SEO Articles

Google Ads to end customer support via social Jan 1, 2020

Earlier this year, Google Ads announced it is shifting customer support requests to an online form and will no longer supporting customer service through Facebook and Twitter. On Friday, Google said that, as of January 1, 2020, direct messaging on the Google Ads’ Facebook and Twitter accounts will be deactivated, and users will see a pinned post directing them to the online support form.

Why we should care

These social channels were popular ways for advertisers to often get quick responses or clarifications about issues. Google said it is making the changes to streamline the support process as well as to improve security around phishing and spam concerns.

“Customer security and success is paramount. Due to the growing global concern around spam and phishing, we are making an effort to resolve all Google product customer questions via 1:1 communication through direct email, phone or chat,” a Google spokesperson said. “Streamlining these channels will provide faster and more secure responses for all global customers.”

More on the news

  • The pinned posts on Twitter and Facebook will direct advertisers to fill out the online form that also aims to direct users to Help Center pages.
  • The advertiser can then opt to call, email or chat with a representative to get support.

The post Google Ads to end customer support via social Jan 1, 2020 appeared first on Search Engine Land.

Read More

Bing partners with flight booking sites to bolster flight search offerings

Bing has partnered with airlines to provide a more comprehensive flight search experience, the company announced on Tuesday. It makes use of real-time data and direct integrations with airlines to facilitate flight search, comparison and booking.

Why we care

Bing’s flight search will look familiar to those familiar with Google’s flight search offering. The flight search interface on Bing is very prominent on the page, which may have some booking sites concerned. It may hurt traffic to online travel agencies (OTAs) sites such as Expedia and TripAdvisor as the flight search interface pushes those listings down the page.

More on the news

  • To browse flights, users can conduct a search (e.g., ‘flights from New York to Las Vegas’) right from the Bing homepage. This surfaces an interactive feature that allows users to specify details such as their travel dates, seating class preference, number of passengers, etc.
  • Clicking on one of the flight results takes users to a more comprehensive flight search page with more filtering options.
  • Similar to Google Flights, reservations are not actually booked through Bing, but through their respective airlines.

The post Bing partners with flight booking sites to bolster flight search offerings appeared first on Search Engine Land.

Read More

The Economics of Link Building

Posted by Alex-T

Life has taught me that good things should be expensive — especially when it comes to any type of digital marketing services. If you’re not an expert, you can end up getting something far from what you’ve been expecting.

Here’s an example of “the best mascot image you can get for your event” that I paid for when organizing one of our first Digital Olympus events:

Just for reference, this is how our mascot looked originally:

My point is, just like working with freelance designers, hiring SEO consultants is only safe when you know exactly what you need and can control every step of the contract. This both relates to the scope or work and the price of contract.

I get really confused when I hear that the price of an average SEO agency contract starts at $1k USD. This number was first shared by Rand Fishkin in 2012 when he asked 600 agencies about their typical rates. Later, in 2018, that same number was published by Ahrefs when they did a similar survey.

As an SEO practitioner, I’m a bit disappointed with the stability of rates, but what bothers me the most is that this rate doesn’t really include link building. I can hardly imagine a successful SEO campaign for an SMB site without acquiring links. To back up my statement with some numbers, I’d like to mention Ross Hudgens’ claim that acquiring a good link on a top-notch site should cost $1k USD. Ironically, that’s the whole budget of an average SEO contract.

But to be honest, I don’t quite agree with those rates even though I truly respect the opinion. It doesn’t seem that realistic at scale: if you want to build 10 links, it would cost you $10k, a hundred links, $100k etc. That’s just plain impossible for the majority of companies. Don’t get me wrong, I would LOVE to work with those rates, but I can hardly imagine a business willing to pay one hundred thousand dollars for one hundred links. And to be completely fair, in some niches even a hundred links won’t move the needle.

See for yourself. Here’s one of our clients who thought that 100 links would help them:

And here’s what’s been going on with their organic traffic coming back to their blog from the links that we built:

To give you some context for their SEO situation, this client also wanted to rank for keywords related to link building. Below you can see one of my favorite examples of how fierce the competition is in the niche where people want to rank for such a generic term as “link building”:

This screenshot is screaming a simple fact out loud: you need to have at least 2,000 referring domains to outrank the pages that are currently in the top. Remember the link building rates that I’ve just named? How much would such work be worth? Looks like you might need a new round of investments if a rate per link remains at $1k USD.

Now, look, I feel for you. Link building should be affordable for SMB sites because what’s the point in getting into it if the game’s been fixed to begin with? In this post, I’ll show you that link building shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg, and even a small site can do it with enough dedication put into solving the issue. I’ll walk you through some of the most popular link building strategies and explain why some of them aren’t economically attractive. And I’ll explain the costs of certain options (or in other words, why the hell does your link builder charge you so much?) and show you what benefits they can offer your business.

Link building landscape: Email outreach strategy to rule them all

Some time ago, I had quite a long flight to Bali where I was speaking at the DMMS conference. I had a chance to watch a few movies including Tolkien, who was among my favorite authors growing up. Sadly, the movie had a weak plot that doesn’t really begin to explain how Tolkien came to invent his own language. However, it did bring up something to do with link building, believe it or not. Connections that you build throughout your life impact you a great deal. Put “your site” in place of “you” in the last sentence and voilá — here’s my point. If you follow the wrong path, you’ll surround yourself with bad connections (and, using my link building metaphor, bad links).

I’m always keen to discuss things from a philosophical point of view, but let’s get practical for a moment. How can you build high-quality links that will bring the best SEO results and will still be affordable?

Even though there are tons of link building strategies, on a general note, you can narrow them down to a few:

Links that are acquired through email outreach 

First of all, let’s clear up on the terminology. I see any strategy that includes sending emails to other websites to negotiate the possibility of getting a link as email outreach. For instance, such well-known strategies as broken link building, building links through guest posting, scraping SERPs and then pitching your content to those sites, and many others. That’s all email outreach because they all involve pitching something to someone through emails. The only way in which some of those strategies are different from the others is that they require some sort of written content. For example, guest posting requires you to write a post — that’s obvious. This significantly increases the costs of work, and here we are, approaching the above-mentioned number of 1k USD. To be honest, guest posting is not my favorite strategy due to many limitations that it has (I’ll share them with you later in this post, so keep reading!)

Links from digital PR campaigns 

Even though this strategy also relies on sending emails, your recipients aren’t website owners but journalists. So, this strategy is quite harder to execute. They require newsworthy content, you should have the necessary connections, be able to pitch it to the journos etc. etc. Also, digital PR campaigns always cost 10X more than any traditional email outreach campaign. That’s just because they bring links from media outlets that have not only great SEO value, but also let your brand connect with a broader audience.

Paid links

I don’t like these types of links and I don’t recommend anyone to try to acquire them. But I feel that I can’t skip this point as, in reality, paid links are in high demand. Some marketers are always trying to find the shortcut and look for sites that sell links.

There aren’t too many options out there when it comes to link building. Let me show you how some of the listed options aren’t economically right or simply won’t bring any solid SEO boost.

What are the pros and cons of each strategy?

