A Year in Review: Google Algorithm Updates That Affected Your SEO in 2017

***March 2018 Update: During the weekend of March 9, 2018, Google rolled out a “broad core algorithm update,” which doesn’t happen every day. Older, major algorithm updates like Panda, for example, are now part of Google’s core algorithm. Google has yet to provide details of the March 2018 update, however, did leave us with this:

“As with any update, some sites may note drops or gains. There’s nothing wrong with pages that may now perform less well. Instead, it’s that changes to our systems are benefiting pages that were previously under-rewarded.

There’s no “fix” for pages that may perform less well other than to remain focused on building great content. Over time, it may be that your content may rise relative to other pages.”

Did your website experience a change in organic rankings or traffic over the last couple weeks? Let us know!


Google is quite the beast. It’s updating every day, several times a day, in efforts to serve users quality and relevant search results. In fact, experts say that Google changes its search algorithm between 500 and 600 times a year – aimed at fostering a better world wide web.

Most of the time, Google’s algorithm updates are minor – they update a bug, weed out spam, penalize aggressive ads. Occasionally, however, Google will roll out a major (or, at the least, noticeably impactful) algorithm update. Sometimes these updates are so big they get big beastly names like “Penguin,” “Panda,” and “Hummingbird.” Other times, they go unnamed and under the radar, despite having a notable effect on search. This was the case – at least five separate times – in 2017.

If you noticed a considerable dip in rankings or a significant spike in traffic last year, there’s a very good chance that Google played a part. Keep reading to see the Google algorithm updates of 2017!

January 10, 2017: Intrusive Interstitial Penalty (Confirmed)

At the start of 2017, Google rolled out a penalty against mobile webpages using aggressive interstitials (i.e. “pop-ups”) that might damage the user experience on mobile devices. This type of pop-up ad, they explained, can be especially “problematic on mobile devices where screens are often smaller.”

Google warned, “Pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as highly.” The penalty de-prioritized sites that had:

  • A pop-up covering the main content of the page
  • Pop-ups users must dismiss before accessing desired content
  • An above-fold layout looking similar to an “intrusive” interstitial

March 7, 2017: “Fred” (Confirmed)

Just a month after the unnamed updates occurred, there was chatter among the SEO community that another Google algorithm update rolled out. Gary Illyes, Google’s own webmaster trends analyst, jokingly nicknamed the update “Fred,” but refused to share any specifics.

The only insight Google gave us into the Fred update was that it affected sites violating Google’s Webmaster Quality Guidelines. Studies, however, showed that Fred mostly concerned websites with ad-heavy, low-value content that was produced only to generate ad or affiliate revenue.

October 17, 2017: HTTPS Warnings (Confirmed)

We’ve long known that Google prefers secure, HTTPS websites. Google uses SSL certificates as a ranking signal, meaning that secure/HTTPS sites have an advantage in the organic search results. In mid-April 2017, MOZ found that half of Google’s page-one organic listings were secure/HTTPS. By the end of 2017, 75 percent of page-one results were secured with SSL.

Thus comes October 2017’s update, one of Google’s many efforts to move towards a more secure web. In part with the launch of Chrome 62, Google began warning users of non-secure pages and forms, showing an aggressive “NOT SECURE” notification when Chrome users enter text into a form-field on an HTTP page.

November 30, 2017: Meta Description Length Increase (Confirmed)

My personal favorite Google algorithm update of 2017 happened late-November, when I could finally kiss goodbye that inhibiting 160-character-limit. Meta descriptions – those snippets of text you see under each link on the organic SERP – can now be up to 300 characters. The average snippet is now about 230 characters, and exact length restrictions have yet to be confirmed.

It may seem like a small update, but this lift in character-length will mean more real estate for brands on Google’s SERP. Businesses now have more space to describe their pages/products/services and convince prospective customers to click. This could mean greater CTRs and SEO traffic to your website.

Mid-December 2017: “Maccabees” (Confirmed)

In December 2017, around the holiday season, the SEO world was shaken by another Google algorithm update – or as Google would say, a series of “many and minor” updates to its algorithm. Unofficially called “Maccabees,” these were quality updates – Google knocked out more “doorway pages” from the SERP and penalized sites with few pages/thin content. Doorway pages are low-quality webpages created with the sole intent of ranking for a given keyword. Typically, they lead users to in-between, irrelevant pages that aren’t as useful as the desired destination – acting as a “door” between users and content.

What About 2018? Mobile-First (Confirmed)

Mobile is not new to search engine optimization – Google has been moving towards a mobile-first index for over a year. Rest assured, however, that mobile will become an even bigger focus in 2018. Last month, Google officially announced that a new ranking factor will be coming forth this July. They are calling it the “Speed Update,” designed to demote the organic rankings of extremely slow mobile pages.

If you have a responsive site that serves content quickly, you should be in good shape. However, we recommend running Google’s (newly updated) PageSpeed Insights tool to check your website’s mobile load times and mobile friendliness, to avoid any potential rankings loss.


Without a doubt, 2017 was a year of content quality. In addition to the five Google algorithm updates listed above, there seemed to be near-monthly algorithmic, yet unnamed and unconfirmed, updates happening last year. We saw it in early February, mid-May, and again in August – high-quality, content-equipped websites gained SEO visibility, and websites with deceptive advertising, low-quality content, thin category pages, and negative UX experiences fell off.

Those ‘He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’ updates, though, are happening all the time. They are Google’s way of building a better web, and something that all online businesses, marketing directors, and SEOs must acclimate to. Google’s own Gary Illyes says 95 percent of Google algorithm updates are not actionable. But if you have a great website with fresh, relevant, quality, and optimized content, you will see results:

“Basically, if you publish high quality content that is highly cited on the Internet – and I’m not talking about just links, but also mentions on social networks and people talking about your branding… Then you are doing great. And fluctuations will always happen to your traffic. We can’t help that; it would be really weird if there wasn’t fluctuation, because that would mean we don’t change.”

For business and marketing executives, knowing Google algorithm updates as they occur can help explain changes in organic rankings and traffic – significant spikes, drastic dips, a slow and painful downward spiral onto page 6 – and help you take steps towards improving your SEO.

To learn how Synapse SEM can help improve your search engine optimization, complete our contact form or call us at 781-591-0752.

How the AdWords Budget Update is Impacting Advertisers

Back in October Google announced they were making some changes, and campaigns would now be eligible to spend up to twice their daily budget. Here we discuss the background on that change, feedback from around the industry, and how it has impacted Synapse clients.

 

The Update:

Beginning October 4, 2017, Google announced their AdWords budget update, which stated  that campaigns would now be eligible to spend double your set budget. This was a good thing they argued, as some days internet traffic is stronger than others, and Google would proactively adjust for any fluctuations in traffic. Overdelivery – allowing up to 2 times the clicks per day that your budget allows- would result in fewer missed opportunities for leads.

 

How will Google prevent overspend if as of now campaigns can spend twice your budget? They calculate based on your daily spend times the average number of days in a month (365 days/12 months = 30.417). Google also regularly recalculates, so if you get incremental budget later in the month, they’ll adjust based on the new set daily budgets. “At the end of the month” says Google “despite those unpredictable waves, you’ll find your costs at right where you expected them to be.”

 

Industry Reaction:

Initial reactions to Google’s update were not seemingly positive. This was a large jump from the previous 20% potential overspend for AdWords campaigns. Many felt that Google was making it more difficult for them to properly budget accounts, and had major concerns over various budgeting scenarios.

 

More recently, Ginny Marvin posted a 2x budget change article on Search Engine Land which outlined some of the responses she heard from various industry contacts. The more positive responses seemed to stem from advertisers that were using additional 3rd party tools for bid strategies as well as more robust budget management tools. Negative feedback for the 2x budget AdWords update included advertisers that felt this update caused a need for more time spent on budget monitoring. Spend issues noted were particularly prominent with new campaigns, and any automated campaigns. Some even had their entire budget spent by google in the first few days of launching a new campaign, and exceptionally high CPCs in campaigns such as the Smart Google Display Network campaign.

 

Additionally, advertisers had concerns in accounts where they saw strong performance on certain days, and proactively pushed or pulled back budgets to reflect those trends. Google might claim their formula would automatically adjust for that, but as SEM experts, should our M.O. really be to let an ad serving platform do the thinking?  Seems like a conflict of interest.

 

Synapse Reaction:

Similar to Ginny Marvin’s feedback from various advertisers, Synapse has seen mixed results with this Google update. Some accounts have been impacted very little, and for those accounts we’ve barely noticed any shift in spending or traffic with this 2x budget update. Other accounts have been much more difficult to manage in terms of budget, and it has required additional operational hours to continuously check pacing to ensure we aren’t in danger of overspend. Many small-to-mid-sized businesses have strict budget limitations on a monthly basis, shifts in geographical priority, incremental dollars applied during the month, and some have budget reduced mid-month. Some want to pace evenly throughout the course of the month, and some require uncapped campaigns early on, and then get capped later in the month. Add in accounts that have 100+ campaigns, and all of these factors make the Google 2x budget update more difficult to adjust for on a regular basis.

 

In certain accounts, Synapse has seen exceptionally high spend early in the month. Google would say to this, leave the budgets as-is throughout the course of the month and we’ll charge you for average monthly spend and credit you anything above that. But Synapse typically tries to keep campaigns as uncapped as possible, to control spend at the CPC level. This ensures any impressions you’re losing are due to rank and not to budget. To keep these campaigns uncapped, Synapse often sets daily budgets higher than they should be, and make bid and other optimizations to bring spend down. Google would not be calculating based on CPC adjustments however, they’d be calculating a monthly budget based on what daily budgets we set. To adhere to monthly budget restrictions, Synapse will often start scaling back certain bids and certain campaigns towards the end of the month. With Google’s update, Synapse now often needs to be even more aggressive and proactive in scaling campaigns back towards the end of the month to ensure no overspend.

 

It is no longer as simple as calculating how much budget is left, and dividing by the number of days left. It’s a guessing game as to how much Google will exceed its budget this time. While we used to adjust throughout the month and scale back very slowly, now campaigns are becoming abruptly capped, and our clients may be missing out on key leads as a result.

 

In Conclusion:

There have been both positive and negative reactions to this Google update, but ultimately the consensus seems to be that this change has made advertiser budgeting and pacing much more difficult. While we understand Google says they will not charge for any overspend, we cannot rely on a calculation after the month is over to determine whether we overspent our clients’ budgets. We need to instead, proactively ensure there is no possibility of overspending. That, after all, is part of why our clients are trusting us to invest their dollars to begin with. The purpose of a cap is that it should not and can not be exceeded. If Google is willing to spend up to twice that cap, it seems to defeat its own purpose. It may benefit Google in the long run to look into an alternative budgeting solution that will work better for the industry as a whole.

 

If you’d like to learn more about how Synapse SEM can help you improve your paid search strategy, please complete our contact form or call us at 781-591-0752.

