Friday, November 17, 2017

Black Friday SEO: Last-minute tips for the holiday season

Black Friday kicks off a shopping season that lasts through Christmas each year, with online retailers vying for the profitable attention of consumers. With spending expected to rise by 47% this year, competition will be fierce.

SEO can make a significant ecommerce contribution; some final tweaks can make the difference between rising to the top of results and languishing at the bottom of page one.

The holiday season begins in earnest for ecommerce companies with the Black Friday weekend, bookended by Black Friday (November 24) and Cyber Monday (November 27).

Black Friday (the day retailers traditionally go ‘into the black’ due to the bumper sales) follows Thanksgiving in the US and kicks off a spending spree that typically continues through the Christmas period. The digital revolution has facilitated huge growth in spending worldwide, even spawning the online-focused Cyber Monday counterpart to satiate consumers’ desire to pick up a bargain.

Although dwarfed by China’s equivalent, known as ‘Singles Day’, which recently posted $12 billion in sales on Alibaba alone within just 2 hours, Black Friday holds particular significance for retailers in the US and beyond.

For context, the following statistics should paint a clear picture of the importance of this period for online stores:

  • 2017 spending is predicted to rise by 47% over the same period in 2016
  • Shoppers in the US spent $3.39 billion on Cyber Monday last year and $3.34 billion on Black Friday
  • The Black Friday week brought sales of £6.5 billion in the UK in 2016
  • The average American consumer will spend $745 over the Black Friday weekend
  • Target sold 3,200 TVs per minute during the first hour of Black Friday last year.

Brands have been planning for the holidays for a long time already, so the focus will now turn to any last-minute changes that can help tempt consumers to their site and provide a seamless transaction experience when they get there.

SEO is quite rightly considered a long-term investment and strategies take time to come into effect, but some fine-tuning can still reap dividends in the immediate short term.

The tips below are intended to give ecommerce sites an SEO performance boost – just in time for the holiday period.

Focus on keyword groups with a high ROI

All brands are aiming to maximize revenues over the holidays, which leads to an increase in activity as their marketing strategies kick into action.

Search demand patterns change too, as consumers seek inspiration across a range of digital media.

This opens opens up new opportunities; search results are affected by these forces and they change in response to the surrounding stimuli. Intelligent targeting of the right queries at the right moments can see brands move into top positions and capitalize on demand peaks.

Historical data from Google Trends or Keyword Planner can highlight the types of queries that tend to increase around this time of year. Typically, modifiers including ‘best’, ‘gift’, ‘deals’, or ‘cheap’ will be popular with shoppers on the lookout for the right present.

There’s nothing revolutionary about that, but adding these terms to basic SEO elements like internal links, title tags and meta descriptions can make all the difference.

Our guide to advanced keyword research is a great place to start this process, as it helps marketers to isolate short-term opportunities and strategize accordingly.

Use existing landing pages for high-volume terms

It helps if you are using an authoritative page to target profitable queries at the most competitive time of year. With only a couple of weeks until Black Friday, it would be a pretty tall order to launch a brand new page and rank in positions 1-3 for the most important terms,

And yet, many brands do exactly this every year. Rather than having one static Black Friday page and another for Cyber Monday that can be updated every year, they launch a new page every time the holidays roll round.

After all, the trend is predictable; we know searches for [black friday] are about to take off:

black_friday_searches

The retailers that make the most of this will have had a Black Friday page in place for years already, which benefits from the backlinks that have been sent to the site every year. Small updates, such as adding the year 2017 into the copy and title tag, will help the page gain relevance for this year’s searches.

Once the holidays pass, update the content to move shoppers to more relevant deals and allow the page to accrue SEO value until next year.

Add new content to cover new SEO opportunities

There are less obvious trends to make use of, too.

Recent analysis of BrightEdge data by Eugene Feygin revealed a very significant increase in the number of rich snippets returned for ecommerce queries over the past year. In fact, the research found that there has been an increase in the number of rich snippets of over 26% within the last five months.

Unsurprisingly, Amazon has benefited to a greater degree than most:

BrightEdge_QA

But the same opportunity exists for all retailers.

