Quality score in 2017: Should you care?

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You’ve got to hand it to the folks at Google — the idea of quality score is pretty brilliant. Unlike most search engines born in the ’90s, Google realized that the success of paid search advertising was directly tied to the quality and relevance of their paid search ads.

After all, if someone searches for “best dog food for rottweilers,” and the first result they see on the SERP is a handful of text ads selling Toyota hatchbacks, they aren’t likely to be wowed by your search engine. If people think your search engine is lousy, they won’t use it… which means no one will pay to advertise on your search engine, either.

But, if you incentivize advertisers to create ads that are relevant to a user’s search, you can maintain the quality of your SERP and still make money from paid search advertising.

The solution? Quality score.

Now, if you’ve been doing paid search advertising for a while, quality score probably isn’t a new concept. Paid search platforms like Google look at your click-through rate, ad relevance and landing page experience and assign your ads a quality score. As your quality score goes up, your average position tends to go up and/or your average cost per click tends to go down.

Seems simple enough, right? The better your quality score, the better your advertising results will be.

But is it really that simple? Sure, quality score is great for Google, but should optimizing quality score be a key part of your paid search advertising strategy? To answer that question, let’s take a look at the data.

Quality score and cost per conversion

When it comes to quality score and cost per click, the evidence is pretty clear: improving your quality score decreases your cost per click. Since your cost per conversion is essentially your cost per click divided by your conversion rate, you’d expect that improving your quality score would also improve your cost per conversion.

Sadly, that’s not how it actually works out.

Now, you might be thinking, But Jake, I know I’ve seen research somewhere showing how a higher quality score is associated with a lower cost per conversion. And it’s true. Odds are, you’ve probably run into an article discussing the results of this study by Wordstream or this study by Portent.

In both of these studies, cost per conversion typically dropped by around 13 to 16 percent for every point of increase in quality score.

the relationship between cost per conversion (CPA) vs. quality score in adwords

At Disruptive Advertising (my employer), we’ve audited thousands of AdWords accounts, so we decided to use our database to replicate Wordstream’s study. Not surprisingly, we got about the same results: Every point of increase in quality score resulted in a 13 percent decrease in cost per conversion.

A graph with thousands of data points (like the one above) is a bit hard to interpret, so I’ve used a small representative subset of our data to make things easier below:

Given the consistency of this data, you’re probably wondering how I can say that improving quality score does not reliably decrease cost per conversion. I mean, look at the graphs! There’s clearly a connection between quality score and cost per conversion!

Or is there?

Unfortunately, while these graphs look compelling, it turns out that the trendline has an R2 of 0.012. In non-statistical speak, that means a one-point increase in quality score only actually produces a 13 to 16 percent decrease in cost per conversion about 1 percent of the time.

Would you put a lot of time and effort into a marketing tactic that only behaves predictably 1 percent of the time? Neither would I.

Why quality score is a poor predictor

There are a lot of reasons quality score is an unreliable predictor of cost per conversion. However, I believe that the biggest reason is also the simplest reason: Quality score is Google’s metric, not yours.

Quality score matters to Google because it helps Google make money, not because it helps you make money. No one sees your ad on the SERP and thinks, “My, what a fine quality score they must have! Anyone with a quality score like that deserves my business.”

While Google cares about providing a relevant experience to their users, they don’t really care about whether or not you’re sending potential customers to your page or getting conversions at an affordable price. You got your click and they got their cash, so Google’s happy.

You, however, still need to drive conversions at an affordable price.

To do that, though, you can’t rely on the metrics Google cares about. Sure, your ad might make Google happy, but if that ad isn’t driving the right people to the right page, you could be wasting a ton of money — even on a keyword with a quality score of 10!

Case in point, over the course of our AdWords audits, we’ve discovered that the average AdWords account wastes 76 percent of its budget on keywords and search terms that never convert.

Here’s how that wasted ad spend affects your cost per conversion (using the same data subset as before):

As it turns out, this data is even scarier than the quality score data. Each 10 percent increase in wasted ad spend increases your cost per conversion by 44 to 72 percent. And, while this correlation isn’t 100 percent accurate, it has an R2 of 0.597, which means that it explains about 60 percent of your cost per conversion.

That’s a lot more compelling than 1 percent.

In fact, we’ve frequently helped clients significantly reduce their cost per conversion by reducing their wasted ad spend. For example, here’s what happened to one client as we reduced their wasted ad spend from 91 percent to 68 percent:

If you think about it, it makes sense that core account factors like wasted ad spend would have a much bigger impact on your cost per conversion than an external metric like quality score. After all, as we pointed out earlier, you can have a great quality score and still be driving people who will never buy to your site.

How to use quality score

All that being said, I still believe that quality score is a valuable metric to track and optimize. Quality score affects your cost per click and average position, which can do wonders for your account — provided that you aren’t hemorrhaging money in other areas.

If, however, you’re not wasting a ton of money on irrelevant clicks, and you feel confident in the quality of your traffic and landing page, quality score can be a great way to improve your paid search account.

First, open your AdWords account, go to the Keywords tab, and ensure that you’ve added Quality score as a column:

Next, pick a meaningful date range (I’m always partial to the last 6 to 12 weeks), and export your results as a spreadsheet. Open your spreadsheet in Excel, and create a pivot table:

The following settings will allow you to see how much you are spending on each level of quality score:

Looking at the data above, it looks like 12 percent of this client’s budget is being spent on keywords with a quality score of 1. If we assume that those ads are driving relevant traffic (maybe they’re bidding on the competition’s branded terms?), bumping the quality score of those ads up from 1 to 2 could save them thousands!

Alternatively, if you want to see exactly how much you’re spending on specific keywords with a given quality score, you can set your pivot table up like this:

In this case, I’ve included a filter for cost that allows me to see keywords with a quality score of 1 that the client has spent more than $500 on. This gives me nine high-priority keywords (representing the majority of ad spend on keywords with this quality score) to focus on, which should be a fairly workable number.

With a few ad copy and landing page adjustments, I may be able to nudge these keywords up to a quality score of 2 and save the client thousands in ad spend.