Starting Fresh: Rethinking PPC Ad Copy Testing

If you are like us, then you can appreciate how useful AdWords can be to determine the right message to distribute to your customers. Ad copy testing is an important component of optimizing your campaigns and should be done regularly. The question is, what is the best way to do it?

In this article, we’ll be going through our preferred method as well as an additional method recommended by Google. We will spend time speaking to the pros and cons for each but plan to put this test into action and write a follow-up article on results for next quarter.

Our Preferred Approach (Impression Split Testing):

The most important thing for us, when it comes to ad copy testing, is to ensure each ad tested has received an even share of impressions. This is done by setting your AdWords campaign to ‘rotate indefinitely.’ This gives each ad the same amount of opportunity to entice the user to visit your site and convert.

The issue with this method is that sometimes one ad can throw off the impression split if its relevancy is much higher than the rest. This happens when a group of queries matches up better with one ad variant, then it does with another. If you refer to the table below, you can find an example of an ad test with uneven impression distribution.

If you were to make your decision purely based on CTR and Conversion Rate, you might think that Test 3 is the best ad. However, if you look at the impression difference between Test 1 and Test 3, you’ll see that Test 1 received almost 5x more impressions! This happens typically when one ad has a much stronger Quality Score relationship with the keyword than the others.

Some would argue that the most relevant ad, independent of ad-level metrics, should be the winner here. We would likely relaunch this test once more to determine if the results were merely a fluke.

The Other Approach (Optimize for Conversions):

One other method worth considering is using AdWords’ optimize for conversions setting. With this option, you can leverage Google’s algorithm that will automatically serve the ad that’s been deemed most relevant in most of the auctions. The benefit to this is that this setting will optimize your ads for clicks in each individual auction using signals like keyword, search term, device, location and more.

The downside to moving forward with this method as your primary ad testing setting is that you are trusting that Google’s algorithm will provide you the best results. You won’t be able to distribute an even share of impressions. This isn’t all bad since the goal is to achieve the strong results for the ad group.

Next Steps:

Being the skeptics that we are, we’ve decided to take our Google rep’s recommendation and put this method to the test. Our rep shared this article, and in it, the writer discusses a suggested methodology for testing using optimize for conversions. The test they suggest is as follows:

“Test an ad group with one ad (A) against an experiment ad group with four ads (A, B, C, and D) with rotation set to optimized. You can use drafts and experiments to create these two versions. That way, you’re testing to see whether or not more ads result in more impressions and clicks at the ad group level.”

For our next article, we’ll be putting this method to the test. The idea will be to determine if the optimize for conversions method yields more favorable results than our standard method. If you were interested in learning more about you should rethink PPC ad copy testing, please contact us by email at sales@synapsesem.com  or by phone at 781-591-0752.

How Blockchain Tech Will Disrupt the Digital Marketing Industry

If you’ve had any sort of insight into tech over the past year, you’ve probably heard of blockchain technology. If you don’t know, blockchain powers Bitcoin, but it is not Bitcoin, nor is it strictly related to currency. Its explosive growth has lead people to start thinking about using the technology in new, and unique ways. To understand how this new tech will impact and disrupt digital marketing, it’s important to understand what blockchain is.

What is Blockchain?

Blockchain is a “distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently, and in a verifiable permanent way.” In other words, it places all transactions within a decentralized database in a series of “data blocks” that cannot be altered or changed in anyway (i.e., immutable). Over time, as the number of transactions grows, so will the blockchain.

In today’s world, all records are kept in centralized databases that only a few select people or organizations have access to. Due to this, people need to be able to trust the central authority that the databases are of maximum integrity and will not be mishandled in any way. However, the recent Equifax debacle has shown that centralized systems cannot be trusted.

By placing these transactions within the blockchain, it will essentially create a “trustless” system through encryption, thus eliminating the need for middlemen and organizations like Equifax, thus improving efficiency and security. Although data, like ads, become “public” on the blockchain, they are still hidden (i.e., encrypted) and represented by a series of numbers and letters (e.g., 0xjd725bfkk2tf3hb599g). Exactly how a decentralized system like blockchain can help improve security and efficiency without a middleman is a bit beyond the scope of this post, but if you’re interested simply do a Google search for “blockchain security.”

To understand why this is so impactful, let’s take the example of organic foods. As it stands today, any company can label a food as “organic” but this may not actually be the case. In the end, the consumer will never know the difference. If blockchain is used in the supply chain for organic food, the entire history of every specific food, from the farmer who planted to seeds to the supermarket it ends up in, is entirely visible to everyone. Therefore, we as consumers will know with certainty if a food is organic or not.

Application to Digital Marketing

If you’re at all familiar with the current digital marketing ecosystem, you’ve probably seen the infographic below:

 

Digital Marketing Ecosystem

 

That’s a lot of middlemen. And for every middleman that an advertisement must go through to reach the target audience, there is a slice of the ad budget taken out for each of them. In other words, you’re only able to spend about 50% of an ad budget on the target. The rest is used to pay these middlemen. Unfortunately, exactly how much is not transparent to the advertiser. Not only that, there is rampant fraud within the digital marketing industry due to bots. In 2017 alone, losses due to bot fraud reached $6.5 billion globally.

Finally, there is an exponential rise in people using ad blockers due to being served “annoying” or “irrelevant” ads ruining the user experience. In 2016, 615 million devices had some sort of ad blocking software installed on browsers. This number is expected to increase as people become more aware of ad blockers and as the tech savvy population continues to grow. However, despite these negatives, digital advertising remains one of the best (if not the best) ways to reach a target market for any business or industry.

One idea that is currently being developed is monetizing the sole resource users provide to view ads: their attention. There are several companies looking to do this, but Brave/BAT (Basic Attention Token) is the current leader for this unique model.

The gist is that users will choose to opt into being advertised to through the privacy-focused Brave browser, and the compensation for doing so is BAT, which is a token (i.e., cryptocurrency) built on the Ethereum blockchain. Users generate BAT as they view ads and can use BAT to pay publishers for premium content and services (or cash out into fiat currency). Users can also “tip” publishers who are opted into the BAT network. Publishers can not only gain BAT from tips, but also for serving ads through their website. The thought is that BAT has value because people’s attention and time has value. Also, ads can be better targeted without releasing people’s valuable data, since data will be kept strictly within the browser/device itself vs. shared with advertisers.

The use of blockchain will allow for unique identification of individuals, while preserving personal identities, through encryption, thus ensuring no bot fraud. Additionally, by placing ads on the blockchain itself, these ads can be served directly to users, which eliminates the need for middlemen. Finally, by offering a system of compensation through a token valued by a user’s attention, ad blocking should theoretically decrease.

Whether or not Brave/BAT or other related digital marketing blockchain tech takes off is yet to be determined (Brave/BAT is currently live and in use, however). One thing is for sure though: blockchain is here to stay and will eventually replace the current digital marketing ecosystem, which is riddled with inefficiencies and fraud. This is a good thing for everyone involved; as ad quality is forced to improve, users get compensated for their attention, and publishers generate more revenue, thus improving the quality of publishers’ content.

 

If you’d like to learn more about how Synapse SEM can help you improve your paid search strategy, please complete our contact form or call us at 781-591-0752.

 

 

4 Proven Methods to Maximize Your RLSA Efforts and Boost Conversion Rate

In PPC, RLSA campaigns can sometimes be overlooked. Companies often latch on to the idea of flashy image ads to advertise their offerings, but little attention goes to how powerful remarketing can be for a search campaign. It truly surprises me how many businesses fail to recognize RLSA as a valuable paid search strategy. The given benefit of RLSA is that you are targeting users who have historically been to your site. Right off the bat, you know they are interested, and more likely to convert. Simply enabling RLSA and mirroring a current campaign structure can help to improve conversion rate. What many PPC experts do not know is how several simple strategies can boost conversion rate even more. Below explains 4 proven methods of creating a fully optimized RLSA campaign.

1.Excluding Audiences Based off Session Duration

Although it seems simple, excluding an audience compiled of users who have spent, for example, 5 less than 60 seconds on your site can be extremely impactful when it comes to increasing conversion rate. The ultimate goal of effective paid search is to target quality traffic, so why not weed out the bad when it comes to your RLSA campaigns?

In order to determine the proper session duration, we recommend analyzing custom segments within Google Analytics to determine what drives the lowest conversion rate.

Before implementing any sort of new exclusion we recommend confirming results with a test. You can use the AdWords Drafts and Experiments feature to replicate an existing high-volume campaign as a draft. A specific audience, targeting returning users with < 60 seconds on the site, was excluded from the draft campaign. It is important to choose a high-volume campaign so that results can be generated and deemed statistically significant as soon as possible. Check out the results of the test after a couple of weeks running.

rlsa strategies

As suspected, the campaign with the exclusion was lower volume, but produced much more qualified traffic. Conversion rate improved by 20%.

2. Highly Focused Cart/Checkout Abandoner Campaigns

If your site produces a decent amount of traffic, a strategy targeting cart or checkout abandoners can be key to improving conversion rate. According to the Baymard Institute, roughly 70% of users abandon a site after reaching the checkout point. Applying an audience of users who have reached the final checkout page, but have not converted, to an RLSA campaign can yield positive results.  Since this audience is highly invested in your product, you can increase bids drastically to target this user. Consider the campaigns created below.

It is clear the volume is much lower than a regular search campaign, but the conversion rate and CPA improvements are extremely beneficial. Conversion Rate increased by 60%, while CPA is 38% lower than the search campaign. CPC increased because we are naturally much more aggressive with our bids in the Cart Abandoner campaign. Not only does excluding cart abandoners improve conversion rate compared to regular search campaigns, but it also can help to improve overall account performance.

3. Understanding the Differences between Bid and Bid and Target

Possibly one of the most crucial aspects in developing a profitable RLSA campaign is knowing when to use the campaign setting of “Bid Only” (now called Observation) or “Bid and Target” (now called Targeting). Consider the scenario:

  • You have an existing search campaign and you want to apply an RLSA audience to the campaign. If you choose “Observation,” the campaign will function as a regular search campaign, and the bids will be adjusted, based on your audience bid modifier. So, if a returning user searches for a keyword, the bid will be increased based on the modifier. If a new user searches a keyword, the regular Max CPC will be applied. Choosing this option will not cause the campaign to only target returning users.
  • You have a new campaign where you would like to solely target returning users. For this method, you would apply the RLSA audience to the campaign and make sure the setting is set “Targeting.” This method is useful when creating custom copy or testing out overly generic keywords. Also, this method will inherently be much lower volume than the “Observations” setting.

Both settings can be key in helping boost conversion rate. It is just critical to know the differences between the two.

4. Using RLSA Audiences with DSA Campaigns:

DSA (Dynamic Search Ads) use the content on your site to target individual users. For example, if your site advertised bracelets and somebody search “gold charm bracelets” the DSA campaign would display an ad, with a dynamically created headline, and send the user to the page that Google determines the most relevant. This time saving strategy is a great way to expand your reach. Since you are not bidding on a specific set of keywords, DSA is perfect for keyword expansion.

