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Best Facebook Ad Features and Other Top Posts of the Month

April showers bring May flowers…and we are so ready for the showers to cease. After a gray and gloomy April, punctuated by WordStream Live, holiday weekends and a minor bug infestation on the WordStream marketing corner, May is almost here!

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In case you went back into winter hibernation this month and missed our best content, we have a recap for you! Check out our best performing posts of the month.

1. The 10 Best Facebook Advertising Features Right Now

Allen Finn outlines the most useful Facebook advertising features that you can start using immediately. He covers everything from ad types to targeting and segmentation. Included in the post are some comprehensive graphics and instructions!

Facebook ad features

2. 11 Ways to Turn Prospects into Customers

Based on one of our most popular webinars by Allen Finn and Brett McHale, the slides were turned into this (just as popular) blog post! It outlines the best ways to nurture your prospects—and we’re not just talking about email here, people. Plot twist: paid search can be one of the best ways to push your prospects through the funny and get more customers.

3. Value of a #1 Google Ranking Down 37% in Two Years?

Ever get the feeling that your SEO work just isn’t paying off? It might be because the click-through rate for some of your #1 organic rankings just isn’t what it used to be.

ctr for featured snippets

4. 13 Urgency-Inducing Tricks to Drive Sales

Everyone has done it; bought that purse because it was one of the “only a few left!” when you put it in your cart, or the limited-edition shoes. Brad Smith outlines the best urgency-inducing hacks he’s seen that are guaranteed to drive sales for your company.

5. The Impact of Google’s New Exact-Enough Match Keywords [Data]

‘Tis the season for some Google changes! Allen uses this data-backed post (thanks to our data analyst, Josh) to outline how the most recent exact match changes will affect your account, and how to remedy the impact.

Exact Match April

6. 23 Facts to Pull Out When Someone Says Content Marketing Doesn’t Work

As those on my team can attest, content marketing is important! It’s a reliable way to drive traffic and increase brand awareness—but some people can’t help but talk smack on content. In this post, Dan Shewan lists some impactful facts to throw back in the face of naysayers.

7. LinkedIn’s New Lead Gen Forms vs. Facebook Lead Ads

Despite our previously-thrown shade at LinkedIn ads (or maybe because of it), LinkedIn has introduced lead generation forms. Allen rescinds some of his previous criticism to outline what you need to know about the new form and how it measures up to Facebook lead ads.

8. 16 Ridiculously Easy Ways to Find & Keep a Remote Job

As demand for remote work grows, we thought it would be helpful to outline some great ways to find a remote job—and give some tips on how to make it work. This listicle contains companies that work remotely, sites to find remote jobs, and our best productivity advice.

Remote Jobs Post

9. 33 Mind-Boggling Instagram Stats & Facts for 2017

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re probably on Instagram, have seen Instagram posts, or are actively avoiding the platform. As it continues to strive for world dominance, I compiled a list of statistics and facts to tickle your fancy—and possibly convince you to get an account.

10. Coming Soon: Similar Audiences for Search Campaigns [Data]

We like to make sure that you’re on top of all new Google happenings—which is why our brilliant data scientist, Mark, outlines a new feature that is now in beta—similar audiences for search. A thinly veiled copycat of similar audiences for the display network or Facebook’s lookalike audiences, this tool could be a powerful way to reach your prospects and customers.

Similar Audiences Post

 

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Pop-Ups, Overlays, Modals, Interstitials, and How They Interact with SEO – Whiteboard Friday

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Have you thought about what your pop-ups might be doing to your SEO? There are plenty of considerations, from their timing and how they affect your engagement rates, all the way to Google’s official guidelines on the matter. In this episode of Whiteboard Friday, Rand goes over all the reasons why you ought to carefully consider how your overlays and modals work and whether the gains are worth the sacrifice.

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Pop-ups, modals, overlays, interstitials, and how they work with SEO

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Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re chatting about pop-ups, overlays, modals, interstitials, and all things like them. They have specific kinds of interactions with SEO. In addition to Google having some guidelines around them, they also can change how people interact with your website, and that can adversely or positively affect you accomplishing your goals, SEO and otherwise.

Types

So let’s walk through what these elements, these design and UX elements do, how they work, and best practices for how we should be thinking about them and how they might interfere with our SEO efforts.

Pop-ups

So, first up, let’s talk specifically about what each element is. A pop-up now, okay, there are a few kinds. There are pop-ups that happen in new windows. New window pop-ups are, basically, new window, no good. Google hates those. They are fundamentally against them. Many browsers will stop them automatically. Chrome does. Firefox does. In fact, users despise these as well. There are still some spammy and sketchy sites out there that use them, but, generally speaking, bad news.

Overlays

When we’re talking about a pop-up that happens in the same browser window, essentially it’s just a visual element, that’s often also referred to as an overlay. So, for the purposes of this Whiteboard Friday, we’ll call that an overlay. An overlay is basically like this, where you have the page’s content and there’s some smaller element, a piece, a box, a window, a visual of some kind that comes up and that essentially says, maybe it says, “Sign up for my email newsletter,” and then there’s a place to enter your email, or, “Get my book now,” and you click that and get the book. Those types of overlays are pretty common on the web, and they do not create quite the same problems that pop-ups do, at least from Google’s perspective. However, we’ll talk about those later, there are some issues around them, especially with mobile.

Modals

Modals tend to be windows of interaction, tend to be more elements of use. So lightboxes for images is a very popular modal. A modal is something where you are doing work inside that new box rather than in the content that’s underneath it. So a sign-in form that overlays, that pops up over the rest of the content, but that doesn’t allow you to engage with this content underneath it, that would be considered a modal. Generally, most of the time, these aren’t a problem, unless they are something like spam, or advertising, or something that’s taking you out of the user experience.

Interstitials

Then finally, interstitials are essentially, and many of these can also be called interstitial experiences, but a classic interstitial is something like what Forbes.com does. When you visit Forbes, an article for the first time, you get this, “Welcome. Our sponsor of the day is Brawndo. Brawndo, it has what plants need.” Then you can continue after a certain number of seconds. These really piss people off, myself included. I really hate the interstitial experience. I understand that it’s an advertising thing. But, yeah, Google hates them too. Not quite enough to kick Forbes out of their SERPs entirely yet, but, fingers crossed, it will happen sometime soon. They have certainly removed plenty of other folks who have gone with invasive or overly heavy interstitials over the years and made those pretty tough.

What are the factors that matter for SEO?

A) Timing

Well, it turns out timing is a big one. So when the element appears matters. Basically, if the element shows up initially upon page load, they will consider it differently than if it shows up after a few minutes. So, for example, if you have a “Sign Up Now” overlay that pops up the second you visit the page, that’s going to be treated differently than something that happens when you’re 80% or you’ve just finished scrolling through an entire blog post. That will get treated very differently. Or it may have no effect actually on how Google treats the SEO, and then it really comes down to how users do.

Then how long does it last as well. So interstitials, especially those advertising interstitials, there are some issues governing that with people like Forbes. There are also some issues around an overlay that can’t be closed and how long a window can pop up, especially if it shows advertising and those types of things. Generally speaking, obviously, shorter is better, but you can get into trouble even with very short ones.

B) Interaction

Can that element easily be closed, and does it interfere with the content or readability? So Google’s new mobile guidelines, I think as of just a few months ago, now state that if an overlay or a modal or something interferes with a visitor’s ability to read the actual content on the page, Google may penalize those or remove their mobile-friendly tags and remove any mobile-friendly benefit. That’s obviously quite concerning for SEO.

C) Content

So there’s an exception or an exclusion to a lot of Google’s rules around this, which is if you have an element that is essentially asking for the user’s age, or asking for some form of legal consent, or giving a warning about cookies, which is very popular in the EU, of course, and the UK because of the legal requirements around saying, “Hey, this website uses cookies,” and you have to agree to it, those kinds of things, that actually gets around Google’s issues. So Google will not give you a hard time if you have an overlay interstitial or modal that says, “Are you of legal drinking age in your country? Enter your birth date to continue.” They will not necessarily penalize those types of things.

Advertising, on the other hand, advertising could get you into more trouble, as we have discussed. If it’s a call to action for the website itself, again, that could go either way. If it’s part of the user experience, generally you are just fine there. Meaning something like a modal where you get to a website and then you say, “Hey, I want to leave a comment,” and so there’s a modal that makes you log in, that type of a modal. Or you click on an image and it shows you a larger version of that image in a modal, again, no problem. That’s part of the user experience.

D) Conditions

Conditions matter as well. So if it is triggered from SERP visits versus not, meaning that if you have an exclusionary protocol in your interstitial, your overlay, your modal that says, “Hey, if someone’s visiting from Google, don’t show this to them,” or “If someone’s visiting from Bing, someone’s visiting from DuckDuckGo, don’t show this to them,” that can change how the search engines perceive it as well.

It’s also the case that this can change if you only show to cookied or logged in or logged out types of users. Now, logged out types of users means that everyone from a search engine could or will get it. But for logged in users, for example, you can imagine that if you visit a page on a social media site and there’s a modal that includes or an overlay that includes some notification around activity that you’ve already been performing on the site, now that becomes more a part of the user experience. That’s not necessarily going to harm you.

Where it can hurt is the other way around, where you get visitors from search engines, they are logged out, and you require them to log in before seeing the content. Quora had a big issue with this for a long time, and they seem to have mostly resolved that through a variety of measures, and they’re fairly sophisticated about it. But you can see that Facebook still struggles with this, because a lot of their content, they demand that you log in before you can ever view or access it. That does keep some of their results out of Google, or certainly ranking lower.

E) Engagement impact

I think this is what Google’s ultimately trying to measure and what they’re trying to essentially say, “Hey, this is why we have these issues around this,” which is if you are hurting the click-through rate or you’re hurting pogo-sticking, meaning that more people are clicking onto your website from Google and then immediately clicking the Back button when one of these things appears, that is a sign to Google that you have provided a poor user experience, that people are not willing to jump through whatever hoop you’ve created for them to get access your content, and that suggests they don’t want to get there. So this is sort of the ultimate thing that you should be measuring. Some of these can still hurt you even if these are okay, but this is the big one.

Best practices

So some best practices around using all these types of elements on your website. I would strongly urge you to avoid elements that are significantly harming UX. If you’re willing to take a small sacrifice in user experience in exchange for a great deal of value because you capture people’s email addresses or you get more engagement of other different kinds, okay. But this would be something I’d watch.

There are three or four metrics that I’d urge you to check out to compare whether this is doing the right thing. Those are:

  • Bounce rate
  • Browse rate
  • Return visitor rates, meaning the percentage of people who come back to your site again and again, and
  • Time on site after the element appears

So those four will help tell you whether you are truly interfering badly with user experience.

On mobile, ensure that your crucial content is not covered up, that the reading experience, the browsing experience isn’t covered up by one of these elements. Please, whatever you do, make those elements easy and obvious to dismiss. This is part of Google’s guidelines around it, but it’s also a best practice, and it will certainly help your user experience metrics.

Only choose to keep one of these elements if you are finding that the sacrifice… and there’s almost always a sacrifice cost, like you will hurt bounce rate or browse rate or return visitor rate or time on site. You will hurt it. The question is, is it a slight enough hurt in exchange for enough gain, and that’s that trade-off that you need to decide whether it’s worth it. I think if you are hurting visitor interaction by a few seconds on average per visit, but you are getting 5% of your visitors to give you an email address, that’s probably worth it. If it’s more like 30 seconds and 1%, maybe not as good.

Consider removing the elements from triggering if the visit comes from search engines. So if you’re finding that this works fine and great, but you’re having issues around search guidelines, you could consider potentially just removing the element from any visit that comes directly from a search engine and instead placing that in the content itself or letting it happen on a second page load, assuming that your browse rate is decently high. That’s a fine way to go as well.

If you are trying to get the most effective value out of these types of elements, it tends to be the case that the less common and less well used the visual element is, the more interaction and engagement it’s going to get. But the other side of that coin is that it can create a more frustrating experience. So if people are not familiar with the overlay or modal or interstitial visual layout design that you’ve chosen, they may engage more with it. They might not dismiss it out of hand, because they’re not used to it yet, but they can also get more frustrated by it. So, again, return to looking at those metrics.

With that in mind, hopefully you will effectively, and not too harmfully to your SEO, be able to use these pop-ups, overlays, interstitials, modals, and all other forms of elements that interfere with user experience.

And we’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

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How to Compete in Facebook Ads

If you enter into Facebook advertising with the mindset that it’s a self-driving car and you can take a nap in the backseat covered in Cheetos while it delivers you exactly where you want to be…you’re terribly mistaken.

 How to Compete in Facebook Ads

Unfortunately for the couch potato marketers of the world, if you want six-pack abs, you’re going to have to put in a little bit more work than that one day at the gym every three weeks that you swiftly chase with 64 Michelob Ultras and 12 hours on Netflix.

The problem with competing in Facebook advertising is the overwhelming level of sophistication and complexity. Like most important things in life, knowledge is key, and not just the poor advice of amateurs and gurus (not mutually exclusive).

In this post I’ll outline everything you need to know about competitive bidding, budgeting, and creative strategy in Facebook ads. I will also explain how the Facebook ad auction works and how to leverage this knowledge to compete at the highest level possible.

 How to compete in Facebook Ads Tom Brady lifting Superbowl trophy

How the Facebook Ad Auction Works

Facebook’s auction is similar to that of Google AdWords, where value is created for advertisers by giving them the capabilities to reach target audiences and drive results.

The caveat is that the “value” derived for the advertiser must also create a relevant and positive experience for the end user. The Facebook auction is designed to balance these principles and reward the advertiser who does both the best. In a regular auction, the winner is the one with the highest bid. This is not the case with Facebook advertising.

To clarify: Every time an ad is created in Facebook and set live against a target audience, you are entering the Facebook Auction. You enter this auction with the bid that you specify within your ad set:

How to compete in Facebook Ads bid amount dialog box 

After choosing how your ads will enter the auction, you have two options for bidding: an automatic bid or a manual bid.