Summary

In the end, quality score is Google’s metric, not yours. It’s not a very good predictor of cost per conversion (and, by extension, return on ad spend), so if you’re looking for quick ways to improve your account performance, it’s usually best to focus on low-hanging fruit like wasted ad spend.

However, if you’re looking for ways to eke better results out of a high-performing account, a little quality score optimization can produce meaningful results. After all, if your account is driving the right traffic to the right page, your interests and Google’s interests are aligned. As a result, improving your quality score will be a win for everyone.


Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Important ranking factor SEO

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Important ranking factor SEO

A recent interview with James Murray, EMEA product marketing manager at Microsoft Bing, and Laura Hampton of Impression talked about Important ranking factor in SEO adopted by Bing. It will decrease the impact of links in overall search ranking algorithms.

Here is a snippet of the interview;

“What we might see is that links start to decrease in importance that they have in the general context of the various factors that we use to determine relevance.”

A Microsoft spokesperson from Bing told us, “There are a variety of factors that come into play with ranking signals, links being one of them.” They also explained that links are still a very important ranking signal, and they don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Bing seems to be focusing a bit more on conversational search, but the core 10 blue links are still very dependent on link data for ranking, as well as other conversational search ranking algorithms.

 

How to Become a Thought Leader in Your Niche and Build Your Brand

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How do you build brand recognition and develop brand authority in your niche?

As we say in the industry, “Content is king.”

After selling my old company, I started a new company. That meant building an entirely new brand from the ground up. Fortunately, I was able to use my personal brand to bring in an audience for my business and establish trust in the quality of my work.

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As a thought leader in the search industry, I frequently deliver keynote speeches, write guest blogs, and produce content for my company’s website to gain exposure for my personal brand and my business. The added exposure amounts to increased leads for my business and greater brand authority for me and my business.

Google holds a sweet spot for major brands in its organic results, as they usually get first pick for crawling and indexing. This is why we must utilize content marketing to establish ourselves as thought leaders and gain trust and authority for our brands.

Thought leadership and brand authority essentially go hand-in-hand.

Brands are built on the backs of leaders who can choose to emerge from underneath their brand.

So how do you become a thought leader for your brand?

How to Become a Thought Leader

Create Your Platform

You can’t just declare yourself a thought leader — that is up to others to decide.

The first step to becoming a thought leader is building your brand and establishing your credentials.

For personal branding, it’s key to leverage your social media accounts, especially LinkedIn and Facebook. Fill out a detailed bio of your accomplishments and career skills. These will become important channels for brand outreach and content promotion.

To beget your brand, you must ultimately improve your web presence. Go through the proper channels to position your website to gain exposure:

  • Establish a branded domain name.
  • Create a unique logo and complementary color scheme.
  • Acquire local citations for your website.
  • Optimize on-site technical factors to provide quality user experience.

Most importantly, discover an underserved niche in your industry that presents room to scale and that you’re proficient in. Conduct your keyword research to gather a better understanding of how to meet the demands of your customer base.

Now, it’s time to formulate your ideas and disseminate them to the masses.

Building a Branded Blog

Most marketers realize the value of branded blogs in conducting their SEO campaign and creating brand awareness for their business.

Branded blogs allow businesses and individuals to express their ideas about topics important to their niche.

Consistent blogging allows you to provide commentary on current industry trends and display your command over their subject matter.

Google rewards content that is relevant, fresh, and presents a unique spin on a topic. Producing evergreen content strategically positions your web pages to acquire backlinks, develop page authority, and help your website rank organically for targeted keywords.

More importantly, building a consistent blog establishes your brand’s authority over its niche through quality content. The higher the quality of your content, the more customers trust your brand. This, in turn, amounts to greater brand loyalty, which contributes heavily to your return on investment (ROI).

Building Your Content

Following Your SEO Talents

You want to develop thematically related categories for your content to position your web pages to index and rank for a wide range of semantically similar keyword phrases.

With machine learning technology, Google can evaluate the quality of your content and determine its relevance to user intent better than ever.

Expand your content marketing strategy to different sources to acquire backlinks and establish your value to customers in your niche.

Providing comments on relevant blogs, participating in niche forums, and writing industry reviews all get you engaged with your community and communicate your command over its most important topics.

Everything you put your name on could be a valuable backlink and traffic source for your website.

You should also consider producing content that serves to display original research, such as a white paper or an e-book. In terms of writing, long-form content is shared at a much higher rate than short-form content and typically ranks higher than thin content.

Other content with high shareability include:

  • Infographics
  • Images
  • Lists
  • Videos
  • ‘How to’ articles
  • ‘Why’ articles

Identify your brand to customers through keyword terms utilized in your content and across all web pages of your sales funnel. Optimize all meta tags with appropriate keywords from your research and include social media buttons to encourage easy shareability.

Marketing Your Content

Social media marketing is an absolute must today.

Leveraging social media can help increase your brand’s exposure, expand your audience, and allow you to engage with your audience to create brand loyalists.

Your Facebook and Twitter feeds allow you to syndicate content with backlinks that will improve their rank. Compounding posts will also grant your content more inbound links.

Connect with influencers in your industry that would benefit from your sponsorship. Not only does your content reach a wider audience but also a more relevant audience. Look on BuzzSumo for ideas on topics that are going viral on social media.

Use different channels to market your content, whether through paid promotion or email marketing campaigns. Email marketing often has a higher ROI than search marketing and is effective at retaining existing customers and keeping them up to date with your brand. My business uses monthly newsletters to keep customers updated and to create social value for our products and brand.

Building a brand should not necessarily seek to acquire a wider audience, but to retain your existing one to foster a community and create brand loyalists. One way to do this is to always respond to user comments and reviews, whether on your native website or your social media page.

Establishing Expertise

Finally, a syndicated blog or podcast may be effective to curate thought leadership, but it’s critical to become more active within your community.

