SearchCap: Google job search, Firefox picks Google & Bing Black Friday

Below is what happened in search today, as reported on Search Engine Land and from other places across the web.

From Search Engine Land:

Google adds new features to its job listings search tool released earlier this year
Nov 15, 2017 by Amy Gesenhues

Salary, location and application details are now included directly in job listing search results.

Understanding the interplay of SEO and a 5-star reputation
Nov 15, 2017 by Stephan Spencer

How do online reviews impact search visibility, and what can you do to improve your online reputation? Columnist Stephan Spencer addresses these questions and more.

Google News adds new referral URL source that publishers should begin tracking
Nov 15, 2017 by Barry Schwartz

Google tells publishers to add news.url.google.com to the Google News referral tracking sources.

Mozilla drops Yahoo search for Google with new Firefox Quantum browser release
Nov 14, 2017 by Barry Schwartz

After a three year partnership with Yahoo, Mozilla has switched their default search provider for Firefox back to Google.

Bing launches 2017 Black Friday ads, expands list of delivery services for package-tracking search feature
Nov 14, 2017 by Amy Gesenhues

Bing also announced new weather and sports-related search updates and a photo contest.

7 Google tips to supercharge your Shopping ads
Nov 15, 2017 by Matt Lawson

Shopping ads promote your online and local inventory. Columnist and Googler Matt Lawson reveals seven ways to get the most from your campaigns.

Search News From Around The Web:

Google Testing Verification Whitelisting via API with Large Resellers & IYPs, Mike Blumenthal6 Easy Ways to Discover Your Search Competitors, DistilledEU competition chief promises more cases against Google, TheHillFirst SimilarWeb Mobile App for Market Intelligence Launched, SimilarWebGoogle Alters SERP Feature Trends with ccTLD Shake-Up, RankRangerGoogle Clarifies Disavow Usage: Good For Existing Or Preempting Manual Actions & If You Don’t Trust Algorithms, Search Engine RoundtableHow To Tell If My Agency Is Using Black Hat Techniques, SEM RushHow to Write Website Content For SEO: The Do’s and The Don’t’s, ConductorMake Content Your #1 SEO Strategy Initiative in 2018, BruceClay.comMore Than Half of All Google Results are HTTPS, SISTRIX

Google Maps gets brighter UI, new category icons and more color-coding

Google is updating its Maps look and feel. The company has changed colors and added icons to correspond to places and business categories. The palette is also brighter.

Food and drink is orange or gold, shopping is royal blue, services are lavender, entertainment is turquoise, outdoor activities and places are green and so on.

Google says in that context it will also highlight places it believes are relevant to your query or need (e.g., explore, driving, transit). Here’s what the new UI looks like:

The company says the changes will roll out over the next several weeks and be reflected on all “products that incorporate Google Maps, including the Assistant, Search, Earth and Android Auto.” These UI changes will also appear in third-party apps and sites that use the Google Maps API.

Google Maps, a cornerstone of its mobile strategy, is one of five Google products that have over 1 billion users. The others are Search, YouTube, Android and Chrome.

Google aims to make apps for Google Assistant more functional and discoverable

Today Google announced a number of updates and improvements to help make third party apps for Google Assistant more functional and easier for users to discover. It’s also adding new capabilities for developers.

Developers can now build Assistant apps in Spanish, Portuguese and Indian English. For the UK, Google announced the availability of transactional capabilities (purchases, reservations or appointments). For the app directory, Google is adding new sections (what’s new and what’s trending). And there will now be an autocomplete feature to help suggest apps to users.

Right now the app directory is relatively hidden and I suspect only a tiny percentage of users know it exists. However, within the directory Google is also creating new subcategories for apps that are more task-specific. The company uses the example of “Order Food” or “View a Menu” in the category “Food & Drink.” There will also be new badges for family friendly apps.

Google is also trying to facilitate more natural app discovery — and this is probably going to be more common than other methods — through “implicit invocation” or “implicit discovery.” This is a form of app recommendations, when Google believes that a specific app can answer a user question or fulfill a need, or when the user’s verbal command is the “action phrase” for the Assistant app itself:

Implicit invocation occurs when users invoke your app without using its name. This type of invocation occurs when users tell the Google Assistant to do something that’s similar to the action invocation phrase for one of your configured intents, or when the user is in a context where your app would be appropriate.

There’s a very SEO-like (“voice optimization”) approach to getting your app recognized and invoked by Google in this “implicit” scenario.

Most compelling of these new features is the introduction of what Google calls “multi-surface conversations.” This is essentially Google Home send to phone.

