SEO Articles

AMP'd Up for Recaptcha

Beyond search Google controls the leading distributed ad network, the leading mobile OS, the leading web browser, the leading email client, the leading web analytics platform, the leading free video hosting site.

They win a lot.

And they take winnings from one market & leverage them into manipulating adjacent markets.

Embrace. Extend. Extinguish.

AMP is an utterly unnecessary invention designed to further shift power to Google while disenfranchising publishers. From the very start it had many issues with basic things like supporting JavaScript, double counting unique users (no reason to fix broken stats if they drive adoption!), not supporting third party ad networks, not showing publisher domain names, and just generally being a useless layer of sunk cost technical overhead that provides literally no real value.

Over time they have corrected some of these catastrophic deficiencies, but if it provided real value, they wouldn’t have needed to force adoption with preferential placement in their search results. They force the bundling because AMP sucks.

Absurdity knows no bounds. Googlers suggest: “AMP isn’t another “channel” or “format” that’s somehow not the web. It’s not a SEO thing. It’s not a replacement for HTML. It’s a web component framework that can power your whole site. … We, the AMP team, want AMP to become a natural choice for modern web development of content websites, and for you to choose AMP as framework because it genuinely makes you more productive.”

Meanwhile some newspapers have about a dozen employees who work on re-formatting content for AMP:

The AMP development team now keeps track of whether AMP traffic drops suddenly, which might indicate pages are invalid, and it can react quickly.

All this adds expense, though. There are setup, development and maintenance costs associated with AMP, mostly in the form of time. After implementing AMP, the Guardian realized the project needed dedicated staff, so it created an 11-person team that works on AMP and other aspects of the site, drawing mostly from existing staff.

Feeeeeel the productivity!

Some content types (particularly user generated content) can be unpredictable & circuitous. For many years forums websites would use keywords embedded in the search referral to highlight relevant parts of the page. Keyword (not provided) largely destroyed that & then it became a competitive feature for AMP: “If the Featured Snippet links to an AMP article, Google will sometimes automatically scroll users to that section and highlight the answer in orange.”

That would perhaps be a single area where AMP was more efficient than the alternative. But it is only so because Google destroyed the alternative by stripping keyword referrers from search queries.

The power dynamics of AMP are ugly:

“I see them as part of the effort to normalise the use of the AMP Carousel, which is an anti-competitive land-grab for the web by an organisation that seems to have an insatiable appetite for consuming the web, probably ultimately to it’s own detriment. … This enables Google to continue to exist after the destination site (eg the New York Times) has been navigated to. Essentially it flips the parent-child relationship to be the other way around. … As soon as a publisher blesses a piece of content by packaging it (they have to opt in to this, but see coercion below), they totally lose control of its distribution. … I’m not that smart, so it’s surely possible to figure out other ways of making a preload possible without cutting off the content creator from the people consuming their content. … The web is open and decentralised. We spend a lot of time valuing the first of these concepts, but almost none trying to defend the second. Google knows, perhaps better than anyone, how being in control of the user is the most monetisable position, and having the deepest pockets and the most powerful platform to do so, they have very successfully inserted themselves into my relationship with millions of other websites. … In AMP, the support for paywalls is based on a recommendation that the premium content be included in the source of the page regardless of the user’s authorisation state. … These policies demonstrate contempt for others’ right to freely operate their businesses.

After enough publishers adopted AMP Google was able to turn their mobile app’s homepage into an interactive news feed below the search box. And inside that news feed Google gets to distribute MOAR ads while 0% of the revenue from those ads find its way to the publishers whose content is used to make up the feed.

Appropriate appropriation. 😀

Thank you for your content!!!

The mainstream media is waking up to AMP being a trap, but their neck is already in it:

European and American tech, media and publishing companies, including some that originally embraced AMP, are complaining that the Google-backed technology, which loads article pages in the blink of an eye on smartphones, is cementing the search giant’s dominance on the mobile web.

Each additional layer of technical cruft is another cost center. Things that sound appealing at first blush may not be:

The way you verify your identity to Let’s Encrypt is the same as with other certificate authorities: you don’t really. You place a file somewhere on your website, and they access that file over plain HTTP to verify that you own the website. The one attack that signed certificates are meant to prevent is a man-in-the-middle attack. But if someone is able to perform a man-in-the-middle attack against your website, then he can intercept the certificate verification, too. In other words, Let’s Encrypt certificates don’t stop the one thing they’re supposed to stop. And, as always with the certificate authorities, a thousand murderous theocracies, advertising companies, and international spy organizations are allowed to impersonate you by design.

Anything that is easy to implement & widely marketed often has costs added to it in the future as the entity moves to monetize the service.

This is a private equity firm buying up multiple hosting control panels & then adjusting prices.

This is Google Maps drastically changing their API terms.

This is Facebook charging you for likes to build an audience, giving your competitors access to those likes as an addressable audience to advertise against, and then charging you once more to boost the reach of your posts.

This is Grubhub creating shadow websites on your behalf and charging you for every transaction created by the gravity of your brand.

