hand towards the same goals.

zayo graph

Last October, the U.S. National Football League (NFL) implemented a heavy-handed social media policy aimed at discouraging the posting of video content during games on social media, with fines of up to $100,000 levied at anyone who violated the policy.

The NFL has seen a worrying drop in its ratings throughout 2016 which threatens its television revenue, the League’s main cash cow. Videos posted to social networks like Twitter and Facebook are thought to be the main culprit, as they allow fans to catch the most exciting moments of the game at their own convenience, without needing to tune in to entire games on television.

But a number of NFL teams took badly to the NFL’s new restrictive policy, and took to Twitter to troll the League. Now, as Al Roberts reported for ClickZ this week, the NFL has seen fit to relax its policy two months on. Roberts wrote for ClickZ about the new flexibility that the NFL has afforded to its teams, including allowances for live video and Snapchat.

AMP results are appearing in Google Image Search

Search Engine Roundtable reported this week that Accelerated Mobile Pages, Google’s lightning-fast mobile webpages, are now showing up in search results for Google Image Search.

Accelerated Mobile Pages, or AMP, were first launched in the Top Stories carousel in February before being expanded to the core mobile search results in August. Now, a number of search results with an AMP logo are appearing in Google Image Search, which when selected, will take you to the AMP version of the page in question.

The 10 Best & Biggest New PPC Features of the Year

Another crazy year is almost behind us. The year 2016 will be remembered for some huge and unexpected changes, some awesome new PPC features, and welcome changes to both the Google AdWords and Bing Ads platforms.

But some new PPC features stuck out more than the rest this year. This article will separate the unicorns from the donkeys!

unicorns versus donkeys

Here are my picks for the top 10 new PPC features of 2016.

1. No More Right-Side Ads

google right side ads

In February, Google killed off right-side text ads on desktop results, bringing the SERPs more in line with Google’s mobile experience. In addition, Google added a fourth ad spot above organic search results for “highly commercial queries.”

This massive change was a shocker to pretty much every PPC marketer.

When people woke up and discovered they were now living in a world in which desktop search results didn’t have text ads where they were supposed to be, many people freaked out. They predicted that PPC would never be the same again. (Spoiler alert: very little has changed.)

As I pointed out at the time, most paid clicks (about 85 percent) came from the top ads, based on WordStream data for 2,000 accounts:

the very best of adwords

In a follow-up post by Mark Irvine, The New Google SERP: 3 Changes & 3 Things That Haven’t Changed… Yet, we discovered that paid traffic and CPCs remained consistent after the change, CTRs were up, and impressions were down. Surprisingly, we discovered Position 3 was the biggest winner for advertisers, as CTRs doubled after the change:

favorite ppc features

This change failed to wipe out advertisers in lower positions. In fact, as I detailed in Google’s Right-Side Adpocalypse: Anatomy of a Loser [New Data], one advertiser lost desktop impressions and saw CPC increase, but also saw their CTR double and average position increase!

2. AdWords Expanded Text Ads

After we lost right-side ads, Google announced some big changes to AdWords. One of those huge changes was Expanded Text Ads.

Google called this the biggest change to text ads since AdWords launched 15 years ago. AdWords will phase out the old text ad format as of Jan. 31.

Designed for today’s “mobile-first” world, Expanded Text Ads are twice the size of the text ads we’ve known and loved for so long. We now have two 30-character headlines and one 80-character description line.

Google told us that in early testing advertisers saw CTRs increase by as much as 20 percent. Well, after transitioning to the new AdWords ETAs, many of WordStream’s clients saw their CTR double!

Note: We created a FREE guide and cheat sheet that has everything you need to know about creating Expanded Text Ads.

3. Bing Expanded Text Ads

expanded text ads best of the year

In an effort to keep pace with AdWords, Bing Ads also introduced Expanded Text Ads. However, unlike Google, it seems like Bing won’t be retiring standard text ads.

ETAs on Google and Bing are pretty much identical, with the same character limits and formatting (but fewer truncation issues, thankfully). You can either create ETAs within the Bing Ads platform, or import your existing ETAs from Google AdWords.

But hold your unicorns! There’s some great news for advertisers. WordStream data indicates that Bing’s Expanded Text Ads outperform Google. Check out this great CTR data:

bing ads etas

If you haven’t yet tested out Bing Expanded Text Ads, make sure to put it on your to-do list in 2017!

4. Local Search Ads, Responsive Display Ads, and In-Store Conversions


In addition to Google expanded text ads, Google unveiled more exciting new features at the Google Performance Summit in May:

  • New Local Search Ads: Google announced several new Maps ad formats and features designed to drive more foot traffic to business, including Promoted Pins, in-store promotions, customizable business pages, and local inventory search. You can check out all the details in 10 Things You Need to Know About the New Google Maps Local Search Ads.

google maps ads

  • Responsive Display Ads: With this new type of ad, you provide a URL, headline, description, and image, and Google creates responsive display ads for you. These ads adapt to the content of the websites they’re on and apps in the GDN.
  • Better In-Store Conversion Measurement: OK, this feature isn’t new. But it is new to many types of businesses that gained access to this feature for the first time this year. How it works: Google looks at phone location history to figure out whether someone who clicked on your ad ended up walking into the store.