Below you’ll find a quick sum-up of the most significant pros and cons of each strategy. It’s important to mention that here, at my agency, we only build links through email outreach as I believe it is by far the most cost-effective strategy. As of links built through digital PR, I used to do that, but in my experience, the results were not quite worth their significant costs.

Paid links

Let’s start with the tricky option — paid links. Here I’m talking about the links that you can purchase through sponsored content and that won’t be labeled with a special tag. I’m not going to talk about the ethical side of this strategy, as that would require a separate post. I just want to state that I know tons of sites that do it.

Pros:

  • It’s very fast. You can build as many links as you’d like. The only limitation is your budget.

Cons:

  • Sites that sell links do it at scale. At some point, they will be penalized by Google.
  • Consequently, if those links are risky, you’ll have to disavow them some time later.
  • Most likely there will be a tiny number of sites with exceptionally high domain ratings.

Digital PR link building

A few years ago, I was one of the biggest digital PR fans around, but time passed, and now I clearly see what kind of limitations this approach bears. Digital PR is an essential part of the promotion strategy for businesses that have recently established their brand and want to build trust with their audience. Plus, links from media outlets will automatically give Google’s a signal that your site is a trustworthy business. The only downside is that the majority of businesses don’t have a big fat budget for a proper digital PR campaign. Here’s a good post from Gisele Navarro that shares some extra angles on why brands do and don’t need digital PR.

Pros:

  • Getting links from media outlets will eventually grow your domain authority and give Google enough reasons to believe that your brand is trustworthy.
  • They make your brand more visible to a broader audience.
  • Showing to your potential clients that your brand was featured in The New York Times or on BBC is cool. Like, really cool.

Cons:

  • It’s very, very expensive. The costs for an average digital PR campaign start from $30k–$40k USD.
  • This strategy requires specific content which is why it gets so pricey.
  • It takes a few months to build such links — to ideate and execute the campaign, gather attention, get coverage, etc.
  • The price per link is very high. Normally it revolves around $1k USD.

Email outreach link building

I believe this to be the best link building strategy that fits nearly every business’ needs, especially if your goal is to start getting traffic to already existing pages. And to top it off, its cost per link is affordable even for small and medium-sized businesses.

Pros:

  • You can build links to nearly any page (including your commercial pages).
  • The price per link doesn’t go through the roof (it varies from $100 to $500 USD depending on the referring site’s domain quality)
  • A lot of link building agencies even allow you to buy one link (however, we aren’t within that tier as we prefer quality over quantity).
  • It allows you to build relationships with your industry peers.
  • It makes your brand more visible to your target audience.
  • It helps you get links from top-notch industry sites.

Cons:

  • Requires some special skills and knowledge (an average email has only an 8.5% open rate which makes it quite a hard practice).
  • Such links can’t be built overnight. However, the time they take is less than the PR-based links.
  • Such links have some hidden reputational risks (if you do it the wrong way, sending tons of outreach emails = being potentially seen as a spammer).

To sum it up, there are many reasons to believe that link building through email outreach is your to-go strategy if your main goal is to get more organic traffic from Google. The next big question is how many links you need and what it’s going to cost you.

How to estimate the number of links you need

A few weeks ago, I was lucky to listen to Robbie Richards’ speech at the DMSS conference where he confirmed my link building formula. If you’re competing with a site with similar on-site characteristics (both sites are https, mobile-friendly, fast, Google considers them both a brand plus a few other factors) then, in order to outrank it in search, you need to keep in mind only two factors*:

  • Your domain’s authority should be circa the same number as of the pages that you want to outrank;
  • You should have the same or a bit more referring domains compared to the pages that currently outrank you.

*In particular cases, internal linking plays a huge role. Not that long ago, my good friend Joe Williams published a great post where he goes into more detail on the topic.

This formula might vary based on your estimated domain authority (DA) or on your domain rating (DR). If you have a higher domain score than the pages that you want to outrank, then you’ll just need fewer links. But if your DR is lower, you’ll need significantly more links, and that’s something you need to account for.

Here’s some context: let’s take a look at my own site. Digital Olympus is not doing very well in the SERPs because of its DR. On average, all sites that are ranking for search queries related to email outreach have a domain rating of 70–80, while our own site is only 56. So, this means that we need at least two times more links referring to our pages in comparison to the sites that are above us in search. For instance, to get this page to the top of search results for “email outreach,” we need to build around 200 links. As you can see from a screenshot below, the rest of the URLs have 100+ links, so we need to double that number to stand a chance:

Another approach to this situation would require us to calculate how many links we need to get the overall domain rating of 70. That’s around 250 links from sites with DR higher than 30 (I don’t consider sites that have smaller DR of good quality).

Once you know the necessary number of links to build, you should decide whether you’re capable of doing it on your own. I’m not trying to convince you to hire an agency, but if you’ve never done link building, it’s going to take around a year to set up the process and start building from 10–20 links a month, realistically speaking.

I don’t want to demotivate you, but such tasks are truly skill-demanding. A few years ago, I could barely build several links per month. So, if you have a budget and need links right away, it makes sense to hire someone to help you. The main reason why our clients hire us is that we’ve built relationships in the industry. We’re known, which allows us to build links fast.

What’s the right price for an email outreach link building campaign?

Different agencies have different rates when it comes to link building through email outreach. As a time-consuming strategy, it very much relies on the agency’s approach which is always unique even if it relies on the common practices. Some charge per campaign, some per link, and some would prefer to ask you to pay not less than a certain amount on a monthly basis.

For example, the people at LinksHero charge from $3k USD and promise to build around 5–15 links per month:

In case you want to pay as you go and don’t want to be bound by any monthly commitments, then DFYlinks.com is your best choice. Their link building services are highly recommended by such well-known experts as Cyrus Shepard, Ryan Stewart, and many others. DFYlinks sell guest post links and their cheapest option will cost you only $160 USD:

Another link building agency trusted by such industry experts as Ryan Stewart and Steven Kang is Authority Builders. Even though they don’t have a pricing page, I had a chat with their founder, Matt Diggity, and he said that their basic rate is $170–$180 USD.

If you’re wondering where my agency stands, we’re from a bunch that charge per number of acquired links, post-factum. I think it’s the best option for small and mid-size businesses, as it gives you more freedom and allows you to build links at your own pace.

Our rate is somewhere in the middle, even though the quality of our links is above average, as we’re getting our links from corporate and top-notch blogs. Plus, we don’t send mass emails so you won’t face any associated reputation risks. We’ve spent the last couple of years building relationships with people, so right now we’re simply reaching out to them instead of doing mass email blasts. For our services, we charge from $300 USD per link, so you can easily calculate your overall budget to build, say, a hundred links. However, we work only in the B2B niche — specializations are important to consider before you choose an agency.

So that’s the rundown on how much it costs to build links. Hopefully you should now be able to estimate your budget in order to build the desired number of links to your site. And let me just say this: for businesses that have already built some trust and visibility, getting even sixty new, quality referring domains can make all the difference and help them achieve sustainable organic traffic growth:

That’s a lot to take in, I know. But there’s more to talk about. For example, there are tons of hidden benefits to email outreach delivered the right way. Just stay with me, we’re getting there.