Shivane believes GrubHub purchased her restaurant’s web domain to prevent her from building her own online presence. She also believes the company may have had a special interest in owning her name because she processes a high volume of orders. … it appears GrubHub has set up several generic, templated pages that look like real restaurant websites but in fact link only to GrubHub. These pages also display phone numbers that GrubHub controls. The calls are forwarded to the restaurant, but the platform records each one and charges the restaurant a commission fee for every order

Settling for the easiest option drives a lack of differentiation, embeds additional risk & once the dominant player has enough marketshare they’ll change the terms on you.

Small gains in short term margins for massive increases in fragility.

“Closed platforms increase the chunk size of competition & increase the cost of market entry, so people who have good ideas, it is a lot more expensive for their productivity to be monetized. They also don’t like standardization … it looks like rent seeking behaviors on top of friction” – Gabe Newell

The other big issue is platforms that run out of growth space in their core market may break integrations with adjacent service providers as each want to grow by eating the other’s market.

Those who look at SaaS business models through the eyes of a seasoned investor will better understand how markets are likely to change:

“I’d argue that many of today’s anointed tech “disruptors” are doing little in the way of true disruption. … When investors used to get excited about a SAAS company, they typically would be describing a hosted multi-tenant subscription-billed piece of software that was replacing a ‘legacy’ on-premise perpetual license solution in the same target market (i.e. ERP, HCM, CRM, etc.). Today, the terms SAAS and Cloud essentially describe the business models of every single public software company.

Most platform companies are initially required to operate at low margins in order to buy growth of their category & own their category. Then when they are valued on that, they quickly need to jump across to adjacent markets to grow into the valuation:

Twilio has no choice but to climb up the application stack. This is a company whose ‘disruption’ is essentially great API documentation and gangbuster SEO spend built on top of a highly commoditized telephony aggregation API. They have won by marketing to DevOps engineers. With all the hype around them, you’d think Twilio invented the telephony API, when in reality what they did was turn it into a product company. Nobody had thought of doing this let alone that this could turn into a $17 billion company because simply put the economics don’t work. And to be clear they still don’t. But Twilio’s genius CEO clearly gets this. If the market is going to value robocalls, emergency sms notifications, on-call pages, and carrier fee passed through related revenue growth in the same way it does ‘subscription’ revenue from Atlassian or ServiceNow, then take advantage of it while it lasts.

Large platforms offering temporary subsidies to ensure they dominate their categories & companies like SoftBank spraying capital across the markets is causing massive shifts in valuations:

I also think if you look closely at what is celebrated today as innovation you often find models built on hidden subsidies. … I’d argue the very distributed nature of microservices architecture and API-first product companies means addressable market sizes and unit economics assumptions should be even more carefully scrutinized. … How hard would it be to create an Alibaba today if someone like SoftBank was raining money into such a greenfield space? Excess capital would lead to destruction and likely subpar returns. If capital was the solution, the 1.5 trillion that went into telcos in late ’90s wouldn’t have led to a massive bust. Would a Netflix be what it is today if a SoftBank was pouring billions into streaming content startups right as the experiment was starting? Obviously not. Scarcity of capital is another often underappreciated part of the disruption equation. Knowing resources are finite leads to more robust models. … This convergence is starting to manifest itself in performance. Disney is up 30% over the last 12 months while Netflix is basically flat. This may not feel like a bubble sign to most investors, but from my standpoint, it’s a clear evidence of the fact that we are approaching a something has got to give moment for the way certain businesses are valued.”

Circling back to Google’s AMP, it has a cousin called Recaptcha.

Recaptcha is another AMP-like trojan horse:

According to tech statistics website Built With, more than 650,000 websites are already using reCaptcha v3; overall, there are at least 4.5 million websites use reCaptcha, including 25% of the top 10,000 sites. Google is also now testing an enterprise version of reCaptcha v3, where Google creates a customized reCaptcha for enterprises that are looking for more granular data about users’ risk levels to protect their site algorithms from malicious users and bots. … According to two security researchers who’ve studied reCaptcha, one of the ways that Google determines whether you’re a malicious user or not is whether you already have a Google cookie installed on your browser. … To make this risk-score system work accurately, website administrators are supposed to embed reCaptcha v3 code on all of the pages of their website, not just on forms or log-in pages.

About a month ago when logging into Bing Ads I saw recaptcha on the login page & couldn’t believe they’d give Google control at that access point. I think they got rid of that, but lots of companies are perhaps shooting themselves in the foot through a combination of over-reliance on Google infrastructure AND sloppy implementation

Today when making a purchase on Fiverr, after converting, I got some of this action

Hmm. Maybe I will enable JavaScript and try again.


That is called snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

My account is many years old. My payment type on record has been used for years. I have ordered from the particular seller about a dozen times over the years. And suddenly because my web browser had JavaScript turned off I was deemed a security risk of some sort for making an utterly ordinary transaction I have already completed about a dozen times.

On AMP JavaScript was the devil. And on desktop not JavaScript was the devil.

Pro tip: Ecommerce websites that see substandard conversion rates from using Recaptcha can boost their overall ecommerce revenue by buying more Google AdWords ads.

As more of the infrastructure stack is driven by AI software there is going to be a very real opportunity for many people to become deplatformed across the web on an utterly arbitrary basis. That tech companies like Facebook also want to create digital currencies on top of the leverage they already have only makes the proposition that much scarier.