5. New AdWords Interface

new adwords ux

Speaking of the AdWords Performance Summit, something else notable happened. We got a preview of the new AdWords interface, which rolled out more widely in August (and we can expect more design changes heading into 2017).

The new interface is sleeker, but still pretty familiar. It’s easy enough to figure out where to find the things I was looking for.

Nothing here changed how AdWords works. All these changes were cosmetic and aimed at smartly reorganizing all the AdWords features and functions you know and love.

6. Demographic Targeting for Search Campaigns

demographic targeting for search

Targeting age and gender demographics within your search campaigns? Yes, please!

Google gave advertisers the awesome demographic targeting for search campaigns feature in September.

Now you can see the performance data on how ages and genders within ad groups. Based on this data, you can either create bid adjustments for different demographics or exclude people of a certain age or gender from seeing your paid search ads.

SEO Trends 2017: 44 Experts on the Future of SEO

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. It’s time to talk SEO trends for 2017.


Ask 44 SEO experts what the big trends will be in 2017, and well, you get 44 different answers!

What’s great about our industry is that there are so many known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns, to paraphrase a former U.S. defense secretary.

Will this be the year we get the SEO basics right? Will this be the year of voice search? Will this be the year machine learning and AI forever changes SEO as we’ve known it?

Will this be the year your digital strategies always put the audience/customer first? Will this be the year companies really diversify their traffic sources as part of a holistic digital strategy? And how will technologies such as assistants and the Internet of Things change SEO?

So what SEO trends do you need to know in 2017 if you want to generate more traffic and leads while staying ahead of your competition?

Grab a coffee and check out what 44 of the top SEO experts say will be the biggest trends in organic search in 2017 – and beyond.

We’ve gathered insights from these SEO pros:

  • Barry Adams, SEO Consultant, Polemic Digital
  • Qaisar Saeed, Pixel Webz. SEO Expert
  • Jonathan Allen, President, L&T Co.
  • Adam Audette, Senior Vice President, Organic Search, Merkle
  • Seth Besmertnik, CEO, Conductor
  • Daniel Bianchini, Freelance SEO & Digital Marketing Consultant
  • Chris Boggs, Founder, Web Traffic Advisors
  • Michael Bonfils, CEO & President, International Media Management
  • Joshua Daniels, Founder & Managing Director, Go Amplify
  • Dave Davies, CEO, Beanstalk Internet Marketing
  • Darrell Davis, SEO Manager, The Penny Hoarder
  • Stoney deGeyter, CEO, Pole Position Marketing
  • Eric Enge, CEO, Stone Temple Consulting
  • Erin Everhart, Senior Manager, Media Strategy & Mobile, The Home Depot
  • Duane Forrester, Vice President, Organic Search Operations, Bruce Clay Inc.
  • Casie Gillette, Director of Online Marketing, KoMarketing Associates
  • Mike Grehan, CMO & Managing Director, Acronym
  • Jenny Halasz, President & Founder, JLH Marketing
  • Christopher Hart, Head of Client Development, U.S., Linkdex
  • Bill Hartzer, SEO Consultant
  • Kristjan Hauksson, COO & Partner, SMFB Engine
  • Jim Hedger, Creative Partner, Digital Always Media
  • Jon Henshaw, Co-founder & President, Raven Tools
  • Bill Hunt, Global Strategy Consultant, Back Azimuth Consulting
  • Mark Jackson, President & CEO, Vizion Interactive’
  • Dixon Jones, Marketing Director, Majestic
  • Ryan Jones, Manager Search Strategy & Analytics, SapientNitro
  • Julie Joyce, Owner, Str0ud LLC and Link Fish Media
  • Michael King, Managing Director, iPullRank
  • Cindy Krum, Founder & CEO, MobileMoxie
  • Casey Markee, Founder, Media Wyse
  • Jesse McDonald, Director of SEO, Geek Powered Studios
  • Roger Montti, Owner,
  • Brock Murray, Co-founder & COO, seoplus+
  • Seth Nickerson, Senior SEO Strategist, Vertical Measures
  • Lee Odden, CEO, TopRank Marketing
  • Chuck Price, Founder, Measurable SEO
  • Kristine Schachinger, Founder & CEO, Vetters Agency
  • Grant Simmons, VP of Search Marketing,
  • Aleyda Solis, Founder & International SEO Consultant, Orainti
  • Kaspar Szymanski, SEO Consultant, SearchBrothers
  • Marcus Tober, Founder & CTO, Searchmetrics
  • Anne Ahola Ward, CEO, CircleClick
  • Mindy Weinstein, Founder & President, Marketmind MindShift
  • Rob Woods, SEO Consultant, Riseform Digital Marketing

6 SEO Experiments That Will Blow Your Mind

In SEO, there’s no shortage of theory and best practices. But experimentation is what really keeps this great industry moving forward.

All of today’s best practices came as a result of past experiments – both failures and successes. Everything we do in SEO is an opportunity to learn and improve.

