Five most interesting search marketing news stories of the week

A screenshot of the search results page for emoji in Google, showing various emoji in the titles of the results.

Welcome to our weekly round-up of all the latest news and research from the world of search marketing and beyond.

This week, we look at why Google has brought emoji back to the SERP after initially banishing them in 2015, and whether marketers should be taking advantage. And in advertising news, YouTube has announced the impending demise of its least popular ad format, Google is officially rolling out a new look for its ad labels, and Bing has introduced a product listing carousel to its US search results.

Google brings emoji back to the SERPs 🙌💯

Google has officially revealed that emoji will once again appear in search results, reversing a decision taken in 2015 to remove them from the SERP.

Search Engine Roundtable initially broke the story, speculating as to whether this could be another Google bug, to which Google responded that from now on it will be featuring emoji “where relevant, useful and fun. You’ll see them crop up across various snippets moving forward.”

In a piece for Search Engine Watch this week, Clark Boyd looked at why Google might have changed its stance, the rising significance of emoji in digital life, and whether marketers should take advantage of the change. 😎

YouTube is getting rid of 30-second unskippable pre-roll ads

Video lovers everywhere rejoice! …Sort of. Google has announced that it will finally be doing away with that most unpopular of ad formats, the 30-second unskippable pre-roll ad – but not until 2018.

Un-skippable 30 second ads on YouTube is the worst part about living in the future.

— Mikey McBryan (@MikeyMcBryan) February 24, 2017

According to Google, the goal is to improve ad experience for users. “As part of that, we’ve decided to stop supporting 30-second unskippable ads as of 2018 and focus instead on formats that work well for both users and advertisers,” a Google spokesperson told Campaign.

But this decision by Google may not be entirely altruistic. Over on our sister site ClickZ, Al Roberts looked at the possible motivations for this move, as well as what Google might push in place of the 30-second ad format.

Google rolls out a new look for ad labels in search

Google is no stranger to experimenting with the look of its search results, and those of us who keep a weather eye on the search industry have got used to changes randomly appearing and disappearing as Google tests out new ideas.

Some of these never officially get rolled out, but Google has now confirmed that a recently-spotted change to the look of its ‘Ad‘ labels is being implemented worldwide.

New Google ads, or am I just super late? Now a white icon with green outline… (cc: @JohnMu, @gfiorelli1, @rustybrick, @sewatch, @larrykim)

— Jamie Dąbrowiecki (@jdabXO) February 22, 2017

A Google spokesperson told Search Engine Land on Wednesday that,

“After experimenting with a new search ad label with a green outline, we’ve decided to roll it out. The new ad label is more legible and continues to make our results page easier to read for our users with clear indication of our ad labeling.”

In the past, numerous studies have confirmed that the majority of users are still unable to distinguish paid ads from organic search results, so this change could be part of Google’s ongoing efforts to make the difference clearer. It will be interesting to see whether it succeeds.

Bing is aiming to be the “Dyson of search”

In spite of a slowly-increasing share of the search market, Bing is no Google. Google is the search engine most of us imagine when we think of searching, and it’s made its way into our language as a verb, “to Google”.

The same was true of the vacuum cleaner company Hoover in the early and mid-20th century, to the point where its name became synonymous with vacuum cleaners and vacuuming in the UK, Ireland and Australia. However, Hoover is no longer the dominant brand of vacuum cleaner and has lost significant ground to competitors such as British company Dyson.

At an event run by ClickZ and Marin Software on Wednesday, the ClickZ Digital Advertising Breakfast, Microsoft Product Marketing Manager James Murray explained how Bing aspires to be the “Dyson of search”, and dominate the market by being innovative and new.

Bing aspires to be the “Dyson of search” – James Murray
Dyson stole the market from Hoover with some great new innovations #ClickZBreakfast

— Bex Sentance (@rainbowbex) February 22, 2017

He also laid out some upcoming improvements to the Bing ad offering, including a “get a ride” button that would allow users to get transport directly to a location or business they just searched for; and talked about the company’s plans for voice search with Cortana.

