Google Updates Search Results Design, Did You Notice?

Google Updates Search Results Design, Did You Notice?

One of the most important, if not THE most important, and identifiable aspects of any search engine listing is your title. This is what draws a user’s attention to your listing, and it is what they will click to get to your website. This is where you hope to catch their attention and present yourself as the most relevant option based on the query they performed. This is also where, as of a month ago, Google cut back on how many characters of your title will show in their results page, seen below:

Serp changes

Their goal with the update is to improve readability and create a cleaner look. The enhancements include:

  • Increased font size of result titles
  • Removal of underlines
  • Ad labels

So how does this really affect your titles, and overall digital marketing image? Google’s redesign increased the font size of result titles, however they kept the overall listing container the same size (512 pixels). Look at the following search result both before and after the redesign:

Serp changes 2

You’ll notice they both have the exact same language, however the redesign listing at the bottom is getting cut off. This becomes an issue for messaging.

Dr. Pete over at Moz put together a study in which he and colleagues looked at page 1 search results for 10,000 English queries. This covered 89,787 titles from Google.com. This is what they found:

title length change

Through the test, Dr. Pete concluded that if all of your title tags were exactly 55 characters long, then you could expect about 95% of them to be left alone. If your titles are not 55 characters long? This is when you need to consider the importance of your messaging and how your titles are constructed, as you are working with fewer characters to get your brand’s message across.

Because there is no definitive number to attain for title length, it takes more than just slashing some words out of your titles to shorten them. You’ll want to identify your primary keyword phrase on each page for which you’re trying to rank and ensure that it is at the beginning of your titles. Unless you have a very recognizable brand that receives high search volumes, place your name at the very end of your title, freeing up space for important page information.

Need help with this? Give us a call and we’d be more than happy to help you out.

To-Do List: Building a Keyword List

This list is intended for someone who is creating a new paid search advertising campaign. Much of it still applies if you are looking to grow an existing campaign or researching keywords for organic search engine optimization (SEO) purposes, but not all steps will apply in those cases. To keep things simple, I am only going to talk about Google. I usually do most of my research and testing in Google, then copy keywords and campaigns over to Yahoo and Bing.

This process can be fun and instructive if you think of yourself as a psychologist trying to understand how and when your prospects search for what you have to offer. I enjoy constructing theories about what’s in the head of searchers – I’m sure I’m mostly wrong, but it makes it more entertaining.

Spaghetti Against the Wall
When I’m building keyword lists, I don’t worry about how much volume each keyword drives or how much it costs to be in a top position. There’s really no downside to having a lot of keywords, and sometimes your best performers will come from places you don’t expect. I call it the spaghetti-against-the-wall approach – throw a lot of keywords out there, and a few will stick. Those are the ones I spend time optimizing.

Match Types
It is very important that you understand how match types work if you are adding keywords to your account. For an explanation of match types, see the article How to Use Google AdWords Match Types.

On to the to-do list…

The To-Do List (& a PDF version of the list for printing)