A great way to combat the low volume nature of RLSA campaigns is to combine it with DSA campaigns. DSA is often criticized for being too risky, and it tends to generate high traffic.

RLSA is a key paid search strategy that, when used properly, can heavily enhance overall campaign performance. Overlaying the strategies discussed above can help to create high focused campaigns designed to boost account conversion rate.

 

To learn how Synapse SEM can help improve your RLSA marketing strategy, you may complete our contact form or call us at 781-591-0752.

Using Data to Drive Your Content Marketing Strategy

When most people think “content,” they think “creative.” I know I did. Coming from a creative writing background, I was a firm believer that the best content was driven by out-of-the-box thinking and a convincing storyline. I knew that to be the best, to stand out, organizations needed to consistently put out engaging, memorable, and good-quality blogs, eBooks, whitepapers, what-have-you. But an overarching strategy holding all that content together? And numbers and data being a driving force behind that content strategy? Years ago, I would have told you that wasn’t my expertise; writing was.

I’ve always known that writing and marketing go hand in hand, but never did I realize the extent in which data – more specifically, user data – could inform the type of content that business’ develop. And even more, how that data-driven content, combined with writing quality, could impact a company’s bottom line.

To put it into perspective, consider one of our B2C clients. For two-and-a-half years, Synapse has been working with them to develop an SEO-optimized, data-driven content marketing strategy – and over that 30-or-so months, we have seen their online visibility skyrocket: First-page organic Google rankings for their blog have increased more than 15x since our content marketing scope began. Organic traffic to their website has increased 470 percent. And that’s primarily because of content – informed, intended, impactful content.

Metric

Benchmark

June 2017

% Change vs. Benchmark

# of Organic Unique Visitors

1,027

5,856

470%

# of Blog Keyword Rankings (Google)

24

123

413%

# of 1st Page Blog Rankings (Google)

5

77

1440%

Every piece of content created for your organization should have a purpose. It should have intent. It should be relevant – not only to your product or services, but also to what your customers are looking to read: What are they actively searching for? How often are they searching for it? How are they engaging with your website today? What is working with your current online strategy, and what is not?

These are all questions you should ask before building out a content development and content marketing plan. By understanding your customers’ interests and needs, and creating content around that information, you can seamlessly integrate your brand with your audience’s online experiences – their newsfeeds, their organic searches, their overall online journey – and become relevant without disrupting their paths.

The question is, how do you do it? Data.

To me, one of the most intriguing facets of marketing is consumer intent, and the fact that digital marketers can actually discover, decipher, and track that intent through the use of online data. Fact is, consumers leave a data trail behind each time they take an online journey. This data trail consists of how they found your site, their exact search queries, digital interactions, social media activity, online purchasing history, time on your website, and more. Combined with SEO data like keyword volume and rankings, an organization can use this information to build a data-driven content marketing strategy with their target market in mind – a content strategy that will not only reach their target audience, but also appeal to that audience’s demand.

Despite the benefits of a data-driven content marketing strategy, research shows that 38 percent of content marketers rarely use data to guide their initiatives. And, according to a study by Forrester, companies typically analyze only 12 percent of the data they have available.

Part of the problem circles back to the art vs. science conversation around content – many organizations have creators to produce content, but lack a team of analysts to interpret and communicate data in a meaningful way, so that it can be used to inform a content development strategy. Another common issue is that the creation of data-driven content just gets overlooked. Marketing teams are busy – already juggling the brainstorming, the production, and the outreach that comes alongside content marketing. Thus, the inherent connection between data and editorial planning gets lost. Sometimes, businesses both big and small just don’t know where to start in terms of making that connection. That may be what has brought you here.

If you are looking to build an audience-first, data-driven content marketing strategy, the best place to start is knowing the types of data that are already available online:

  • First and foremost, you can look at your existing content. Which pages on your website drive the most organic traffic? Which pages or blog posts drive the most engagement, whether through back links, comments, or on social media? How much time do users typically spend on a given blog post?
  • If you’re running on Paid Search, take a look at which keywords in your account drive the most activity – the most impressions can indicate more volume, the most clicks can indicate more relevance, the most conversions can indicate which themes actually resonate with your audience most. Use those top-performing keywords to drive your future, organic content.
  • If you use tools like Google AdWords or Search Console, you can also look at search queries – the exact phrases people are searching for and using to arrive at your website. A Search Query Report (SQR) can reveal how consumers thinking, what they are looking for, and where the demand is in terms of keyword phrases. Popular themes in your SQR can then guide content that parallels user intent.
  • Organic rankings can also provide actionable insights when it comes to content planning. Marketing tools like MOZ or Aherfs will show you where you are successful in your current content strategy (which keywords you have covered), and where you need to close the gap. For example, if you are ranking at the top of page 2 in Google for a given keyword, you can really push that to page 1 with the addition of relevant content. You can also use SEO rankings data to see where you stand against competitors.
  • It’s important to not underscore the value of competitor content – their websites, their blogs, their resource library, are all right at your fingertips. Take a look at what type of content competitors are developing, how often they are churning it out, what types of themes they are going after, as well as their content’s presence in the organic SERP. Are there certain topics that are not currently covered on your website? Are there certain keywords you can outrank them on in the search results? Competitor content can provide insight into spaces you have not yet explored, as well as popular areas in which you can compete – yet only 47 percent of B2B marketers today use this data to guide their content marketing plans.

These are just some of the many sources you can use to inform a data-driven content marketing strategy. Further website analysis, keyword research, customer feedback, and A/B testing can also prove beneficial in building a content plan. No matter what sources you use, it is important to remember that data and content marketing go hand-in-hand. And to be successful in today’s marketing arena, content must have a strategy to support it.

A data-driven content marketing plan, according to the Content Marketing Institute, helps “to attract and retain a clearly defined audience – and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.” Content is the future of marketing, and it is data that tells the story behind it. It’s time we start listening.

To learn how Synapse SEM can help improve your content marketing strategy, you may complete our contact form or call us at 781-591-0752.

3 Keys to Improve Your PPC Lead Quality

PPC can be a truly remarkable sales channel. Nowhere else are you able to target hand-raisers with such precision. With paid search, someone actually tells you I want “this” and as marketers, it’s our job to provide them with information to help meet their need. If your company’s primary marketing objective is to drive leads for your sales team, you might often run into the issue of “quality” when it comes to your PPC leads. While quantity is important, the qualified leads are the ones that end up generating real profit. In this blog, we will discuss the 3 fundamental keys to improving your PPC lead quality.

Account Structure:

Like with many things in the world, a strong foundation typically leads to success. The same can be said for your Paid Search account. Without it, you can assure yourself that you’ll be wasting a lot of time and money. Keep the following in mind before you start building an account from scratch:

  • Campaign structure: The account structure should be carefully planned with your business goals in mind. Consider which geographies are most important to target, how much budget should go to certain product lines, and what type of reporting you’ll need. Proper planning will allow for precise budgeting and simpler optimizations which will lead to more profitable results.
  • Keyword targeting: When it comes to keyword targeting, you want to ensure that you have strong coverage over a wide range of keywords relevant to your business. After you finish identifying your initial keyword list, select the ones that you believe will drive the most qualified traffic and deliver the top leads. These terms will likely be longer-tailed iterations with less traffic volume.

If enough historical data is present (sometimes your best guess must do), we highly recommend focusing on best-performing geographies and keywords. This high priority campaign will then receive a bulk of the budget, to ensure that your top performing keywords will receive maximum impression share.

Ad Messaging:

Once you have your keyword set finalized, it’s time to move onto the ad copy. Leveraging the appropriate messaging can be crucial in further qualifying traffic before you even incur the cost of a click. Often our clients will bid on expensive keywords that are applicable to both larger enterprises and smaller ones. This is inevitable because many organizations have similar product types but different target markets. This is where strategic messaging comes into play.

When we onboard a client, one of our biggest interests is their target market. Are we going after CMO’s, companies with XXXX+ employees, or companies that drive $XXm in annual revenue? We’ll take these insights and include them in our PPC ad messaging to further qualify our traffic. We know our keywords are applicable to multiple customer sizes, but we need only be concerned with the smaller percentage of qualified traffic. Look at a recent ad copy test below:

As you can see, while our No Qualifier ad drove more front-end leads, it was our Qualifier ad that drove 150% more qualified leads. The cost per qualified lead is also much lower, almost 77% lower than the No Qualifier ad. We sacrifice performance from metrics like CTR and conversion rate, but we make up for it in the volume of qualified leads we generated with our Qualifier ads.

Back-end Tracking:

Lastly, and arguably most importantly, you will need to ensure that your back-end tracking is linked back to your PPC campaigns properly. By using hidden fields within your forms, you can pass valuable PPC specific information from a landing page URL to your marketing automation or CRM system. This is very important for PPC advertisers because it will allow us to better understand which of our ad groups and/or ad messaging are driving the most qualified leads.

We recommend including parameters like campaign name, ad group name, offer type, and messaging for starters. This way, when you run a Qualifier vs. No Qualifier ad copy test, you’ll be able to tell which ads are generating the qualified leads. This level of tracking also can help you cut costs on areas of the account that never drive qualified leads and will allow you to reallocate to more profitable areas.

If you were interested in learning more about improving your PPC lead quality, please contact us by email at sales@synapsesem.com  or by phone at 781-591-0752.

 

7 SEO Mistakes Dropping You Down the SERP

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a critical asset to any inbound marketing strategy. A sound approach to SEO will land you strong rankings, relevant search traffic, as well as leads and sales. According to industry experts, 70 percent of users today choose to click on the organic listings in Google’s SERP. And with nearly a 15% close rate, SEO leads are some of the most valuable to marketers and businesses today.

Weeks ago, you may have thought you had this SEO thing down pat—your marketing team has been churning out content nonstop, building hundreds of links to help boost your site’s credibility, maybe even going after high-volume keywords on your website in efforts to get traffic. The problem is, you’re not seeing the results. Your efforts aren’t adding up; your rankings aren’t moving up; your position might even be falling in Google’s search results. Technically, you’re not where you need to be.

Perhaps one of the biggest strategic SEO mistakes you can make on your website is putting too much weight on your organic rankings. While important, good rankings will come later down your story line. SEO is a process, and in order to be successful at it, you must start from the ground up. You must first ensure that your website has a solid technical SEO foundation in order to achieve organic visibility.

I’ve already talked about the SEO mistakes that hurt content marketing. Today, I walk you through the seven technical SEO mistakes we’ve seen sink search engine rankings and bring down entire websites in Google.

1. Your website is slow, period.

Of all the technical elements that go into a website’s success, the one that remains a top consideration in Google’s ranking algorithm is page speed. Fact of the matter is, users want answers to their searches fast, and search engines therefore want the web to be the fastest it can be possibly be. As an effort towards meeting user demands, search engines like Google and Bing rank the fast loading websites higher than equivalent, slower websites.