An interaction begins on a Google Home device and is then sent to a smartphone for completion. The example Google provides is food ordering that begins on Google Home, with the payment transaction concluding on a smartphone. For relatively obvious reasons, this could be a boon to travel and e-commerce transactions on Google Home.

Google is also enabling personalization (preferences), daily updates, notifications and directory analytics.

Integrating third party capabilities into the Google Assistant has the potential to be extremely useful. Apple’s Siri is doing this and, obviously, so is Amazon Alexa with “skills” (most of which are currently worthless). But the problem of “app discovery” is even more acute in the voice context than it is in smartphone app stores.

This is why “implicit discovery” holds so much promise. But Google can also do a great deal more to surface developer apps and content within the Google Assistant and online.

Google News adds new referral URL source that publishers should begin tracking

Google has quietly announced in its Google News forum that they have added a new URL referrer source that news publishers should begin tracking to get a “comprehensive view of traffic from Google News.” In addition to tracking referrals from news.google.com, publishers should also track referrals from news.url.google.com.

The change seems to be connected to the new RSS feed changes with Google News that we reported recently.

Google said that referrals from the source “news.google.com” include traffic from native mobile apps, mobile web and RSS feeds set up with the legacy URL pattern. Referrals from the source “news.url.google.com” include traffic from desktop and RSS feeds set up with the new URL pattern.

It is unclear if Google Analytics has already updated to support the new referral changes, but one would assume it would be one of the first analytics packages to update its tools.

If you are using custom analytics or a third-party analytics tool, make sure to communicate to the developers that they need to make this update to their software.

Voice search: Content may be king, but context is queen in the new voice-first world

In 2016, Google said that 20 percent of all mobile queries were voice searches. Since that time, the number of virtual assistants in US households has continued to swell, with tens of millions of voice-enabled home devices projected to be in use.

Voice as a primary search interface — beyond mobile phones — is a reality. Marketers need to rapidly iterate on their mobile-first strategies, to adapt to the voice-first marketplace. And as the aptly titled e-book released today [registration required] suggests, voice search changes everything.

I sat down with the book’s author, Yext VP of Industry Insights Duane Forrester, to discuss the landscape of voice search, how it will impact the business of search marketing, and what marketers can do to prepare for this evolution in search user interfaces.

“Voice engagement is the most likely scenario that will challenge the biggest players in search for supremacy.”

Michelle Robbins: What inspired you to put this e-book together?

Duane Forrester: The work we do at Yext is focused on helping businesses understand what data they can control, and empowering them with ways to manage that data. So from that point of view, there was a lot of support for exploring this developing space. Personally, I’ve always been an early adopter. The last decade of my life I’ve been fortunate enough to see the leading edge of technology up close and interact with it personally, so as “voice” developed to what we have today, I’ve been engaged and watching its progress.

MR: The major players in the space have been established. Do you see room for any other competitors to enter the voice arena?

DF: Absolutely. There is a boom happening in China right now with dozens of new companies entering the smart speaker space. While most won’t survive, it’s inevitable we’ll see new devices reach our shores next year, driving prices down and adoption up.

Most of that expansion will be white-labeled products (Google Assistant built into a Samsung TV, for example), but from the consumer’s point of view, it’ll be less about buying because of the embedded assistant and more about brand awareness around specific products. People don’t buy the Samsung TV because of Google Assistant (or Siri, or Cortana, or IBM, etc.), they buy it because Samsung makes excellent televisions. The voice assistant is a nice addition. That’s our immediate future. Over time, however, this could change if one or more of the leaders make significant technology breakthroughs that bring obvious differentiation and improvements.

MR: Is there anything holding back even greater adoption of voice-enabled devices?

DF: We’re starting to see the end of people’s reluctance to speak to their devices. This was a major factor in adoption over the last five years. Couple that with less than stellar services and results, and adoption was predictably sluggish — right up until Amazon landed in millions of living rooms around the world.

The biggest factor in voice adoption remains time. As services surpass an accuracy rate of 98%+ and consumer upgrade devices, or have their first contact with new devices that are voice enabled, the growth will continue. Voice will conquer all.

MR: How can marketers, and search marketers in particular, shift from a ‘content is king’ focus to competitively prepare for the ‘context is queen’ world and surface as the one primary voice result?

