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Updated: 21 hours 57 min ago

Large Gains for Bing in Q1

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 09:39

Q1 of 2014 was a success for the Bing Network – yesterday, we published our quarterly State of Paid Search report for Q1 of 2014, and we found that the Bing Network experienced more substantial growth than Google over the same period.

While spend increased year-over-year for both Google and Bing, spend on Bing increased 60%, far more than Google’s 29%. This enabled Bing to steal some market share from Google, increasing its spend share to 24.1%.

Bing’s CTR also continued to rise, increasing a whopping 85% YoY, while Google’s CTR declined from the previous year.

Bing’s increasing CTR, when coupled with declining CPCs, likely made Bing an attractive option for advertisers.

Download the full report to gain more insight into the latest search marketing trends.

Solid Year-Over-Year Growth for Q1 of 2014

Wed, 04/16/2014 - 09:09

Today we released our State of Paid Search Report for Q1 of 2014, and our results demonstrate solid year-over-year growth for the first quarter of the year, with total spend increasing 35%.

 Click-through rate (CTR) also grew 9.5% YoY and 35.8% QoQ, driven by CTR growth on both Google and Bing.  This increase in CTR repeats a seasonal trend of CTR peaking in the first quarter of each year, unwinding from the highly competitive fourth quarter. The rise in CTR can primarily be attributed to desktops, which make up a significant majority of spend share.

CPCs grew 4.6% YoY but dipped from the previous quarter. While desktop and tablet CPCs have mostly converged following Google’s switch to enhanced campaigns, smartphone CPCs continue to be lower.

Check out the full report to gain more insight into the trends from Q1. Tune back into the blog tomorrow to see how the Google and Bing networks stacked up against each other.

Ghost Blogging is Dead. Long Live SEO!

Tue, 04/01/2014 - 10:36

Google announced a new algorithm update that negates many of the SEO advantages of the overused phantom tactic of ghost blogging.

In a move that had many SEO folk taking their last gasp, Matt Cutt’s, Google’s spam spokesman, commented, “We’ve seen these manipulative practices going on for far too long, and it’s time we stick a fork in it.” He continued, “the dead have no place in common SEO and they really mix up the relevance of current news, image search and the algorithm as a whole.”

Ghost writing has long been considered an author staple, with many famous writers outsourcing writing to an ever expanding pool of ghost writers. SEO practitioners began leveraging this pool in the latter part of 2012, and it appears Google took note, and took action to prevent the over use of this over-optimization practice.

Many noteworthy SEO luminaries were spooked, with Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land commenting on the apparent death of ghost blogging as being “ironic”.

Danny Goodwin, Editor-in-Chief of Search Engine Watch, had more positive things to say about the update: “We had a few contributors to our daily search news who were definitely exhibiting banshee-style over-optimization, and I’m glad that Google is doing something about it so I don’t have to. It’s not as if their articles were eerily good anyway.”

This most recent update is fourth in a series of major updates targeting the netherworld, following on the footsteps of:

  • The poltergeist page layout update (8/13) – where random divs moved around the page to attract bots
  • The wraith-thin content penalty (1/14) – penalizing transparent text, and
  • The ethereal being update (3/14) – that anecdotally caused Windows laptops to vanish into thin air on visiting optimized sites. (This was later found to be an actual Windows 8.1 bug).

EDITORS NOTE: Last May – Search Engine Watch highlighted the Phantom Update, but we feel this was not related to this more recent wave of updates.

Although Google did not give additional details, Bill Slawski of SEO by the Sea did uncover a patent entitled “Systems and methods for detecting hidden text and hidden links,” which Bill determined was a precursor to phantasm experiments and invisible entity detection.

In an unusual outburst, Bing’s Duane Forrester commented on rival Google’s algorithm shift by rotating his head 360 degrees and muttering “Non ego sum, sed mortuus est.”

Female-Oriented Sites More Optimized for Mobile?