That’s why I love doing experiments. While Google may reveal a few bits and pieces of information, they’ll never tell us everything we need to know to evolve our SEO strategies from the ordinary into the realm of unicorns.

best seo experiments

Today I’d like to share six mind-blowing SEO experiments we did this year, what we learned from them, and what it all means.

1. Does Organic Search Click-Through Rate Matter?

We know that machine learning – including Google RankBrain – is changing SEO as we’ve known it. Already, Google uses RankBrain for every search, and it impacts “a lot” of queries.

Is RankBrain (or other machine learning-based elements) impacting rankings? If so, how? Well, that’s exactly what wanted we wanted to find out: what’s a good click-through rate for organic search.

what's a good organic ctr

For this experiment, we looked at a set of 1,000 keywords from Google’s Search Console for the WordStream site. What we found is very interesting. In April, the average CTR for the top position was 22 percent. That increased to 24 percent by July and 27 percent by September.

So our data clearly showed that are top ranked results had its highest CTRs by September. Meanwhile, on the other end, the data showed that lower positions (4-10) were being clicked on less than ever.

Clearly, the click curve is bending. I believe this is exactly what you would expect to see from a machine learning algorithm – it’s about providing the best answers (based on the highest user engagement), which means fewer people will need to scroll down and click lower results.

So does organic search CTR matter? YES! More than ever before.

2. Is Organic CTR an Organic Search Ranking Factor?

So we’ve established CTR is important. But what’s the relationship between organic CTR and organic search rankings?

Numerous people who work at Google have said they don’t use click-through rate for the purposes of ranking. But when they say this, they mean they don’t use it as a “direct” signal. Could it be that clicks have an indirect impact on Google’s search results?

We decided to find out the answer to this question with an experiment designed to figure out whether CTR impacts SEO rankings.

The goal of this experiment was to see whether there was any clear relationship between organic search CTR and organic search position. The biggest challenge was that separating CTR and ranking is like separating Kanye West from his ego.

kanye west

So we attempted to isolate the natural relationship between CTR and ranking by taking the difference between an observed organic search CTR minus the expected CTR:

organic ctr data

After looking at our data, we found that, on average, pages that beat the expected average organic CTR for a given position were far more likely to rank in the top four positions. These are unicorns! For example, a page that beats the expected CTR for a given position by 20 percent will likely appear in position 1.

Also, pages that failed to beat the expected organic search CTR were more likely to appear in positions 6–10. These are donkeys. For example, a page that falls below the expected CTR for a given position by 6 percent will likely appear in position 10.

So, based on the data, does CTR impact organic search rankings? It certainly seems that way!

3. Can Rewriting Your Titles Boost Your CTR?

So if you’ll be rewarded for having a higher click-through rate, what’s the best way to raise your CTR?

If people see nothing else, they will see your headline in the SERPs. Your content may be totally awesome – but they won’t click on it if the headline is boring.

SEO has evolved. It’s silly to write title tags like it’s still 2008!

WordStream has been trying to move away from overly “optimized” “SEO titles” like this one: “Guerilla Marketing: 20+ Examples and Strategies to Stand Out.”

That old headline followed “SEO best practices.” The most important keyword was at the front and everything fell within 60 characters. But it’s kind of a snore, right?

So we ran a little CTR optimization experiment. Our content and SEO manager Elisa Gabbert changed only the title of the post – to “20+ Jaw-Dropping Guerrilla Marketing Examples.” The new headline is closer to this super-successful headline template that foregrounds the list format, the emotional impact and the content type (examples):

seo title formulas

The article text, images, links, or anything else you can think of were left untouched.

After updating the headline, the article CTR increased to 4.19 percent (up from 1 percent) and it ranked in position 5 (up from position 8).

how to move ranking by changing title

So can you increase your CTR just by changing your title? Yes!

seo experimentation

Don’t be boring! Write brilliant headlines that people will click on like crazy. (Just make sure the content behind them backs them up.)

4. Do Website Engagement Rates Impact Organic Search Rankings?

It’s super important to create clickable headlines, but the goal isn’t just to create clickbait. You also must have great engagement metrics. If people feel cheated and go right back to the SERP, Google can detect that.

Dwell time is really the thing that matters. And time on site is a much better proxy for dwell time than bounce rate.

My theory is that Google uses dwell time (which we can’t measure, but is proportional to time on site) to validate click-through rates. These metrics help Google figure out whether users ultimately got what they were looking for (i.e., a successful search).

So do engagement metrics (bounce rates, time on site, conversion rates) impact organic search rankings?

To put this theory to the test, we gathered some engagement rate data. First, we looked at whether the bounce rate of the pages/keywords we rank for had any relationship to their ranking:

how does bounce rate affect seo

See that “kink” in the graph? Kind of hard to miss, right?

Landing pages that had a bounce rate below 76 percent were more likely to show up in one of the top four positions. But landing pages that had a bounce rate of 78 percent or higher were more likely to show up in position five or lower.

What about time on site?

seo experiments time on site

This graph shows that if your keyword/content pairs have decent time on site, then you’re more likely to be in top organic positions 1–6. If engagement is weak on average, however, then you’re more likely to be in positions 7 or lower.

