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Local Search Ranking Factors 2018: Local Today, Key Takeaways, and the Future

Posted by Whitespark

In the past year, local SEO has run at a startling and near-constant pace of change. From an explosion of new Google My Business features to an ever-increasing emphasis on the importance of reviews, it’s almost too much to keep up with. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, we welcome our friend Darren Shaw to explain what local is like today, dive into the key takeaways from his 2018 Local Search Ranking Factors survey, and offer us a glimpse into the future according to the local SEO experts.

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Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans. I’m Darren Shaw from Whitespark, and today I want to talk to you about the local search ranking factors. So this is a survey that David Mihm has run for the past like 10 years. Last year, I took it over, and it’s a survey of the top local search practitioners, about 40 of them. They all contribute their answers, and I aggregate the data and say what’s driving local search. So this is what the opinion of the local search practitioners is, and I’ll kind of break it down for you.

Local search today

So these are the results of this year’s survey. We had Google My Business factors at about 25%. That was the biggest piece of the pie. We have review factors at 15%, links at 16%, on-page factors at 14%, behavioral at 10%, citations at 11%, personalization and social at 6% and 3%. So that’s basically the makeup of the local search algorithm today, based on the opinions of the people that participated in the survey.

The big story this year is Google My Business. Google My Business factors are way up, compared to last year, a 32% increase in Google My Business signals. I’ll talk about that a little bit more over in the takeaways. Review signals are also up, so more emphasis on reviews this year from the practitioners. Citation signals are down again, and that makes sense. They continue to decline I think for a number of reasons. They used to be the go-to factor for local search. You just built out as many citations as you could. Now the local search algorithm is so much more complicated and there’s so much more to it that it’s being diluted by all of the other factors. Plus it used to be a real competitive difference-maker. Now it’s not, because everyone is pretty much getting citations. They’re considered table stakes now. By seeing a drop here, it doesn’t mean you should stop doing them. They’re just not the competitive difference-maker they used to be. You still need to get listed on all of the important sites.

Key takeaways

All right, so let’s talk about the key takeaways.

1. Google My Business

The real story this year was Google My Business, Google My Business, Google My Business. Everyone in the comments was talking about the benefits they’re seeing from investing in a lot of these new features that Google has been adding.

Google has been adding a ton of new features lately — services, descriptions, Google Posts, Google Q&A. There’s a ton of stuff going on in Google My Business now that allows you to populate Google My Business with a ton of extra data. So this was a big one.

✓ Take advantage of Google Posts

Everyone talked about Google Posts, how they’re seeing Google Posts driving rankings. There are a couple of things there. One is the semantic content that you’re providing Google in a Google post is definitely helping Google associate those keywords with your business. Engagement with Google Posts as well could be driving rankings up, and maybe just being an active business user continuing to post stuff and logging in to your account is also helping to lift your business entity and improve your rankings. So definitely, if you’re not on Google Posts, get on it now.

If you search for your category, you’ll see a ton of businesses are not doing it. So it’s also a great competitive difference-maker right now.

✓ Seed your Google Q&A

Google Q&A, a lot of businesses are not even aware this exists. There’s a Q&A section now. Your customers are often asking questions, and they’re being answered by not you. So it’s valuable for you to get in there and make sure you’re answering your questions and also seed the Q&A with your own questions. So add all of your own content. If you have a frequently asked questions section on your website, take that content and put it into Google Q&A. So now you’re giving lots more content to Google.

✓ Post photos and videos

Photos and videos, continually post photos and videos, maybe even encourage your customers to do that. All of that activity is helpful. A lot of people don’t know that you can now post videos to Google My Business. So get on that if you have any videos for your business.

✓ Fill out every field

There are so many new fields in Google My Business. If you haven’t edited your listing in a couple of years, there’s a lot more stuff in there that you can now populate and give Google more data about your business. All of that really leads to engagement. All of these extra engagement signals that you’re now feeding Google, from being a business owner that’s engaged with your listing and adding stuff and from users, you’re giving them more stuff to look at, click on, and dwell on your listing for a longer time, all that helps with your rankings.

2. Reviews

✓ Get more Google reviews

Reviews continue to increase in importance in local search, so, obviously, getting more Google reviews. It used to be a bit more of a competitive difference-maker. It’s becoming more and more table stakes, because everybody seems to be having lots of reviews. So you definitely want to make sure that you are competing with your competition on review count and lots of high-quality reviews.

✓ Keywords in reviews

Getting keywords in reviews, so rather than just asking for a review, it’s useful to ask your customers to mention what service they had provided or whatever so you can get those keywords in your reviews.

✓ Respond to reviews (users get notified now!)

Responding to reviews. Google recently started notifying users that if the owner has responded to you, you’ll get an email. So all of that is really great, and those responses, it’s another signal to Google that you’re an engaged business.

✓ Diversify beyond Google My Business for reviews

Diversify. Don’t just focus on Google My Business. Look at other sites in your industry that are prominent review sites. You can find them if you just look for your own business name plus reviews, if you search that in Google, you’re going to see the sites that Google is saying are important for your particular business.

You can also find out like what are the sites that your competitors are getting reviews on. Then if you just do a search like keyword plus city, like “lawyers + Denver,” you might find sites that are important for your industry as well that you should be listed on. So check out a couple of your keywords and make sure you’re getting reviews on more sites than just Google.

3. Links

Then links, of course, links continue to drive local search. A lot of people in the comments talked about how a handful of local links have been really valuable. This is a great competitive difference-maker, because a lot of businesses don’t have any links other than citations. So when you get a few of these, it can really have an impact.

✓ From local industry sites and sponsorships

They really talk about focusing on local-specific sites and industry-specific sites. So you can get a lot of those from sponsorships. They’re kind of the go-to tactic. If you do a search for in title sponsors plus city name, you’re going to find a lot of sites that are listing their sponsors, and those are opportunities for you, in your city, that you could sponsor that event as well or that organization and get a link.

The future!

All right. So I also asked in the survey: Where do you see Google going in the future? We got a lot of great responses, and I tried to summarize that into three main themes here for you.

1. Keeping users on Google

This is a really big one. Google does not want to send its users to your website to get the answer. Google wants to have the answer right on Google so that they don’t have to click. It’s this zero-click search result. So you see Rand Fishkin talking about this. This has been happening in local for a long time, and it’s really amplified with all of these new features Google has been adding. They want to have all of your data so that they don’t have to send users to find it somewhere else. Then that means in the future less traffic to your website.

So Mike Blumenthal and David Mihm also talk about Google as your new homepage, and this concept is like branded search.

  • What does your branded search look like?
  • So what sites are you getting reviews on?
  • What does your knowledge panel look like?

Make that all look really good, because Google doesn’t want to send people to your new website.