  1. Get your ad groups going - Ad groups should correspond to individual products and/or services you offer as well as product/service groupings. For example, if you sell a variety of hammers, you should have an ad group for hammers in general, and ad groups for each type of hammer. Use your judgement regarding how specific to go – people might search for “ball peen hammers”, but they are less likely to search for “ball peen hammers with red handles”. The former merits an ad group, the latter probably not.
    When you are first creating ad groups, you don’t need to come up with a big list of keywords for each. I usually create a bunch of ad groups at a time, and I don’t worry about researching keywords until I have them all live. For example, if I am creating an ad group for “ball peen hammers”, I’ll probably create it with the single keyword “ball peen hammers”. It’s more efficient to get ad groups going, then go back and add keywords using the following techniques.
    AdWords Ad Groups UI
  2. Add more keywords with the Google Keyword Tool - In the AdWords interface, go to Opportunities > Keyword Tool
    The Keyword Tool is useful for coming up with variations on keywords, but it can also be slow and tedious to go through results. It doesn’t do a good job at all of sorting keyword suggestions by relevancy. I usually sort the results by the column “Local Monthly Searches” (by clicking on those words) to see what keywords get the most volume. “Local” here refers to the country in which you are searching.
    At this stage, I’m mostly looking for high-volume variations. The Keyword Tool comes up with a lot of junk, but I usually find a few worth adding. Since I have sorted by search volume, I go down the list until I hit some reasonable volume threshold, say at least 1,000 searches per month. It may be more or less than that, depending on the category of keyword. To add keywords to an ad group, select the ones you’d like to add and click Add Keywords. You will be prompted to select an ad group.
    Google AdWords Keyword Tool
    It is very helpful that the Keyword Tool gives volume numbers, but take them with a grain of salt. It defaults to showing volume for broad match keywords, which can be deceptive. On the left-hand side there is an option to switch it to exact match, which will give you a better idea of how often each individual keyword is searched. The volume numbers are also pretty unreliable. It will often show that a search term gets very low volume when in fact it gets decent volume.
  3. Add even more keywords with Google’s Add/Edit suggestions - In the AdWords interface, go to Campaigns > Ad Groups > [select an ad group] > Keywords > Add Keywords
    This functionality is similar to the Keyword Tool, but does a much better job of grouping and prioritizing keywords that are relevant to your ad group. Recently, I’ve been using this tool more than the Keyword Tool to build keyword lists. It works best after you’ve added some keywords to the ad group, so best to get things started with the Keyword Tool. Per above, I use the Keyword Tool to find high-volume keywords, then I use this tool to add more specific variations.
    AdWords Add Keyword UI
  4. Spy on your competitors - There are several tools that show which keywords are driving traffic to competitor sites. Looking at what your competitors are bidding-on and optimizing-for can be a good way to discover new categories of keywords and unusual opportunities that the Google tools won’t spot. Several to try are SEMRush, KeywordSpy and SpyFu. I lean towards SEMRush right now, but there is not much difference between the three. Each offers additional capabilities for a subscription, but try out the free versions first.
  5. Set initial bids - There are two ways to approach this. If you are on a tight budget, start by bidding low and collect some data before you start raising bids. The downside of this approach is that with low bids it may take a while to collect enough data to make a change. If you are not on a tight budget, bid keywords high enough to get a top 3 position and adjust bids up or down as you collect performance data. This approach will generate sales faster, but you will waste some budget on non-performers as you collect data. For more on setting bids based on ROI data, see this article: Paid Search Bidding Based on ROI

Using this process, I find I can get a typical campaign going in an hour or two. Over time, I’ll go back in and re-apply these techniques to expand ad groups that are performing particularly well, and to look for new opportunities. There are also a number of more advanced techniques people use. I’ll include a couple here as extra credit:

  1. The Search-Based Keyword Tool - Go to Opportunities > More tools … > Search-based Keyword Tool
    I find this tool is very finicky, but useful if you can get it to work. It looks at your site and draws on Google Analytics data to come up with keywords relevant to your content. It also tells you which page each keyword is associated with, which can be very helpful for organizing keywords in to ad groups. Google won’t tell you this (as of this writing), but the tool only works if you are signed up for Google Analytics and have your Analytics and AdWords accounts linked. It also won’t work from an MCC login. If you don’t know what that means, you don’t need to worry about it.
  2. The Webmaster Tools Keyword Report - Log in to Webmaster Tools  > [your domain] > Your Site on the Web > Search Queries
    This report shows which keywords are driving traffic to your site via Google’s unpaid listings. This can be very helpful for identifying SEO opportunities, but also useful for paid search. You should be bidding on any keywords that are relevant to your business but for which you do not rank in the top few positions. In particular, this tool will show you keywords for which you are getting traffic, but rank poorly in organic search. For example, if you rank in position 9 for a keyword that is one of the top drivers of traffic to your site, you should add it to your paid search campaign. If you are not familiar with Webmaster Tools, click here to learn more: Webmaster Tools

There are also some subscription-based research tools that help the process of managing and growing keyword lists, Wordtracker and Keyword Discovery being two of the most well-known. I don’t believe these tools are worth it for an individual advertiser unless you find yourself spending many hours per month managing keywords.

Anyone have other suggestions for getting a keyword list put together quickly? I’d love to hear them if you do!