How to get more from every link that you earn

I love handmade email outreach link building as it allows you to do more than build links. You’re also building relationships that can help you move the needle far beyond link building alone.

People who are your link building partners today can organize a conference tomorrow and invite you to speak, which can allow you to become more visible within your niche. That’s not as rare as it may seem! And if you’re curious, yes, I’m referring to our own experience: besides doing link building, we also run our own digital marketing conference Digital Olympus (which, by the way, will be next held in Krakow on April 5th 2020).

Another benefit worth mentioning is that the companies that you connect with during your email outreach link building campaign also invest in growing their businesses. As a result, the site that has a domain score of 50 might get it up to 70 in a few months. In other words, today you’re paying for something that might get much more valuable in the future, and that’s what makes email outreach link building epic!

Here’s a list of sites from which we built links for one of our clients. You can see how their domain scores have grown since May 2019:

Start working on a link building profile that will rule them all!

Your next step is up to you, but in my experience, it’s important to start working on links as early as possible. Otherwise, there’ll be a huge gap between your site and your competitors who have been working on link building for a while.

Also, I know that the majority of businesses would like to run their link building campaigns in-house. Starting early gives you a leg-up to build your processes and test things. If you decide that it’s your way, please don’t follow the “best practices,” as 99% of them are infinitely outdated. Most of those strategies have been discontinued years ago in the link building community, and only rookies still fall for them.

The list of no-BS resources

If you’re looking for more information about doing DIY link building, here are a few useful posts that won’t turn you into a spammer who’s asking for a link because “they’ve been following another person’s blog for ages” (that’s a link builders private joke):

Conclusion

I’m not sure what else is there for me to say to convince you that email outreach is the way to do link building. And so I won’t try to convince you anymore — I’ll just sum up what I’ve told you already.

First of all, assess your situation and decide what’s more important for you at the moment: building links fast or building your own process of acquiring links in-house. If you decide in favor of the first option, calculate the number of links you need to build, estimate your budget, and find a reputable agency to help you out. And if you settle for the latter, get ready to spend some time on building relationships, mastering your outreach email copy, and streamlining creating valuable content.

But don’t worry — in the end, it’s all going to be worth it.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Read More

Six tools to quickly check website SEO

Any digital marketer knows that SEO becomes more important than ever before. With the advent of new trends (for example, voice search, mobile-first indexing, AI revolution), you need to take control of your website SEO performance from the very beginning and fix any possible issues to stay afloat today. 

But the big problem is that many digital marketers know a lot about SEO, but they don’t have a clear picture of their website SEO. According to this report, 61% of marketers continue checking and improving their SEO performance and organic presence as their top marketing priority. So, if you want to fit into this 61%, it is high time to take SEO seriously and start tracking your progress.

As a savvy marketer, you want to complete more SEO tasks in less time. Whether it’s tracking your rankings or checking how well your web pages are optimized for certain search queries, SEO tools can be a real lifesaver for any marketer.

Fortunately, there are many useful tools available online that help to see your own website the way that Google looks at it and identify the areas that need some improvement. 

I hope that these six tools will make your job so much easier to stay ahead of your competition. 

1. Check the site load time

Many website owners often underestimate the importance of this parameter or even aren’t aware of it. According to Google researches, the probability of a visitor leaving a website enhances by 90% after 5 seconds after page load. After 6 seconds, bounce likelihood increases by 106%

For small businesses, if your website is slow, then your SEO is going to be poor. This means that you can meet different problems, including Google Rankings drops, high bounce rates, and low sales results. 

For big companies like eBay or Walmart, quality content and interesting offers are not quite enough. Time means billions of dollars per second. For example, Amazon pointed out that it could lose $1.6 billion in sales each year due to a page load slowdown of just once second.

Slow site speed impacts your website rankings and requires to make improvements for SEO. In November 2019, Finteza analyzed the waiting time of 850 million users who scrolled 12 billion total pages. Here are some interesting research findings:

Finteza report on global page load speed research - website seo

To identify your website loading speed, you can use Finteza to find out real results. It shows how long it takes for your users to access all web page features, how quickly they can download your content, what type of resources slow down your webpages the most, and how your website loads on various devices and in various counties.

The tool provides real analytical data and reliable diagnostics. It allows you to detect any possible issues and fix them at any time. 

2. Track keyword rankings for certain keyword phrases

It’s essential to know how each of your web pages is performing based on keyword phrases to help you increase more traffic. Finding the right keywords, making sure to thoroughly respond to the search query and satisfy the user intent is the best way to long-term SEO success.

Once you know your keyword rankings, you can determine whether you’re on the right track. One of the quickest ways to check the page ranking for a specific keyword is to look in SE Ranking. The software offers different toolkits, one of which is a keyword rank tracker. 

The tool allows seeing for what keywords your website page is ranking, keywords’ monthly search volume, KEI, traffic forecast, and visibility rating. You can also compare your page performance to competition, find more profitable keywords, monitor quality backlinks, and get the most out of similar on-page website SEO opportunities. 

Together with global rankings, SE Ranking monitors Google SERP features, Map results, and Google Ads positions for different locations and devices. 

Quality backlinks report to check website SEO

3. Check the mobile-friendliness

In the age of the mobile-first index, mobile-friendliness is a must, not a want.  It’s no surprise that mobile users take up the majority share of online users. According to this research, 72.6% of users will access the internet using their mobile devices by 2025, equivalent to almost 3.7 billion people.

It’s important to optimize your website for mobile users as Google still considers mobile-friendliness as one of the most significant ranking factors. Designing for mobile users, make sure to avoid long-scrolls, take into account different devices and screen sizes, and different considerations for surfing on mobile. You can check out Google’s new resource for improving mobile experiences. To check if your site is mobile-friendly, Varvy has the answer. It’s a great tool for website owners to test your site within seconds and see their websites’ performance. The tool is free of charge so you need to enter URL to start using it

Through this process, it will come with recommendations and guidelines on how users can improve the mobile-friendliness of your website and increase mobile rankings. Besides, Varvy offers a bunch of other useful features, including page speed optimization, page security, paid links finder, search engine optimization, and many more. 

Checking the mobile-friendliness for website SEO

4. Check the technical structure

How do you think? What makes a successful website? The quality content, visual and functional appeal of your website, backlink profiles, keyword research, good navigation, and many other things. But the one thing they all have in common: their technical structure. It affects your keyword rankings and user engagement.

As Marc Robles pointed out on the LawRank blog, technical SEO helps build your solid foundation and forms a hierarchy. If you don’t want to crumble your house, you need to fulfill each level of the hierarchy of technical SEO needs (URL’s crawlability, indexability, accessibility for bots and users, rankability and clickability). 

To better understand how your technical SEO performs, you can use HubSpot’s Website Grader. It’s a free tool that helps website owners detect search engine optimization opportunities. The tool builds personalized reports based on website performance, on-page SEO,  mobile, and security. 

You just need to enter your URL and email to get a score (1-100) and a detailed report. The tool also comes up with actionable recommendations and guidelines on how to increase your website grade. To better direct your SEO efforts, HubSpot offers a bunch of paid SEO tools. 