2. More emphasis on behavioral signals

David Mihm is a strong voice in this. He talks about how Google is trying to diversify how they rank businesses based on what’s happening in the real world. They’re looking for real-world signals that actual humans care about this business and they’re engaging with this business.

So there’s a number of things that they can do to track that — so branded search, how many people are searching for your brand name, how many people are clicking to call your business, driving directions. This stuff is all kind of hard to manipulate, whereas you can add more links, you can get more reviews. But this stuff, this is a great signal for Google to rely on.

Engagement with your listing, engagement with your website, and actual humans in your business. If you’ve seen on the knowledge panel sometimes for brick-and-mortar business, it will be like busy times. They know when people are actually at your business. They have counts of how many people are going into your business. So that’s a great signal for them to use to understand the prominence of your business. Is this a busy business compared to all the other ones in the city?

3. Google will monetize everything

Then, of course, a trend to monetize as much as they can. Google is a publicly traded company. They want to make as much money as possible. They’re on a constant growth path. So there are a few things that we see coming down the pipeline.

Local service ads are expanding across the country and globally and in different industries. So this is like a paid program. You have to apply to get into it, and then Google takes a cut of leads. So if you are a member of this, then Google will send leads to you. But you have to be verified to be in there, and you have to pay to be in there.

Then taking a cut from bookings, you can now book directly on Google for a lot of different businesses. If you think about Google Flights and Google Hotels, Google is looking for a way to monetize all of this local search opportunity. That’s why they’re investing heavily in local search so they can make money from it. So seeing more of these kinds of features rolling out in the future is definitely coming. Transactions from other things. So if I did book something, then Google will take a cut for it.

So that’s the future. That’s sort of the news of the local search ranking factors this year. I hope it’s been helpful. If you have any questions, just leave some comments and I’ll make sure to respond to them all. Thanks, everybody.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com


If you missed our recent webinar on the Local Search Ranking Factors survey with Darren Shaw and Dr. Pete, don’t worry! You can still catch the recording here:

Check out the webinar

You’ll be in for a jam-packed hour of deeper insights and takeaways from the survey, as well as some great audience-contributed Q&A.

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Using a New Correlation Model to Predict Future Rankings with Page Authority

Posted by rjonesx.

Correlation studies have been a staple of the search engine optimization community for many years. Each time a new study is released, a chorus of naysayers seem to come magically out of the woodwork to remind us of the one thing they remember from high school statistics — that “correlation doesn’t mean causation.” They are, of course, right in their protestations and, to their credit, and unfortunate number of times it seems that those conducting the correlation studies have forgotten this simple aphorism.

We collect a search result. We then order the results based on different metrics like the number of links. Finally, we compare the orders of the original search results with those produced by the different metrics. The closer they are, the higher the correlation between the two.

That being said, correlation studies are not altogether fruitless simply because they don’t necessarily uncover causal relationships (ie: actual ranking factors). What correlation studies discover or confirm are correlates.

Correlates are simply measurements that share some relationship with the independent variable (in this case, the order of search results on a page). For example, we know that backlink counts are correlates of rank order. We also know that social shares are correlates of rank order.

Correlation studies also provide us with direction of the relationship. For example, ice cream sales are positive correlates with temperature and winter jackets are negative correlates with temperature — that is to say, when the temperature goes up, ice cream sales go up but winter jacket sales go down.

Finally, correlation studies can help us rule out proposed ranking factors. This is often overlooked, but it is an incredibly important part of correlation studies. Research that provides a negative result is often just as valuable as research that yields a positive result. We’ve been able to rule out many types of potential factors — like keyword density and the meta keywords tag — using correlation studies.

Unfortunately, the value of correlation studies tends to end there. In particular, we still want to know whether a correlate causes the rankings or is spurious. Spurious is just a fancy sounding word for “false” or “fake.” A good example of a spurious relationship would be that ice cream sales cause an increase in drownings. In reality, the heat of the summer increases both ice cream sales and people who go for a swim. That swimming can cause drownings. So while ice cream sales is a correlate of drowning, it is *spurious.* It does not cause the drowning.

How might we go about teasing out the difference between causal and spurious relationships? One thing we know is that a cause happens before its effect, which means that a causal variable should predict a future change.

An alternative model for correlation studies

I propose an alternate methodology for conducting correlation studies. Rather than measure the correlation between a factor (like links or shares) and a SERP, we can measure the correlation between a factor and changes in the SERP over time.

The process works like this:

  1. Collect a SERP on day 1
  2. Collect the link counts for each of the URLs in that SERP
  3. Look for any URLs are out of order with respect to links; for example, if position 2 has fewer links than position 3
  4. Record that anomaly
  5. Collect the same SERP in 14 days
  6. Record if the anomaly has been corrected (ie: position 3 now out-ranks position 2)
  7. Repeat across ten thousand keywords and test a variety of factors (backlinks, social shares, etc.)

So what are the benefits of this methodology? By looking at change over time, we can see whether the ranking factor (correlate) is a leading or lagging feature. A lagging feature can automatically be ruled out as causal. A leading factor has the potential to be a causal factor.

We collect a search result. We record where the search result differs from the expected predictions of a particular variable (like links or social shares). We then collect the same search result 2 weeks later to see if the search engine has corrected the out-of-order results.

Following this methodology, we tested 3 different common correlates produced by ranking factors studies: Facebook shares, number of root linking domains, and Page Authority. The first step involved collecting 10,000 SERPs from randomly selected keywords in our Keyword Explorer corpus. We then recorded Facebook Shares, Root Linking Domains, and Page Authority for every URL. We noted every example where 2 adjacent URLs (like positions 2 and 3 or 7 and 8) were flipped with respect to the expected order predicted by the correlating factor. For example, if the #2 position had 30 shares while the #3 position had 50 shares, we noted that pair. Finally, 2 weeks later, we captured the same SERPs and identified the percent of times that Google rearranged the pair of URLs to match the expected correlation. We also randomly selected pairs of URLs to get a baseline percent likelihood that any 2 adjacent URLs would switch positions. Here were the results…

The outcome

It’s important to note that it is incredibly rare to expect a leading factor to show up strongly in an analysis like this. While the experimental method is sound, it’s not as simple as a factor predicting future — it assumes that in some cases we will know about a factor before Google does. The underlying assumption is that in some cases we have seen a ranking factor (like an increase in links or social shares) before Googlebot has and that in the 2 week period, Google will catch up and correct the incorrectly ordered results. As you can expect, this is a rare occasion. However, with a sufficient number of observations, we should be able to see a statistically significant difference between lagging and leading results. However, the methodology only detects when a factor is both leading and Moz Link Explorer discovered the relevant factor before Google.

