Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Is Google killing mobile organic search?

Click-through rates for websites depend a great deal on their position in organic search results.

But to what extent are local businesses further compromised as Google pushes all organic results further and further off the bottom of the mobile screen as it prioritizes paid ads, Google My Business listings, Knowledge Graph and/or Accelerated Mobile Pages?

And when directories, aggregators, articles, reviews and chains dominate the top organic slots, what hope is there that the mobile user will scroll two, three, four or more screens to find the website of the local restaurant or hotel they seek?

This is the first of two columns on the state of mobile search.

  • This column is focused on what’s happening to mobile organic search – i.e. where websites come in the search engine result page (SERPS).
  • The follow-up column will consider the Google-owned properties – particularly Google My Business and Knowledge Graph – that are displacing organic results, including the impact as Google commercializes these businesses.

So burning question is: has Google killed mobile organic search? For these two columns ClickZ consulted five experts.

The answer (as you’d expect from inbound and local marketers and SEO specialists) is organic search is not dead, but there is no doubt that the game has changed immeasurably, and continues to change every time Google introduces a new innovation, including on-going changes to paid search, Google My Business listings, Knowledge Graph and its latest baby Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP).

Andrew Shotland sums up the responses nicely:

Google hasn’t killed organic search on mobile but it has certainly maimed it. There is still a large amount of traffic going to non-Google properties in local organic SERPs. Despite Google’s continuing takeover of prime SERP real estate with its own properties, its algorithms still need to allow for a wide breadth of results because it still has to account different intents from a single query.

As shown in the Local Search Ranking Factors report (June 2016), Google treats “implicit” geo queries (searches like “pizza” that may have local intent but don’t specify a geography) differently than “explicit” geo queries (e.g. “pizza in Chicago”). And while Google is generally pretty smart about what the most popular intents are, when it’s fuzzy, they will need to provide a variety of results. So smart SEOs still have a lot to play with.

So what has Google done to organic search?

A. More paid search ads.

B. Prioritized Google My Business (GMB).

For a business-related Google mobile search, the priority for results is usually as follows – as demonstrated by results for “Restaurants in Mayfair”, below:

  1. Paid search ads (designated by a PL in the screenshots below) – up to four different ads for popular search queries in popular locations. These can be quite sizeable, including up to 10 lines of text or links.
  2. Google My Business (GMB) results – three local businesses (listed in Google’s directory) are shown on a local map, then given an individual listing of four lines each. The listings do not correspond with the organic results below.
  3. Organic results (OL) – approx. 10 listings. For popular search terms such as “restaurants in X” or “Pizza nearby” the top ranking results are often dominated by aggregators such as directories, delivery services (if restaurants), articles, reviews and national/international chains – this may mean (as in the case below) that there are no restaurants on the first page of search results at all.
  4. More ads – often including ads for download native apps.
  5. Related searches – approx. eight listings of searches recommended by Google.

(Aside: a study of how these recommended searches relate to the keywords favored by advertisers would be a really interesting read).

  1. Option to see next page of results.

C. Prioritized Knowledge Graph

For a content-related Google mobile search, the priority for results is usually as follows – as demonstrated by results for “Mayfair”, below:

  1. Paid search ads (none present in the example).
  2. Knowledge graph (KG) – this is an expandable panel of information and images related to the search query, drawn from various sources e.g. Wikipedia and may include GMB-type listings (as shown below, these may be restaurants or hotels.)
  3. Organic results.
  4. Related searches.
  5. Option to see next page of results.

D. Accelerated mobile pages (AMP)

A further complication to organic search is AMP, which is a Google backed initiative to make mobile pages load faster. Currently these are mostly news stories (it has yet to gain much traction with business), and are usually displayed as a carousel of headlines and images.

Depending on the search term AMP results will come first, second behind paid ads, third behind ads and GMB or KG results, and sometimes among the organic results. Whichever, the effect is that organic results can be pushed further below the fold.

The following screenshots show two mobile searches conducted in London (results in different countries may bring different results). The fold line denotes where the visible screen ends (before scrolling) on large smartphones, such as Samsung Galaxy S6.

