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Google Activity Cards: Inviting users to be better connected with their past search activity

The latest tweak to Google’s search results which lets us browse, save, and delete results from similar searches we’ve made before is the next step in the company’s journey toward making the SERPs even more intuitive, tailored, and useful.

Access to our respective search histories is not a new Google feature. Each of us can – if we have a Google account – simply click Settings > History, and from there browse, search for, or delete any past searches we want to.

The launch of Google’s new activity cards on January 9th appears to be building on the principle of giving the user more control.

So what functionality do they offer? And what are their implications for transparency, SEO and how we move around online?

What are Google activity cards?

For certain searches, we will begin seeing a small card marked “Your related activity” at the very top of the SERPs. We can expand this card to show results we have clicked on when making similar searches in the past.

The spiel from Google is that this is particularly useful for long running tasks:

“Whether it’s meal planning for a new food regimen, researching new stretching routines for post-gym recovery or picking up a new hobby. You might come back to Search to find information on the same topic, hoping to retrace your steps or discover new, related ideas.”

google activity card

Bringing bookmarking/pinning functionality to search

There is more to activity cards than merely offering another set of results to peruse.

In a couple of clicks users can save searches to collections. This gives another layer of organization where users can view and scroll through a digital pinboard of relevant past searches they have made.

It is also just as simple to delete any unwanted results from the card too.

google activity card

More transparency?

We have known for a long time that certain search results appear because we have clicked through to that page in the past.

Activity cards make things more transparent, even for the most casual Google user.

It is now far more clear to visualize what in a set of SERPs is appearing there because of our own behavior rather than the strength/popularity of the content according to other users.

Implications for SEO and user journeys

It’s a little too early to see any definite implications these cards will have for search engine optimization and how much they will change our journeys as users.

Bear in mind that at this stage the cards are only appearing for selected searches. Specifically, the cards appear on so-called long running tasks where Google deems them relevant.

That said, for results that do include activity cards, those cards can be seen to occupy the most important part of the SERP. They appear right at the top of the page, even above sponsored listings.

This might frustrate digital marketers if we see sponsored and organic listings in the main SERP receive less traffic.

It also might make life a little more difficult for newer sites if Google’s users – for certain searches, at least – already have a well-clicked plethora of personally trusted domains.

Additionally, those who are skeptical about the risk of digital echo chambers may also view such personalized results as a problem rather than a solution.

Broadly a positive move

While it remains to be seen whether activity cards make any drastic changes to search and our habits, I think they are a positive move in terms of transparency and control for the user.

We found many key takeaways from the recent appearance of Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai at Congress in December.

One of the main ones, though, was realizing just how difficult a task Google has in assuring everyday search users that they can trust the search results.

Google spend a lot of energy helping users believe that the results they receive appear due to metrics such as whether content is fresh, popular, or has been visited by the user before – rather than by favoritism or bias on the part of the company itself.

These clearly-labelled activity cards might promote greater awareness of just why users receive the results that they do.

Similarly, there is also something to be said for introducing casual users to be more hands-on with taking ownership of their search activity.

Users still need to click through to Settings to view/delete searches from all their history. However, seeing how easy it is (just a couple of clicks) to browse and delete results in the activity card may promote other ways users can find things they’ve searched for in the past. It can also help users remove things they want to get rid of.

The post Google Activity Cards: Inviting users to be better connected with their past search activity appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

How to automate yourself to success in PPC

Here are some ways you can get automation to play nice and to drive your KPIs in a controlled and accountable way. Learn how to automate yourself to success in PPC.

Since the main purpose of Paid Search (like all marketing) is to communicate and persuade humans to choose a business, manual management is unlikely to disappear entirely.

However, Google, in particular, have been investing massive sums in machine learning so as to reduce marketers’ reliance on human management of campaigns.

Whilst we’re in this hybrid stage (a little like where we’re at with self-driving cars) it pays to not entirely reject automation.

Also, with the gradual takeover of Google Ads’ new UI, some legacy bid rules setups will be changed or removed. So getting accustomed to the more AI-style automation will be important in the coming months.

Here are some ways you can get automation to play nice and to driving your KPIs in a controlled and accountable way.

What’s great about automation?

