Design Matters & Marketing Leverage Blog
On Monday, Google announced that after a year of testing, it’s now rolling out mobile-first indexing for websites. Traditionally, Google’s index has used desktop versions of site pages to evaluate content. However, with the majority of Google searches now taking place on mobile devices, this move seeks to better align the index (and search engine results) with the mobile content.
This move doesn’t come with ranking advantages at this time; instead, it is meant to improve one aspect of how Google approaches its overall index in a world increasingly ruled by mobile. However, it’s an important development for any site owner interested in staying up-to-date with Google’s algorithm, while improving user experience, search performance, and mobile reach.
Here’s a brief historical recap:
- Before the iPhone’s launch in 2007, we all accessed websites using desktop or laptop computers. True story.
- Once smartphones took off, we were OK with pinching and zooming the viewport to read tiny website text for awhile. There was no alternative.
- Some developers started rolling out mobile-only versions of websites, but that meant additional development cost and double the upkeep for the life of the websites. Needless to say, the mobile experience was just “good enough.”
- In 2010, Ethan Marcotte coined the term Responsive Design and introduced us to the “media queries” that power this new approach. This enabled site owners to maintain a single desktop-driven website that automatically adapted to smaller, mobile devices using an approach of “graceful degradation.” In other words, mobile was a second-class citizen, and it was acceptable for mobile users to have a less polished, or even a stripped down experience.
- Mobile traffic has exploded in recent years, overtaking traffic from desktop computers. This has ushered in the need to shift focus on a mobile-first approach. Mobile-first is about favoring mobile devices, and making sure everything ANY user requires is accounted for on small screens. This approach uses an approach of “progressive enhancement” for larger screens.
Reminder to Speed Up
Don’t ignore page load speed! Another core consideration of mobile-first web design is page loading speed. Google announced earlier this year that by July 2018, slow site speed will have a negative effect on ranking for mobile and desktop searches.
If it’s time to fix a problem or redesign your website for “mobile-first,” call us at (281) 980-4900 for a free consultation and estimate.
What Are Expanded Text Ads?
Google first announced expanded text ads (ETAs) back in May, during the annual Google Performance Summit. The new format is aimed at helping advertisers provide more information to mobile users, which is where most PPC traffic is currently being generated. We started seeing the option for creating ETA’s in Client AdWords accounts this morning, which was a nice surprise for our team.
|Classic Text Ads||Expanded Text Ads|
|Headline: 25 char|
Description 1: 35 char
Description 2: 35 char
Total: 95 char
|Headline 1: 30 char|
Headline 2: 30 char
Description: 80 char
Total: 140 char
Guitar Center was an early adopter of the ETA format, and their digital marketing director, Robert Spears, reports “more than a 2X increase in CTR” for non-brand campaigns. A side-by-side example of classic ads v. the expanded text ad format appears below:
While the increased character count is the obvious plus (now as long as a tweet), there are other reasons for the performance boost:
- Longer lead-in make is possible to connect keywords and marketing messages
- Ads on phone can occupy slightly more screen real estate (make sure to use site links and all available ad extensions to maximize visibility)
- Regardless of ad position, organic text ads are now pushed further out of view
Other features that are currently rolling out:
- Separate Device Bidding Adjustments – Previously, advertisers could set a base bid amount for desktop searches and use the mobile bid adjustment to increase or decrease bids for users on mobile devices (% up or down). Some advertisers are now seeing the ability to set the adjustment individually for all platform types: desktop, mobile and tablet. This will provide you with the ability to tune your budget toward the highest-impact class of devices.
- Responsive Display Ads – Advertisers using the Google Display Network can now make use of a new type of ad called Responsive Display Ads. Instead of the traditional fixed size image or rich-media ads of the past, these are auto-generated by Google from advertiser provided information including a headline (long and short versions), description and URL.
With so much changing, it’s time to revisit your AdWords account and take full advantage of these improvements.
Over the last few days, Google has moved to remove the right rail ads that you may have gotten accustomed to seeing (ads on the right sidebar). While they’ve experimented with this over the past few months, this time it appears to be a permanent move. So now, instead of a 3 ads on top, 5 ads on the side layout on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP), you are likely to see 3-4 ads on top, and another 3 ads down below the natural listings…no ads on the right side.
Why did Google do this?