  • The first is for “Restaurants in Mayfair” – which shows how organic listings are pushed two+ screens down search results by three ads and the three Google My Business restaurant listings (notated by GMB in the image). These GMB listings do not correspond with organic search results. Also note the absence of any restaurants at all in the first page of search results.
  • The second search was for “Mayfair” – which shows how organic listings are pushed off the first page by Google’s Knowledge Graph (KG). Interestingly the restaurants in the KG are different to those in GMB results for “Restaurants in Mayfair”, if expanded (not shown) KG also shows a carousel of hotels, these results are different to the GMB results for hotels in Mayfair.

Bizarrely, restaurants (RL) and hotels (HL) do better in organic results for “Mayfair” than “Restaurants in Mayfair” or “Hotels in Mayfair”. This may reflect the fact that the context is not what Shotland would call explicit.


Mobile search is different to desktop search

Organic search on the desktop has also been hammered by Google, but not as badly in all cases.

In February 2016 Google shifted paid ads from the right side panel to above organic results.

For content-related searches Google’s Knowledge Graph (KG) has taken the place of the ads in the panel. This means that in situations where there are fewer paid ads, organic search results may be above the fold on a PC screen.

GMB would also fit well in the side panel, but instead it sits above the organic results, and below the ads, leaving the side panel blank. This means organic results are pushed down the page, and depending on the dimensions of the PC screen size, below the fold.

The disparity of PC screen sizes makes it difficult to estimate where the fold would fall on the screenshots.


Why is Google doing this?

There are two motivations:

  • First, Google want to make more (even more) money from advertising and partner referrals.
  • Second, it wants to provide better answers to the searchers’ queries – this we assume is partly motivated by expectations for growth of voice search. If it can achieve this without searchers leaving Google’s properties all the better (for Google).

HubSpot CEO Brian Halligan:

I think there are two real changes that have happened with Google Search, since we started HubSpot 10 years ago:

  1. AdWords: 50% of above the fold v 100% above the fold… 

10 years ago, for most searches you got a few ads along the top and bunch of ads along the side of the results page. For that same search today, there are no ads along the side and the ads along the top cover the entire space above the fold on a regular computer and above the fold on a mobile phone. This means that if you want to get found in Google, paid is far more important than it used to.

  1. Organic: Research the answer v Give you the answer…. 

When we started HubSpot 10 years ago, for most searches, you just got a list of 10 links on the first page and the name of the SEO game was getting to the first page and as high as possible. Increasingly, Google is just giving you the answer to the question. The percent of queries I do where the answer is provided is going way up and the quality of those answers is very good.

Organic search isn’t dead, by any means. The long-tail game of getting many keywords on the front page of the SERP still works, but increasingly you’ll need to work to just be “the answer” to the query as opposed to one of the list of answers.

How are Google’s changes impacting organic results? 

Click-through rates (CTR) for organic search fall as the position increases

All studies conclude that CTR declines the further down the SERPS the results is, but there is disagreement over the numbers and how this varies by the type of site and the search query.

The following table shows the results of a study by Authoritas (formally Analytics SEO) in 2015, which illustrates how rapidly the chance of traffic declines with each search position. Note the differences between desktop and mobile CTR per position and between search terms that relate to the brand and search terms that do not.


But what is the impact of paid ads, Google My Business and Knowledge Graph on organic CTR?

Unfortunately, there does not appear to be any research on the impact of Google move to monopolize the prime search real estate with its owned properties.

However a survey by ComScore and Localeze reveals that:

  • 72% of respondents perceived local search results most relevant, compared with 23% for organic results and a meager 5% for paid search results.
  • 67% – slightly fewer – perceived local results the most trustworthy, ahead of 26% for organic and 7% for paid.

If this sense of relevancy and trust influences click-through rates, as you would expect, then it is inevitable that Google prioritizing GMB results will impact organic search results.

The big question is: to what extent would that trust in local results be undermined if/when Google starts to introduce paid local listings? The impact of Google commercializing GMB and KG, we will consider in the next column.