And how about conversion rates? This data shows that higher CTRs tend to lead to higher conversion rates:

conversion rate data seo

Why is this? Because if you can get someone excited enough to click on your offer, that excitement typically carries through to a purchase or sign-up.

Higher CTRs, engagement rates, and conversion rates lead to more leads and sales. But I believe this data clearly shows proof that improving engagement metrics and conversion rates will also lead to better organic search rankings.

5. Do Engagement Metrics Impact the Selection of Featured Snippets?

Google’s Featured Snippets, which appear in so-called Position 0 above the organic search results, come in the form of text, lists, images, and charts, among others. But how does Google’s algorithm pick Featured Snippets?

First, I wanted to find out whether Google’s traditional organic search ranking factors impacted whether your site gets snipped. So I looked at data for 981 snippets that the WordStream site has earned.

seo for featured snippets in google

Clearly not. Otherwise, the top ranked position would get the snippet every time. Google is featuring snippets from content that ranks on page 2 to as far back as the 71st position!

Having on-page copy that is clear and concise is also clearly important. But, again, word count isn’t the full picture.

So we dove deeper and investigated this page after seeing it as a snippet for searches relating to getting Bing Rewards points. We discovered two interesting things from our Google Analytics and Search Console data:

  • An unusually high CTR (21.43 percent), even though it had an average position of 10
  • Unusually high time on site (14:30), which was 3x above the site average.

So do engagement rates play a role in the selection of Featured Snippets? I absolutely believe so!

crazy seo experiments

6. What’s the REAL Relationship Between Organic Rankings & Social Shares?

We’ve heard about the ridiculously high correlations between social shares and organic search rankings for about five years now (see the ranking factor studies done by SearchMetrics and Moz). Many people have assumed that social shares are a ranking signal, even though Google shot this down every single time.

My belief was that it’s not the visible social share counts that matter. What’s more important is having high social engagement.

So we tested it out to find the real relationship between organic rankings and social shares. Here’s what we found:

facebook engagement vs search ctr

This data showed that Facebook posts with super high engagement rates (above 6 percent) also had an organic search CTR that beat expectations. In other words, if you have Facebook engagement that is 4x higher than average, you’ll have an organic search CTR that is 4x higher than average.

Why is this? Well, I believe that the same emotions that make people share content on social media also make people click on those same pieces of content when they see them in the SERPs. This is especially true for headlines with unusually high CTRs.

The correlations were much stronger with unicorn content (those “blockbuster” pieces of content that drive 10-100x more traffic to your site than most of your other donkey content put together). Unicorns with high social engagement rates almost always had high organic CTR, and vice versa.

The correlations were substantially weaker with donkey content. Donkeys sometimes had high engagement rates, sometimes low engagement rates. The same was true with CTR, some high, some low.

So yes, high social engagement rates correlate with high CTR, and vice versa. That’s the real relationship between search and social. It’s all about how engaging your content is!

jaw dropping seo

What Does It All Mean?

As these five experiments highlight, SEO is continuing to evolve in a way that rewards your pages and site based on how people engage with your content.

That means it’s mission critical to optimize for engagement.

In other words: Optimize for PEOPLE! Write headlines that will make them click and then reward them for that click by publishing amazing and memorable content that will make them want to stay on your site and share your stuff.

Check out all six experiments summarized below:

top seo experiments

Did any of these experiments surprise you? What SEO experiments would you like to see next?

This article is an abridged version of Larry Kim’s original post on WordStream.


Can Content Improve Your Conversion Rate?

Digital marketing circles’ main concern is steadily increasing conversions from websites, webpages, online ads, etc. We must all strive to understand the SEO-conversion-related factors; obviously, SEO increases visibility, which increases traffic, and, in turn, your chances of attracting your target audience.

seo-web-designHowever, there has recently been quite a shift away from a strictly SEO approach to conversion to a more customer-focused one – especially when it comes to B2C campaigns.

“Content [should be] written with a clear vision of what must be conveyed to the reader, built through understanding their pain points (mainly B2B) or emotional connection (mainly B2C)” – David Rosam, Content Strategist.
So, once you take a customer-focused approach, what comes next? Understanding your customer base is key. Who are your customers? People. (Please forgive us for stating the obvious). And people like stories – good, authentic ones. Words like brand affinity, trust, and shock value come to mind. Thus, we have expressed a couple of thoughts from SEMrush and digital marketing experts on the potential of content to increase conversions.

Conversion content marketing should not be confused with landing page optimization. The latter, of course, plays a part in the conversion from content; however, the mission of content is of a different nature. Content marketing builds brand awareness, at first, that later is supposed to grow into creation of brand impression, that is to result in brand affinity, which leads, eventually, to conversion.

Brand awareness -> Brand impression -> Brand affinity -> Conversion!