Fri, 03/28/2014 - 09:18

We recently published our latest Mobile Scorecard Report on the top 100 web-only retailers, and in the process of our analysis we fell upon some interesting findings about gender and its relationship to mobile optimization. Using Internet Retailer’s gender data on the top 500 e-commerce sites, we determined which companies had more male or female customers. Next, we aligned that gender data with our own scorecard rankings and discovered some interesting results.

In general, a significant majority of the best mobile-optimized sites also had more female customers. Most of the highest scoring sites had more female customers, while most of the lowest scoring sites had more male customers. Almost all of the highest scoring sites use configurations like Responsive Web Design and dedicated mobile sites, so it makes sense that the majority of sites using these more mobile-optimized configurations also skewed towards companies with more female customers.

Why is it that sites that are more mobile-ready tend to have a greater female customer base? Kirby Burke, Associate Manager of Earned Media, thinks this gendered trend makes a lot of sense:

“The three verticals with the best user experience all focus on products which are aesthetically pleasing: jewelry, health/beauty and apparel/accessories. Presentation is a significant part of selling these products. An optimized mobile site with great user experience is the online equivalent to a high-end, brick-and-mortar, retail location. It makes customers feel comfortable and encourages them to browse the inventory. Having a well-designed site also builds trust. I personally wouldn’t purchase anything from a mobile site which is poorly built, especially an expensive gift such as a piece of jewelry.”

Perhaps this suggests that companies that cater towards women are selling products for which the aesthetic appeal is a significant selling point. Displaying these products in visually compelling ways across all devices would be a major priority. As a result, these businesses might be ahead of other web-only companies in the mobile-optimization race because they found more reason earlier on to cater to the customers (in this case, females) who would respond to mobile friendly sites.

What do you think? Does gender play a significant role in why some companies are excelling with their mobile experience and others are lagging behind?

Web-Only Retailers Not as Mobile-Ready as They Should Be

Thu, 03/27/2014 - 08:14

Mobile devices are here to stay. Recent research indicates that about 55% of all time spent with online retail in June 2013 occurred on a mobile device. Providing a frictionless mobile experience is especially important for web-only retailers, those businesses that sell products exclusively online. Here at The Search Agency, we suspected that web-only retailers might demonstrate a greater level of mobile-readiness because of their exclusive reliance on online sales, and we set out to test that hypothesis in our latest edition of the Mobile Scorecard Report. Based on Internet Retailer’s Top 500 list of e-commerce sites, we evaluated the top 100 web-only retailers across a set of seven criteria essential to the mobile shopping experience, and the results were surprising.

The top scoring sites were Nasty Gal, eBags, and Zazzle, which all used Responsive Web Design, Google’s recommended configuration for rendering sites on mobile. However, of the 100 companies evaluated, only 9 used Responsive Web Design while 59 used dedicated mobile sites and the remaining 32 used the desktop version of their sites.

Most of the sites also exceeded Google’s recommended load time of 1 second, loading in an average of 2.99 seconds. Different site configurations had different average load times as well, with dedicated mobile sites loading the fastest and desktop sites loading the slowest.

Check out the full report to see how the top 100 web-only retailers are performing on mobile and to get some tips on improving your mobile experience. Tune back into the blog tomorrow to read about some of our interesting findings on gender within the mobile experiences of web-only retailers.

Google’s SERP Redesign: The Experts Weigh In

Wed, 03/19/2014 - 14:56

The earthquake wasn’t the only thing shaking up our LA office this Monday – Google implemented a major redesign to the SERP page, sending tremors into the world of SEO. Among some of the major changes were larger title fonts without underlines, shorter character limits, and ad designations similar to those found on the SERPs of mobile devices:

We checked in with some of our SEO experts to get their reactions on what we affectionately termed Google’s “SERPquake.”

Kirby Burke: “I like the new SERP layout. It looks much cleaner. Plus, Google SERPs now look consistent across all devices. I think this is a huge step toward standardization and moving toward “one web” instead of a mobile web, a tablet web, and a desktop web.

Some people are not happy with the new layout but I have a feeling it will pass. Some people are just resistant to change. They’re just out of the comfort zone right now because it looks different. I don’t expect a mass exodus of Google users from this, just like there wasn’t a mass exodus of Facebook users after Timeline was integrated.