Anecdotally, it appears that some sites have been hit harder than others by Google’s changes.

Andrew Shotland:

The damage has been real. We have seen local organic traffic, particularly on mobile, for large sites trending downwards over the past two years. The big event was Google anchoring the Google My Business three-pack at the top of most local SERPs on both mobile and desktop from late 2015. We’ve definitely seen GMB cannibalize organic traffic to a far greater degree than paid ads.

When searching a local business name on a phone, there is now enough information on many of the Google My Business panels to reduce the need for a user to scroll to the organic results. This is great for local businesses that have a well-optimized GMB page. Not so great for everyone else trying to show you info about that business.

For other sites we still see growing organic search traffic and businesses are still getting a lot of conversions from organic mobile listings – particularly those who value phone calls. Even for those sites that have been losing overall organic traffic Google still knows to send you highly relevant traffic – the traffic that converts well – so sometimes conversions go up even as traffic goes down.

We’re in it for the long tail.

While Google attempts to condition and steer searchers with recommended search queries – both as the term is typed and through related searches at the end of the results page (assuming anyone makes it that far) – and attempts to distract with paid ads, GMB and KG listings, Google will always try to deliver the best results for the query.

The more precise, relevant and frequent the terms used by the mobile user visa vie your sites keywords, the more likely the mobile searcher will be to find a listing for your site and the less clutter they will find in the way.

Will Critchlow, CEO, Distilled:

However much Google tries to give one-box instant answers, and no matter how much they monetize commercial phrases, so far, total mobile search volume is growing strongly enough that total organic mobile is growing as a channel.

It’s really easy to forget the huge volume in the long-tail of search. In the long tail advertising is much sparser, one-box answers are less compelling, and the aggregators have much thinner content. It’s even easier to forget this as keyword data recedes into the rear-view mirror in the form of (not provided).

Thus, in terms of tactics, we recommend moving further up the funnel, and capturing searchers earlier in the lifecycle, as well as beating out the aggregators based on your business’ strengths and USPs – of course you will likely want to complement that with conversion-oriented paid search and appearing on appropriate aggregator / powerful sites as well.

SEO on its own may not be sufficient.

While SEO remains very relevant for mobile search, it should be used (as Critchlow also suggests above) as part of a coordinated marketing plan.

Kevin Cotch, SEO analyst at TopRank Marketing:

I do not believe that Google has killed organic search for mobile users. Google still shows the information that is the most relevant for the mobile audience including organic listings, but the SERP on a mobile phone is more limited. Google is typically showing more owned results (i.e. paid, local listings, featured snippets, etc.) with the limited space on mobile SERPs.  

I recommend approaching mobile with a unique strategy that targets where your audience is within the marketing funnel. Marketers should implement an integrated mobile strategy to attract, engage, and convert your target audience by incorporating SEO, paid, email, and social campaigns. Part of the mobile strategy related to SEO would utilize development resources to implement AMP, schema markup, and optimizing your website for site speed to enhance user experience. 

At the end of the day, Google will continue to change the SERPs to provide the best results. Search marketers will need to continue optimizing their integrated mobile strategy to get the most out of each campaign, including SEO.

The follow-up column to this one will consider the Google-owned and controlled properties – particularly Google My Business and Knowledge Graph – that are displacing organic results.

We will investigate what this means for your search strategy and web design and the impact of Google introducing sponsored results and prioritizing partner businesses

Read the reports:

Guide to Google ranking factors – Part 8: internal links

Last week we published the seventh instalment of our complete guide to Google ranking factors.

It concentrated on site-level signals, such as HTTPS, speed, mobile friendliness and structured mark-up.

This week, we’re looking at internal links (before we tackle the much more unwieldy subjects of outbound links and backlinks).

Internal linking

What’s an internal link? Well if you click on that link, you’ve just discovered one for yourself.

The practice of internal linking has many advantages, that can help your site improve its metrics and the user experience.

1) Internal links can help navigate people around your site in a more targeted fashion.

