Phone spammers that is.
In a report published over the weekend, Android Police caught what appears to be a new phone app on the horizon from Facebook. The app, appropriately called ‘Phone’, seems like it will provide enhanced information about numbers on your incoming phone call log, much like current caller ID apps. What differentiates this new app from its predecessors? Its connection to Facebook’s vast and detailed data set, which grows exponentially more diverse each day via people and businesses’ constant uploads and interactions. With ‘Phone’, Facebook could, for example, use its data, as indicated in the report, to block commonly blocked phone numbers throughout user networks. If this is the case, the app stands to only improve overtime, as users continuously report spammers and unsolicited cold calls. Here are a few other ways we’re thinking ‘Phone’ could work in the future.7 Possible Facebook ‘Phone’ Features
Of course, I’m not sure what Facebook’s exact plan is for this ‘Phone’ app, but I doubt the social network is only interested in blocking unwanted callers. Everything Facebook does is designed to enhance the vast set of engagement data on its social graph, enabling the social network to use that data to provide hyper-targeted ads to its users. Lucky us?
Content marketing has become such a cliché topic that even articles declaring it cliché are old hat. Many companies have bloggers publishing on a daily basis – I’m sure there’s a light-switch manufacturer out there with a very compelling listicle about dimmer switches. Google has been forthright about the importance of having quality content on your site, and that’s why so many businesses feel obliged to go beyond the simple product listing page.
Along with this opportunity comes the danger of creating content that no one (including the search engines) is interested in consuming. A search for “dimmer switches” doesn’t return any listicles on the first page of results. Google hasn’t seen users dive into editorial content for this query, and so product landing pages are getting the attention. Take the hint.
When content marketing is aimed at improving organic rankings, its intent must match the search engine’s identified intent for the keyword in question.
For example, if you’re selling a book about Charles Lindbergh’s historic trans-Atlantic crossing, “flights to Paris” would be a poor keyword choice. That query is obviously going to deliver airfare listings. Don’t shoot arrows into the dark and hope someone finds them, or even worse – you hit a potential customer and lose the sale.
To this end, marketers can perform a bit of due diligence to reverse-engineer a content strategy that focuses on the right themes and formats to earn organic traffic.
To show how it can be done, let’s imagine a telescope shop. Right now the retailer’s website is mostly product pages with minimal editorial content. The owner would like to get some traffic on queries about telescopes, but doesn’t know where to start. He needs a content strategy.
If we perform the broadest possible search using the keyword “telescope”, we get a SERP dominated by major manufacturers. Five of the links go to transactional pages, while three lead to educational and/or informative pieces. Just like our example with dimmer switches, Google has determined that “telescope” is a query with strong purchase intent. The search engine is favoring product pages over editorial content. The SERP is also leaning heavily towards major manufacturers, and that’s bad news for our humble shop.
Dive inside Your Customer’s Head
Our hypothetical retailer is not out of luck – he just needs to find more fertile ground to plant his content. Here we borrow a bit from long-tail keyword targeting. An experienced hobbyist will be familiar with the lingo, and may search for “refracting telescope” to hone-in on the instrument he/she wants. The Google SERP for this query looks much different:
Users are presented with both an explanatory box of scraped Wikipedia text, as well as images. The first three organic links are informational. Only four of the nine results are for merchant sites, and they’re down-page. In this case, Google has clearly decided that those searching for “refracting telescope” are looking for some level of detailed information. Though merchant listings rank lower in this instance, that doesn’t mean traffic is limited to high school students doing research. Rather, consumers conducting these kinds of specific searches may be further along in the customer decision journey, comparing and contrasting their options.
What does this have to do with content marketing? A savvy telescope retailer will recognize that his pages on refracting telescopes cannot simply consist of dozens of product listings – the site will struggle to compete with the informational content currently occupying the SERP. A listicle on “10 Telescopes That Look Like Steve Buscemi” probably won’t do the trick, either.
Instead, content that provides a decent rundown of how a refracting telescope works, a bit of history, and the pros and cons versus other types of instruments could add enough editorial heft to satisfy the threshold Google has set for this keyword.
That listicle about Steve Buscemi might be successful on Facebook or Twitter, where you’ll pop-up in people’s feeds. It’s attention-grabbing and entertaining. However, Google will probably be confused by the association of two disparate entities.
So I Don’t Need a Blog?
You still need a blog, or somewhere to host your content offerings. Remember, we’re just talking about getting content to show up in organic rankings. Galleries, videos, and quizzes may excel on other platforms.