5. Check content relevance

Creating awesome content is not enough to generate traffic from search engines and rank high for your target keywords. It’s important to understand user content and use it to improve your SEO. As Ahrefs pointed out in the study, 91% of online content gets zero traffic from Google.

To do this, you need to create the right content that resonates with your target audience, optimize it for relevance, and publish it where you want to see it. We’ve already viewed some of the advantages it can offer using the knowledge graph, answer boxes, local packs, and other different search results for broad matched keywords.

If you don’t optimize your content for user intent, it can get devalued. Ensure to better understand the intent of target keywords, perform the SERP analysis of these keywords, figure out what type of content is ranking well, research semantically related keywords, answer all questions users may have, and optimize content for these terms.

According to this HubSpot study, content with a word count between 2250 and 2500 words generates the most organic traffic. So, creating long-form content can be valuable for SEO and can help you become a thought leader in your niche.

To receive valuable data about questions people may ask online, I recommend a nifty free tool called ‘Answer the Public’. It provides popular keyword variations based on search queries and visualizes an awesome graphic with questions and phrases people often use when searching for that keyword. To get unlimited searches, you can learn more about the Pro plan.

Checking content relevance with 'Answer the Public' for website SEO

6. Audit internal links

Internal linking is crucial from different SEO perspectives. Internal links open the doors that allow you to move from one room to another room. But once a website grows older, it becomes difficult to keep a solid interlinking structure and maintain consistency through your website.

As John Mueller pointed out, the way your web pages are interlinked helps Google understand how your pages are related and its roles. Choose the optimal type of structure that greatly meets your business needs.

To make sure that your links on a web page work, you can consider Check My Links. It’s a cool Chrome Extension to crawl through the web page and detect which ones are valid and which ones are broken. The tool highlights good links in green and bad links in red to make it easy to spot and take immediate measures to fix them.

 

Bottom Line

I haven’t mentioned every element of SEO, but this should be key areas to check your website’s SEO. Along with the right tools, you can look at it from a more holistic point of view, survive and outsmart changing algorithms. Here I’ve collected six tools that offer a lot of useful features and can reach remarkable results when used properly. Whichever tool you choose, make sure to maximize all the value you can get from it.

Irina Weber is Brand Manager at SE Ranking. She can be found on Twitter @irinaweber048.

The post Six tools to quickly check website SEO appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

Read More

How Do I Make My Site Rank For a Keyword?

In my experience, the most common reasons a website doesn’t rank for a specific keyword are:

  1. The site isn’t actually relevant
  2. There isn’t any single page which actually uses that keyword
  3. There are too many pages which use that keyword. 

It’s true that a site might not rank because of something like authority or some kind of technical issue but for the average SEO team, increasing authority or fixing technical problems are far harder and take much longer than simply looking at the site and making sure we’re not just misusing content. 

So often, I’ve started working with teams who have spent months or years trying to perfect their technical setup, who’ve invested thousands in link building campaigns but haven’t made sure they include the keyword they are targeting on the relevant page. 

I will explain in more depth below but here are the first eight things to do to find out why you’re not ranking;

  1. If you used to rank – check what changed
  2. Do the quickest and easiest technical checks
  3. Ignore link building until you know there is no other explanation
  4. Make sure the keywords are actually relevant to your site
  5. Make sure you have a page targeting the keywords
  6. Make sure you don’t have loads of pages targeting the keywords
  7. Make sure the page you are targeting the keyword with is the right kind
  8. Do more in-depth technical checks
  9. Only now look at the harder solutions

That list is deliberately ordered to start with easy checks that could save all of your site traffic, steadily getting more granular and time intensive but always with a focus on the easiest thing we can do to make the biggest impact on the problem at hand. 

1. If you used to rank – check what changed

If you don’t have any evidence that you used to consistently rank well then skip to step two. As a rule of thumb – you should only really focus on this section if you know that you consistently ranked top 20 for at least a couple months.

As an aside – if the keyword you care about is a “money term” like “Valentines Day flowers” and you seem to have lost traction just as the season is arriving, you might want to read Tom Capper’s post on how to rank for head terms for some insight. If you’re a smaller brand – the rankings may return to normal just after the peak season (which may be small consolation but could get people off your back while you do the foundational work).

Assuming you’ve seen rankings change for a selected number of keywords which you know you used to rank for, and it’s not a matter of “money terms” fluctuating around peak season, we can simplify things by splitting changes into three groups;

  • Someone changed something on your site so now you’re not doing as well
  • A competitor started doing something better so now you’re not doing as well
  • Google changed their algorithm so now you’re not doing as well

Someone changed something on your site so now you’re not doing as well

It can be really hard to keep track of all the changes on a site so it’s quite possible someone made a change you didn’t know about and that’s why you’re no longer ranking.

You could ask your devs, particularly if you already have a good idea of the dates to look into. Devs keep impressively detailed logs of what they’ve changed so that could answer your question quickly. However, it might not answer your question, and it could have been someone else changing something through the CMS who made no record of the change whatsoever.

If you don’t have a tool like Deepcrawl running regular crawls of your site but do have an old Screaming Frog crawl of your site then you can use my free Change Detection Google Sheet to help get an idea of what might have changed. If you can do that – have a look through the results and try to work out what changes might have caused these issues. In particular look for pages being removed or indexation commands, then expand your search to things like keyword changes.

If that doesn’t turn anything up, read through the rest of this blog post.

A competitor started doing something better so now you’re not doing as well

If a competitor started producing better content, or fixed something technical on their site, that could mean they jump up in rankings, pushing you down.

The key thing here is to look at historic data and see who might be doing better now.If you have historic rank tracking in a tool like Stat, start by looking for which competitors jumped up for the keywords you care about. You could even create a tag for the keywords you care about in specific and use the competitive landscape report to see what changed. If you don’t have historic data in something like Stat you could try your luck with Ahrefs to see if they happen to have historic data for the keywords you care about.

If you have no luck in either, the fact that your company cares about this keywords, could mean that someone on your team just knows which site is appearing which wasn’t there before.

If you can identify the site or sites which are doing better, look at the pages they’ve made, see what differences there are between theirs and yours (do they have more information? Are they a homepage? Are they featured in the nav?). Then as much as you can, without just copying the page – steal their tactics.

If you can’t find any sites in particular which seem to have jumped up, if you don’t have historic data or if your site just seems to have gone down then read through the rest of this blog post.

Google changed their algorithm 

Marie Haynes keeps a great, comprehensive list of algorithm changes. If you used to rank – look at when you used to rank, and when you just stopped ranking. If that lines up (like, to the day) with a non-trivial algorithm change then that could be the culprit. If the algorithm change was recent, it’s worth leaving it a couple weeks to see if things settle down.

Google’s algorithm is, understandably a source of frequent stress for website owners because at any point they can turn a dial and it becomes as if we’re working in a completely different search engine. For this investigation, that is exactly how we should think about Google before and after an algorithm change. It is a different search engine. That simplifies our question because we’re no longer talking about keywords we used to rank for – we’re talking about keywords we never ranked for in this new search engine. That means we can follow a lot of the same principles for working out what’s going wrong. 

Go through all of the steps in sections 2-9 in order as if you never ranked.