One drawback of the new layout is the length of the title tag. The new desktop SERPs only display about 50 characters of the title. This means developers will just have be more succinct when creating titles for their pages, or at least front-load the most significant information to fit within the first 50 characters. These shorter title tags have been a standard for mobile sites for quite some time now, so this isn’t too radical a change. Fortunately, the meta descriptions still appear to display 160 characters.

Another observation is that the paid ads of the new SERPs are much harder to distinguish from organic results. The previous, color-coded results were very conspicuous. However, the new ads look virtually identical to the organic results, with the exception of a tiny little “Ad” icon. I have a feeling this is really going to drive paid ad performance. Anyone who wants to drive organic performance really needs to step up their SERP listings with things like structured markup, authorship and video thumbnails to really separate them from not only the paid ads, but the other organic listings on the page too.”

David Waterman: “For general information results, I like it. Very clean, lots of data, and good for the user. For more commerce-oriented searches, I don’t like it. Too blended, easier to accidentally click on a paid result. The common Google searcher may not notice or care, but as a search marketer, I think it’s pretty sneaky.”

Grant Simmons: “It’s too early to tell but having titles that are cut off can still drive good organic click through rates IF the target queries & key points of click interest are displayed upfront in the first 35-55 characters.”

Matt McKinley: “I think the new look seems a little outdated with more blank space. But I would argue that it’s providing a more readable version of how crowded the SERP has become with the evolution of the knowledge graph, authorship and publisher markup, schema, etc. It’s up to the search marketer to fill that blank canvas with the right markup. And Google could just be using the blank space to make room for more changes.

But this isn’t going to fundamentally change the way Title Tags should be written. Truncated results affect CTR, not ranking. You aren’t going to be penalized for going over 60 characters, but frontloading keyword themes helps future-proof CTR against changes like this.”

The effects of the St. Patrick’s Day SERPquake will continue to reverberate through the SEO community, and it will be interesting to see where we end up when the aftershocks calm down!

Grant’s Rants: Go Back to the Basics

Thu, 03/06/2014 - 10:39

Search engines are constantly changing, adding new layers to SEO. People often ask what the next new idea in SEO is, but before they jump on a new fad they should reevaluate whether their site follows the core basics of SEO – is the site crawlable, indexable, and does it feature relevant content? More times than not, it doesn’t. Take care of the core before leaping head first into the latest SEO trends.

Mobile Site Experience Throwdown: US vs. UK

Mon, 03/03/2014 - 09:28

The Search Agency UK recently published a mobile scorecard report evaluating the mobile sites of the FTSE 100. The report replicated The Search Agency’s previous report on the Fortune 100 in the US. Both the US and UK reports used the same set of five criteria to assign a total score out of five to each mobile site – load speed, site format, calculated download speed, social media presence, and app presence. So how did the mobile sites of the top companies in the UK compare with their US counterparts?

The US slightly outperformed the UK in most of the key criteria. The average score for US sites was 2.31 while the average score for the UK was 1.99. In addition, more of the US sites loaded in under 1 second, and more used responsive web design or a dedicated mobile site than the UK sites. However, the highest scoring UK site, Tesco, received a higher score than the highest ranking US site, Coca Cola.

With a highest possible score of 5, the top companies in both the US and the UK leave a lot to be desired in the mobile experiences they provide to users. Mobile devices are here to stay, and it’s increasingly imperative for companies to provide a positive mobile experience for their users or risk losing valuable business. For comprehensive tips on optimizing for mobile, check out our white paper, Optimization Strategies for the Mobile Web.

The full mobile scorecard reports are available in our research library.

The UK’s Mobile Experience Scorecard Report: FTSE 100

Thu, 02/27/2014 - 11:27

According to a report in June 2013 by Deloitte, the percentage of smartphone owners in the UK has reached 72%. Mobile devices are clearly becoming ubiquitous, but are UK businesses and brands adapting to the changing mobile landscape?