Automatic Bidding

In this bidding option, Facebook places an automatic bid within each auction. The bid is calculated to spend the entirety of your specified budget while accumulating the most results for your ad. Facebook wants their users to trust the platform to achieve the most results for the best possible price. If you are still trying to gauge an “average” cost per conversion on Facebook, this may be a better option for you. However, to truly be competitive with your bidding and to ensure that you reach that next-level of quality user, manual bidding is the way to go.

Manual Bidding

As with many aspects of online advertising (and life), you can put faith into a platform that is inherently designed to take your money to make decisions for you…or you can take control of the vehicle and get to where you want to be without all of the fluff.

Manual bidding allows you to have strategic control over the delivery of your ads and could lead to better results for a lower cost than automatic bidding. The method for manual bid is slightly different depending on how you choose to optimize your delivery:

How to compete in Facebook Ads optimization for ad delivery

It’s more advantageous to optimize ad delivery for the result you are looking for. Facebook’s delivery system and auction optimize for the desired action within each campaign objective. For example, when optimizing for conversions, Facebook looks for individuals within the audience who are most likely to convert or commit the specified action. The only time I would suggest using the other delivery methods would be if you have a smaller audience and confidence that the audience would convert or commit the action you want.

When you are manually bidding for actions like conversions or clicks, you have two options, maximum or average:

How to compete in Facebook Ads bid amount average 

Maximum bid allows you to set the absolute limit you are willing to pay for a result, while Average takes your bid and is able to enter the auction with the flexibility of leveraging your specified bid amount as a median, not a ceiling. Average bidding allows for greater flexibility when entering the Facebook auction due to the ability to bid slightly higher than you would with a maximum bid in order to reach “higher quality” users.

Facebook Ad Quality and Relevance

Another element of the auction is your Relevance Score, which takes into consideration the “quality” and relevance of your ad.

These factors are based on how your audience reacts to your ad. For example, if your ad receives negative feedback, that can decrease its total value. If a user is historically interested in what you’re advertising or reacts positively to your ads, those actions can increase the value of an ad. Positive feedback increases your Facebook Relevance Score.

The Truth About Relevance Score

Relevance Score estimates how well your ad is resonating with a specific audience it is being served to. The concept is unsurprisingly similar to that of Google’s Quality Score and can be equally beneficial while many times just as misleading.

 How to compete in Facebook Ads Facebook relevance score

Relevance score essentially gives you the ability to receive a discount within the Facebook ad auction while simultaneously extending your reach within that audience. The ability to maintain a high Relevance Score can be a crucial competitive advantage when it comes to clicks, visibility, brand awareness, brand engagement, and very top-funnel marketing metrics.

While all of these things are important to running a successful business, Relevance Score does not give you a full picture. If your goal is driving conversions, purchases, or any other form of direct response, judging your Facebook ad’s performance based on its Relevance Score would be like judging a bald eagle on how fast it can run.

You can also think of Relevance Score in terms of music. Pop music produces the equivalent of a high Relevance Score, because a large volume of people, many of which have a fleeting interest in what they are listening to, are being marketed to in the broadest way possible and receiving an overall positive experience. Alternatively, you could have the smaller niche audience who are far more invested in what they are consuming (like a cult following), and your unit of measurement in regards to success is entirely different.

How to compete in Facebook Ads Madonna demo tape

Relevance Score can be an extremely effective metric to focus on when it comes to particular advertising goals, it’s just not the gold standard it is often made out to be.

Estimated Action Rates

An “estimated action rate” is a measure of how likely a person is to take the actions required to get you the result you have optimized for. For example, if you are running an ad for workout equipment that’s optimized for purchase conversions, you would most likely be targeting people interested in fitness.

How to compete in Facebook Ads fitness ad example

How to compete in Facebook Ads fitness ad example

However, just because someone’s interests are relevant to the ad, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to purchase the equipment. That’s why Facebook factors in “estimated action” rates. From the individuals within your audience, Facebook tries to find those who are most likely to commit the action you are looking for. The algorithm will essentially target people who are in the market to buy workout equipment, thus reaffirming why you should bid based on your desired result.

Strategically Using Bids, Budgets, and Creative to WIN on Facebook

Understanding how the ad auction works is the first step to competing in Facebook. The second is understanding how to strategically manipulate this knowledge to your own benefit. The relationship between your budget, bids, and use of creative is the key to victory assuming all other factors (i.e. targeting) are done sufficiently.

Facebook Budget and Bids

Creative aside, there is a direct correlation between your budget and your bid that will have a profound impact on your delivery and overall success. Whether you set a daily or lifetime budget, Facebook’s goal is to spend all of it. When you have an ad set that is NOT on track to spend its full budget (under-delivering) it is ultimately treated differently than if it was. Let’s look at the difference:

According to Facebook:

How to compete in Facebook Ads recommendations

How to compete in Facebook Ads recommendations 

The clear codependence between bid and budget in order to maximize an ad set’s delivery is the key takeaway here.

Let’s use the example of driving leads through a website conversions campaign: Your target cost per lead is $20 and you are using a website offer to drive these conversions. You have $5,000 in total budget to spend and you’ve come to the crossroads – daily or lifetime budget? If you specify a daily budget, you essentially are telling Facebook to spend “X” amount within 24 hours. There is no way to day-part with daily budgets either, so if your decision is to use daily budgets to exhibit more control over an ad set’s spend day-to-day, you should keep in mind that your ads will be showing up around the clock regardless of any geographical mixture of targeting you could be bidding for.

How to compete in Facebook Ads daily budget

Lifetime budgets on the other hand allow you to select a schedule for which to show your ads to the selected audiences. Dayparting aside there is another element to the equation that I believe is the core reason to choose lifetime over daily. When you increase your budget in an ad set it is likely that your average cost per result may increase as well. How does this happen?

If you increase your budget you have to win more auctions for Facebook to spend it. As I said before, Facebook is in this to spend all of the money you tell it to. Due to the reality that there is a finite number of auctions with the same cost per result that you may have been getting, as you increase your budget, you have to go for increasingly higher cost results.

Let’s say you have a $20 budget and a $10 bid – Facebook will lower your bid to make the most out of the small budget. If the bid is lowered to $4, you could win all of the $4 auctions and ultimately receive an average cost of $4. Conversely, if you raised your budget to $200, it’s not likely that the number of $4 auctions exist even if you won them all. It would be very unlikely that you would even come close to spending that $200 budget. Therefore you have to enter into auctions with more expensive results in order to spend the specified amount.

How to compete in Facebook Ads lifetime budget

With this knowledge in hand, if you have a daily budget, you will enter as many auctions as your bid allows in order to reach your budget. With a Lifetime budget, however, you are allowing Facebook’s algorithm to factor in another element into the equation – pacing. If you have a lifetime budget of $5,000 vs. a daily budget of $1,000 (that you intend to run for 5 days) – the fundamental difference is you could actually tell the lifetime campaign that you are going to spend $10,000 within the same timeframe, with the intent of spending the original amount.

Be warned – if you are NOT careful or don’t monitor the progress of your ads, you could easily overspend. This tactic should be used ONLY if you are comfortable with the risks involved.

With that being said, let me explain further: In the past I have had the total budget at $1,000 but given Facebook the lifetime budget of $5,000. Within this Ad Set, I had specified what times during the day I would want my ads to be shown. Now comes the important part, the bid:

 How to compete in Facebook Ads suggested bid

I took the “suggested bid” per result of this audience and increased it exponentially. My reason being is that I’m attempting to optimize for the conversions that I specified, which are “Content Downloads.” It’s highly unlikely that I will ever pay $150 for an individual to download our content. I do know however, how much others are willing to pay for conversions “on average.”

Facebook’s algorithm is really good but it’s no psychic and I’m well aware that the experience of visiting the landing page, the emotional appeal of the copy, and ease of committing this action are not factored into my suggested bid. My point is that you should get to a place with your creative and offer where you are extremely confident that you can outperform your competition in the auction.

Other advertisers are bidding “$22.19 – $43.61” dollars for conversions, but those “conversions” and experiences for users could vary incredibly. As I mentioned earlier, Facebook will bid lower to get you the most results within your budget. If I specify that I am willing to spend $150 per result, I am bidding with other individuals who have the potential target CPA’s of that amount.

To recap:

Facebook’s algorithm is taking my $150 bid per result, my $5,000 (specified) budget, the time period within 24-hours that I intend to show my ads, and deciding on how to serve them most effectively within these parameters. What Facebook doesn’t know is that I have no intention to spend $5,000 dollars on the campaign and I’m not going to pay $150 per result….but I could…if I wanted to.

 How to compete in Facebook Ads Roll Safe meme

Instead, my carefully chosen, well designed, and high-converting offer was shown to an audience of individuals who not only had relevant interests and behaviors but who also had needs that the value proposition of that offer was relevant to. I was able to drive 280 content downloads and spend $985 before I paused the ad set. My final CPA was only $3.52 per content download. Facebook took my bid and budget with the specified time frame and served the ads in a way that allowed me to win the majority of the “low hanging fruit” bids within that audience for the desired cost. However, my campaign did not run the entire duration and my offer was good enough for the audience to convert at a rate so that I did not spend $150 per result.

When you have a bid and total budget, the algorithm will figure you will spend $5,000 with $150 per result (at least 33 results). When you out-perform these expectations, Facebook believes it’s driving more results than you anticipated and will try to maximize these results for a period of time. This is a fairly advanced strategy, but I believe it’s an important lesson to showcase how all of the elements that go into the Facebook ad auction play a role in the end result.

Now you probably don’t have the bandwidth for all of these tactics, especially if you’re using Facebook ads as a small business, so I’ll list out the core things you absolutely can do in order to compete in Facebook

TL;DR: How to Compete In Facebook Road Map

Optimize for the results you are looking for: If your goal is to drive conversions on your website, make that your goal. It will further increase your chances of success.

Choose a lifetime budget that works for you: You don’t have to do anything “hacky” with your budget the way I did. If you know what your budget is and the amount of time you want it to spend, you can make it that and still be competitive.

Know Your Promotion: Know what you have to offer and who will want it. Focus on the value proposition, creative, and copy to truly gain a competitive advantage.

Bid and budget Intelligently: Leverage what you know about the Facebook auction to bid competitively within your budget.

Win!

Creative Competitive Advantage

Aside from the vast technical capabilities it offers, what makes Facebook one of the greatest platforms for marketers today is its ability to reward quality advertising. You could know everything I have talked about in this post but if you do not know how to creatively connect with your audience, you’re going to struggle and you’re going to pay more.

If you’re going to spend money on marketing, no matter what the channel, you need to create value in order for that investment to be worthwhile. The beauty of paid channels like Facebook ads and Google AdWords is that if you have the right strategy and capability to play the game well, you can compete with almost any budget.

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Value of a #1 Google Ranking Down 37% in Two Years?

SEO is hard, y’all.

It can take a while to start working, and then, once you get used to seeing double-digit growth in organic traffic year over year – suddenly you hit the dreaded plateau. It’s harder and harder to make serious gains.

seo growth

WordStream’s traffic growth since 2009

See how the slope of growth is less steep toward the end?

I remember the days where there were lots of spammy tricks you could use to get mediocre content to rank. (Not that I myself would ever create mediocre content. Nope. No way.) That’s not so easy anymore – in part because Google’s algorithms have gotten a lot smarter, and in part because the competition is simply greater. There are more sites and businesses, but the first page of results hasn’t gotten bigger. Not that it would matter if it did – few people scroll to the bottom or click to page 2.

second page of google results

Recently, doing my SEO reporting, I’ve noticed a few cases where a page on our site has seen a dip in organic traffic. However, when I check to see if we’ve lost our ranking, we’re still on the first page, or even ranking at #1. So what gives?

I suspected that changes to the Google SERP, such as the introduction of fancy new SERP features, were lowering our organic click-through rate (CTR), so I did a little digging to find out what exactly was going on.

A note on study methodology

For this study, we looked at 24 keywords (from our own site) where we’ve maintained the same or very close to the same ranking for about two years (between May 2015 and April 2017) according to Search Console data. In most cases the keyword maintained a #1 ranking, but for some keywords the average ranking for the period is reported as 1.1 or 1.2 due to some ranking flux. Results were not filtered by device or country.

I would characterize the majority of these keywords as informational. Only one of them is clearly commercial (“ppc software”) and one is potentially branded or navigational (“free keyword tool” is ambiguous, since it’s both the name of our tool and a generic phrase). More on what these keyword categories mean here.

And thanks to my smarty-pants colleagues Meg Lister and Josh Brackett, who are approximately 9 million times better at Excel and statistics than me, for helping me analyze this data, and to our new designer Kate Lindsay for pretty-ing up the graphs.

The upshot: Median CTR is down by 37%

Looking at all 24 queries on our list, we had an average position change of -0.1% (not significant) and an average CTR change of -28% (a median change of -37%).

drop in ctr for number one google ranking

CTR only went up for three keywords in the set (by 3%, 4%, and 37%). For all the others, CTR went down. The biggest single change was a drop in CTR of -79%.

It’s important to note that I didn’t cherry-pick keywords to fit a narrative. These were the first 24 keywords I found where our ranking hadn’t changed significantly in two years.

How has organic impression volume changed?

Impressions for this keyword set were up overall (by a hefty 63%) – however, due to the fall in CTR, we weren’t able to capitalize on most of those impressions to drive growth. Clicks only increased by 21% in the same time period.

google organic impression share

Bummer.

How do Featured Snippets affect CTR?

google organic ctr with featured snippet

Of the 24 keywords, there were 17 queries where we own the featured snippet. For these keywords there was an average position change of 0% and a median CTR change of -39%. That means even with the coveted Featured Snippet, organic CTR for a #1 ranking is lower in 2017 than it was in 2015.