Factor Percent Corrected P-Value 95% Min 95% Max
Control 18.93% 0
Facebook Shares Controlled for PA 18.31% 0.00001 -0.6849 -0.5551
Root Linking Domains 20.58% 0.00001 0.016268 0.016732
Page Authority 20.98% 0.00001 0.026202 0.026398

Control:

In order to create a control, we randomly selected adjacent URL pairs in the first SERP collection and determined the likelihood that the second will outrank the first in the final SERP collection. Approximately 18.93% of the time the worse ranking URL would overtake the better ranking URL. By setting this control, we can determine if any of the potential correlates are leading factors – that is to say that they are potential causes of improved rankings.

Facebook Shares:

Facebook Shares performed the worst of the three tested variables. Facebook Shares actually performed worse than random (18.31% vs 18.93%), meaning that randomly selected pairs would be more likely to switch than those where shares of the second were higher than the first. This is not altogether surprising as it is the general industry consensus that social signals are lagging factors — that is to say the traffic from higher rankings drives higher social shares, not social shares drive higher rankings. Subsequently, we would expect to see the ranking change first before we would see the increase in social shares.

RLDs

Raw root linking domain counts performed substantially better than shares at ~20.5%. As I indicated before, this type of analysis is incredibly subtle because it only detects when a factor is both leading and Moz Link Explorer discovered the relevant factor before Google. Nevertheless, this result was statistically significant with a P value <0.0001 and a 95% confidence interval that RLDs will predict future ranking changes around 1.5% greater than random.

Page Authority

By far, the highest performing factor was Page Authority. At 21.5%, PA correctly predicted changes in SERPs 2.6% better than random. This is a strong indication of a leading factor, greatly outperforming social shares and outperforming the best predictive raw metric, root linking domains.This is not unsurprising. Page Authority is built to predict rankings, so we should expect that it would outperform raw metrics in identifying when a shift in rankings might occur. Now, this is not to say that Google uses Moz Page Authority to rank sites, but rather that Moz Page Authority is a relatively good approximation of whatever link metrics Google is using to determine ranking sites.

Concluding thoughts

There are so many different experimental designs we can use to help improve our research industry-wide, and this is just one of the methods that can help us tease out the differences between causal ranking factors and lagging correlates. Experimental design does not need to be elaborate and the statistics to determine reliability do not need to be cutting edge. While machine learning offers much promise for improving our predictive models, simple statistics can do the trick when we’re establishing the fundamentals.

Now, get out there and do some great research!

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3 Empowering Small Business Tips for Today, 2019, and a Better Future

Posted by MiriamEllis

“American business is overwhelmingly small business.” – SBE Council

Small businesses have created 61.8% of net new jobs in the US since the early 1990s. Local business is big business. Let’s celebrate this in honor of Small Business Saturday with 3 strategies that will support independent business owners this week, and in the better future that can be attained with the right efforts.

What’s Small Business Saturday?

It’s an annual shopping event sponsored by American Express on the Saturday following Thanksgiving with the primary goal of encouraging residents to patronize local merchants. The program was launched in 2010 in response to the Great Recession. By 2017, Small Business Saturday jumped to 7,200 Neighborhood Champions (individuals and groups that organize towns for the event), with 108 million reported participating consumers spending $ 12 billion across the country.

Those numbers are impressive, and more than that, they hold the acorn of strategy for the spreading oak of a nation in which independently grown communities set standards of living, set policy, and set us on course for a sustainable future.

Tips for small businesses today

If your community is already participating in Small Business Saturday, try these techniques to enhance your success on the big day:

1. Give an extra reason to shop with you

This can be as simple as giving customers a small discount or a small free gift with their purchase, or as far-reaching as donating part of the proceeds of the day’s sales to a worthy local cause. Give customers a reason to feel extra good that they shopped with you, especially if you can demonstrate how their purchase supports their own community. Check out our Local Business Holiday Checklist for further tips.

2. Give local media something to report

Creativity is your best asset in deciding how to make your place of business a top destination on Small Business Saturday, worthy of mentions in the local news. Live music? A treasure hunt? The best store window in town? Reach out to reporters if you’re doing something extra special to build up publicity.

3. Give a reason to come back year-round

Turn a shopping moment into a teaching moment. Print up some flyers from the American Independent Business Alliance and pass them out to customers to teach them how local purchasing increases local wealth, health, and security. Take a minute or two to talk with customers who express interest. Sometimes, all it takes is a little education and kindness to shift habits. First, take a few minutes to boost your own education by reading How to Win Some Customer Back from Amazon this Holiday Season.

AMIBA has a great list of tips for Small Business Saturday success and American Express has the best examples of how whole communities have created memorable events surrounding these campaigns. I’ve seen everything from community breakfast kickoffs in Michigan, to jazz bands in Louisiana, to Santa Claus coming to town on a riverboat in California. Working closely with participating neighboring businesses can transform your town or city into a holiday wonderland on this special day, and if your community isn’t involved yet, research this year can prepare you to rally support for an application to next year’s program.

Tips for small businesses for the new year

Unless your town is truly so small that all residents are already aware of every business located there, make 2019 the year you put the Internet to work for you and your community. Even small town businesses have news and promotions they’d like to share on the web, and don’t forget the arrival of new neighbors and travelers who need to be guided to find you. In larger cities, every resident and visitor needs help navigating the local commercial scene.

Try these tips for growth in the new year:

  1. Dig deeply into the Buy Local movement by reading The Local SEO’s Guide to the Buy Local Phenomenon. Even if you see yourself as a merchant today, you can re-envision your role as a community advocate, improving the quality of life for your entire town.
  2. Expand your vision of excellent customer service to include the reality that your neighbors are almost all on the Internet part of every day looking for solutions to their problems. A combination of on-and-offline customer service is your key to becoming the problem-solver that wins lucrative, loyal patrons. Read What the Local Customer Service Ecosystem Looks Like in 2019.
  3. Not sure where to begin learning about local search marketing on the web? First, check out Moz’s free Local SEO Learning Center with articles written for the beginner to familiarize yourself with the basic concepts. Then, start following the recognized leaders in this form of marketing to keep pace with new developments and opportunities as they arise. Make a new year’s resolution to devote just 15 minutes a day, 5 days a week, to learning more about marketing your small local business. By the end of a single year, you will have become a serious force for promotion of your company and the community it serves.

Tips for an independent business future: The time is right

I’ve been working in local business marketing for about 15 years, watching not just the development of technologies, but the ebb and flow of brand and consumer habits and attitudes. What I’m observing with most interest as we close out the present year is a rising tide of localistic leanings.

On the one hand, we have some of the largest brands (Google, Amazon, Facebook, etc.) losing the trust of the public in serious scandals surrounding privacy, human rights violations, and even war. On the other hand, we have small business owners uniting to revitalize their communities in wounded cities like Detroit and tiny towns like Bozeman, in the wake of the Great Recession, itself cited as a big brand product.

