5 ways to sell more this holiday season with Google’s updates to shopping ads

With the biggest e-commerce days of the year just around the corner, it’s not too late to take advantage of some of Google’s newest ways to help you sell more stuff online.

Attract users earlier in the buying process with showcase ads

For consumers who are further along the path to an online purchase, Google is good for finding the best price and doing more in-depth research, but it traditionally hasn’t been the best place to help consumers make choices earlier in their decision process.

But with Showcase Shopping ads, Google is delivering a better discovery process for these shoppers. This ad format was introduced in limited beta in 2016 and is now available to every retailer. The idea behind it is that it allows advertisers to use a mix of lifestyle images and products to showcase its brand for generic e-commerce searches where ads for specific products wouldn’t be relevant.

Showcase Shopping ads allow retailers to promote their brand to users who are earlier in their decision process.

Showcase Shopping Ads are a cost-per-engagement format, which means the CPC is charged when a user expands the ad and spends 10 seconds within it or clicks a product or link. Automated bidding doesn’t work with these ads yet, so you’ll need to keep a close eye on their performance.

These ads can be set up programmatically through the API or by creating a new Showcase Shopping ad group through the new AdWords interface. Since this is among the newer capabilities of AdWords, it can only be set up through the new interface (or using the latest version of the AdWords Editor).

Undercut competition on price with price benchmarks

Consumers care a lot about getting the lowest price, so when all other factors are the same, they tend to click more on shopping ads with lower prices. Google cares about this, too, because they make more money when there are more clicks, incentivizing them to serve more impressions of ads with lower prices for the same products.

This concept was documented by Andreas Reiffen from Crealytics in a presentation he’s given multiple times.

Research from Crealytics presented at SMX shows that product ads with lower prices get more impressions.

Since promoting lower prices in ads will lead to more impressions, and hence more opportunity to generate sales, advertisers can use pricing strategies to their advantage. For instance, rather than using the CPC to control how much your ads get shown, you can experiment with product pricing to achieve a similar outcome — instead of raising bids, lowering prices may achieve the same effect.

And that’s where the new Price Benchmark report comes in. Google has now made it really easy to find out if your price is the lowest or if there is an opportunity to boost your results by lowering your prices to be more competitive.

The Google Merchant Center has a Price Benchmarks report that shows prices from competitors for products you also sell.

For example, look at the fourth row of data above. Rather than increasing the bid to try and outrank a competitor whose price is $0.01 lower, it could be possible to boost impressions by setting your price to be the lowest. It would cost only $0.01 per purchase and has the potential to dramatically improve the number of impressions, ad rank and sales. Achieving similar results by increasing the bid would undoubtedly cost more.

Drive more ROI with the GRIP structure and better bids

The typical PPC expert wants a lot of control over how they manage ads, so they like creating granularly structured accounts. But these granular structures can make it hard to get enough data to be able to make smart bidding decisions, so advertisers often group products together to get more data. They sacrifice the control that comes with granularity to simplify account management.

Luckily, with the types of reports Google makes available for Shopping Ads, it is possible to get both granular control and sufficient data to make informed bidding decisions.

To achieve this bidding freedom, you have to implement a granular structure that we’ve named the GRIP structure (which stands for Groups of Individual Products). By putting each SKU or Item ID in a biddable product group, you can use attribute-level commonalities to deploy different bid strategies as needed.

An example of the GRIP structure applied to a retailer selling sporting goods. Each product group is subdivided further until there is exactly one product ID per product group.

Here’s an example of the limits you run into when you don’t use a GRIP structure. Say you’re selling electronics, and you make a product group for all digital cameras. This is problematic because, while it helps you set bids based on aggregated product group data for low volume cameras, it doesn’t give you the flexibility to set smarter bids for high-volume cameras, nor does it allow you to set different bids for full-frame DSLRs if you discover that this type of camera outperforms point-and-shoot cameras.

Even if you structure things fairly granularly, with two or three items in a product group, you will still run into bid limitations because you can’t set different bids for each of these items individually once you get a new insight.

You can use third-party tools to implement the GRIP structure and manage bids based on product attributes, or you can pull the data from AdWords in the Dimensions reports for Shopping campaigns and then make the corresponding bid changes through the campaign management section in AdWords.

Once you have a new insight, the GRIP structure will let you take action to turn the insight into better performance.

Optimize the merchant feed with supplemental feeds

One interesting application we’ve seen used in conjunction with the GRIP structure explained above is to set bids based on product price range or margin. But for that to work, you need to first add those attributes into the feed, something that can be done with custom labels.

Setting that up can be a challenge for marketers because the merchant feeds are usually automatically generated, often on a daily basis. This means that to add a new custom label, you need access to the tool that generates the merchant feed, and not everyone has this level of access.

The tool used to generate the feed may also lack the flexibility to easily make the optimizations that the marketing team wants to test. And, until now, making changes to the feed manually was also not a viable option because these changes would be lost every time the automatic system refreshed the feed.

But now there is a way that marketers can easily test changes to the feed, with Google’s introduction of Supplemental Feeds. A supplemental feed is easy to set up from the Merchant Center and can be something as basic as a manually created and maintained Google Sheet.

Set up a supplemental feed in the Google Merchant Center to take control over your feed optimization.

Here’s how you could use that. Set up a new supplemental feed and copy over the columns for Item ID and Price from your main feed. Then add a new column called “Price Range” and create a formula in the sheet to assign the product price to a price range. Ideally, you’ll choose price ranges that allow your products to be evenly distributed across the different options.

Once the supplemental feed is set up, you can instruct Google to grab this data on a schedule and use it to append or modify the data that is in the main merchant feed. So in our example, we’d use the supplemental feed to append a new Custom Label 0 column.

The reason this is a significant new capability is that it allows you to maintain a feed of supplemental data without the need to stay in perfect sync with the automated generation of the primary feed. The primary feed will still be updated as required to keep Google apprised of prices, availability and so on, while marketers can play with fields that don’t require constant updates, like custom labels, titles and descriptions.