I am the Head of Account Management at ESV Digital, and we have always employed automation in a number of ways so we’re no strangers to letting computer power take the reins.

However, we always monitor the effect on performance and the decisions made by our silicon-hearted friends.

There are currently two broad types of automation right now:

  • Bid automation, which is designed to help you achieve a specific goal for your campaigns.
  • Content and keyword creation (e.g. ad messaging, extensions etc.), which can help you show your ads to the right audience. Your keywords should match the terms your potential customers would use to search for your products or services.

Bidding

Screenshot taken by the author from Google Ads.

The simplest and also most risky element is the bid automation. It’s simple because in Google Ads it boils down to simply setting a performance target and seeing what happens. The risk is in the fact that…you merely set a performance target and see what happens!

There are more rule-based ways to bid but they are somewhat limited both in control and in the fact that they cannot take advantage of the more target-oriented bidding schemes (called Smart Bidding) which bid per query (based on all the context of that query, such as user history, browser, location etc.).

To simplify your decision on which option for bidding to go for, look at the data levels in your account. If it’s dealing with many hundreds of conversions per day, you’re likely going to see a pretty good performance with Smart Bidding. If you’re talking a couple hundred or less per day, you’re going to need to set it on only the highest-converting parts and generally, the rules will work better.

The reason is Smart Bidding is entirely algorithm-based, which needs data. The less data, the less accurate. So scale is extremely important if the algorithms are going to do the right thing more often than not.

Do:

  • Ensure your campaign structure is set up to make the most of the bid automation. If you’re dealing with mainly Broad traffic, try first to get it to majority Exact traffic. This will ensure less can go wrong.
  • Get negative keywords in place to reduce the likelihood of an explosion of useless traffic when bidding commences.
  • If performance and volumes are wildly different across devices, think about splitting them out so the algorithms can concentrate on the most consistent data. The more “reliable” the data set, the less the algorithm will introduce quirks. Essentially, if you know statistics, it’s getting the groundwork done to maximise the R2 ratio.
  • Start any of this with the highest volume campaigns to test what target is working for you before rolling out to the rest of the account.

Don’t:

  • Set up multiple portfolio smart bidding schemes and set them live at once – you’ll go crazy!
  • Expect it to be perfect first time. Never is.
  • Try to instantly turn ROI from 2 to 45 in a week. Gradually increase the target over time.
  • Try this without robust conversion tracking!

Content creation

Screenshot taken by the author from Google Ads.

This automation segment comes in a variety of flavors and purposes. The major examples of automation you have tangible influence over are:

  • Ad Customizers: populates ads based on a sheet of options linked to a criteria (e.g. user location or device).
  • Countdown customizers: highlights upcoming events, like sales or special events.
  • Dynamic Search Ads: uses your website to target your ads and find customers searching on Google for precisely what you offer.
  • Responsive Ads: utilises your assets (images, headlines, logos, and descriptions) to automatically generate ads to be shown on the Google Display Network (in Beta on Search and already fully launched on display).
  • Dynamic remarketing: shows your ads to people who have previously visited your website or used your mobile app.

Other elements that are not really in your hands include:

The advent of Google Ads scripts allows the more code-loving amongst us to really automate creative in almost any way you like but most users will limit themselves to using Google Sheets to populate ad copy with Countdowns and Ad Customizers.

 

Screenshot taken by the author from Google Ads.

Do: 

  • Exploit these carefully – done wrong, you could really embarrass your brand.
  • Creatively implement them to get ahead of complacent competitors.
  • Test heavily – some will work best on top-funnel and others at bottom-funnel areas.

Don’t:

  • Use them everywhere, you need to be accountable for what they do.
  • Cut corners any more than you would on static content.
  • Implement them without a solid plan so you know what is out there at any given time.
  • Forget about Quality Score – don’t try to be fancy at the expense of ad relevance.

This should serve as a good introduction to this subject and we hope it will be very helpful when managing your PPC campaigns.

Steve Plimmer is the Head of Account Management US at ESV Digital.

The post How to automate yourself to success in PPC appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

Google Search Console for small businesses [Video]

What’s changed in the new Google Search Console? And how might those changes affect us?