Your organic performance is going nowhere fast if you think that page load times do not have a direct connection to SEO. For one, a faster website is typically ranked higher in the search engine results. This higher ranking will bring in more traffic to your website, in turn generating more pageviews and converting more leads. Not only this, but page speed has a direct impact on user experience as well. If your website is operating slowly, your bounce and exit rates are likely to increase. To put it into perspective, users typically do not want to wait more than five seconds for a page to fully load.

Page speed mistakes we’ve commonly seen are: over-sized and high-resolution images that take excessive time to load, failure to use compression and browser caching on slow-loading resources, and poorly structured HTML or CSS code. To analyze your website’s load times and to see exactly where it may be tripping up or falling short, you can use Google’s DIY PageSpeed Insights Tool.

2. Your site isn’t mobile friendly.

All too often, we see companies ignore the weight of a mobile-friendly and mobile-responsive website. Yet today, more than half of all Google searches happen on mobile, leading Google to now prefer sites that offer optimal mobile experiences. (Hence their 2015 rollout of “Mobilegeddon,” when the search engine giant started penalizing sites that were not “mobile-friendly.”)

And, as mentioned in my previous article, Google gives mobile-friendly websites a rankings advantage by adding “Mobile-friendly” labels to their listings in the SERP.

For businesses trying to boost their SEO strategy, optimizing your website for mobile search will be a critical factor in your multi-channel ranking success.

3. You’re telling Google to ignore you.

That’s right. All the time, websites unknowingly tell Google to ignore and not rank their pages organically. This is one of the most detrimental SEO mistakes of all, and inadvertently can happen right in your site’s own source code or Robots.txt file.

A Robots.txt file is essentially a guideline that tells search engines which pages on your site you do not want to be crawled and indexed. Every site should have a Robots.txt file. To take a look at yours, just type in the URL format: yourwebsite.com/robots.txt. While you’re there, you might want to check the Disallow portion of the file—and make sure it isn’t structured like this:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /

Any pages following the word ‘Disallow:’ will be ignored by crawlers. And if a trailing slash is following, it means that you are telling search engines to ignore your entire website, homepage and all. A healthy Robots.txt file may only tell searchers to ignore login or administrative pages, such as this:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /wp-admin/

Another common SEO mistake is blocking crawlers from individual pages on your site. We typically see this through the use of a ‘no-index’ tag in the page’s source code. If you want your pages to rank, you should ensure that they do not contain the following tag:

<meta name="robots" content="noindex" />

4. You have cookie-cutter or duplicate content.

Content is king in the realm of SEO, and one of the most common mistakes we’ve seen affect organic rankings is the creation of unoriginal or duplicate content. To put it simply, Google ranks pages that offer value to readers; content that is insightful, educational, or has merit – Google does not want to rank content that looks like everything else on the web.

According to the Webmasters themselves, “One of the most important steps in improving your site’s ranking in Google search results is to ensure that it contains plenty of rich information that includes relevant keywords, used appropriately, that indicate the subject matter of your content… Google will take action against domains that try to rank more highly by just showing scraped or other cookie-cutter pages that don’t add substantial value to users.”

When ramping up keyword optimizations on your website, it can be tempting to replicate or recycle content that targets similar keyword themes. Our advice? Don’t. Write unique content that engages your readers and that encourages them to spend time on your site. This will tell Google that you are credible and rank-worthy. If you use quotes from other sources, link to them.

5. You’re forgetting about on-page SEO.

Perhaps one of the greatest SEO mistakes you can make on your website is forgetting to implement or customize its on-page elements: title tags, meta descriptions, alt tags, even header tags are often lost amidst website builds. But skipping out on these meta tags is a major missed opportunity for SEO, and can deter Google from ranking you on the key terms your target markets are searching.

Some common on-page SEO mistakes that may be hurting your organic rankings:

  • Multiple pages on your site have the same title and description tags
  • Each title tag on your site reflects only your brand, and lacks a keyword focus
  • Your meta tags exceed Google’s character limits
  • Your header tags (H1s, H2s, H3s) are not structured in their appropriate hierarchy
  • You forgot about Alt Tags (Google crawlers can’t read images – it’s up to you to tell them what each image is about through the use of alternative tags)
  • You’re missing meta tags completely on the core pages of your website

6. You’re stuffing keywords onto the page.

Along with valuable content and optimized content comes quality content – content that is readable and relative to users. Yet in attempts to boost SEO efforts, many companies lose sight of quality and aim to “stuff” their pages with target keyword phrases, over and over again; so much that it is no longer readable to users, but solely optimized for search engine crawlers. If you aren’t familiar with keyword stuffing, it looks something like this (we’ll let you guess the keyword phrase here):

“Building an SEO strategy? A good SEO strategy is key to your success! The best SEO strategy is the kind of SEO strategy that will get you to rank in Google. Every site needs a good SEO strategy to rank, but only the best SEO strategy will help you rank on page one in the search results. Start building your SEO strategy with us today!”

Keyword-stuffing is not only a black-hat SEO practice, it is also an outdated method that can actually get you reprimanded by search engines and lose you site traffic. See, Google’s top priority is providing a good user experience, and users do not want to read an article that is stuffed with keywords and lacking any takeaway value. Not to mention, they won’t link to keyword-stuffed content. You won’t look credible and you won’t rank well.

7. Your webpages are not authoritative.

We often hear, “I just created a keyword-optimized webpage for SEO. Why isn’t it ranking?” or, “Why are competitors ranking above me in Google?” If you are here, you may be experiencing similar concerns.

Let me tell you this: if you have implemented an optimal keyword strategy on your website and are still falling behind rankings-wise, it is likely because your domain or page authority is low and not up to par with the other players. This is especially true for new webpages or domains that start out with an authority of 1 (on MOZ’s scale of 1 to 100) and need to gain credibility in Google’s eyes. The best way to build up authority is through natural and quality links.

If you don’t have links pointing to priority pages on your website, they are not likely to rank well in Google. Links, both inbound and internal, spread equity to and throughout a site. They build both domain authority and individual page authority and are strong ranking signals in Google’s algorithm—with one caveat:

Google will penalize you for generating unnatural, paid, spammy, or engineered links. Do not make the common SEO mistake of paying people to link to your site; do not use black-hat link-building tools like ScrapeBox to spawn backlinks in mass quantities from sketchy sources. This will not only get you demoted in the search results, but also blacklisted if Google finds out. Earn your links through quality, credible, and linkable content and you will be rewarded with improved rankings.

When it comes to SEO, there are no shortcuts. Whether you are a business owner, marketing director, or CMO, whether you are an enterprise, small business, or non-profit, it is important that you approach search engine optimization the right way in efforts to gain Google’s good graces for the long haul. Your first steps will be correcting these ever-so-common SEO mistakes.

To learn how Synapse SEM can help improve your SEO strategy, you may complete our contact form or call us at 781-591-0752.

4 PPC Remarketing Lists You Should Always be Using

Whether you are a paid search marketer or not, we have all experienced those image ads following us around on almost every site we visit. Remarketing is a feature that allows advertisers to reach individuals who have previously visited their site when they are searching on other sites. Fans of remarketing boast about the ability to easily establish branding and influence customers who are likely to be interested in your product (since they’ve visited your site previously). Critics complain that the “Big Brother” aspect can be creepy and irritating to users. That fact is, remarketing and audience creation are powerful tools for paid search.  When implemented correctly they can increase conversion volume and provide countless opportunities to cross-sell your target audience.  A successful remarketing campaign starts with an audience. Here are 4 remarketing audiences that every search engine marketer should be using.

  1. Non-Converter Audiences

A crucial point of remarketing is to attract previous site visitors to return to your site and make a purchase. Many marketers follow through with this strategy by simply targeting all users to their domain. However, they leave out one significant element.  Advertisers are constantly wasting their impressions and sometimes even clicks on individuals who have already converted on their site. A great way to narrow down your remarketing efforts and strengthen your target audience is to exclude anyone who has visited a confirmation page or a specific checkout page. This will also help to improve click-through-rate because obviously, someone who has already downloaded or purchased a product is less likely to click on that same advertisement.

Another key strategy is to specifically target users who have reached a checkout page or a cart, and left the site without converting. These individuals are typically more interested in your product, and you can capitalize on this by increasing bids. All of these strategies can be put in place when creating an audience. Google Analytics gives you the option to exclude users who have completed a goal, and you can also exclude anyone who has visited a specific page (i.e. a confirmation page).

 

  1. Content Nurturing Audiences

Many B2B companies attract low funnel leads through content downloads (i.e.  (white papers, infographics, eBooks, etc.). A great remarketing audience strategy is to create a separate audience list for users who have downloaded a specific piece of content.  Then, you can specifically target those users with deeper funnel CTAs (i.e. free trials and demo requests). This notion can be seen in the results of one of our B2B clients. We set up a nurturing campaign in order to cross market to our previous converting users.  Consider the conversion rate discrepancy between the regular Non-Branded Search campaign below and the special Content Nurturing campaign. Although volume is lower than the search campaigns, conversion rate is 164% higher.  This is an excellent practice for B2B companies who have specialty lead nurturing marketing programs.

  1. Similar Audiences

For smaller companies attempting to use Remarketing to acquire new customers it can often be a challenge to create an audience that is large enough to become eligible for the Display Network. For example, a remarketing audience list must contain 100 active visitors or users within 30 days. If you are utilizing very specific and niche targeting, this can sometimes be a challenge. Google remedies this with the introduction of Similar Audiences. These audiences are created by Google and take into account the actions users take within your original audience.  Google assigns any user that has similar search history as your site converters into a Similar Audience. For example, if your audience is targeting users who have reached a page about bedroom comforters, instead of targeting users looking for the broad category of “bedroom furniture,” it will remarket to people looking specifically for comforters on Google.. For more information on RLSA campaigns and Similar Audiences read our latest blog post.

 

  1. Login/Career Page Users

One uncommon aspect of Remarketing audiences is the ability to use them for search campaigns. This is often practiced in RLSA campaigns, but there is one strategy that can be used for almost all search campaigns. Most sites have a Login Page or a Careers Page. Most likely, organizations are not interested in targeting individuals who have visited those pages. A great strategy to implement is to create a search audience targeting visitors to those two pages if applicable. You can then exclude that audience within your search campaign. Doing so will help limit impressions to only relevant customers. This is a technique that can be beneficial for both brand and non-branded campaigns.

If you’d like to learn more about how Synapse SEM can help you improve your paid search or organic strategy, please email us at sales@synapsesem.com or call us at 781-591-0752.

Google Launches Automated Call Extensions on Mobile

One of the more recent updates within Google AdWords is automated call extensions for landing pages that prominently feature phone numbers.  This update was announced in early January, and just rolled out last month.  As many advertisers were notified, the update by Google is intended to make it easier for users to make calls to businesses through their mobile phones, and will allow for more detailed reporting insights on call performance.  Google stated that this year, mobile search engines are expected to drive around 33 billion click-to calls to businesses globally (19% more calls than from mobile landing pages alone).  As Synapse has learned with many of our B2B clients, more and more lead-gen companies are relying on marrying call data with online form data to determine their total number of prospective opportunities.  This update by Google will make it even easier for advertisers to properly set up click-to-call moving forward.