DF: The beauty of this is clear. All the investment that’s been poured into content continues to pay dividends in a voice-first world. If anything, in order to truly get to the context-first scenarios we have today, you need deep, detailed, rich content. But even here, context plays a role. If the request is for the temperature, the platform being engaged will determine location as part of the relevancy factoring. The answer (let’s say “72 degrees”) in any other context might seem “thin” by nature. But as an answer to “What’s the temperature outside?,” it’s a perfect fit.

A more complex scenario might look like “Who is Harry Potter?” and “What is Harry Potter?” The former should bring back an answer about a fictional person, while the later should elicit a response about a fictional series about a boy wizard, etc. The answers for the latter would be deeper, and pull from richer “answers” provided by websites.

To be included in the “spoken answer” column, we have no set best practices from the engines to follow, but we do have some common best practices we know they respond to for things like the Answer Boxes. And increasingly, it’s those answer box contents that are being spoken aloud to inform consumer queries.

As for specific tactics people can employ, here’s a short list. This is in addition to the usual quality content production and SEO best practices.

    Adopt a long tail/conversational phrase approach to targeting what to produce content around.Build out detailed answers to common (and even uncommon) questions related to your products and services.Use Schema to mark up your content (where appropriate).Clean up your own house — be sure crawlers can find your content.Make sure your site is mobile-friendly — not really an option these days.Make security a priority — becoming more of a trust signal.

“A picture is worth a thousand words”

MR: What additional innovations in voice are coming into play?

DF: If you’ve shopped via a voice device, you’ve encountered an area that will improve significantly when visuals are added. Ask the system to buy a blue sweater, and you immediately realize without being able to see the sweater, you’re missing a lot of information needed to make an informed purchase.

This is where visual search comes into play, and it’s here now as the logical next step from voice search. We see initial products from Amazon in the market now (Show and Spot), and I expect to see more companies fielding visually-enabled voice devices soon. In terms of e-commerce, this expands the usefulness of current content investments like product videos.

MR: What kind of technology investments should marketers be making to address this new playing field?

DF: Things that were optional even just a couple years ago, are no longer optional. Being mobile-friendly is a requirement. Being secure is rapidly becoming a differentiator. Marking up your content is no longer a nice-to-have. Every day adoption of those technical items grows, which means the playing field is changing. If a search engine suggests a protocol is worth using, it’s worth paying attention.

Things like Schema markup help an engine grow trust in your website and content, so take advantage of that. Being secure shows an investment in protecting consumers, again an area the engines favor and actively support. And if you really want to walk a mile in your customer’s shoes, to really learn what their journey is like, you’ll buy the main voice-enabled devices on the market today. Set them up and use them all day, every day. This practice will uncover new features and highlight new opportunities for you to align with the customer’s journey.

MR: What kind of personnel investments should organizations be making to effectively compete in a voice-first world?

DF: It’s highly likely that a business already has the skill sets they need on hand. If they have an SEO person or team, they’re off to an excellent start. To truly take advantage of new environments like voice and visual search, though, you need to have someone who has a broad understanding of emerging opportunities, has the reach to influence across and within your company, and can offer guidance based on experiences in discrete areas. That’s the role of a Digital Knowledge Manager (DKM).

The DKM can help ensure all assets in a company are aligned to best effect, while also keeping the company up to speed on emerging technologies. From the top, it’s the DKM that guides. From a more tactical level, it’s likely a technically proficient SEO aligning efforts across research, content development and deployment. That combined effort can help a company get started and take a leadership position in their verticals.

Join us at SMX West this March in San Jose, where we’ll feature industry leaders sharing tips and tactics for search marketing success in voice search, local and mobile SEO and much more!

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Stay up to date on voice search and other industry news and trends.

8 game-changing SEO trends that will dominate 2018

With over 200 factors in Google’s algorithm, SEO is a complex science. But it’s not how much you need to know that makes it really challenging — it’s the ever-changing nature of the rules of the game.

As search engines strive to improve the quality of search results, some ranking factors shift shapes, others fall into oblivion, and completely new ones arise out of nowhere. To help you stay ahead of the game in 2018, here’s a list of the most prominent trends that are gaining momentum, with tips on how you can prepare for each.

1. The rise of SERP features

Are you assuming a #1 organic ranking is the way to get as much traffic as possible? Think again. Increasingly, SERP features (local packs, Knowledge panels, featured snippets and so on) are stealing searchers’ attention and clicks from organic listings.

And it’s only fair if you consider the evolution the Google SERP has been through. It has gone all the way from “10 blue links”…

… to something that makes you feel like you’re part of a Brazilian carnival.

What can you do about it?