Where your company does business may influence your customers’ take on economics, but overall, the engrossing trend I’m seeing is towards more trust in smaller, independently owned companies. In fact, communities across the US are starting to map out futures for themselves that are as self-sustaining as possible. Earlier, I referenced small business owners undergoing a mental shift from lone merchant to community advocate, and here, I’ve mapped out a basic model for towns and cities to shift toward independence.

What most communities can’t access locally are branded products: imported big label clothing, packaged foods, electronics, cars, branded cosmetics, books. Similarly, most communities don’t have direct local access to the manufacture or mining of plastics, metals, and gases. And, very often, towns and cities lack access to agroforestry for raw lumber, fuel, natural fibers and free food. So, let’s say for now that the typical community leaves these things up to big brands so that they can still buy computers, books and stainless steel cookware from major manufacturers.

But beyond this, with the right planning, the majority of the components for a high standard of living can be created and owned locally. For example:

There are certainly some things we may rely on big brands and federal resources for, but it isn’t Amazon or the IRS who give us a friendly wave as we take our morning hike through town, making us feel acknowledged as people and improving our sense of community. For that, we have to rely on our neighbor. And it’s becoming increasingly clear that it’s up to towns and cities to determine whether neighbors are experiencing a decent standard of living.

Reading the mood of the economy, I am seeing more and more Americans becoming open to the messages that the percentage of small businesses in a community correlates with residents’ health, that quality social interactions lessen the chances of premature death by 50%, that independent businesses recirculate almost 4x as much community wealth, and that Main Street-style city planning massively reduces pollution vs. big box stores on the outskirts of town.

Small Business Saturday doesn’t have to be a once-a-year phenomenon. Small business owners, by joining together as community advocates, have the power to make it a way of life where they live. And they have one significant advantage over most corporations, the value of which shouldn’t be underestimated: They can begin the most important conversations face-to-face with their neighbors, asking, “Who do we want to be? Where do want to live? What’s our best vision for how life could be here?”

Don’t be afraid to talk beyond transactions with your favorite customers. Listening closely, I believe you’ll discover that there’s a longing for change and that the time is right.

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Yum CEO: Driverless Cars, Robots Making Pizzas, This is All In Our Future

Yum Brands which owns Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut and other restaurant brands are at the forefront of technological innovation. Yum also isn’t afraid to experiment with seemingly outlandish ideas either such as their announcement of the Toyota Tundra Pie Pro which makes pizza on the go.

Yum Brands CEO Greg Creed recently discussed Yum’s use of technology:

We Love Our Relationship with Grubhub

“We love our relationship with Grubhub, it’s a great partnership,” says Yum Brands CEO Greg Creed. “By the end of the year in the U.S., we’ll have about 2,000 KFC’s and probably close to 4,000 Taco Bell’s delivering. In the stores that are already delivering we’re getting check increases and incremental sales that are coming from it, so we’re very excited about this partnership. We think it obviously bodes well for the future sales growth for both KFC and for Taco Bell in the U.S.”

Driverless Cars and Robots Making Pizzas is Our Future

Pizza Hut has partnered with Toyota to develop a zero-emission Tundra PIE Pro, a mobile pizza factory with the ability to deliver oven-hot pizza wherever it goes. The full-size pizza-making truck was introduced at Toyota’s 2018 Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show presentation.

“I love our partnership with Toyota,” added Creed. “This is really about technology, this is about robotics, this is about what the future is envisioning. Driverless cars, robots making pizzas, this is all in our future. Is it in our future next week? No, but is it in our foreseeable future, absolutely. Everything that we can do to make the brands more relevant, make them easier to access and more distinctive, that’s what will lead to continued success, not just for Pizza Hut but also at KFC and at Taco Bell.”

Pizza Hut Partners with Toyota on the Tundra PIE Pro

Pizza Hut has partnered with Toyota to develop the one-of-a-kind, zero-emission Tundra PIE Pro, a mobile pizza factory with the ability to deliver oven-hot pizza wherever it goes. The full-size pizza-making truck was introduced at Toyota’s 2018 Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show presentation.

“Nothing tastes better than a fresh Pizza Hut pizza straight out of the oven,” said Marianne Radley, Chief Brand Officer, Pizza Hut. “The Tundra PIE Pro brings to life our passion for innovation not just on our menu but in digital and delivery in order to provide the best possible customer experience.”

The post Yum CEO: Driverless Cars, Robots Making Pizzas, This is All In Our Future appeared first on WebProNews.

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Why We’re Doubling Down on the Future of SEO – Moz + STAT

Posted by Dr-Pete

Search is changing. As a 200-person search marketing software company, this isn’t just a pithy intro – it’s a daily threat to our survival. Being an organic search marketer can be frustrating when even a search like “What is SEO?” returns something like this…

…or this…

…or even this…

So, why don’t we just give up on search marketing altogether? If I had to pick just one answer, it’s this – because search still drives the lion’s share of targeted, relevant traffic to business websites (and Google drives the vast majority of that traffic, at least in the US, Canada, Australia, and Western Europe).

We have to do everything better

The answer isn’t to give up – it’s to recognize all of this new complexity, study it, and do our jobs better. Earlier this year, for example, we embarked on a study to understand how SERP features impact click-through rates (CTR). It turns out to be a difficult problem, but even the initial insights of the data were useful (and a bit startling). For example, here’s the average organic (SERPs with no features) curve from that study…

Various studies show the starting point at various places, but the shape itself is consistent and familiar. We know, though, that reducing everything to one average ignores a lot. Here’s a dramatic example. Let’s compare the organic curve to the curve for SERPs with expanded sitelinks (which are highly correlated with dominant and/or branded intent)…

Results with sitelinks in the #1 position have a massive 80% average CTR, with a steep drop to #2. These two curves represent two wildly different animals. Now, let’s look at SERPs with Knowledge Cards (AKA “answer boxes” – Knowledge Graph entities with no organic link)…

The CTR in the #1 organic position drops to almost 1/3 of the organic-only curve, with corresponding drops throughout all positions. Organic opportunity on these SERPs is severely limited.

Opportunity isn’t disappearing, but it is evolving. We have to do better. This is why Moz has teamed up with STAT, and why we’re doubling down on search. We recognize the complexity of SERP analytics in 2018, but we also truly believe that there’s real opportunity for those willing to do the hard work and build better tools.

Doubling down on RANKINGS

It hurts a bit to admit, but there’s been more than once in the past couple of years where a client outgrew Moz for rank tracking. When they did, we had one thing to say to those clients: “We’ll miss you, and you should talk to STAT Search Analytics.” STAT has been a market leader in daily rank tracking, and they take that job very seriously, with true enterprise-scale capabilities and reporting.