2) Internal links can keep people on your site, particularly if the links are relevant to that particular webpage.

3) They provides your audience with further reading options, and if they continue to click around your site without leaving, this can help reduce your bounce rate (the percentage of people who left a given page on your website without viewing any other pages.)

4) Internal links help Google crawl and index your site. The Googlebots that are sent out to fetch new information on your site will have a better idea of how useful and trustworthy your content is, the more they crawl your internal links.

5) Search engines will see that some of your webpages have more internal links pointing towards them than others, and will therefore judge them as more important.

6) The higher the authority of a page on your website, the more valuable its internal link becomes.

7) According to Starcom’s Jason McGovern, internal linking is one of the few methods we can use to tell Google (and visitors) that a particular page of content is important.

From a strategic perspective, it helps webmasters bridge the ‘authority gap’ between their most linkworthy content and their most profitable content.

For instance you can use a link from an evergreen post with lots of search visibility and traffic to promote something relevant your business needs to raise awareness of.

8) Broken links send a bad trust signal to Google, as it makes your site look incompetent or irrelevant at best, poorly maintained or abandoned at worst.

Anchor text

9) By using clear anchor text (the clickable highlighted words in any give link) it helps improve your ranking for certain keywords. If we want this article to rank for the term ’internal link guide’ then we can begin linking to it from other posts using variations of similar anchor text.

This tells Google that this post is relevant to people searching for ‘internal link guides’.

10) Some SEOs recommend varying the anchor text pointing a particular page as Google may see multiple identical uses as ‘suspicious’.

Hub pages

11) You may find that linking to a single hub page will help your site avoid cannibalising itself for search positions.

A hub page is a page themed around a certain topic or keyword. It could be a tag page or perhaps a category, like our SEO page.

This page is constantly updated with fresh content, and is therefore always considered ‘fresh’ and valuable by Google.

To use a good example from Graham Charlton: news articles are generally brief and will come and go in the search rankings. However, linking them to a hub page helps signal to Google that this is the page that should rank for a particular keyword or term.

Part 7: site-level signals
Part 6: trust signals, authority and expertise.
Part 5: duplicate content and syndication.
Part 4: content freshness.
Part 3: quality content.
Part 2: keyword relevancy, frequency and Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI).
Part 1: on-page signals such as title tags, H1 tags and meta descriptions.

10 SEOs who rock at personal branding

It’s getting harder and harder to market yourself as an SEO professional. Here are 10 personal SEO brands to learn from.

SEO is one of the fastest growing industry. If hardly anyone knew it 10 years ago, these days it’s well-known (yet still hardly understood) and every other forum user is ready to announce himself an SEO expert.

How to stand out? How to become a recognizable SEO brand? Well, there’s obviously no recipe but here are 10 SEO brands to get inspired.

SEOs who have come up with particular branding elements

Smart branding makes a huge difference. But it’s not just about a cool website design and recognizable logo. It’s something unique, something that people can easily remember and instantly associate with you. Here are a few coolest examples in our industry:

1. Rand Fishkin: Whiteboard Fridays


Rand started his Whiteboard Fridays years ago. Many companies tried to replicate the success but the whiteboard videos have become an integral and recognizable part of Moz and Rand’s brands.

2. Neil Patel: Most effective landing pages


Neil is well-known for his skill to create absolutely unbeatable landing pages and undeniable banner ads, possibly because he own CrazyEgg that gives a lot of insight into user behaviour.

3. Jim Boykin: Ninjas

Jim Boykin

Jim had coined the term “link ninja” way before it became popular. The ninjas have evolved since then; it’s not just about links any more but as of today everyone knows Jim by his army of invisible, yet talented ninjas behind him.

4. Larry Kim: Unicorns

Larry Kim

Larry uses a unicorn theme everywhere: in presentations, infographics, articles. He is in constant search for unicorn ads and unicorn marketing tactics and eagerly shares his findings in his Twitter feed.

SEOs who have become known due to a narrow expertise

There are many SEOs who try to be good at everything. Even if it’s true, it’s hard to stand out when there’s no particular expertise to be known for. These SEOs are doing a good job at being good at one particular sector.