And it’s not because we’re competing with more ads – 16 of these keywords have no ads on the SERP at all.

ctr for keywords with no featured snippet

For keywords without a featured snippet (6 of the 24), median CTR change was only -32%. This suggests that the featured snippet is actually associated with a decrease in CTR(?!)

This would make sense for simple question-type keywords that can be answered right on the SERP, like “how tall was Abraham Lincoln,” “when is the Super Bowl” etc. See also the recent kerfuffle over Celebrity Net Worth – a website that has taken a major hit due to Google’s Featured Snippets making it largely unnecessary to click through to discover what a celebrity is worth.

featured snippet controversy

This is why I think it’s so important to answer COMPLEX questions if you want to drive value from Featured Snippets.

But most of the keywords I looked at weren’t simple questions, or phrased as questions at all. So there’s actually no reason to assume that people were looking for a quick answer. For example, two of the keywords were “great marketing ideas” and “keyword strategy.” To me it’s pretty clear that the intent with these is relatively deep; they’re looking for multiple ideas or a complex strategy, not just a definition.

So why has organic CTR for a #1 ranking fallen?

Here’s the tricky part: Why is this happening? It’s not immediately obvious.

Are we losing clicks to ads?

It would be easy to assume that organic CTR has fallen because Google has increasingly moved to monetize the SERP – for example, just last year Google increased the number of top ads from three to four (while simultaneously removing the right-rail ads).

google serp changes ctr

Old enough to remember when there were ads there

However, that change has minimal impact on this keyword set, since only four of the 24 keywords we looked at were triggering ads at all, and of those four, only one triggered four top ads. Two of the keywords triggered just one top ad, and one triggered no top ad but a panel of sponsored results on the right (on desktop).

Incidentally, the keyword that now triggers four ads showed exactly the median drop in CTR (-32%). It wasn’t an outlier in terms of losing clicks to ads.

Long story short, ads are definitely not the whole story here.

What about other SERP features?

There were a few cases where the keyword triggered a Featured Snippet but the Featured Snippet wasn’t ours (even though we had the #1 ranking). The Featured Snippet was introduced in 2015 and the prevalence of the feature increased a few times during 2016 (thanks to Dr. Pete for confirming). According to current MozCast data, it now appears on about 15% of queries.

mozcast serp features

10 of the keywords also triggered a “People also ask” feature (Related Questions), like the below.

related questions feature google

In a different industry, we might have seen a lot more features in the results – images, videos, knowledge panel, local packs, card-style carousels at the top, etc. That wasn’t the case in this particular keyword set.

Now, Moz recently published some fascinating data (in collaboration with Jumpshot) that reveals a full third of searches result in no clicks at all. People do a Google search and then click nothing. Says Rand Fishkin:

If we look at all search queries (not just distinct ones), those numbers shift to a straight 60%/40% split. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that over time, we get closer and closer to Google solving half of search queries without a click. 

In other words, Rand predicts that CTR will continue to fall even for #1 rankings as Google releases features that make clicking any result unnecessary.

Is this a mobile problem?

One possibility for the drop in CTR is that a greater percentage of our site traffic is mobile now than it was 2 years ago – mobile devices account for about 20% of traffic now, compared to 13% in May 2015.

Here’s the May 2015 breakdown:

traffic breakdown by device

And here’s March 2017:

percentage of mobile traffic

(As mentioned, I didn’t break the above click-through rate data out by device; I download reports from Search Console monthly, but not device reports, and at this point I can’t go back and get that data from 2015.)

On mobile, organic CTR looks a little different than it does on desktop. Again, according to Moz/Jumpshot data, organic CTR is lower on mobile devices than on desktop – Rand says:

We’ve always suspected CTR on mobile is lower than on desktop, and now it’s confirmed. For mobile devices, 40.9% of Google searches result in an organic click, 2% in a paid click, and 57.1% in no click at all. For desktop devices, 62.2% of Google searches result in an organic click, 2.8% in a paid click, and 35% in no click.

google search clicks on mobile devices

So well more than half of mobile searches don’t result in clicks.

Here’s another source – according to Advanced Web Ranking, “ranking #1 in Google has a 23.5% mobile click-through rate, down from 28.6% in 2015.”

That means it’s not just the increase in mobile search share, but that CTR’s are falling across all devices.

None of these explanations (more and larger ads, other organic features, or shifts in mobile usage/behavior) fully explain the dip in organic CTR that we’re seeing, but it could be a combination of these changes along with other, smaller factors. Heck, maybe people are just more distracted than they were two years ago, so we’re seeing a higher incidence of people doing a Google search and then dropping the task to watch a squirrel out the window…

One more caveat…

This was our own, wordstream.com account data so we’re only looking at one vertical: marketing. The results may be very different for different industries. I can actually imagine the average CTR falling much more for industries that do less content marketing than we do, meaning more of their keywords are going to be commercial vs. informational.

How to combat falling organic CTR’s?

Feeling dispirited? Me too, honestly, but your focus shouldn’t change too much:

  • Keep working to increase your organic CTR’s by aiming to meet the searcher’s true intent with exceptionally high-quality content, and by writing headlines and meta descriptions that make the value you’re offering crystal-clear upfront.
  • Scale your content marketing so you have more opportunities to rank. Consider publishing more off-topic content that reaches a wider audience and increases your brand affinity (then use remarketing to convert more of those visitors).
  • Invest in social promotion, email marketing, PPC and other channels that can offset any losses on the organic SERP.

TL;DR

In short, though our data set was limited:

  • This study suggests that a #1 ranking on Google is 37% less valuable, at least in terms of click-through rate, than it was just two years ago. That means you can’t take full advantage of gains in impressions.
  • Featured Snippets are associated with a bigger decrease in CTR than SERPs without a Featured Snippet – even just looking at keywords where we own the Feature Snippet. Statistical significance on this data point is 99%.

We were surprised, to say the least.

What do you think? Have you seen similar changes in your industry?

from Internet Marketing Blog by WordStream http://ift.tt/2qeugsw

There’s No Such Thing as a Site Migration

Posted by jonoalderson

Websites, like the businesses who operate them, are often deceptively complicated machines.

They’re fragile systems, and changing or replacing any one of the parts can easily affect (or even break) the whole setup — often in ways not immediately obvious to stakeholders or developers.

Even seemingly simple sites are often powered by complex technology, like content management systems, databases, and templating engines. There’s much more going on behind the scenes — technically and organizationally — than you can easily observe by crawling a site or viewing the source code.

When you change a website and remove or add elements, it’s not uncommon to introduce new errors, flaws, or faults.

That’s why I get extremely nervous whenever I hear a client or business announce that they’re intending to undergo a “site migration.”

Chances are, and experience suggests, that something’s going to go wrong.

http://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Migrations vary wildly in scope

As an SEO consultant and practitioner, I’ve been involved in more “site migrations” than I can remember or count — for charities, startups, international e-commerce sites, and even global household brands. Every one has been uniquely challenging and stressful.

In each case, the businesses involved have underestimated (and in some cases, increased) the complexity, the risk, and the details involved in successfully executing their “migration.”

As a result, many of these projects negatively impacted performance and potential in ways that could have been easily avoided.

This isn’t a case of the scope of the “migration” being too big, but rather, a misalignment of understanding, objectives, methods, and priorities, resulting in stakeholders working on entirely different scopes.

The migrations I’ve experienced have varied from simple domain transfers to complete overhauls of server infrastructure, content management frameworks, templates, and pages — sometimes even scaling up to include the consolidation (or fragmentation) of multiple websites and brands.

In the minds of each organization, however, these have all been “migration” projects despite their significantly varying (and poorly defined) scopes. In each case, the definition and understanding of the word “migration” has varied wildly.

We suck at definitions

As an industry, we’re used to struggling with labels. We’re still not sure if we’re SEOs, inbound marketers, digital marketers, or just… marketers. The problem is that, when we speak to each other (and those outside of our industry), these words can carry different meaning and expectations.

Even amongst ourselves, a conversation between two digital marketers, analysts, or SEOs about their fields of expertise is likely to reveal that they have surprisingly different definitions of their roles, responsibilities, and remits. To them, words like “content” or “platform” might mean different things.

In the same way, “site migrations” vary wildly, in form, function, and execution — and when we discuss them, we’re not necessarily talking about the same thing. If we don’t clarify our meanings and have shared definitions, we risk misunderstandings, errors, or even offense.

Ambiguity creates risk

Poorly managed migrations can have a number of consequences beyond just drops in rankings, traffic, and performance. There are secondary impacts, too. They can also inadvertently:

  • Provide a poor user experience (e.g., old URLs now 404, or error states are confusing to users, or a user reaches a page different from what they expected).
  • Break or omit tracking and/or analytics implementations, resulting in loss of business intelligence.
  • Limit the size, shape, or scalability of a site, resulting in static, stagnant, or inflexible templates and content (e.g., omitting the ability to add or edit pages, content, and/or sections in a CMS), and a site which struggles to compete as a result.
  • Miss opportunities to benefit from what SEOs do best: blending an understanding of consumer demand and behavior, the market and competitors, and the brand in question to create more effective strategies, functionality and content.
  • Create conflict between stakeholders, when we need to “hustle” at the last minute to retrofit our requirements into an already complex project (“I know it’s about to go live, but PLEASE can we add analytics conversion tracking?”) — often at the cost of our reputation.
  • Waste future resource, where mistakes require that future resource is spent recouping equity resulting from faults or omissions in the process, rather than building on and enhancing performance.

I should point out that there’s nothing wrong with hustle in this case; that, in fact, begging, borrowing, and stealing can often be a viable solution in these kinds of scenarios. There’s been more than one occasion when, late at night before a site migration, I’ve averted disaster by literally begging developers to include template review processes, to implement redirects, or to stall deployments.

But this isn’t a sensible or sustainable or reliable way of working.

Mistakes will inevitably be made. Resources, favors, and patience are finite. Too much reliance on “hustle” from individuals (or multiple individuals) may in fact further widen the gap in understanding and scope, and positions the hustler as a single point of failure.

More importantly, hustle may only fix the symptoms, not the cause of these issues. That means that we remain stuck in a role as the disruptive outsiders who constantly squeeze in extra unscoped requirements at the eleventh hour.

Where things go wrong

If we’re to begin to address some of these challenges, we need to understand when, where, and why migration projects go wrong.

The root cause of all less-than-perfect migrations can be traced to at least one of the following scenarios:

  • The migration project occurs without consultation.
  • Consultation is sought too late in the process, and/or after the migration.
  • There is insufficient planned resource/time/budget to add requirements (or processes)/make recommended changes to the brief.
  • The scope is changed mid-project, without consultation, or in a way which de-prioritizes requirements.
  • Requirements and/or recommended changes are axed at the eleventh hour (due to resource/time/budget limitations, or educational/political conflicts).

There’s a common theme in each of these cases. We’re not involved early enough in the process, or our opinions and priorities don’t carry sufficient weight to impact timelines and resources.

Chances are, these mistakes are rarely the product of spite or of intentional omission; rather, they’re born of gaps in the education and experience of the stakeholders and decision-makers involved.

We can address this, to a degree, by elevating ourselves to senior stakeholders in these kinds of projects, and by being consulted much earlier in the timeline.

Let’s be more specific

I think that it’s our responsibility to help the organizations we work for to avoid these mistakes. One of the easiest opportunities to do that is to make sure that we’re talking about the same thing, as early in the process as possible.

Otherwise, migrations will continue to go wrong, and we will continue to spend far too much of our collective time fixing broken links, recommending changes or improvements to templates, and holding together bruised-and-broken websites — all at the expense of doing meaningful, impactful work.

Perhaps we can begin to answer to some of these challenges by creating better definitions and helping to clarify exactly what’s involved in a “site migration” process.

Unfortunately, I suspect that we’re stuck with the word “migration,” at least for now. It’s a term which is already widely used, which people think is a correct and appropriate definition. It’s unrealistic to try to change everybody else’s language when we’re already too late to the conversation.

Our next best opportunity to reduce ambiguity and risk is to codify the types of migration. This gives us a chance to prompt further exploration and better definitions.

For example, if we can say “This sounds like it’s actually a domain migration paired with a template migration,” we can steer the conversation a little and rely on a much better shared frame of reference.

If we can raise a challenge that, e.g., the “translation project” a different part of the business is working on is actually a whole bunch of interwoven migration types, then we can raise our concerns earlier and pursue more appropriate resource, budget, and authority (e.g., “This project actually consists of a series of migrations involving templates, content, and domains. Therefore, it’s imperative that we also consider X and Y as part of the project scope.”).

By persisting in labelling this way, stakeholders may gradually come to understand that, e.g., changing the design typically also involves changing the templates, and so the SEO folks should really be involved earlier in the process. By challenging the language, we can challenge the thinking.

Let’s codify migration types

I’ve identified at least seven distinct types of migration. Next time you encounter a “migration” project, you can investigate the proposed changes, map them back to these types, and flag any gaps in understanding, expectations, and resource.

You could argue that some of these aren’t strictly “migrations” in a technical sense (i.e., changing something isn’t the same as moving it), but grouping them this way is intentional.

Remember, our goal here isn’t to neatly categorize all of the requirements for any possible type of migration. There are plenty of resources, guides, and lists which already try do that.

Instead, we’re trying to provide neat, universal labels which help us (the SEO folks) and them (the business stakeholders) to have shared definitions and to remove unknown unknowns.

They’re a set of shared definitions which we can use to trigger early warning signals, and to help us better manage stakeholder expectations.

Feel free to suggest your own, to grow, shrink, combine, or bin any of these to fit your own experience and requirements!

1. Hosting migrations

A broad bundling of infrastructure, hardware, and server considerations (while these are each broad categories in their own right, it makes sense to bundle them together in this context).

If your migration project contains any of the following changes, you’re talking about a hosting migration, and you’ll need to explore the SEO implications (and development resource requirements) to make sure that changes to the underlying platform don’t impact front-end performance or visibility.