Given the prominence that is afforded the these quick answers, in what has come to be known as ‘position zero’, it seems too great a prize to ignore.

The question, then, is how to format content to increase its likelihood of being pulled programmatically as a rich snippet.

There are no black-and-white rules to this, but there are steps we can take to help our chances. For example, using Schema.org mark-up to provide Google with structured data about product features or prices will help greatly, and tools like Moz Keyword Explorer can help identify popular questions.

Repurpose old content to create gift guides

According to Google’s trend report from 2016, more than 70 percent of digital shoppers started their holiday shopping without something particular in mind that they wanted to buy.

The search journey doesn’t end when someone clicks through to a website, of course. With user engagement factors continuing to play a pivotal role in SEO successes, we need to understand the consumer’s intent and match that up to the experience they receive when they land on the site.

Walmart provides a good example of how this can be achieved. They have a range of gift guides, which are categorized by the type of gift the consumer is thinking of, and also for whom they are planning to buy.

walmart seo

It is possible to go further still, through segmentation of content by the consumer’s level of certainty about the product they want to buy. The site can ask these questions to use as prompts to personalize the experience, with live chatbots playing an ever greater role in this area.

This must be complemented by an oft-overlooked aspect of ecommerce SEO: optimization of internal search. A report by Visualsoft found that 17% of UK retailers do not pay attention to the effectiveness of their internal search engine, but this should be taken into account by all ecommerce sites. To do so means making use of autocomplete searches, product recommendations based on search history, and personalized results.

These points require the refinement and adaptation of existing assets for most brands, so they can still be considered quick win activities for the holidays.

Optimize for speed

Back in 2012, Amazon calculated that just one second of slowdown in page load speed costs them $1.6 billion in lost sales, a number that can only have grown in the intervening years.

The aforementioned report from Visualsoft made blunt a point of which we are all aware: when providing a great ecommerce experience, speed matters. It also highlighted how far a lot of online retailers are from meeting the benchmarks expected of them by their customers:

Page_loading

Source: Visualsoft

In addition, new research from BrightEdge (full report here) has highlighted the peak traffic days across devices:

brightedge

This data shows that while mobile traffic peaks on Thanksgiving, it is desktop that takes the lion’s share of visits on Cyber Monday. Moreover, BrightEdge’s research found that desktop takes 67% of overall conversions in the holiday season, as its traffic converts at a significantly higher rate than mobile visits.

Marketers need to be in prime position to move these consumers through to their intended transaction, as they research on one device and come back to convert on another.

Therefore, if there is only one area of on-site experience that SEOs can contribute towards, it should be page load speed. Improved speed can help rankings directly, but it is also a proven way to improve conversion rates on mobile, desktop, and tablet.

The road to achieving this will depend on the website in question, but some best practices would be:

  • Minimize the number of HTTP requests required to load the page
  • Reduce the number of redirects needed to arrive at the final URL
  • Compress or re-size images.

Optimize mixed media assets

It stands to reason that with so many shoppers seeking inspiration, images and videos are essential components of an SEO strategy for the holidays.

At the last minute, brands are likely to have their media strategies set in stone, but SEO can always help to attract more traffic to these assets.

As such, we should be thinking about optimization for search engines like Pinterest and YouTube, and not just Google and Bing.

That said, Google’s universal results provide an excellent opportunity to draw more traffic if images and videos are optimized for the right queries.

Therefore, SEO research for the holiday season should aim to identify the keyword categories and types for which images and videos are returned in the SERPs. Keyword tools like BrightEdge and SEMrush provide a way to do this at scale, helping marketers to evaluate the best areas to apply their efforts.

Take lessons from other digital marketing channels

With such limited time left to test SEO changes, retailers should look to paid media channels to find quick, substantial lessons to apply to organic search. PPC ad copy can be a goldmine for these insights, as is reveals the triggers most likely to appeal to consumers when they are searching. Take the best-performing ad copy variations from paid search and incorporate these into SEO messaging to draw a higher click-through rate.

Recent research into social media ad performance also found that informal, conversational language works best. People tend to be in a different mindset when on social media compared to search, which is driven by their underlying intent and the different natures of the platforms. However, this tone of voice could still be worth testing within PPC ads to see if it helps brands stand out and connect.