5. Marie Haynes: Link Penalties

Marie Haynes

Marie Haynes has become known due to her expertise in backlink-related penalties. Marie frequently tweets penalty-lifting case studies and recovery screenshots.

6. Andrew Shotland: Local SEO


Andrew has been known for his local SEO expertise for ages. He was one of the first local SEO gurus ever.

7. Gianluca Fiorelli: International SEO


Gianluca is an international SEO and inbound strategist and founder of @theinbounder, the actionable inbound conference (May 2017).

More SEOs who rock at self-branding

8. Matthew Barby

Matthew Barby

Twitter: @matthewbarby

Matthew shares case studies as well as advanced guides which are worth a bookmark.

9. Nadav Dakner


Nadav shares solid growth-hacking tutorials and social media marketing trends. His is one of the highest quality Twitter feeds around.

10. Scott Stratten


Scott is a keynote speaker and book author who is well-known for his humour and a strong stance on marketing: Stop marketing, start engaging instead.

Are there any other marketers who belong in this list? Share in the comments!

Here are 85 more SEO experts you should follow on Twitter.

Monday, October 24, 2016

How to make longer web forms easier for users

Some web forms have to be longer than normal. While an ecommerce site can limit the user entry to an email, delivery address and payment details, some sites need more information.

For example, forms on travel and financial websites have to be longer than most by necessity.

Long forms like this can be off-putting for users as they can give the impression that the process is going to be time-consuming.

For example, 13% of users abandon bookings on travel websites because the booking process is too long or overcomplicated.

So how can forms be made more palatable for users?

The look and feel of the form

It can be about the customer’s perception of the form. If it looks like hard work, people will assume it is. This is one of the reasons why some websites use one-page or accordion checkouts, as even though they require the same amount of information as other sites, they can seem like less work.

One way to do this is by breaking up the form into more manageable segments. For example, Confused.com requires a lot of information for a car quote – job details, no-claims details, previous claims etc – but it does help to make it seem less work by breaking it up into sections.


Remove any unnecessary fields

One way to reduce form length, as previously mentioned, is to remove any unnecessary fields. Ask whether the information you need is really necessary to complete the process.

For example, the ‘how did you hear about us?’ fields in some web forms are just extra work for many. I doubt whether many people even take them seriously. Besides, analytics and other customer data sources should help you find the answer to this question.


Make data entry easier

There are ways to make things easier for users, simply by designing the forms more effectively.

Here, Confused.com opts for buttons rather than drop-downs for most fields. Also, on the occupation question, rather than making me choose from a list of job titles, it suggests roles as I type. This saves a lot of time.


Add shortcuts where possible

Small touches like allowing users to use delivery address details as their billing details help, and are now commonplace. Postcode lookup tools can also save time entering full addresses.

In-line validation

Well-implemented form validation assures that customers can correct any errors as they go along.

This saves time, as well as the frustration that results when customers attempt to move on to the next stage of the form, only to find they have errors to correct.

Here, HSBC presents a tick to confirm that some fields have been entered correctly, and clearly highlights those that need attention. (Taken from the Mapa Research guide to financial forms).


Show time estimates for form completion

Some forms provide an estimate of the time it will take to complete a form.

It could be argued that this will deter some, but I think it’s good to be upfront and give users an accurate estimate.

Here, Lloyd’s provides an estimate before customers embark on its forms. (thanks again to Mapa).

hsbc lloyds-time

Save user details if they abandon

Where possible, saving user details already entered can really help. Perhaps they could save it to come back to later, or in case users bail out during the form.

Here, Confused.com tempts me back to the form I’ve abandoned with an email reminder. It also reassures me that it’ll only take five minutes.


Think about mobile

Mobiles are increasingly used for travel bookings, so sites need to cater well for mobile users, making forms readable, and adapting to the user’s device of choice.

Here, Hotels.com ensures that a) the calendar tool is easy to use (a common issue on mobile) and b) adapts for the kind of information required, so it shows the numerical keyboard for card entry (note that it also offers card scan for greater convenience).