If the tech platforms host copies of our sites, process the transactions & even create their own currencies, how will we know what level of value they are adding versus what they are extracting?

Who measures the measurer?

And when the economics turn negative, what will we do if we are hooked into an ecosystem we can’t spend additional capital to get out of when things head south?


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The Future of SEO – How Google Search Has Changed in 2019 & How It Affects You

Even though the year is not over yet, there have been some big changes in Google search in 2019 that have already impacted on the results and the user, along with all the SEO agencies and companies. 


The future of search looks like it will have actually less search, as weird as that might sound. Google performed lots of changes in SERP, lots of algorithms and features were added and updated, which make things even more complex. While in some countries Google search lacks in optimization, other countries experience major fluctuations. 


How Google Search changed in 2019


That being said, we’ve searched through our memories and the web to understand how Google has changed in 2019 so far and here are the top highlights:


  1. Pick up Where You Left off on Search
  2. Confirmed Broad Core Update in March 
  3. New Way to Explore Information with Google Discover
  4. Enriching Search Results Through Structured Data
  5. Mobile-First Indexing by Default for New Domains
  6. The June 2019 Core Update
  7. The Site Diversity Update Roll Out
  8. Navigate the Search More Easily and Safer


Last year alone, Google performed 3,200 changes to their system, including features and regular updates meant to keep the results relevant. Moreover, they say evolution is the key to face the changes. 


“Sometimes the web just evolved. Sometimes what users expect evolves and similarly, sometimes our algorithms are, the way that we try to determine relevance, they evolve as well.”
John Mueller SEO John Mueller
Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google

1.  Pick up Where You Left off on Search


Right at the beginning of the year, Google added a new feature that helped users who perform mobile searches and launched activity cards to help users pick up where they left off. For example, if you look for search queries such as clean eating receipts or clean eating diets and you are logged into your Google account, you’ll be able to find an activity card at the top of the results page. That way, it provides easy access and it is a handful way to continue exploring and read your previous searches. 


You’ll only be able to see the pages you’ve visited, along with the searches you’ve made. You can either click on the pages that you viewed before or perform another search to discover other aspects to that topic. That way, you can pick up where you left off on Google search.


Moreover, you can bookmark a specific receipt and add it to your collection for future reference. Your collection can be accessed by looking in your menu on the top left of the Search page or through the bottom bar of Google app. You can have as many collections as you want. 


Save Google search in your account


Easily edit your search activity and card by deleting pages or turning them off by tapping the three-dot icon. 


The change performed by Google using this method was desired to make search history more accessible and more useful, help users follow their interests, build new habits, keep up with their tasks and keep valuable information on sight. 


2. Confirmed Broad Core Update in March 


The first confirmed update of this year from Google happened on March 13. Initially, the name was Florida 2.0, but Google themselves named this update Google March 2019 Core Update. The unlucky 13 came on a Wednesday. 


The updates could be spotted using cognitiveSEO signals, by looking at the chart. In case there are big fluctuations, marked with red bars, that means there are possible updates.  Below you can see a printscreen from the tool how the core update looked right on that day.


SERP fluctuations March 13 cognitiveSEO signals



Google made it official on Twitter, where you can see the whole thread and the discussions on the topic: 



While Google performs lots of focused updates nearly daily, there are some broad algorithm updates that happen several times per year. This update was about quality, designed to improve the overall results with no other specific details. 


For every site that was impacted by that, there’s nothing they can do to fix it. Apparently, that’s what Google SearchLiaison said through a tweet. Building great content should be everyone’s mantra. Link building, social media marketing, online presence also matters in the SEO industry; so things remain the same. 


There’s no “fix” for pages that may perform less well other than to remain focused on building great content. Over time, it may be that your content may rise relative to other pages.
Google logo Google SearchLiaison


Since content is mentioned, most probably it was a content related update, focusing on the quality it provides for the user. To stay ahead of competitors you should always search for the opportunity to deliver great content that becomes viral. Look for trends and evergreen content. With this in mind, ranking in Google will look like a gamble. Personalization and localization will become crucial and your focus will change upon that.


3. New Way to Explore Information with Google Discover


Named Google Feed when it was first released and later Google Discover a few months ago, the tool was planned to surface relevant content to the users, even when they’re not searching. The product is used by more than 800 million people each month to stay up to date. 


Google Discover works very smoothly based on preferences, by following certain topics, customer’s behavior and search history. The tool recommends your content related to anything you might be interested such as sports, TV shows, actors, public personalities, brands, flights, travel, weather info and may more.


feed follow for blog newest


Google Discover can have major implications on how the user will interact with search and web. Since a user can personalize its search and select only the things that interest them, the Google Search itself might lose some of the popularity. With that in mind, a business will not compete to be in the first 10 positions to win the user’s heart, but rather in the top 1-3 (at max) because that is the number of results a user sees on a mobile screen when performing a search.


So, when a user searches for a topic, Google looks at the pattern for each user and tries to understand the subtopics related to each other. Based on the data collected, Google Discover will surface relevant topic that might interest the user next, predicting their future search. 


Discover is one step ahead. 


Discover has a lot of potential and it might change user behavior regarding online searching and information consumption.