Shinier, fuller ads coming from @BingAds @Microsoft Adding an image can boost click throughs by 45% #MarinSoftwareInsights #clickzbreakfast

— Marin Software (@MarinSoftware) February 22, 2017

Bing’s ‘get a ride‘ button will take mobile users straight to the destination they’ve searched: could this have an impact on #localsearch?

— Bex Sentance (@rainbowbex) February 22, 2017

Bing introduces product carousel to search results

And speaking of improvements to Bing Ads, Bing has recently introduced a carousel for its product ads in US search results, as reported by the SEM Post on Tuesday.

The new carousel, which appears at the top of search results for product keywords like “laptops”, shows eight product listings, although currently only the first five seem to have a picture.

Carousels are all the rage at the moment as Google began displaying its Shopping Ads in a carousel format back in October 2016. More recently, it has started displaying AMP recipe carousels in the results for mobile search, as well as review carousels for local review sites.


Online Marketing News: Mobile Email Stats, YouTube Kills 30-Second Ads and Execs on IoT

Your Guide to Email-Open Statistics on Mobiles [Infographic]
Well over half of all email users are opening their email on mobile devices. It’s important that marketing emails are mobile friendly, because although a majority of emails are being opened on mobile, most conversions are coming from desktop. MarketingProfs

YouTube Kills 30-Second Unskippable Mobile Ads for Shorter and More Interactive Formats
Beginning on January 1, 2018, YouTube will kill the unskippable 30-second ads users see on mobile videos. Brands can still buy 20-second and 6-second bumper ads. YouTube has reportedly made this change as part of their ‚commitment to providing better ad experience‘. AdWeek

73% Of Execs See Internet Of Things Impact On Business
A recent study showed that 73% of business executives said the Internet of Things had at least some impact on their business, while 21% said it has a major impact. However, there are a number of obstacles in the way – high cost of investment, concerns about security and regulation among others. MediaPost

Reports: Digital, especially mobile, driving trillions in offline retail spending
Digital media contributed to a reported $1.26 trillion in local retail sales in 2016, according to a recent report from Forrester. This is a large section of the overall $4.5 trillion local retail sales last year. Forrester predicts that in 2021, mobile devices will influence $1.4 trillion in local retail sales. MarketingLand

Google to sunset Google Site Search by end of 2017
Search Engine Land reports: „Google has confirmed with Search Engine Land that they are discontinuing support for the Google Site Search product. Google said they are directing those consumers to either the ad-powered product named free custom search engine or the new cloud search product.“ Search Engine Land

Google fights online trolls with new tool
The Washington Post reports: On Thursday, [Google] publicly released an artificial intelligence tool, called Perspective, that scans online content and rates how “toxic” it is based on ratings by thousands of people.“ That ‚toxicity score‘ will help users determine whether or not they want to participate in the conversation. The Washington Post

On Snapchat’s Ad Performance, in Comparison to Industry Benchmarks
A recent report was published that showed around 69% of SnapChat users either always or often skip ads. That figure increases to 80% among their top audience – 18 to 24-year-olds. But those numbers are far less shocking when compared to other media giants like YouTube and Facebook. Social Media Today

Google Reduces Star Rating Threshold: Why Businesses Should Take Notice
Google has lowered the threshold of reviews it takes for your ’stars‘ to show up next to your company’s business listings from five reviews to one. To combat the potential negative effects of one bad review, Search Engine Journal has a few tips, like following up with an email, and asking your customers for reviews. Search Engine Journal

What were your top online marketing news stories this week?

We’ll be back next week with more online marketing news stories! Have something to share? Tweet it to @toprank or share in the comments.

The post Online Marketing News: Mobile Email Stats, YouTube Kills 30-Second Ads and Execs on IoT appeared first on Online Marketing Blog – TopRank®.


Hotel SEO: Five steps to optimizing hotel deals and listings

Effective SEO is important to the visibility of any hotel online.

To improve the traffic to your hotel website, leading to more revenue for your business, every hotel must ensure that they are properly set up to be visible on search engine results pages (SERPs).