And if you’d like help with search marketing, please drop us a line or give us a call: Contact Us

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How to Use Google AdWords Match Types

Google AdWords allows you to specify a match type for each keyword you bid on. Yahoo and Bing do too, though there are some slight variations in how they work.  The three match types in Google are exact, phrase and broad.  The match type you choose tells the search engine when to match a user’s query to your keyword. Here’s how each match type works:

  • Exact: your ad will be served when and only when a user enters the keyword you purchased. If you want to make a keyword exact match, you put square brackets around it when you enter it.
  • Phrase: your ad will be served when a user enters a phrase that includes the keywords you purchased in the same order. For example, if you bid on “house music”, your ad will match the query “download house music”, but not the query “new orleans music house”. If you want to make a keyword phrase match, you put quotes around it when you enter it.
  • Broad: your ad will be served when a user enters a phrase that includes the keywords you purchased, and not necessarily in the same order. Your ad will also be served when a user enters a phrase that Google deems equivalent to your keywords, such as misspellings, synonyms or pluralizations. For example, if you bid on “denver taxidermy”, your ad will likely match the following queries:
    • “taxidermy denver”
    • “denver taxidermists”
    • “a taxidermist near denver”

    Broad match is the default, so you don’t have to do anything to specify broad match.

Think of match types like funnels. Broad matching is like a big, wide funnel that catches lots of queries. Phrase matching is like a medium-sized funnel that catches more queries than exact, but fewer than broad. Exact matching is like a funnel that doesn’t get any wider at the top, which isn’t much good as a funnel.

Google match type funnels

Also, while they don’t behave quite like match types, you can add negative keywords to an ad group or campaign. A negative keyword tells Google not to serve an ad when that keyword is present in the query. For example, if you created an ad group with the broad match keyword “denver taxidermy” and the negative keyword “squirrel”, Google would not serve your ad if someone searched for “denver squirrel taxidermy”. If you want to add a negative keyword, you put a minus sign before the keyword with no space, e.g. “-squirrel”.

Here’s a crazy stat: people search 200 million keywords in Google that have never been searched before every single day*. That probably puts the total number of unique queries that have ever been done on Google somewhere in the hundreds of billions. Your goal is to get your ads to show for any of those queries that are relevant to the products or services you sell. The broad match type is the best way to do that, and is what I use most of the time. But broad matching can also result in irrelevant traffic, so it’s a good idea to keep an eye on what keywords are driving visits to your site and add negative keywords where necessary. Most web analytics tools have a report that shows referring keywords, and the Google AdWords Search Query Performance Report shows some of the search phrases that were matched to your ad.

One trick I sometimes do is to add both an exact match version and a broad match version of the same keyword to an ad group. This allows me to see the performance of the exact match version, which is often better than the broad match version. Over time, I will bid up the exact match version if it is getting better results. For more on keyword bidding based on performance, see our article Paid Search Bidding Based on ROI.

It’s also not a good idea to just trust broad matching and not bother creating ads with variations of keywords you know are relevant to your business. Broad matching is a good way to catch keywords you don’t expect, but you should include any you do know about in your campaign. Doing so will help you understand the performance of each variation, and you can achieve higher quality scores by ensuring that text ads and landing pages are well matched to each keyword. See our article To-do List: Building a Keyword List for more on building keyword lists.

Lastly, Google’s Explanations of Match Types and Negatives: What are keyword matching options? – Adwords Help

* This stat is derived from search query data in these two posts: This week in search 1/8/10 and By the Numbers: Twitter vs Facebook vs Google Buzz

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Digital Pollution

We don't care who you are billboard.

Internet marketing is targeted. In contrast to the 30 second network TV spot, the internet allows marketers to target messaging by medium, location, topic, demographic and a variety of other factors. Yesterday I tweeted that I want to be a firefighter when I grow up. Today I was followed by @firefighterjob in Twitter. Most of the ads that appear in Facebook as I browse around are local to me or specific to my interests. In fact, I spent some time convincing my dad that there are ads in Facebook at all. He had seen them, but he didn’t recognize them as ads.

But not all advertisers take advantage of these targeting capabilities. And not all web sites encourage targeted ads. Going from one web site to the next can be like going from New Hampshire to Vermont.