With the evolution of SERP features, it’s critical that you (a) track your rankings within these features, and (b) monitor the features that show up for your keywords and are potentially stealing traffic from you. You can do this with SEO PowerSuite’s Rank Tracker by simply starting a project for your site. The tool will track 15 Google SERP features, along with organic results. The Google SERP Features column will show you all features triggered by your keywords, with the ones you rank in highlighted in green. Additionally, you can measure the volatility of SERP features day-to-day under the SERP Analysis tab.

Based on this data, analyze the opportunities that SERP features pose. Can you squeeze into the local pack? Can you get a featured snippet for this query? How about a Knowledge Graph panel? Which brings us straight to the next point:

2. Structured data

Structured data is a way of formatting HTML that uses a specific vocabulary, telling search engines how to interpret content — and how to display it in the SERPs.

Google’s never officially confirmed structured data is a ranking signal — and in itself, it likely isn’t.

Why bother, then? Glad you asked!

Structured data lets you enhance your search listings in several ways: Think Knowledge Graph panels and rich snippets. The latter can increase your listings’ CTR (click-through rate) by 30 percent. Multiple real-life experiments show an increase in clicks boosts rankings.

With search results getting more diverse, you can’t ignore the opportunity to stand out. In fact, you’d better get at it right now, before a competitor does.

What can you do about it?

Go on and do it, really. There are several structured data formats, but most SEOs stick to Schema.org. This step-by-step guide to Schema for SEO is a good place to start. Once you’ve implemented the markup, track whether rich snippets show up for your site with the Rank Tracker tool mentioned above.

3. Survival of the fastest

Speed is big. Not only is it a ranking signal; it’s a major UX factor. UX, in turn, impacts rankings. It’s a loop of sorts!

But how fast is fast, exactly? Google expects pages to load in under three seconds. Here’s what you can do to get there.

What can you do about it?

First, take Google’s page speed test. The test is integrated into WebSite Auditor and available in its free version. Just launch WebSite Auditor and create a project. Jump to Content Analysis and specify the page you’d like to test. In a moment, you’ll see a selection of on-page factors calculated for you. Go to Technical factors and scroll to Page speed (Dekstop).

For any problematic factor, click on it for an explanation and how-to-fix advice.

4. Relevance 2.0

Increasingly, it’s getting harder to convince Google you have great content when you really don’t (and easier to get penalized for trying). There are a number of ways Google assesses content quality, one of them being Latent Semantic Indexing. By looking at billions of pages and terms used in them, Google learns which terms are related and builds expectations as to the terms that are likely to appear in a given context. This helps Google decide whether a piece of content is “comprehensive.”

With RankBrain, Google may further analyze the best-performing search results (according to Google’s user satisfaction metrics) and look for similarities between them. These shared features, such as usage of certain terms, may become query-specific ranking signals for the given search term.

What can you do about it?

How do you make sure your content is comprehensive? By researching the top-ranking pages in your niche and looking for the features they share, just like RankBrain does. Clearly, you can’t do this manually for each term, so here’s a simple framework that uses WebSite Auditor and its TF-IDF tool.

In WebSite Auditor, jump to Content Analysis > TF-IDF and select a page. The app will go to Google’s search results, analyze the 10 top-ranking pages and calculate a TF-IDF score for each term used on each page. As a result, you’ll get a list of relevant terms and phrases, sorted by the number of competitors that use them.

You can implement the recommended changes and edit your page right in WebSite Auditor’s Content Editor.

5. Voice search is the real deal

Still skeptical about voice search? Consider this: Google reports that 55 percent of teens and 40 percent of adults use voice search daily; and, according to Google’s Behshad Behzadi, the ratio of voice search is growing faster than type search. Voice search calls for a whole new keyword research routine: Voice searchers use normal, conversational sentences instead of the odd-sounding query lingo.

What can you do about it?

Rank Tracker is a great help in researching questions voice searchers are likely to ask. Launch Rank Tracker (free version is fine), jump to Keyword Research, and press Suggest Keywords. Pick the Common Questions method from the list, and type in your keywords.

In a minute, you’ll end up with hundreds of questions you can target!

6. Mobile is unignorably big

With the rise of voice search, over half of Google searches coming from mobile devices, the impending mobile-first index, and mobile-friendliness being a ranking factor, you simply can’t afford to ignore mobile SEO anymore.

What can you do about it?

First off, check if your pages are mobile-friendly. Google’s mobile test is available in WebSite Auditor, under Content Analysis. Enter the URL of the page you’d like to test, switch to Technical factors, and scroll down to Page usability (Mobile).