SEO allows your hotel to improve in search engine rankings and display your website higher up in the SERPs. According to statistics from Chitika:

“Sites listed on the first Google search results page generate 92% of all traffic from an average search. When moving from page one to two, the traffic dropped by 95%, and by 78% and 58% for the subsequent pages.”

Apparently, if your hotel does not appear on the first page of a search engine, the likelihood of your hotel being found is less than 6%.

The benefits of SEO for hotels

The benefits of optimizing your hotel for search include:

  • Keeping your hotel ahead of the competition
  • Establishing your hotel credibility
  • Improving hotel customer loyalty
  • Increasing hotel brand awareness
  • Increasing hotel profitability
  • And of course, increasing traffic to your hotel website.

Crucial strategies for optimizing hotel deals and listings for SERPs

Below are some important steps to optimize your hotel deals and listing for search:

#1. Buy Hotel Price Ads

Hotel Price Ads, or HPAs, help to display your hotel prices and location across desktops, PCs, tablets, and mobile devices on Google and Google Maps. When you buy HPAs, travelers are able to see your hotel offers as well as directions to your hotel when they are actively searching for a hotel to book.

Below are some of the major benefits of buying HPAs:

  • Rate Parity: HPAs are a good tool to compare your pricing with other hotels and online travel agents (OTAs). HPAs bring rate parity to the fore and provide the most recent, complete and relevant information to visitors.
  • Value for your cash: The return on HPA has consistently been higher than core paid search campaigns.
  • Online travel agent presence weakened: HPA enables smaller hotels the opportunity to show up right next to the OTA listings. The most attractive feature of HPA’s is that it allows guests to book directly from your hotel instead of via a third party site such as a travel agency.

#2. Optimize PPC Ads

PPC is very important for hotels, because when used efficiently it enables hotels to instantly reach potential guests.

Adwords account for 97% of Google’s revenue, and over time the SERPs have been altered to ensure that PPC Ads are given priority over organic results. Therefore, optimizing PPC Ads is a huge opportunity to get your hotel offers high up on SERP, allowing for visibility above larger organic competitors.

According to Statistic Brain, as quoted in rezdy, more than 148.3 million people (which accounts for more than 57% of all travel reservations every year) make use of the internet to make reservations for their accommodations, activities, and tours.

Running PPC Ads allows you to show your hotel deals and services to these travelers when they input search queries for similar hotel deals and services like yours.

#3. Embrace and Own Your Google+ page

Based on the merging of Google+ and Google Pages, integrating Google+ with search marketing is vital.

As Pamela Whitby wrote in an article on

“Travel marketers now comprehend that social and search is inextricably linked. The numbers tell the story well. In 2012, 50% of direct bookings were reported to have originated in social media and over 70% of Americans are driven to purchase by social media”

Since Google is the leading search engine, using Google+ as a social tool for your hotel is important. Hotels should refrain from ignoring Google+ as its benefits cannot be quantified, your hotel’s Google+ page needs to be properly set up with a complete Google local profile because some of these elements will be used in displaying your deals in SERP’s and not having them optimized can hurt your HPA performance.

#4. Use – Rich Snippets rich snippets help to label your hotel website’s HTML code so that search engines, including Google, Yahoo and Bing, can better understand the content on your website.

There are several rich snippets you can optimize for. Below are a few; you can get a more comprehensive list on

  • Authorship
  • Breadcrumbs
  • Events
  • Star Review Ratings
  • Location
  • Product
  • Video

There are many benefits to using rich snippets, including a more attractive appearance for your website on the SERP, and an increased click-through rate. On top of this, a study by Searchmetrics in 2014 found that just 0.3% of websites use markup, making it a great way to get one over the competition.

#5. List Hotels on Business Listings

Finally, just like online travel agencies, business listings such as Google My Business, Trip Advisor, Yelp, and other business directories can help to increase your hotel metrics.

Other benefits of listing your hotel in business listings include:

  • Reaching millions of travel customers
  • Your hotel appearing on the top travel sites on the web
  • Delivering your hotel messages at just the right time. Your messages can help you reach potential customers at the very instant they are researching your hotel location.