  • You’re changing hosting provider.
  • You’re changing, adding, or removing server locations.
  • You’re altering the specifications of your physical (or virtual) servers (e.g., RAM, CPU, storage, hardware types, etc).
  • You’re changing your server technology stack (e.g., moving from Apache to Nginx).*
  • You’re implementing or removing load balancing, mirroring, or extra server environments.
  • You’re implementing or altering caching systems (database, static page caches, varnish, object, memcached, etc).
  • You’re altering the physical or server security protocols and features.**
  • You’re changing, adding or removing CDNs.***

*Might overlap into a software migration if the changes affect the configuration or behavior of any front-end components (e.g., the CMS).

**Might overlap into other migrations, depending on how this manifests (e.g., template, software, domain).

***Might overlap into a domain migration if the CDN is presented as/on a distinct hostname (e.g., AWS), rather than invisibly (e.g., Cloudflare).

2. Software migrations

Unless your website is comprised of purely static HTML files, chances are that it’s running some kind of software to serve the right pages, behaviors, and content to users.

If your migration project contains any of the following changes, you’re talking about a software migration, and you’ll need to understand (and input into) how things like managing error codes, site functionality, and back-end behavior work.

  • You’re changing CMS.
  • You’re adding or removing plugins/modules/add-ons in your CMS.
  • You’re upgrading or downgrading the CMS, or plugins/modules/addons (by a significant degree/major release) .
  • You’re changing the language used to render the website (e.g., adopting Angular2 or NodeJS).
  • You’re developing new functionality on the website (forms, processes, widgets, tools).
  • You’re merging platforms; e.g., a blog which operated on a separate domain and system is being integrated into a single CMS.*

*Might overlap into a domain migration if you’re absorbing software which was previously located/accessed on a different domain.

3. Domain migrations

Domain migrations can be pleasantly straightforward if executed in isolation, but this is rarely the case. Changes to domains are often paired with (or the result of) other structural and functional changes.

If your migration project alters the URL(s) by which users are able to reach your website, contains any of the following changes, then you’re talking about a domain migration, and you need to consider how redirects, protocols (e.g., HTTP/S), hostnames (e.g., www/non-www), and branding are impacted.

  • You’re changing the main domain of your website.
  • You’re buying/adding new domains to your ecosystem.
  • You’re adding or removing subdomains (e.g., removing domain sharding following a migration to HTTP2).
  • You’re moving a website, or part of a website, between domains (e.g., moving a blog on a subdomain into a subfolder, or vice-versa).
  • You’re intentionally allowing an active domain to expire.
  • You’re purchasing an expired/dropped domain.

4. Template migrations

Chances are that your website uses a number of HTML templates, which control the structure, layout, and peripheral content of your pages. The logic which controls how your content looks, feels, and behaves (as well as the behavior of hidden/meta elements like descriptions or canonical URLs) tends to live here.

If your migration project alters elements like your internal navigation (e.g., the header or footer), elements in your <head>, or otherwise changes the page structure around your content in the ways I’ve outlined, then you’re talking about a template migration. You’ll need to consider how users and search engines perceive and engage with your pages, how context, relevance, and authority flow through internal linking structures, and how well-structured your HTML (and JS/CSS) code is.

  • You’re making changes to internal navigation.
  • You’re changing the layout and structure of important pages/templates (e.g., homepage, product pages).
  • You’re adding or removing template components (e.g., sidebars, interstitials).
  • You’re changing elements in your <head> code, like title, canonical, or hreflang tags.
  • You’re adding or removing specific templates (e.g., a template which shows all the blog posts by a specific author).
  • You’re changing the URL pattern used by one or more templates.
  • You’re making changes to how device-specific rendering works*

*Might involve domain, software, and/or hosting migrations, depending on implementation mechanics.

5. Content migrations

Your content is everything which attracts, engages with, and convinces users that you’re the best brand to answer their questions and meet their needs. That includes the words you use to describe your products and services, the things you talk about on your blog, and every image and video you produce or use.

If your migration project significantly changes the tone (including language, demographic targeting, etc), format, or quantity/quality of your content in the ways I’ve outlined, then you’re talking about a content migration. You’ll need to consider the needs of your market and audience, and how the words and media on your website answer to that — and how well it does so in comparison with your competitors.

  • You significantly increase or reduce the number of pages on your website.
  • You significantly change the tone, targeting, or focus of your content.
  • You begin to produce content on/about a new topic.
  • You translate and/or internationalize your content.*
  • You change the categorization, tagging, or other classification system on your blog or product content.**
  • You use tools like canonical tags, meta robots indexation directives, or robots.txt files to control how search engines (and other bots) access and attribute value to a content piece (individually or at scale).

*Might involve domain, software and/or hosting, and template migrations, depending on implementation mechanics.

**May overlap into a template migration if the layout and/or URL structure changes as a result.

6. Design migrations

The look and feel of your website doesn’t necessarily directly impact your performance (though user signals like engagement and trust certainly do). However, simple changes to design components can often have unintended knock-on effects and consequences.

If your migration project contains any of the following changes, you’re talking about a design migration, and you’ll need to clarify whether changes are purely cosmetic or whether they go deeper and impact other areas.

  • You’re changing the look and feel of key pages (like your homepage).*
  • You’re adding or removing interaction layers, e.g. conditionally hiding content based on device or state.*
  • You’re making design/creative changes which change the HTML (as opposed to just images or CSS files) of specific elements.*
  • You’re changing key messaging, like logos and brand slogans.
  • You’re altering the look and feel to react to changing strategies or monetization models (e.g., introducing space for ads in a sidebar, or removing ads in favor of using interstitial popups/states).
  • You’re changing images and media.**

*All template migrations.

**Don’t forget to 301 redirect these, unless you’re replacing like-for-like filenames (which isn’t always best practice if you wish to invalidate local or remote caches).

7. Strategy migrations

A change in organizational or marketing strategy might not directly impact the website, but a widening gap between a brand’s audience, objectives, and platform can have a significant impact on performance.

If your market or audience (or your understanding of it) changes significantly, or if your mission, your reputation, or the way in which you describe your products/services/purpose changes, then you’re talking about a strategy migration. You’ll need to consider how you structure your website, how you target your audiences, how you write content, and how you campaign (all of which might trigger a set of new migration projects!).

  • You change the company mission statement.
  • You change the website’s key objectives, goals, or metrics.
  • You enter a new marketplace (or leave one).
  • Your channel focus (and/or your audience’s) changes significantly.
  • A competitor disrupts the market and/or takes a significant amount of your market share.
  • Responsibility for the website/its performance/SEO/digital changes.
  • You appoint a new agency or team responsible for the website’s performance.
  • Senior/C-level stakeholders leave or join.
  • Changes in legal frameworks (e.g. privacy compliance or new/changing content restrictions in prescriptive sectors) constrain your publishing/content capabilities.

Let’s get in earlier

Armed with better definitions, we can begin to force a more considered conversation around what a “migration” project actually involves. We can use a shared language and ensure that stakeholders understand the risks and opportunities of the changes they intend to make.

Unfortunately, however, we don’t always hear about proposed changes until they’ve already been decided and signed off.

People don’t know that they need to tell us that they’re changing domain, templates, hosting, etc. So it’s often too late when — or if — we finally get involved. Decisions have already been made before they trickle down into our awareness.

That’s still a problem.

By the time you’re aware of a project, it’s usually too late to impact it.

While our new-and-improved definitions are a great starting place to catch risks as you encounter them, avoiding those risks altogether requires us to develop a much better understanding of how, where, and when migrations are planned, managed, and start to go wrong.

Let’s identify trigger points

I’ve identified four common scenarios which lead to organizations deciding to undergo a migration project.

If you can keep your ears to the ground and spot these types of events unfolding, you have an opportunity to give yourself permission to insert yourself into the conversation, and to interrogate to find out exactly which types of migrations might be looming.

It’s worth finding ways to get added to deployment lists and notifications, internal project management tools, and other systems so that you can look for early warning signs (without creating unnecessary overhead and comms processes).

1. Mergers, acquisitions, and closures

When brands are bought, sold, or merged, this almost universally triggers changes to their websites. These requirements are often dictated from on-high, and there’s limited (or no) opportunity to impact the brief.

Migration strategies in these situations are rarely comfortable, and almost always defensive by nature (focusing on minimizing impact/cost rather than capitalizing upon opportunity).

Typically, these kinds of scenarios manifest in a small number of ways:

  • The “parent” brand absorbs the website of the purchased brand into their own website; either by “bolting it on” to their existing architecture, moving it to a subdomain/folder, or by distributing salvageable content throughout their existing site and killing the old one (often triggering most, if not every type of migration).
  • The purchased brand website remains where it is, but undergoes a design migration and possibly template migrations to align it with the parent brand.
  • A brand website is retired and redirected (a domain migration).

2. Rebrands

All sorts of pressures and opportunities lead to rebranding activity. Pressures to remain relevant, to reposition within marketplaces, or change how the brand represents itself can trigger migration requirements — though these activities are often led by brand and creative teams who don’t necessarily understand the implications.

Often, the outcome of branding processes and initiatives creates new a or alternate understanding of markets and consumers, and/or creates new guidelines/collateral/creative which must be reflected on the website(s). Typically, this can result in:

  • Changes to core/target audiences, and the content or language/phrasing used to communicate with them (strategy and content migrations -—more if this involves, for example, opening up to international audiences).
  • New collateral, replacing or adding to existing media, content, and messaging (content and design migrations).
  • Changes to website structure and domain names (template and domain migrations) to align to new branding requirements.

3. C-level vision

It’s not uncommon for senior stakeholders to decide that the strategy to save a struggling business, to grow into new markets, or to make their mark on an organization is to launch a brand-new, shiny website.

These kinds of decisions often involve a scorched-earth approach, tearing down the work of their predecessors or of previously under-performing strategies. And the more senior the decision-maker, the less likely they’ll understand the implications of their decisions.

In these kinds of scenarios, your best opportunity to avert disaster is to watch for warning signs and to make yourself heard before it’s too late. In particular, you can watch out for:

  • Senior stakeholders with marketing, IT, or C-level responsibilities joining, leaving, or being replaced (in particular if in relation to poor performance).
  • Boards of directors, investors, or similar pressuring web/digital teams for unrealistic performance goals (based on current performance/constraints).
  • Gradual reduction in budget and resource for day-to-day management and improvements to the website (as a likely prelude to a big strategy migration).
  • New agencies being brought on board to optimize website performance, who’re hindered by the current framework/constraints.
  • The adoption of new martech and marketing automation software.*

*Integrations of solutions like SalesForce, Marketo, and similar sometimes rely on utilizing proxied subdomains, embedded forms/content, and other mechanics which will need careful consideration as part of a template migration.

4. Technical or financial necessity

The current website is in such a poor, restrictive, or cost-ineffective condition that it makes it impossible to adopt new-and-required improvements (such as compliance with new standards, an integration of new martech stacks, changes following a brand purchase/merger, etc).

Generally, like the kinds of C-level “new website” initiatives I’ve outlined above, these result in scorched earth solutions.

Particularly frustrating, these are the kinds of migration projects which you yourself may well argue and fight for, for years on end, only to then find that they’ve been scoped (and maybe even begun or completed) without your input or awareness.

Here are some danger signs to watch out for which might mean that your migration project is imminent (or, at least, definitely required):

  • Licensing costs for parts or the whole platform become cost-prohibitive (e.g., enterprise CMS platforms, user seats, developer training, etc).
  • The software or hardware skill set required to maintain the site becomes rarer or more expensive (e.g., outdated technologies).
  • Minor-but-urgent technical changes take more than six months to implement.
  • New technical implementations/integrations are agreed upon in principle, budgeted for, but not implemented.
  • The technical backlog of tasks grows faster than it shrinks as it fills with breakages and fixes rather than new features, initiatives, and improvements.
  • The website ecosystem doesn’t support the organization’s ways of working (e.g., the organization adopts agile methodologies, but the website only supports waterfall-style codebase releases).
  • Key technology which underpins the site is being deprecated, and there’s no easy upgrade path.*

*Will likely trigger hosting or software migrations.

Let’s not count on this

While this kind of labelling undoubtedly goes some way to helping us spot and better manage migrations, it’s far from a perfect or complete system.

In fact, I suspect it may be far too ambitious, and unrealistic in its aspiration. Accessing conversations early enough — and being listened to and empowered in those conversations — relies on the goodwill and openness of companies who aren’t always completely bought into or enamored with SEO.

This will only work in an organization which is open to this kind of thinking and internal challenging — and chances are, they’re not the kinds of organizations who are routinely breaking their websites. The very people who need our help and this kind of system are fundamentally unsuited to receive it.

I suspect, then, it might be impossible in many cases to make the kinds of changes required to shift behaviors and catch these problems earlier. In most organizations, at least.

Avoiding disasters resulting from ambiguous migration projects relies heavily on broad education. Everything else aside, people tend to change companies faster than you can build deep enough tribal knowledge.

That doesn’t mean that the structure isn’t still valuable, however. The types of changes and triggers I’ve outlined can still be used as alarm bells and direction for your own use.

Let’s get real

If you can’t effectively educate stakeholders on the complexities and impact of them making changes to their website, there are more “lightweight” solutions.

At the very least, you can turn these kinds of items (and expand with your own, and in more detail) into simple lists which can be printed off, laminated, and stuck to a wall. At the very least, perhaps you’ll remind somebody to pick up the phone to the SEO team when they recognize an issue.

In a more pragmatic world, stakeholders don’t necessarily have to understand the nuance or the detail if they at least understand that they’re meant to ask for help when they’re changing domain, for example, or adding new templates to their website.

Whilst this doesn’t solve the underlying problems, it does provide a mechanism through which the damage can be systematically avoided or limited. You can identify problems earlier and be part of the conversation.

If it’s still too late and things do go wrong, you’ll have something you can point to and say “I told you so,” or, more constructively perhaps, “Here’s the resource you need to avoid this happening next time.”