 

What’s Changing?

First and foremost, if you do not already have call extensions set up within your account, Google will begin automatically creating call extensions based on prominent phone numbers listed on your landing page.  Previously, you would create call extensions manually through the call extensions tab.  You could set up your business phone number, or a dynamic phone number and have Google automatically generate numbers and forward to your business.  Have phone numbers that are dynamically generated?

Not to worry.  Google will only automatically pull in phone numbers that are not dynamic in nature.  If you’re already running call extensions, Google will leave everything as-is.  If for any reason you do not wish to have click-to-call set up within your account, make sure to go to your call extensions tab and remove any that Google may have already created for you (the update was activated on February 6th).

 

What else may be impacted?

Along with the automated call extensions, which limits time manually updating ad extensions and minimizes room for error, Google also noted that there would be more robust reporting.  Not only will you see the number of calls per day as you used to, but also call duration as well as start and end times.  Additionally, Google will provide the caller area code for each phone call, and whether the call connected.  Advertisers can also set up call conversion tracking to see which campaigns are driving the most valuable calls.

 

What other options are there outside of automated call extensions?

Some third-party solutions such as DialogTech and CallRail could be an alternative solution to ensure you’re tracking client leads all the way through to opportunities and sales.  While automated call extensions offer more robust insights than the original call extensions, third party solutions may be a great alternative to ensure you’re able to track all the way through the funnel.  One caveat to these solutions is that you’ll need to be sure you have sufficient volume – without a certain number of clicks in each ad group, some of these solutions won’t work properly.

While there are mixed reviews out there right now on Google’s latest automated call extension update, one thing is for certain: Google’s push for updates specific to mobile-advertising is only getting more aggressive as the months progress.  We fully expect to see additional mobile-focused updates come out from Google in the upcoming months, hopefully allowing for more robust insights in terms of tracking all the way through the funnel.

 

If you’d like to learn more about how Synapse SEM can help you improve your paid search or organic strategy, please email us at sales@synapsesem.com or call us at 781-591-0752.

 

Are Slow Site Load Times Crippling Your Digital Marketing Programs?

Sluggish site load times are a core finding on over 50% of the Technical SEO audits we perform for our clients.  When we present our clients the data and show them Google’s Page Speed Insights, we’re often asked, “Is it worth investing to improve these load times?”.

Even in a world with limited budgets and back-logged internal resources, our answer is increasingly becoming, “Yes.”

Improving site load times is an easy task to push off.  Optimized load times are not prerequisites to running search engine marketing programs.  If you want to spend money on search with a slow site, Google or Bing will happily take your money.  On the SEO front, content development initiatives often take priority over the technical work required to fix poor load times. But as the competition has literally ‘quickened,’ the ramifications of a slow site have become more and more pronounced.

Poor site load times have many detrimental effects on website performance, but several stand out as the most problematic:

  1. The User Engagement and Revenue Impact – Slow load times are a major driver behind user bounces and exits. “58% of shoppers will leave a website if it takes more than 3 seconds to load.”  For Amazon, for example, “a 100 millisecond improvement in load time [is equivalent to] a 1% revenue increase.” These stats demonstrate a clear connection between page speed and conversions and ultimately ROI.
  2. The SEO Impact – Load times are becoming an increasingly important algorithmic signal for Google. Google has been open that page load times are a major signal in their ranking algorithm for computers, but they’ve recently announced that the same signal will soon affect mobile rankings as well.  Furthermore, research has shown that “slow page speed means that search engines can crawl fewer pages using their allocated crawl budget, and this could negatively affect your indexation.”
  3. The SEM Impact—As stated above, Google and Bing will let you run search ads despite your site’s load time issues. That doesn’t mean, however, that there are not repercussions to poor load times in an SEM account.  Landing page experience is a factor in determining keyword Quality Score.  A component of Google’s landing page experience assessment is site load times.  Google explains, “If it takes too long for your website to load when someone clicks on your ad, they’re more likely to give up and leave your website. This unwelcome behavior can signal to Google that your landing page experience is poor, which could negatively impact your Ad Rank. That’s why you want to make sure your landing page load time is up to speed.”

From conversion rate, to SEO rankings, to SEM ROI, site load times are having a major impact on the performance of your digital marketing programs.  Have you pushed off improving site speed?  If so, it’s time to get into action and make site speed a priority and a core KPI in your digital strategy.

To learn more about improving your site’s load times and implementing a technically sound SEO strategy, please contact us today!

 

4 Considerations When Determining Your PPC and SEO Budgets

One of the most common questions that arises in the world of digital marketing is, ‘how do I most effectively allocate my digital marketing budget?’ This question comes up frequently amongst our clients, and unfortunately there is no cut and dry response.  The answer to this question depends upon many factors, but for the purpose of this article (as well as our readers’ sanity) we’ll narrow our thoughts down to 4 important factors to consider when determining how heavily to invest in paid search and SEO.

1) Are you an established site with reasonable domain authority, or are you a completely new business?

If you are a business with a completely new site, chances are there isn’t a ton of awareness out there about your brand.  You also likely don’t have much SEO credibility, which means you’re probably not showing prominently in Google for your key terms.  To start generating leads or sales, the best bet is to begin advertising through paid search, where you can pay for immediate visibility for your most important keywords.   Because SEO improvements take much longer to take effect, paid search is your best option.  If you are a firm that is already established, with strong rankings (which would mean you’re ranking on page 1-2 on critical keywords), a more even investment could be made across paid search and SEO. This will allow you to capture leads quickly through PPC, but also continue expanding upon the organic keyword set you’re currently ranking on.

2) What does your timeline look like?

The next most logical question to consider is your timeline.  How quickly do you need to gain these leads or sales?  Do you have an upcoming deadline and are you behind on your goals for lead volume?  If you have set goals to hit a certain number of leads within the next 6-12 months, invest in paid search.  Ranking organically can take 6-12 months or longer, and by then you’ll just be starting to rank (and definitely won’t be hitting your goals).  If you have more time to spare and are more concerned with longer term lead generation, investing in organic is a safe bet to ensure you build domain authority to get your site to rank.  If you have short-term AND long-term goals you must meet, then investing in both channels is critical.

3) Are you profit or revenue focused?

Is your business more focused on profitability or revenue growth?  This is a tricky one, and timing, as well as how established your site is, definitely come into play here.  SEO and PPC can work with either of these goals, however SEO is a better long-term solution to driving efficient profit (you’re not paying for organic clicks, after all).  With PPC, you have more control over tracking and optimizing based on ROI, but it will be the more expensive option in the long run. If your site is already well-established organically, you may be able to grow your bottom line by investing more aggressively in paid search.  For lead generation, paid search will be the better option if you want a certain number of leads and want them quickly. For longer-term lead-gen, you’ll want to invest more heavily in SEO, since that’s where most of the click traffic goes.  Your KPIs are critical to consider, but timing and current positioning within organic results also play into this decision.

4) How niche is your business?

While paid search is an extremely effective and profitable channel most the time, certain ‘niche’ businesses have markets that are so specific or narrow, they may not fare so well in the world of paid search.  Businesses that require mainly long tail keywords will not generate a substantial amount of search volume.  In many cases, shorter-tail terms aren’t specific enough for these businesses, and will lead to high costs for too many unqualified leads.  In the case of a business with a niche market, SEO may be a better avenue for investment, to ensure you are gaining visibility on these same short-tail terms, without the high costs associated with unqualified traffic.  If these happen to be terms that seem too broad, it’s not as much of a risk because you aren’t paying for the click with SEO.  Relevancy is always important to consider, however it will pay off more in the long run to target broader terms that actually generate volume organically, than to run paid marketing for inefficient short-tail terms or low volume long-tail terms.

Though these are just a handful of considerations for determining your search marketing budget allocation, we hope this helps you get started in thinking about the best avenue for your company to take.

If you’d like to learn more about how Synapse SEM can help you improve your paid search or organic strategy, please complete our contact form or call us at 781-591-0752.

6 Rookie SEO Mistakes Bringing Down Your Content Marketing Strategy

Business owners, CMOs, marketing VPs – step up to the plate.  If your website is falling below page one in Google, or struggling to rank at all, you may feel like your digital marketing efforts are at a loss.  You may be losing quality traffic and qualified leads or sales to your competitors.  You may be lacking the online visibility you need to stay afloat.

When rankings fall short, online visibility suffers—and vice versa.  According to a recent Hubspot survey, the top-three positioned results on a search query receive over 60 percent of all search clicks.  And on average, 75 percent of users do not scroll past the first page of organic search results.

Google uses an ever-changing algorithm to rank the most relevant, credible websites first on their SERP.  Today, there are well-over 200 “ranking signals” used to determine whether you will rank above your competitors in the search results.  And these signals are constantly evolving.  The question is, how can you keep up?  Amongst a content-saturated web, how can your website stand out?

Right now, you may feel like you are doing all that you can to get your website to the top of the SERP – stuffing your content with highly-searched keywords, assigning link-building exercises to your marketing team, churning out blogs on a weekly basis.  Yet still, the return on your investments is minimal.

If you feel like you’re losing the game of SEO, it may be time to step back and review the bigger picture.  Consider what you are focusing on, but also what you may be missing.  Evaluate your SEO strategy and ask yourself how it ties into your other marketing campaigns.  Does it at all?

To help guide your digital marketing efforts, Synapse SEM has compiled six of the most common SEO mistakes we’ve seen bring down content marketing strategies:

SEO Mistake #1:  There is no relationship between your content marketing and SEO strategies.

Perhaps one of the greatest strategic mistakes you can make when it comes to search engine optimization is keeping SEO a standalone strategy.  SEO is just one key component to search engine visibility – and it cannot be successfully executed without quality content and the foundation of a solid content marketing strategy in place.

While very different entities, SEO and content marketing in fact go hand-in-hand.  It is search engine optimization that will help your content reach target audiences, your content that will influence your readers, and your content marketing plan that will ensure those users either convert or come back.  You cannot successfully have one without the other.

Recent studies have shown that content marketing leaders experience nearly 8 times more unique website traffic than non-leaders today.  To be a content marketing leader, you must do more than produce content.  You must produce consistent, quality content that engages your target markets.  You must marry this strategy with your SEO efforts in order to properly distribute your content to the right buyers, just as they are looking for it.

SEO Mistake #2:  You are not using data to plan your content.

As a business leader, you want each piece of content on your website to both appeal to as well as engage potential buyers.  That said, you must plan your content accordingly.  Before scheduling your next whitepaper or blog posts with your content dev team, try looping your SEO and SEM team into the conversation.  Together, work on planning content around the keyword phrases that will most benefit your target markets.  Which phrases have converted in the past?  Which keywords generate the most volume and the most interest?

SEO Mistake #3:  You are missing the competitive mark.