Our new Marketer’s Guide to Form Optimisation, produced in association with Fospha, is free to download. 

SEO best practice guide for URLs

Today we’re going to take a look at the basic building block of not just SEO, but your very web presence itself: the humble URL.

Does the structure of a URL (or uniform resource locator for pointless trivia fans) matter to SEO? Yes it does, in fact there are many best practices you should consider when creating a URL for your content.

The following tips are collected from various resources, including Google’s own advice, Moz’s guide and the Gov.uk style guide.

Please let me know of there’s anything missing, and I’ll add in a future update.

1) Keep a simple, readable structure

This is Google’s number one most important advice – “a site’s URL structure should be as simple as possible.”

It should be logical and readable for human beings. So you’re URL should be http://ift.tt/2eK3YbE not http://ift.tt/2dP9s7z

Use actual words and sentences that anyone can understand, especially when copied into other documents or emails. Stay away from eternally long random patterns of letters and numbers. Nobody wants to click on that.

Gov.UK recommends it should be as short, memorable and unambiguous as possible, especially if a URL is going to be referred to offline.

2) Use hyphens to break up words in a URL

Punctuation is key in promoting readability in URLs. Google recommends hyphens (http://ift.tt/2eK3YbE) instead of underscores (_).

3) All URLs must be in lower case

If your URL contains upper case letters, redirect to the lower case version. In some cases (if you’re hosting with Linux/Unix servers) identical URLs where the sole difference is a capital letter – example.com/webpage versus example.com/webPage – can be considered different pages.

4) Stop-words in URLs

It used to be that you were recommended to avoid stop words (a, an, the) in URLs, but that doesn’t matter anymore. A URL just needs to make sense to human eyes.

5) Your headline doesn’t have to match the URL exactly

In fact it’s a good idea to vary the text, and make it more concise. If your headline says ’25 super-useful SEO best practice tips for beginners’ it may be useful to pair it with a simpler URL: 25-SEO-best-practice-tips-for-beginners

6) Make sure your keywords are near the front of a URL

It’s still good SEO practice to ensure a page’s keywords are near the front of a URL – but it still needs to be readable AND not stuffed with keywords.

7) Use a single domain or subdomain

According to Moz, “a company blog is far more likely to perform well in the rankings and to help the rest of your site’s content perform well if it’s all together on one sub and root domain.”

There’s apparently plenty of evidence to suggest that when a company moves content from a subdomain to a subfolder, they see a positive boost in search visibility in traffic.

8) The fewer folders (slashes) the better

Again, according to Moz, the more slashes your URL has, won’t necessarily harm your performance, but it can create an illusion of depth and make indexing your content more complex.

9) URLS should be the verb stem

As recommended by Gov.uk – you should use the term ‘apply’ rather than ‘applying’ for instance.

10) Avoid high numbers of URLs that point to identical or similar content

Overly complex URLs with multiple parameters (such as in point number one) can cause problems for Googlebots, by creating too many different URLs containing similar content.

Google provides a huge list of how this problem can be created in its guide as mentioned in my introduction. It includes:

  • Additive filtering of a set of items. If you provide different views of the same set of items or search results, especially if you let users filter by a certain criteria in an additive manner (for example: hotels in New York and with a panoramic view), the number of URLs on your site will “explode.”
  • Dynamic generation of documents
  • Problematic parameters in the URL (such as session IDs)
  • Sorting parameters
  • Irrelevant parameters in the URL, such as referral parameters
  • Dynamically generated calendar

How to fix URL problems

Here are Google’s recommendations for fixing problematic URLs:

  • Use a robots.txt file to block Googlebot’s access to certain URLs. Such as dynamic URLs or URLs that generate search results.
  • Avoid the use of session IDs in URLs. Use cookies instead.
  • Shorten URLs by trimming unnecessary parameters.
  • If your site has an infinite calendar, add a nofollow attribute to links to dynamically created future calendar pages.
  • Check your site for broken relative links.