Unlike landing page optimization, the process of driving conversion through content takes, generally, longer. David Sayce has called it a “journey.” Here’s how it works:

“There’s content you publish to increase your industry standing. Consumers of this type of content are unlikely to be ready to purchase your product immediately. But once they’re ready to buy, they’ll probably be more likely to convert. Unfortunately, an uplift in conversions in relation to this type of content is much harder to prove. But just because something’s difficult to prove, does it make it wrong to focus on?
” – David Bain, Host at Digital Marketing Radio.
However, optimization is no stranger to our case. In fact, platforms that provide toolset for the digital world are recognising the need to help out the content branch. For instance, SEMrush has improved its SEO Ideas functionality by adding an SEO Content Template feature, which allows you to SEO optimize your content before you’ve even begun to create it!

What can affect conversions significantly in terms of SEO are meta descriptions, which are often neglected. Many content writers disregard metadata completely, even though providing it along with content can greatly impact its performance.

“After spending time working and developing keywords (themes) and landing pages, this micro text it the attraction that can make the difference between someone clicking through to a website or not. Much like writing headlines or tweets, this micro content can be very difficult to work on, but once smart, emotive content is created, it can produce a huge uplift in the CTR to the website.” – David Sayce, Digital Marketing Consultant
In particular, the meta description is instrumental when it comes to e-commerce websites. Relying on his vast experience, David Sayce has concluded that many e-commerce sites are including manufacturers’ descriptions in their product descriptions, which becomes problematic once the user stumbles upon similar or even the same product descriptions on other websites. By simply altering its product descriptions, a company can dramatically increase its competitive advantage

Five most interesting search marketing news stories of the week Discount codes: 5 ways retailers can handle their deal addiction Influencer marketing: the strides we’ve made in 2016 6 Psychologically Proven Techniques to Boost Your Conversions in 2017
Another factor that really affects e-commerce sites in terms of product descriptions is the fact that these websites, paradoxically, often neglect their consumers’ needs. What customers want is not an answer to a what question, rather the truly relevant question here is why. Why should I purchase your product and not your competitors’? (Bas Van Den Beld emphasized this fact at SearchLove in London; Laura Crimmons also mentioned it to the SEMrush team in a brief interview.)

Our expert Laura Crimmons recommends checking out “[They] do content on product pages really well. They have so much rich content that answers users’ questions with long descriptions and product features, customer reviews, question-and-answer sections, video reviews, etc.”

In the 1920s, Elmer Wheeler coined the phrase “sell the sizzle, not the steak.” Since then this approach has been reconsidered only slightly. Still, emotional content, overall, generates higher conversion since it triggers an impulse, and that’s a powerful instrument in the hands of a marketer. Of course, depending on the buyer persona, the rational content might work just as well.

Both approaches should focus on showing the advantages of the product rather than describing precisely what you get once you purchase it. The Mutual Rescue video represents a textbook campaign for expressing the benefits of making a purchase. This campaign involves both emotional and rational with inclusion of video (quite the “it” thing in digital marketing) elements. Another great example of a brilliant mixture of humor and useful information, all compiled into one smart campaign is the Dollar Shave Club’s video.

According to David Sayce:

“Visual is often the first thing seen by the user that grabs their initial attention. After that, I would suggest emotional. Again there is often an interesting mix of these between B2B and B2C, with B2B seen as more rational and verbal and B2C being emotional and visual. While there is some truth in this, it comes back to the overall branding and the target audience and thinking of these more as a sliding scale than absolute.”
Laura Crimmons, Communications Director at Branded3 says:

“In terms of tech, rational tends to perform best, so giving people descriptions, facts and figures will help to convert (them?. In terms of fashion and beauty, or travel, visual and emotional factors will be more important, as you’re buying the aspiration of what you will look like or where you will go, so you need to connect with that on an emotional level.”
Thus, optimization-related matters such as design, sign-up forms, posting time, promotional channels, and the inclusion of testimonials play a key role, but only if your content has real value, meaning you have addressed the right topic in the right way.

There are two chief aspects that constitute “the right way.” First, it is of paramount importance to stay “on brand,” which David Sayce defined as “having a consistent message / proposition throughout a business’ marketing process”: your visitor should instantly feel they are in the right place upon landing on your homepage. One of the greatest marketing campaigns in this regard was dedicated to Meerkat, the UK insurance comparison website Compare the Market.

Secondly, your decision on whether to place emphasis on visual/textual or rational/emotional content should be based upon meticulous analysis of your customers’ needs. For instance, Laura Crimmons shared that, according to her experience, “UK and US [customers] vary; and those in the UK convert better with longer, more descriptive phrases, whereas those in the US convert better with more succinct language.”


Three major developments that will shape multi-channel marketing in 2017

How have the events of 2016 affected your advertising spend? Take our 10-minute survey to benchmark your performance against competitors – and enter our prize draw to win an iPad mini.


With the huge range of different marketing channels available to marketers today, it’s more critical than ever to have a marketing strategy that covers a variety of different channels.

A 2013 study by Multichannel Merchant and Neustar found that 35% of companies already market on multiple channels, and a further 27% had plans to implement a multi-channel strategy in the near future.

Among the customer touchpoints that the study’s respondents considered most critical to their organisation were search engines, cited by 61% of marketers; mobile, cited by 54% of marketers; and social media, cited by 53% of marketers.