That said, we need to bear in mind that consumers don’t think in terms of SEO, PPC, or social media when they are shopping for gifts. They move between these channels and expect a consistent tone in their interactions with a brand.

SEOs should look to broader consumer surveys to understand the role their channel can play to ensure that this consistency is achieved.

One such study from Astound Commerce asked, “Which of the following will most likely prompt you to visit a retailer online this holiday season?”

Consumers, who were prompted to select all of the responses that applied to them, revealed just how many factors can potentially come into play:

Black_friday_1

This is a complex set of interconnected communications, but there are a few clear takeaways for SEO. For example, promotions are a key driver of traffic, so we should add any relevant deals into on-page copy and meta tags.

Make sure your servers are ready

The SEO team at any retailer has important responsibilities on the technical side of things over the holidays.

If all goes to plan, there should be a significant surge in the number of visitors to the site over a short period of time, which can play havoc with servers. Downtime is particularly disastrous at this time of year, so take steps to prepare.

It is worth visiting the site’s error logs to see if there is anything you can fix in advance of the traffic increase, and make sure you have a dedicated point of contact on stand-by if any issues should arise over the holiday season.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Here’s how to get executives excited about SEO

As an SEO expert at your company – maybe the SEO expert – you may find yourself needing to persuade executives to invest more in your company’s SEO practices.

Championing SEO means successfully selling the right company leaders on the benefits, demonstrating the effectiveness and wisdom of your specific SEO strategy, and, more often than not, including a few convincing facts about why it will make them look good.

Here are four practices you should use to your advantage when trying to win executive support for your SEO proposals:

1) Understand your executive audience before you even step in the room

When you enter the executive meeting to present your SEO plan, know exactly what you’re getting into. Is this a group discussion, or are you going in one-on-one? What will keep the attention of this particular individual or group, and what are the expectations for this meeting on the other side of the table?

In presenting your plan, it’s important to tell executives everything they need to know in order to say yes. This means explaining the very specific goals that your SEO proposal will help the business achieve. Clearly explain any costs and risks as well, so that executives have the information to make a fully informed decision.

Remember that they may even have to sell what you’re proposing at the level above them. If it’s possible to tailor what your asking for and how you present it to align well with current budgeting and company strategy, do so.

Overall, try to hand executives the ready-made case they need to fully convince both themselves and others how a greater investment in SEO will positively affect the bottom line.

2) Prepare a presentation that’s focused, powerful, and to the point

Take the time to practice and refine your presentation, focusing on a tight collection of points that you want – and need – to make. It also doesn’t hurt to use a few tricks from the advertising world, from plain old flattery to the bandwagon approach.

Make it clear that a proper focus on SEO is what smart companies are doing to succeed, and that this focus will serve to increase exposure for the tremendous work being done by creative and other teams. Also explain how “everyone else is doing it,” especially through presenting information that highlights where competitors have superior SEO practices and are beating your company in search rankings.

A little competitive spirit and FOMO can help put the push for SEO in perspective and get executives animated about how your company can respond – a response plan you ought to have ready as well.

3) Stick to terminology your audience can understand

Remember that the executives in your audience probably don’t understand SEO terminology at an expert level. That said, you shouldn’t hesitate to provide specific examples and information that will help draw them in; just be sure to avoid SEO jargon with which non-experts aren’t familiar.

For example, you may want to talk about metadata and KPIs, but your audience may need a bit of guidance to navigate these terms. You can accomplish this with rephrasing, such as changing metadata to “how searchers view your result on the search engine results page”, and KPIs to “specific data points that matter.”

4) Present those specific data points that matter

When weaving the narrative you present to executives as to how an investment in SEO will achieve intended results for your company, ensure that they take it as more than a fairy tale: ground everything in actual data.

From an internal execution standpoint, this means getting specific with the costs, personnel, and bandwidth required. It also means setting target goals the potential visibility and profit your company’s SEO efforts will deliver.

Don’t be afraid to dive into the real metrics that your proposal has been crafted to improve. This will likely include specific information like customer acquisition cost (CAC), the marketing percentage of CAC, the ratio of customer lifetime value to CAC, the time to payback the CAC, and the marketing originated/influenced customer percentages.