Click on the problematic factors, if any, for how-to-fix advice. Forward the tips to your dev team, and re-run the test once the improvements have been made.

7. ‘Linkless’ backlinks

For years, links have been the trust signal for search engines — one that SEOs spent the most time on optimizing (and often manipulating). But times are changing, and linkless mentions may be becoming an off-page signal of equal weight.

Search engines can easily associate mentions with brands and use them to determine a site’s authority. Duane Forrester, formerly senior product manager at Bing, confirmed that Bing is already using unlinked mentions for ranking. This patent and many SEO experts’ observations are reason enough to believe that Google may be doing this too.

What can you do about it?

In addition to a backlink checker, use a web monitoring tool to find mentions of your brand and products. Awario is perhaps one of the best apps for this, with their own real-time index of the web and the Reach metric that lets you see the most authoritative mentions first.

8. An increasingly personalized SERP

Personalized search results aren’t just based on the traditional ranking factors, but also on the information about the user (such as their location, search history or interests).

Google, Bing and Yahoo all personalize their search results in multiple ways. Back in 2011, an experiment showed that over 50 percent of Google searches were being personalized; that number has likely only gone up since.

What can you do about it?

Don’t panic: Personalization doesn’t have to work against you. When someone searches for your target keyword for the first time, you’ve got to do your best to appear among the top results in the unbiased SERP. If the searcher clicks on your listing, you’re becoming their preferred entity, and their subsequent searches will most likely include your site as the top result.

One thing to keep in mind is to ensure your rank tracking is accurate. Rank Tracker will check your rankings in a depersonalized way by default, so there’s no need to set up any extra prefs. But if you’re looking to see unbiased results in your browser, make sure you’re using an Incognito/Private mode.

To learn more about how how Google personalizes its results, jump to this post.

Hole punch history Google doodle celebrates 131-year-old product of German engineering

Marking the 131st anniversary of the hole punch tool, today’s Google doodle is a salute to German engineering, says the doodle team on the Google Doodle blog post.

“Today we celebrate 131 years of the hole puncher, an understated — but essential — artifact of German engineering.”

Leading to a search for “hole punch history,” the doodle was designed by doodler Gerben Steenks.

Here’s the fully animated doodle that resides on Google’s US home page, along with a number of its other international home pages.

From today’s write-up on Google’s Doodle blog, it sounds like someone on the Doodle team has a clear fascination with the tool:

The series of crisp, identical holes it produces, creating a calming sense of unity among an otherwise unbound pile of loose leaf. And finally, the delightful surprise of the colorful confetti byproduct — an accidental collection of colorful, circular leftovers.

Google notes that as workplaces go further into the digital frontier, the hole-puncher has remained mostly (and “wonderfully”) the same.

3 case studies of duplicate content consolidation

It’s commonly held that duplicate or substantially similar content is bad for SEO. When Google finds duplicate content, this creates a conflict for the algorithm. Essentially, Google gets confused as to which page should be the primary ranking URL for a given search query, so it chooses the one it believes to be the most relevant. Unfortunately, the URL it chooses may not be the one you wish to display — and, in cases of exact duplicate content, the other versions of the page may even be filtered out of search results.

The best way to fix this issue is to consolidate the duplicate/similar content’s ranking signals into a singular version of the page. In practice, this is usually done by implementing either a 301 redirect, canonical or “noindex” tag.

While many of us know this to be true, it can often be helpful to see examples of the different types of duplicate content that exist in the wild and how to best handle them. To better help you find and fix duplicate/similar content, I’ve provided case studies for three different instances where we consolidated these types of pages and noted the results we saw.

1. Consolidating exact duplicate pages

The simplest type of duplicate content issue you may encounter is a straightforward duplicate page. This page will contain the exact same content as another page on the website. For one of our clients that advertises franchise listings, we found two pages that contained the exact same content targeted towards “low-cost franchises.” You can see that the two pages were identical here:

Because there was no need for both of these pages, we suggested that our client 301 redirect one of them to the other page. Personally, I love using 301 redirects if possible because it points both users and link equity to a single URL. It tends to send a stronger signal than the other consolidation methods. Almost immediately, we saw rankings and traffic to the original page spike.

Since the 301 redirect was implemented, organic traffic improved by over 200 percent to the page, and it is now consistently one of the top three pages on the site each month.

How did we decide which page to 301 redirect? To do this, we took a look at three different factors:

  1. Which page the site internally linked to the most.
  2. Which page was currently ranking the best.
  3. Which page had the most organic traffic historically.