4. Enriching Search Results Through Structured Data & Search Console


Google has always encouraged websites to add markup to their content for the search engines to understand better what that’s about. Implementing structured data on your website will probably offer you the chance to receive an enhanced appearance in Google search results. 


In 2019, Google is pushing website owners to use more structured data for highlighting all sort of content and achieve more goals through a lot of great new features:

  • Increase brand awareness: for logo, local business, and sitelinks search box.
  • Markup your content for more traffic: for articles, breadcrumbs, events, jobs, Q&A, recipes, reviews.
  • Highlight products on SERP for conversions: for price, availability, and review ratings.


Which such a big range of content that you can use structured data for, the SERP has definitely changed. The newest additions to the list are structured data for FAQ and “How-to” type of content. For example, “how-to” content can be highlighted, by adding structured data to the steps, tools, duration, and other properties. Take a look at the example below:


Ho to make slime rich snippets


 There is detailed how-to documentation and FAQ provided by Google to help you to perform a correct setup. Explore Google’s search gallery and look at the right documentation for each element. 


Moreover, you can build how-to guides actions and FAQ answers with markup for Google Assistant, which means that how-to & FAQ answers can also be surfaced on the Google Assistant. Take a look at the example below:


FAQ-Google Assistant


All the structured data can be supported both on Google Search and Google Assistant and in Search Console, where you can see reports and monitor your website’s performance. 


In case there are some errors and Google Search Console detects some issues you’ll see them on the Enhancements report. 


Enhancements report for Structured data issues


The Structured data reporting from GSC has lots of advantages and allows you to review errors, warnings and valid items, plus the pages associated with such issues.


5. Mobile-First Indexing by Default for New Domains


This year, at the end of May, Google announced that as of June 1, 2019 mobile-first indexing was enabled by default for all new websites. On that day, it became official that websites should present the same content to users and search engines for both mobile and desktop devices. 


At the time we even wrote a 5 steps guideline to help website upgrade their mobile search engine optimization efforts and be prepared for the change. 


Mobile-first indexing notification


You can check any link from your website in Google Search Console using the URL Inspection Tool in Search Console. Doing so, you’ll see how it was crawled and indexed.


Googlebot smartphone


With this Mobile-First Indexing launching, Google search is changing, showing the same content on mobile and desktop, forcing sites to comply for them to keep their rankings (for both mobile and desktop). For newly designed websites Google is determining them to check factors such as parity of content (including text, images, videos, links), structured data, and other meta-data (such as titles and descriptions, robots meta tags) to comply with mobile-first indexing. 


As mentioned before, Google recommends websites to be mobile friendly and keeps encouraging responsive web design. Since mobile-first indexing has been running websites, should use a single URL for both desktop and mobile websites.


6. The June 2019 Core Update


Google announced on Twitter that a core update was rolling out on June 3, 2019. Similar to the update from March, it is part of the several broad core algorithm updates.



While Google hasn’t made any official statements on the following update, John Mueller said that core update encompasses a broader range of ranking factors. As he said, that there’s nothing specific to fix, lots of websites experienced ranking drops. You can hear what he specifically said in the Webmaster Central office-hours hangout when a user asked him about the update:


I think it’s a bit tricky because we’re not focusing on something very specific where we’d say like for example when we rolled out the speed update.

(…)Sometimes the web just evolved. Sometimes what users expect evolves and similarly, sometimes our algorithms are, the way that we try to determine relevance, they evolve as well.

John Mueller SEO John Mueller
Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google


He reminds about a blog post written by Amit Singhal, formerly the head of Google’s Search team for 15 years, about the quality of the website which can really help the users in situations like these. 


To understand a little better the situation, use cognitiveSEO signals and look at the fluctuations. Below is a printscreen with the evolution of search when the Google update was released. 


cognitiveSEO signals June Algortihm update devices


I looked for rankings changes for sites that had ranking changes by at least 3 positions on desktop, mobile and local rankings for the first page of Google Search Engine for the US market. cognitiveSEO signals monitor over 170.000 randomly selected keywords for both desktop, mobile and local rankings to offer valuable insights of what happens in Google so you can spot significant fluctuations.


7. The Site Diversity Update Roll Out


Right after the June 2019 Core Update, Google rolled out the Site Diversity update which is completely different and completely unrelated. This update was created in the interest of the user so they won’t see more than two listings from the same site in the top results. In the screenshot below you can see the top search results for “create dental website” where has two search results. 


Website that dominates SERP


Google explains that there might be situations where you could see more than two search results in Google when their systems determine that it is relevant to do so for a particular search. Whether it is content, website speed, Rank Brain, conversion rate optimization or any other factor, Google’s algorithm will decide what to show. The good thing is that it is improving and refined in order to offer more relevant results. 



It will be a while maybe until this update works wanders because there are still people who see more than two results from a website in Google search engine’s top results, as you can see if you look people’s tweets. 


Danny Sullivan, Google’s public Search Liaison, says will affect only main listings though:



8. Navigate the Search More Easily and Safer


Continuing with diversity in SERP, Google wants to show more types of content including featured snippets with the results that might interest you, answers box, Knowledge Panels which can help you find key information or predict your searches using Autocomplete. 