When is the last time you checked in on how your competitors are ranking?  Next time you find yourself in Google, take some time to do so.  In an incognito window, manually search some of your highest priority and competitive keyword phrases.  Are any competitors ranking above your website?  If so, what are they doing that you are not?

There are several SEO tools that can be leveraged to get competitive in the organic SERP.  Ahrefs, for example, is a backlink checker and competitor research tool that will actually show you how many more inbound links you need to rank above your competitors for a particular keyword.

Competitors’ SEO rankings can be used as a creative content and SEO advantage.  On one hand, you can see how they are structuring their meta tags and webpage content, as well as what types of content they are creating: whitepapers, infographics, blog posts and more.  Even more, you can use competitor websites to discover new keyword themes that may be lacking in your current content efforts.  Talk to your SEO team about which tools can be used to “spy” on your competitors’ organic keyword sets.

SEO Mistake #4:  You are overlooking gaps in your content.

Content gaps are ancillary keyword themes that are currently lacking on a given website.  They can be identified by evaluating competitor websites, looking at your current organic rankings, and determining where you have the most ranking opportunity.  Are you ranking on page 2 in Google for a high priority keyword theme?  This may be because you do not have enough supplemental content to support it.  Identifying this gap and building out keyword-centric content accordingly, can help you push organic rankings.  All the while, it can serve as a great effort to produce fresh and relevant content for your audience.

Doing a comprehensive content gap analysis will allow you to identify major ranking opportunities and returns for your website.  If you are ranking at the top of page 2 in Google for the keyword ‘marketing software’, for example, you may consider creating a clear-cut content plan around that keyword theme.  Any supplemental ‘marketing software’ themed content you publish, then, will help you gain more relevance on that keyword and boost your SEO rankings to page 1.

SEO Mistake #5:  You are relying too heavily on high-volume keywords.

Another all too common SEO mistake is an overreliance on high volume keyword rankings.  While extremely important for organic (and therefore, free) traffic, search volume is only one of many KPIs to think about when reviewing your SEO and content marketing strategies.

If you are optimizing your webpages for only high-volume, competitive keywords, and getting frustrated with the lack of results, this especially pertains to you.  We know—it can be easy to get caught up on high-traffic keywords when optimizing your website content, but keep in mind that a lot of traffic does not always mean quality traffic.

High volume does not always mean more traffic, either.  Let’s say you are trying to rank for a generic keyword phrase that has an average of 100,000 monthly searches.  Remember that thousands of other websites may be trying to rank for this keyword phrase, too.  If you do not have a high domain authority, you may get lost amidst bigger names and more distinguished brands.  And if other authoritative web pages (say, Wikipedia or Capterra) are taking up page one for a given query in Google, your chances of ranking are little to none.

So rather than going after the generic term, target keyword phrases where competition is comparable.  Try to tailor your optimizations to very specific and relevant keyword themes, even if it means sacrificing some search volume.  Often, it is these keywords that bring more quality traffic and will drive your online lead generation.  In fact, you may actually see an increase in qualified traffic by implementing this strategy.

SEO Mistake #6:  You do not have a sound internal linking strategy in place.

You can churn out content for your website every single day, but without interlinking all that content together, your efforts may fall short.  Internal linking is a crucial part of an SEO strategy as well as a content marketing plan for several reasons:

For one, internal links help users navigate your website.  Through the use of internal links, you can direct users to priority pages on your site – such as an asset or a demo page – and lead them to conversion.  If you create a great Buyer’s Guide eBook, for example, you can use blog posts and other related content to direct users to the download page.  This internal linking approach not only users, but also contributes to your business and larger lead generation strategy – by directing relevant, qualified contacts directly to contact and download forms.

Internal links also help search engines better crawl your domain.  Failing to internal link to pages within your site architecture can make it nearly impossible for search engines to index your pages accordingly.  To put it simply, if you do not have a single link pointing to your page, search engine crawlers will not be able to reach it nor rank it.

One of the greatest benefits of internal links is that they help disperse link equity across your domain.  Through internal links, you can build any given page’s authority and therefore its chances to rank in the organic SERP.  Keyword-rich anchor text on those internal links further supports this approach. By using target keywords in your hyperlinked text, you can tell crawlers what a page is about and increase your chances to rank for a given query.

When it comes to digital marketing, it is the little things that make all the difference— There are hundreds of ranking factors determining how your business will stand in Google; what feels like the slightest mistake could be all that it takes to weaken your rankings and push your competitors ahead.  That said, it is very important that you are aware of – and equipped to address — these common SEO mistakes.

To learn how Synapse SEM can help improve your content marketing strategy, you may complete our contact form or call us at 781-591-0752.

Enhanced CPC vs. Manual Bidding Test

Many search marketers may be afraid to admit it, but we aren’t always perfect. There are always some things that can be done better but great search marketers know when to admit these faults and allow for a little help. Recently we learned that Google AdWords had recently adjusted their enhanced CPC bidding strategy to be more effective. For those who aren’t aware, AdWords describes enhanced CPC (or ECPC) as “a form of AdWords Smart Bidding that uses a wide range of auction-time signals such as device, browser, location, and time of day to tailor bids to someone’s unique context.” ECPC uses about half your campaigns’ traffic to make bid adjustments of up to 30% of your Max. CPC bid. All of this is done with the purpose of driving more conversions and/or improve efficiency.

Our initial thoughts when hearing more about the ECPC bidding strategy were very positive. The fact that AdWords would leverage many signals (like browsing history and relevancy) to make real-time adjustments seemed like a perfect fit for many of our client accounts. We decided to test ECPC bidding with one of our e-commerce client accounts, where we optimize the campaigns using first-click attribution from Google Analytics (currently ECPC works off of AdWords data only).. Below we discuss how we set up the test and our initial results and findings.

How to Set up Your Test

Currently we handle most of our bidding efforts through manual adjustments. We leverage historical, seasonal, and many other data points to help make effective bidding decisions. So we decided to test the enhanced CPC bidding strategy directly against our standard manual bidding. This required us to set up a test in AdWords leveraging the Drafts & Experiments tool to set up an A/B test. The goal was to allow half of our traffic to be only affected by ECPC adjustments and the other half to only be affected by manual bidding. Results for each traffic segment would then be reviewed against one another.

To get statistically significant data, we ran this test for 4 weeks. The length of time will vary client to client, but based on our client’s traffic volume we felt 4 weeks was a sufficient length of time. We also decided to test in various markets, both domestically and internationally.. Our hypothesis was that because of its ability to leverage numerous data points, the ECPC bidding would outperform manual bidding.

Initial Results & Findings

While the ECPC bidding strategy can be set to optimize for either AdWords conversions or Google Analytics conversions, we decided to have ECPC optimize for AdWords conversions. This is because we currently optimize our campaigns for first-click interaction from GA which can’t be imported to AdWords. We were interested in seeing what type of results we’d get so we moved forward with the test anyways. Please find our test results below:

Domestic Market Results:

International Market Results:

When looking at Google Analytics data, the manual bidding strategy significantly outperformed ECPC bidding.  For the domestic market, the ECPC segment conversion rate was 41% lower than manual bidding and the international market’s conversion rate was 30% lower than manual bidding.

When looking at Google AdWords conversion data, performance varied between markets and bidding strategies. For domestic, conversion rate was mostly flat but international was oddly up 39%.

What was most interesting was the fact that front-end metrics like impressions, clicks, and CPC were very even between the two bidding strategies. These were very questionable results because the front-end data was so even between the two testing segments, but there was significant variation when referencing the eCommerce data.

Since our test was relatively inconclusive, we decided to end the test for the holiday season to maximize this account’s performance. We plan to relaunch this test in more domestic and international markets in Q1 and update our findings. We will also be opting into cross device conversions and extending the period we run the test for. After internal and external discussions, these factors along with seasonality could have led to unfavorable results for the ECPC bidding strategy.

Another important consideration when evaluating ECPC, is the attribution model the conversion data is leveraging. Currently, ECPC only has the capability to optimize using AdWords’ conversion attribution or GA’s last non-direct click attribution. Both attribution models are limited and don’t value the source of discovery. Therefore we are focused more on GA’s first-interaction, which ECPC can’t leverage. This is a major reason why we have a hard time trusting the results of the ECPC test.

If you were interested in learning more about the enhanced CPC bidding strategy, please look out for our next blog scheduled to be published next month. For all other inquiries, please contact us by email at sales@synapsesem.com  or by phone at 781-591-0752.

How to Grow Your RLSA Campaigns with Similar Audiences

If you are a Google advertiser you have, without a doubt, been plagued with the client’s request of “How do we grow more traffic?” Growing traffic for any search engine marketer isn’t exactly a difficult task. You can increase bids, target new locations, or switch up your match types. You can launch Display or Remarketing campaigns, using image ads to capture new users.  Let’s face it, growing PPC traffic is easy, but, growing efficient PPC traffic is not. In the end, we all want more conversions, but for the same or lower price. All the above strategies need to be fine-tuned, tested, and matured before anything is deemed successful. We are all familiar with Display and Remarketing campaigns.  However, the more untouched strategy of RLSA campaigns may be the secret solution to growing traffic efficiently.  Recently in May, Google unveiled new additions to RLSA campaigns to further enhance performance.

What is an RLSA Campaign?

RLSA is essentially remarketing for search campaigns. This Google feature lets you customize search ads and bids to people who have already visited your site. You can choose which visitors (non-converters, etc.) automatically are added to your RLSA remarketing list.  Marketers then have the opportunity to develop campaigns, knowing that the targeted user has already visited, and is already interested in your product.  There are two basic ways to target users using RLSA.

  1. You can replicate your existing keyword set and increase those bids knowing that the user is typically more qualified. According to Google, industry experts recommend being as aggressive as using a 100% bid multiplier on your keywords. The chart below shows an example scenario of a keyword in a regular search campaign versus the same exact keyword in an RLSA campaign. Even though Avg. CPC increased by roughly 100%, we saw a 253% increase in conversion rate, leading to a much stronger ROI. Users are more likely to convert, because they have already demonstrated interest in your product.

Google Similar Audiences

  1. The second strategy marketers implement with RLSA campaigns is bidding on more generic keywords, knowing that the user is already interested in their product. For example, if you are running a paid search campaign for a luxury jewelry store, you may want to avoid bidding on the term “earrings”, because it is too broad or vague. However, if you know the user has already visited the earrings page of your site, you can bid on a term such as “earrings” and develop custom ad copy and send that user back to a specific PPC optimized earrings page. RLSA campaigns are also often used to promote discounts and promotion codes via the ad copy to interested users.

How to Grow Your RLSA Audiences:

The one limiting factor of RLSA campaigns, is that your search remarketing list can often times be small. If you are enabling the “target and bid” option for your ad groups, a user must hit your site, and then do another search while matching out to your assigned keywords within a set time period.

