Brands vs Ads

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 frunded 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.

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.

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 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. … I’m going to give a winner. The fire department that’s fighting the fires in Northern California.“

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. And the buyer may have overpaid for it!

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 China & Russia)
  • create new inventory (new ad types on Google Maps & YouTube)
  • charge more for clicks
  • improve at targeting by 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, etc.)

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.“

Thursday Google hit fresh all time highs.

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.

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.

Anonymous survey: have you (or your company) purchased backlinks – of ANY quality – for your own site, or any of your clients‘ sites, at any point in the past ~5 years?— Lily Ray (@lilyraynyc) October 24, 2019

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.

Some people may be violating FTC rules by purchasing links that are not labeled as sponsored. This includes „content marketers“ who publish articles with paid links on sites they curate. It’s a ticking time bomb because it’s illegal.— Roger Montti (@martinibuster) October 24, 2019

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.“

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

We are nearing many inflection points in many markets where markets that seemed somewhat disconnected by search will still end up being dominated by search. 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.

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Source:: seobook.com

Want to reduce your bounce rate, but what does that actually mean?

How many times have you quoted a metric plucked from Google Analytics without really knowing what it means? Fear not, you’re not alone.

For far too long now, marketers have had misconceptions over how to define one particular metric – bounce rate, either confusing it for exit rate or adding non-existent criteria. So, we’ve put together a quick-fire guide to help you become a bounce rate aficionado.

How is the bounce rate calculated in Google Analytics?

The Google Analytics help guide is a good first stop when trying to get to the bottom of the topic. And with it, you only need to remember two key things:

1. A bounce in Google Analytics is a single-page session on a website

2. The bounce rate for a page is based only on sessions that start with that page

What does this mean in practice?

Here’s an example with three sessions:

Imagine there have been three user sessions on your website. During these sessions, the following pages were viewed in this order:

  • Session one: Page A > Page B > Page C > exit
  • Session two: Page B> Page A > Page C> exit
  • Session three: Page A> exit

Page A bounce rate = 50%
Page B bounce rate =0%
Page C bounce rate = 0%

Why? You might tend to think that Page A’s bounce rate is 33% because the page was viewed three times and the user only exited the website after viewing page A. It’s a typical misconception, but that logic is actually the definition of “exit rate”.

Similarly, you might be tempted to think that Page C’s bounce rate is 100%, as all the sessions that have included Page C as part of their journey have been immediately followed by an exit. However, only pages that start a session are included in these calculations.

Here’s an example with five sessions:

  • Page B > Page A > Page C> exit
  • Page B > exit
  • Page A > Page C> Page B > exit
  • Page C > exit
  • Page B > Page C > Page A > exit

Page C’s bounce rate is 100%. It has been visited four times, however, only one session started with it. It is, therefore, the only one counted by Google Analytics in its bounce rate calculations.

What is an exit in Google Analytics?

Simply put, an exit is when a user exits the website in one way or another.

This means that if one of the goals of your website is to get users to click through to a third-party retailer after visiting a product page, users will need to exit the website in order to be counted as a conversion.

In this particular case, you could theoretically have pages with both a 100% bounce rate and a 100% conversion rate at the same time. But is lowering the number of single-page sessions on your website really your objective?

If not, you might want to consider a different KPI for your business. For SEO marketers, it is often the “go-to” KPI when reporting on performance, but others – such as exit rate – might be a better fit depending on your website’s objectives.

How should we use bounce rate and exit rate for efficient reporting?

1. Bounce rate at a website level

At a website level – the figure typically found on the Google Analytics dashboard – bounce rate only means the percentage of single-page sessions compared to overall sessions.

Due to its default settings, Google Analytics can be misleading as it will indicate a decreasing one with a green arrow, suggesting it is “good”, while any upturn is marked in red and perceived as “bad”. However, having a higher bounce rate can be a good thing – perhaps the user only needed to visit one page in order to find the information they needed. This entirely depends on the type of website you are reporting on and the content it serves (ecommerce, blogs, informational, and the others).

Changes in bounce rate at the website level should not be used to evaluate website performance, but rather to notify a change that requires further investigation.

2. Bounce rate at the page level

If it increases for a particular page, it is important to evaluate the type of page to understand if the change is positive or negative:

A non-exhaustive list of examples

  • Homepage: an increase in bounce rate is generally negative and means less users are willing to visit a website beyond its home page.
  • Content/article: an increase in bounce rate could mean that users have found the information they need. In this case, bounce rate alone cannot be used to determine a positive or negative change.
  • Product page: an increase in bounce rate on pages with ecommerce functionalities needs to be analyzed in conjunction with recent website template changes to ensure the user experience is not negatively impacting shopping experience.

3. Exit rate at the website level

At a website level, the exit rate does not provide very meaningful data because users will always have to exit a website from one of its pages at some point.