Eimantas Balciunas is the CEO at Travel Ticker.


Patent Reveals Insight into How Google Generates Answer Boxes via Content Scores

Patent Reveals Insight into How Google Generates Answer Boxes via Content Scores was originally published on, home of expert search engine optimization tips.

Optimizing a page in hopes of capturing an answer box is a trending SEO specialty. A newly filed patent suggests insights into how Google approaches answer boxes. (Thanks to Google patent expert Bill Slawski for surfacing the document.)

The U.S. patent application filed by Google on Jan. 12 gives search marketers a look into the search engine’s plans for answer boxes. The patent application titled “Generating Elements of Answer-Seeking Queries and Elements of Answers” covers a lot of technical ground. For digital marketers engaged in SEO for answer boxes, two key insights and one question emerge:

  1. Content will receive a score, and the content with the highest score earns the answer box.
  2. Search queries will not need to use question words to generate an answer box.
  3. Could answer boxes be comprised from multiple sources?

Read on to discover more about each of these coming developments.

What is an answer box? Answer boxes are direct answers to queries that appear above the search results. Answer boxes are displayed for queries that Google algorithmically determines are “answer-seeking.” The content inside an answer box is pulled from one of the top ten results on a search engine results page (SERP) and appears in a light grey box at the top of the SERP. Why does this matter? “Ranking zero” with an answer box can drive more traffic to your site than a No. 1 ranking.

Here’s how Google describes the process of displaying an answer box, straight from the patent: “When the search system receives a query having elements that are characteristic of an answer-seeking query, the search system can identify a corresponding answer that has characteristic elements of an answer to an answer-seeking query. The search system can then generate a presentation that prominently displays an answer to the answer-seeking query.”

Answer boxes are sometimes referred to as featured snippets, direct answers, and zero rankings, among other terms.

Answer Box Scores

The patent outlines the process of generating the answer box, and includes this step:

“(Compute) a respective score for each of one or more passages of text occurring in each document identified by the search results, wherein the score for each passage of text is based on how many of the one or more answer types match the passage of text.”

Earlier in the patent, an answer type was defined as “a group of answer elements that collectively represent the characteristics of a proper answer to an answer-seeking query.”

What does this mean for digital marketers optimizing content for answer boxes? The patent begs the question: does content with more answer types win the answer box?

For example, if Page A has a chart, two respective text paragraphs, an image and a bullet list that all qualify as answer elements, does that page receive a higher score than Page B that has text paragraphs alone? Even if the text of Page B have higher scores than the text paragraphs in Page A?

In other words, does a page with more answer types fare better than a page with equal or greater relevance of content and a single answer type? Based on the patent alone, this seems to be a logical conclusion.

When it comes to optimizing for answer boxes, then, the new content publishing process involves production of multiple answer types to answer the targeted question.

The patent goes on to state that all scores must meet a threshold to be considered for inclusion in an answer box, indicating that even if your content is the best of the possible answer boxes, it still must reach a certain level of quality to be considered.

Search Queries Will Be Identified as Answer-Seeking without Use of Question Words

No need for the searcher to include “who,” “what,” “when,” “were,” “how” or “why” in a query to trigger an answer box. Google wants to identify queries as “answer-seeking” regardless of inclusion of question words. Here’s what Google had to say, straight from the patent (emphasis ours):

“A search system may consider a query to be an answer-seeking query because its terms match a predetermined question type. However, the query need not be expressed in the form of a question, and the query need not include a question word, e.g., ‘how,‘ ‘why,‘ etc.‘

Google provides this example of how it should work:

Figure 1 from Google patent application “Generating Elements of Answer-Seeking Queries and Elements of Answers.” This figure shows how queries need not include question words to be classified as “answer-seeking.” As the patent states, “In this example, the search system provides the answer box in response to the query even though the query is not phrased as a question and even though the query does not include a question word.”

Google also notes: “In this example the answer box is identified as a good answer to the query even though the answer does not include the term ‘cooking,‘ which occurred in the query and even though the answer does not occur in a document referenced by a highest-ranked search result. Rather, the answer in the answer box is identified as a good answer because the search system has determined that the question type matching the query is often associated with an answer type that matches text of the document referenced by the search result.”