  • Interview other thought leaders in your industry. Publish the interviews on your website.
  • Quote thought leaders: Reach out to a thought leader for a comment or quote next time you’re writing an article.
  • Ask a thought leader to share some of your content with their audience. This creates a mutually beneficial relationship for both parties, generating valuable backlink and content promotion opportunities. I regularly post and share content from other influencers in the SEO industry on my social media accounts.
  • Write a book. I wrote a best-selling book on Search Engine Optimization, which gave my personal brand (and various businesses) immense exposure and established myself as a thought leader within the SEO field.
  • Speak at industry conferences. This will allow you to present your ideas in a professional setting. Public speaking engagements put your name in front of some very powerful influencers and put a face to the brand name.

It’s also important to establish the value of your products and business to your customers.

Publish testimonials on your website to show successful case stories and have someone else brag about your expertise. Online reviews and word-of-mouth advertising affect consumer decisions more than any other advertising factor out there.

The Advantages of Thought Leadership for Your Brand

It’s no secret that brand authority and thought leadership reaps multiple benefits. Businesses considered as thought leaders enjoy more sales, profitability, and are less price sensitive.

Consider IBM’s Smarter Planet Program that launched amid the 2008 recession. It generated $3 billion in revenue in 2010 alone and increased their brand value in every region globally.

Thought leadership makes brands more innovative and creative and differentiates them from the competition. Consider how valuable brand authority remains in today’s highly competitive consumer market.

More importantly, becoming a recognized thought leader in your industry usually comes as a result of measurable SEO results–more average shares per post, high conversion rates, and more authoritative backlinks than your competitors. This all communicates trust for you and your brand, which means higher organic rank and greater brand exposure.

There are more benefits to being a thought leader and making your brand authoritative:

  • Higher indexing and crawling rates for your website
  • Larger audience to market content
  • Increased leads for your business
  • Higher CTR based on brand recognition

Conclusion

It’s important to realize that SEO is not static. It requires consistency and years of churning out content to get your voice recognized as a thought leader.

Historically, I’ve been experimental and ambitious in my business strategies, which is why I’ve enjoyed many successes up to this point. Go against the grain and establish yourself as a thought leader and brand authority in your niche.

Becoming a thought leader boils down to the quality of your content and what you can provide for it. What can you say that no one else has said before?


Image Credits
Featured Image: Pixabay

The Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors 2017

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The Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors 2017

Search Engine Land’s Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors has been updated, with its fourth edition now available. It sees factors related to mobile, direct answers and site speed increase in importance. Factors related to search history have decreased. Factors related to site identity and personal social sharing have been dropped entirely.

Below is a further explanation behind the changes, along with a reintroduction to the table, for those who are new to it. For those who just want the latest table to download, scroll to the end.

The table’s goal & philosophy

Our goal with the Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors is to help publishers focus on the fundamentals needed to achieve success with search engine optimization.

To do this, the table doesn’t try to list all of Google’s 200 major ranking factors (most of which aren’t publicly known) or detail the search engine’s 10,000 subfactors. It doesn’t try to decipher if the keywords you want to rank for should be at the beginning of an HTML title tag or the end. It’s not about whether Facebook Likes count toward a ranking boost or not.

Rather, the table is intended to broadly guide both those new and experienced with SEO to focus on major areas of importance. Title tags are generally important; you should ensure they are descriptive. Social sharing is often generally seen as indirectly benefitting SEO. Aim for social shares, without worrying about the specifics.

To understand more about our philosophy behind the table, see our post from when the first edition debuted in 2011. You can also read how it changed with the second edition in 2013 and the third in 2015.

What the SEO table covers

There are two major classes of factors:

  • On-the-page SEO: These are factors largely within the control of publishers.
  • Off-the-page SEO: These are factors influenced by others or not directly tied to a publisher’s site.

Within these two classes are seven categories of factors, which are:

  • Content — Factors relating to the content and quality of your material
  • Architecture — Factors about your overall site functionality
  • HTML — Factors specific to web pages
  • Trust — Factors related to how trustworthy and authoritative a site seems to be
  • Links —  Factors related to how links impact rankings
  • Personal — Factors about how personalization influences rankings
  • Social — Factors on how social sharing impacts rankings

Overall, there are 35 individual factors, which range from making use of descriptive HTML title tags to whether a site has success with visitor engagement. Here’s a close-up of the table, focusing on just the factors:

How to understand the table

Each factor has a two letter symbol. The first letter represents the category a factor is part of, such as “A” for Architecture. The second letter represents the element itself, such as “m” for Mobile, giving “Am” its symbol.

Each factor also has a weight. This is a relative guide to how important it is to focus on a particular factor versus others and overall. Those with a +3 are most important, with +2 and +1 indicating factors of lesser importance.

It’s also important to understand that the factors work together. No single factor guarantees success. But several factors working together, even if they are minor ones, can increase the odds in your favor.

Violations are negative factors, spam activities that can harm your visibility. Don’t do these! Violations, unlike the other elements, all begin with “V” regardless of what category they are in, so that they can more easily be identified as violations. Factors marked -3 are considered worse than -2 and -1.

Our Search Engine Land’s Guide to SEO has been updated to reflect all the changes to the table, and it goes into more depth about each factor.

What’s changed?

As with previous revisions, Search Engine Land’s editors considered new elements that should be included, pondered ones that should be dropped and reviewed those that deserved an increase or decrease in weight.

We also ran a survey asking readers to give their own opinions of how existing elements should be weighted, along with open comments about adding new elements. We received over 300 responses in all, and thanks to all those who helped!

For 2017, no new elements were added. Three elements had weight increases; two had weight decreases. Two elements were dropped entirely. The summary is below.

Factors with weight increases: Mobile, speed & direct answers

Am: Mobile — Google continues to push for content to be mobile-friendly, no surprise given that more than 50 percent of Google searches are done on mobile devices. In addition, by the end of this year or in 2018, Google will use a mobile-first index, even for desktop users.

All of this made us feel the mobile factor should increase to +3, a rise over the +2 it had in 2015 and the +1 when it was first added to the table in 2013. Those surveyed agreed, giving it a 2.8 average weight.

As: Speed — Google has continued to emphasize the importance of speed as a ranking factor, including widely implementing the AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) format that it backs. AMP didn’t even exist when our SEO table was last updated in 2015.

With so much attention on speed, it made sense to increase this factor’s weight from +1 to +2. Those surveyed gave it an average weight of 2.6, but we decided to be conservative with our increase.