For the past couple of years, STAT’s team has also been a generous source of knowledge, and even as competitors our engineering teams have shared intel on Google’s latest changes. As of now, all brakes are off, and we’re going to dive deep into each other’s brains (figuratively, of course – I only take mad science so far) to find out what each team does best. We’re going to work to combine the best of STAT’s daily tracking technology with Moz’s proprietary metrics (such as Keyword Difficulty) to chart the future of rank tracking.

We’ll also be working together to redefine what “ranking” means, in an organic sense. There are multiple SERP features, from Featured Snippets to Video Carousels to People Also Ask boxes that represent significant organic opportunity. STAT and Moz both have a long history of researching these opportunities and recognize the importance of reflecting them in our products.

Doubling down on RESEARCH

One area Moz has excelled at, showcased in the launch and evolution of Keyword Explorer, is keyword research. We’ll be working hard to put that knowledge to work for STAT customers even as we evolve Moz’s own toolsets. We’re already doing work to better understand keyword intent and how it impacts keyword research – beyond semantically related keywords, how do you find the best keywords with local intent or targeted at the appropriate part of the sales funnel? In an age of answer engines, how do you find the best questions to target? Together, we hope to answer these questions in our products.

In August, we literally doubled our keyword corpus in Keyword Explorer to supercharge your keyword research. You can now tap into suggestions from 160 million keywords across the US, Canada, UK, and Australia.

Beyond keywords, Moz and STAT have both been market leaders in original industry research, and we’ll be stronger together. We’re going to have access to more data and more in-house experts, and we’ll be putting that data to work for the search industry.

Doubling down on RESULTS

Finally, we recognize that SERP analytics are much more than just a number from 1–50. You need to understand how results drive clicks, traffic, and revenue. You need to understand your competitive landscape. You need to understand the entire ecosystem of keywords, links, and on-page SEO, and how those work together. By combining STAT’s enterprise-level analytics with Moz’s keyword research, link graph, and technical SEO tools (including both Site Crawl and On-demand Crawl), we’re going to bring you the tools you need to demonstrate and drive bottom-line results.

In the short-term, we’re going to be listening and learning from each other, and hopefully from you (both our community and our customers). What’s missing in your search marketing workflow today? What data do you love in Moz or STAT that’s missing from the other side? How can we help you do your job better? Let us know in the comments.

If you’d like to be notified of future developments, join our Moz+STAT Search Analytics mailing list (sign-up at bottom of page) to find out about news and offers as we roll them out.

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The Future of Connection on Facebook: How Stories May Change the Marketing Game

How Facebook Stories Will Change Social Media Marketing

How Facebook Stories Will Change Social Media Marketing

“You have part of my attention – you have the minimum amount.”

This scathing remark, delivered by actor Jesse Eisenberg while portraying Mark Zuckerberg amidst a heated deposition in the 2010 film The Social Network, has a certain pertinence today with regards to the company Zuckerberg founded back in 2004.

As Facebook’s news feed algorithm becomes increasingly restricting for brands and publishers, many of us are finding it difficult to capture even the minimum amount of our audience’s attention on the platform.

The search for elusive reach on the world’s largest social media channel has led some marketers to explore Facebook Groups as a way to stay visible with users. But it appears the more critical frontier may be Facebook Stories, a feature that is rapidly on the rise and — according to the company’s own top execs — represents the future of connection on Facebook.

[bctt tweet="#FacebookStories — according to the company’s own top execs — represents the future of connection on #Facebook. #SocialMediaMarketing" username="toprank"]

A Primer on Facebook Stories

The Social Network, referenced earlier, is a biographical drama depicting the inception of Facebook and the power struggles that took place. The film was extremely well received, earning eight Oscar nominations and winning three: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, and Best Film Editing.

Certain people portrayed in the movie have criticized its inaccuracies (it wasn’t exactly kind to Mr. Zuckerberg, as the opening quote in this post illustrates), and writer Aaron Sorkin doesn’t deny playing loose with the facts.

“I don’t want my fidelity to be to the truth,” he told New York Magazine. “I want it to be to storytelling.”

A reputed screenwriter, Sorkin understands the power of stories, which have an ability to hook and captivate audiences in a way few other styles of communication can hope to match. This dynamic is undoubtedly driving the growth of “Stories” — series of images and videos played in succession, perfectly suited for mobile screens — across all social media platforms.

This chart via Block Party’s report, Beyond the News Feed: Why Stories Are Becoming the New Face of Social Media, visualizes the unmistakable trend well:

Facebook Stories Usage Trend

Interestingly, Snapchat — which largely sparked the popularity of this format when its “My Story” feature launched in 2014 — has remained stagnant while other players have gained fast traction. You can definitely count Facebook among them.

Originally rolled out on mobile in 2017, Facebook Stories made their way to desktop earlier this year and the feature now boasts 150 million daily active users. Like the versions on Instagram and Snapchat, this content is ephemeral — Facebook Stories and all of their comments disappear after 24 hours. But the convention itself is here to stay.

“We expect Stories are on track to overtake posts in feeds as the most common way that people share across all social apps,” said Zuckerberg (the real one, not the Eisenberg character) during a fourth-quarter earnings conference call.

This sentiment is shared by Facebook’s Chief Product Officer, Chris Cox, who laid out a more specific and imminent timeline at the company’s annual conference in early May:

The increase in the Stories format is on a path to surpass feeds as the primary way people share things with their friends sometime next year.

Needless to say, this is a story marketers need to be tracking.

The Other Side of the Story

Okay, so we know that Stories are quickly becoming a mainstream method for sharing content on social media, and we know that Facebook is making a firm commitment to the format. What does all this mean to us as marketers?

Add to Your Facebook Story

This is definitely a tool that companies can use, if they are so inclined. You have the ability to post them from your brand page, and (at least for now) it may increase your content’s odds of getting noticed. Relatively speaking, this feature isn’t being used all that much, and Facebook’s clear emphasis on growing it means that Stories are carving prime real estate above the news feed.

Some view this as the next great social media marketing opportunity on the platform. Earlier this year, Bud Torcom wrote in a piece at Forbes that Facebook Stories are “like California’s mines and creeks before the 1849 gold rush.” He sees this format transforming campaigns through experimentation, experiential marketing, influencer integration, and visual pizzazz.

Michelle Cyca sees similar potential, as she wrote on the HootSuite blog, calling Stories “a way to reconnect with users who aren’t seeing your content in their Newsfeed the same way” and calling out examples of campaigns that drove lifts in awareness by incorporating the tactic.

The idea of added organic reach is enticing (if fleeting, knowing that the onset of ads will turn this — like all Facebook marketing initiatives — into a pay-to-play space), but what really intrigues me about Stories is the almost infinite grounds for creativity.

Facebook Stories Examples Facebook Stories Examples from ModCloth and Mashable.