Whenever the new feed is fetched, the feed rule can update it with the marketer’s fields. This gives you time and flexibility to run experiments that will hopefully bring you new insights into ways to improve performance.

Use ValueTrack to better understand your clicks

What I’ve covered so far are tools that should help you achieve more shopping ad success. But AdWords often produces the best results for those who deploy new tests using new tools and strategies, measure the results and continuously optimize based on the findings.

So let me cover a tool to help with the measurement part that’s almost as old as AdWords but is often overlooked. It’s called ValueTrack, and it has some new options related to shopping ads.

ValueTrack is like dynamic keyword insertion for your destination URL. It lets you append a wide variety of data to the URL, which you can use to do creative things with your landing pages. It can also help you enrich your own tracking system with more data about the clicks you’re getting from AdWords.

There are eight ValueTrack parameters specifically for use with Shopping ads and three more for Showcase Shopping ads.

Google has eight ValueTrack parameters available specifically to help with better click tracking for shopping ads.

A full explanation of how to use ValueTrack for Shopping ad tracking is beyond the scope of this article, but let me share an example to illustrate its power.

You could use the {adtype} parameter to track whether a click was on a regular shopping ad (=pla) or a shopping ad shown in conjunction with a promotion from the promotion feed (=pla_with_promotion). This could help you measure the impact of the various promotions you’re running for your shopping ads.

Conclusion

Shopping ads continue to be a great way for retailers to get more visits from interested buyers, and Google keeps adding new capabilities that make this unique ad format easier to work with and experiment with. It’s not too late to start using some of these techniques to boost your sales this holiday season.

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

SearchCap: Google Shopping ad updates, SEO ranking factors & nofollow links

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

From Search Engine Land:

5 ways to sell more this holiday season with Google’s updates to shopping ads
Oct 25, 2017 by Frederick Vallaeys
Contributor Frederick Vallaeys shares techniques to get the most out of your product listing ads by employing both new and often-overlooked features.SEO Ranking Factors in 2017: What’s Important and What’s Not
Oct 25, 2017 by Jessica Thompson
What are the most crucial search engine ranking factors these days? Panelists at SMX East discussed their findings and provided practical advice for putting this data into action.Nofollow links are not useless: Earning them Is central to good SEO
Oct 25, 2017 by Pratik Dholakiya
Some SEOs discount nofollow links, but contributor Pratik Dholakiya argues such an approach could result in many missed opportunities.

Search News From Around The Web:

FTC loosens guidelines to let kids use voice commands, EngadgetGoogle Link Report Is Not A Real Time Monitor Of Links, Search Engine RoundtableTangential Content Earns More Links and Social Shares in Boring Industries [New Research], MozEverything You Need to Know About Spammy Structured Markup Penalty, CognitiveSEOGiphy.com’s Drop on Google – Things You Should Never Do, SISTRIXGoogle is Rolling Out “Book a Room” CTA to Hotels’ Knowledge Panels, Sergey AlakovNew report: Local audiences consuming news on social platforms are hungry for transparency, Columbia Journalism ReviewSEO in 2018: The Definitive Guide, BackLinkoThe beginner’s guide to Yoast SEO, YoastYandex Search Market Share Increase During Q3, Russian Search Marketing

Nofollow links are not useless: Earning them Is central to good SEO

With major publishers like Inc., Forbes and The Huffington Post placing the rel=”nofollow” tag on their external links, the sky is once again falling. Or not. In fact, I’ve always believed that earning nofollow links was an important part of any SEO strategy built to last.

The reality of the situation is that nofollow links are good for your SEO, full stop. Whether your evidence comes from case studies, personal experience or correlative data, the answer is the same.

We can debate about whether nofollow links have any direct impact on rankings until the cows come home, but in the end, it just doesn’t matter that much. What matters is that, if you are earning nofollow links on high-profile platforms, you are earning brand exposure, referral traffic and various off-site signals that do help your rankings in the search results.

I have witnessed the effect myself far too often to conclude otherwise, and anybody who has been in this industry long enough knows that you shouldn’t decide to pursue — or decline to pursue — a link based upon whether or not a link is nofollowed.

Let me present the evidence, and then I’ll explain how you can make the most of link building by incorporating nofollow links in the appropriate way.

Nofollow links can definitely help SEO: The evidence

I feel comfortable saying that nofollow links definitely help your SEO, although most of the benefits are probably indirect. The exposure associated with a high-profile nofollow link is well worth the effort and contributes positively to your visibility in search results, as well as sending direct referral traffic and improving brand reach. It also appears to be almost indisputable that nofollow links help pages get indexed.

It’s more speculative to say that nofollow links can, in some cases, directly improve your rankings, and I won’t commit to a statement that strong. What I can say is that search engines reserve the right to ignore the nofollow tag, and I suspect that they do for some links they view as editorially placed and trustworthy.

Remember that Google’s own answer is that “In general, we don’t follow them.” (Emphasis mine.) This seems to imply that, while they usually don’t follow them, they sometimes do.

Perhaps more importantly, if your link-building strategy places importance on whether or not a link is nofollowed, then you are using the wrong link-building strategy. Google guidelines have been clear on this for a very long time. If you’re doing something just for the SEO value, it’s probably a violation of the Google guidelines.

Your link-building strategies should be focused on building exposure that leads to organic SEO signals. That is where the real value is.

But let’s not talk about platitudes. Let’s talk about evidence.

Case studies

Consider this case study by TekNicks. Between January of 2014 and May of 2015, they helped a client earn 99 links. Of those, only 11 were followed. The remaining 88 links were all nofollowed links — 89 percent of the total.

But during that period, the client saw 288 percent growth in their organic search traffic. At the end of the period, the client ranked in their top position for their main keyword, which TekNicks claims is “very competitive,” and which receives 2,000 monthly searches.