And in your moment of self-righteous vindication, having successfully made it through this post and now armed to save your company from a botched migration project, you can migrate over to the bar. Good work, you.


Thanks to…

This turned into a monster of a post, and its scope meant that it almost never made it to print. Thanks to a few folks in particular for helping me to shape, form, and ship it. In particular:

  • Hannah Thorpe, for help in exploring and structuring the initial concept.
  • Greg Mitchell, for a heavy dose of pragmatism in the conclusion.
  • Gerry White, for some insightful additions and the removal of dozens of typos.
  • Sam Simpson for putting up with me spending hours rambling and ranting at her about failed site migrations.

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

from Moz Blog http://ift.tt/2pyeah8

There’s No Such Thing as a Site Migration

Posted by jonoalderson

Websites, like the businesses who operate them, are often deceptively complicated machines.

They’re fragile systems, and changing or replacing any one of the parts can easily affect (or even break) the whole setup — often in ways not immediately obvious to stakeholders or developers.

Even seemingly simple sites are often powered by complex technology, like content management systems, databases, and templating engines. There’s much more going on behind the scenes — technically and organizationally — than you can easily observe by crawling a site or viewing the source code.

When you change a website and remove or add elements, it’s not uncommon to introduce new errors, flaws, or faults.

That’s why I get extremely nervous whenever I hear a client or business announce that they’re intending to undergo a “site migration.”

Chances are, and experience suggests, that something’s going to go wrong.

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Migrations vary wildly in scope

As an SEO consultant and practitioner, I’ve been involved in more “site migrations” than I can remember or count — for charities, startups, international e-commerce sites, and even global household brands. Every one has been uniquely challenging and stressful.

In each case, the businesses involved have underestimated (and in some cases, increased) the complexity, the risk, and the details involved in successfully executing their “migration.”

As a result, many of these projects negatively impacted performance and potential in ways that could have been easily avoided.

This isn’t a case of the scope of the “migration” being too big, but rather, a misalignment of understanding, objectives, methods, and priorities, resulting in stakeholders working on entirely different scopes.

The migrations I’ve experienced have varied from simple domain transfers to complete overhauls of server infrastructure, content management frameworks, templates, and pages — sometimes even scaling up to include the consolidation (or fragmentation) of multiple websites and brands.

In the minds of each organization, however, these have all been “migration” projects despite their significantly varying (and poorly defined) scopes. In each case, the definition and understanding of the word “migration” has varied wildly.

We suck at definitions

As an industry, we’re used to struggling with labels. We’re still not sure if we’re SEOs, inbound marketers, digital marketers, or just… marketers. The problem is that, when we speak to each other (and those outside of our industry), these words can carry different meaning and expectations.

Even amongst ourselves, a conversation between two digital marketers, analysts, or SEOs about their fields of expertise is likely to reveal that they have surprisingly different definitions of their roles, responsibilities, and remits. To them, words like “content” or “platform” might mean different things.

In the same way, “site migrations” vary wildly, in form, function, and execution — and when we discuss them, we’re not necessarily talking about the same thing. If we don’t clarify our meanings and have shared definitions, we risk misunderstandings, errors, or even offense.

Ambiguity creates risk

Poorly managed migrations can have a number of consequences beyond just drops in rankings, traffic, and performance. There are secondary impacts, too. They can also inadvertently:

  • Provide a poor user experience (e.g., old URLs now 404, or error states are confusing to users, or a user reaches a page different from what they expected).
  • Break or omit tracking and/or analytics implementations, resulting in loss of business intelligence.
  • Limit the size, shape, or scalability of a site, resulting in static, stagnant, or inflexible templates and content (e.g., omitting the ability to add or edit pages, content, and/or sections in a CMS), and a site which struggles to compete as a result.
  • Miss opportunities to benefit from what SEOs do best: blending an understanding of consumer demand and behavior, the market and competitors, and the brand in question to create more effective strategies, functionality and content.
  • Create conflict between stakeholders, when we need to “hustle” at the last minute to retrofit our requirements into an already complex project (“I know it’s about to go live, but PLEASE can we add analytics conversion tracking?”) — often at the cost of our reputation.
  • Waste future resource, where mistakes require that future resource is spent recouping equity resulting from faults or omissions in the process, rather than building on and enhancing performance.

I should point out that there’s nothing wrong with hustle in this case; that, in fact, begging, borrowing, and stealing can often be a viable solution in these kinds of scenarios. There’s been more than one occasion when, late at night before a site migration, I’ve averted disaster by literally begging developers to include template review processes, to implement redirects, or to stall deployments.

But this isn’t a sensible or sustainable or reliable way of working.

Mistakes will inevitably be made. Resources, favors, and patience are finite. Too much reliance on “hustle” from individuals (or multiple individuals) may in fact further widen the gap in understanding and scope, and positions the hustler as a single point of failure.

More importantly, hustle may only fix the symptoms, not the cause of these issues. That means that we remain stuck in a role as the disruptive outsiders who constantly squeeze in extra unscoped requirements at the eleventh hour.

Where things go wrong

If we’re to begin to address some of these challenges, we need to understand when, where, and why migration projects go wrong.

The root cause of all less-than-perfect migrations can be traced to at least one of the following scenarios:

  • The migration project occurs without consultation.
  • Consultation is sought too late in the process, and/or after the migration.
  • There is insufficient planned resource/time/budget to add requirements (or processes)/make recommended changes to the brief.
  • The scope is changed mid-project, without consultation, or in a way which de-prioritizes requirements.
  • Requirements and/or recommended changes are axed at the eleventh hour (due to resource/time/budget limitations, or educational/political conflicts).

There’s a common theme in each of these cases. We’re not involved early enough in the process, or our opinions and priorities don’t carry sufficient weight to impact timelines and resources.

Chances are, these mistakes are rarely the product of spite or of intentional omission; rather, they’re born of gaps in the education and experience of the stakeholders and decision-makers involved.

We can address this, to a degree, by elevating ourselves to senior stakeholders in these kinds of projects, and by being consulted much earlier in the timeline.

Let’s be more specific

I think that it’s our responsibility to help the organizations we work for to avoid these mistakes. One of the easiest opportunities to do that is to make sure that we’re talking about the same thing, as early in the process as possible.

Otherwise, migrations will continue to go wrong, and we will continue to spend far too much of our collective time fixing broken links, recommending changes or improvements to templates, and holding together bruised-and-broken websites — all at the expense of doing meaningful, impactful work.

Perhaps we can begin to answer to some of these challenges by creating better definitions and helping to clarify exactly what’s involved in a “site migration” process.

Unfortunately, I suspect that we’re stuck with the word “migration,” at least for now. It’s a term which is already widely used, which people think is a correct and appropriate definition. It’s unrealistic to try to change everybody else’s language when we’re already too late to the conversation.

Our next best opportunity to reduce ambiguity and risk is to codify the types of migration. This gives us a chance to prompt further exploration and better definitions.

For example, if we can say “This sounds like it’s actually a domain migration paired with a template migration,” we can steer the conversation a little and rely on a much better shared frame of reference.

If we can raise a challenge that, e.g., the “translation project” a different part of the business is working on is actually a whole bunch of interwoven migration types, then we can raise our concerns earlier and pursue more appropriate resource, budget, and authority (e.g., “This project actually consists of a series of migrations involving templates, content, and domains. Therefore, it’s imperative that we also consider X and Y as part of the project scope.”).

By persisting in labelling this way, stakeholders may gradually come to understand that, e.g., changing the design typically also involves changing the templates, and so the SEO folks should really be involved earlier in the process. By challenging the language, we can challenge the thinking.

Let’s codify migration types

I’ve identified at least seven distinct types of migration. Next time you encounter a “migration” project, you can investigate the proposed changes, map them back to these types, and flag any gaps in understanding, expectations, and resource.

You could argue that some of these aren’t strictly “migrations” in a technical sense (i.e., changing something isn’t the same as moving it), but grouping them this way is intentional.

Remember, our goal here isn’t to neatly categorize all of the requirements for any possible type of migration. There are plenty of resources, guides, and lists which already try do that.

Instead, we’re trying to provide neat, universal labels which help us (the SEO folks) and them (the business stakeholders) to have shared definitions and to remove unknown unknowns.

They’re a set of shared definitions which we can use to trigger early warning signals, and to help us better manage stakeholder expectations.

Feel free to suggest your own, to grow, shrink, combine, or bin any of these to fit your own experience and requirements!

1. Hosting migrations

A broad bundling of infrastructure, hardware, and server considerations (while these are each broad categories in their own right, it makes sense to bundle them together in this context).

If your migration project contains any of the following changes, you’re talking about a hosting migration, and you’ll need to explore the SEO implications (and development resource requirements) to make sure that changes to the underlying platform don’t impact front-end performance or visibility.

  • You’re changing hosting provider.
  • You’re changing, adding, or removing server locations.
  • You’re altering the specifications of your physical (or virtual) servers (e.g., RAM, CPU, storage, hardware types, etc).
  • You’re changing your server technology stack (e.g., moving from Apache to Nginx).*
  • You’re implementing or removing load balancing, mirroring, or extra server environments.
  • You’re implementing or altering caching systems (database, static page caches, varnish, object, memcached, etc).
  • You’re altering the physical or server security protocols and features.**
  • You’re changing, adding or removing CDNs.***

*Might overlap into a software migration if the changes affect the configuration or behavior of any front-end components (e.g., the CMS).

**Might overlap into other migrations, depending on how this manifests (e.g., template, software, domain).

***Might overlap into a domain migration if the CDN is presented as/on a distinct hostname (e.g., AWS), rather than invisibly (e.g., Cloudflare).

2. Software migrations

Unless your website is comprised of purely static HTML files, chances are that it’s running some kind of software to serve the right pages, behaviors, and content to users.

If your migration project contains any of the following changes, you’re talking about a software migration, and you’ll need to understand (and input into) how things like managing error codes, site functionality, and back-end behavior work.

  • You’re changing CMS.
  • You’re adding or removing plugins/modules/add-ons in your CMS.
  • You’re upgrading or downgrading the CMS, or plugins/modules/addons (by a significant degree/major release) .
  • You’re changing the language used to render the website (e.g., adopting Angular2 or NodeJS).
  • You’re developing new functionality on the website (forms, processes, widgets, tools).
  • You’re merging platforms; e.g., a blog which operated on a separate domain and system is being integrated into a single CMS.*

*Might overlap into a domain migration if you’re absorbing software which was previously located/accessed on a different domain.

3. Domain migrations

Domain migrations can be pleasantly straightforward if executed in isolation, but this is rarely the case. Changes to domains are often paired with (or the result of) other structural and functional changes.

If your migration project alters the URL(s) by which users are able to reach your website, contains any of the following changes, then you’re talking about a domain migration, and you need to consider how redirects, protocols (e.g., HTTP/S), hostnames (e.g., www/non-www), and branding are impacted.

  • You’re changing the main domain of your website.
  • You’re buying/adding new domains to your ecosystem.
  • You’re adding or removing subdomains (e.g., removing domain sharding following a migration to HTTP2).
  • You’re moving a website, or part of a website, between domains (e.g., moving a blog on a subdomain into a subfolder, or vice-versa).
  • You’re intentionally allowing an active domain to expire.
  • You’re purchasing an expired/dropped domain.

4. Template migrations

Chances are that your website uses a number of HTML templates, which control the structure, layout, and peripheral content of your pages. The logic which controls how your content looks, feels, and behaves (as well as the behavior of hidden/meta elements like descriptions or canonical URLs) tends to live here.

If your migration project alters elements like your internal navigation (e.g., the header or footer), elements in your <head>, or otherwise changes the page structure around your content in the ways I’ve outlined, then you’re talking about a template migration. You’ll need to consider how users and search engines perceive and engage with your pages, how context, relevance, and authority flow through internal linking structures, and how well-structured your HTML (and JS/CSS) code is.

  • You’re making changes to internal navigation.
  • You’re changing the layout and structure of important pages/templates (e.g., homepage, product pages).
  • You’re adding or removing template components (e.g., sidebars, interstitials).
  • You’re changing elements in your <head> code, like title, canonical, or hreflang tags.
  • You’re adding or removing specific templates (e.g., a template which shows all the blog posts by a specific author).
  • You’re changing the URL pattern used by one or more templates.
  • You’re making changes to how device-specific rendering works*

*Might involve domain, software, and/or hosting migrations, depending on implementation mechanics.

5. Content migrations

Your content is everything which attracts, engages with, and convinces users that you’re the best brand to answer their questions and meet their needs. That includes the words you use to describe your products and services, the things you talk about on your blog, and every image and video you produce or use.

If your migration project significantly changes the tone (including language, demographic targeting, etc), format, or quantity/quality of your content in the ways I’ve outlined, then you’re talking about a content migration. You’ll need to consider the needs of your market and audience, and how the words and media on your website answer to that — and how well it does so in comparison with your competitors.

  • You significantly increase or reduce the number of pages on your website.
  • You significantly change the tone, targeting, or focus of your content.
  • You begin to produce content on/about a new topic.
  • You translate and/or internationalize your content.*
  • You change the categorization, tagging, or other classification system on your blog or product content.**
  • You use tools like canonical tags, meta robots indexation directives, or robots.txt files to control how search engines (and other bots) access and attribute value to a content piece (individually or at scale).

*Might involve domain, software and/or hosting, and template migrations, depending on implementation mechanics.

**May overlap into a template migration if the layout and/or URL structure changes as a result.

6. Design migrations

The look and feel of your website doesn’t necessarily directly impact your performance (though user signals like engagement and trust certainly do). However, simple changes to design components can often have unintended knock-on effects and consequences.

If your migration project contains any of the following changes, you’re talking about a design migration, and you’ll need to clarify whether changes are purely cosmetic or whether they go deeper and impact other areas.