It’s a very cool method for visual storytelling. It’s a low-barrier entry point for social video (no one is expecting premium production quality on these). And it presents an accessible avenue for toying with emerging technologies — most notably, augmented reality, which is being strongly integrated into Facebook Stories in another step down the road Snapchat has paved.

[bctt tweet="The idea of added organic reach is enticing, but what really intrigues me about #FacebookStories is the almost infinite grounds for creativity. - @NickNelsonMN #SocialMediaMarketing" username="toprank"]

Where Does the Story Go Next?

“You don’t even know what the thing is yet. How big it can get, how far it can go. This is no time to take your chips down.”

This advice — delivered to Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg by Justin Timberlake’s Sean Parker in The Social Network — referred to Zuck’s budding Facebook venture, but could just as easily apply to any social media marketer eyeing Stories as a way to connect with their audience.

The downside is minimal. What have you got to lose? A little time and effort, perhaps. The possible benefits are extensive however. These include:

  • Prioritized placement on user feeds
  • Engaging bite-sized video content
  • Powerful visual storytelling for brands
  • Ability to experiment with new content styles and emerging tech like AR
  • Gaining familiarity with a format that could well represent the future of social marketing

More than anything, though, Facebook Stories are intriguing because they offer a real chance to capture part of a user’s attention — maybe even more than the minimum amount.

[bctt tweet="#FacebookStories are intriguing because they offer a real chance to capture part of a user’s attention — maybe even more than the minimum amount. - @NickNelsonMN #SocialMediaMarketing" username="toprank"]

And since brands generally aren’t tapping into this functionality as of yet, early adopters can jump ahead of the curve and beat their competition to the punch. If there’s one primary takeaway from Facebook’s story (as reflected in The Social Network), it’s the tremendous business value in being first. Just ask the Winklevoss twins.

At TopRank Marketing, we’re all about helping companies tell their stories through a wide variety of digital channels and tactics. Give us a shout if you’d like to hear more.

What are you thoughts on the future of Facebook stories? Tell us in the comments section below.

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Web Personalization: The Future of Digital Marketing and Sales Is Now

In the beginning, the business website was a mere brochure. Low value, low shareability, low findability. Around 2005, a big shift happened thanks to content. Cutting-edge business websites became educational resources with valuable content that ranked well in search engines and benefited from the sharing functionality of emerging social media. Soon, “cutting edge” became the
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Zero-Result SERPs: Welcome to the Future We Should’ve Known Was Coming

Posted by Dr-Pete

On Wednesday, Google launched a large-scale experiment, removing organic results from a small set of searches with definitive answers such as this one for “What time is it in Seattle?”:

These SERPs display a Knowledge Card with a “Show all results” button and no additional organic results or SERP features. Danny Sullivan wrote on Twitter that this is currently limited to a small set of answers, including calculators, unit conversions, and some time/date queries. Here’s another one, converting yesterday’s MozCast temperature (“108 degrees in celsius”):

At first glance, this is a startling development, but it shouldn’t be entirely surprising. So, let’s get to the hard questions — is this a sign of things to come, and how quickly do we need to adapt?

For today, don’t panic

First off, preliminary data suggests that these really are isolated cases. Across the 10,000 searches that MozCast tracks daily, one search (0.01%) currently displays zero results: “1 gigabit to gigabyte.” This change is not impacting most high-volume, competitive queries or even the vast majority of results with Knowledge Cards.

Second, we have to face the reality that Knowledge Cards, even paired with organic results, already dramatically impact search user behavior. Thanks to Russ Jones, we’ve pulled some data from an internal CTR study we’re currently working on at Moz. In that study, SERPs with 10 blue links have a roughly 79% organic click-through rate (overall). Add just a Knowledge Card, with no other features, and that drops to 25%. That’s a 68% drop-off, a loss of over two-thirds of organic clicks. Google has tested this change and likely found that showing organic links on these particular searches provided very little additional value.

This isn’t new (part 1)

I’m going to argue that this change is one that we in the industry should’ve seen coming, and I’m going to do it in two parts. First, we know that Knowledge Cards and other answers (including Featured Snippets) power SERPs on devices where screen size is at a minimum or non-existent.

Take for example, a search for “Where was Stephen Hawking born?” Even though the answer is definitive (there is one factual answer to this question), Google displays a rich Knowledge Card plus a full set of organic SERPs. On mobile, though, that Knowledge Card dominates results. Here’s a full-screen image:

The Knowledge Card extends below the fold and dominates the mobile screen. This assumes I see the SERP at all. Even as I was typing the question, Google tried to give me the answer…

If the basic information is all I need, and if I trust Google as a source for that information, why would I need to even click at this point?

On mobile, I at least have the option to peruse organic results. On Google Home, if I ask the same question (“Where was Stephen Hawking born?”), I get no SERP at all, just the answer:

“Stephen Hawking was born in Oxford, United Kingdom.”

Obviously, this is born of necessity on a voice-only device like Google Home, but we get a similarly truncated result with voice searches through Google Assistant. This is the same answer on my phone (the same phone as the previous screenshots), but using voice search instead of text search…

Google’s push toward voice UI and mobile-first design means that these considerations sometimes move back up the chain of devices. If the answer is enough for voice and mobile, maybe it’s enough for desktop.

This isn’t new (part 2)

Over the past couple of years, I’ve talked a lot about how SERPs have expanded well beyond 10 blue links. What we talk about less is the flip-side, that SERPs are also shrinking. Adding SERP features is, in some cases, a zero-sum game, at the cost of organic results.

Each of the following features take up one organic position:

  • Full site-links (each row)
  • Image results
  • Top Stories
  • In-depth articles (3 articles = 1 organic)
  • Tweets (carousel)
  • Tweets (single)

Across the 10,000 SERPs in our data set, over half (51%) had less than 10 traditional organic results. While very-low counts are rare, over one-fourth of page-one SERPs fell into the range of 5–8 organic results.

While the zero-result SERP is certainly a new and extreme case, the removal of organic results in favor of other features has been happening (and expanding) for quite some time now. SERPs with as few as 3–4 page-one organic results have been appearing in the wild for well over a year.

In some cases, you might not even realize that a result isn’t organic. Consider, for example, the following set of results on desktop. Can you spot the In-depth Articles?

On desktop results, there are no visual markers separating In-depth Articles from organic results, even though these results are powered by two different aspects of the algorithm. From the source code markers, we can see that the answer is #2–#5, three results which displace one organic result:

Another example is Twitter results. You’ve probably seen the Twitter carousel, which is a visually distinct format with three tweets, but have you seen a result like this one (on a search for “cranberry”)?

At first glance, it looks organic (except for the Twitter icon), but this result is a vertical result pulled directly from the Twitter data feed. It is not subject to traditional organic optimization and ranking factors.