If your presentation can convincingly demonstrate how your SEO efforts will return favorable numbers for these metrics, there’s a good chance that executives would be smart to listen to you – and that they will.

Kevin Gamache is Search Strategist at Wire Stone, a digital marketing agency part of Accenture Interactive.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A search marketer’s guide to using paid social media

The battle between those who specialize in certain marketing practices is prevalent throughout the industry. Individuals, departments and indeed agencies are all involved.

After all, they are often competing for the same budget, beating their chests and promoting their own channel as the most valuable. It is understandable. We all need to make a living.

But in reality they should all be working together to deliver economies of scale. Fully integrated campaigns can deliver far better results than the sum of its component parts.

SEO and social media would at first appear to be very different practices, especially when taking into account paid social advertising. However, there are significant SEO benefits to be gained from utilizing social media advertising as both an outreach platform and also as an analytics platform. Let’s jump straight into it.

We are assuming a certain level of knowledge when it comes social media advertising. For those not ‘in the know’, you can be pretty darn specific in regards to your demographics when advertising on major platforms such as Facebook.

Make the most of your content

For years now content has been one of the major focal points of SEO campaigns, giving birth to potentially the most irritating and overused saying in SEO: “Content is King”! Jayson Demers noted back in 2015 that SEO is now synonymous with content marketing and that as a result SEO teams are investing heavily in content creation.

Let’s assume you are doing all the right things. You have a solid grasp of your buyer personas and inbound funnels. You have thoroughly researched content opportunities within your specific market, using this research to help influence your strategy. You’re also ensuring that your on-site optimization for each article is top notch so that you attract that ever growing portion of traffic from long tail keywords.

This is great, genuinely it is. Although are you missing a trick by not integrating additional marketing channels into your content strategy? Email is awesome at disseminating content to both prospective and current clients, but what of social media advertising?

To paint an industry with an awfully large brush, content creation is sometimes too heavily focused on gaining traffic directly from search engines due to the user intent associated with those actively searching, and the fact that often this is what the client is basing payment of their invoice on!

However, taking a quick step back, if this content is aligned to your conversion funnel then surely getting in front of as many eyes as possible (via other channels) should therefore still have a significant benefit. SEO teams can utilize social media advertising platforms to push this content to users that fall within their buyer persona profiles which should ultimately produce conversions (it may require a few more touch points, but you get the point).

Of course the advertising spend would have to be included in your cost per acquisition calculations but hopefully the following points show how you can use social media advertising to make your investment into content pay a higher rate of dividends.

Keep them coming back

Inbound marketing often works best through multiple touch points during the buyer’s journey. If your traffic is converting to customers directly from a single piece of content then that’s awesome, good for you! For the rest of the world that aren’t unicorns we need to keep our readers coming back in order to help them find their way down our own sales funnels.

Re-targeting the traffic to your website via social media with awesome content is one such tactic to keep your traffic returning. Use retargeting tools on social media to maintain your touch points with users, building brand authority and trust.

Some friendly persuasion

Sometimes people just need a little nudge. Ultimately you don’t want people clicking on your retargeting posts, consuming your content and then leaving time and time again. That can be a costly ego boost. Eventually you want them to convert!

Assess how your content strategy aligns with your sales funnel. Do you have set pieces of content that lead on from one another which will help you become more specific with your retargeting? Does this pathway eventually lead to a conversion?

Your conversions may not be in monetary form. They may involve the user providing some additional contact information in order to download a brochure or them signing up to a free trial. Whatever that conversion looks like, don’t be afraid to ask the question. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. When the time is right, your social retargeting campaigns should include conversion related posts that relate to said individual’s status in your sales funnel.

We all love a good link

We covered the benefits that social media provide for a link building campaign in a recent article, so jump over there for a deeper look.

Suffice to say that again, if you are investing heavily in content, then why not use social media to spread the net even wider and potentially earn links? Paul Shapiro had an interesting tactic for Marketing Land of targeting employees at specific publishing companies as a link building tactic!

Gain analytics insights!