2016 has been full of developments that will have a huge impact on the way that marketers approach these channels in 2017 and beyond. So as we close out the year, what are some of the major developments that are likely to shape multi-channel marketing in 2017?

‘Mobile-ification’ of search

This year has been full of huge updates to search that reflect the extent to which mobile now affects the landscape of digital.

First, Google removed the ‘right-hand rail’ from the search results page and moved to only displaying paid ads at the top and bottom of the SERP. This made the layout of the main search results page more adaptive to mobile, and concentrated attention more on the ad positions that tended to perform better.

Next came a major strengthening of Google’s mobile-friendly ranking system, commonly referred to in the industry as ‘mobilegeddon’, which moved to penalise websites which weren’t adaptive enough to mobile devices. Bing also implemented its own ‘mobilegeddon’ update in 2015 which allowed users to differentiate between sites that were and weren’t optimised for mobile, although it opted not to penalise sites for being unfriendly.

A graphic of two mobile phones side by side, one showing a cluttered webpage layout with a small image, lots of text and small navigation buttons. The cluttered phone display has a red circle with an X at the bottom of it. The other phone image has a mobile-optimised layout, with a large image, large text and navigation buttons, and a streamlined, vertical layout. This phone has a green circle with a tick at the bottom.

In 2016, Google doubled down on favouring sites that are properly mobile-adapted in its algorithm. | Image: Google Resources for Webmasters

Finally, in October, Google announced it would be doubling down on mobile search by splitting off desktop and mobile into separate search indexes – of which mobile would be its primary index. If marketers weren’t already making mobile a priority in their marketing strategy, these developments are sure to have lit a fire under them.

The ClickZ Intelligence report ‘The State of Mobile Advertising 2016’ found that 56% of client-side and 44% of agency-side respondents characterised their (or their client’s) mobile advertising efforts as “beginner”, while only 13% of client-side and 16% of agency-side respondents described their mobile advertising strategy as “advanced”.

However, a 2016 Marketing Trends Survey by Selligent and StrongView revealed that 52% of respondents planned to increase their spending on mobile marketing in 2016, a figure which is sure to get even larger in 2017 and in the years that follow. While for many marketers mobile is still considered a ‘bolt-on’ to desktop-focused activities, I wouldn’t be surprised if the opposite is true very soon, especially for organisations who care about search as a marketing channel.

Visual social media

I’ve written a number of times about the trend towards visual social media, with the increased integration of visual elements like video, gifs and images into formerly text-based platforms like Twitter and Facebook, and the rise of visually-focused platforms like Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat.

These channels might not be established marketing staples yet, but they are increasingly moving that way. YouTube was the fourth-most cited channel for respondents to the 2016 Marketing Trends Survey who were asked to name the top three performing networks for their social media marketing efforts (behind Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) with Instagram coming in fifth place.

Overall Instagram is far outstripping the competition as a social platform for brands to grow their following, with a median average of 6-8% follower growth month on month, according to the 2016 Social Media Inflation Index. In total, this worked out to an average of 100% follower growth for brands throughout the year 2015.

A screenshot from the dedicated Instagram account for Red Bull cliff diving world series, showing a thumbnail grid of different photographs and videos of people cliff diving.

Instagram is one of the best platforms for brands to grow a following

The rise of visual social media is why established platforms like Facebook and Twitter have made it a priority to integrate more multimedia into their platforms, with the addition of GIFs, short videos and live video streaming to stave off the challenge from more visual competitors.

Noticeably, both Instagram and Facebook have also pioneered ephemeral visual content offerings in the style of Snapchat, which goes to show how much visual channels are influencing the game in social media. This will need to be a big consideration for multi-channel marketers moving into 2017, if they want to take advantage of the increased opportunities that visual provides.

Increased integration of commerce and social

Social media is generally treated as a channel best suited for building up brand visibility and traffic, for raising awareness but not for making direct conversions, as consumers tend to have lower purchase intent when they visit social networks. But several shifts in 2016 have signalled that this might not be the case for long.

Social media and ecommerce have been overlapping more and more as social networks look to drive more revenue by integrating ecommerce features into their interface. The launch of Facebook Marketplace, the acquisition of Famebit by Google/YouTube and the change to Pinterest’s business profiles to showcase Buyable pins more prominently are just three recent examples of this trend.


Even where organisations aren’t using these features directly to sell products, it could prove more lucrative to advertise on social platforms where consumers are increasingly being put in a purchasing mindset.

Social commerce, the closer integration of ecommerce and social, is a significant shift that has the potential to impact mobile, ecommerce, marketing and advertising, and marketers with stakes in any of these channels may well need to adapt their strategies accordingly in 2017 and beyond.

More content, less traffic

It’s important to have high-quality content on your website, but columnist Conrad Saam believes that SEOs might be overdoing it.


“Content is king” is the familiar SEO refrain that has spawned umpteen pages of thin, vapid website content. The push toward more and more content was mitigated somewhat by the next refrain, “quality content,” following Google’s numerous Panda updates.

But a widespread misconception perpetuated by the SEO industry persists: you need to continue to feed the content beast — otherwise, The Google won’t like your site.