Google Analytics still provides this type of data under the behavior tab, but it is not recommended to use this information to report web performance.

Exit rate at the website level cannot be anything other than 100%. However, be aware that Google Analytics takes an average of the exit rates for all pages of the website to come up with a “website average”.

4. Exit rate at the page level (or set of pages)

This is where the exit rate really shines. If you have an ideal user journey for your website, the exit rate can help you identify changes in user behavior. From there, you can tweak web page templates to bring users from one point to the other – using multiple pages and monitoring where users exit – and therefore finish their journey.

Now that you’ve mastered the difference between bounce rate and exit rate and how to use them effectively in your reporting, it’s time to put your knowledge into practice. Log into Google Analytics and start to delve into what these stats really mean for the website.

The post Want to reduce your bounce rate, but what does that actually mean? appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

Source:: searchenginewatch.com

Page speed optimization: Six areas to focus on for better SEO results

Page speed optimization should be at the core of your SEO strategy. Your page speed is just as important as site speed is to SEO. Here, page speed should not be mistaken for website speed.

What is page speed optimization and how important is this factor to your overall website ranking? Your page speed is technically how long it takes the content of a specific page on your website to load completely – or in more technical terms, “time to first byte”, which the time it takes for your client’s browser to get the first byte of data from your web server. Just like site speed which measures how fast a sample of page views on your website, page speed is critical to your search rankings.

Several reports are saying, including Google admitting in 2010, that site speed due to the high relevance of page speed, is used as a web search ranking factor. Now that this is the case, how can you optimize page speed and improve your search rankings? Read on to learn more.

Site speed as Google’s page ranking signal

Since Google’s admission to the importance of page speed, we’ve seen several tutorials on how to understand page speed and improve it for your website. Given Google’s reputed tight-lipped stance on what makes for their ranking factors, it’s understandable to see the level of importance users have paid to page speed since the announcement.

In my view, page speed would be critical to Google owing to the fact that good user experience is one of its chief aim for its users. It’s now important to take measures to get your page speed right by focusing on the following areas.

1. Time to first byte (TTFB)

An area to focus on to get insight on how to improve your page speed is how long it takes your browser to receive the first byte of information from your web server. This is what is technically known as “time to first byte”.

A perfect tool to evaluate this is Google’s PageSpeed Insights, which measures reports from the FCP (First Content Paint) and DCL (DOM Content Loaded) by polling data from CrUX (Chrome User Experience Report).

Running a test using Google’s PageSpeed Insights doesn’t only provide you with site speed data but also includes suggestions on areas to work on to improve speed. An example is a test on NYTimes/section/politics which returned 45% for the desktop and 34% for mobile – which is actually more important.

2. Your web hosting

While most would go ahead and start tweaking their web design and looking at what plugins may cause a lag in page speed, the culprit is not always obvious.

Your web host would play the biggest role in how fast the pages of your website loads. You can run a lean one-page website on some hosting services and still come short on the page speed or website speed.

According to a guide on website speed published by Kinsta, mediocre web-hosting contributes significantly to how fast a website loads. Factors such as geographic proximity to users (cloud hosts are superior in this regard), the volume of clients on a single server and the size of a server’s RAM and bandwidth limit all contribute to the performance of a website hosted on any giving server.

Since 74% of users will never return to a website that takes longer than 4 seconds to load, a poor hosting provider could cost you thousands of dollars in lost revenue opportunities. This is not counting the loss of traffic as a result of negative search rankings from poor SEO.

3. Redundant and inactive plugins

Inactive plugins on your website are often serious culprits in slow site speed.

Although, the reason plugins have the option to “activate” and “deactivate” them is to make them dormant while you decide whether they may serve any need in the future, rather than deleting them. However, the most efficient way to prevent plugins that are not being used from dragging down your website is to remove it.

To prevent plugins from unnecessarily slowing down pages of your website, you can consider taking the following measures:

  • Only install plugins when they are absolutely necessary
  • Clear your website cache and Minified CSS/JS after removing a plugin
  • If a plugin hasn’t been active for three months, consider removing it from your website
  • Only install plugins that are up to date and marked as compatible with your WordPress version

Aside from causing lags in your website’s page speed, inactive plugins may cause vulnerability to the security of your website leaving you exposed to attackers and hackers. This undoubtedly will negatively affect your website’s SEO and rankings, costing you traffic and revenue.

4. Clean your website codes

Another area you should look out for when dealing with page speed is the codes that make up your website. While this is a more technical exercise and is better handled by technical professionals, taking care of your website codes and ensuring nothing is off can help you gain some speed.