All of this is to say that organic real estate has been shrinking for quite a while, giving way to vertical results, Knowledge Graph results, and other rich features. Google will continue to experiment, and we can expect that some SERPs will continue to shrink. Where the data suggests that one answer is enough, we may only see one answer, at the cost of organic results.

Search intent vs. opportunity

It’s easy to let our imaginations run wild, but we have to consider intent. The vast majority of searches are never going to have one definitive answer, and some queries aren’t even questions, in the traditional sense.

From an SEO and content standpoint, I think we have to expand our idea of informational search intent (vs. transactional or navigational, using the classic model). Some questions are factual, and can be answered by the ever-expanding Knowledge Graph. As of today, a search like “When is Pi Day?” still shows organic results, but the Knowledge Card gives us a definitive answer…

Here, organic opportunity is very limited. Think of this as a “closed informational” search.

On the other hand, open-ended questions still rely very much on a variety of answers, even when Google tries to choose one of those answers. Consider the search “What is the best pie?”, which returns the following Featured Snippet (a hybrid of organic result and answer box)…

No one answer will ever suffice for this question. Even the author of this post had the decency to say “Go ahead and let me have it in the comments,” knowing the disagreement would soon flow like cherry filling.

Think of these searches as “open informational” searches. Even if we have to compete for the Featured Snippet (especially on voice results), there will be organic/SEO opportunity here for the foreseeable future.

Ultimately, we have to adapt, and we have to get smarter about the searchers we target. Where Google can answer a question, they will try to answer that question, and if organic results add no measurable value (regardless of whether you agree with how Google measures value), they will continue to shrink.

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SearchCap: Google Fred confirmation, mobile-first index status & future of search

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

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Programmatic Delivery: The Future of Content Marketing and Promotion?

Posted by SimonPenson

Content promotion is hard. Disparate audiences and an ever-growing proliferation of channels to reach them through has made the life of a content marketer incredibly tough.

What would you say, however, if there was a single solution to reaching EXACTLY the right people at exactly the right time, across any and every channel in real time?

It may sound like a pie-in-the-sky opportunity but the reality is such an option is actually very, very close. In fact, for some it already exists.

That option is ‘programmatic.’

Although still in its infancy from a content perspective, the technology and methodology behind it offers massive potential for the world of content marketing, and even SEO.

So, what is programmatic?

For those not fluent in the often complex and seemingly inaccessible world of programmatic and its associated buzzwords and acronyms, let’s go back to the basics for a second.

Programmatic is a term used to describe the buying of advertising using software and algorithms.

It’s something that is currently lighting up the world of advertising as it takes out the ponderous and inefficient human element, allowing advertisers to reach the right people when they are in exactly the right place.

We can see below just how fast the uptake is expected to grow over the next couple of years:

There’s no escaping its grasp, so we ought to find out how it works, right?

In the simplest terms here’s what it looks like.

At one end of the ‘system’ you have what is called a Demand-Side Platform: a place where all advertisers queue up and share what kinds of people they want to reach.

On the other side we have the Supply-Side Platform: an inventory library where media owners, publishers, and so on tell the ‘machine’ what they have available to sell.

So far, so simple!

In the center lies the Ad Exchange, into which those publishers pour their available impressions and buyers use the tech in the Demand-Side Platforms to pick what they want to buy. This is usually done via an interface that allows you to target based on anything from demographics to recent purchase behavior and interests, and even intent.

The process of buying and selling then happens REALLY fast, in the time it takes to load the page(s) being bid on. During that split second, an auction takes place, with the highest bid winning the right to show inventory in that spot.

This is called Real-Time Bidding and is what many rightly believe is the future of programmatic and advertising in general. The platform we use to ‘play’ in this space is called Cadreon, but there are a plethora of different routes to market, either directly as a client or via an agency solution.

Before we move on and talk about why this matters to marketers, it’s worth mentioning that there is another version of programmatic known as Advanced Programmatic (or Programmatic Direct), where larger agencies pre-buy inventory at scale in order to obtain discounted pricing for buying in bulk or to secure premium and in-demand inventory. They can then use that ‘space’ as they wish, deploying it via the same system to take advantages of the audience targeting opportunity.

To get a more detailed overview of programmatic, we’ve created this free guide as part of a ‘beginners guide pack’:

So this is for advertising, right?

By now you may well be thinking that I’ve lost my mind and gone all ‘advertising’ on you. But this is entirely the point.

The world sees this as a pure-play advertising opportunity, but the reality could be quite different.

Yes, it reinvents advertising. But if you think about those adverts as simply ‘holes in the Internet,’ then we can begin to bring content into the conversation.

Holes in the Internet

At risk of stating the obvious, advertising creative is not ‘content.’ At its worst it shouts to gain our attention, and at best it still tries too hard to connect directly to a brand, or direct response opportunity.

Imagine, then, if we used those spaces to highlight an amazing piece of review content, like this fantastic ‘Which Macbook Should I Buy?’ guide by Wirecutter. Using programmatic, we could target that at people that have visited a retail store that stocks Apple within the last two weeks and have also been to the Apple site.

Another example: a great video review like this by a prominent UK automotive media brand of the best sports car to buy to someone that has just test-driven an Audi R8.

The opportunities are endless.

Native advertising

Some might say this is the natural extension of the currently rudimentary opportunities presented by the ‘native advertising’ world through platforms such as Outbrain and Taboola.

This is, however, like comparing use of the Google Display network for ad creative distribution with using real-time programmatic: a walled garden restricted to just Google publisher websites versus a programmatic play that could reach out to almost every site on the web and across some really exciting other areas like TV, radio, and out-of-home, to boot. We’ll come to how they fit in shortly.

While native advertising helps us position the opportunity in our heads (using space traditionally seen as for adverts for content), it is important to understand how much more powerful programmatic reach is.

There is one really interesting player starting to make waves in this space, and that is a Florida-based company called Triple Lift.

The model offered allows brands to buy native inventory using programmatic tech, offering advertisers a way into those ‘walled garden’ spots within content areas. This is grade-A real estate for content marketers as we look to blend the line between advertising and content further.

Interestingly, however, and probably due to the tech only being sold into advertisers as opposed to content marketers, the examples show ad-based creative as opposed to engaging content. Below, however, we can see how an article looks placed through the platform on Digg:

Adding in other channels

While traditional digital advertising is either based on keyword targeting (Adwords, for example) or is more audience-focused but limited to a single network or small pot of ‘networks’ (see Google Display Network or Facebook Audience Network), the best programmatic platforms reach much, much further.

