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The SEO News for August 2017

Search engines do not take a vacation. Therefore, we present just in time for the summer vacation the most important SEO News of the month July – with new competition for Amazon Alexa, positive news for Bing and, of course, exciting Google updates.

1. Google Mobile Search enables direct contact with potential customers

After the first tests in November of last year, Google in the USA has now officially launched the function enabling users to contact companies directly from the search results on mobile terminals. After a local search (e.g. for a restaurant, hairdresser, etc.) you will be able to notify the store of your choice directly by Messaging App. For providers, the new function is activated quickly via the Google MyBusiness-Account. The communication is processed either through the Google-Messaging-App “Allo” onto Android devices or directly in the native Messaging-App onto iOS.

2. Videos on Google and YouTube: New study explains the differences in the ranking

Do I want to focus on Google or YouTube in the case of optimising my moving image content? A new study from the USA provides support with this decision. Using a comprehensive ranking analysis, this could show that the algorithms of both search engines differ significantly due to different user intentions and monetisation models. As a result, the content of the video is decisive: While informative content on traditional Google search, such as operating instructions, seminars, or reviews gain high visibility, on YouTube you can achieve high rankings with entertainment content and serial formats. Interesting reading for any SEO.

3. Bing expands market shares in Desktop Searches

For a successful search engine optimisation, it is important not to depend only on the market leader Google. To reach your target group, you need to closely observe the broad spectrum of general and specialised search systems. This, of course, includes Microsoft’s search engine Bing, which, by his own account, serves older and financially stronger target groups than its competitor Google. According to the latest figures from Comscore’s market researchers, Bing was able to expand its European market share in desktop searches to nine percent in the first two quarters of 2017, in Germany to twelve percent and in the United States even to 33 percent. Bing was driven by a stronger integration of the search engine into the current operating system Windows 10 and its Voice Search “Cortana”, Depending on the audience and target market, it is thus worthwhile keeping an eye on the company from Redmond.

4. Bing expands results display for brand searches

And once again Bing: In the past, it has been shown that even Google is not afraid to copy new features from Microsoft’s search engine. For example, in the case of the image search, Bing was able to profile itself with new display formats on the search results pages. Recently, in the United States, Bing offers during the search for brand names, in addition to the well-known site links, also direct entry points for “Popular Content” in the form of screen shots and images. Whether or not this feature provides added value for the user is questionable, it serves quite definitely an attention increase and thus a potentially higher click rate.

5. Competition for Google and Amazon: Samsung and Facebook are planning their smart speakers

Up to now, the market for the smart speaker has been controlled mainly by Amazon and Google, where the trade giant currently plays a dominant role with Echo and Alexa. Now Samsung and Facebook are also preparing to enter this market. Currently, Samsung is focusing on the development of language assistant Bixby and once more positions itself as a competitor to Google. Apparently, Facebook will launch a corresponding offer on the market in the first quarter of 2018.These developments underline the trend that SEO will increase significantly in complexity given the rapid (further) development of language searches and the more diverse region of terminal equipment.

Why voice search is not the end of SEO

Siri, Alexa, Cortana, Google Assistant and their like are undeniably on trend: Since the market launch in 2015, Amazon alone has sold well over eight million Echos and Echo Dots in the USA and now Apple has jumped on board the smart loudspeaker movement with the HomePod. According to a current Statista analysis, around 17 million people in Germany use the virtual Google Assistant, eleven million ask Siri questions on Apple devices and almost seven million communicate with Microsoft Cortana. Whether it’s on a smartphone or via a smart loudspeaker, more and more people are using voice control for searches. According to a ComScore forecast, half of all searches will be carried out via voice command in just three years’ time. At least 30 percent of people will even be searching without their own screen. These numbers are making a lot of marketers nervous. If new devices are changing our search behaviour, what will happen to SEO? Is it time to wonder once again if this is the end for search engine optimisation? No, not yet!

There’s no doubt that voice search is dramatically changing our search behaviour, as verbal search requests are very different from typing queries. Search terms and phrases can be longer, less specific, descriptive and closer to natural language use via voice control. However, this can also make them more complex, making it harder to understand the actual intention behind the search, because keywords and their attributes are no longer the primary focus as features of the search.

Is this going to give agencies and advertisers a headache? No – voice searches and changes in input behaviour are more of a challenge for search system providers, i.e. for Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft etc., as they are in more intense competition with one another to adjust to new user behaviour. If Alexa, Siri and their like cannot understand certain questions, it is up to search system and search assistant providers to find the solution. However, this challenge is nothing new for the dominant company groups. Their algorithms are getting better and better at recognising the intention behind a search and delivering the right results. For example, Google prepared itself for the trend five years ago: with its ‘semantic search’ and, since 2015, the RankBrain system based on artificial intelligence. With one small exception: Try asking Siri about SEO. It does not come up with the right match, even on the fourth time of asking.