Ca: Direct Answers — Both Google and Bing are increasingly showing direct answers that are culled from web pages above regular listings, something Google calls featured snippets.

Some publishers worry these are harmful, because if an actual answer is shown, why would people bother clicking to the source page? However, many others compete to be an answer, finding they do indeed drive traffic. Google’s featured snippets also serve as the single spoken answer that’s often given by the Google Assistant on mobile devices or in Google Home.

This factor was added in 2015 with a conservative +1 weight. Given the increasing prominence of direct answers, it made sense to raise the weight to +2. That also matches up with survey respondents, who gave it a 2.1 average weight.

Factors with weight decreases: Site and personal search history

Th: History — Google seems to have downplayed, in public statements or a lack of them, the importance of a site’s age or history versus years past. Given this, we felt dropping this factor from +2 to +1 made sense.

The factor was raised to +2 for the first time in 2015, when we agreed with the average survey response of 2.0. This year’s survey saw that drop to 1.8, giving us further reason to feel a decreased weight was in order.

Ph: History — Someone’s personal search history also felt to us like a factor that has decreased in importance. That’s why we’ve dropped it from +3 to +2. Survey respondents put it at 1.7, further reassuring us that the decrease was justified.

Factors that were dropped: Site identity and personal social sharing

Ti: Identity — We heavily debated dropping site identity as a factor when doing the 2015 edition, because Google had ended support for Google Authorship, which was the primary way identity seemed to be having an impact. However, those surveyed then gave it a 1.6 average score. Google also suggested that authorship was still being determined in other ways.

Since then, Google has backed away from authorship entirely. This year’s survey also saw it drop slightly to a 1.5 average. To us, there seemed little reason to continue listing this factor at all. We decided to drop it.

Ps: Social — Google+ was the primary way Google was using personal social sharing to influence someone’s search results. Google+ might continue in name, but its impact on Google’s search results seems all but gone — along with the users and brands that were active on the service. Because of this, we decided this factor deserved to be dropped. Survey respondents gave it an average weight of 1.6.

Factors considered but not added: App indexing and AMP

We wondered if we should add new elements for app indexing and AMP pages. People were asked to rate these on the survey. The average for app indexing was 1.7; for AMP, it was 1.8. We ultimately felt those were better considered as part of the existing mobile factor (Am) and decided not to add them as new elements.

Not changed but notable

As shown above, we don’t always go with what our survey suggests for a factor’s weight. Ultimately, we try to be a bit more cautious than what the survey suggests, plus we take into account things we’ve seen the search engines say or do.

Here are some notable diversions from the survey, where factors did not have their existing weights changed.

Au: URLs — The survey had keywords in URLs at 2.1, but we felt keeping it at +1 was fair.

Ah: HTTPS — The survey had the impact of running a secure site at 2.0, but we felt it was appropriate with its existing lower weight of +1. However, this could change in the future — and there are good reasons beyond SEO to make a site secure.

Ah: Titles — The survey gave keywords in title tags a 2.3 average weight. We kept it at +3, viewing it as an easy and still important area of focus.

Ah: Headers — The survey gave the use of header tags (H1, H2, etc) a 2.2 average weight. We felt that was too much and kept it at +1.

Ta: Authority — The survey gave the idea that a site or page has authority that helps with ranking a 2.4 weight. Google has certainly downplayed the idea of site or domain authority, as we covered recently. But it has given even further emphasis to the idea of page authority. We felt keeping this factor at +3 made sense.

Ln: Number of links — Those surveyed gave an average weight of 1.9 to the idea that sheer number of links is an important ranking factor. We remain conservative on this, keeping it at +1.

Pc: Country — Survey respondents gave a 2.1 average weight to the importance of someone’s country on the impact of the search results they receive. It’s easily demonstrated that country location has one of the most important influences on search results. Just ask anyone in a country different from the one you’re in to do the same search. They’ll usually have widely different results. We kept this at the highest +3 weight.

Pl: Locality — The survey gave a 2.3 average weight to the importance of someone’s city or locality on the impact of search results. As with country, we know — and anyone can easily test — that a city or regional location can have a huge impact. We kept this factor at +3 weight.

Ss: Social shares — The survey gave a 1.6 average weight to the idea that the sheer number of social shares can have an impact on search rankings. Social is generally an indirect benefit, in terms of Google. It has repeatedly said that it doesn’t try to measure social signals from Twitter or Facebook to rank results. But social sharing might lead people to link to and engage with sites, which are direct factors. Overall, we felt remaining conservative here with a +1 score made sense.

Vd: Piracy — The survey put the impact of having pirated or copyright-infringing content at -2.6. Sites with pirated content can indeed be hit hard by Google, but most sites don’t do this and so don’t need to worry about it. Hence, our lower weight of -1.

Va: Heavy ads — The survey put the impact of having sites heavy with ads or intrusive interstitials at -2.4. We agree that Google certainly seems to be looking harder (and penalizing) for this. Still, we decided to remain conservative and keep it at -1. However, there’s an excellent chance this could change in the future.

Vp: Paid links — The survey average for buying links was -2.1. We think that underestimates the negative impact on a site that’s caught doing this. We kept this at -3.

Factors not mentioned & the importance of quality

Above, we’ve only covered factors that had changes from the last edition or where we deviated from how survey respondents felt. There are many more factors than these, however — so please do review them all.

More than anything else, Cq: Content Quality, remains the bedrock of success. It’s the first factor on the chart and heavily weighted for a reason. If you have great content, all things good SEO-wise flow from that. Survey respondents agree, giving it a 2.8 average.

Thanks!

As always, updating the Periodic Table of SEO is a lot of work. Thanks again to all our readers who participated in our survey. Your feedback was appreciated.

Special thanks goes out especially to our news editor, Barry Schwartz, who watches over the SEO space like no one else. His thoughts and feedback were incredibly valuable.

Finally, a huge thank-you to the good folks at Column Five Media. They helped create the original table in 2011 and have continued to support it since through each edition, giving it a fresh new look for 2017.