When you drive across the border from New Hampshire in to Vermont, the landscape becomes friendlier, more compelling. At least that is what visitors said to me when I lived there. Then I would explain to them that Vermont doesn’t allow billboards. And a light would dawn, and they would say “Yeah, you’re right. That’s nice!”

Google.com is kind of like Vermont, in that respect. They have never allowed any kind of advertising that doesn’t fit in to the landscape. The ads that do appear don’t use color or presentation in a way that make them stand out from other content on the page. In fact, most of the ads appear along the right hand side, which is visually the least obtrusive real estate on the page. Google also seeks to make all ads relevant to a user’s query. Most other search engines have followed Google’s lead, but their progress has been slower than some of us would like.

Historically, Yahoo has been more like New Hampshire, allowing run-of-site ads that appear for all users, relevant or not. The good news is that Google’s approach generates better ROI for advertisers, and ultimately more revenue for Google, so Yahoo has been following Google’s lead and cleaning up of late.

What does this mean for marketers? Placing ads that are not relevant is digital pollution, plain and simple. It’s pollution we have taken for granted and overlooked, but that is changing fast. Google, Facebook and other sites are teaching us to care about the relevance of marketing. This means that marketers who broadcast ads regardless of user’s interests or intent face increasing risk. The risk is that consumers start to see those marketers as polluters.

The word “pollution” may sound strong. Can you really compare a Classmates.com ad to a plastic bag stuck in a tree? I believe you can. We spend much of our working and non-working lives online. We spend time with friends and meet our future spouses online. Why then should we allow our online world to be populated with valueless clutter?

The bad news is that there will always be polluters, but the good news is that there are a variety of marketing methods that do not pollute, and in fact those methods generally get better results with less investment. Rich media and viral ads can entertain and inform. Social marketing creates bonds based on mutual interest. Search marketing answers questions. Just as businesses are adopting no-impact and sustainable business practices in the physical world, they can and should be translating this behavior to online. Not only is it good citizenship, it is good branding.

Billboard graphic courtesy of Big Huge Labs’ Billboard Maker

Adding a Google Local Business Center Listing

A couple of weeks ago I posted a list of the Top 10 Free Places To List Your Business. This post is the first in a series describing my experiences adding a business to each of these sites.

A friend of mine recently lost his architecture job due to the recession. He’s decided to take this as an opportunity to start his own business. His name is Kelton Osborn and his business is QUICK-BEND design. He is a brilliant designer, but I’ll let his pictures speak for themselves. This is his website. Since he’s not in any directories, and he is looking to get exposure for his business, he is a perfect test candidate for my project.

Google is on top of my top 10 list, so I started with them. My first step was to follow the link on my top 10 post to the Google Local Business Center. I clicked on the “Add A New Business” link, and filled out address, phone number and description text – piece of cake. On the next screen, I could add photos and a video. I added some photos from the QUICK-BEND site. Google allows you to point to a picture URL, which makes it very easy. You can get the URL of a web photo by right-clicking and selecting “properties”, or control-clicking and selecting “copy image address” on a Mac. I strongly recommend adding photos to a business listing. Don’t assume people will click through to your web site to see pictures. They might, but you have to capture their interest first, and pictures are a good way to do that. Video is a great idea too, and Google is one of the only places where you can add a video to a listing for free. On most other sites this is a “premium” option that you only get if you pay. Once I finished filling out the business information, I was given the option for how I wanted to validate the listing. The two choices are by phone and by postcard.

I selected “by phone” and got this:

Google called right away. I got the PIN, entered it, and about 10 hours later voila:

And you can see the full Google Local Listing for QUICK-BEND design here. I don’t know about you, but I find that pretty exciting! The whole thing took less than an hour to do, including finding photos and getting the PIN. Next up: Facebook Fan Page.
A couple of related posts: why Google Maps is so important and why it would be good to get some customer reviews on this listing.

Reputation Management: 1% Perspiration, 99% Google Alerts

I wrote on the Local Matters blog yesterday about the value of monitoring online conversations for mentions of a brand or business in comparison to buying broadcast advertising media. My argument there was that monitoring and responding to mentions of a brand has the same person-to-person connection and comparable costs as customer service calls. And I believe that monitoring and responding to online conversations is money better spent than most broadcast media. Any time someone is talking about you or your business, you have a chance to promote what you do and add value to the conversation. That is worth a lot more than buying an ad that doesn’t talk back.