At the end of this period, they additionally ranked for an even more competitive keyword, with 8,100 monthly searches. For the period, organic traffic grew from 1,700 sessions a month to 6,500 sessions.

But, perhaps equally importantly, one of the nofollow links they earned sent 3,922 referrals between January and October of 2014.

And TekNicks isn’t the only agency to experience something like this. Fractl has three excellent examples of nofollow links working wonders for clients, demonstrating the power of media exposure.

They developed an infographic called “Your Face as an Alcoholic” for client Rehabs.com, which quickly hit the front page after they shared it with the Daily Mail in 2014. The resulting exposure led to coverage in 900 media stories, including The Huffington Post and the New York Daily News.

Only 30 percent of those newly-earned links were dofollow, and they earned over 14,000 shares on social media.

In a second example, Fractl placed a story for a client on Yahoo Travel, exposing how expensive hotels often have more germs than cheaper hotels. This featured article led to coverage in 700 stories, a third of which contained dofollow links, as well as 23,000 social shares.

Finally, one Fractl client saw a 271 percent increase in organic search traffic resulting from an exclusive, but nofollowed, link on BuzzFeed.

In a more controlled test, Eli Schwartz of SurveyMonkey demonstrated that, at a minimum, nofollow links definitely help pages get indexed.

After SurveyMonkey moved its blog from the subdomain to their root domain, Eli ran a few tests on the old subdomain URLs. He modded the 404 page, including a link to a page with bogus anchor text. Google crawled the 404 page and indexed the test page in under 48 hours, after it was included in a newly published item. The resulting link even carried the anchor text.

Running the same test again with a link to a different page, he tried using a nofollow link instead. As you can probably guess, Google indexed the URL, even though the hyperlink was nofollowed. He did notice, however, that the anchor text didn’t carry over.

How Google treats nofollowed links

Nofollowed links are also typically accompanied by brand mentions. According to a Google Patent, brand mentions may be considered “implied links.” In other words, if a brand gets mentioned online, this may be treated in a similar manner to an actual link. While we don’t know for sure, a brand mention along with a nofollow link may also help the search engines in understanding the semantic link between a brand mention and the website it refers to, since brand mentions are less clear due to their less explicit nature.

Whether “co-citation” of this form helps traditional search results, it’s certainly clear that citations help local search. In one example, local SEO Phil Frost explains how including citations (with name, address and phone number) in a press release helped a client move from position 20 to position 1 in local search results for their primary keyword. In this case, despite the links being no-followed, the citations clearly helped their client rank.

Case studies by Search Engine Land and Moz, in addition to more recent case studies that come out on a fairly routine basis, demonstrate that it is still possible to improve rankings using press release distribution. While we generally avoid this tactic unless it’s also used with the primary goal of generating press, it continues to be popular even though the majority of press release distribution sites now contain nofollowed links. That press releases still help with SEO is a testament to the value of nofollow links in this context, whether direct or indirect.

Correlative analysis of observational ranking data conducted by Ahrefs also suggests that a relatively even split between dofollow and nofollow links may help rankings. While correlative studies have their flaws, primarily because they can’t establish a cause and effect relationship, it would be a mistake to ignore them.

Likewise, Moz’s analysis of ranking factors finds a 0.32 correlation between the number of nofollow links pointing to a page and rankings. This is nearly identical to the correlation between the number of external domains linking to a page and its rankings, which sits just 0.02 higher, at 0.34.

One can rightfully argue that these correlation studies could just be showing us that successful pages are more likely to get linked to, and thus are more likely to receive nofollowed links. This is a reasonable objection, but it applies equally to followed links, and, with such a small difference in correlations, it does make one wonder if nofollowed links could actually contribute directly to rankings.

Regardless of whether or not this is the case, the case studies above demonstrate definitively that, directly or indirectly, nofollow links can have a dramatic positive impact on search engine rankings. My personal experience with nofollow links leads me to the same conclusions.

How to maximize the SEO value of nofollow links

1. Remember: The anchor text is meaningless for keyword rankings

Whether or not nofollow links can directly improve your rankings, it’s clear that the anchor text is most likely ignored entirely.

If you are earning nofollow links with SEO in mind, anchor text should be the last thing on your mind, or more accurately, you shouldn’t be thinking much about keywords when it comes to anchor text.

The primary value of the link is in getting people to visit your site directly, and that means the purpose of the anchor text is to get people to click through and see more. That means the anchor text should pique the reader’s curiosity as much as possible, promise them something in a clear and non-deceptive way or address objections the user might have to clicking the link.

2. Focus on an audience of influencers

Other than receiving direct clicks from your target audience, the main thing you want a nofollow link to accomplish is to earn additional followed links from trusted influencers.

Earning those links means producing content that appeals to journalists, thought leaders, microcelebrities and others who have large audiences of their own.

This means that your content should be going the extra mile, since influencers are generally the most voracious infovores in your industry. They know almost everything, and they aren’t easy to surprise.

How do you catch these people’s attention with your content? There are two primary methods:

Focus on novelty.Focus on being comprehensive.

These can be subdivided into far more categories, but these are the primary things to focus on.

Focusing on novelty means providing influencers with things they’ve never seen before. The best examples of this type of content include:

orginal research, such as surveys, experiments, or studiesinteractive tools like web apps“investigative journalism”-style work that provides insider informationexclusive interviewsnewsevent coverageproprietary information

Focusing on being comprehensive includes things like:

ultimate guideswhite papershow-to videose-bookscourses“30-Day Challenges”introductions and primersglossaries and dictionaries

In short, say something new, or distill something big.

If you do this, and then get your resource published on a major platform, it doesn’t matter whether or not your link is followed or nofollowed. What is important is how the exposure will lead to coverage in the press, on social networks, on blogs and magazines and so on.

By making influencers your audience, you maximize your reach and SEO impact.

3. Use the opportunity to mention your brand

As I mentioned above, Google patents suggest that a simple mention of your brand can help improve your visibility in the search results. Such brand mentions may be treated as “implied links” and, if so, likely carry similar authority metrics, so that a mention in a more authoritative media platform results in a stronger rankings boost.