Understanding link building in SEO easy way

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Understanding link building in SEO easy way

We all kow that we need links to rank well, but some people are still unsure of what constitutes a good link or a bad one. That information is critical in making smart link building decisions. Dabble in questionable link building activities today — even unintentionally — and you will eventually find yourself on the wrong side of a penalty costing you traffic and sales.

That’s why it’s so important to understand exactly what kind of links have a positive impact on ranking and are acceptable according to Google’s webmaster guidelines.

So we’re going to delve into the good, bad, and ugly of links to explain which type will hurt your website, which will just waste your time by not improving ranking, and which will propel you to the top of the search results.

On a related note, it’s important to have a strategy rather than just blindly building links. This will save you time, money, and energy while improving your results.

The Good Links

Good links tend to be earned naturally and generally aren’t scalable.

Organic link building takes a lot more time and effort, but it also means the links you do get are more valuable because they are more difficult for your competitors to replicate.

This gives you a more dominant position in your market, and that’s what we’re all looking for, right?

Editorial Links

The most obvious example of a good link is when, unbeknownst to you, a journalist (or contributor, or blogger) is so amazed by you, your company, or your products or services that they take the initiative to write an article about you and link to your website. Contrary to what some in the SEO community (including Google) claim, this is pretty rare.

Equally as good is when a personal relationship leads to a similar situation, either directly or through an introduction to a journalist, contributor, or blogger — provided that there is legitimate value for their audience in your story. For example, in a recent article on the role of traditional public relations in SEO that I wrote for another search publication, I included several quotes and a link from a friend who runs a large and successful PR firm precisely because her insight was incredibly valuable to the audience, thanks to her extensive background.

Guest Blogging

Guest blogging, when done properly, ranks just a little below the previous two examples in terms of value, primarily because while the website it’s published on has editorial oversight, it’s still produced by you rather than a more objective third party.

It’s imperative that these articles provide value to their audience and not be there just for a link. In fact, because Google has cracked down hard on guest posting as a link building tactic, I find it best to be overly cautious by going way beyond the expectations of value and be extremely conservative in terms of outbound links to your own website.

To play it safe, any guest blogging should be done with the intent of building your brand and reaching a larger audience — rather than building links. Building links is simply a byproduct of doing a great job at that.

Niche Directories

In general, directories are all but dead. However, highly focused niche directories can still be a valuable source of links.

That being said, you may only find a handful of worthwhile directories focused on your niche, and their SEO value will vary dramatically, but it’s definitely worth looking into. You should expand your thinking beyond the traditional idea of a web directory and look at trade organizations, niche-specific networking groups, and professional associations as well because most have a members directory these days.

When evaluating a directory, you’ll want to ensure that they:

  • Have a vetting process, rather than just accepting anyone who is willing to pay the fee.
  • Regularly publish valuable content that search engines can access and index.
  • Regularly prune broken links from members who no longer have an active website.

This may sound overly puritanical, but I would avoid any directories that allow keywords in the anchor text of the listings.

Building Those Good Links…

Gone are the days of precisely matching anchor text to the keyword phrases you want to rank for. It looks unnatural, and thus easily identifiable by Google’s algorithm, which will only continue to get better at spotting patterns thanks to artificial intelligence.

When someone else links to you without your input, the anchor text tends to be pretty natural, so you don’t have much to worry about. When you’re the one creating the links, however, such as when guest posting, you need to be much more careful because your own actions (vs. those of a third party) will be viewed with much more scrutiny if you’re ever manually reviewed.

There is a time and place for exact match anchor text, but in most cases, I tend to opt for something more descriptive, like I did in the previous link to my SEJ article on artificial intelligence. You should also generally link to the most relevant internal page rather than the homepage (unless you’re citing the company, in which case you should use the company name instead of a keyword).

The Ugly Links

While it may be easy to produce these types of links in large numbers, they won’t have much impact (if any) on your organic ranking.

Investing time in producing these type of links is a waste of time, money, and energy because they will never generate much of a return on investment.

To make matters worse, if you use these link building tactics — even though they aren’t effective — you’re likely to eventually suffer a penalty.

Guest Posting at Scale

If you’ve been in the SEO industry for more than a few years, you probably remember when article directories were the hot new thing and you could simply fire up a program to submit your article to thousands of these websites at once. Most of these programs even had the capability to “spin” or modify the content, resulting in a “unique” article for each submission. This created a swath of trash websites that served no purpose other than displaying ads within mostly useless and redundant content.

Those days are thankfully behind us. However, even when performed manually and at a smaller scale, this tactic is problematic when you’re doing it primarily to build links because it creates obvious patterns that Google’s algorithm can easily identify.

Links From Non-Relevant Websites

There is virtually no value in links from a divorce lawyer’s website pointing to a general contractor’s website. Today Google is pretty good at identifying the topic of a website, and they generally only assign significant weight to links that are relevant to their target. No matter how easy it may be to acquire a link, don’t waste your time if it isn’t relevant.

Header, Footer, and Sidebar Links

Google doesn’t give much weight for links in certain areas of a web page, including headers, footers, and sidebars. In general, sitewide links are a bad idea except in a few cases:

  • Linking to a relevant sister publication that you own. For example, if Huffington Post linked to their India edition, that would be fine. However, if you ran a general contractor business and a mortgage company, a sitewide link from one to the other would be risky.
  • Identifying software that runs a website, as you see with most content management, blogging, and e-commerce systems.
  • Identifying who designed a website.

An important caveat here is that while you don’t need to use the nofollow attribute on these links, you do need to use branded terms such as the company or publication name rather than keyword rich anchor text.

The Bad Links

Further down the rabbit hole are links that must be avoided at all costs.

You should disavowed any bad links you’ve used in the past because they will absolutely result in a penalty when you’re inevitably caught. From that point forward, Google will start watching your link building efforts with far more scrutiny.

When you’ve landed on Google’s radar, any actions that may have been dismissed as an honest mistake will now be viewed as an attempt to unethically manipulate ranking.

Paid Links

You might be thinking that you can get away with buying paid links because you’re doing it on a small scale and/or through personal relationships, right?

That sounds plausible until you consider that if a website owner is selling links to you, they’re most likely selling links to at least a few other people too, and those people are most likely buying links from other websites. You can see how quickly the network expands from there.