  • You’re changing the look and feel of key pages (like your homepage).*
  • You’re adding or removing interaction layers, e.g. conditionally hiding content based on device or state.*
  • You’re making design/creative changes which change the HTML (as opposed to just images or CSS files) of specific elements.*
  • You’re changing key messaging, like logos and brand slogans.
  • You’re altering the look and feel to react to changing strategies or monetization models (e.g., introducing space for ads in a sidebar, or removing ads in favor of using interstitial popups/states).
  • You’re changing images and media.**

*All template migrations.

**Don’t forget to 301 redirect these, unless you’re replacing like-for-like filenames (which isn’t always best practice if you wish to invalidate local or remote caches).

7. Strategy migrations

A change in organizational or marketing strategy might not directly impact the website, but a widening gap between a brand’s audience, objectives, and platform can have a significant impact on performance.

If your market or audience (or your understanding of it) changes significantly, or if your mission, your reputation, or the way in which you describe your products/services/purpose changes, then you’re talking about a strategy migration. You’ll need to consider how you structure your website, how you target your audiences, how you write content, and how you campaign (all of which might trigger a set of new migration projects!).

  • You change the company mission statement.
  • You change the website’s key objectives, goals, or metrics.
  • You enter a new marketplace (or leave one).
  • Your channel focus (and/or your audience’s) changes significantly.
  • A competitor disrupts the market and/or takes a significant amount of your market share.
  • Responsibility for the website/its performance/SEO/digital changes.
  • You appoint a new agency or team responsible for the website’s performance.
  • Senior/C-level stakeholders leave or join.
  • Changes in legal frameworks (e.g. privacy compliance or new/changing content restrictions in prescriptive sectors) constrain your publishing/content capabilities.

Let’s get in earlier

Armed with better definitions, we can begin to force a more considered conversation around what a “migration” project actually involves. We can use a shared language and ensure that stakeholders understand the risks and opportunities of the changes they intend to make.

Unfortunately, however, we don’t always hear about proposed changes until they’ve already been decided and signed off.

People don’t know that they need to tell us that they’re changing domain, templates, hosting, etc. So it’s often too late when — or if — we finally get involved. Decisions have already been made before they trickle down into our awareness.

That’s still a problem.

By the time you’re aware of a project, it’s usually too late to impact it.

While our new-and-improved definitions are a great starting place to catch risks as you encounter them, avoiding those risks altogether requires us to develop a much better understanding of how, where, and when migrations are planned, managed, and start to go wrong.

Let’s identify trigger points

I’ve identified four common scenarios which lead to organizations deciding to undergo a migration project.

If you can keep your ears to the ground and spot these types of events unfolding, you have an opportunity to give yourself permission to insert yourself into the conversation, and to interrogate to find out exactly which types of migrations might be looming.

It’s worth finding ways to get added to deployment lists and notifications, internal project management tools, and other systems so that you can look for early warning signs (without creating unnecessary overhead and comms processes).

1. Mergers, acquisitions, and closures

When brands are bought, sold, or merged, this almost universally triggers changes to their websites. These requirements are often dictated from on-high, and there’s limited (or no) opportunity to impact the brief.

Migration strategies in these situations are rarely comfortable, and almost always defensive by nature (focusing on minimizing impact/cost rather than capitalizing upon opportunity).

Typically, these kinds of scenarios manifest in a small number of ways:

  • The “parent” brand absorbs the website of the purchased brand into their own website; either by “bolting it on” to their existing architecture, moving it to a subdomain/folder, or by distributing salvageable content throughout their existing site and killing the old one (often triggering most, if not every type of migration).
  • The purchased brand website remains where it is, but undergoes a design migration and possibly template migrations to align it with the parent brand.
  • A brand website is retired and redirected (a domain migration).

2. Rebrands

All sorts of pressures and opportunities lead to rebranding activity. Pressures to remain relevant, to reposition within marketplaces, or change how the brand represents itself can trigger migration requirements — though these activities are often led by brand and creative teams who don’t necessarily understand the implications.

Often, the outcome of branding processes and initiatives creates new a or alternate understanding of markets and consumers, and/or creates new guidelines/collateral/creative which must be reflected on the website(s). Typically, this can result in:

  • Changes to core/target audiences, and the content or language/phrasing used to communicate with them (strategy and content migrations -—more if this involves, for example, opening up to international audiences).
  • New collateral, replacing or adding to existing media, content, and messaging (content and design migrations).
  • Changes to website structure and domain names (template and domain migrations) to align to new branding requirements.

3. C-level vision

It’s not uncommon for senior stakeholders to decide that the strategy to save a struggling business, to grow into new markets, or to make their mark on an organization is to launch a brand-new, shiny website.

These kinds of decisions often involve a scorched-earth approach, tearing down the work of their predecessors or of previously under-performing strategies. And the more senior the decision-maker, the less likely they’ll understand the implications of their decisions.

In these kinds of scenarios, your best opportunity to avert disaster is to watch for warning signs and to make yourself heard before it’s too late. In particular, you can watch out for:

  • Senior stakeholders with marketing, IT, or C-level responsibilities joining, leaving, or being replaced (in particular if in relation to poor performance).
  • Boards of directors, investors, or similar pressuring web/digital teams for unrealistic performance goals (based on current performance/constraints).
  • Gradual reduction in budget and resource for day-to-day management and improvements to the website (as a likely prelude to a big strategy migration).
  • New agencies being brought on board to optimize website performance, who’re hindered by the current framework/constraints.
  • The adoption of new martech and marketing automation software.*

*Integrations of solutions like SalesForce, Marketo, and similar sometimes rely on utilizing proxied subdomains, embedded forms/content, and other mechanics which will need careful consideration as part of a template migration.

4. Technical or financial necessity

The current website is in such a poor, restrictive, or cost-ineffective condition that it makes it impossible to adopt new-and-required improvements (such as compliance with new standards, an integration of new martech stacks, changes following a brand purchase/merger, etc).

Generally, like the kinds of C-level “new website” initiatives I’ve outlined above, these result in scorched earth solutions.

Particularly frustrating, these are the kinds of migration projects which you yourself may well argue and fight for, for years on end, only to then find that they’ve been scoped (and maybe even begun or completed) without your input or awareness.

Here are some danger signs to watch out for which might mean that your migration project is imminent (or, at least, definitely required):

  • Licensing costs for parts or the whole platform become cost-prohibitive (e.g., enterprise CMS platforms, user seats, developer training, etc).
  • The software or hardware skill set required to maintain the site becomes rarer or more expensive (e.g., outdated technologies).
  • Minor-but-urgent technical changes take more than six months to implement.
  • New technical implementations/integrations are agreed upon in principle, budgeted for, but not implemented.
  • The technical backlog of tasks grows faster than it shrinks as it fills with breakages and fixes rather than new features, initiatives, and improvements.
  • The website ecosystem doesn’t support the organization’s ways of working (e.g., the organization adopts agile methodologies, but the website only supports waterfall-style codebase releases).
  • Key technology which underpins the site is being deprecated, and there’s no easy upgrade path.*

*Will likely trigger hosting or software migrations.

Let’s not count on this

While this kind of labelling undoubtedly goes some way to helping us spot and better manage migrations, it’s far from a perfect or complete system.

In fact, I suspect it may be far too ambitious, and unrealistic in its aspiration. Accessing conversations early enough — and being listened to and empowered in those conversations — relies on the goodwill and openness of companies who aren’t always completely bought into or enamored with SEO.

This will only work in an organization which is open to this kind of thinking and internal challenging — and chances are, they’re not the kinds of organizations who are routinely breaking their websites. The very people who need our help and this kind of system are fundamentally unsuited to receive it.

I suspect, then, it might be impossible in many cases to make the kinds of changes required to shift behaviors and catch these problems earlier. In most organizations, at least.

Avoiding disasters resulting from ambiguous migration projects relies heavily on broad education. Everything else aside, people tend to change companies faster than you can build deep enough tribal knowledge.

That doesn’t mean that the structure isn’t still valuable, however. The types of changes and triggers I’ve outlined can still be used as alarm bells and direction for your own use.

Let’s get real

If you can’t effectively educate stakeholders on the complexities and impact of them making changes to their website, there are more “lightweight” solutions.

At the very least, you can turn these kinds of items (and expand with your own, and in more detail) into simple lists which can be printed off, laminated, and stuck to a wall. At the very least, perhaps you’ll remind somebody to pick up the phone to the SEO team when they recognize an issue.

In a more pragmatic world, stakeholders don’t necessarily have to understand the nuance or the detail if they at least understand that they’re meant to ask for help when they’re changing domain, for example, or adding new templates to their website.

Whilst this doesn’t solve the underlying problems, it does provide a mechanism through which the damage can be systematically avoided or limited. You can identify problems earlier and be part of the conversation.

If it’s still too late and things do go wrong, you’ll have something you can point to and say “I told you so,” or, more constructively perhaps, “Here’s the resource you need to avoid this happening next time.”

And in your moment of self-righteous vindication, having successfully made it through this post and now armed to save your company from a botched migration project, you can migrate over to the bar. Good work, you.


Thanks to…

This turned into a monster of a post, and its scope meant that it almost never made it to print. Thanks to a few folks in particular for helping me to shape, form, and ship it. In particular:

  • Hannah Thorpe, for help in exploring and structuring the initial concept.
  • Greg Mitchell, for a heavy dose of pragmatism in the conclusion.
  • Gerry White, for some insightful additions and the removal of dozens of typos.
  • Sam Simpson for putting up with me spending hours rambling and ranting at her about failed site migrations.

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

from Moz Blog http://ift.tt/2pyeah8

Coming Soon: Similar Audiences for Search Campaigns [Data]

Google’s been the big dog of the search game for well over a decade and has AdWords advertisers have primarily focused on managing their search campaigns by balancing their keywords with different keyword match types and negative keywords.

However, as more advertisers begin to look to other networks like Facebook (and its elaborate audience targeting options), Google has had to get more dynamic with its audience solutions. Over the past few years, Google has introduced Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA), Customer Match, and recently demographic targeting for search to allow advertisers more flexibility on who sees your ads.

And soon, Google will release another potentially powerful targeting option, currently in closed beta – Similar Audiences for Search Campaigns.

Similar Audiences for Search Campaigns meme 

Google’s Similar Audiences should share a lot of the same search (and hopefully buying!) behaviors as your core RLSA audiences.

What Is Similar Audiences for Search?

Similar Audiences for Search should feel like Similar Audiences for GDN advertisers or Facebook advertisers’ lookalike audiences. Similar Audiences for Search effectively allows you to find users with similar search behavior as those in your RLSA audiences that haven’t been to your site. This audience is expected to be more qualified than your average new visitor, and it would be advantageous to either increase your bids for this audience or target them separately from your other search campaigns

How Do Similar Audiences for Search Perform?

Early beta tests on Similar Audience for Search reveal its strong potential to change your search campaign performance. Although your RLSA audiences may still outperform your other audiences and campaigns and boast the highest CTRs and conversion rates, Similar Audiences for Search still performs comparably well! We’ve noticed that similar audiences convert at almost the same conversion rate as their core RLSA audiences and more than 50% better than other new visitor audiences! Similar audiences also enjoy a 65% higher CTR than other new visitor audiences.

Where similar audiences really shine, though, is in their reach. Few advertisers still question how powerful RLSA targeting is, but many still lament over the fact that returning visitors make up a relatively small share of their search ad impressions.

We’ve seen that on average, Google’s similar audiences for search ads allow advertisers to scale the successful performance of their RLSA campaigns and reach an audience 7 times larger than their original RLSA audiences.

 Similar Audiences for Search Campaigns reach data

Best Practices for Using Similar Audiences for Search Campaigns

Use Bid Only Targeting First

New AdWords features are always exciting, and similar audiences will certainly improve your search campaigns, but it’s best to start small at first! Add similar audiences to your existing campaigns as a “Bid only” target with a modest bid adjustment to begin. Over a few weeks, not only will you see your campaigns perform better, but you’ll also collect valuable data to guide your next moves.

If you see similar audiences perform well and attract a large audience, then you may want to create a separate campaign targeting these users with a “Target and Bid” target. If you’re skeptical or want to be overly cautious, this data comes for free by using a “Bid only” target by applying a +0% bid adjustment.

Use Similar to Converting Audiences or other best performer lists

Just like not all remarketing lists are creating equal, neither are their similar audiences. Your large “similar to website visitors” list may offer very attractive reach, but your similar audiences to shopping cart abandoners or past converter lists will likely have better CTR and CVRs. Even if you don’t target previously converted visitors in your remarketing or RLSA campaigns, the similar audiences of these converted lists are your audiences most likely to convert!

Apply to Dynamic Search Ads to quickly reach highly qualified users

We’ve seen amazing performance by applying remarketing lists to dynamic search ad campaigns (RDSAs). These keyword-free campaigns quickly and inexpensively open your website to anyone searching for keywords relevant to your landing pages. Applying a remarketing list or similar audiences to these DSA campaigns can help keep your audience relevant and your performance highly optimized!

RDSA vs DSA CTR

RLSA has been changed the game once again and Google’s new similar audience targeting has the potential to dramatically improve your search campaigns and your account’s overall bottom line.

When Can I Get Started?!

As mentioned, this feature is currently in limited beta, and we aren’t sure when it will be available to all advertisers, but we’ll keep you updated as soon as we hear! Watch this space.

Data Sources:

The aggregated data in this post is based on a sample of 23 WordStream client accounts with early beta access to Similar Audiences for Search who were advertising on the Google Search Network in March 2017.

About the author:

Mark is a Senior Data Scientist at WordStream with a background in SEM, SEO, and Statistical Modeling. He was named the 14th Most Influential PPC Expert of 2016 by PPC Hero. You can follow him on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google +.

from Internet Marketing Blog by WordStream http://ift.tt/2q0Uakk

4 Surprising Benefits of Content Marketing

It’s no secret that content marketing is one of the most effective ways to reach new customers. It drives traffic to your site, helps establish you as a leading voice in your industry, and gives audiences useful, actionable content that they need to solve their problems.