In this article, contributor Mike Zima gives us a text / video combo showing us around the updated Search Console. Specifically we explore how these updates can be beneficial to small businesses.

Watch the nine minute video here, or read the text below.

Ps, he filmed it in Mallorca, Spain, so you really might want to check out the video.

First, it was Google’s mobile-first index. Now, it’s the new Google Search Console.

These might seem like they’re designed to make your life more difficult (or at least, more confusing). But in reality, these updates, especially the updated Search Console, can make your life as a small business owner easier.

Here we list the three important features in the update, how they work, and why they’re great tools for small businesses to use in growing their search strategy.

The Performance Report

The most powerful section of the redesigned Search Console is the Search Performance Report, previously known as the Search Analytics section.

How it works

The Search Performance Report contains features that are similar to the old Search Analytics, which is helpful for those trying to make the change over to the new system. In fact, if you liked the functionality of Search Analytics, you’ll love Search Performance.

Search Performance offers more long-term data than Search Analytics, showing you up to 16 months of search performance data for a more complete long-term analysis.

Like Search Analytics, you can overlay various performance metrics (total impressions, total clicks, average CTR, average position data, etc.) with one click. The difference is that you don’t have to choose between filtering for a search query, search type, country, or device—you can look at all of them at the same time. The only downside is that you can only overlay two comparisons at once, for example, desktop vs. mobile.

Why it’s good for you

If you need to see all of the necessary information in order to make an educated decision about your SEO strategy, this is the tool for you.

You can see your short-term and long-term performance at quadruple the previous range offered—allowing you to track campaigns through their entire life cycle and take action.

Better still, you won’t have to jump between graphs to juggle information. It’s all in one place and ready for you to begin using.

In short, it’s hard to find a tool that will give you more insight into your search strategy.

The Index Coverage Report

The Index Coverage Report is a combination of the old Blocked Resources and Index Status sections.

How it works

The updated report is a great way to stay up-to-date on how your site URLs are indexed.

Let’s say you discover an issue with your URLs. Clicking on those error URLs will bring up page details and diagnostic tools.

Now, you probably have several teams that work on fixing a problem like this, right? Which means those teams have to have the correct information (not to mention, the same set of information!) at the right time in order to fix the issue and keep your site running with minimal disruption.

At the top of the report is a share button that allows you to send the diagnostic information to all the relevant team members who need it. This will create a shareable link, sort of like when you share a Google Doc.

Of course, you also need to be able to see when a problem has been resolved so you can know to move forward to the next item.

Plus, if the problem has been fixed, Google can update their index accordingly. The Index Coverage Report allows you to validate a fix. This signals to Google to crawl the page and reprocess the affected URLs at a high priority.

Why it’s good for you

The Index Coverage Report is fantastic for small businesses because it’s a free and easy way to monitor how your site is performing in the Search Index. It helps you spot issues quickly, get information quickly to your team, and fix problems with minimal downtime.

With the Index Coverage Report, your site can perform better and faster and your team can stay on top of their game—no matter how big or small the problem is.

AMP Status

AMP Status, or Accelerated Mobile Pages Status, is a way for website owners to validate fixed AMP URLs.

How it works

In the former version of Google Search Console, you would get a list of AMP URLs with errors and recommended fixes, but you couldn’t request that Google process the repaired AMPs.

The new Search Console remedies this issue by allowing you to validate repaired URLs and request higher priority processing.

The Console will run several tests once you validate a fix to see if you’ve handled the problem properly and will let you know right away whether the page passes muster.

If it does, Google will go ahead and process the remaining pages. If it doesn’t, it will give you a notification and recommendations.

In addition, the new Console has an expanded validation log so you can see a list of all fixed URLs as well as URLs that failed validation or are still pending.

Why it’s good for you

This is good for your business because it helps you stay on top of your URLs. You can see exactly where the issue is and how to fix it, then you can take charge of it. You can share the information with your team, work on a solution, and verify that solution right away.

From there, you don’t have to wait to get indexed again. You can ask for priority processing to make sure your site starts performing as soon as possible. And that means you can spend less time worrying about your search strategy and more time putting it into action.

Ready to use the new Google Search Console?

The new Google Search Console is designed with your business needs in mind. Google’s developers took requests and feedback from businesses like yours to create a more robust Search Console than ever before.