Whether Google has actually put this patent to use and found that it helped their rankings algorithm is unclear, but brand mentions are valuable for obvious reasons, and can indirectly benefit your SEO as well.

Brand mentions lead to increased searches for your brand name, which in turn can help your rankings in a virtuous feedback cycle.

While you shouldn’t name-drop shamelessly, don’t skip the chance to promote your brand when you place a nofollow link on an authoritative platform.

4. Leverage social media

Failure to pursue nofollow links can hurt your SEO performance in many ways, but one of the worst consequences is the tendency to avoid techniques that involve (typically nofollowed) social media.

Google has explicitly stated many times that there are no special ranking factors developed for social networks.

Since Google evidently doesn’t use “likes” and “retweets” as ranking factors, and since links on social platforms are nofollowed, some in the SEO industry ask, “Why bother?”

Well, for starters, as I mentioned above, Google’s own statements on nofollow suggest that they sometimes do count nofollowed links, even though in general they don’t. Moz’s correlation studies certainly find very strong correlations between social media activity and rankings. Could the nofollowed links from this social activity be counting toward rankings?

There’s no way to know for sure, but the correlation is meaningful either way.

What social media undoubtedly can do is earn you attention that leads indirectly to links. Viral activity on social networks inevitably leads to media coverage and followed links. Scrapers also replicate links from social media in other locations, often without the nofollow tag.

Social media platforms are perhaps the most effective way to amplify your content’s reach in the short term. In addition to sharing your content with your own audience, you can leverage other influencers by reaching out to personalities that are popular on social media. If you do so tactfully, you can reach much larger audiences. This activity inevitably leads to naturally earned links, as well as various other off-page activity that helps improve your rankings.

5. Republishing

Republishing your content on major platforms is a tactic that frequently results in nofollowed links, but if the platforms attract a large enough audience, this is well worth the effort. Since many bloggers and editors refer to major media platforms for their sources, if you can get republished on a major platform, you can earn editorial links from the writers who cite those platforms frequently.

While it’s true that some of these writers will cite the republished version, more vigilant writers will click the nofollowed link and cite your website as the original source, since links to primary sources are preferred by writers who take research seriously.

More speculatively, it’s possible that under some circumstances, Google will see the duplicate content and identify your original publication as the primary source, and as a result, transfer the search engine authority from the other duplicates to your original. I have witnessed effects that seem to imply this is happening, although it would be hasty to conclude with too much certainty that this is exactly what is going on.

Either way, it’s as clear as day that republishing content on more popular platforms expands your reach, puts your brand in front of more eyeballs and increases your likelihood of getting cited with a link by other writers.

6. Get obsessed with referral traffic

Too many in this industry are focused on building links without concerning themselves with whether or not those links actually send any referral traffic.

It’s been said many times but it can never be said enough: the most valuable links are the ones you earn organically and editorially — when people link to you without you reaching out or doing anything else to earn the link.

I’m not arguing that those are the only kinds of links you should be earning, but if you optimize your own “manual” link-building efforts in such a way that it generates the largest number of organic links, you are approaching link building the way you should be.

Few things more reliably produce organic links than sheer traffic. It’s probable that a certain percentage of your readership will always end up linking to you if you have enough readers. So if you can expand the number of people who see your content, you can expand the number of people who will link to you.

Oh, and referral traffic is valuable on its own, too. But you knew that already, right?

So, how do you go about earning nofollow links that send traffic?

I would argue that the primary thing to focus on is earning links that grow your traffic in a cumulative fashion. In other words, it’s not the link that sends you a thousand visits one day and zero the next that you really want to chase. It’s the link that sends 100 visits a day every day for the foreseeable future that you really want to get your hands on.

Here are some of the types of links that can help you accomplish that:

Quora. If you’ve ever answered a question on Quora, you’ve probably noticed that while the referral traffic numbers aren’t necessarily high for any given question, you tend to see traffic from Quora for a very long time after posting an answer. Build up a lot of these and you will start seeing cumulative growth in referral traffic.Pinterest. While its traffic-driving power isn’t quite as strong as it was when it first made a splash, it is still an incredibly useful referral source that sends a lot of traffic when an image does really well.Forums. I know they seem like a throwback from the 1990s, but forums are still incredibly popular, and if you use them in a similar fashion to Quora, they can send you long-term cumulative traffic, especially if the forum allows you to link to your site in your forum signature or elsewhere.SlideShare. Presentations here can attract a very different type of audience and can be a constant source of traffic, especially if you are in the B2B sector.Interviews. Interview an influencer, and they are likely to promote that interview on their own platforms. If they publish it on their site, the link can sometimes become evergreen and send a continuous drip of traffic.Resource lists. These are especially popular on educational sites. Inclusion in somebody’s resource list is almost guaranteed to be an evergreen traffic source if their site has enough traffic.YouTube. A YouTube video that does well with the algorithm becomes an evergreen source of brand mentions and traffic.Podcasts. These can be a great source of long-term traffic for the same reasons as YouTube videos.

If you stop chasing the followed link and shift your obsession toward upping your referral traffic, you start to realize how unimportant the nofollow tag really is, both in terms of growing your overall traffic, and even in improving your authority with the search engines.

The myth that nofollow links are useless for SEO needs to die. A solid SEO strategy is not concerned with whether the manual links you place will directly impact your SEO. A thorough reading of the Google guidelines should, in fact, lead you to the conservative assumption that no link you place yourself counts toward rankings. The indirect effects are where the true value lies, and it is where you should be focusing the majority of your effort.

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

Google announces new online-to-offline features on the cusp of the holiday shopping season

Google’s focus on local search the past couple of years has some expecting local search traffic to play a heightened role for brick-and-mortar retailers this coming holiday. Google is now teeing up some new shopping features and reporting capabilities ahead of the holiday shopping season.