But did you know there are plenty of other, not-so-obvious benefits to content marketing as well?

 Benefits of content marketing

Today we’ll be taking a look at four unexpected benefits of content marketing. We’ll go over how these tangential content benefits can help you grow your business, and outline some things you may want to consider before launching your next content marketing campaign.

Content Marketing Benefit #1: Heightened Brand Affinity

One of the most beneficial bonuses offered by content marketing is increased brand affinity, in which consumers feel passionately about and share the values of a company or brand.

Brand affinity is the Holy Grail for marketers. Individuals with high brand affinity aren’t just into your products or services – they’re into you as a brand in a major way. They love what you sell, frequently tell their friends and family about how great you are, and will vouch for your products without any prompting or coercion whatsoever.

Benefits of content marketing brand affinity 

“Say no more, fam.”

In short, customers with high brand affinity are your superfans, and they’re arguably your most valuable customers.

And when it comes to prospects, the ones who feel an affinity for your brand will be much more likely to become a customer if they’ve already learned about you through your content. We’ve seen that click-through rates are dramatically higher when you look at audiences who know your brand well:

brand affinity content marketing

How Does Content Marketing Help Brand Affinity?

Reputation plays a huge part in developing and sustaining brand affinity. It’s not enough to merely make or sell high-quality goods or services. You need to become a trustworthy voice in your industry – and one of the best ways to do that is by producing high-quality content.

Shared values are central to the idea of brand affinity. Content not only helps drive traffic to your site, but also affords you the opportunity to demonstrate what your values actually are as an organization.

Benefits of content marketing Buffer transparency company culture 

Social media management app Buffer is an excellent example of this principle in action. In addition to producing one of the most fascinating, data-driven blogs in digital marketing, Buffer also consistently demonstrates its commitment to values such as transparency and work-life balance by providing readers insight into how Buffer functions as a largely distributed team.

This commitment to transparency includes reports and data that, until recently, many sites and publishers found shocking, such as salaries of the entire Buffer staff (including the executive  and management teams), as well as revenue figures, fundraising goals, and equity structure. Blasphemy!

This goes beyond humblebragging or radical transparency as PR – it’s a practical demonstration of openness and trust, qualities that Buffer values highly as an organization. It’s also interesting to see how Buffer’s operating revenues were affected by the move toward a radically transparent organization.

 Benefits of content marketing Buffer transparency impact revenues

How Can I Develop Greater Brand Affinity Through Content Marketing?

Regardless of what kinds of content you publish, it’s crucial that you develop a unique voice. The reason so much content on the web is bland and instantly forgettable is because far too many sites are afraid of actually taking a stand on an issue or putting forward a specific point of view.

I’m going to challenge you to go one step further by sharing and demonstrating your organizational values in your content.

Take WordStream, for example. We know that online advertising can be daunting enough without adding layer upon layer of complex terminology and industry buzzwords, so we don’t use them. We try to be as straightforward and accessible as possible with our content, and we apply these same values to every facet of the company, from our relationships with Google and Facebook to how we onboard new customers.

We also know that, as effective as they can be, PPC and digital marketing can be… well, a little dry. That’s why we try to lighten the tone of our content by including memes, gifs, and the odd Star Wars gag.

Benefits of content marketing Star Wars meme 

DANK.

What matters to you as an organization? Start there, then see how your content can actively reflect those values.

Content Marketing Benefit #2: Larger Remarketing Audiences

In a perfect world, people browsing the web would come across your content organically thanks to your painstaking SEO efforts, carefully read every lovingly written word on your blog, then buy tons of stuff on your site.

Sadly, this isn’t quite how content marketing works.

Benefits of content marketing Rand Fishkin caveman 

Nope, sorry.

Fortunately, one of the most tactically advantageous benefits of content marketing is that it allows you to create highly refined remarketing audiences based on your site traffic, a super-effective technique for increasing your conversion rates.

How Does Content Marketing Help Build Remarketing Audiences?

One of the best things about remarketing is that you can create custom audience segments based on virtually any criteria that matter to you. When it comes to content, behavioral signifiers can be extraordinarily valuable, especially if you’re segmenting your database by intent or conversion funnel stage.

Benefits of content marketing remarketing audience messaging 

Messaging can – and should – change depending on visitors’ behavior

For example, we use content remarketing to create custom lists of all sorts of segments, which then feed into ongoing campaigns or our various nurture pathways. We use lists of people who read the blog on a regular basis, but have yet to download one of our guides. We have lists in which people have downloaded several guides on particular topics and also visited certain pages of the site, such as our Product or Pricing pages. We have lists of people who graded their AdWords account after reading certain articles, or reached a certain stage in one of our conversion pathways but didn’t actually convert.

In short, your content analytics are a treasure-trove of invaluable user data that you can use in your other marketing campaigns.

How Can I Create Remarketing Lists Using Content?

Creating a remarketing list using analytics data from your content is largely the same as using other data sets to create remarketing lists.

 Benefits of content marketing Facebook remarketing example

Creepy? Yeah – creepy AWESOME

Of course, you’ll need to decide which kind of remarketing segment you want to create – PPC, Facebook, Google Display Network etc. – as this will affect which kind of tracking cookies you’ll be using. It’s worth noting that, in most instances, the Google Analytics tracking code is more versatile than the AdWords tracking code, as the Analytics code can include visitor behaviors while the AdWords code cannot.

After that, though, you’ll be free to dive into your data, and the rest of the process won’t be much different to the workflow you’re familiar with. However you choose to create your lists, be sure to pay attention to your tracking parameters and frequency caps – but note that some industries benefit from much longer frequency caps.

Content Marketing Benefit #3: Driving Traffic Through Image Search

Unlike most residents of Los Angeles – a city as famous for its horrendously congested highway as its towering palm trees – every website owner wants more traffic.

Benefits of content marketing Los Angeles traffic jam 

#FMLforever

What’s one of the most effective, yet chronically underutilized, techniques for driving more traffic?

Image search.

Publishing quality content consistently offers amazing optimization opportunities that static sites cannot, including image optimization. Image search is becoming increasingly popular (and accurate), with more than 11% of Google searches including images on the SERP, yet many sites treat images as an afterthought. This presents the diligent content marketer with an amazing opportunity to capitalize on the laziness of others and leverage image search for greater visibility.

How Can Content Marketing Improve My Visibility Through Image Search?

Every single image you include in your content can be optimized to appear more prominently in image searches. This means that every image is a “free” opportunity to rank for certain image queries, which can drive significant traffic to your site over time.

Benefits of content marketing image search 

A typical Google image SERP, including Sponsored results, for the search query
“patio furniture”

Obviously, this isn’t as important for images like memes or gifs (which you should consider using to lighten the tone of your content or add extra visual interest to otherwise dry topics), but can be extremely valuable for original data visualizations, infographics, charts, and any other visual assets that could be used elsewhere by other sites and publications.

How Do I Optimize Images for Search?

There are some mainstays of image optimization that you should be aware of, the first of which is your images’ metadata.

Benefits of content marketing image metadata 

A sample of the metadata that can be captured
and manipulated in a single image file

Every image on the web can be optimized by including metadata – data about data. This includes attributes such as an image’s alt text. This field (which you can access through a CMS such as Drupal or WordPress) is used by web browsers to identify the contents of an image. This functionality is often used by individuals who browse the web using screen readers, which are software programs that enable visually impaired people to understand visual content. However, in addition to being a crucial accessibility aid, the alt text field can also be used to help your images appear more prominently in image searches.

For a more in-depth guide, check out this post on optimizing images for commercial intent queries by yours truly.

Content Marketing Benefit #4: Feeding Your Social Flywheel

Our fourth and final content marketing benefit focuses on social media – specifically, how publishing content on a regular basis can help you create what is sometimes called the “flywheel effect” that can consistently help you grow your audience, establish greater credibility in your industry, and provide you with further conversion opportunities.

How Can Content Marketing Help Me Grow My Social Audience?

Content marketing and social media go together like fish and chips. Publish content on your site, use social media to promote it, grow your audience, rinse and repeat. The real power, however, goes back to the flywheel concept.

Benefits of content marketing flywheel effect 

Stand back, everyone – I’m going to SCIENCE

A flywheel, as Larry Kim explained in this round-up of his very best paid social hacks, is a mechanical device that powers machinery. Flywheels take a significant amount of energy to set in motion – but once they get going, they can keep going for a very long time with minimal upkeep.

This is the principle behind content marketing and the social media flywheel effect.

Benefits of content marketing Twitter Analytics follower graph 

A screenshot taken from Larry’s Twitter Analytics dashboard showing
follower growth between August 2012 and January 2015

When Larry was first building his (now vast) social media following, it took him almost six years to amass just 12,000 followers. However, once he overcame this tipping point, the pace of growth increased rapidly – so much so that just one year later, Larry had gained an additional 50,000 followers.

This demonstrates the flywheel concept perfectly. The initial investment of time and effort was the energy it took to get the flywheel moving, and the huge surge in growth he experienced subsequently represents the power and momentum of the flywheel in motion.

 Benefits of content marketing why bloggers give up graph Moz

Image via Moz

The same can be said for content in general. Sadly, many blogs, sites, and companies give up on content marketing before they gain sufficient momentum to propel them to the heights they envisioned in the first place. In the figure above, you can see that it took two years of consistent effort before this site experienced any real lift in traffic as a result of their content marketing strategy – but when it did, the results were amazing.

So what can you do?

How Do I Use Social Media to Promote My Content?

The first thing you need to accept is that building a social media following takes a long time, and it really sucks. There’s just no two ways about it. Consistently writing and publishing the very best content you can for months or even years without any real movement can be bitterly discouraging.

However, as with so much in life, it’s all about perception. Rather than lament all the time, effort, and money you’re “wasting” on the blog you think nobody is reading and your Twitter account with 200 followers, instead think of this as the initial energy you need to get your flywheel turning. Eventually, the momentum will catch up, and you’ll start experiencing the kind of traffic and growth you want – it just takes time and perseverance.

In short: Great content gives you stuff to post to your social feeds, which shows your social feeds have value and can help you grow those social followings. Then, when you publish yet more great content, you’ll have bigger followings in place to expose it to.

Of course, there’s a lot more to content promotion than just brute-forcing it for years and hoping it pays off. For further reading on using social to promote your content and grow your audience, check out this comprehensive guide to social media content promotion.

Content (with Benefits)

This is far from a comprehensive list of the benefits of content marketing. We didn’t even talk about how content marketing makes you look cool, run faster, jump higher, and schmooze with the cool kids at parties. Hopefully, though, you’ve got some ideas of your own about how to wring even more value out of the content you’re producing.

As always, get at me in the comments with suggestions, success stories, and anything else about how you’re getting even more mileage out of your content.

from Internet Marketing Blog by WordStream http://ift.tt/2phagZc

The State of Links: Yesterday’s Ranking Factor?

Posted by Tom.Capper

Back in September last year, I was lucky enough to see Rand speak at MozCon. His talk was about link building and the main types of strategy that he saw as still being relevant and effective today. During his introduction, he said something that really got me thinking, about how the whole purpose of links and PageRank had been to approximate traffic.

Source

Essentially, back in the late ’90s, links were a much bigger part of how we experienced the web — think of hubs like Excite, AOL, and Yahoo. Google’s big innovation was to realize that, because people navigated the web by clicking on links, they could approximate the relative popularity of pages by looking at those links.

So many links, such little time.

Rand pointed out that, given all the information at their disposal in the present day — as an Internet Service Provider, a search engine, a browser, an operating system, and so on — Google could now far more accurately model whether a link drives traffic, so you shouldn’t aim to build links that don’t drive traffic. This is a pretty big step forward from the link-building tactics of old, but it occurred to me that it it probably doesn’t go far enough.

If Google has enough data to figure out which links are genuinely driving traffic, why bother with links at all? The whole point was to figure out which sites and pages were popular, and they can now answer that question directly. (It’s worth noting that there’s a dichotomy between “popular” and “trustworthy” that I don’t want to get too stuck into, but which isn’t too big a deal here given that both can be inferred from either link-based data sources, or from non-link-based data sources — for example, SERP click-through rate might correlate well with “trustworthy,” while “search volume” might correlate well with “popular”).

However, there’s plenty of evidence out there suggesting that Google is in fact still making significant use of links as a ranking factor, so I decided to set out to challenge the data on both sides of that argument. The end result of that research is this post.

The horse’s mouth

One reasonably authoritative source on matters relating to Google is Google themselves. Google has been fairly unequivocal, even in recent times, that links are still a big deal. For example:

  • March 2016: Google Senior Search Quality Strategist Andrey Lipattsev confirms that content and links are the first and second greatest ranking factors. (The full quote is: “Yes; I can tell you what they [the number 1 and 2 ranking factors] are. It’s content, and links pointing to your site.”)
  • April 2014: Matt Cutts confirms that Google has tested search quality without links, and found it to be inferior.
  • October 2016: Gary Illyes implies that text links continue to be valuable while playing down the concept of Domain Authority.

Then, of course, there’s their continued focus on unnatural backlinks and so on — none of which would be necessary in a world where links are not a ranking factor.

However, I’d argue that this doesn’t indicate the end of our discussion before it’s even begun. Firstly, Google has a great track record of giving out dodgy SEO advice. Consider HTTPS migrations pre-2016. Will Critchlow talked at SearchLove San Diego about how Google’s algorithms are at a level of complexity and opaqueness where they’re no longer even trying to understand them themselves — and of course there are numerous stories of unintentional behaviors from machine learning algorithms out in the wild.

Third-party correlation studies

It’s not difficult to put together your own data and show a correlation between link-based metrics and rankings. Take, for example:

  • Moz’s most recent study in 2015, showing strong relationships between link-based factors and rankings across the board.
  • This more recent study by Stone Temple Consulting.