That’s another key insight: Your content does not have to rank No. 1 to earn the answer box. That’s something answer box researchers already knew, but it’s always good to have statements directly from Google that support the current understanding how the search engine is working.

While you do not have to rank No. 1, you do need to rank in the top ten results. Our own research at Bruce Clay, Inc., as well as research by other SEO agencies, points to the fact that you must be in the top ten if you want a chance to rank zero.

Could Answer Boxes Be Comprised from Multiple Sources?

The patent explains that after “determining that the one or more passages of text have respective scores that satisfy a threshold” the search engine will select “one or more passages of text having respective scores that satisfy the threshold for inclusion in the presentation.”

Let’s say Page A has the highest scoring paragraph for a query. Page B has the highest scoring image that answers that same query. Page C has the highest scoring table, and Page D has the highest scoring video. Is there any reason that, in the future, answer boxes could be comprised from multiple web pages? In reading the patent, we don’t see any reason why not; Google’s statement that “one or more passages of text” will be included does not describe those passages as being on the same page.

What Next Steps Should SEOs Take When Optimizing for Answer Boxes?

Given that the document is a patent application, we can’t take the statements in it to be fact. There is a good chance, of course, that answer box scores will become a reality. In fact, they could already be a reality or in beta at this moment. This patent application, nonetheless, provides valuable insight into how Google is thinking about answer boxes and what answer boxes might look like in the future.

As digital marketers, we always seek to stay several steps ahead — anticipating the coming algorithm and search feature changes so that we’re prepared when they happen. Patent applications take us behind the Google curtain and can help us understand what’s down the pike.

Want more ways to stay ahead of the search curve? If you’re obsessed with winning at web traffic, you don’t want to miss Bruce Clay’s Advanced SEO Workshop at Search Marketing Expo (SMX) West in San Jose on March 20.

This full day of master SEO training will equip you with cutting-edge SEO techniques. Bruce will tackle answer boxes, RankBrain, voice search, AMP and more. Learn how to help raise your rankings and visibility in search engines. Save 10% with our exclusive discount code: BRUCECLAYSMXW17.


The QuickStart Guide to Using Google Search Console to Increase SEO Visibility

There are many powerful SEO tools in today’s marketing world. Most SEO tools can be highly beneficial, but often come with a cost associated with it. However, there are some tools that smart marketers can leverage to assist with the variety of tasks needed on a given day.

One tool that smart marketers can leverage for SEO is Google Search Console. This free tool provided by Google is a great way to gain insights about your site in one main platform. Google Search Console is often underutilized by search marketing teams. To help you get the most benefit from Google Search Console, we outlined the four main areas within the tool to help you reach your search marketing objectives. Before we get into the four main areas within Google Search Console, let’s discuss what the tool even is.

What is Google Search Console?

Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools) is a free web-based SEO tool for webmasters to track both the indexing and crawling stats from Googlebot while also providing metrics to help optimize a website for organic visibility. This SEO tool is useful to monitor metrics and discover new insights to help increase your organic footprint.

Google states that anyone with a website should use Google Search Console. One great thing about Google Search Console is that it is easy to use for whoever has access to the property.

Google Search Console Setup and Verification

The first step to using Google Search Console is the setup and verification process. You will want to create a Google Search Console property for each version of your site including:

You will get the complete view by setting up all the versions of your domain. Besides setting up properties for each version, you can also setup properties for an individual subfolder on your site. By setting up a property for a subfolder, you will be able to see metrics for a specific section of your site, which can be beneficial for large sites.

After you created your property, you will need to verify the site. There are multiple ways to verify your property within Google Search Console, including:

  • HTML file upload – Upload an HTML file to your site
  • HTML tag – Add a meta tag to your site’s home page
  • Domain name provider – Sign in to your domain name provider
  • Google Analytics – Use your Google Analytics account
  • Google Tag Manager – Use your Google Tag Manager account

We recommend the verification method that would be the easiest and most efficient for your site. The most common verification methods we recommend are either via Google Analytics or Google Tag Manager. Otherwise, we typically recommend adding the HMTL tag to the site’s header.