The announcements, made by Kishore Kanakamedala, director of product management for online-to-offline solutions, and livestreamed at 8:15 a.m. ET from SMX East in New York on Tuesday morning, include ways for retailers with brick-and-mortar locations to drive and measure more store visits from Google properties.

Kanakamedala said that mobile is “now the anchor of the customer journey” and cited Google research  showing mobile ads generate 160 percent more incremental store visits compared to desktop and tablet and that local ad efforts such as local inventory ads drive an 80 percent higher rate of incremental store visits.

Local inventory tie-in to Google Assistant

With voice searching becoming an ingrained habit for more consumers, Google is tying local inventory data into results provided via Google Assistant.

When users ask their phones or Google home, “Okay Google, Where can I buy _____ nearby?,” Google will show a list of local inventory results on their phones. To be eligible for inclusion in local inventory search, retailers need to upload their local inventory feeds to Google Merchant Center.

Local inventory in display ads

Earlier this year, Google added location extensions to display ads. Now, Google is adding a local inventory display ad format that features promotions and local products from a retailer’s inventory feeds.

The pilot for this new local display ad format is now open to all advertisers that set up display campaigns and upload their assets, including a feed and images.

Store visits measurement updates

Kanakamedala said Google has now measured more than 7 billion store visits globally.

Along with the introduction of the local display format, Google is adding reporting for impression-based store visitsThe ability to measure store visits without needing an ad click is a fairly significant development on the trajectory of Google’s store visits measurement capabilities.

Google is also introducing three new reports to AdWords for store visits:

Time lag report — Shows the time between an ad click and a store visit.Demographic report — Users can add store visits as a column to existing demographic reports.New vs. returning customer report — This will show how many of store visits come from repeat customers. “Together with the time lag report, this can help you gauge how your ads drive incremental visits,” Kanakamedala said.

Apparel shopping updates

In mobile Shopping results for apparel searches, users will soon see filtering options for sizing, pricing and other criteria. The listings within Google Shopping are bigger and feature brand logos.

Earlier this year, Google rolled out support for Showcase Ads in AdWords Editor and the new AdWords interface. These are the ads designed for broad category queries that feature three product images related to the query. Google said Tuesday that early tests have shown Showcase Ads to drive an increase in brand searches and click-assisted conversions leading to a purchase when compared to standard Shopping ads.

People are watching other people shopping on YouTube

If unboxing videos were the big thing a year or two ago, Google says YouTube “shop with me” videos, in which people take viewers into stores, and store tour videos, in which, yes, average people give viewers tours through stores, have seen watch time grow over 10x on mobile in the past two years.

A bigger Bing for your buck

Bing Ads doesn’t get the credit it deserves. While it’s true that Bing was slower to the paid ad game than Google and Yahoo, Bing Ads — formerly known as Microsoft’s MSN adCenter — has now been around for more than  a decade and boasts some pretty impressive stats in its own right. Consider that Bing and its search partner network, which now includes Yahoo, totals more than 6 billion searches each month. This number equates to roughly 30 percent of total search engine share. And a single Bing Ad buy can reach more than 160 million unique searchers across the Bing network.

If you haven’t given Bing serious consideration in your marketing strategy, you could be missing out. Here’s why.

The case for Bing search

Bing has a history of poaching searches from Google, starting with grabbing a serious 5 percent of the giant’s share back in 2012. Search share fluctuates — a lot — but the most recent numbers show Bing again stealing more of the share. The reasons for this are unclear, but the uptick could be related to the proliferation of Windows 10, throughout which Bing is deeply integrated. And while Google — and its integration with Siri’s voice search — might seem unbeatable, there are a number of areas where Bing consistently outperforms Google:

Social media integration. Bing benefits from parent company Microsoft’s deals with both Facebook and Twitter. Google lagged for a time, relying solely on Google+ for search results integration. While Google developed an API to display tweets in search results, Bing’s greater access to social data allows it to feature more trending news from social media in its results.Image and video search. While Google’s ownership of YouTube should give it a clear win in the video category, Bing’s grid layout of video thumbnails presents more videos without scrolling, offers previews when hovering over videos and lets users watch without leaving the results page. Meanwhile, Bing’s image search results feature higher-quality images and let users filter results according to tall, wide or square layout.Look and feel. While design is always debatable, some feel that Bing’s results pages just look better — cleaner and less cluttered, with social media news feeds presented in easy-to-navigate grids (which further adds to the social media integration mentioned above).Rewards and freebies. With Bing’s Microsoft Rewards program, users can receive points for every search — points that can be redeemed at Amazon, Starbucks and other popular purveyors of goods. The points-per-search ratio is not high, but they can add up with enough volume.Bing Ads. Bing’s paid ad system is gaining ground on Google for a lot of reasons — not the least of which is their new Offline Conversion Importing feature. We’ll explore this further next.

Bing ads deliver quality where it counts

Reebok. Pepsi. Many companies built strong businesses looking up from the second-place position, and Bing is no different. Bing has positioned itself well to keep competing and possibly even close the gap on Google in the years ahead. But it’s in the realm of paid advertising where Bing’s potential really makes itself clear.

Bing Ads generally experience better ad positions than their Google counterparts due to less competition. And while Google blocks queries containing negative keywords, even if they also contain keywords, Bing allows keywords to supersede negatives, so that an ad will still show.

Cost is another differentiator. By some estimates, the cost per click on Bing is a third lower than on Google. And this isn’t necessarily a case of “you get what you pay for,” either, as a  sample of advertisers from WordStream also report higher click-through rates with Bing Ads. With ads that are less expensive and potentially deliver higher click-through rates, Bing may offer  a way for marketers to do more with less budget.

Beyond ROI, Bing also offers intuitive, granular controls for managing ads at the group and campaign level, arguably surpassing Google in a number of areas. Bing, for example, allows you to assign different time zones in campaigns. This might seem like a minor difference, but when running campaigns nationally or internationally, it can make a big difference in getting ads seen at the proper peak times.