As stated above, there were limited tests of this over the last couple of years, but the change we’ve seen over the past couple of days indicates that this is:
- geographically widespread
- affecting all types of advertisers (and verticals)
- here to stay – confirmed by Google
Our take in the search engine marketing space is that this is a move by Google to align desktop results with what mobile users were already seeing. In case you missed it, the volume of mobile searches overtook desktop searches last year, so a “mobile-first” search experience makes sense. This would be natural, given that a larger percentage of searches are happening on a mobile device that on the traditional full desktop experience.
What does this mean to you?
First, there are fewer spots available for your ads to appear in – and more importantly – only 3-4 that will display “above the fold.” This means more competition (and potentially higher bid costs) are possible for all advertisers. This may not play out in all instances, and we aren’t sure if the bottom spots will hold as much value for advertisers as the right rail positions did, so only time will tell. However, this change won’t necessarily price anyone out of the market.
The change in format may “give as much as it takes.” For example, right rail ads weren’t displayed with ad extensions (call-out extensions, location extensions or site links) in the past. Now all 7 of the ads that may be displayed top & bottom will have that functionality, making it a bit easier to stand out. Plus, we’ve all heard of “ad blindness” where users learn to disregard the obvious ad locations as they search. The right rail was easy to filter out, but now search marketers can count on a more “native” display in the vertical stacking.
What can you do to stay relevant?
If you’re still using a shotgun approach to search marketing, it’s time to move from a strategy of keyword “coverage” to one that is much more tuned into “conversion.” Advertisers should center their energy on the most productive keywords and make sure their ad creative, landing page copy and call to action strategy are unified. These elements must support a positive user experience, and ultimately, conversions. Whatever changes you make…test, test, test. You want to be able to optimize intelligently, so run split tests, monitor ad performance, and measure CTR and conversion rates.
For brick-and-mortar businesses, this also means that it’s more critical than ever to get listed in the “local 3-pack” – this is the map + 3 business listings that often appears for location sensitive searches. If you paid attention, you’ll remember that as recently as last summer, it was actually a “local 7-pack.” Then Google pared it down to only 3 listings. If you are looking to keep your position in the 3-pack, your focus should be on quality SEO. Continue to optimize for web visitors and search intent, obtain quality backlinks, optimize your citations (social networking, directory and other local listings), and focus on collecting reviews on Google, Yelp and other key providers in your space.
Search marketing has always been about adaptation. This case is no different…if you have a solid PPC and SEO strategy in place, we’re talking about a slight shift in focus so that you can continue to perform well, or even better. If you are new to AdWords, or trying to optimize a new website, read up on these changes and stick to best practices. Performance is tied to how much value your website can add, now more than ever.
Yesterday’s WordPress 4.4 release isn’t labeled a Security & Maintenance update. Instead it focuses on introducing new features that lay the groundwork for upcoming improvements for development. It also introduces the new, stock Twenty Sixteen theme, which provides a minimalist visual layout dedicated to blogging.
Key aspects of WordPress 4.4 “Clifford”:
- Improved Responsive Images
- oEmbed Capability for embedding your WordPress posts into other sites
- New WP REST API
- Taxonomy enhancements
- Comment system improvements
Should you update to WordPress 4.4?
As usual, we recommend that anyone running WordPress SHOULD upgrade to the latest release to take advantage of the incremental improvements, as they usually range from new features to security and performance. Before updating, always backup your site files and database. If you’ve been lax about updating WordPress (or if you’ve put it off because of the level of customization in your site) create a “staging” site so you can test out the update and check for plugin compatibility.
This is just a brief post to share that WordPress 4.2.3 has been released and is labeled a “critical security release.” As noted in the official WordPress announcement, it patches a couple of security vulnerabilities, namely cross-site scripting (XSS) and Subscriber role permissions, among other minor bug fixes.
If you’ve received a system email notification that your site has automatically been upgraded to 4.2.3, then you’re good. In the event that your site has not been updated – or the version shown in the email is not 4.2.3 – contact your developer to get on the latest version (just make sure that you backup your site and database beforehand, which is always recommended).
At Catalyst Studio, we’re always looking for great ways to serve our clients. We recently became a Yext partner, which allows us to streamline our clients’ local SEO (search engine optimization) efforts. If your business has a physical, local presence, you probably know that you can make it easier for potential customers to find you by making sure you’ve claimed your business listing on directories. This includes social media networks like Facebook and Google+, as well as tons of local business directories such as Yelp, CitySearch and YP.com.