Their search results page doesn’t look like what we used to know, with a list of blue links and some ads. Now it is more personalized, offering information from lots of sources in all sorts of form: video content, visual content and text to connect you with useful information as quickly as possible.


If you look at the example below, you have lots of information above the fold allowing you to perform as fewest actions as possible and see everything with one click or two. 


Stranger things search results




Ask for a new pair of eyes to look at your website to review it and find out new ways of improvement. Moreover, look together at who is searching through your website to find out what they are looking for, the flow. Evaluate user experience by looking at the user’s behavior. All these insights are a good exercise for you to understand the user better. 


If the user is changing, their behavior will change, and therefore search will change. In this equation, your website should be changed -> improved. The search engine optimization role in the future of search gets even more complicated. Google for sure is shaping the future of SEO. 

The post The Future of SEO – How Google Search Has Changed in 2019 & How It Affects You appeared first on SEO Blog | cognitiveSEO Blog on SEO Tactics & Strategies.

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Empathetic Consulting: 3 Things to Remember When Working With Other Teams

Posted by LaurelTaylor

Whether you consult with teams within your company or with outside clients, the chances are fairly high that at least once, you’ve left a meeting frustrated by the actions of others, even asking yourself: “why would they do that?”

It’s easy to walk into a project thinking of it as a simple matter of “they brought me in to fix a problem.” But the reality is rarely so simple. Consulting with other teams always entails organizational and emotional nuance that you may not be privy to.

Every interpersonal relationship is unique, and hopefully the circumstances I’m discussing won’t apply to many engagements or projects you take part in. However, when you do end up in a difficult consulting situation, it’s helpful to have a bit of empathy for those you’re working with.

I’ve found that remembering these 3 points can help me put myself in the shoes of my point of contact and interact with them in a way that is sensitive to what they may be dealing within their environment.

1. Your point of contact may not have asked for your help

It is entirely possible that the person you are trying to help may not want to be helped.

Management has its own ideas sometimes and internal communication isn’t always perfect at any company. This can lead to situations where your point of contact may feel defensive, especially if their job functions seem like they might cover what you are consulting on. The best intentions of a manager who wants to help by bringing in more resources may look like distrust or undermining to the employee who didn’t get a say.

At one point during my stint as an in-house SEO, I actually found myself in this exact position. Leadership brought in an outside agency to help with SEO during a domain migration, and while their intentions may have been to provide more help, they didn’t effectively communicate that to me.

As a result, since I was the one who was responsible for that area, it made me feel insecure about how management viewed me and my skills. I was lucky enough to work with a great consultant who was able to support me and help move forward the many projects that were already in-flight. But because I initially felt like they were undermining my credibility by being involved in the first place, it took a while to build that trust and be able to get things done effectively.

The best way to deal with this potential issue is to ensure that you respect the context and institutional knowledge that the team you are helping possesses. Work to have a collaborative relationship instead of an authoritative one. The more context and communication you have, the better the recommendations you can contribute.

2. If they did ask for help, they may be feeling vulnerable or insecure

Step back for a second and think about why a team might bring in an outside consultant, to begin with. There are tons of specific issues they could need assistance with, but all of this boils down to a problem that they presumably want or need help to solve — a problem that they couldn’t solve on their own. Regardless of whether they couldn’t solve it because of knowledge, resources, or even office politics, your contributions add something that they couldn’t contribute themselves — and that can be hard to deal with.

This isn’t something that needs to be discussed with the client or another team, but it is something that you should acknowledge and keep front-of-mind when you communicate with them. Respect the vulnerability of seeking out help, and appreciate the trust that they have placed in you.

3. Your client is accountable for the results of their project

When planning a long-term strategy, making tactical recommendations, or accessing the results of a marketing campaign that you helped execute, it’s easy to feel invested or accountable for the results of a project. However, it’s important to remember that your point of contact is usually far more accountable for results than you are. Their job, success, and emotions are all on the line much more than yours.

As an outside subject matter expert, your job is to give them all the information and resources to make the best decision. At the end of the day, the choice is theirs. I know how hard it can be to see your recommendations or projects rejected, but it’s important to try not to take it personally if they, having all the facts, make what they believe to be the best decision.

If they seem like they are questioning everything you say, maybe it’s because they want to be 100 percent sure it’s the best approach. Perhaps their micromanaging comes from a place of good intentions — just wanting to follow through and get the best outcome with every aspect of a project. Even what can come off as argumentative or difficult could be them playing devils advocate to ensure that everything has been considered.

Wrapping up

All this being said, perhaps none of these circumstances apply to the client that you are finding it hard to work with. People can have bad days, hard years, or even just generally prickly dispositions. But more empathy and compassion in the world is never a bad thing. So, I would encourage anyone who works with other teams to avoid the impulse to judge a harsh response, and instead, consider what may be behind it.

Have you ever been faced with a complicated consulting situation? Share what helped you navigate it in the comments below!

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Guide to call tracking and the power of AI for analyzing phone data

Invoca, an AI-powered call tracking platform, published their Call Tracking Study Guide in March of this year. The in-depth guide demystifies call tracking technology and reviews how call tracking tools help marketers connect digital campaign data to inbound customer phone calls.