However, these studies fall into significant issues with correlation vs. causation.

There are three main mechanisms which could explain the relationships that they show:

  1. Getting more links causes sites to rank higher (yay!)
  2. Ranking higher causes sites to get more links
  3. Some third factor, such as brand awareness, is related to both links and rankings, causing them to be correlated with each other despite the absence of a direct causal relationship

I’ve yet to see any correlation study that addresses these very serious shortcomings, or even particularly acknowledges them. Indeed, I’m not sure that it would even be possible to do so given the available data, but this does show that as an industry we need to apply some critical thinking to the advice that we’re consuming.

However, earlier this year I did write up some research of my own here on the Moz Blog, demonstrating that brand awareness could in fact be a more useful factor than links for predicting rankings.

Source

The problem with this study was that it showed a relationship that was concrete (i.e. extremely statistically significant), but that was surprisingly lacking in explanatory power. Indeed, I discussed in that post how I’d ended up with a correlation that was far lower than Moz’s for Domain Authority.

Fortunately, Malcolm Slade recently discussed some of his very similar research at BrightonSEO, in which he finds similar broad correlations to myself between brand factors and rankings, but far, far stronger correlations for certain types of query, and especially big, high-volume, highly competitive head terms.

So what can we conclude overall from these third-party studies? Two main things:

  1. We should take with a large pinch of salt any study that does not address the possibilities of reverse causation, or a jointly-causing third factor.
  2. Links can add very little explanatory power to a rankings prediction model based on branded search volume, at least at a domain level.

The real world: Why do rankings change?

At the end of the day, we’re interested in whether links are a ranking factor because we’re interested in whether we should be trying to use them to improve the rankings of our sites, or our clients’ sites.

Fluctuation

The first example I want to look at here is this graph, showing UK rankings for the keyword “flowers” from May to December last year:

The fact is that our traditional understanding of ranking changes — which breaks down into links, on-site, and algorithm changes — cannot explain this degree of rapid fluctuation. If you don’t believe me, the above data is available publicly through platforms like SEMRush and Searchmetrics, so try to dig into it yourself and see if there’s any external explanation.

This level and frequency of fluctuation is increasingly common for hotly contested terms, and it shows a tendency by Google to continuously iterate and optimize — just as marketers do when they’re optimizing a paid search advert, or a landing page, or an email campaign.

What is Google optimizing for?

Source

The above slide is from Larry Kim’s presentation at SearchLove San Diego, and it shows how the highest SERP positions are gaining click-through rate over time, despite all the changes in Google Search (such as increased non-organic results) that ought to drive the opposite.

Larry’s suggestion is that this is a symptom of Google’s procedural optimization — not of the algorithm, but by the algorithm and of results. This certainly fits in with everything we’ve seen.

Successful link building

However, at the other end of the scale, we get examples like this:

Picture1.png

The above graph (courtesy of STAT) shows rankings for the commercial keywords for Fleximize.com during a Distilled creative campaign. This is a particularly interesting example for two reasons:

  • Fleximize started off as a domain with relatively little equity, meaning that changes were measurable, and that there were fairly easy gains to be made
  • Nothing happened with the first two pieces (1, 2), even though they scored high-quality coverage and were seemingly very comparable to the third (3).

It seems that links did eventually move the needle here, and massively so, but the mechanisms at work are highly opaque.

The above two examples — “Flowers” and Fleximize — are just two real-world examples of ranking changes. I’ve picked one that seems obviously link-driven but a little strange, and one that shows how volatile things are for more competitive terms. I’m sure there are countless massive folders out there full of case studies that show links moving rankings — but the point is that it can happen, yet it isn’t always as simple as it seems.

How do we explain all of this?

A lot of the evidence I’ve gone through above is contradictory. Links are correlated with rankings, and Google says they’re important, and sometimes they clearly move the needle, but on the other hand brand awareness seems to explain away most of their statistical usefulness, and Google’s operating with more subtle methods in the data-rich top end.

My favored explanation right now to explain how this fit together is this:

  • There are two tiers — probably fuzzily separated.
  • At the top end, user signals — and factors that Google’s algorithms associate with user signals — are everything. For competitive queries with lots of search volume, links don’t tell Google anything it couldn’t figure out anyway, and links don’t help with the final refinement of fine-grained ordering.
  • However, links may still be a big part of how you qualify for that competition in the top end.

This is very much a work in progress, however, and I’d love to see other people’s thoughts, and especially their fresh research. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

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

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9 Ways Facebook Creative Hub Will Energize Your Social Ads

I say this as someone who writes about digital marketing for money: Reading can only teach you so much about how to make great Facebook ads. Doing is the best way to wrap your head around this stuff.

Unfortunately, making Facebook Creative that simultaneously stands out visually, appeals emotionally, and converts can be tough.

There’s generating a killer concept, deciding which type of ad to use, ensuring it passes the text-checker, setting up targeting, writing copy. By the time you’ve got an ad on your hands, it’s entirely possible your initial audience has aged right out of your target demo.

facebook creative

Fret not, folks: Facebook Creative Hub alleviates some of this difficulty by making it easier to conceptualize and execute exceptional ad creative.

How, you ask?

What Is Facebook Creative Hub?

Facebook Creative Hub is a feature inside Facebook Ads that let you skip right to making creative and shows you the strategies advertisers with exponentially larger budgets are using to succeed. Flatter the hell out of them by adapting and improving upon their ideas!

It’s an incredible resource, a sandbox for advertisers to explore, create, and share. It organizes Facebook’s wealth of ad types into cohesive subsets and provides insanely neat examples of each. Global Ad agencies lean on it for its versatility and for the ability to test a variety of ad formats before ever pushing them live; if it’s good enough for the second coming of Sterling Cooper Draper Price Cutler Gleason Chaough, it’s good enough for me.

Now, by my count there are 9 ways Facebook Creative Hub can help you create better Facebook ads:

  1. Draw inspiration from big brands
  2. Manage mockups
  3. Ensure your image ads will be approved
  4. Explore new ad formats
  5. Unleash the power of Instagram
  6. Hone your mobile advertising strategy
  7. Share ideas with your team
  8. Preview ads in their natural habitat
  9. Manage, edit, and export with ease

Let’s take a closer look at each of the ways Facebook Creative Hub can take your paid social game to the next level.

Facebook Creative Tip #1: Draw Inspiration from Big Brands

When browsing paid social ads starts feeling like a legitimate form of entertainment, you know somebody did a solid job. Bouncing around the Creative Hub, I just wanna give somebody at Facebook a congratulatory hug.

facebook creative hug get inspired

The “Get Inspired” tucked in the top right hand corner of the UI is Facebook Creative Hub’s Stumble button. From there, you can scroll through dozens of examples for every ad type, from Instagram Stories to the always impactful Carousel. From Ben and Jerry’s to Bentley, I’d wager you can find something interesting to look at.

Once you’ve settled on a category to delve into, the page full of ads dynamically changes to accommodate your selection. Click one of the vector graphic smartphones and you’re treated to a close-up paired with a short description. 

facebook video creative

While most are written in marketingese, some offer helpful insights into the creative process and research that went into creating the ad you’re viewing.

As a small business, freelancer, or agency, the tips and tricks you can glean from the pros are invaluable. Who cares if you won’t have the same sort of production budget available to the crew that came up with some sensual Baconator video ad? You can mirror techniques and jot down ideas you stumble upon in the Creative Hub and use them to inform your own Facebook strategyyour own Facebook strategy.

Facebook Creative Tip #2: Manage Your Mockups

Mockups have long been a valuable tool for agencies and freelancers pitching creative to clients, but most advertisers and solopreneurs don’t use them. This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t.

It’s simply a reflection of that fact that, historically, creating mockups for digital ads has been challenging. It’s far easier to hop into Facebook or AdWords or whatever platform you’re working on, make an ad on the fly, and get going. Mockups are for people with the spare time to conceptualize and edit an idea, not your run-of-the-mill mom and pop operation.

UNTIL NOW. 

facebook creative hub ad mockup creation

In the Facebook Creative Hub, everywhere you look, there’s some iteration of a “Create Mockup” call to action. Some are buttons. Some are copy. It’s very clear that Facebook would like you to create something: might as well humor them.

Once you’ve selected the type of ad you’d like to create… 

facebook creative hub mockup ad creation

You’re brought to an ad creation screen that mirrors the one you’ve become accustomed to if you’ve advertised on Facebook in the past. I’d suggest right clicking the option you’d like to go with and opening your mockup editor in a separate tab. That way, you can use the example ads from before as inspiration while you work on putting together your highest converting Facebook ad to date.

Facebook Creative Tip #3: Ensure Your Images Will be Approved

I used to lean on third-party tools to check my Facebook images. As is well documented, Facebook can be finicky when it comes to creative. Too many words plastered atop your graphics and pictures and they’ll throttle reach considerably.

This is no good.

Creative Hub allows you to run the images you’re using in Mockup Ads through a built-in text checker. This means you can ensure the ideas you dream up are viable before moving forward.

To use the text checker, simply upload an image using the requisite blue button. 

facebook creative image text checker feature

Facebook will instantly give you an idea as to how your image will impact ad performance. If it comes up anything but green (“Okay” in their parlance), consider tweaking your image to conform to the advice in the helpful FAQ section.

The lesson here? Facebook is more about Brett’s portrait in greyscale than my exceptional Voltron metaphor.

Facebook Creative Tip #4: Explore New Ad Formats

Yes, yes, yes. I know you already come to WordStream for all things breaking news in the world of digital marketing. But I also know that in the moments immediately after you read about something cool, you want to take it for a spin. My papa can’t watch a Jaguar commercial without wanting to spend a hundred and seventeen grand; I can’t see a new ad format come out without immediately imagining where and how to use it. I’m a freak. Sue me.

When Canvas ads came out, I storyboarded dozens of ideas for my clients, but translating that into something I could share with them was beyond my means. Had Creative Hub existed, I’d have looked at what Target and Carnival and Halo Top were doing, turned my best ideas into mockups, and convinced someone to let me make a hyper-interactive ad days after the format launched.

facebook creative hub discover new ad formats

On the “Get Inspired” page, Facebook makes it obvious which ad formats are new: at the time this post was written, the newest formats available to advertisers are Facebook Collections and Instagram Stories.

Speaking of…

Facebook Creative Tip #5: Unleash the Power of Instagram

It amazes me how many businesses aren’t using Instagram ads today. It’s as if people live blissfully unaware of the fact that Instagram ad creation is baked right into Facebook: if they knew it was right there, surely there would be more high tops and whitepapers sandwiched between photos of artisanal beignets and children at play.

In the “Get Inspired” section of the Creative Hub UI, Instagram ads are grouped with Facebook ads; if you’re looking for something platform specific, the “Home” page allows you to break Instagram out into its own unique segment.

instagram ads in facebook creative hub

Here, you can:

  • Learn more about the ad formats available to you (including those that are cross compatible with Facebook)
  • View examples of killer Instagram creative (the Jeep stuff is super METAL)
  • Create Mockups!

Facebook Creative Tip #6: Hone Your Mobile Advertising Strategy

If there’s one thing that’s clear when navigating the Facebook Creative Hub, it’s the importance Zuck and Co. have placed on mobile user experience.

As the digital world continues to move further away from desks, this emphasis on how prospects view and interact with your ads on their phones will set you apart from your competition.

Creative Hub puts ads on display within the frame of an iPhone vector graphic. This allows you to get an idea as to how media-rich ad creative looks and feels on a mobile device. Not good enough for you, discerning advertiser? You can also export an ad directly to your mobile device, like so… 

facebook creative hub export ads to mobile device

If I wanna check out this cool, strobing ad for Stance Socks on my phone, for example, I simply click a button, Facebook sends it to me, and I can open it on my device.

Simple.

Facebook Creative Tip #7: Share Ideas with Your Team (or Clients)

Facebook Creative Hub allows you to share the superlative examples you might find with the click of a button…

facebook creative share link

The more exciting feature, though (especially for agencies), is the ability to send links to your mockups.

facebook creative hub share mockup

By allowing users to share everything they find or build within the UI, across multiple accounts and devices, Facebook has made it easier than ever to create awesome shit collaboratively. Next time you make a mockup, duplicate it, share copies with your teammates or confidants, and see if they’ve got any ideas for improvement!

Combine their feedback to create a crowdsourced, optimized ad and hit the ground running.

Facebook Creative Tip #8: Preview Ads in Their Natural Habitat

I already mentioned that Creative Hub lets you look at Facebook and Instagram ads independent of one another. I mentioned the ability to share cool ads and view them on a mobile device.

What I didn’t say was that once you’ve created a mockup, you can send it to your Facebook or Instagram app, to see your own handiwork among the engagement photos and political takes. 

facebook creative hub send mockups to mobile devices

That’s right, people. You can look at mockups of your brand-new ads, in-app.

Why does this matter? It means you can look at how your new ads stack up, aesthetically and in terms of copy, in the environments where prospects will eventually interact with them. If your text is too small, your images too awkward, or your copy simply isn’t as captivating surrounded by white noise, you’ll know about it before spending a dime.

Facebook Creative Tip #9: Manage, Edit, and Export Ads with Ease

Finally, we come to the end…

Once you’ve created your mockup ad (or ads) there are a couple of things you can do with it (outside of simply admiring your genius). The “Manage Mockups” option takes you to an interface that’ll allow you to preview, duplicate, share, and delete your mockups. 

facebook creative hub manage edit and share new social ads

This is a great way to test multiple iterations of similar creative. Pre A/B test A/B testing: for the proactive advertiser.

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Have you started using Facebook Creative Hub yet? Let us know how you like it and what you’ve used it for in the comments below!

About the Author

Allen Finn is a content marketing specialist and the reigning fantasy football champion at WordStream. He enjoys couth menswear, dank eats, and the dulcet tones of the Wu-Tang Clan. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

from Internet Marketing Blog by WordStream http://ift.tt/2pWafHE