So many marketers continue to push towards more sites, more pages, more content, more, more, more, more, more. The perceived need for more content is a convenient straw man excuse for agencies running a failed SEO campaign:

“Hey client, its not our fault your site isn’t performing — you just need to blog more. Still not working? Try more blogging!”

The focus on content is grossly overblown. Content is very rarely the answer — especially in industries where many sites have too much of it already.

I’m not sure there are any verticals where the push for more content is more pronounced than the hyper-competitive legal market. An entire cottage industry has sprung up, rewriting variants of “car accident attorney,” “Top 10 Things to Do After you are Rear Ended in Cleveland,” and “how to select a personal injury lawyer in Topeka,” in an attempt to “win” the SEO war for clients.

Law firms now have small teams of in-house content developers dribbling out prose that rarely sees an inbound visitor. This, of course, is exacerbated by poor installations of WordPress, which frequently generate multiple pages of identical content through the overly aggressive implementation of tags, categories and author pages.

I ran into the value of content minimization and curation almost a decade ago while working on Avvo’s Q&A section, in which lawyers respond to user-submitted questions — and each question generated a new page of content on the Avvo site. The most common example was some variant of the following: “I’m 19 and my girlfriend is 17… can we legally have sex?”

We had thousands, if not tens of thousands of pages generated by variations of this question. The vast majority of those pages didn’t receive any inbound traffic and served to bloat the site’s page count. Through a careful content curation process, we were able to consolidate this content into a series of high-quality content pages. And we saw an overall lift in inbound traffic to this type of content.

Now, that was years ago. Today, I work directly with law firms — and given the push toward more and more content, I find myself again dealing with sites that are bloated with repetitive, duplicate and otherwise underperforming content. What follows are three case studies for law firms in which we’ve axed a bunch of site content with a resulting persistent increase in inbound search traffic.

Site I: Pages down 63%; traffic up 61%

Between July 8 and October 11, 2016, we went through a process of consolidating and removing pages from this site. Some of the content was genuinely useful to a user but should never serve as a destination for search traffic. A good example here is pages with laws and statutes copied directly from state government sites — 50 pages in all for the different laws in 50 different states. These pages are genuinely useful to a user, but they should never be indexed.

Other pages were simply thin variants of content themes that needed to be consolidated into a single, specific page. In the graphs below, you can see an initial drop in reported index count in mid-August, followed by a dramatic drop in October, which is followed by an immediate 61 percent increase in search traffic.


Site II: Pages down 32%; traffic up 36%

In the second example, we cut content on three different dates. This is a WordPress site that vastly overused tags and categories, resulting in tons of duplicate content. They had also generated a large volume of extremely thin Q&A-style pages in response to the Hummingbird update.

On June 10, we dropped 10 pages of exact duplicate content. Following that, on June 21, we no-indexed 147 pages generated from media, tags and categories. Finally, on September 27, we consolidated 65 pages with very thin Q&A-style content. As you can see in the graphs below, the slow, steady decrease in indexed pages was mirrored by a slow, steady increase in inbound organic traffic.


Site III: Pages down 13%, traffic up 37%

The third example is a site for which we have had trouble generating significant improvement. But on October 5, 2016, we no-indexed 149 pages generated by WordPress tags and removed them from the XML sitemap. Note that many of these pages weren’t indexed anyway; although based on the graph below, at least some were.

We did the same for the site’s 10 different author pages. You can see the immediate impact in the persistent traffic bump below. This is a stark example of how a well-intentioned but aggressive implementation of WordPress’s auto-generating pages can reduce inbound traffic.


More content, more problems

Of course, none of this should be surprising; it’s not like Panda is a new concept. But we keep hearing the chorus of “content is king,” which encourages site owners (small businesses especially) to keep posting. What we’ve found is that, in many cases, less content means more traffic.

In a following post, I’ll provide an analytical framework to answer the question: Should I continue to invest in more content, or is my marketing dollar more wisely invested elsewhere (like my kid’s college fund)?

Google brings campaign-level audience targeting to all AdWords advertisers

The wait is over. Advertisers can finally add audience lists at the campaign level in AdWords. No more having to waste oodles of time adding audiences to every ad group in a campaign and having to manage audience bid adjustments at that level.


Google announced campaign-level audience lists are now available in all AdWords accounts on Thursday.

Of course, if you want to set remarketing lists for search ads (RLSA) and Customer Match audiences at the ad group level, that’s still possible.adwords-audiences-campaign-level


Tweet Google an emoji & it will reply with local search results

Tweet an emoji to @Google and you’ll get an immediate reply that includes a quick quip, GIF and link to local search results that correspond to the emoji.


Google’s Twitter handle is now fluent in emoji. Whenever someone tweets an emoji to @Google, they will get a reply that includes a quick quip, a GIF and a link to local search results corresponding to the emoji.

According to a report on Mashable, Google’s Twitter handle will respond to more than 200 different emojis, including a few Easter eggs.

Google announced the feature via its Twitter feed yesterday:

I tried it tonight, first using an ice cream emoji, and then a taco. Both times, I immediately received a reply.