Call tracking is a powerful way for marketers to understand exactly where phone calls are coming from with granularity that, for the most robust tools, can extend down to the keyword level. This data helps reveal what platforms, publishers, keywords, and channels drive high-intent customers to call and can help marketers create a more informed media allocation strategy. 

Content produced in collaboration with Invoca.

Call tracking 101: A brief introduction

Invoca uses a snippet of JavaScript code placed on your website to track calls. After the code snippet is placed on the landing page, it swaps out your standard business phone number with a trackable, dynamic phone number which is unique to each website visitor. 

The tag also captures various referrer elements such as utm source, medium, paid search keyword and Google click ID—this is what enables Invoca to connect user data to phone calls.

Example of dynamic tracking phone numbers on a landing page

Example of dynamic tracking phone numbers on a landing page—source: Invoca

When the tracking number is called, the platform can also route the caller to the appropriate person or call center depending on what marketing content they are viewing, reducing time on hold and call transfers. Data is collected based on the specific call number which can include caller information, keyword, referrer type (e.g., banner ad, search ad, or social media ad) and referral source (e.g., Google, Facebook, etc.) which can also be used to inform the call center and create a highly personalized experience for the caller.

Example of referral data info in Invoca

Example of referral data info in Invoca

Not all call tracking tools are created equal

There is a large selection of call tracking tools on the market that range from basic to advanced in terms of features and functionality. 

Basic tools provide limited data to marketers, but they ignore the larger customer journey and tend to focus on last-touch attribution (e.g., making it difficult or impossible to determine where the call came from).

Some metrics a basic tool might track include:

  • Call volume
  • Call time and duration
  • Caller information
  • Basic campaign attribution

These tools provide some sense of campaign performance, but fail to tell the full story that can be gleaned when connecting analytics platforms (e.g. Google Analytics) to call information. 

More advanced AI-powered call tracking tools like Invoca aim to bridge that gap, while also automating some marketing actions after the call takes place. 

Advanced capabilities that AI-powered call tracking tools provide include:

  • Touchpoint attribution—Tie a call back to its source such e.g. paid search or social
  • Data unification—Integrate with multiple online (and offline) sources such as CRM tools
  • Data analysis—Use AI to analyze phone conversations and provide insight on call drivers, behaviors and outcomes
  • Marketing integration—Push data to the marketing stack for automation, optimization, analysis and more

The end result—and key benefit—of implementing an advanced call tracking tool is to gain valuable insight about campaign performance and attribution. 

Call tracking 201: AI and machine learning 

Martech companies are increasingly powering their technology with AI-driven platforms. AI enables marketers to gain intelligence quickly and make better-informed decisions. This trend bridges multiple industries, as shown in the graphic below. 

Companies that utilize or provide AI technology for enterprises

Companies that utilize or provide AI technology—source: TOPBOTS

Invoca uses Signal AI to help measure and attribute online conversions by mining data from the phone conversations themselves, freeing up valuable time for marketers who no longer have to listen to every call.

Signal AI uses AI to detect intent and patterns in language to provide actionable insights and conversion data (sale made, appointment set, etc.) for marketers. This is accomplished through a series of steps that start with the recorded conversation, transcribing the call into text which can then be analyzed by an algorithm, identifying key patterns, phrases, and actions, and pushing these insights to your marketing stack. Here’s a visual of what that looks like. Note that Invoca does not save call transcripts and is HIPAA and PCI compliant, an important distinction for marketers concerned with data privacy.

Image source: Invoca

Signal AI uses machine learning, an application of AI, which gives machines access to the data so that they can learn from it. AI works in conjunction with machine learning to provide actionable and accessible data to marketers—but marketers still need to review this data and make decisions based on their own observations and conclusions.

Invoca offers two versions of Signal AI to their call tracking clients. Pre-trained AI uses industry-based predictive models that have been “pre-trained” using thousands of hours of call data.

Custom AI is more appropriate for certain businesses, such as those with high volumes of calls or sophisticated data needs. This more complex option takes longer to create and implement, however, it can help certain businesses predict call outcomes with a higher degree of accuracy.

Debunking some common assumptions 

Skeptics may think that humans can classify calls more efficiently and accurately than AI, but the truth is the opposite. AI learns over time and it never gets tired, so it’s an effective and accurate way to classify calls without bias. Here are some other call tracking myths, debunked:

  • It’s hard to set up AI-based call tracking—Pre-trained AI models take the guesswork out of setup for certain industries such as insurance and can identify the most common outcomes (e.g., product purchased).
  • All AI-based call tracking is the same—False! Invoca’s Signal AI uses predictive analytics (rather than just transcription) and continues to learn. It also provides performance scoring for easy reference.
  • Only big companies can afford AI-based call tracking—Wrong again. Invoca is tag-based and easy to implement. You don’t need a dedicated IT team or programmer to get up and running.

Clear strategy and clean data

The true power of AI-based call tracking is, in a word, attribution. It’s the ability to unify call data across multiple sources and attribute it to all consumer touchpoints.

Invoca does this by collecting data from multiple sources: campaign and website data, first-party data (e.g., pulled from your CRM), third-party demographic data, call data such as length, time and location of call, and conversational data (derived from speech analysis).