However, if you’ve tried it, you know that the process can be a tedious one… First you have to create a new account on each site, then wait to receive a PIN by phone call or postcard to verify ownership. Once that’s handled, you must go through each publisher’s slightly different process for submitting location listing information. This includes business Name, Address & Phone (collectively known as “NAP”) as well as other select fields they might make available, such as description, services, hours of operation, payment methods accepted, photos, etc.
Is Local SEO Important?
NAP / NAP+W (Name Address Phone + Website)
The “thumbprint” of a business online. Local search engines use NAP information found by crawling the web or received from data providers to judge the accuracy of the data in their own indexes. Consistent NAP information is essential to getting more citations and improving search engine rankings.
“Been there, done that…”
However, once you go through a few of these you probably start thinking about the Pareto Principle, or the “80/20 rule”….Which sites are the 20% you can cover to get 80% of the benefits? And conversely, which are the 80% you can ignore? Of course, this would be great in principle if the search engines didn’t have a problem with finding conflicting or out-of-date business information when comparing directory results. In studies, “external location information” like these directory listings can account for approximately 16% of your local ranking factor. That means that the consistency (part of moz’s definition above) can go out the window and negatively impact your location rankings.
Update Location Listing Info “Auto-Magically”
That’s where Yext comes in. We can run a scan across their network of over 60 publisher sites to find existing listings, determine inconsistencies and get a profile. As a partner, we then have the ability to publish a complete and consistent location profile across all of these publishers, so that everything from NAP to the type of parking available is updated. Need to add a new Toll-free number next month, or update the photos for your business? It’s the same easy process.
Curious about how your business listings look to Google, Bing and Yahoo? Run a scan of your business now.
We’re AdWords Certified
We recently had the opportunity to receive a limited edition, framed certificate to demonstrate our official AdWords Certification. It sure beats the usual web confirmation screen that you can sorta print into a certificate.
If you’ve ever tried your hand at creating a Google AdWords account, you know that it’s deceptively easy to set up, but getting consistent value or ROI from your campaigns takes knowledge, testing, discipline, analysis and a lot of creative thinking. If that was missing from your past AdWords experiments, contact us and we can help you set up smart campaigns that support your objectives.
Google is Shaking Things Up Again
On a side note, Google is in the midst of rolling out the Panda 4.1 update (they’re calling it a “slow” rollout). In case you don’t know, Panda is a Google ranking factor that is meant to detect and filter out low-quality pages (aka, “thin” content). Google is also expected to refresh the Penguin algorithm in the coming week. Penguin was last refreshed Oct. 4, 2013, and it penalizes websites with an unnatural backlink profile (for example, sites with a large number of highly-optimized paid or reciprocal backlinks). If you fixed your backlink profile through backlink removal requests or submission of a disavow file by mid-September of this year, you should be in the clear according to Google. If not, it’s time to straighten our your backlink issues before the next update.
Be on the lookout for any major fluctuations in your traffic for the month of October!
Website Call Conversions in a Nutshell
If you conduct any type of search advertising, you know that one of the greatest benefits is being able to see exactly what works…and what needs improvement. This is where Pay-per-Click (PPC) advertising shines. When properly set up, your campaigns can reveal how visitors reached your site and the percentage that resulted in conversions (sales, signups or inquiries). This ROI data can then be used to sharpen your marketing efforts.
However, one shortcoming was the inability to track phone calls from people who clicked your ads. Yes, Google’s Call Extensions provide a way to track calls placed directly from ads. However, once anyone clicked through to your website, that was it. There was no way to track phone calls placed from your website back to any of your referral channels.
In August, Google unveiled Website Call Conversions, which enables you to finally track phone call leads back to AdWords activity. Assuming that you are already running an advertising campaign in AdWords, setup is somewhat straightforward (more on that below) and definitely worth it.
How Website Call Conversions Work
The best part is that there is no additional charge for the forwarding number and conversion tracking. Advertisers are only responsible for the cost of the ad click that triggered the website visit. It appears that Google is looking to further prove the business value of PPC advertising, not only online, but further downstream as well.
The setup process isn’t entirely easy for non-technical business owners – you’ll probably want the assistance of your SEO and/or web developer to make sure it is implemented correctly and showing up in your reports. The key elements required are:
- Create a valid AdWords Call Extension
- Tag phone numbers you wish to swap with a CSS selector (we recommend using “class”)
We’re excited about this addition to the conversion tracking toolkit, because we live in a multi-touch world. More than ever, prospects are exploring multiple channels as they move from the research and discovery phase to completing transactions. Gaining deeper insight into their behavior will help digital marketers make the most of each touch point and yield better results.