When it comes to analytics tools for SEO, data from the website and SEO specific platforms steal the limelight. The likes of Google Analytics, Search Console and those offered by Moz, SEMrush and Majestic may be the first ones off the tongue but we should also be using analytics gained from other channels in our decisions. You guessed it, social media advertising can be particularly useful in this respect.

In fact, you don’t even need to be using social advertising to get these insights but the specific demographic targeting within social advertising should help provide a higher level of actionable data.

Understanding how to drive clicks

In much the same way as Google Adwords, via Facebook Insights or other social media analytics tools, you can view your click-through rate per post. Whilst this is also influenced by other factors such as time of post, engagement or demographic targeting, you can also draw insights into what content is proving most popular with your audience.

  • Is the subject matter performing or does the content strategy need to be revisited?
  • Are titles really attention grabbing or lack the ability to drive enthusiasm?

This type of data can be used to influence your content strategy, even if it is as simple as creating article titles that increase click through rates.

Just starting out?

Some content pieces can be spectacularly well researched and written but receive far less traffic than expected. There are additional factors that will dictate the ability of your website’s content to rank in search engines including the overall authority of your website, the link profile of that article or load speed.

More often than not a lack of traffic will mean that the analytics associated with that content piece becomes less reliable, subsequently preventing you from really fine tuning your content strategy.

Social media advertising can be incredibly valuable in driving ‘pay per play’ traffic to your content and therefore allowing you to capture that all important data. It doesn’t need to be specific to your content either. Conversion rate optimization is an important part of any digital marketing campaign so you can also capitalize on social traffic to help identify opportunities within your website’s user flow.

So there you have it. Yet another reason to make sure that your social media and SEO teams are working together.

Of course, you don’t need to try to implement of the above points at once – in fact we would advise taking them one step at a time. The most important point? Move away from marketing channels operating within their own silo.

Integrate your marketing, share data, use content across multiple channels and collaborate to increase your results across the board!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Killer demand gen strategy, Part 2: Google Display Network targeting

This is Part 2 of my blog series on crafting and executing killer demand gen strategies.

In Part 1, I discussed building out various personas to target, as well as how to craft the right creative. Now let’s chat through how to actually target these personas!

Both Google Display Network and Facebook have great audience targeting capabilities that allow you to get in front of your target audiences and the personas you have built out. Full disclosure: I was planning to wrap the GDN and Facebook together for this post, but both have so many features that they warrant their own edition.

So let’s dive into how to target your personas and audiences on the GDN, and save Facebook for Part 3.

Keyword contextual targeting (KCT)

Keyword contextual targeting is where you bid on keywords and Google will match you to pages relevant to your terms. You’ll notice two options when it comes to KCT:

  1. Content – shows ads on relevant webpages, etc.
  2. Audience – with this option, the ad will show on relevant pages and to people who might be interested in these keywords (so basically you are giving Google more control to do its thing).

My recommendation is to start off with Content, because you know exactly what you are getting into; don’t give Google control right away and make it hard to understand true performance. Content will have a lot less reach, but you have full visibility into things. As you begin seeing results, you can always adjust accordingly.

My general recommendation is to start off with your top 10-15 performing search terms – and then, of course, layer on demographic age and gender information so you are getting in front of the most relevant eyes.

Additionally, think about the personas you developed. In Part 1, I gave the example of a persona that loved celebrity fashion and gossip; building terms around those interests to get onto those pages is another way to get in front of the right eyes.

Custom Affinity Audiences

With Custom Affinity Audiences, you can input domains and Google will look at the types of users visiting those domains – makeup, demographics, topics of sites they visit, etc. Then Google crafts an audience similar to those users, which you can target.

With Custom Affinity Audiences, I recommend creating different audiences to target based off of:

  1. Competitor domains
  2. Industry-relevant websites
  3. Persona-relevant websites (think of the personas you have created and the types of websites they would visit)

In-Market Audiences

With In-Market Audiences, Google identifies people who are actively shopping for certain products and services. This is pretty clear-cut – choose In-Market Audiences relevant to your business.

Don’t forget to leverage the audience insights that Google gave you when developing your personas; those typically showcase other products/services that your core audience is typically in market for!