When it comes to campaigns, Bing allows deeper dives to make changes at group levels of campaigns for preferences like scheduling, language, location and so on. Google, on the other hand, restricts the setting of these parameters at the campaign level. Bing also allows marketers  to view and control the demographics in searches — a feature that Google has yet to adopt. This can translate into ads targeted by gender and/or age. These functionalities make Bing less clunky and easier to work with, saving both time and frustration.

The addition of Offline Conversion Import

This is a potential game-changer. Despite Bing’s additional features and flexibility listed above, Google had a head start in the search and paid search game, as well as some functionality that Bing and other search engines had not yet adopted. AdWords Conversion Import is a good example of this. The Conversion Import feature in AdWords allows users to input conversions made outside of AdWords into the paid system, so that all conversions — offline and online — are tracked. This feature can bring about a more complete understanding of the performance of overall marketing efforts. This is a big benefit for AdWords users.

Now it’s a big benefit for Bing advertisers as well, as Bing has developed its own Offline Conversion Import feature. This ultimately connects offline sales from online leads back to the original search ads the customer viewed or clicked prior to conversion. The result is a more complete understanding of the customer’s journey — especially which ad or ads he/she responded to. In turn, this helps the advertiser see which ads, keywords and other elements end up leading to the most conversions.

Completing the journey

For years, we’ve been urging marketers to marry offline and online advertising metrics, as those only following the buyer journey after a customer goes online are getting a very incomplete picture. How did a customer originally appear? Which ad channels are most effective? And what about phone calls, a primary way that many buyers make contact? Call tracking helps answer all of these questions by filling in the conversion gaps and providing both offline and online attribution.

At CallTrackingMetrics, we know that Bing is a powerful marketing weapon, and their launch of Offline Conversion Import makes their product even more potent. Now, as the first call-tracking platform to support Bing Ads’ new Offline Conversion feature, we have the ability to  send session and conversion data directly into Bing. We’ve also developed an integration with Bing’s Call Extensions, making attribution at the Ad Group level available. These integrations make the user experience easy, while allowing for a highly detailed picture of customer behaviors, both online and offline.

More Bing for your buck

What does the future hold for Bing? An expanding piece of the search-share pie? Nosedives and rebounds? We don’t have a crystal ball, of course. A great deal depends on the relationships and integrations developed by the competing providers — like that between Microsoft and Facebook, or Google and Apple. What remains clear to us, though, is that Bing is a competitor that marketers overlook at their own peril. Marketers that continue to dump their entire paid spend into Google stand to lose a lot in potential benefits, customers and journeys — not to mention dollars.

How to increase B2B traffic by 192% in five months

SEO is a long-term strategy.

It takes time to build authority and reputation, and spammy tricks that work for a short time are eventually devalued by the search engines.

However, we’ve found a strategy that’s delivered results relatively quickly and proven particularly effective in the B2B space.

Some of our best projects have seen near double traffic growth:

Not surprisingly, this traffic growth corresponds with our efforts to secure links. Here is a look at the trends for referring domains to the site above (via Ahrefs):

Of course, seeing a case study where links helped grow traffic isn’t earth-shattering. But I want to share the strategies we used to achieve these results so you can experiment with them on your own site.

Our strategy included:

analyzing competitive content.expanding topics to build linkable assets.building targeted pages and resources.identifying opportunities for hyper-relevant, linkable content.

These were the four cornerstones of our process.

To better demonstrate these strategies, I’ll reference a hypothetical example throughout the post. Since our project was in the B2B space, I’m choosing a B2B brand for my example: Absorb LMS, a learning management system for employee training (not a client).

Without further ado, let’s dive into the process we used to grow traffic in the B2B sector by 192 percent in roughly five months.

Analyzing competitor content and pages

We started by examining what was working for our client’s competitors.

There are a wide variety of excellent tools available for competitive analysis — for our project, we used Ahrefs to analyze competitors’ top pages. By analyzing competitors’ top content, we could identify keyword gaps on our client’s site, as well as low-difficulty opportunities.

For our client, we focused on larger (respective to their niche) search volumes first and worked our way down from there, but there is no set search volume that’s appropriate for every strategy. Instead, consider your niche and the potential value of capturing leads from a given search result. If one lead is potentially worth thousands of dollars, you don’t need much volume to justify the value of ranking for that term.

For Absorb, competitor content analysis would involve scrutinizing competitors such as:

TalentLMSLitmosBridgeDoceboGrowth EngineeringDokeos LMSAdministrate

For example, looking at Bridge in Ahrefs, I can see some of their top pages define various eLearning terms:

It appears TalentLMS has similar pages that are performing well, and they are also securing traffic from e-learning subtopics like [authoring tool], [constant learning] and [microlearning].

From just a quick glance at these competitors in Ahrefs, I learned that Absorb could pursue some opportunities creating pages that define prominent e-learning terms or target tangentially related topics.

Since Absorb doesn’t currently have any pages like this in their top 15 pages in Ahrefs, this strategy should be a real consideration.

If Absorb were really a client, I would analyze all their competitors to uncover trends and find as many opportunities and gaps as possible. But for this post, I’m going to move on to the next part of our strategy: building linkable assets.

Expanding topics to create linkable assets

The next step is creating highly linkable assets.

Many B2B brands work within narrow, specific niches; this was the case for our client. It’s certainly possible to secure links within these small online neighborhoods, but you can quickly exhaust all available worthwhile opportunities.

We discovered that broadening our topics gave us the opportunity to promote them to a much larger outreach market. To better understand this topic expansion, let’s consider Absorb LMS.

Absorb’s primary audience and buyers exist within the e-learning niche. However, this is a relatively small outreach market, which can mean limited exposure and links when it comes to content promotion. By expanding, I could target broader topics like:

learning styles and the psychology of learning.employee benefits and retention.business management.career advancement

These topics have larger audiences, which means bigger outreach markets and more visibility, yet they’re still relevant to Absorb’s service and their audience.