Search Appearance

One of the first main sections of Google Search Console is the “Search Appearance” section. This section is important for webmasters to understand how their website is currently setup and how it may potentially show up on a Search Engine Results Page (SERP). Within the search appearance section is information regarding structured markup, rich cards, HTML improvements (metadata information), and Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) setup.

Each area within this section is important to track monthly, but the HTML improvements area provides insights that is helpful when optimizing a website. This area can surface insights regarding duplicate meta descriptions and title tags. It also states when content is non-indexable, which can make a significant difference when prioritizing your optimization efforts.

Search Traffic

The next section in Google Search Console is the “Search Traffic” section. This section provides insights regarding the keywords your site is showing up for, linking metrics from external and internal sources, any manual actions, international targeting metrics, and the mobile usability of your website.

Each area within the Search Traffic section is important, but the majority of your time will most likely be found analyzing the Search Analytics tab. The Search Analytics tab shows the keywords that your site is showing up for. You can break down the tab into multiple subsections between clicks, impressions, CTR, and position. If that isn’t enough for you already, you can then dive deeper into the metrics by individual pages, keywords, countries, devices (desktop, mobile, tablet), search type (web, images, videos), search appearance (AMP or rich snippets), and the date range (within 90 days).

The search analytics tab is a very powerful SEO tool. You can analyze your site for keyword opportunities on a page or a section of your site. You can also drill down into how your mobile keywords are performing compared to your desktop keywords. At TopRank Marketing, we use this tab to identify SEO strategies to help increase organic visibility by re-optimizing content that has multiple keywords ranking on the bottom of page one or the top of page two. We also use the tab to guide the creation of our content plans for different SEO campaigns.

The second tab you should spend more time on is the mobile usability tab. This tab outlines if your website is mobile friendly or not. It is important to stay on top of any mobile usability issues so that your site renders correctly for all types of devices, especially with Google moving to the mobile-first index.

Google Index

The third section in Google Search Console is the “Google Index” section. This section is useful to understand how many pages are included Google’s index and if there are any blocked resources on your site. The index status tab is useful when analyzing if Google is indexing all the pages you want included in the SERPs. It is good to check the pattern of the index status of your website so that the number of pages is growing consistently or not dropping off quickly randomly.

The blocked resources tab is a great way to easily identify if certain pages are blocked from Googlebot. Make sure you check this tab to optimize the crawling of the pages/resources that you want being crawled by Googlebot.

You can also remove URLs temporarily from the Google index with the remove URLs tab. This tab is useful when you need to remove a page quickly. As a note, the tab only removes the page temporarily (around 90 days) and you still will need to update your site to permanently remove the page.


The last main section of Google Search Console is the “Crawl” section. This section provides smart marketers information regarding broken pages or files on the website, crawl stats from Googlebot, and URL parameter information. The section also provides tools to submit your content to Google, test your robots.txt file and submit your sitemap to Google.

The crawl errors tab is one of the more important areas within Google Search Console. This tab shows the URLs that might be broken from both internal and external sources. At TopRank Marketing, we often recommend implementing 301 redirects for the crawl errors that actually were pages at some point. It is important to audit the list to make sure you are not implementing redirects that are not needed.

Another useful tab is the sitemaps area, because you can submit your sitemap to Google to make it easier for your site to be crawled and indexed. Similarly, you can also submit individual pages to Google with the fetch as Google tool. The fetch as Google tool is a great way to get your updated content indexed quickly.

Use Google Search Console to Help Increase Your Organic Visibility

Google Search Console is a very powerful SEO tool for multiple reasons. We recommend using Google Search Console when running SEO campaigns to maximize your visibility and to plan the overall strategy. To increase your organic visibility for other search engines, make sure you use Bing Webmaster Tools as well to gain more insights.

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The QuickStart Guide to Using Google Search Console to Increase SEO Visibility |

The post The QuickStart Guide to Using Google Search Console to Increase SEO Visibility appeared first on Online Marketing Blog – TopRank®.