2. Do the quickest and easiest technical checks

As I said, it’s easy to become convinced that some mysterious technical issue is preventing you from appearing. In the vein of that stereotype about mechanics – it’s difficult to know when you ask an SEO agency if technical fixes are actually needed or if they are just blinding you with jargon (I’ve been on the receiving end of that myself when I was in-house). 

I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to start with those expensive agency conversations. You can start with some really simple checks and I’m going to give the complete layman’s description of each one below. If any of the checks below return a result that you’re not expecting, hop over to my colleague Ben Estes’ great technical SEO checklist

Check that Google has seen and saved some of your site

Have you ever noticed that Google lists how many results it found when we do a search? We can use that to get a rough idea of if it has seen and saved the pages on our site and to make sure we haven’t, for some reason, been removed from Google. 

Go to Google and then type; site:<your website domain>

So for example, if I wasn’t to check the Distilled site, an individual page might be https://www.distilled.net/resources/seo-ab-testing-whitepaper/, to check the site, I take just “distilled.net” and write site:distilled.net

If the number of results Google lists is much higher or lower than you’d expect, then I’d check Ben’s list. But I mean much higher or lower. If you think you’ve got about 500-1000 pages on your website and Google says it found a million pages, something is probably wrong. Likewise, if Google has only found 10 pages and you haven’t just launched your site, something is probably wrong.

You can also use this check for specific subdomains. For instance, if you have a blog at blog.yoursite.com you can write; 

site:blog.yoursite.com

Check that you rank for your own brand name

As long as your brand isn’t totally new, and isn’t just a competitive term (think “Car Rentals” or “Injury Lawyers”) your site should appear when you type in your brand name.

This bit is pretty simple. I feel like I should write more but that’s it – search for your brand name. Are you coming up? If so then great, on to the next step. If not – check Ben’s list.

Check that your pages rank for their exact content

Go to some of your most important pages. For each, select one of the top paragraphs on the page, copy about a sentence and then paste that whole sentence into Google. If you don’t appear anywhere then there could be some reason Google hasn’t seen the page or it’s been removed. If you see other sites appearing with that exact content, that might be your problem!

3. Ignore link building until you know there is no other explanation

Believe me, I understand the appeal and I often manage link building campaigns for my clients. Producing a large, impressive link-building piece often lets a team sidestep internal politics and dev queues to actually get something published. They also often look great and can sometimes secure TV coverage. I’ve even seen big Creative pieces as a way for the SEO team to get the attention and approval of the CEO to increase internal clout which makes other things easier. For some sites, links are that piece that’s missing which would allow them to rank. However;

Links are almost never the answer.

Links are almost never the answer.

Links are almost never the answer.

Links are almost never the answer.

Proper link building is hard, it’s expensive, and link volume is often not what’s stopping you from ranking.

You know what’s worse than having your CEO breathing down your neck because you don’t rank for one specific keyword? Having your CEO breathing down your neck because you don’t rank for one specific keyword and you’ve just spent £60,000 on link building campaigns which haven’t had an impact.

If you decide early on that you need links, the only way to find out you’re wrong is after you spent all that time and money. There are much cheaper and easier things you should do and check before you even touch link building. If you get to the end of this list and you’ve done everything, then you can consider link building pieces.

4. Make sure the keywords are actually relevant to your site

It’s very easy to assume that everyone thinks and talks the same way we do, that because we refer to our core product as “widgets”, that everyone searching for “widgets” wants us.

Google is a business – their continued success is dependent on giving people answers to what they are actually searching for, so Google doesn’t care what you think is relevant, Google cares what 90% of people are searching for.

The easiest way to check what Google thinks something means, is to Google it (shocker). Start by getting the list of keywords you want to rank for. Then either Google each of them yourself, or use a tool like Stat, SEMRush, or Ahrefs to get the top 10 results for each.

If direct business competitors appear in the top 10, then that’s a sign Google thinks you can be relevant. When I say direct business competitors I mean sites which are trying to do the same thing as you. So sites using the same word to mean a different thing are definitely out, but you should also think again if all of the results are things like Wikipedia, or a listing site.

If all of the results are things like Wikipedia you might still be able to target the term with an informational blog post, if it’s all listing sites things become trickier and I’d start by focusing on other things and then come back to these listings-heavy keywords.

5. Make sure you have a page targeting the keyword

Believe me, the impact of just creating a page targeting a keyword can be stark. Below is a screenshot showing the difference before and after launching a targeted page. For the previous years the site was not ranking at all – having a page clearly targeting the keyword pushed them to position two within the space of a couple weeks.

It could be argued that this should be the first check but it’s quite intentionally not. If it was, a person might never ask themselves “is it right for us to rank?” or “have I accidentally blocked Google from my site?” and those are more important questions in terms of saving your time and traffic. 

There are a few ways to check this. You could use my keyword checker Google sheet to check if you’re ranking for specific keywords. 

Get the keyword checker sheet here:

//

The easiest if you’re only checking a few keywords is to reuse the site: search we mentioned above. This time, as well as searching for your domain, search for your keyword too, in quotes. So for example:

site:distilled.net “technical audit checklist”

That will give you a list of all the pages on your site which specifically mention the keyword. There are a few possible scenarios here.

Loads of pages show up

Important – if loads of pages come up then your problem might be that you have too many pages competing for this keyword. Or a combination of that, plus having no one page focused enough. Instead of working your way down the list of pages, follow the steps in section six. 

A handful of pages show up

You might still have issues with too many pages competing, so still take a look at section six. Before you do that – starting with the page at the top, work your way down the list, visiting each page, and try to work out if the keyword you want to rank for is the main focus of the page. 

No pages show up

If no pages appear then you don’t have any pages, which Google knows about, which are targeting the keyword. Find a page which you would expect to target this keyword and make sure that Google knows about it. Then, just add this keyword in the title or meta description and monitor your progress. 

If that’s not enough add some (valuable) content to the page targeting this keyword. 

If that’s not enough then try creating a page or blog post specifically about this topic. Consider removing the keyword from the page you just changed to avoid cannibalisation issues which we discuss in section 6. If you don’t know what kind of page to create, read section 7 of this blog post.

6. Make sure you don’t have loads of pages targeting the keywords

Targeting a keyword with too many pages can and does hurt your traffic. Sometimes as badly as having no page at all.

The below is a modest example of a page jumping from around position 40 to position 7 because we removed the keyword in question from a bunch of other pages.

When too many pages are competing for the same keyword we often refer to that as “cannibalisation”. To check for cannibalisation, look for any combination of the following things;

  • A few pages are ranking for the keyword, but poorly. For instance, they’re all in the bottom half of page 2, or worse.

  • One page ranks well for a few days, but then for a day or so, another page starts ranking below it (i.e. one is in position 11, the other is in position 12). Then they both disappear entirely.

  • No page is ranking consistently well and Google keeps switching between different pages.

You can check for cannibalisation by using Search Console, a paid keyword tracker like Stat, or manual searches. I’ve given details for each below.

Paid keyword tracker

If you have access to a keyword tracker like Stat, track the keywords for a little while. If you’re using Stat, in the keywords report select the keyword you’re interested in.

Use the “Overview” tab to track rankings over time and look for things like rankings jumping up and down.