Any good system will give you options across the following, for example:

  • Doubleclick Bid Manager for access to the Google stack
  • Amazon
  • Tube Mogul for video solutions across the web, including Facebook and Instagram
  • AOL, including Microsoft and Yahoo properties
  • Private large site marketplaces such as Pubmatic and Rubicon Project, proving access to the likes of Time Warner, Zoopla, and The Times
  • Radio channels
  • Out-of-home inventory – digital billboards, etc.
  • TV advertising

There are then a number of intermediaries whose job it is to specialize in connecting media opportunities together such as Drawbridge and Tapad for cross-device targeting. A quick overview guide of the players in the ecosystem can be seen below and should be explored as part of any strategy:

The benefit of this whole-of-market approach was summed up brilliantly in an article for Marketing Week by Jonathan McCauley-Oliver, the online sales manager at National Rail Enquiries in the UK.

They use programmatic to ensure that ads against the millions of page impressions its website receives each month are served smoothly and to their target audiences.

He explained:

“If I go to a marketer and say that I can deliver your message to the one person who is likely to buy your product, that is worth a lot. If I can do that in five seconds to 8 million users, they’ll bite my hand off. This one-to-one relationship is afforded by these advancements in technology.”

Imagine this as a central tool in your content distribution arsenal…

How could this work in the wild?

With a ‘full stack’ of Supply-Side options at your disposal, the world looks very, very exciting, especially when you start to think about how you can follow and interact with your audience, almost irrespective of where you are.

The process starts with an understanding of where your audience can be found elsewhere on the web. We can use a number of tools and platforms that you may already be well aware of as part of the wider audience understanding work you do across marketing to do this.

Audience understanding

Before you start any campaign, you MUST have a clear idea of where your target consumers are. To do this, I follow a basic process:

1. At Zazzle we have access to a great tool called Global Web Index. It’s something I’ve written and spoken about several times recently, as it’s becoming a core cog in the overall strategic wheel. In this process we use it to tell us which channels our audience uses regularly, such as in the example below.

Here we see three similar brands compared to the UK average (purple). It is clearly telling us that they use search and consumer review sites. This provides validation that our targeting will work.

2. Next, we want to get more granular. To do this, we start with Comscore and Hitwise, a leading supplier of audience insight data. From within it we can extract information on everything from which sites our audiences go to before and after ours, as well as a broader view of interests and visit behavior. You can see below an example of what an upstream report looks like for the BBC website in the UK:

Using these two tools, you can quickly build up an accurate picture of where your audience is hanging out, either by analyzing your own site or those of your competitors or industry leaders.

For those that can’t stretch to such enterprise tools, Alexa and Similarweb can give you similar information, albeit from smaller data sets.

3. We can also layer over a multitude of other data here. These are usually segmented into the following pots:

In reality, you would rarely need to worry about individual data providers. However, many of the programmatic platforms aggregate this into their systems to give you a one-stop solution to target correctly (we talk about example platforms a little later).

Creative

In creating this guide we are assuming that you already have the process of creating the right kind of content nailed. I’ve written previously about how to design content strategies and campaigns to maximize impact if there are any question marks over your approach, but the beauty of this delivery mechanism is that it’s just as effective for articles and guides as it is for major campaigns.

To understand what I mean, let’s look at a couple of theoretical examples and how that could play out:


Example 1: Video review content for a person buying a sports car

Imagine the scene: You’ve been thinking about buying a new car for several months and finally, after several attempts, you’ve got a weekend free to test out that car of your dreams.

On Saturday you test three rival brand options and go away more confused than ever, as the car you thought you wanted wasn’t the best to drive.

That night, as you ponder that decision, those brands want to be front-of-mind. The smartest of the three has deployed a programmatic ad content strategy. By collating geo-location data alongside information from its own test drive database and by looking at Google searches, YouTube viewership, etc, the brand can work out which cars are in the frame.

This presents a unique opportunity.

Rather than deliver a display banner, all the data within the setup could provide us the opportunity to deliver a richer content experience. If we know that a user lives in Brighton, currently drives a sports car that is 3 years old, and has been researching new cars, we could tailor his brand experience accordingly (e.g. content could provide local Brighton dealerships, knowing user already has sports car and lease could be expiring soon).

Or, even smarter than that, it could serve up a YouTube-hosted video favorably comparing their car with that of the rivals.

A call-to-action could then take that person to the brand site and onto a dynamically personalized page that presents the strongest argument for buying their car.

I don’t know about you, but I would be pretty impressed by that experience.


Example 2: A person buying a laptop

It’s a similar story for businesses in the retail sector. Let’s say you run an ecommerce business and want to help add value at the critical point of the purchase funnel: when a potential customer is making their final decision on which product to buy.

This could play out in any purchase process, but for the sake of this second example, let’s imagine it is for laptops.

The decision is down to the last two options (Macbook Air and the Surface Pro). We know this as search behavior has included reading reviews and looking at comparisons.

Imagine if we could place our own review slap-bang into the middle of that process, in real time. As they trawl the Internet for info, our in-depth comparison review follows them. The likelihood of interaction is huge and we can even include dynamic call-to-action creative within it, offering a personalized discount or incentive to ‘buy now’ and from our site.


So how do I get involved?

By this point, you should be thinking about how you may go about adding to your 2017 strategy but wondering where on earth to start.

The choices, as explained earlier in the piece, are still relatively limited simply due to the relative immaturity of the market and tech. Things are changing fast, however.

If your budgets are larger, then chances are you’re already using the approach as part of your paid media mix. In this situation, the challenge is to reimagine the strategy with greater emphasis on content as opposed to commercial ad messaging. Think of it as softening the message and attempting to add value more. Talk to your agency or team and challenge them to test it.

I’ll almost guarantee they’re not thinking about the distribution method as a platform for anything other than advertising message, so make it your mission to push them and help them understand that it may be more powerful as a delivery mechanism for value-adding articles, videos, and interactive assets.

This switch in thinking represents a huge opportunity for those that are willing and able to try it first, and the good news is there are a number of easy-to-use tools out there allowing you to give it a go.

Programmatic for smaller business

If, like the majority, you are in charge of smaller budgets and don’t have the ability to onboard a global network agency with in-house proprietary tech like Cadreon, don’t think you’re out of luck. There is an ever-growing pack of platforms designed specifically for this market.

A personal favorite is Admedo, an easy-to-use system for those with little or no programmatic experience. With its own DSP (Demand-Side Platform), you can customize to your heart’s content. We have seen some brilliant results from it.

Others worth considering include:

  • Zypmedia – Great for local advertising campaign work and for businesses where geo-location is critical.
  • Pocketmath – Another great option for the small business owner wanting full control of targeting, creative, and delivery.
  • Brandzooka – A good choice for those looking to focus campaigns on video creative.

Next steps

So, fancy giving programmatic a go? If you do, spend ten minutes reading our Simple Guide to Programmatic, available for free by clicking the button below. You can also download our Programmatic Planning Template to help make the planning process as easy as possible. Good luck!

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