Refine your targeting to get closer to your target personas

For both KCT and In-Market Audiences, I recommend that you further refine your targeting by applying demographic layering onto those campaigns to get closer to your target personas. (With Custom Affinity Audiences, Google already incorporates demographic information from the data they pull as they analyze the audiences visiting the sites you enter.)

The above strategies are well worth testing out as you look to get in front of the right eyes and scale your business.

In part 3, we’ll dive into Facebook and how to best leverage its advanced targeting capabilities to get in front of your personas and target market!

How to use your data to supercharge paid search

In today’s marketing climate, data is key. Indeed, more data is generated in a 24-hour period than ever before, with 2.5 quintillion bytes of data being created daily across the globe (IBM, 2017).

The challenge lies in being able to harness this data to optimize marketing activities. After all, without an understanding of what your customers are doing, it is almost impossible to increase conversions and ROI.

One of the key channels for marketers is paid search. Indeed, this is rapidly becoming the most powerful digital marketing channel, with over 2.3 million searches occurring per day. With all these interactions, marketers are paying a premium to get their brand, reflected in the fact that pay-per-click advertising costs are sky rocketing.

Marketers can gain visibility on their paid search activities, and overcome the rising cost of customer acquisition and retention in this channel, by taking control of their customer data.

In my previous article on how to stop Google AdWords campaigns from failing, I looked at how businesses can use a Customer Data Platform to gain a holistic overview of customer conversion, and properly attribute the role of each keyword in the conversion path.

In this article, I’ll expand on how data-driven attribution and the use of a Customer Data Platform can supercharge your paid search activities.

Content produced in partnership with Fospha.

Step 1: Integrate

The key challenge of the rise in multi-channel and multi-device customer journeys is the fact that businesses store this multitude of data in disparate silos, as illustrated in Figure 1.

The result? No unified view of the customer journey, and no understanding of how they are interacting with various marketing channels and campaigns. Businesses must therefore look to integrate their various data sources, using a Customer Data Platform, to provide this granular single customer view.

As well as integrating customer data, a Customer Data Platform will stitch data together, and link typically anonymised data with known identifiers. In doing so, multiple visits – across numerous sessions, channels and devices – are linked to one individual, so marketers can begin to understand who specific customers are, where they came from, what they viewed, and how they interacted with marketing channels on their path to purchase.

Once this view is in place, marketers are better equipped to understand the role of specific marketing channels – in this instance, paid search activities – in relation to customer conversions, as they have a full view of where customers interacted with their business before purchase.

Step 2: Attribute

Once your customer data is integrated and providing a clearer picture of what your customers are doing, marketers must then look to accurately attribute the role of their paid search channels in customer conversions.

For this, a data-driven attribution model – defined as ‘accurately assigning value to each digital channel marketing touchpoint across the complete user journey’ – is key. This model uses advanced algorithmic modelling to help marketers understand the real value and cost associated with each of their marketing touchpoints.

With these insights, you can identify where marketing activity in a particular channel plays little to no role in driving conversions. Marketers can then drill down into their paid search channel, to understand which individual keywords are leading to these conversions.

With this in-depth view, and the granular data source from the Customer Data Platform, marketers gain a much more comprehensive understanding of which keywords are a drain on resources, and which are bringing in high ROI. With this knowledge, they can redistribute spend to help accelerate growth without a drop in leads.

Step 3: Operationalize

Once marketers have access to these insights, the final step in supercharging their paid search activities is being able to operationalize at scale and in real-time. A Customer Data Platform can integrate directly with bid management platforms – which are already great at optimizing and automating PPC campaigns – to boost their efforts.

The granular understanding of keyword performance, derived through the Customer Data Platform’s rich data and attribution modelling layer, is pushed directly into a bid management platform, like Kenshoo or Marin, to automatically optimize the algorithms that inform their bidding.

This data-driven approach, executed in an automated and frictionless way, helps marketers optimize their paid search channel at scale.

Once you have taken these steps to optimize your paid search channels, you can use your Customer Data Platform to tackle other priority channels – to reduce costs and boost ROI – simply by integrating that data source into your Customer Data Platform and applying the same data-driven attribution modelling.

Content produced in partnership with Fospha. Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Search Engine Watch.