Once all the available data is unified, Invoca’s technology determines the value of the call by analyzing the spoken conversations within the calls. Invoca’s AI synthesizes various word patterns (e.g., “I’m almost ready to buy, but I’m waiting for XYZ to happen”) and then classifies them into useful datasets.

Signal AI helps predict the type of call (e.g., sales, service, complaint) which allows marketers to optimize media placements, ad content, and more. This level of analysis can also help inform the call experience itself by identifying issues that may frustrate callers.

Connecting call data to campaign data can help in other ways too. For example, marketers can use call information for ad suppression, making sure customers don’t see offers for something they’ve already purchased or retargeting ads to people who called but didn’t make a purchase.

Tying it all together

One of the most powerful features of the more robust, high-end call-tracking tools like Invoca is the ability for them to integrate with existing marketing platforms like Google Analytics, Adobe Experience Cloud, and Salesforce. 

This gives marketers a clear picture of where their customers are at every step of the journey. It closes the attribution loop, allowing you to demonstrate what’s working from an ROI standpoint, a metric that’s key when it comes time for approval and budget allocation.

When considering implementing a tool like Invoca, the bottom line is always the top priority—will we make money with this martech investment?

Invoca customers have seen up to 60% increase in conversions when implementing the tool (without any additional media spend), an important consideration when factoring in ROI.

The Invoca Call Tracking Guide covers all this including what questions to ask vendors when considering a new tool and what to consider when shopping for a call tracking solution.

To learn more about call tracking technology from functionality to  implementation and how call tracking can help with campaign optimization and attribution, download Invoca’s whitepaper, “The Call Tracking Study Guide for Marketers.”

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The ABCs of Video Content: How to Build a Video Marketing Strategy

Posted by getsprunk

Take a moment to think about how you’ve used the internet today. Which posts made you stop scrolling through your Instagram feed? What webpages did you spend the most time on? What content did you enjoy?

If you’re like most of us, there’s a good chance that videos played a factor in your answers to all three of those questions. So it’s no surprise that marketing experts have been encouraging brands to use more video for years now.

Despite all this hype, many small to medium brands still use very few videos in their marketing, if they use any at all. In our experiences with clients, we’ve seen companies struggle in four major areas:

  • Budget. Some companies don’t believe that video marketing can generate real results, but many simply assume they can’t afford it.
  • Talent. Most small marketing teams don’t have people experienced with creating or starring in videos.
  • Buy-in. Companies that use video well have many people across the organization committed to leveraging video content, including leadership, salespeople, customer service representatives, and subject-matter experts. But achieving this level of buy-in across an organization can be very difficult.
  • Consistency. While many brands have figured out how to produce frequent and consistent written content, few have figured out how to do so with video.

With challenges this significant, it’s no wonder why most brands still don’t include video as a major component of their marketing efforts. The good news is that these barriers to entry give you an opportunity to beat your competitors to the punch – but that window is closing quickly.

To help our clients reap everything video marketing has to offer, we’ve put together a framework that makes building a video marketing strategy much easier to approach and manage.

The ABCs of video content

The first thing that must happen before a marketing team can successfully use video in today’s world is usually a mental shift: If your marketing team or company leadership thinks about producing video the same way they did a decade ago, it will be very difficult to create enough video content to truly make a difference because you’ll constantly face the challenges mentioned above.

The greatest thing about creating video content today is that it doesn’t always have to be this large-scale production. The days of spending thousands of dollars and weeks of time on every video you create are officially over.

We believe that every brand needs a strong mix of video content across three levels: A-level, B-level, and C-level.

A-level video content

A-level videos are the videos that most brands are already used to creating. These videos are polished and well-produced, and therefore the most expensive to create. If your company has ever created a television commercial or a brand overview video for your website, it was probably an A-level video.

A-level videos work best when you need to create a strong impression on the viewer. If it’s the first time someone is interacting with your brand or another situation when you need to convey that your company is professional and credible, an A-level video will likely work best. This is what makes them great for commercials, product videos, and company overviews.

Don’t use A-level videos when your primary goal is to convey authenticity or build a relationship with your viewer. A-level videos also aren’t cost-effective for most brands to use as consistent, regular video content to support your social media, video SEO, email communications, or blog.

A brand will need much fewer A-level videos than B or C. As such, the key to getting the most from your investment in A-level video content is repurposing. You should always consider how you can use clips or footage from your A-level content for things like social media posts, presentations, across your website, or as a quick way to add a little polish to a B or C-level video.

To create A-level videos, most brands will need to work with a third party video company or marketing agency. These videos will be scripted, shot with high-end cameras by people who really know how to use them, will often feature paid on-camera talent, and will be professionally edited. 

Examples of A-level video content include this one from Slack, Kohler Industries, or Apple, below:

B-level video content

When a brand produces high volumes of video content, the majority of it is usually B-level. These videos are planned, but not perfect. Most of the how-to videos and vlogs you watch would fit into this category.

B-level videos work great when your goal is to build a relationship with your video viewers because they allow you to show more authenticity than A-level videos, and their lower cost makes them perfect for a consistent video strategy. This level works well for educational content, social media videos, a video series, team or personal intro videos, simple product demos, and video testimonials.