Use the “Archived SERPs” tab to check if multiple pages from your domain are ranking at the same time (they’ll be highlighted in yellow)

Search Console

Search Console is a great, free source of cannibalisation data with a few drawbacks;

  • Search Console reports won’t show keywords that you haven’t had any impressions for. So if you’re doing so badly for a keyword that no one even saw your site, you won’t see it at all in Search Console data.
  • Search Console data is sampled, so you can’t guarantee you’ll get every keyword.
  • Search Console data doesn’t make the distinction between multiple pages ranking, and getting site links so

For this result, Search Console would show the homepage, About Us, Jobs, Blog, and Resources pages as ranking, even though this isn’t a case of cannibalisation.

With that in mind, you can use this Google Sheet to check your recent Search Console data for keywords where you have a few pages ranking. There are instructions on the first tab of the sheet for how to use it.

Get the keyword checker sheet here:

//

Manual searches

If you only have a handful of keywords you want to check for, you don’t have access to paid tools, and Search Console isn’t turning anything up then follow the steps in section 5. If you see a lot of pages coming up for a keyword, or even a handful of pages which are prominently targeting the keyword that could be your issue.

Try removing the site: search and flick through the first ten pages of results to see if multiple pages appear. Bonus points if multiple pages from your site are appearing very close together (i.e. positions 27 and 28).

Fix it

Whichever method you use to work out whether you are cannibalising on keywords, once you know, the next step is to fix it. Choose the best page to target the keyword – for a way to go about that, read section 7. of this post which is about making sure you’re targeting a keyword with the right kind of page.

Once you’ve chosen your page, you have two levers you can move. You can make your chosen page more relevant for the keyword, or you can make the other pages less relevant for the keyword. I’d advise first making the page you choose a little more relevant, then making other pages less relevant until either you see a result or you run out of things to do. If you’ve run out of things to do, start making your chosen page more relevant until you run out of options there too.

Making your chosen page more relevant can be as simple as adding content. If the keyword isn’t mentioned in your title, meta descriptions, etc. try adding it. If you’ve already done that, consider adding a short paragraph about the topic you want to rank for. Resist the urge to keyword stuff and don’t add content which doesn’t make sense on the page.

Making other pages less relevant can be as simple as removing content. If the keyword is in your title, meta descriptions etc. try removing it or using different words. If there’s specific on-page content which is about this keyword, consider moving and combining all of that content on the page you want to rank. If the whole page is about the keyword, maybe the page you’re trying to remove is actually the one that should rank? If you’re certain that this page isn’t the one that should rank, first check for other keywords it might be ranking for or, to make sure you’re not throwing anything away, then canonicalise it or redirect it to the main page you want to rank.

7. Make sure the page you are targeting the keyword with is the right kind

Sometimes, even if a site is the right kind of site, and a page is clearly the one you want to rank, Google won’t let it rank because it’s the wrong kind of page. 

The main ways we can categorise a page on a site are;

  • Strength (Is this the homepage? Linked to in the nav? Or an old forgotten blog post?)
  • Specificity (Is this a broad page which just mentions the keyword or is it all about that term?)
  • Type (Is it a blog post or product page? This relates to search intent which we’ll cover below)

What you should do here is look at what is already ranking in the top ten. 

Is it mainly sites homepages? In which case, the norm is strong (homepages get most of the focus of a site) and broad (homepages don’t tend to be terribly focused).

Is it mainly pages which don’t appear in those sites internal navigation? Which specifically dedicated to this keyword? You can often tell because the keyword will be in the URL of the page or a lot of the page content will be about the term. In which case the norm is probably weaker but more specific.

Then we need to work out whether the norm is for product pages or blog posts? Here is where we start down the rabbit hole of “search intent”. “Search intent” is the catch-all for “what the person thinks they’re going to get when they search”. 

An easy way to see this in action is to search “ski” and “skis”. When we search “ski” Google thinks that we either want to know more about skiing or that we want to do something (in this case go skiing). When we search for “skis” Google thinks we want to buy skis.

A site which wants to rank for “ski” will not be able to do so with a page selling skis, no matter how strong and well-optimised that page is. So if most of the pages that are ranking are for holidays – your page should be about holidays. If they are mostly blog posts and Wikipedia articles, it should be an informational page – don’t try to sell something. If they’re all specific product pages – create a product page. While just following the herd isn’t usually the ideal strategy, looking at the category of content which is currently performing well is the best way to get a sense of direction, then you can tweak other things.

While you should be able to get what you need, at least for small lists of keywords, by manually checking, if you’d like to dive in to a more technical solution to checking search intent Rory Truesdale has been doing some excellent work on this and has written about it in Search Engine Journal.

Once you know the intent, strength, and specificity of content already ranking, you can start to play around with the strength and specificity. If you have a weak page which is also quite broad – experiment with making that page more specific by adding more content, or stronger by linking to it internally. If all of the ranking sites are doing so with strong, broad pages, for instance a page linked to in the top nav, experiment with making one of your strong pages more specific or choose an even stronger page, like your homepage for example, and see how specific you can make that.

A general rule of thumb is that you most likely won’t be able to go against the intent of a search, but dialling up either the strength or specificity of how you are targeting a term will make you more likely to rank.

If you have no pages on your site which target the search term and the right search intent – try changing one to target it, or creating one even if you have other pages (of the wrong intent) already targeting the term. If that causes cannibalisation problems you can then deal with them, if it doesn’t then you’ve got an easy result. To be clear here – you do not have to have one page for every keyword. You can have a page targeting more than one keyword, but if there is a topic you want to rank for, which would fill a page by itself, and it has enough value to your business to justify a whole page then make that!

If you have lots of pages on your site targeting the search term and only one of them has the right search intent, select that page as the primary page to target this term, increase how specific and relevant this primary page is (by adding content), and decrease the specificity and relevance of other pages (by removing content or removing the page altogether).

If you have lots of pages on your site targeting the search term and any of them could target the right search intent, start with the strongest page. Ask yourself – would my moodiest website visitors (and my boss) be happy if I put a paragraph on this page about this topic. If not, the topic isn’t important enough to go on that page. Repeat the process working your way down the list until you find the strongest page you can make more specific, then follow the steps in section 6. If you’ve done everything in section 6 and you’re still not seeing any improvement, maybe the page you chose was too weak. Try linking to it more internally or decide if you’d prefer to choose a stronger page.

8. Do more in-depth technical checks

If you’ve made sure you have, well written, strong, specific, relevant pages targeting the keywords you want to rank for, and you’re still not getting anywhere, you might be able to tip the scales by making some technical improvements to your site.

While a lot of technical improvements will improve overall site health (and there are lots of graphs of those) the screenshot below is directly from a report to another client where we made technical improvements bumped up page rankings for a business-priority keyword from page 2, to the middle of page 1. Since this point the page has consistently ranked around position 6-8.

Technical checks can be intimidating. Fortunately, Ben Estes has produced a great technical SEO checklist which will lead you through a lot of the most common technical issues.

9. Only now look at harder solutions

Just as no two businesses are the same, no two sites are the same. Google, quite intentionally, works in mysterious ways and sometimes when we’ve covered all of our bases we still don’t have a good idea of why we aren’t ranking. At this point you could look into deeper technical issues, using tools like log file analysis, you could compare site speed with competitors to see if that’s what giving them the edge, or you could try building links.