Think of how many people, buyers and sellers, are really involved, and then ask yourself how difficult would it be for an organization with the data and resources of Google to identify paid links. All they need to do is catch one buyer or seller and then follow the breadcrumbs to identify the other buyers and sellers.

Comment or Forum Spam

While it’s easy to blast thousands of links to forums and comment sections of blogs, it’s also easy to destroy your brand by doing this because you’re slapping your spammy links all over someone else’s website. Besides, links in the comment section of blogs are nofollowed, and many forums nofollow outbound links as well, so you won’t see much, if any, SEO benefit but you will open yourself to the risk of a link-based penalty. Especially since you’ll anger other website owners who will be more than happy to report you to Google.

General Directories

We’ve already discussed how niche directories have the potential to be valuable, however, you should avoid general directories like the plague. These are the epitome of everything Google hates because they typically accept any website (except those promoting porn, gambling, or violence) so long as you’re willing to pay their fee.

This is a textbook example of a paid link. The directory isn’t relevant to your website, and in most cases, it lacks any useful content.

Private Blog Networks

Why go through the hassle of building legitimate links when you can just install WordPress on a few dozen domains and link to any website you want anytime? Well, for starters, just like with paid links, it’s pretty easy for Google to identify private blog networks, leading to penalties in the short term, and more scrutiny in the long term.

The more significant reason not to use private blog networks as a link building tactic is that you’ll still need to publish loads of original, high-quality content and create inbound links to the blogs in your network in order for it to have any value at all. That time, money, and energy would be better invested creating amazing content and earning inbound links to your own website.

When you consider that owners of most legitimate websites continually work to produce new content and earn new links, the value of a link from their website to yours continually becomes more valuable.

Conclusion

Links are an essential part of SEO today, but if you don’t know which type violate Google’s guidelines, you can easily end up doing more harm than good. Since links aren’t going to disappear as a ranking factor anytime in the foreseeable future, it’s critical that you understand exactly which type will improve your ranking, which type won’t, and perhaps most importantly, which type will get your website penalized.

Image Credits

Featured image created by author.

How to sell PPC campaign to your client

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How to sell PPC campaign to your client

One of the chief success metrics for our agency’s account management team is organic growth. We define organic growth as the amount of additional revenue generated through our existing client relationships.

Clients come to us because they want more out of their paid search and social program; they want consistent volume, revenue and profit growth. To drive organic growth, account managers must “always be selling.” This article will discuss methods PPC account managers in any situation (agency, consultant, in-house) can use to persuade their stakeholders to invest more budget into their PPC accounts.

Method #1: Have a solid strategy

Having a solid strategy is the cornerstone of any PPC program. Without a coherent plan in place, it would be extremely difficult or nearly impossible to convince stakeholders that investing more budget in paid search is a wise idea. Stakeholders want to know why more budget should be invested, how the extra budget is going to be spent and what the expected results are going to be.

Working under the guidance of a coherent, larger plan creates both trust and credibility, which is the first step to complete in any sales process. If clients don’t have trust in the plan — or worse, don’t trust that there is a plan — it will not be possible to create the necessary justifications to win any extra budget.

What does a PPC strategy look like? The pillars of solid PPC strategy should contain the following elements:

  • A deep understanding of the overall business situation (performance metrics, competitive landscape, deep understanding of the client/stakeholder’s most important goals).
  • guiding principle that governs overall direction. Translating the guiding principle into a simple-to-understand core objective will keep the PPC program tied to an overarching plan.
  • A coordinated action plan with initiatives that are tied directly to the guiding principle.

Carve out time to create a solid strategic plan. Good strategy is the conduit for positive performance — which, in turn, makes it easier to state your case for more budget.

Method #2: Pitching new ideas

Presenting new ideas to clients is critical to winning more budget from them. Why is it important to always be presenting new ideas?

  • PPC is dynamic, and the landscape is changing all the time. A strategy or tactic that’s implemented today could be outdated in a few months, or it could simply stop working. New ideas prevent stagnation and keep your PPC program fresh.
  • There are more pay-per-click platforms than ever available for marketers to utilize. Breaking into social advertising platforms such as Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter opens new possibilities for growth and expansion.
  • Expansion leads to new budget over time. For an account to grow, it often needs more budget to properly test new ideas and initiatives.

How do we pitch new ideas to clients in a convincing way? Here are some tactics to use that can lead to a successful pitch for new budget:

  • Define the scope of the idea your pitching. Are you proposing a small modification to your PPC program or a radical change?
  • Tailor the pitch to who the decision-maker is. In most client/stakeholder relationships, there’s the daily contact who has operational control. Based on the size of the idea, the client might need to bring in their superiors to sign off on the decision and approve additional testing budget. Ensuring your pitch answers the questions of the most important decision-makers increases the chances of winning additional budget to fund your proposed initiatives.
  • Boil ideas down to their most important points. The easier it is for stakeholders to understand your idea, the budget required to successfully implement it and the urgency for moving forward, the better the chances of getting sign-off.

Always strive to bring new ideas to the table. Innovation is the key to account growth, and ultimately, to growing PPC spend. Successfully convincing clients to invest in new initiatives vs. routing budgets from existing ones provides more flexibility to test and iterate, which are key backbones of PPC success.

Method #3: Overcoming objections

In any selling situation, you must be prepared to overcome objections. Despite having a strong strategy in place and regularly presenting innovative new ideas to clients, there will come a time when clients say no.

“No” should not treated as the final word but rather the beginning of a rolling dialogue that ultimately leads to winning more budget. Use those nos as an opportunity to strengthen your pitch and develop a stronger case for obtaining more budget. Following are a couple of ways of overcoming objections:

  • Educate your audience. In my experience, when I see a pitch fail, it’s mostly due to a lack of context. When preparing your pitch, make sure you understand the big problem your stakeholder faces, and educate them as to how your initiative will solve it.
  • Having a strong point of view. Many pitches also fail when the presenter does not have a convincing point of view regarding the subject matter. The best way to develop a strong point of view is to do extensive background research, make solid projections on potential outcomes and consult with others to gain feedback about your plans and pitch. Based on that information, you can develop a point of view that can be communicated in way that garners trust and confidence in your way forward.