When it comes to search engine optimisation, I find one thing far more interesting than the questions that can be asked using voice search and that is the answers that are given as a result. Is there one answer, multiple answers or does the initial question then lead to a conversation between the search system and the searcher? In principle, the process is the same with a virtual assistant as it would be with a physical advisor: do you want a quick result or a full sales pitch? Do you want to be left alone to browse quietly or do you need the help of a sales assistant? Is a brief answer enough or do you want to break down your query more specifically in stages until you get the right result?

The challenge for SEO experts in future is therefore based on these conversations between the searcher and the voice assistant. Clear, direct answers are only possible for a small proportion of search queries, e.g. the weather forecast for the weekend, the opening hours of a doctor’s surgery, the number of people who live in Madagascar or traffic reports. The sources for Google’s ‘featured snippets’ already provide the answers for such questions. However, there is no need for general reorientation for voice-controlled searches when it comes to the identification, preparation and answering of such questions. In future, it is local search queries using voice search that will take on a prominent role in particular. Tagging geo-local information on a website is already part and parcel of basic SEO work today (keywords: semantic markups). The integration of local data for businesses, hotels or restaurants into existing search engines that specialise in such queries, such as Yelp or Kayak, is even more vital. Both providers already have skills on Amazon Echo and also use search assistants like Siri and Cortana as reference.

Open-ended questions and statements where the person asking the question is looking for advice are harder to deal with. They are similar to those we would ask in a shop: e.g. “I would like to buy a TV” or “I’m looking for a dress”. It’s not easy to simply counter this question with an answer. Questions have to be asked in return – for example: “Do you need the dress for a particular event?”.

These days, good SEO means optimisation relating to the intention of the search. In the voice search era, it will become even more vital for website operators and search experts to understand and handle the search intentions of their target groups. Only by doing so can they provide added value and tailor the information they offer precisely to the demands of their potential customers. Voice-controlled search will therefore not kill off SEO, but it will make us think more than before about what’s beyond Google. In future, SEO must also look at defining information in the context of content and presenting this automatically.

Google AdWords changes 2016: First experiences in the practical test

Some exciting changes to the search engine giant from California in San Francisco were introduced at the Google Global Performance Summit last Tuesday. In addition to new features in local search ads and important extensions of the Google Display Network (GDN), now Google provides also expanded advertising and display options in the classic search ads, called Extended Text Ads (ETA).

Plan.Net Performance is one of the first agencies in Germany to test the new Google formats for a customer and enlightening experiences were gained.

Finally, there is more space with Google Extended Text Ads

25/35/35. Hitherto the number of characters was limited in the creation of text ads on Google Search for the title, text and URL. This limitation could cause sometimes real difficulties to advertisers, for example, if you wanted to promote a “pet owner liability insurance”.

Since last week, Google offers more freedom to selected advertisers: two headlines of 30 characters each and an 80 character line of text offer sufficient space for the use of USPs and call-to-actions. The domain of the URL display is generated automatically from the stored destination URL, additionally there are two fields for the individual definition of the URL path.

The easier ad creation by expanding the character limit is only partly true. In the old format advertisers were forced to restrict the texts to the most important information. Now there is a risk to use unnecessary text filler, thus distracting from the actual core.

Google AdWords: Google Extended Text Ads

Google Extended Text Ads

Is this a logical compensation after a few weeks ago all ads in the right column were deactivated from the search results? Agreed, for those who were used to the ads on the right side and the left-aligned view for years, Google search results page looked in February almost a bit empty.

The expanded text ads are available since Monday, 23 May 2016. The first results are promising and confirm the expected uplift in the core metrics (higher click-through rates, CTR, at slightly lower CPC). Google itself predicts an uplift in CTR by up to 20 percent. Since the new format during the beta phase is only limited and only few advertisers are unlocked, the actual effect will probably become clear in a few months.

Google’s strategy to further strengthen the premium positions has not changed meanwhile. Thus, the expanded text ads, as other enhancements, increase also the premium positions 1 to 3. The competition will not be lower.

GDN: Cross-exchange for Display Remarketing Campaigns and Responsive Ads

Through the Google Display Network (GDN) advertisers can publish classic display ads on a variety of participating websites and blogs. Under the keywords “Cross-exchange for display remarketing campaigns” Google facilitates its customers to extend their remarketing campaigns through additional inventory sources. So far, Google fell back on the DoubleClick Ad Exchange. DoubleClick is also part of the Google Group.