A quick comparison of search volumes for the head terms of [learning management system] and [business management] in SEMrush demonstrates the difference in audience sizes:

[learning management system] — 6,600[business management] — 18,100

Broader content topics will have broader appeal and provide more opportunities to secure exposure and links, while still being relevant and providing the opportunity to reach your target audience.

Building targeted pages and resources

We also built strategic pages to target the most important and relevant terms for our client.

While we wanted our linkable assets to have broad appeal, we wanted these pages to answer a very specific question or issue pertinent to the client’s business, and answer it better than any other page on the web.

To create best-in-class pages, we followed content strategy best practices such as:

providing in-depth, long-form coverage of the topic.adding rich media and interactivity via sunk cost differentiators.maintaining a strong and consistent focus on keywords and key phrases.optimizing on-page factors — e.g., URLs, title tags, H1s, page speed, image optimization.

Although these resources had limited outreach markets, they also had lower competition. Because the quality of the content was high, the pages were optimized, and the competition was low, these pages could perform well in search with little promotion.

While the traffic from these pages was small in volume, it was highly qualified traffic. These pages also built credibility and overall brand awareness as our client began to show up consistently for hyper-relevant queries. It’s even possible to passively acquire links to these pages if they are the leading resource in the space.

Ideation for these pages came from a combination of the insights from competitive content analysis and keyword research.

Using my Absorb example, I could revisit competitor top pages to find direction for new page creation. For instance, TalentLMS has a page that ranks number one for [e learning technology]:

The search volume is relatively small (150), but this is a relevant term for Absorb, and ranking here would be beneficial. Furthermore, after looking at TalentLMS’s page, I’m confident Absorb could easily build something better for searchers.

The TalentLMS page is essentially one large block of text:

This is an opportunity for Absorb to create something that is best-in-class and builds authority and visibility in their niche.

Identifying when volume intersects with relevance

The combination of linkable assets with broad appeal and strategic, targeted pages built a strong SEO foundation for our client. However, the major successes came when we could identify opportunities where large search volumes corresponded with hyper-relevant topics.

These situations are less prevalent but can be extremely rewarding if you can find them. Capitalizing on these opportunities means you get the best of both worlds: increased link opportunities and the chance to rank for key terms for your business.

Regarding Absorb LMS, I would again turn to their competitors. For example, Bridge has a page that ranks on page one for the term [scorm] which has a search volume of 5,500:

Again, it appears there is an opportunity for Absorb to build something that could outperform Bridge’s page, which is just a few large chunks of text:

If Absorb built a page focused on SCORM, they could secure both links and highly relevant traffic.

Strategy recap

We achieved phenomenal results for our client with this strategy. Of course, your results will vary depending on a variety of factors (website, competition, goals) but the concepts outlined here could help you grow traffic on your own site, particularly if you operate within a very niche category in the B2B space.

To recap, our strategy involved:

analyzing competitive content: Analyze top-performing pages on competitor sites to identify potential content opportunities.expanding topic groups: Broaden topics when creating linkable assets to extend the reach of those assets and target larger outreach markets.building strategic pages and resources: Create best-in-class pages that target hyper-relevant terms and traffic.identifying opportunities for hyper-relevant, linkable content: Find situations where substantial search volume intersects with highly relevant topics to secure large numbers of links and capture qualified traffic.

Hopefully, you can apply some of these strategies to your own pursuit for better search performance.

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

How to use long-tail keywords to build your short-tail rankings

If you have a relatively new or low-authority website, then you know how difficult it can be to rank for high-volume, short-tail keyword phrases. Heck, any competitive keyword can pose a challenge, even for well-established sites.

I often hear experts talk about going after the low-hanging fruit of keywords. “Forget about the short tail,” they say.

I agree that that going after the low-hanging fruit is a good strategy, but not at the expense of those highly competitive phrases that will drive some great traffic to your site. Rather, it’s that low-hanging fruit that paves the way to ranking for those more competitive phrases.

Very few searches are truly unique

When it comes to search terms, there isn’t a whole lot new under the sun. Google says that 15 percent of all queries they get have never been used before, but that doesn’t mean it’s unique in the true sense of the word. Let’s assume, for example, that neither of the following searches has ever been entered into Google:

how to eat a lemon without cringinghow to eat a lemon without making a face

Are either of these terms really unique? Well, according to Google autocomplete, they are relationally similar to these:

And that tells us that even if my two made-up phrases fall within Google’s 15 percent of “unique” queries, we can see that it’s only the particular query string itself that’s unique, not necessarily the sentiment behind it.

And it’s that intent that gives us a goldmine of optimization opportunities.

Optimize for topics, intents and desires

Search any given topic, and you’ll uncover hundreds, sometimes thousands, of keywords. Those keywords represent different things searchers want to know about that topic. One look at a 100+ keyword list and it’s easy to see why you can’t possibly optimize a single page for every (relevant) keyword on a given topic.

This is where you need to segment keywords into groups, each group representing a similar intent. Good SEO and usability dictate that each intent requires a unique page of content to satisfy the searcher’s needs.

Let’s look at a simple set of short-tail phrases:

20,200 monthly searches, according to Moz

According to keyword volume data from Moz, these two phrases alone garner over 20,000 searches per month. And while they may not be the most competitive keywords you can find, they’re important to this industry — which does make them competitive.

But that set of keywords spawns other keywords with differing intents:

The green group is easily optimized on the same page of our core terms. As for the rest, if you do the quick math, the total monthly search volume represents only about 10 percent of the volume of the main group. But this is a small sample — four groups out of dozen grouped possibilities. Add in the rest of the researched keywords, and you get much closer to the 20K number of the core terms.

Breaking out your short-tail keywords into related groups of long-tail keywords makes for some good keyword targeting, provided you have (or can create) the pages and content for them.

Don’t throw out the short tail

Many people may tell you to ignore the short tail. It’s competitive, too difficult, too costly and so on. And, yes, those are all valid points. But the key is not to focus on the short tail exclusively, but rather to use the long tail to build up relevance for the short tail.