We hope this article has given you more insight into the new Search Console and how you can take advantage of its features to see success in your own business.

Have any questions? Leave a comment below or on the video!

Mike is the Co-founder of Zima Media.

The post Google Search Console for small businesses [Video] appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

How to Implement a National Tracking Strategy

Posted by TheMozTeam

Google is all about serving up results based on your precise location, which means there’s no such thing as a “national” SERP anymore. So, if you wanted to get an accurate representation of how you’re performing nationally, you’d have to track every single street corner across the country.

Not only is this not feasible, it’s also a headache — and the kind of nightmare that keeps your accounting team up at night. Because we’re in the business of making things easy, we devised a happier (and cost-efficient) alternative.

Follow along and learn how to set up a statistically robust national tracking strategy in STAT, no matter your business or budget. And while we’re at it, we’ll also show you how to calculate your national ranking average.

Let’s pretend we’re a large athletic retailer. We have 30 stores across the US, a healthy online presence, and the powers-that-be have approved extra SEO spend — money for 20,000 additional keywords is burning a hole in our pocket. Ready to get started?

Step 1: Pick the cities that matter most to your business

Google cares a lot about location and so should you. Tracking a country-level SERP isn’t going to cut it anymore — you need to be hyper-local if you want to nab results.

The first step to getting more granular is deciding which cities you want to track in — and there are lots of ways to do this: The top performers? Ones that could use a boost? Best and worst of the cyber world as well as the physical world?

When it comes time for you to choose, nobody knows your business, your data, or your strategy better than you do — ain’t nothing to it but to do it.

A quick note for all our e-commerce peeps: we know it feels strange to pick a physical place when your business lives entirely online. For this, simply go with the locations that your goods and wares are distributed to most often.

Even though we’re a retail powerhouse, our SEO resources won’t allow us to manage all 30 physical locations — plus our online hotspots — across the US, so we’ll cut that number in half. And because we’re not a real business and we aren’t privy to sales data, we’ll pick at random.

From east to west, we now have a solid list of 15 US cities, primed, polished, and poised for our next step: surfacing the top performing keywords.

Step 2: Uncover your money-maker keywords

Because not all keywords are created equal, we need to determine which of the 4,465 keywords that we’re already tracking are going to be spread across the country and which are going to stay behind. In other words, we want the keywords that bring home the proverbial bacon.

Typically, we would use some combination of search volume, impressions, clicks, conversion rates, etc., from sources like STAT, Google Search Console, and Google Analytics to distinguish between the money-makers and the non-money-makers. But again, we’re a make-believe business and we don’t have access to this insight, so we’re going to stick with search volume.

A right-click anywhere in the site-level keywords table will let us export our current keyword set from STAT. We’ll then order everything from highest search volume to lowest search volume. If you have eyeballs on more of that sweet, sweet insight for your business, order your keywords from most to least money-maker.

Because we don’t want to get too crazy with our list, we’ll cap it at a nice and manageable 1,500 keywords.

Step 3: Determine the number of times each keyword should be tracked

We may have narrowed our cities down to 15, but our keywords need to be tracked plenty more times than that — and at a far more local level.

True facts: A “national” (or market-level) SERP isn’t a true SERP and neither is a city-wide SERP. The closer you can get to a searcher standing on a street corner, the better, and the more of those locations you can track, the more searchers’ SERPs you’ll sample.

We’re going to get real nitty-gritty and go as granular as ZIP code. Addresses and geo coordinates work just as well though, so if it’s a matter of one over the other, do what the Disney princesses do and follow your heart.

The ultimate goal here is to track our top performing keywords in more locations than our poor performing ones, so we need to know the number of ZIP codes each keyword will require. To figure this out, we gotta dust off the old desktop calculator and get our math on.

First, we’ll calculate the total amount of search volume that all of our keywords generate. Then, we’ll find the percentage of said total that each keyword is responsible for.

For example, our keyword [yeezy shoes] drew 165,000 searches out of a total 28.6 million, making up 0.62 percent of our traffic.