The link included in Google’s reply tweet pointed to a results page for a “tacos nearby” search.


I only tested out the feature using food emojis, but the #KnowNearby hashtag included in Google’s announcement tweet has several other examples of emoji-tested tweets.


Recent changes to organic sitelinks cause major drops in impressions in Google Search Console

Google released sitelink updates that caused impression and average position drops in Google Search Console. Merkle SEOs Melody Petulla and Kyle Blanchette dive into what happened, how to check your site and what it means for SEO.

A huge thank-you goes to Merkle SEO Kyle Blanchette for assembling and helping to analyze all data contained in this article.


Google recently made some under-the-radar changes to sitelinks in the organic search results. The first change removed small sitelinks from below regular organic blue links that render for high search volume queries (Google has since fixed this glitch). The second change adjusted the number of large sitelinks being displayed for branded searches (this is most likely a test).

Even though it does not look like either of these changes will have a significant impact on traffic, they have caused dramatic fluctuations in impressions and average position in Google Search Console (GSC). If you experienced that moment of panic when you did your last GSC check-in, take a look at this article to better understand:

  • what happened with sitelinks in the search results.
  • what effects the changes had on GSC data.
  • how to check your site for declines.
  • what the changes mean for SEO.

What happened to sitelinks?

Google made two changes that reduced the number of sitelinks being shown on search engine results pages (SERPs). The decline started gradually at the beginning of September and saw a sharp drop around October 23, 2016.

Change #1: Google removed small sitelinks from search listings (bug)

Small sitelinks often show up for high search volume queries, both branded and non-branded. You may not have noticed these — data suggests they are not commonly used by searchers.

Recently, these sitelinks stopped appearing in search results, which Google confirmed was a bug. The issue has reportedly been fixed as of early November.


small sitelink after google update

Change #2: Google started testing the reduction of large sitelinks for branded searches

Large sitelinks appear below the home page for branded searches and are displayed prominently at the top of the organic search results. They feature URLs on your website that Google deems important and helpful for users navigating your website.

Listings in affected searches now display four sitelinks instead of six; additionally, some listings rendering the sitelink search box saw a reduction from four sitelinks plus the search box to two plus the search box.

As this change is not impacting all websites (or even all queries for those websites seeing the change), it is likely a test.

large sitelinks before google tests

sitelink changes after google tests

How did this impact Google Search Console data?

After analyzing three sites before and after the change, Merkle determined that the changes had the following impact:

  • Decline in impressions by almost 80 percent on average due to the reduction in the total number of pages ranking for high search volume queries.
  • Decline in average position by over five positions due to the reduction in the total number of pages in high-ranking sitelink positions.
  • Increase in click-through rate (CTR) by 360 percent (1.53 percent CTR, up from 0.33 percent on average) due to the reduction in low-CTR sitelinks for high search volume queries.
  • Virtually no impact on traffic due to the low CTR of sitelinks.

The severity of the drop varies from site to site, mostly based on the search volume (thus potential impression impact) of affected keywords and pages. (It’s worth noting that Googlereportedly corrected the small sitelink issue on November 9, 2016, so metrics should return to normal shortly.)

The images below show total data for three different pages that dropped from sitelinks, each from a different site.

declines in average position and impressions in google search console from google update
The data below averages clicks and CTR for the same three pages on three different sites. Although average clicks demonstrated a slight percentage decrease, that decrease only equated to a drop of about two clicks per day.

effects on click through rate and clicks from google sitelink updates


How to check your site for declines

If you are not sure whether your site listing was displaying sitelinks before, there are tools you can use to find out. One of the best is SEMrush’s SERP history tool, which provides a monthly snapshot of the search engine results page (SERP) for any keyword in their database. Check a few of your biggest keywords for August or September to see how they were performing before.

In addition to using SEMrush to check the SERP, you can also go straight to the source: Google Search Console. If you’re seeing a drop in average position or impressions starting around October 17, you were likely affected.

What does this mean for SEOs?

Sometimes, SERP changes have more of an impact on reporting than on actual performance. This is one of those times.

Though the drop-offs in impressions and average position reported by Google Search Console may look intimidating, the sitelink changes appear to have had practically no impact on overall traffic for the sites analyzed by Merkle. (Check your traffic numbers within Google Search Console for queries and pages affected by the sitelink changes to know for sure what impact they had.)

That said, there are some real takeaways from this change:

  1. Due to ongoing data fluctuations, be wary of comparing current data to historical data, either MoM or YoY. Though the small sitelinks have been added back to the SERPs, the reduction in large branded sitelinks appears to still be in the test phase. This could continue to cause wobbles in impressions, average position and CTR for some major keywords and pages.
  1. The reported drops in GSC may not have performance implications; analyze your traffic to understand the true impact. Don’t jump to conclusions if you see dramatic fluctuations in impressions, average position or CTR (now or in the future), because they may not be real issues.


Google made some changes to sitelinks that may or may not stick around. The changes caused dramatic swings in impressions, average position and CTR in Google Search Console, but they had little to no impact on traffic. If you see wild changes in your data, check the traffic implications before assuming something is wrong.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.