Overcoming objections is all about building credibility. Being fully prepared and confident in the information being presented can help reduce objections and lead you to secure more budget for your PPC initiatives.

Conclusion

Growing PPC accounts is all about selling clients on the notion that your approach is the best way forward and that more budget is required to execute the plan. You need to have a coherent strategy, a steady stream of new ideas and a compelling argument for why they should be implemented to expand your client’s PPC program.

Always selling — whether it’s a new optimization, tactic, strategy or platform — demonstrates a commitment to growth, which ultimately leads to increased budgets, stronger revenues and profits.


Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

Get paid for using Microsoft’s Bing

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Get paid for using Microsoft’s Bing

In an effort to get more people around the world to use its Bing search engine, Microsoft is opening up its loyalty program called Microsoft Rewards to more users. The loyalty program which has existed for several years in the US is now being rolled out in the UK.

Microsoft Rewards gives people points for searching with Bing, which can be redeemed for items in the Microsoft Store. Points can also be earned for taking quizzes, entering competitions, and completing challenges.

Here’s How Microsoft Rewards Works

All Bing users start out at Level 1, and can rank up to Level 2 by collecting 500 points in a single month. Level 2 opens up exclusive offers, and also allows users to earn more points per day.

All members earn 3 points per Bing search. Level 1 members can earn a maximum of 30 points per day, while Level 2 members can earn a maximum of 150 points per day. Both levels earn 30 points for completing quizzes.

See the image below for a few examples of how many points are needed for a variety of physical and digital items.

Kevin Stagg, Head of Consumer Marketing at Microsoft, said:

“Unlike other reward schemes, where you have to spend money to get points, all you have to do with ours is run your searches through Bing and points will automatically register in your account as long as you’re logged in.”

Users can sign up for a Rewards account here if they are interested. Microsoft Rewards is currently available in the US and UK, with rollouts in France, Germany, and Canada planned for the near future.

WSJ: How Siri went from virtual assistant market leader to laggard

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Siri has gone from being a competitive differentiator for Apple to nearly its opposite, a product seen by many as falling behind its rivals. Regardless of the empirical truth, it’s the widely-held view among tech industry insiders who help shape popular opinion.

An article in the The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) provides an extensive look at how Siri went from market leader to its position as perceived laggard. The article suggests internal cultural issues and employee departures have slowed improvement of the virtual assistant:

In the years since [Siri was acquired], former Siri team members say, progress has been slowed by a failure to set ambitious goals, shifting strategies and a culture that prioritizes user privacy — making it difficult to personalize and improve the product. The project also has suffered from the departures of key team members, some of whom went to competitors.

Apple bought Siri in 2010. It was initially a ground-breaking addition to the iPhone. Recognizing the strategic importance of virtual assistants to the future of (conversational) search, Google enhanced its voice search capabilities and developed comparable functionality for Android devices. Just this past month it brought a specialized Google Assistant app to the iPhone to compete directly with Siri on Apple’s flagship device.

Beyond this, the WSJ reports that Apple was “caught off guard” by the Amazon Echo (as was Google). It also says that Apple “spent years developing” the just-introduced smart speaker, the HomePod. That account contradicts the popular view that Apple developed the HomePod in response to the Echo.

Recent studies have generally found Google’s Assistant to be the top performer vs. its rivals. However, Siri has done well in some studies, and so have Amazon’s Alexa and Cortana.

The WSJ piece suggests that Apple’s narrow focus on the iPhone, a lack of vision and some level of  complacency have cost the company “its innovation edge,” which it enjoyed early on with Siri. However, a Loup Ventures study released in April had more positive assessment of Siri’s competitiveness:

Siri performed well across the board, and ultimately came in second place in our assessment. Siri’s ability to interpret user commands accurately sets it apart from the others. Command is an important category for Apple, as it continues to make a push into homes with its HomeKit. By continuing to outperform Google Assistant, Siri offers the best connection between a user’s mobile life and home life, which Amazon will struggle to do without an integrated smartphone platform.

As I wrote in January, Apple helped mainstream virtual assistants. Seven years ago, it was a novelty feature. Now, with consumers using voice to interact with devices more frequently, “nice to have” has become “must have.”

Accordingly, a weaker Siri and a stronger Google Assistant (or Amazon Alexa) will ultimately impact iPhone sales and Apple’s larger ecosystem strategy. The company has got to see and invest much more in Siri as a core utility if it wants to remain competitive.


Google Adwords 2017 with Artificial Intelligence

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Google Adwords 2017 with Artificial Intelligence 

Google recently shared their 2017 AdWords product roadmap at Google Marketing Next. Because the audience is primarily comprised of executives at big agencies and big brands, and Google is doing its best to get them excited about all their capabilities, the event sometimes skims over some of the details that matter to those of us managing accounts day-to-day.

I’ll share my take on the announcements and what excited or frustrated me the most. Even though it’s now been five years since I left Google, all but one of the presenters are people I used to work with, and they were kind enough to invite me backstage to get a bit more detail than what was covered in the keynote.

Custom in-market audiences for search

I’m a PPC geek, so I obviously love better targeting. That’s why the announcement of in-market audiences for search got me so excited. How often have we all wished for a way to look beyond the query and distinguish between a prospective buyer and a kid doing research for a school project? Access to in-market audiences lets us make that distinction so that we can bid more aggressively for better-qualified leads.

But guess what? Everyone will now bid more for better-qualified traffic because it should convert better. According to Bhanu Narasimhan, Google’s director of audience products, conversion rates for in-market audiences are on average 10 percent better. So get your boss ready for the inevitable run-up in maximum bids you’ll need to set to remain competitive.

Unfortunately, this feature’s exact launch date was not announced; Google only said it’d be available by the end of 2017.

Did you say ‘custom?’

Currently in the US, there are 493 in-market audiences for the Display Network across a number of verticals. That’s a lot of options, but just as we had affinity audiences before custom affinity audiences, now we’re about to get custom in-market audiences.