I hope you haven’t had to get this far, but if you have there are still options out there, and you can investigate them, or hire to solve them, in the knowledge that you’ve covered the core stuff already.

Good luck!

Read More

Brands vs Ads

Brand, Brand, Brand

About 7 years ago I wrote about how the search relevancy algorithms were placing heavy weighting on brand-related signals after Vince & Panda on the (half correct!) presumption that this would lead to excessive industry consolidation which in turn would force Google to turn the dials in the other direction.

My thesis was Google would need to increasingly promote some smaller niche sites to make general web search differentiated from other web channels & minimize the market power of vertical leading providers.

The reason my thesis was only half correct (and ultimately led to the absolutely wrong conclusion) is Google has the ability to provide the illusion of diversity while using sort of eye candy displacement efforts to shift an increasing share of searches from organic to paid results.

Shallow Verticals With a Shill Bid

As long as any market has at least 2 competitors in it Google can create a “me too” offering that they hard code front & center and force the other 2 players (along with other players along the value chain) to bid for marketshare. If competitors are likely to complain about the thinness of the me too offering & it being built upon scraping other websites, Google can buy out a brand like Zagat or a data supplier like ITA Software to undermine criticism until the artificially promoted vertical service has enough usage that it is nearly on par with other players in the ecosystem.

Google need not win every market. They only need to ensure there are at least 2 competing bids left in the marketplace while dialing back SEO exposure. They can then run other services to redirect user flow and force the ad buy. They can insert their own bid as a sort of shill floor bid in their auction. If you bid below that amount they’ll collect the profit through serving the customer directly, if you bid above that they’ll let you buy the customer vs doing a direct booking.

Adding Volatility to Economies of Scale

Where this gets more than a bit tricky is if you are a supplier of third party goods & services where you buy in bulk to get preferential pricing for resale. If you buy 100 rooms a night from a particular hotel based on the presumption of prior market performance & certain channels effectively disappear you have to bid above market to sell some portion of the rooms because getting anything for them is better than leaving them unsold.

“Well I am not in hotels, so thankfully this won’t impact me” is an incomplete thought. Google Ads now offer a lead generation extension.

Dipping a bit back into history here, but after Groupon said no to Google’s acquisition offer Google promptly partnered with players 2 through n to ensure Groupon did not have a lasting competitive advantage. In the fullness of time most those companies died, LivingSocial was acquired by Groupon for nothing & Groupon is today worth less than the amount they raised in VC & IPO funding.

Markets Naturally Evolve Toward Promoting Brands

When a vertical is new a player can compete just by showing up. Then over time as the verticals become established consumers develop habits, brands beat out generics & the markets get consolidated down to being heavily influenced & controlled by a couple strong players.

In the offline world of atoms there are real world costs tied to local regulations, shipping, sourcing, supply chains, inventory management, etc. The structure of the web & the lack of marginal distribution cost causes online markets to be even more consolidated than their offline analogs.

When Travelocity outsourced their backend infrastructure to Expedia most people visiting their website were unaware of the change. After Expedia acquired the site, longtime Travelocity customers likely remained unaware. In some businesses the only significant difference in the user experience is the logo at the top of the page.

Most large markets will ultimately consolidate down to a couple players (e.g. Booking vs Expedia) while smaller players lack the scale needed to have the economic leverage to pay Google’s increasing rents.

This sort of consolidation was happening even when the search results were mostly organic & relevancy was driven primarily by links. As Google has folded in usage data & increased ad load on the search results it becomes harder for a generically descriptive domain name to build brand-related signals.

Re-sorting the Markets Once More

It is not only generically descriptive sorts of sites that have faded though. Many brand investments turned out to be money losers after the search result set was displaced by more ads (& many brand-related search result pages also carry ads above the organic results).

The ill informed might write something like this:

Since the Motorola debacle, it was Google’s largest acquisition after the $676 million purchase of ITA Software, which became Google Flights. (Uh, remember that? Does anyone use that instead of Travelocity or one of the many others? Neither do I.)

The reality is brands lose value as the organic result set is displaced. To make the margins work they might desperately outsource just about everything but marketing to a competitor / partner, which will then latter acquire them for a song.

Travelocity had roughly 3,000 people on the payroll globally as recently as a couple of years ago, but the Travelocity workforce has been whittled to around 50 employees in North America with many based in the Dallas area.

The best relevancy algorithm in the world is trumped by preferential placement of inferior results which bypasses the algorithm. If inferior results are hard coded in placements which violate net neutrality for an extended period of time, they can starve other players in the market from the vital user data & revenues needed to reinvest into growth and differentiation.

Value plays see their stocks crash as growth slows or goes in reverse. With the exception of startups funded by Softbank, growth plays are locked out of receiving further investment rounds as their growth rate slides.

Startups like Hipmunk disappear. Even an Orbitz or Travelocity become bolt on acquisitions.

The viability of TripAdvisor as a stand alone business becomes questioned, leading them to partner with Ctrip.

TripAdvisor has one of the best link profiles of any commercially oriented website outside of perhaps Amazon.com. But ranking #1 doesn’t count for much if that #1 ranking is below the fold. Or, even worse, if Google literally hides the organic search results.

TripAdvisor shifted their business model to allow direct booking to better monetize mobile web users, but as Google has ate screen real estate and grew Google Travel into a $100 billion business other players have seen their stocks sag.

Top of The Funnel

Google sits at the top of the funnel & all other parts of the value chain are compliments to be commoditized.

  • Buy premium domain names? Google’s SERPs test replacing domain names with words & make the words associated with the domain name gray.
  • Improve conversion rates? Your competitor almost certainly did as well, now you both can bid more & hand over an increasing economic rent to Google.
  • Invest in brand awareness? Google shows ads for competitors on your brand terms, forcing you to buy to protect the brand equity you paid to build.

Search Metrics mentioned Hotels.com was one of the biggest losers during the recent algorithm updates: “I’m going to keep on this same theme there, and I’m not going to say overall numbers, the biggest loser, but for my loser I’m going to pick Hotels.com, because they were literally like neck and neck, like one and two with Booking, as far as how close together they were, and the last four weeks, they’ve really increased that separation.”

As Google ate the travel category the value of hotel-related domain names has fallen through the floor.

Most of the top selling hotel-related domain names were sold about a decade ago:

On August 8th HongKongHotels.com sold for $4,038. A decade ago that name likely would have sold for around $100,000.

And the new buyer may have overpaid for it!

Growing Faster Than the Market

Google consistently grows their ad revenues 20% a year in a global economy growing at under 4%.

There are only about 6 ways they can do that

  • growth of web usage (though many of those who are getting online today have a far lower disposable income than those who got on a decade or two ago did)
  • gain marketshare (very hard in search, given that they effectively are the market in most markets outside of a few countries like China & Russia)
  • create new inventory (new ad types on image search results, Google Maps & YouTube)
  • charge more for clicks
  • improve at targeting through better surveillance of web users (getting harder after GDPR & similar efforts from some states in the next year or two)
  • shift click streams away from organic toward paid channels (through larger ads, more interactive ad units, less appealing organic result formatting, pushing organic results below the fold, hiding organic results, etc.)