The final destination page we selected had the most internal links and traffic and was also ranking ahead of the other. I would definitely urge you to look at these three factors when deciding which page to consolidate your duplicate pages to.

2. Consolidating semantically similar pages

As Google gets better and better at understanding semantically related topics, the search engine is starting to return more results that contain topics outside of the initial query. For instance, in a search for “braces near me,” I see a lot of results for orthodontists, even though the term “orthodontist” wasn’t in my original search. Google is most likely doing this type of consolidation for some of your core keywords, and you should be aware of what it’s grouping together.

The client mentioned above has done a good job of building out landing pages that target different industry options (Auto Franchises, Cleaning Franchises and so on). This included the following two pages: Food Franchises and Fast Food Franchises.

At first glance, it might seem obvious that searches for these two terms might yield different results. However, we were seeing that Google was treating these terms somewhat interchangeably:

It appeared that Google had collected enough user data to determine that searchers wanted similar results for these two queries. Because neither of their pages were ranking well at the time, and they both contained very similar content, we recommended that they consolidate the ranking signals.

Our client still wanted users to be able to access both pages, so we recommended they implement a canonical tag instead of a 301 redirect. They added the canonical tag on the “Fast Food” page that pointed to the “Food” page because the latter gave users a list of all the franchises under both categories.

Once again, the results were pretty convincing:

Organic traffic to the page has improved by 47 percent since implementation. This shows us that it’s important to not only consolidate pages where standard keyword targeting and content overlap, but also where there might be conflict with other semantically related pages.

3. Consolidating URL parameters

Last but certainly not least is looking for URL parameters that Google may be finding and assessing as duplicates of other pages. While it’s not always the case, often URLs with parameters appended to them will contain duplicate or very similar content to the source page.

This was certainly the situation for another one of our clients. We found that many of their key pages were generating a large number of URLs with different parameters. While these pages did contain slightly different content, to the search engines they appeared to be largely the same.

We solved this issue by using a canonical tag. We instructed the client to dynamically implement canonical tags that would reference the primary landing pages that Google should be ranking. As Google slowly removed these URL parameters from the index, we began to see a large shift in rankings.

Organic traffic followed suit, and the website now generates over 800 percent more than our baseline levels.

While we have been working on many other aspects of the site, there’s no doubt in my mind that this was a major factor in the ranking and traffic increases we’ve seen.

Finding consolidation opportunities

All of this begs the question: How do you find instances of duplicate or similar content that can be consolidated?

While there are many different tools out there that can help you with this, I’ve found no substitute to looking manually. When evaluating if duplicate/similar content is a potential problem, I start with a “site:” search of that domain followed by their core keywords. If I see pages with similar meta data in Google’s index, this is a red flag that they may be duplicates:

I repeat this process for as many keywords as necessary until I have a good understanding of the problem.

I highly recommend researching duplicate content issues manually to completely understand the nature of the problem and the best way to address it. Doing so can lead to massive improvements for the organic search performance of an individual page, or even an entire website.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

3 strategic goals SEO consultants should fulfill

What is the benefit of an SEO strategy? This is a question I get asked quite frequently — and one that I usually have to answer more than once. While many business owners and companies accept the need for SEO, many are still confused or mystified by what SEO really provides. Being able to prove ROI to clients or your boss is essential to success and maintaining a good relationship.

In this post, I want to cover three essential goals you can fulfill with an SEO strategy: visibility, traffic and ROI. I will explain how these three goals create a positive impact and how you can show these results to the decision-makers.

Visibility

The first goal SEO consultants can fulfill is increased online brand visibility. Consumers assume that top placement in the search rankings is a “stamp of approval” for the brand. While we know that this is not always the case, many searchers interpret high rank as a brand endorsement.

Making sure that you have a plan of action to increase the organic search exposure for branded keywords is extremely important. Just to make sure we are all on the same page about branded terms, here is a good definition: branded keywords are the search words or phrases that include the brand name or a variation of the brand name. While branded terms typically drive traffic from people who have already heard of your company, they are still important.

The goal of SEO is not just to protect your brand; it’s also about increasing the visibility of your brand within your targeted niche. As you can probably guess, this is where non-branded terms are essential. While I won’t get into keyword research, you do want to make sure that your target terms are specific to your core business.

Tracking visibility

Tracking your target keyword terms can deliver a ton of insight. While I do caution you not to obsess over rankings, it is important to know where you stand and which direction you’re moving. Being able to send these reports to your management team or clients can also help build trust.