And, in truth, this is a rather simple process. Let me introduce you to a little thing I call “Optimize the Long Tail.”

In my process, you want to optimize not just for some of the long-tail phrases — you want to optimize for all of them. Find all the keywords in a given topic that have similar meanings, group them together, and find or create a page to optimize.

Another quick example: Say you find a few keywords for your product with the following qualifiers: discount, clearance, sale, closeouts, surplus, cheap.

You see a pattern to those? They all have similar meaning, which means they can be optimized together. Simply build a page where you put all your discounted stock for quick sale.

But no discount page would be complete without a link back to your main product page. After all, if the item they want isn’t discounted, they may just go ahead and buy it at full price. So add in your text link to the short-tail optimized page.

And then do it again with other keywords of similar intent. And then again, and then again, and then again.

In fact, you may want to optimize out one entire short-tail topic page before moving on to your next short-tail topic. This might mean five, 10, or even a couple dozen pages, but each page optimized for a similar-intent long-tail group provides a link and power back to the short-tail keyword that you want to rank for.

Patience is key

It’s important that in all of this, you exercise patience and have realistic expectations. Optimizing a dozen long-tail phrases won’t automatically get you traction on the short-tail phrase you really want. You still have to build authority to all the pages. Without authority, you’re just not going to rank for those short-tail phrases, regardless of how well you’ve optimized.

But optimizing out all those long-tail pages is great for authority-building. Get those pages to rank on their own merits, and with each page addition, you’ll be building on top of the existing authority you have.

You still have to market and promote and provide value. (Don’t ever forget to provide value!) That may take years, but eventually you’ll see your efforts pay off.

And the beauty of it is, while you’re optimizing long-tail in order to achieve short-tail, you’ll see the traffic and sales build. Even those less frequently searched long-tail phrases can add up to 50 to 100 percent of the traffic you’ll get from the short-tail phrases. And that’s what makes long-tail a crucial part of your strategy. They may drive less traffic per term, but they’ll drive just as much traffic in total.

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

Google Assistant now offering a wide range of games for kids and families

The battle of the smart speakers and home assistants is in full swing. And both Amazon and Google think that gaming and fun will help provide a competitive edge.

Amazon introduced Echo Buttons, which enable families to play Alexa-based games together, in September. Today Google announced a trove of games for families and kids: “[T]he Google Assistant now has more than 50 new games, activities and stories designed for families with kids.” They include trivia, musical chairs, storytelling and more.

Games for Google Assistant are available on Home devices, smartphones and other devices where the Assistant is available. This is also where Google seeks to compete, as a platform across more devices (“ambient computing”) than Amazon can offer.

Google has also made it possible to personalize the Assistant for kids under 13. Home devices can recognize up to six different voices. Accordingly, kids can use the same devices as their parents, but the Assistant will recognize the child’s voice and offer different options and experiences.

Parental controls are powered by “Family Link.” It’s an app that gives parents the ability to manage their kids’ Android device experiences.

SearchCap: Google AdWords offline, Google Assistant for families & long-tail keywords

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 announces new online-to-offline features on the cusp of the holiday shopping season
Oct 24, 2017 by Ginny Marvin

The announcements are aimed at giving brick-and-mortar retailers greater visibility on Google search properties.

Google Assistant now offering a wide range of games for kids and families
Oct 24, 2017 by Greg Sterling

Fun is a competitive battleground in the smart speaker race.

How to use long-tail keywords to build your short-tail rankings
Oct 24, 2017 by Stoney deGeyter

Some SEO professionals may advise you not to bother chasing rankings for competitive keyword terms, but columnist Stoney deGeyter believes you can build your authority for these keywords over time by focusing on the long tail.

How to increase B2B traffic by 192% in five months
Oct 24, 2017 by Andrew Dennis

Looking to increase traffic and links to your site? Columnist Andrew Dennis shares the process he used to greatly improve search engine visibility for a B2B client.

A bigger Bing for your buck
Oct 24, 2017 by Sponsored Content: CallTrackingMetrics

Bing Ads doesn’t get the credit it deserves. While it’s true that Bing was slower to the paid ad game than Google and Yahoo, Bing Ads — formerly known as Microsoft’s MSN adCenter — has now been around for more than a decade and boasts some pretty impressive stats in its own right. Consider that […]

Search News From Around The Web:

Active Link Building Works: Here’s Why It Doesn’t For You, Search Engine PeopleHow Google Handles Ranking Pages of Identical Products on a Site, The SEM PostHow To Build Custom Affinity Audiences In Old & New AdWords, PPC HeroHow to create SEO-friendly copy in a foreign language, YoastCompetitive Research: How to Battle Your SEO Enemies – And Win, Search Engine JournalGoogle Says Stick With ISO 3166-1 For Hreflang, Search Engine RoundtableHow to Set Up and Use Google’s New Customer Reviews, ignitevisibility.comNightmare on SEO Street, SEM RushWordPress SEO Problems You Wish Were Solved, Part 3 — And Their Solution, Bruce ClayYandex Announces Third Quarter 2017 Financial Results (NASDAQ:YNDX), Yandex

Businesses can now sign up to add booking buttons to their Google local results

In July, Google added booking buttons to some local panel results. Now, Google is opening that up to more local businesses by integrating with their “scheduling partners” directly from the Google My Business console.

When you log into your Google My Business account, you may see a new button in the console named “sign up for bookings” next to the “accept bookings on Google” section. Here is a screen shot of that section:

After you click on that button, you will be taken to a page to choose your booking provider. Google has teamed up with a dozen or so providers. You need to choose the ones your business works with:

After a few days, it should be working. You will then be able to check how well you are doing with your booking integration specifically with Google. Google My Business will show you your bookings, how much money you made on those bookings, how much over time and each individual booking as well. Here is a report screen shot:

Not all local listings qualify for this new feature. Check in a few days or so, as Google rolls this out to US businesses throughout this week.