Need us to do this for you ASAP? Call us at (281) 980-4900.
SSL Encrypts Website Data
Since the 1990s, most web users have come to associate “HTTPS” (or, Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) with e-commerce websites. HTTPS basically means the website you’re shopping on has a valid SSL certificate that encrypts your session, order and payment information so that hackers can’t get at it. Even novice online shoppers know to look for the “padlock” icon to let them know that their data is secure.
However, in the last few years, HTTPS has moved beyond e-commerce websites. Many people first noticed this on Facebook, where a new security option around 2010 nudged users into using the site securely (with the option to turn it off). Google also did the same thing for Gmail and users of their other services, enabling encryption of all user sessions. Log into Twitter or MySpace, and you’ll see that you’re being routed throughout HTTPS.
Google Now Rewarding Sites Using HTTPS
Earlier this month, Google officially announced that they are encouraging website operators to serve all website content via SSL. The primary reason behind supporting SSL for SEO is to make the web a safer place by securing web visitor information, even if all you do is solicit website visitor inquiries or email addresses for your newsletter signup. The great news is that Google confirmed that pages served via SSL will receive a small ranking boost.
Now, before you get too excited, this doesn’t mean that you’ll instantly leapfrog your biggest rankings competitor, or suddenly dominate your niche. However, it is a relatively simple directive that you can implement today to support your SEO strategy. The advantages granted to sites that migrate to all-HTTPS will be calculated on a per-URL basis (not accrued to the whole website), and it is being calculated in real-time. This means that you will probably continue to see a fluctuation for your pages in the SERPs over time as this becomes the new norm.
Our recommendations? Go all in for SSL. This is especially true for our clients with e-commerce sites already, since the basic ingredients are already in place to protect checkout and user account information. It takes a few additional steps (depending on server configuration) to move the whole site to HTTPS and make Google and other search engines aware of the changes.
If you don’t run an e-commerce site, but want to take advantage of any ranking boost you can (and you should!), call us at (281) 980-4900 us for a review of your site and hosting setup, and we can identify the get optimal way to make this happen, from obtaining a new SSL certificate to installation and search engine index updates.
On July 24, Google released what the folks at SearchEngineLand later dubbed the Pigeon update. This algorithm change was aimed square at refining local search, for example any search with terms such as “auto lube,” “coffee shop” or “hardware store” – where Google determines there is a local intent.
If you’ve paid attention, you know that Google will show what’s called a “local pack” in these types of searches. This is a set of up to 7 local business listings that Google deems relevant enough to plot on a small map right on the SERP. Aside from the mapping function, these listings also stand apart from normal organic listings by providing other actionable information within the listing: Name, Address and Phone number (NAP), and if applicable, a Google+ link and ratings and/or review.
What the Pigeon Update Did…
As a result of the Pigeon update, businesses have seen changes to the types of searches displaying (or no longer displaying) local packs, as well as a shift in the makeup of the local businesses being presented in these searches. One notable example is that searches in the Real Estate space (i.e. “real estate” or “realtors”) appear to be entirely devoid of local packs, at least as of this point in time.
…And What You Can Do Now
Has your business been affected by the Pigeon update? If you’ve seen improvements in your local search profile, this is a good time to continue building your online marketing strategy. If, on the other hand, you took a hit, there are a few things we’re recommending:
- If your business was previously in a local pack, but is no longer included after the Pigeon update, you are probably seeing a drop in calls and visits…and potentially revenue. If the drop is significant enough, you may want to start a limited, local Google AdWords campaign to make up for the difference in exposure. This will enable you to get back onto the SERP quickly, even if you have to use paid placement to achieve this in the short term.
- In addition to PPC ads, we are also advising clients to take control over their local business listings on sites such as Yelp, CitySearch, etc., since local directories appear to be factoring more favorably in the post-Pigeon world. In the quest for Local SEO, you want to make sure that these local listing sources are all consistent and optimized to help customers find important info for your business. This means making sure your NAP information matches across all platforms, and that you’re attracting customer reviews. If you haven’t claimed your Google My Business page yet (and a presence on Google+), you’re missing an opportunity as well.
As a Google Partner, Catalyst Studio helps clients leverage Google AdWords campaigns to meet their most important goals, whether it’s building brand awareness, increasing traffic and engagement, or driving sales (conversions). We also support clients with Local SEO services that simplify the process of claiming, managing and optimizing third-party local directory listings and establishing a social media strategy. Let us fix your Google ranking issues – contact us for a free estimate.