But for most local SMB’s, I wouldn’t recommend hiring a call center or paying for a reputation management service. Unless the scale of your business is such that people are talking about you frequently throughout the day, outsourcing is probably overkill. But I do recommend setting up some Google Alerts. Google Alerts are a free and incredibly powerful way to keep track of what’s being said about you, your business and important topics in your industry. Google Alerts work a lot like Google search, but only notify you when new things come up, and you get results via email or an RSS feed.

Setting up a basic Google Alert is very straightforward. For example, if I wanted to monitor for mentions of Thomas Edison, I would go to http://www.google.com/alerts and create an alert.

Google Alerts

By setting the type of the alert to “Comprehensive”, this alert will search the web including news media and blogs for the phrase “Thomas Edison”. Like Google.com search, it will find results that have the words “Thomas” and “Edison” in the text, but not necessarily together. If I want to only find results that have “Thomas Edison” as a phrase, I put quotes around the search term. That’s the basics. Google offers more detail on their Alerts help page. Now for some recommendations for how to set up alerts for your business.

First, while you can create an alert and have it sent to any email address, I recommend that you create a Google account if you don’t already have one. This will give you the ability to manage alerts, along with various other advantages. It will also result in alert emails being sent to the Gmail address that is created as part of your account. But you can still receive alerts at another address by setting up forwarding on your Gmail address. To do this, open Gmail and click “Settings” in the upper right-hand corner. Then click on the “Forwarding and POP/IMAP” tab. From there, select “Forward a copy of incoming mail to,” and enter your email address. This will deliver all alerts to the email account you specify. You will still need to log in to your Google account to add or edit alerts, but you don’t have to worry about checking another email account.

Second, use Google’s advanced search options to refine your alerts. Unfortunately, Google didn’t build this in to the Alerts interface, but most advanced search options also work in Alerts. The easiest method I’ve found is to build queries on the Advanced Search screen, then copy them to Alerts.  As you are building a query using the form fields, a properly constructed query will show up at the top of the screen, which you can select and copy. Unfortunately, some advanced search options don’t work. Notably, there is no way on the advanced search screen to add region to the query even though you can specify a region in the form. Strangely, you can add a “location:” parameter to News alerts, but this is undocumented and doesn’t work for web or blog search.  Using the “location:” parameter, you can specify any two-letter state abbreviation and some countries. For example, if you want to limit your News Alert to search New Jersey news sources, you add “location:nj” to the query. For more than you probably want to know on the undocumented (and documented) features of Google Search, the site Googleguide.com is a great resource.

Using advanced search features, here are examples of alerts Thomas Edison might set up for his business:

  • Comprehensive alert for: “thomas edison” “menlo park” OR inventor –high -school
    Since Thomas Edison is a fairly common name, this refines the name search by only including pages that also have the phrase “menlo park” or the keyword “inventor”. And since there are a lot of high schools named “Thomas Edison”, it also excludes pages that include the words “high” and “school”.
  • Comprehensive alert for: link:ge.com
    This alerts to any new inbound links to ge.com.
  • Comprehensive alert for: “edison electric light company” OR “edison general electric” OR “general electric”
    This alerts to any mentions of one of Thomas Edison’s companies.
  • Blog alert for: “ac current”
    Thomas Edison was a vehement opponent of alternating current, and would surely have wanted to know of any blog mentioning it, so that he could proselytize his preference for direct current.

I have found that sometimes I need to tweak my alerts by adding and excluding keywords, to prevent getting too much information. For example, you may need to put the town your business is in as a keyword if your business name is fairly common.

Lastly, I prefer to view my alerts as RSS feeds in Google reader versus getting them as emails. This is too big a topic to cover here, but if you are already subscribing to RSS feeds in Google Reader, iGoogle, My Yahoo, Netvibes, or another RSS reader, you may want to give it a try.

The value of an idea lies in the using of it. – Thomas A. Edison

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Two Octobers’ Local

Online Marketing Guide.