To get started, make sure you have a list of your branded and non-branded terms that you want to track. There are a number of tools you can use to track your ranking, some free and some paid. As you can guess, the free tools will have some restrictions but can still get the job done.

One great free option is SERPs’ Rank Checker. They allow you to track by geolocation, search engine and device. The free version won’t let you keep a record of position history, so it will be important for you to save all your data in a spreadsheet for reporting over time.

Using a paid tool gives you a lot more flexibility as well as ranking history. Many enterprise- and professional-level SEO tools do have rank trackers built in and allow you to see you ranking history over time. The benefit of these tools is that you have all your data in one location, and you can report the success of your SEO efforts when it comes to visibility much more efficiently.

Website traffic

While “build it and they will come” sounds like a good mantra, the fact is, it’s dead wrong. Just having a website is not enough. That’s like opening a business on a road with little to no traffic and expecting people will just “find you.” Great SEO can deliver targeted, relevant traffic to your website.

It’s the goal of an SEO strategy to bring new prospects to your website — people who would otherwise never know that you even existed. Experienced search professionals will take the time to understand not just your products, services and business goals, but also the needs of the audience you are trying to reach.

I’ve worked with some companies that had done a less-than-adequate job of telling the population about what they provide. By aligning their on-site and off-site SEO activities to promote their services to their targeted audiences, we were able to bring prospects to their site who never knew they provided those services.

Tracking traffic

While traffic is just part of the sales and growth equation, it plays a significant role. Many site owners need reminders of the power of traffic. Giving your manager or client updates on their traffic and helping them understand its role in the overall success of sales and marketing can be difficult, but it’s not impossible.

Google Analytics and Data Studio are great free tools that can help you monitor and report the success of your SEO campaigns to your clients. When reporting on traffic, make sure you don’t overwhelm them with data. Never report more than seven KPIs — any more than that, and they will get overlooked. Here are a few KPIs we cover in our SEO success reports:

Sessions.Users.Page views.Pages per session.Average session duration.Bounce rate.

Delivering ROI

Companies that invest in marketing demand ROI. If they can’t see or validate the return on their investment, they will stop investing. But determining ROI is not so cut-and-dried. Each business has its own set of goals, and all SEO activities need to align with them.

Some of the goals that typically cross all businesses are sales and leads. Being able to show how your SEO efforts have played a role in these requires appropriate tracking. Again, Google Analytics can be an excellent tool for this. Using the “goals” function, you can measure the impact of your efforts and then report your findings using Data Studio.

The goal of SEO is not just to drive traffic; it is to drive targeted traffic that takes action. When sales numbers go up, people tend to forget how they got there. This is why being able to show your results will help you continue to receive buy-in.

SEO can provide a number of benefits to site owners and organizations. From generating more buzz around your brand and growing your online visibility to increasing your traffic and driving conversions, search is one of the most cost-effective marketing tactics you can use today. By working on delivering on the goals above, you’ll be able to prove your worth and help those you work with (and for) understand the power of search.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Google Manual Actions: Frequently asked questions and their answers

For webmasters affected by a manual action, understanding why a particular penalty is applied, what the consequences are and how to adequately address the issue are key to resolving a potentially critical situation.

When penalties are discussed, some questions seem to come up more often than others. In this Q&A, which is a supplement to The Ultimate Guide to Google Penalties, I’ll include the questions I’ve heard asked most frequently, along with actionable answers.

Experience shows that manual penalties are infrequently issued, and only for serious offenses. Human errors in the process, while not impossible, are extremely rare. It is reasonable to assume that once a penalty has been triggered, it is not a false positive. As far as Google Webmaster Guidelines go, an actual violation was confirmed.

Ignoring a manual penalty is not a viable course of action. From an online business perspective, a manual penalty poses an incalculable risk to a website’s performance, even if it initially seems to have little to no impact on the site’s organic search visibility. It is possible for the effects of a penalty to only be felt over time, especially when factors such as technical setup, Google policy changes and increased competition in search are constantly in flux. And multiple violations can attract a closer evaluation and may trigger additionally manual penalties, effectively branding a site a repeat offender.

That being said, a manual penalty applied to a website does not spell doom for future search visibility prospects. At the point of writing, any manual penalty is revocable. More importantly. Google does not hold a grudge against past offenders, which only makes sense given their continued commitment to serving Google Search users.

Readers who do not find the specific answer they are looking for below, or in the Ultimate Guide, are encouraged to contact the author so that we can update the guide to be even more comprehensive.

Q: My site was just penalized. When do I apply for reconsideration?