A quick reminder: Every time a query is tracked in a distinct location, it’s considered a unique keyword. This means that the above percentages also double as the amount of budgeted keywords (and therefore locations) that we’ll award to each of our queries. In (hopefully) less confusing terms, a keyword that drives 0.62 percent of our traffic gets to use 0.62 percent of our 20,000 budgeted keywords, which in turn equals the number of ZIP codes we can track in. Phew.

But! Because search volume is, to quote our resident data analyst, “an exponential distribution,” (which in everyone else-speak means “gets crazy large”) it’s likely going to produce some unreasonably big numbers. So, while [yeezy shoes] only requires 124 ZIP codes, a keyword with much higher search volume, like [real madrid], might need over 1,000, which is patently bonkers (and statistical overkill).

To temper this, we highly recommend that you take the log of the search volume — it’ll keep things relative and relational. If you’re working through all of this in Excel, simply type =log(A2) where A2 is the cell containing the search volume. Because we’re extra fancy, we’ll multiply that by four to linearly scale things, so =log(A2)*4.

So, still running with our Yeezy example, our keyword goes from driving 0.62 percent of our traffic to 0.13 percent. Which then becomes the percent of budgeted keywords: 0.0013 x 20,000 = tracking [yeezy shoes] in 26 zip codes across our 15 cities.

We then found a list of every ZIP code in each of our cities to dole them out to.

The end. Sort of. At this point, like us, you may be looking at keywords that need to be spread across 176 different ZIP codes and wondering how you’re going to choose which ZIP codes — so let our magic spreadsheet take the wheel. Add all your locations to it and it’ll pick at random.

Of course, because we want our keywords to get equal distribution, we attached a weighted metric to our ZIP codes. We took our most searched keyword, [adidas], found its Google Trends score in every city, and then divided it by the number of ZIP codes in those cities. For example, if [adidas] received a score of 71 in Yonkers and there are 10 ZIP codes in the city, Yonkers would get a weight of 7.1.

We’ll then add everything we have so far — ZIP codes, ZIP code weights, keywords, keyword weights, plus a few extras — to our spreadsheet and watch it randomly assign the appropriate amount of keywords to the appropriate amount of locations.

And that’s it! If you’ve been following along, you’ve successfully divvied up 20,000 keywords in order to create a statistically robust national tracking strategy!

Curious how we’ll find our national ranking average? Read on, readers.

Step 4: Segment, segment, segment!

20,000 extra keywords makes for a whole lotta new data to keep track of, so being super smart with our segmentation is going to help us make sense of all our findings. We’ll do this by organizing our keywords into meaningful categories before we plug everything back into STAT.

Obviously, you are free to sort how you please, but we recommend at least tagging your keywords by their city and product category (so [yeezy shoes] might get tagged “Austin” and “shoes”). You can do all of this in our keyword upload template or while you’re in our magic spreadsheet.

Once you’ve added a tag or two to each keyword, stuff those puppies into STAT. When everything’s snug as a bug, group all your city tags into one data view and all your product category tags into another.

Step 5: Calculate your national ranking average

Now that all of our keywords are loaded and tracking in STAT, it’s time to tackle those ranking averages. To do that, we’ll simply pop on over to the Dashboard tab from either of our two data views.

A quick glimpse of the Average Ranking module in the Daily Snapshot gives us, well, our average rank, and because these data views contain every keyword that we’re tracking across the country, we’re also looking at the national average for our keyword set. Easy-peasy.

To see how each tag is performing within those data views, a quick jump to the Tags tab breaks everything down and lets us compare the performance of a segment against the group as a whole.

So, if our national average rank is 29.7 but our Austin keywords have managed an average rank of 27.2, then we might look to them for inspiration as our other cities aren’t doing quite as well — our keywords in Yonkers have an average rank of 35.2, much worse than the national average.

Similarly, if our clothes keywords are faring infinitely worse than our other product categories, we may want to revamp our content strategy to even things out.

Go get your national tracking on

Any business — yes, even an e-commerce business — can leverage a national tracking strategy. You just need to pick the right keywords and locations.

Once you have access to your sampled population, you’ll be able to hone in on opportunities, up your ROI, and bring more traffic across your welcome mat (physical or digital).

Got a question you’re dying to ask us about the STAT product? Reach out to [email protected]. Want a detailed walkthrough of STAT? Say hello (don’t be shy) and request a demo.

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