When investigating website codes that could affect site speed, look into these areas:

  • JavaScript
  • CSS
  • HTML
  • Theme files

Poorly configured theme files, for example, may conflict with your users‘ browser, thereby negatively affecting how fast your website loads. Below are some aspects you may want to investigate to make sure your website codes are in proper shape:

  • Enable dynamic caching
  • Minify JavaScript and CSS files
  • Avoid making changes to parent theme files and opt for child theme instead

5. Content delivery network (CDN)

Using a content delivery network or content distribution network, commonly known as CDNs can significantly reduce the time it takes to fully load pages of your website. When users are browsing the internet, proximity to your server can affect how fast content is delivered to them.

What CDN does is host your website content in the cloud, and let the nearest server to your clients handle the delivery of the content when they access your website. Since geographic proximity is also a factor in the speed of content delivery, using a CDN takes care of this and eliminates the associated delays that come with loading a website’s content from a distant location.

CDNs also utilize caching to reduce your hosting bandwidth, making room for smooth content delivery and rendering. Plus, it also helps prevent downtimes with your website.

When you opt for a CDN, the following aspects of your website’s content are taken care of:

  • Images and videos on your server
  • Your website JavaScript files
  • HTML pages
  • Stylesheets

Apart from speeding up your website and helping you to improve your SEO, utilizing a CDN can also be beneficial in the following areas:

  • Security: Your website can be protected from hackers and random attacks targeting your website
  • Mitigation against DDOS attacks: Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attacks is the most common form of hacks launched against websites to date when a malicious agent tries to disrupt the service of your website. CDNs can fortify your website against this common attack.
  • Increases content redundancy and availability: Since CDNs keep content distributed, pages of your website will remain active and accessible should there be a malware malfunction or spike in traffic

6. Images

Images are important components of every webpage. And roughly nine out of ten pages on a website would include at least an image. It also goes without saying that images consume the most bandwidth on a website.

To boost your website page speed and enjoy solid SEO dividends, you should optimize images on your website to consume as little bandwidth as possible. Heavy and oversized images are among the top reasons a website may experience slow page speed.

Images that are wider than the content area of your website would overlap on the screen, causing the user experience to suffer. Getting your image size right can make a huge difference in how your page loads.

6a. Image compression

According to findings reported by Blake Hawksworth for effective inbound marketing on how to improve website page speed, it is revealed that –

“Compression has the potential to have the largest impact on page speed, as on average, images make up a total of 65% of a website’s weight.”

This further solidifies the fact that getting your image size and compression right can have the biggest impact on your page speed optimization.

In order to see gains on your SEO, improving page speed by compressing images on your website should be a top priority. To get this right, use image compression plugins such as WP Smush (for WordPress users) or Mass Image Compressor to reduce the file size of images that are uploaded to your website. On image width, ensure you’re not uploading images that are wider than the frame of your website content display area.

6b. Google’s guidelines for image optimization for page speed

Another reliable way to ensure images are well optimized for page speed on your website is to follow Google’s guidelines for image optimization. Realizing the traffic generated by images and their impact on a website’s page speed, Google decided to release a set of guidelines for webmasters to adhere to meet content efficiency and page speed optimization.

And since Google is releasing a set of guidelines for image optimization, it’s safe to assume that images would have significant outcomes on a website’s rankings. Since the scope of this article would not allow me to go over everything in Google’s image optimization guidelines, I recommend visiting the resource for consultation. Rather, I’ll share a breakdown of the most important factors required in the “image optimization checklist”, as recommended by Google, in the next point.

6c. Image optimization checklist

Google declares that there is no definitive answer for how best to compress an individual image, but there are “well-developed” techniques and algorithms that can help see improvements in size reduction. Below are the tips they shared:

  • Prefer vector formats: to meet the demands of a multi-device and high-resolution world, vector images which are resolution and scale-independent are the best option.
  • Minify and compress SVG assets: Ensure your servers are configured to apply GZIP compression for SVG assets.
  • Pick the best raster image format: pick images based on the most-suitable functional requirements.
  • Experiment with optimal quality settings for raster formats: Google recommends dialing down the “quality” settings and you’ll see significant byte savings.
  • Remove unnecessary image metadata: Google concludes that many raster images contain unnecessary metadata such as geoinformation, camera information, etc. They recommend using appropriate tools to strip this data.
  • Serve scaled images: Google recommends that you resize your images on the server and ensure that the “display” size is close to the “natural” size of the image. Pay more attention to large images because they account for the largest overhead when resized.
  • Automate: Google recommends investing in automated tools that will ensure all image assets are always optimized.

Conclusion

Page speed is, as we’ve seen, an important factor in Google’s SEO rankings. And from this article, it’s obvious that getting image optimization right takes the lead in improving your website’s page speed. Try the tips I’ve shared in this article and let me know how your page speed has improved, and if it translates to better rankings for you.

Ayodeji is the founder and CEO of Effective Inbound Marketing, a leading digital agency. He recently acquired BoostMyMedia.com to help clients in the online reputation area.

The post Page speed optimization: Six areas to focus on for better SEO results appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

Source:: searchenginewatch.com