The right time to apply for reconsideration is upon permanently fixing the reason for the penalty and putting together documentation to show the steps taken to resolve the issue, which can be provided for the Google team to review. Applying prematurely is counterproductive and likely to prolong the problem.

Q: How do I go about manual penalty removal?

    Carefully read the notification message received from Google and look for penalization reasons highlighted and possible clues regarding how to solve the issue.Analyze the problem. This process requires gathering data and can take time, possibly several weeks.Fix the issue, ensure Google Webmaster Guidelines compliance going forward and document all steps taken.Submit a short and to-the-point rationale along with the reconsideration request that documents the efforts you made to address the penalty. Make sure all claims are replicable. Do not negotiate or explain — just focus on what has been done to fix the problem.Avoid major changes to the site while the request is being processed. Too many fluctuating search signals at one time won’t improve a site’s standing in Google.

Q: My reconsideration request was rejected. What now?

If at first, you don’t succeed, start the process anew, as described above — there is no limit to how many times you can apply for reconsideration. If at a loss, procure the assistance of an SEO professional who can assess the damage and identify a solution.

Q: My site has been affected by a manual penalty, but the impact does not seem severe. Can I just ignore the penalty and go about my business as usual?

Penalties can be adjusted and refined, and their visible impact may change over time. It is not recommended to ignore any existing manual penalty.

Q: It seems to take weeks before a reconsideration request is processed. How about I apply now and work on the fixes for the site in the meantime?

That is not a recommended course of action. Any prematurely submitted request may result in a rejection, which will require even more thorough clean-up efforts in the subsequent attempt.

Q: What’s the difference between a manual penalty and an algorithm update like Panda or Penguin?

Manual penalties are applied by the Google Search Quality team if egregious Google Webmaster Guidelines violations are identified. They typically trigger a notification in Google Search Console.

Algorithms utilize search-relevant signals to rank sites accordingly. Technically, there are no “algorithmic penalties” — if your site loses visibility after an algorithm update, that generally means that ranking signal weighting has been adjusted. There are no notifications for sites affected by any algorithmic recalculation.

Q: I just purchased an aftermarket domain or an existing site which is still penalized. I’m not aware of black hat techniques and/or Google Webmaster Guidelines violations committed by previous owners. Do I tell Google it’s not my fault?

No. It does not matter who’s responsible for existing violations. It’s only relevant whether they are present or not.

Q: I just purchased an aftermarket domain or an existing site. Is it possible to verify ownership and see past notifications/warnings?

No, currently Google is not offering this option. Be sure to request full Google Search Console message history disclosure as part of the domain/site transition.

Q: Is it okay to fix the issue that triggered a manual action, apply for reconsideration and roll back once it was granted?

That is not a recommended course of action. Manual penalties can be reapplied.

Q: Is there an avenue for one-to-one communication with Google to explain our situation regarding a manual penalty?

Unless you have a chance to personally meet a sympathetic Googler from the relevant team presenting at a search industry event, there’s no channel offering broad one-to-one communication between site owners and Google.

Q: The reconsideration request was granted; however, the manual penalty warning remains visible in Google Search Console. What now?

On occasion, the established process tends to fail. If the manual penalty message hasn’t disappeared from Google Search Console, highlighting the issue in a second reconsideration request is recommended.

Q: There’s no manual penalty warning visible in Google Search Console, yet the site has suddenly dropped in organic search. What’s happened?

The reason for a sudden drop in organic search may also be technical or related to a new or refined Google algorithm kicking in. The only method to identify the actual reason causing the issue is to conduct a full SEO audit.

Q: The message received does not match the language of my website. How do I address the Google team in my reconsideration request rationale?

The Google team responsible for processing reconsideration requests has the capacity to cover many languages, including all major European languages. If in doubt, apply for reconsideration in English.

Q: What’s the expected turnaround time for a reconsideration request to be processed?

Currently, Google does not officially guarantee a specific turnaround time. Experience derived from a substantial volume of reconsideration requests for individual sites submitted within the last 24 months as of writing indicates that reconsideration request processing can take between several hours and several weeks. There’s no accurate way of predicting the estimated waiting period.

Q: Important updates are pending release; however, the website is penalized. Is it recommended to still go ahead even though the manual penalty isn’t resolved?

That depends on the type of penalty applied, how it affects the website and what kind of changes to the website are planned. In most cases, it is prudent to hold off on any releases and address the manual penalty problem first. Once it is resolved, the impact of any release can be assessed more accurately.

Want to know more about manual actions? Check out Google penalties and messages explained — Search Engine Land’s ultimate guide.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.