The best thing about B-level videos is that they can often be created by your own staff. Even if you decide to outsource them, they will be much cheaper than A-level videos because you can produce multiple videos at the same time or engage a third-party for just one part of the production process, such as editing.

To create a B-level video, all you’ll need is a basic script outline (bullet points work great), someone on your staff willing to get on camera, some basic video equipment, and an entry-level video editing program. If you don’t have people on your staff who are comfortable shooting video from a smartphone and editing it together, we recommend seeking training or considering hiring a student or recent graduate with those skills.

The keys to success with B-level videos are authenticity, volume, and consistency.

  • Authenticity. Brands that achieve success with these videos aren’t worried about memorizing lines and being perfect on camera. You’d be amazed at how much the occasional “um” will make you sound more human and help you connect with your audience. With that said, you do want to feature someone who is comfortable on camera, even if it takes them some practice to get there.
  • Volume. As long as you’re creating valuable content, the more videos you have, the better.
  • Consistency. Just like with a blog, magazine, or newsletter, publishing videos at a consistent interval allows you to more easily build an engaged audience of return viewers.

Examples of B-level video include this one from Solo, Simple Strat (hi!), and Moz, below: 

C-level video content

This is the level where brands can really connect with their audience and stand out from the competition. C-level videos are raw, unpolished, and extremely effective in humanizing your brand and the team behind it.

To create a C-level video, all you need to do is pull out your cell phone or turn on your webcam, press record, and start talking. You may want to prepare a few quick bullet points of what you’re going to talk about, but even that is often unnecessary. These videos are great for sharing lessons on-location from industry events, making key employees shine on their social media channels, helping your salespeople stand out in their prospects’ email inboxes, and adding a personal touch to your customer service communications.

The most powerful aspects of C-level videos are that they can be personalized for individual people and they can help you get information out in almost realtime. You can use them to pack an extra punch in any email you send or to share lessons as you learn them or think about them — which is often when you’re most passionate about them and before the competition has a chance to talk about them.

C-level videos still require good lighting and audio quality, so we do recommend purchasing a cheap portable light and lapel microphone, but you can easily get everything you need for under $50. These videos don’t require anyone else to shoot them, and you often don’t need to do any editing beyond occasionally cutting out or combining a couple of video clips.

C-level video examples include this one from Gary Vaynerchuk, this one from Ali Schwanke, and Vidyard, below:
 Richard + James – Social Selling Mastery for you

Putting it all together

Now that you know the different levels of video content you’ll need, it’s time to put together your plan. Thinking about these levels as you begin to determine your video topics and schedules will make it easier to determine the resources you’ll need, your ideal number and frequency of videos, and how each video will fit into your larger marketing strategy and goals. Just remember your ABCs and get ready to experience the difference that video will make for your brand.

Are you currently working on a video marketing strategy for the year? What have you found useful (or not) so far?

<a class="embedly-card" data-card-via="" href="… + James – Social Selling Mastery for you

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Merkle: Google ad growth slowed, Microsoft gained with Yahoo in Q2

Ad spend growth on Google search ads slowed while desktop spend on Microsoft Advertising had its strongest quarter in more than three years in the second quarter of 2019, according to performance agency Merkle.

Verizon Media inventory bump. Microsoft Advertising’s gain came in large part from its deal with Verizon Media to handle all search ad inventory across its properties, including Yahoo, Merkle reported. That meant a loss for Google, which had been serving Yahoo shopping ads since 2016. The transition to Microsoft Advertising (formerly Bing Ads), announced in January, was largely completed by the end of March.

U.S. spending on Microsoft Advertising shopping ads grew by 54% year-over-year. Overall, Microsoft Advertising spend grew 8% year-over-year compared to the combined results of Bing Ads and Yahoo Gemini the prior year, reversing two consecutive quarters of negative growth.

Slower Google Shopping spend growth. Google Shopping spend grew 38%, a deceleration from 41% in the first quarter of 2019. “Yahoo dropping Google’s ads in favor of Bing Product Ads at the end of Q1 appears to have had a meaningful impact,” said Merkle.

Overall search spend growth steady at 14%. Among Merkle’s client base, which skews large retailer, US search spend increased by 14% year-over-year in the second quarter of 2019. Microsoft Advertising spend grew by 16%, and Google Ads search spend rose by 15% year-over year. Google click volume increased by 10% and CPCs rose by 4.5% from the previous year.

U.S. paid search trends
Source: Merkle

Why we should care. This is a high-level look at the data encompassed in Merkle’s Digital Marketing Report (registration required), but it reflects the slower growth the engines have been reporting. (Microsoft reported slower ad revenue growth last quarter. Google reports earnings for the second quarter of 2019 on Thursday.) However, there are areas of growth for advertisers (and more nuanced stories to tell), with Microsoft Advertising shopping ads being one example.

Merkle also noted that click share for RLSAs have been declining for several quarters, hitting a nearly two-year low last quarter. The decline’s timing lines up with the launch of Apple’s ITP 2.0. However, similar audiences’ click share reached a new high with more than 8% of audiences click share last quarter. Customer match has held steady with 2% of audience clicks.

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