You may have noticed that every time you create a remarketing list, whether it be display or search, Google creates a “Similar” audience.  This look-a-like list consists of prospective users that contain the same interests as other users who have visited your site. In May, Google announced that these “Similar” audiences are now available for search campaigns.  Google assigns users to these lists by looking at the query behavior of each site visitor.  For example, say someone visited your site by searching “hotels in London” and converted. Google would then scan queries of other relevant users to assess their overall quality. If someone searches for “best things to do in London” or “where to stay in London,” Google would consider them to be a relevant candidate for a Similar Audience.  Users only remain on a Similar Audience list for 24 hours to ensure the highest amount of relevancy to your product.

The chart below depicts front end metrics comparing RLSA, Non-Branded Search, and Similar Audience campaigns.  As you can see, the Similar Audience campaign generates about 100% more volume than the traditional RLSA campaigns.  Although the differences in ROI are drastic between the two campaigns, the Similar Audience campaign is actually directly in line with our regular Non-Branded search campaigns in terms of ROI.

Capture2

RLSA campaigns can be a great and effective way to boost overall site traffic in an efficient manner.  When implementing, paid search strategists should consider utilizing Similar Audiences to further grow traffic and capture a wider and more relevant audience.

If you’d like to learn more about how Synapse SEM can help you improve your paid search strategy, please complete our contact form or call us at 781-591-0752.

The Impact of Google’s Latest Mobile Updates

Earlier in August, Google unveiled multiple changes to their mobile market that will significantly impact overall paid search marketing strategies. First, cross device conversions will now automatically be tracked under all conversions within AdWords.  Second, Google will be making long-awaited changes to their device level bidding. Both of these updates will allow more control over the mobile market, as well as the ability to attribute mobile performance more appropriately and make more informed decisions.

Although mobile traffic is on the rise, customers are constantly researching before they buy, and often times, this research can occur on multiple devices.  For example, if you are looking to purchase a new camera, you may do some initial research on your mobile phone during your work commute, but then finally take the plunge, and purchase later that day on your desktop.  According to Google, 61% of internet users, and a whopping 80% of online millennials will start shopping on one device, and then purchase on another. When using AdWords conversion tracking, the purchase from the example above would get attributed as a desktop conversion.  However, in reality, that purchase was initiated on a mobile device. Cross device conversions allow for proper tracking and the understanding of where conversions are coming from.  As of September 6th, Google is now automatically tracking cross device conversions within all conversions in AdWords.  Cross device conversion tracking is likely to cause paid search marketers to see the true influence of mobile, which is often under-valued.

Now that we are able to see to real impact of mobile performance on our campaigns, Google’s latest announcement is going to allow marketers to cater their marketing strategies to revolve more around mobile performance.  Previously, users were only allowed to adjust their mobile bids, by applying a blanket bid multiplier to campaigns or ad groups, while desktop and tablet bids were grouped together.  In the next few months, Google will be unveiling a brand-new strategy which will allow users to set baseline bids regardless of the device.  Therefore, bids can be set specifically for mobile, with desktop or tablet bid multipliers applied vice versa. Users will have the ability to adjust bids up to 900% for each device. Now, advertisers can create mobile, desktop, or tablet specific campaigns with unique ads and bids designed to target specific markets.

These two new Google updates go hand in hand in letting paid search marketers have a deeper understanding of mobile performance for their accounts, with the ability to actually take action on their strategies.  Cross device conversion tracking lets us realize what keywords or ads perform best on certain devices, and soon, we will be able to fully optimize our bids based on this data.  And last but certainly not least, perhaps the most long-awaited change, is that we can finally set negative bid adjustments on those pesky tablets.

If you are interested in learning more about how you can more effectively leverage a mobile bidding strategy, please contact us by email at sales@synapsesem.com or by phone at 781-591-0752.

The Ins and Outs of Competitor Keyword Bidding for PPC

One of the greatest things about PPC is that if there is a query with enough search volume, you can likely bid on it. Not only that, but you can have your brand showing front and center on a search engine results page for that query as well. That is just one of the benefits of bidding on your competitor’s branded or trademark terms because it allows you to get right in front of prospective customers and persuade them to consider your product or service instead. When done right, competitor keyword bidding can be a profitable venture for a PPC strategy. In this blog, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of competitor keyword bidding as well as the tactical and strategic best practices to maximize results.

Pros and Cons

Before you consider identifying your top competitors and increasing bids on their terms, it’s important to weigh the positives and negatives of this strategy.

Pros:

Incremental leads/sales – When scaling a PPC account, it’s important to consider all options when looking for keyword expansion opportunities. Look no further than your competitors’ branded terms! Unless specified through a contract, it is not against the rules to bid on these types of terms. By doing so, you open up the opportunity to appear for relevant traffic and attract potential prospects away from your competitors. While conversion rates may be lower, this is still a great way to drive more leads/sales through your site.

Branding potential – As mentioned in the preceding section, your ads will be distributed to many prospects who are already relevant to your business because they are looking for an organization very similar to yours. This provides a great branding opportunity while your potential customers are in a critical consideration phase in the purchase funnel. Make certain to leverage engaging ad copy but be careful when using specific trademark terms in the messaging or risk ad disapprovals.

Cons:

High cost-per-click – Depending on your account average CPC is, you may run the risk of seeing higher click costs when running a competitor campaign. This is due in large part to the fact that you will likely have low Quality Score on competitor terms, which will inherently drive CPCs up. If you currently run PPC campaigns for your site, you know that your branded CPC is always of the cheapest. This is because your ads are most relevant to your site which is why your Quality Score on those terms will be strongest. It’s this exact reasoning as to why your competitor keywords will see a low Quality Score and that’s due to the relevance of your site to those terms.

Negative relationships – Would you like it if your competitors started bidding on your branded terms? Didn’t think so. Another potential con is negative relationships that you might begin with your competitors when bidding on their terms. They may reach out with a cease and desist letter or they might start bidding on your branded terms to try and drive up your CPCs. While certainly a negative, the gains from bidding on your competitors’ terms might outweigh the issues here.

Strategic Best Practices

Now that we’ve discussed the pros and cons to competitor keyword bidding, it’s time we talk about how to execute a successful competitor campaign.

Campaign structure: Separate your competitor keyword targeting into its own campaign. This will allow for easier optimizations. Other benefits are as follows:

  • Budget management – Ensure you are not devoting too much of your overall efforts to this one strategy. Setting a daily cap on how much you are willing to spend will help you stay on top of these campaigns.
  • Geo-specific targeting – If you are looking to minimize costs when it comes to competitive bidding, consider only targeting in certain higher priority regions. You’ll be able to still have visibility in top markets but you’ll not waste spend in less important areas.
  • Ad scheduling – Similar to geo-specific targeting, ad scheduling is another campaign specific optimization that can be used to manage costs. Use ad scheduling to only have your competitor campaign distribute ads at certain times of day or days of week that are most advantageous for your business.

Ad copy: An important consideration with competitor campaigns, is having the most engaging ad copy in rotation. Ideally, you should test a number of different ad variations. We’ve recommended some messaging considerations below:

  • Trademark variations: Instead of using a competitor’s trademark term, consider using a close variation that will still produce high Quality Scores but protects you from potential trademark infringement claims.
  • Inclusion of pricing – One of the best approaches when bidding on competitor keywords, is to include pricing in your ad copy especially if your prices are better than your competitor’s.
  • Competitive benefits – Does your platform deploy in under an hour and your competitor’s platform takes 24 hours? Do you offer free shipping and the competition charges $5.95? If your product or service has superior benefits, don’t be afraid to hammer that messaging home!

Landing pages: The last piece of the puzzle is converting traffic at a high rate, and that is mostly done with an effective landing page experience. It’s important to include iterations of your competitor’s trademark term if you can to ensure you are maximizing Quality Score too. Please find two approaches to developing an effective landing page below:

  • Conservative approach – If you’ve decided that bidding on your competitor’s terms is enough and you don’t want to bug them anymore, we recommend providing prospects a conservative landing page experience. This would be similar to your current strategy where the above-fold CTA is prominent but you have additional below-fold CTAs to engage users even further. Also, be sure to showcase messaging that makes you appear superior to your competitors.
  • Aggressive approach – If you are thinking about a more aggressive approach, consider a comparison chart that directly presents why your product or service is better than your competitor’s. This would include pricing and any other superior benefits side by side with the competitor’s name included in the chart. Insights from prior tests show this as a very effective strategy.

If you are interested in learning more about how you can more effectively leverage a competitor bidding strategy, please contact us by email at sales@synapsesem.com or by phone at 781-591-0752.

What You Need to Know About Google’s Expanded Text Ads

In our latest blog post regarding expanded text ads (ETAs), we talked about the expected outcomes of running expanded text ads within your campaigns.  Now that we’ve had these ads live for a few months for several of our clients, we found some surprising results and unexpected outcomes.

When first launching this new ad format across our high volume ad groups back in July, we were not seeing the results we expected.  CTR was not significantly improving (and in some cases they were worse), conversion rate was lower, and most curiously – impressions for our expanded text ads were lower than our standard ads (even though we were set on indefinite rotation).  Given all the hype Google had created around this beta, we were understandably disappointed.

Our team spent some time brainstorming different ideas as to why performance was down for our ETA ads.  Were people confused by this new layout and unsure of whether they wanted to engage with these new ad formats?  Did the ETAs look too busy with the extensive text and double headlines?  Perhaps the display URLs that were automatically pulling in were not perfectly optimized in terms of URL structure, and thus looked strange within the ETA ads.  The performance indicator that truly had us baffled, however, was the low impression split for ETAs.  Unable to explain the discrepancy in impressions, our team did what any search team in crisis has learned to do: we called Google.

The Google representatives we spoke to confirmed that prior to July 26, ETAs were not eligible to show 100% of the time.  Up through July 26, Google had gradually increased the percentage of impressions that ETAs were eligible to show for (i.e. 20%, then 50%, etc.).  On July 26, the update was made that allowed ETAs to show up for 100% of impressions, just like standard ads.  This piece of information made a big difference in how we were analyzing our ad performance.  Below, we’ve outlined the differences in ETA versus standard ad performance both before and after the update on July 26, when the ETAs became eligible to show 100% of the time.

Impression volume and CTR

Prior to the update in July, impressions were down for ETAs by 25-30% versus impressions for our standard ads.  CTR for standard ads was also not too far off from the ETA CTR, with less than a 15% difference between the two.  This was not in line with the expectations Google had set, which was an average 20% improvement in CTR for ETAs versus standard ads.  It wasn’t until after the switch on July 26 that impressions evened out for ETA ads (and in some cases even outweighed standard ad impressions).  CTR also improved for ETA ads after the update in July, (21% above the CTR for standard ads) finally meeting the expectations that Google had set.

Conversion Rate

Prior to the update in July which allowed ETAs to be eligible for 100% of auctions, conversion rate was down 5% for ETAs versus standard ads for our higher volume clients and ad groups.  Post-July update, ETA conversion rate actually outperformed standard ads by 10%.  While Google originally had not made any promises regarding shifts in conversion rate, it’s great to see that the longer ads are leading to a stronger rate of conversion.