Karen Yao, Google’s group product manager for ad platforms, revealed this very cool update: we will be able to create custom in-market audiences by adding keywords we believe someone would have used if they were in the market for our product or service. Combined with Google’s vast amounts of data, this can then help us find an audience of people in the market for what we sell.

New: Life event targeting

The way Google can give us custom in-market audiences and targeting based on life events is by having really good machine learning. Knowing who is going through a targetable life event like graduating from college, buying a home, getting married or having a baby is done by understanding the online behavior that corresponds to these events.

In simple artificial intelligence (AI), engineers could write some simple “if-then” statements to place people into these targeting groups based on a handful of searches they did. But with Google now having built a much faster Tensorflow processor that underpins their AI efforts, you can bet their systems for finding which users are going through a particular life event will be really good and useful for advertisers.

In the example they gave, they showed how people in different cultures might search for different things related to a wedding. Google’s machine learning can pick up on these differences and know that it corresponds with the marriage life stage.

The best ad automatically

We’ve all been doing A/B ad testing for years. But that’s becoming much less relevant if you look at what Google is now able to do with AI. Sridhar Ramaswamy, senior vice president of ads and commerce, showed an example of three users all searching for something pretty generic (like “cheapest hotel”) but each one being served a different ad from the same advertiser.

The different ads weren’t driven by audience bid adjustments or some other thing we control — rather, it was AdWords predicting each user’s preference in order to show subtle ad text variations, focusing either on price, value or selection.

As someone who’s created tools for ad optimization in our software suite at Optmyzr, what I heard was that we should focus primarily on creating a ton of ad variations and then let the machines decide which one to serve. What that means for advertisers is that the creation of many ad variations is likely to become a bigger task than before, so that we can feed the machine all the possible variations it requires to do an amazing optimization.

Data-driven attribution becomes easy

Search Engine Land paid media reporter Ginny Marvin wrote a great recap of what Google Attribution is, an important piece to read if you’ve been wondering why Google decided there was need for yet one more tool to do attribution modeling (we already get it in AdWords, Analytics and DoubleClick).

I am excited about this new offering because when I got to play with it, I saw just how quick and easy it was to get up and running. But easy setup is meaningless unless the tool is also really good, so the real reason for my excitement is that data-driven attribution modeling is now becoming much more accessible.

The problem with attribution models is that they are our best-effort attempt at modeling real-world behavior with a somewhat limited set of tools. Thanks to improved store visit data, store sales data, easier consolidation of data and Google’s AI — four themes of the event — we no longer have to flail around trying to do something really complicated by hand. Data-driven models evaluate how each touch point contributes to the eventual outcome.

In AdWords, that means knowing how a click on one more keyword will change conversion rates. By looking beyond AdWords, it means knowing how the interplay of channels, impressions, clicks and more contribute to a conversion.

With Google Attribution, Google runs the models and feeds the data back into AdWords, where we can use a flexible bid strategy, or use the enhanced data to achieve better results using the bid management tool of our choice. In Optmyzr, that means you’ll get better insights to help set bids and do optimizations with the same tools you’re already used to.

The thing I wish Google would work on next is to make it easier to import data from competing channels into Analytics. Right now, to get the full picture, we still need to tag campaigns and import cost data. I also hope that somehow they can use data across accounts to reduce the currently very high requirement that a conversion has 600 conversions over a 30-day period before data driven models start to work.

Hey Google, are keywords dead?

At I/O, Google announced that 20 percent of searches in the Google mobile app in the US are done by voice. Sridhar Ramaswamy repeated that amazing stat at Google Marketing Next.

Does that mean that we’re on the verge of not needing keywords anymore? Luckily not — it turns out that the majority of voice searches still lead to a traditional search results page. The difference is merely in how users enter the query into the search box: users are substituting typing with speaking. Only a small portion of the voice interactions are with the Google Assistant. The key difference is that in a substitute for typing, the results are still returned on-screen, whereas with the Assistant, the entire interaction is by voice.

Regardless, I hear a lot of advertisers who want to have a better presence on the Assistant-type interactions. Most of the Assistant’s data comes from data we already provide Google, so be sure to have a Google My Business account to manage your location info and to use local inventory feeds to give Google data about prices and inventory at your locations.

Google has now also opened up the ability for developers to build actions so that in response to a conversation, the Assistant could do a transaction with the user. The example given by Google is a frequent business traveler who asks her Assistant for the next flight. Knowing that she flies from SFO to LAX every week on United, it could give info on the price of the next flight and even book the ticket, all by voice.

I suspect supporting Google’s buy buttons, which they call Purchases on Google (managed in the Merchant Center), will also become a way to get your online store ready for voice-driven transactions.

Is this the year AI replaces account managers?

Every single announcement I’ve covered here has some connection to machine learning and artificial intelligence. So where do we all fit into this evolution toward ever more complexity, where humans can no longer hope to achieve great results without the help of tremendous computing power?

This question got me thinking about Lee Sedong, the Go champion who lost to Google’s DeepMind in 2016. The part of the story that didn’t receive as much coverage is about how Lee Sedong said that being schooled by the machine taught him to become a better player. Wired Magazine said that the pivotal play in the game was also the moment that “machines and humanity finally began to evolve together.” While the move that set up the machine to win was puzzling to humans, it opened Lee Sedong’s eyes to strategies he hadn’t considered before. So how can we as marketers learn from what the AdWords machine does?

Google’s Paul Muret, one of the founders of Urchin (now Google Analytics), explained to me that Surveys 360 can help us gain insights. The idea is that through the new integration between Surveys 360 and remarketing lists, we can poll users who’ve interacted with our site and ads so we can ask them what features they wanted or what compelled them to buy or not.

On last week’s #ppcchat on Twitter, a lot of people agreed that Surveys 360 can only be as effective as the questions being asked. I gave this example:

If airlines asked consumers a question about what they wanted most and didn’t qualify this with price, they’d be putting in more seats that nobody would want to buy.

Conclusion

It’s clear that AdWords will continue to be a major force in online marketing in 2017 and beyond, and I am excited to try out many of the announced capabilities as soon as they are available. While I am a fan of automation, I truly hope that AdWords finds a way to add some transparency to what its artificial intelligence does so that we can learn from it and evolve together.


Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.