In order to answer this question, The Search Agency UK evaluated the mobile sites of the FTSE 100, the companies with the highest market capitalization on the London Stock Exchange.  The resulting report follows the methodology used in The Search Agency’s previous mobile scorecard reports, which evaluated the Fortune 100 and 100 top multichannel retailers. Each site was assigned a total score out of five based on five factors: load speed, site format, calculated download speed, social media presence, and app presence.

Here are some of the interesting findings from the UK’s evaluation:

  • Although Google has established Responsive Web Design (RWD) as the industry best practice, the 20 highest ranking sites on the mobile scorecard use dedicated mobile sites rather than RWD. This was very similar to the US report.
  • Only 2 out of the 100 sites use RWD. Of the remaining 98 companies, 42 use dedicated mobile sites, while the other 56 do not provide a separate mobile experience from the desktop version of the site.

  • The average score for all companies in the study was 1.99 out of 5. The US average was 2.31.
  • Only 1 out of 100 sites loaded in under 1 second, Google’s recommended time, while 37% of the sites exceeded 5 seconds.
  • 43% of the sites linked to social media, while just 9% linked to apps.
  • The mobile sites of major supermarkets, Tesco and Morrisons, performed the best, ranking first (with a score of 4.38) and second (4.12) respectively.

Check out the full Mobile Experience Scorecard Report for the FTSE 100 to see how other companies scored and to get insight about strategies for optimizing the mobile experience.

Special thanks to Adam Keyes, Content & Promotions Executive, for compiling the data for this report.

Grant’s Rants: The Value of a WhatsApp User

Mon, 02/24/2014 - 10:07

Facebook just spent a whopping $19 billion to acquire WhatsApp, and everyone wants to know how Facebook plans to monetize the app’s 450 million users. Today, Grant rants that not all visitors are created equal, and that the value of each user must be evaluated individually.


All You Need is Links: Valentine’s Day Edition

Fri, 02/14/2014 - 11:28

Today is a day for celebrating love, so why not celebrate your love of SEO? My Valentine’s Day gift to you is an SEO love song that I wrote with a little help from my friends, The Beatles.


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“All You Need Is Links”

There’s nothing you can rank that can’t be ranked
No SEO that helps that you can’t thank
No tactic you can try that Google won’t say you’re trying to game
It’s easy

There’s nothing you can write that can’t be wrote
No guest that you can post that you can’t quote
Nothing you tag, or mark or you can optimize
It’s easy

All you need is links
All you need is links
All you need is links, links
Links are all you need

Links, links, links
Links, links, links
Links, links, links

All you need is links
All you need is links
All you need is links, links
Links are all you need

There’s nothing you can tweet that can’t be liked
No social that’ll make your traffic spike
No magic spell, or secret sauce or voodoo doll that you’ll need
It’s easy

All you need is links
All you need is links
All you need is links, links
Links are all you need

All you need is links
All you need is links
All you need is links, links
Links are all you need

Grant’s Rants: “SEO Content” is Just “Great Content”

Tue, 02/11/2014 - 09:02

This week Grant is ranting about “SEO content,” an essentially outdated term. “SEO content” is ultimately just great content that is engaging and shareworthy.

Video Embeds Now Appearing in Google Search Results

Fri, 02/07/2014 - 10:00

Google’s making it easier than ever to find and play your favorite music videos by featuring prominent video embeds at the top of the search results. A quick search for “macklemore thrift shop” generated the following:

Instead of playing directly in the search results, clicking on the video takes you to the site hosting the video. And while the majority of these videos are taken from YouTube, Google does occasionally draw from other video sources.

“While most brands will see no immediate impact since the results, for now, are tied to music videos, this could be foreshadowing a larger trend,” says David Carrillo, Senior Manager of Earned Media. “While everyone freaked out about the mild drop of authorship photos showing up in the SERPs, what they conveniently left out of the conversation was all of the other ways Google is introducing content in the SERPs outside of the standard 10 blue links.”

As with any major update to the SERP, this change has interesting SEO implications.

“This latest move is just another reason why video should be a part of a brand’s marketing strategy,” David continued. “It should be implemented in a way that puts the content in front of users wherever they are located (website, YouTube,  Vimeo, Facebook, etc.) and in a way that provides the brand domain the best chance to gain SEO value (HTML5 markup, Schema, Open Graph Tags, video sitemaps, etc.).”