Cost Per Click

Before the July update, ETAs still had more efficient CPCs, however the margin between ETA CPCs and standard ad CPCs only improved with the July update.  Prior to July, ETA CPCs were 11% more efficient than standard ads for our highest volume clients.  Once the switch was made in July, ETA CPCs were 17% more efficient.  Why could this be happening?  Potentially due to improvements in Quality Score with ETA ads now that more characters are allowed, which allows advertisers to more easily incorporate relevant keywords into their messaging.

There are still some mixed reviews out there on how expanded text ads are performing versus standard ads, but across our clients we have certainly seen improvements now that all ETAs are 100% eligible to show.  With Google permanently rolling out ETAs in October, it’s important for advertisers to begin analyzing performance on their expanded ads as soon as possible.  Synapse clients have certainly seen improvements, but it remains to be seen whether improved ETA performance will be able to stand the test of time.  If you tested ETAs when they first launched and were disappointed by the results, consider retesting.  The initial issues surrounding impression share have been resolved, and we’re seeing in many cases even better impression share for ETAs vs standard ads.

If you’d like to learn more about how Synapse SEM can help you improve your paid search strategy, please complete our contact form or call us at 781-591-0752.

Landing the Featured Snippets Spot in Google

Since its inception, Google has tried to satisfy searchers’ intent and deliver the most streamlined user experience. And with each update, each algorithm, each new feature, the search engine superstar gets closer to the mark.

Featured Snippets, first introduced back in 2014, are one of Google’s greatest strides in meeting searchers’ needs.  They replace syntax with semantics and offer the most relevant, convenient answers to each wanting user. So much, in fact, that many experts believe these little snippets of information are actually revolutionizing the entire search experience – including the way that we optimize for it.

Whether you are a business owner, digital marketing manager, SEO rookie, or all of the above, there is no doubt that Featured Snippets can offer significant organic opportunities for your website. And it can all start here.

This is your guide to Google’s Featured Snippets. This is your key to ranking above position 1 in Google’s first-page organic search results, to driving relevant traffic to your website, and to getting your brand noticed. Let’s begin with the basics.

What are Featured Snippets?

Featured Snippets are Google’s way of giving us fast answers to common questions, right in the search results. Often in the form of definitions, how-to instructions, and other answers/solutions, Featured Snippets are separate blocks of content that appear above the organic listings on the first search results page.

Featured Snippets present users with answers without having to navigate to a website. Extracted from a given web page, they contain a summary of an answer, a page title and URL, and a link to the corresponding source.

What are the Benefits of Featured Snippets? 

featured-snippet-mobileFeatured Snippets take up substantial real estate in Google’s SERP. For the mobile user, Featured Snippets can occupy an entire above fold experience. With all the space they consume, Featured Snippets practically scream to a searcher, “I can give you what you need!” or “Click me, I ranked above the rest!” In many cases, a user will respond.

Featured Snippets can double your organic real estate in the SERP:

In order to achieve a Featured Snippet, a website must rank on the first page of Google’s organic search results – anywhere between positions #1 and #10. This high ranking, combined with clear, quality content, tells Google that the website is credible and relevant enough to be positioned at the very top of the search results.

Those who are fortunate enough to earn a Featured Snippet rank not only once, but twice in the SERP. They rank in the Featured Snippet spot in addition to their listing in the organic results. When you rank twice on the first page of Google, you also look more credible to users, improving your page’s chances of being clicked.

In many cases, Featured Snippets show high CTRs and traffic spikes:

Many marketers debate the merit of Featured Snippets, claiming that they give users no incentive to click on a page. If the answer is placed right in front of users, and they get what they are looking for, why would they take the time to click through?

While seemingly a valid argument, these disbelievers couldn’t be more off. Substantial research surrounding Featured Snippets has proved that the standout located at the top of the SERP actually brings in more organic traffic and sees a higher click-through rate than its standard competitors.

SEO spearhead MOZ cites two noteworthy examples of Featured Snippets raising the charts: When Glenn Gabe lost their Featured Snippet position, they also lost over 39,000 clicks to their website in a two-week period. When HubSpot earned the Featured Snippet position on high-volume keywords, they experienced an average 114 percent boost in click-through rate:

hubspot-graph-featured-snippets-impact

On average, sources say that websites in the Featured Snippet spot will see a 20-30 percent spike in organic traffic, though some companies have experienced as high as a 516 percent traffic jump.

Featured Snippets are also highly prevalent:

Though Featured Snippets are not new to Google’s search results, they are becoming more prevalent. In their two-year lifespan, Featured Snippets have quintupled in frequency, and more than doubled over the last 12 months. Currently, they appear in almost 10 percent of all SERP content.

This is one of the primary benefits of Featured Snippets, simply that they are there. They are being utilized day-in and day-out, and judging by their recent rise in occurrence, it seems they are not going away. Websites and thought leaders must respond. Rather than letting other sites earn that top-notch position in the search results, they should fight for it. They should optimize their content for Featured Snippets, and subsequently snag that spot.

How Do You Win a Featured Snippet?

While over two-years-old now, Featured Snippets remain a mystery to a lot of search engine optimizers. Because in truth, there is no single formula for winning this position. There is no exact science to how Google pulls in Featured Snippets. Even more, there is no guarantee you’ll ever see your content featured. But because Featured Snippets are free, and often a shortcut to the top organic ranking, optimizing your content for them really can’t hurt.

The best way to build and optimize content for Featured Snippets is to first analyze current opportunities and see where you have the greatest potential. This means,

  1. Conducting keyword research: The best way to begin keyword research is to try to anticipate what your customers are searching for and what they want to know. Then, determine which of these are the highest volume queries, and which produce or have the potential to produce a Featured Snippet. How-to instructions, questions and answers, and definitions have the greatest propensity to get pulled in.
  2. Evaluating rankings and the competition: Many people believe that to earn a Featured Snippet, all you need to do is answer a question or create relevant content around a given theme. But as discussed previously, you have to rank on page 1 to even get to the point where Google will consider you for a spot. And to rank on page 1, you must be able to hold your own against the competition.

Consider this example. Say you want to earn the Featured Snippet for the query, “What is SEO?”, which produces over 33K searches per month. You have a strong domain authority of 54, but the websites ranking on page 1 for this term have an average domain authority of 80. Can you compete? Perhaps, but in the meantime, you may consider going after a less competitive, still frequently searched term such as, “How to optimize my blog for SEO” where the DA ranges upwards of 40.

If your content is not currently ranking on page 1, it does have the potential to get there. Quality backlinks improve domain authority, which in turn helps rankings. If your content is already ranking on page 1 for a target query, or has the potential to do so, then you are ready to optimize for the Featured Snippet spot.

Featured snippets are extracted from web pages that have clear, straightforward answers relating to a user’s query. That being said, it’s important to ensure that search engine crawlers and users alike can easily find and interpret the content. Some best practices for Featured Snippet optimization include:

  • Placing your target keyword in the page headers (H1, H2s, and H3s)
  • Formatting your content in structured lists (bulleted or numbered lists)
  • Sectioning content into a Q&A style format with clear questions and straightforward answers
  • Keeping content sections clean and concise (between 54 and 58 words)

With Millennial markets surging, mobile usage growing, and the demand for fast, quality content increasing, Featured Snippets appear to be Google’s way of meeting users’ needs. Businesses, websites, marketers—it’s time we follow suit. Step up to the plate and serve users’ a full course of the content they are craving.

If you’d like to learn how Synapse SEM can help improve search engine optimization on your website, please complete our contact form or call us at 781-591-0752.

What Role Do View-Through Conversions Play in the Display Network?

Just about everyone who has used the internet is familiar with seeing those pesky Remarketing ads. In fact, every time I tell someone that I work in the digital marketing field, it almost is directly followed by the same question, “Are you the ones that make those creepy ads that follow me around on every site?”

Over the years, I found that it is not just my friends and family who are annoyed about Remarketing ads, but CMOs and marketing executives are often asking the same question.  Does Remarketing really work? If someone visits a site, is seeing an ad in the corner of their computer screen really going to influence them to visit it again?

Remarketing campaigns can produce two different types of conversions.  The first conversion type is a direct conversion, where a user views a remarketing ad on a separate site, clicks directly on it, and then converts. The other, more controversial conversion, is a View-Through Conversion (VTC). This occurs when a user views a remarketing ad on a separate site, does not click on it, and at another time, navigates back to the original site through another channel (organically, directly etc.) and converts.

The question that then arises is, do VTCs really represent incremental sales and leads? How do we exactly know that the ad generated the conversion?  With VTCs, the individual can end up back on the original site, days or sometimes weeks after they first saw that specific ad.  What are the chances that that specific remarketing ad really prompted that conversion? How are we so sure that the user was not already planning on returning to the site? Additionally, a user may not have even seen the ad. Many times advertisements are located below fold on a site, or hidden away on side banners. It is likely that the user could have missed the ad completely.

Our agency set out to conduct an A/B test designed to prove whether or not VTCs are really influencing our performance.  To do so, our agency worked with Google to set up a PSA test.  Google carefully segmented our audiences into two groups: one group that will exclusively see an irrelevant public service announcement (PSA) advertisement, and another group that will see our client’s image ad. The audiences were set specifically so that there would be no overlap between who sees what ad.  Check out the results below:

Capture

Of all the users that were part of the remarketing list, and did not get remarketed to (saw the PSA ad), we generated 235 VTCs. Of all the users that were remarketed to normally (saw a client specific ad), we produced 306 VTC. Therefore, we can assume that our remarketing ads produced an incremental 71 VTCs (if we subtract 235 from 202).  The 71 VTCs makes up roughly 23% of overall VTCs (306). Of course this percentage will vary with each client and industry.

Capture

We can now apply this 23% to our total VTCs in order to more accurately determine the number of truly incremental VTCs.  For example, if in a given week, a remarketing campaign produced 133 VTCs, it is likely that 30 of those conversions are legitimate. If you are an ecommerce company, you can apply standard AOV numbers to calculate the expected incremental revenue that those VTCs added to your campaigns. Whether you are a strong proponent of VTC, or a skeptic, it is important to consider the findings of this test and learn that we can quantify the impact of VTCs.  These findings should be considered in reporting and they should influence optimizations within Display and Remarketing campaigns.  It is important that we do not neglect these forms of conversions that can sometimes be considered illegitimate or non-incremental.  Raising bids of display placements, keywords, or other targeting based on VTC volume has proven successful in impacting our overall client conversions.  Ultimately, we know that across Display and Remarketing campaigns some of the VTCs are incremental and some are not.  As advertisers, it is critical that we understand this rate of incrementality so that we’re properly attributing the correct value to each of our marketing programs.  Furthermore, each network and each campaign type (display vs. remarketing) may produce different rates of incrementality.  Therefore, it is important to test various networks and campaign types to understand how VTCs behave within each.

To learn more about Display and Remarketing strategy, please contact us by email at sales@synapsesem.com or by phone at 781-591-0752.