Six of One, Half-dozen of the Other

Wednesday both Expedia and TripAdvisor reported earnings after hours & both fell off a cliff: “Both Okerstrom and Kaufer complained that their organic, or free, links are ending up further down the page in Google search results as Google prioritizes its own travel businesses.”

Losing 20% to 25% of your market cap in a single day is an extreme move for a company worth billions of dollars.

Thursday Google hit fresh all time highs.

“Google’s old motto was ‘Don’t Be Evil’, but you can’t be this big and profitable and not be evil. Evil and all-time highs pretty much go hand in hand.” – Howard Lindzon

Booking held up much better than TripAdvisor & Expedia as they have a bigger footprint in Europe (where antitrust is a thing) and they have a higher reliance on paid search versus organic.

Frozen in Fear vs Fearless

The broader SEO industry is to some degree frozen by fear. Roughly half of SEOs claim to have not bought *ANY* links in a half-decade.

Long after most of the industry has stopped buying links some people still run the “paid links are a potential FTC violation guideline” line as though it is insightful and/or useful.

Ask the people carrying Google’s water what they think of the official FTC guidance on poor ad labeling in search results and you will hear the beautiful sound of crickets chirping.

Where is the ad labeling in this unit?

Does small gray text in the upper right corner stating “about these results” count as legitimate ad labeling?

And then when you scroll over that gray text and click on it you get “Some of these hotel search results may be personalized based on your browsing activity and recent searches on Google, as well as travel confirmations sent to your Gmail. Hotel prices come from Google’s partners.”

Ads, Scroll, Ads, Scroll, Ads…

Zooming out a bit further on the above ad unit to look at the entire search result page, we can now see the following:

  • 4 text ad units above the map
  • huge map which segments demand by price tier, current sales, luxury, average review, geographic location
  • organic results below the above wall of ads, and the number of organic search results has been reduced from 10 to 7

How many scrolls does one need to do to get past the above wall of ads?

If one clicks on one of the hotel prices the follow up page is … more ads.

Check out how the ad label is visually overwhelmed by a bright blue pop over.

Defund

It is worth noting Google Chrome has a built-in ad blocking feature which allows them to strip all ads from displaying on third party websites if they follow Google’s best practices layout used in the search results.

You won’t see ads on websites that have poor ad experiences, like:

  • Too many ads
  • Annoying ads with flashing graphics or autoplaying audio
  • Ad walls before you can see content

When these ads are blocked, you’ll see an “Intrusive ads blocked” message. Intrusive ads will be removed from the page.

The following 4 are all true:

And, as a bonus, to some paid links are a crime but Google can sponsor academic conferences for market regulators while requesting the payments not be disclosed.

Excessive Profits = Spam

Hotels have been at the forefront of SEO for many years. They drive massive revenues & were perhaps the only vertical ever referenced in the Google rater guidelines which explicitly stated all affiliate sites should be labeled as spam even if they are helpful to users.

Google has won most of the profits in the travel market & so they’ll need to eat other markets to continue their 20% annual growth.

As they grow, other markets disappear.

“It’s a bug that you could rank highly in Google without buying ads, and Google is trying to fix the bug.” – Googler John Rockway, January 31, 2012

Some people who market themselves as SEO experts not only recognize this trend but even encourage this sort of behavior:

Zoopla, Rightmove and On The Market are all dominant players in the industry, and many of their house and apartment listings are duplicated across the different property portals. This represents a very real reason for Google to step in and create a more streamlined service that will help users make a more informed decision. … The launch of Google Jobs should not have come as a surprise to anyone, and neither should its potential foray into real estate. Google will want to diversify its revenue channels as much as possible, and any market that allows it to do so will be in its sights. It is no longer a matter of if they succeed, but when.

If nobody is serving a market that is justification for entering it. If a market has many diverse players that is justification for entering it. If a market is dominated by a few strong players that is justification for entering it. All roads lead to the pile of money. 🙂

Extracting information from the ecosystem & diverting attention from other players while charging rising rents does not make the ecosystem stronger. Doing so does not help users make a more informed decision.

Information as a Vertical

The dominance Google has in core profitable vertical markets also exists in the news & general publishing categories. Some publishers get more traffic from Google Discover than from Google search. Publishers which try to turn off Google’s programmatic ads find their display ad revenues fall off a cliff:

“Nexstar Media Group Inc., the largest local news company in the U.S., recently tested what would happen if it stopped using Google’s technology to place ads on its websites. Over several days, the company’s video ad sales plummeted. “That’s a huge revenue hit,” said Tony Katsur, senior vice president at Nexstar. After its brief test, Nexstar switched back to Google.” … “Regulators who approved that $3.1 billion deal warned they would step in if the company tied together its offerings in anticompetitive ways. In interviews, dozens of publishing and advertising executives said Google is doing just that with an array of interwoven products.”

News is operating like many other (broken) markets. The Salt Lake Tribune converted to a nonprofit organization.

Many local markets have been consolidated down to ownership by a couple private equity shop roll ups looking to further consolidate the market. Gatehouse Media acquired Gannett & has a $1.8 billion mountain of debt to pay off.

McClatchy – the second largest domestic newspaper chain – may soon file for bankruptcy:

there’s some nuance in this new drama — one of many to come from the past decade’s conversion of news companies into financial instruments stripped of civic responsibility by waves of outside money men. After all, when we talk about newspaper companies, we typically use their corporate names — Gannett, GateHouse, McClatchy, MNG, Lee. But it’s at least as appropriate to use the names of the hedge funds, private equity companies, and other investment vehicles that own and control them.

The Washington Post – owned by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos – is creating an ad tech stack which serves other publishers & brands, though they also believe a reliance on advertiser & subscription revenue is unsustainable: “We are too beholden to just advertiser and subscriber revenue, and we’re completely out of our minds if we think that’s what’s going to be what carries us through the next generation of publishing. That’s very clear.”

Future Prospects

We are nearing inflection points in many markets where markets that seemed somewhat disconnected from search will still end up being dominated by Google. Gmail, Android, Web Analytics, Play Store, YouTube, Maps, Waze … are all additional points of leverage beyond the core search & ads products.

If all roads lead to money one can’t skip healthcare – now roughly 20% of the United States GDP.

Google scrubbed many alternative health sites from the search results. Some of them may have deserved it. Others were perhaps false positives.

Google wants to get into the healthcare market in a meaningful way. Google bought Fitbit and partnered with Ascension on a secret project gathering health information on over 50 million Americans.

Google is investing heavily in quantum computing. Google Fiber was a nothingburger to force competing ISPs into accelerating expensive network upgrades, but beaming in internet services from satellites will allow Google to bypass local politics, local regulations & heavy network infrastructure construction costs. A startup named Kepler recently provided high-bandwidth connectivity to the Arctic. When Google launches a free ISP there will be many knock on effects causing partners to long for the day where Google was only as predatory as they are today.

“Capitalism is an efficient system for surfacing and addressing the needs of consumers. But once it veers toward control over markets by a single entity, those benefits disappear.” – Seth Godin

Categories: 

Read More