And what about YouTube dominating the video embed results?

“Yes, Google is going to favor YouTube over other destinations, but this is one case where it’s hard to argue against given its dominance in reach and engagement.”

Google is constantly reshaping the way that results of all forms appear in the SERPs, making search easier for the user and providing new opportunities for marketers. Where do you think Google will take the SERP next?

Facebook Testing Graph Search on Mobile

Thu, 02/06/2014 - 12:20

Facebook has recently started testing Graph Search on mobile devices. The social media site first introduced Graph Search in March 2013 as a semantic search engine designed to answer natural language queries, helping users find and connect people, places, pages, posts, and more. Up until now, however, this increased functionality had been limited to the desktop experience.

“Graph Search coming to mobile devices is significant when put into the context of Facebook’s larger goals. Their Q4 2013 earnings stated that 53% of their ad revenue comes from mobile, which unofficially makes them a mobile-first company,” says David Carrillo, Senior Manager of Earned Media. “This is further emphasized by the fact that they are increasingly—and purposefully—breaking up Facebook into a series of separate app experiences tailored to different audiences and goals. Instagram and Facebook Messenger are separate mobile apps, as is their recently announced Paper app.”

With this rollout, two questions come to mind: 1) are people using it and 2) how does this play into Facebook’s larger strategy?

“I think the biggest challenge for Facebook will be teaching people how to use Graph Search and effectively communicating its value. Facebook has a ton of information about us and all of our connections, but prior to Graph Search there was no elegant way to query that data,” Carrillo went on to say. “Its inception and subsequent upgrades provide a tremendous amount of social utility, but it will all be wasted if people don’t know how to use it. It wouldn’t be surprising if they roll out a separate mobile app that is tailored to simply exploring your Facebook history and connections, with a user interface that walks people through the experience.”

While many of Facebook’s users may still be uninformed about Graph Search’s capabilities, integrating it into the mobile experience may broaden its popularity, simultaneously allowing Facebook to leverage their data to provide a more rewarding user experience.

Grant’s Rants: Who Said SEO Is Easy?

Tue, 02/04/2014 - 09:23

This week, Grant rants about some of the common misconceptions about SEO. While low-level SEO (such as title tags, meta descriptions, and crawlability) can be simple, more competitive SEO initiatives for  bigger sites can be dauntingly complex. Small businesses that want to engage in SEO need to decide what level is right for their business before either choosing to tackle SEO on their own or opting for external help.

Optimization Strategies for the Mobile Web

Mon, 02/03/2014 - 09:42

The holiday season is behind us. How did you do? How much of your traffic and conversions came through mobile? Are you providing a great user experience to engage and drive conversions from mobile users, or are you driving them away from your site? If you’re not optimizing for mobile users, you’re missing out on the full potential of this valuable channel. If you already have a mobile presence, there’s always room to improve and capitalize on it further.

According to IBM’s assessment of the fourth quarter of 2013, mobile traffic soared, accounting for nearly 35 percent of all online traffic, up 40 percent compared to the fourth quarter of 2012. Mobile sales also remained strong, reaching 16.6 percent of all online sales, up more than 46 percent over the same period last year. Custora had similar findings in their study which concluded that the share of mobile orders (phone + tablet) out of all holiday e-commerce orders has increased to 29%, up from 20% in 2012.

We recently published a white paper outlining the practical techniques and strategies that you can apply to improve your position in the mobile market. The following are some of the technical and strategic questions which this comprehensive white paper will address.

  • What is the right platform for serving mobile content to your users and what technical factors do you need to incorporate for each?
  • How should content and conversion points be selected to appeal to mobile users?
  • What other optimizations are needed to maximize mobile performance?
  • What smartphone features can be leveraged to provide an excellent mobile experience?
  • How do I effectively test and measure my mobile site’s performance?
  • How do I integrate my mobile strategy with local search, in-store customers, and other media?

To gain an edge in this important market, download our Mobile Web white paper today!