A major difference between the GDN and the major ad exchanges is the order process. While in GDN usually there are only incurred costs when an advertisement is actually clicked (CPC – cost per click), the Ad Exchanges are generally remunerated for each advertising appearance (CPM – Cost Per Mille). You might think that with the expansion of GDNs to additional ad exchanges, Google is taking a certain risk. Theoretically, this is also true, especially since Google most probably buys the advertising service on a CPM basis and offers it to its customers on a CPC basis. However, it would not be Google, if they did not know exactly what they are doing.

The newly acquired range is limited exclusively to remarketing campaigns. The generated CTRs are known to be many times higher than for campaigns with other targeting options. CTRs of 0.20 percent and higher for standard formats are not uncommon. With the higher expected CTR, Google is also in the position to pay the corresponding higher CPMs, or rather to ensure its own margin. This purchase model can be very successful, as other vendors like Criteo have long proved.

The extension of remarketing campaigns in the GDN to additional ad exchanges thus represents not necessarily a cannibalization, but rather a useful supplement for Google.

Another announcement are the “Responsive Ads for display”, i.e., advertisements that individually adjust to the respective content in which they are placed. This allows to place advertising spaces in the GDN which do not follow the usual format standards. It was exactly with especial formats when DoubleClick was not a very flexible partner. “Responsive Ads for display” should have a positive impact, especially on mobile devices and facilitate native advertising integrations. Google positions itself step by step in a “Mobile First” world and will significantly expand its range through adjustments.

What the new feature actually brings, will only be known in detail after a test. With the increasing “playground” of Google grows also the overlap with other areas of marketing. It is therefore more important to evaluate all the accordingly activities under an overarching strategy and coordinate the most important.

Other advertising opportunities in the local search

Finally, new features for Local Search Ads (LSA) were announced in San Francisco. So it will be possible for advertisers in the future, to highlight their ads on mobile devices and the Google Maps service. “Promoted Pins” put the company logo in the navigation via Google Maps prominently in scene. If a potential customer looks for services or products on the go and clicks on such a pin, in addition to the usual display texts, current information of offers or promotions will be available in the future. Google responded with this innovation to the unbroken trend towards mobile use of its services. According to own statements, one third of all mobile searches relates directly to local services, such as cafés, restaurants or shops. In addition, mobile requests with a local connection grow around 50 per cent faster than the totality of all mobile searches worldwide.

Google changes its appearance as an advertising platform in the context of an increasing competition and a rapidly changing user behaviour. Especially Facebook has been able to benefit from the increasing mobilization of internet usage. For advertisers and agencies, this means to observe developments and innovations closely and to have the courage to experiment and question traditional paths.

Why a media planner talks about Search

Just why is it called a search engine and not a find engine? Why do people google Google? Why does someone from the media write about Search? All of these are valid questions, but I will leave the first two on the roadside and concentrate on the last one. The answer is just as trivial as the other two questions: because Search is fundamentally not at all different from an advertisement driven customer journey in a well aired closed environment.

If this threw up questions, you can start wondering if Google has an answer for you.

Search engine marketing is much too complex for a well-versed ordinary person like me to handle. It is its own science, but still follows a few economic ground rules. It is all about AIDA when the journey goes from generic terms toward brand keywords. When asking myself how high I want to scale my budget, the answer is all about diminishing returns. For this, the cost for that last final sale/click/so on is the base for my future actions – and not the average. And yes, it’s also about might makes right. Whoever is more publicly known, has the best optimized website (this is where buying power is surely not a handicap) and is generally more competent, will disproportionately profit. Taken at its core, Search is advertisement ecology in a microcosm. That said, the industry I just labelled a microcosm is actually a monopolistic billion dollar business.

But this is not the end: it is not only a catch basin for generated interest through other web actions and thus close to the sale. It’s also – as described above – a complete sales funnel on its own merit. This versatility is the reason that this channel is so hard to grasp and pin onto a snazzy strategy chart.

Add to this that it is not only a good sales story from Mountain View when you are told that even non brand search engines can help advertisers. This message can be confirmed from our own in house information, because especially this source of advertisement has shown an incremental growth of capital influx for the likeable data kraken. If this helps or how much more help this provides in comparison to other media channels is something that can only be gauged on a case to case basis.

For this, the devil is in the detail: A short glimpse into online attributions often fails, in particular for multi-channel offerings with a high offline advertisements and assets such glimpses often lead to misallocation.  Only in depth, sophisticated modellings can alleviate this problem and separate the intrinsic use from incidental gains.

How will this continue in the future? People will get lazier and the search function will become increasingly mobile (android) as well as increasingly voice activated. Add to this that Google learns more from us than some of us might like. Despite this many will enjoy the more personalized search results, which will lead to increasing relevance with competing search engines. This will ultimately lead to a more target oriented phase of inspiration and that will mean good things for a further growth of relevancy this channel. Google is hardly known for standing still, which means you can already prepare yourself for future innovations.