Q4 Proves a Successful Quarter for Retail

Fri, 01/31/2014 - 09:42

We recently published our State of Paid Search Report for Q4 of 2013, and our findings reveal predictable gains across the board for the retail industry. Impressions and clicks increased significantly both YoY and QoQ. Impressions increased 24.4% YoY while clicks increased 5.4% YoY.

Retail CPCs also continued to grow both YoY and QoQ, remaining above the average CPC for all industries. From the previous year, retail CPCs grew 28.8%.

Our data also reveals that mobile devices are becoming increasingly critical to paid search for the retail industry. Smartphone and tablet click share both increased YoY and QoQ. Smartphone click share grew 63.7% YoY while tablet click share increased 20.3% YoY.

For a more detailed look into the current state of paid search marketing, check out our comprehensive report.

Sizable Growth for PLAs in Q4, According to Report

Thu, 01/30/2014 - 09:55

Q4 of 2013 was predictably a big quarter for Product Listing Ads, or PLAs.  According to our recent State of Paid Search Report for Q4 of 2013, PLAs saw a lot of action across the board as advertisers increasingly took advantage of this ad format for the holiday season.  PLA spending leapt a whopping 165% YoY, while impressions and clicks saw similar increases.

PLA action wasn’t just reserved for desktops – PLA click share for tablets and smartphones experienced substantial growth, with tablet PLA click share increasing 40.4% QoQ and smartphone PLA click share increasing 68.1% QoQ.

For a more detailed look into the current state of paid search marketing, check out our comprehensive report.

Mobile Devices are Bigger than Ever According to Q4 Report

Wed, 01/29/2014 - 09:32

Looking back at 2013, Q4 capped off the year with substantial gains for mobile devices in the world of paid search.  We recently published our State of Paid Search Report for Q4 of 2013, and the data tells the story of mobile’s gradual ascension over the course of the year. This rings especially true for smartphones, which saw spend jump 109.5% from the previous year.

Tablets experienced impressive gains as well, with spend increasing 79.8% YoY.

Advertisers seemed increasingly eager to shift ad spending onto mobile devices and away from desktops, demonstrated by the changes in spend share over time.

This trend is also evident in the shifts in impression share and click share, where smartphones make the greatest gains, desktop share continues to fall away, and tablets stagnate somewhat, with minimal gains.

For a more detailed look into the current state of paid search marketing, check out our comprehensive report.

Social Signals and Google Rankings – Facebook and Twitter Out…Google+ In!

Tue, 01/28/2014 - 10:56

A recent video from Matt Cutts (head of Google’s webspam team) declared that Google does not use Facebook and Twitter signals as part of the ranking algorithm. This has come as a bit of a surprise as social signals were thought to be used somewhere in Google’s algorithm. Slogans such as “likes are the new links” and debates over links versus social signals have become more and more prevalent as Google continues to smack down hard on blackhat link building tactics. I say this comes only as a “bit of a surprise” because Matt Cutts has alluded to links being more powerful than social shares, but the thought that social shares were somewhere in the algo mix was still prevalent.

The one thing to keep in mind is that Google didn’t say they don’t consider any social signals. They just don’t consider Facebook and Twitter signals. So what’s left? Google+ of course!!

Another Google-forced Win for Google+

It’s still safe to assume that social signals will become a more integrated part of Google’s algorithm. It’s probably just going to live in Google+ shares and authorship rank. This is yet another reason to jump on to Google+ and start building your followers.

Was this most recent video basically a scare tactic to get more people to use Google+ without saying Google+ is the only social signal they care about? Possibly; but their reasons for not using Twitter and Facebook make a ton of sense. It’s nearly impossible to keep on top of everything that’s happening behind the walls of Facebook, so why try…especially when they have a social network all their own to tap into.

Do NOT Abandon Twitter and Facebook

Just because Google does not use Twitter and Facebook social signals for ranking purposes, it doesn’t mean you should abandon them altogether. The fact is Twitter and Facebook have a more active user base (or probably more active among your demographic). You can still acquire new fans and customers through these social networks. It just means you should worry less about SEO implications and more about effectively sharing content and building followers through these channels.