I’d Like Another Example, Please
Sure. A search for “how to change windshield wipers” reveals a SERP with a Quick Answer Box ahead of two YouTube videos. The familiar blue links are below that. The obvious takeaway for a content marketer is that this query deserves a video. If you don’t have budget for that, a nice list will do just fine. That simple format, paired with the authority of the site, earned Allstate the Quick Answer Box. In fact, all the other organic links go to some form of list, sometimes in gallery form. This content needs structure, which makes sense for a “how-to” query.
The internet is full of content that no one is reading. That’s fine if you’re sharing poetry on your personal blog. However, if someone is paying you to create a piece intended to improve their brand visibility in the SERPs, the least you can do is make sure the ship is headed in the right direction. With any luck, you’ll hit on both topics and templates that connect with your prospects and earn the attention you need to compete.
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Last week, we explored how B2B marketers can best benefit from display retargeting campaigns. This week, let’s take a deep dive into B2C display retargeting campaign strategy.The B2C Marketer
The prime asset all marketers, B2B, B2C, and beyond, must develop prior to launching their display retargeting campaigns is a diverse set of creative copy. By nature, display retargeting serves customers ads over and over and over again. To avoid becoming monotonous droll, you want to diversify your assets to serve customers as many different versions of ads as possible.
With this goal in mind, B2C businesses in particular are perfectly teed up to thrive with display retargeting, especially if they run product-centric campaigns. B2C businesses typically sell many different products – i.e. subject matter for all sorts of ads. Create one ad per product sold and suddenly, B2C marketers immediately afford themselves an entire display retargeting campaign comprised of a slew of different ad possibilities they can then use to promote each product individually, emphasizing individual product awareness, while also keeping messaging varied and diverse. The real trick? Show people the products people show you they want.Visualize on the Prize
All great display retargeting campaigns start with great creative. But great creative does not just magically appear. How is great creative generated? By visualizing the thought process behind the buy. Rather than simply trying to sell a consumer a product, said product can be presented in a way that makes it a necessary part of that customer’s lifestyle. How would someone use this product? What problem could a customer have that using this product solves? Appealing to an audience’s personal desires and/or traits is crucial for this strategy’s success.
Stylistically, the most successful B2C display retargeting ad copy uses more playful, light language. Experiment with the unexpected. Nowadays, internet searchers are vastly immune to the ads running along the top and right rails of their screens, but will engage with exciting copy. Build ads that grab your customers’ attention.
While last week, we emphasized promoting brand education as key in our proposed B2B display retargeting strategy, that same goal is less effective for driving B2C sales. B2C marketing requires less of an emphasis on audience rapport; the diversity of products makes up for this. In many cases, B2C brands are retail brands slated with keeping consumers abreast of the many changes in SKUs as well as promotions. Promoting this kind of messaging should be B2C marketer’s top priority.Set Up for Success
So now that we’ve established what it takes to create successful B2C retargeting campaigns, let’s get down to the specifics. We need to establish strict guidelines for this to achieve optimal success. To start, observe the on-site behavior of your audience and visitors. Consider variables like, how far down the purchase path did these individuals go? Did they simply get to the landing page? Explore the website? Add something to their shopping cart? Knowing how they interacted with your site and brand is crucial to your retargeting strategy, as messaging can be tailored to any individual’s specific actions. You could even incentivize the buyer to complete their purchase by throwing a promotion their way. Ultimately, any promotions success comes back to good visualization and messaging.Frequency Cap
Once your brand has accumulated this kind of user interaction data, you can further refine your campaigns through frequency caps, which determine how often a banner can be served to an individual within a set time period. How often you want to serve your consumers with personalized messaging depends on the length of the buying cycle and the type of purchase at hand. Impulse purchases have shorter buying cycles; a consumer is likely to grab this item very soon after they first see it. Accordingly, your display retargeting campaign should emphasize having a much higher frequency within the first few days of the cycle. Large purchases should implement the reverse of this strategy; the frequency should be spread out over the course of the buying cycle.Go Dynamic
Dynamic retargeting is also a crucial part of a B2C marketer’s arsenal. B2C retailers are constantly changing SKUs and promotions, and it’s necessary for customers to be aware of these changes. With a proper dynamic retargeting strategy in place, it becomes very easy for B2C marketers to reach potential customers based on timeliness and where they are in the conversion funnel. Dynamic retargeting also increases efficiency, as marketers no longer need to worry about creating banners for every possible product and/or promotion. If, for example, a special promotion is about to end, a customer could receive a banner depicting that end date. In the case of a client within the travel vertical, a banner could be delivered to the customer that depicts their booking date, or the date of their flight. Customized creative and copy can go a long way toward gaining a customer’s trust and ultimately getting them to convert.Engage Your Audience
B2C brands should make in effort to build audience engagement. This can be done through your messaging strategy. Build relevant conversations tailored around your products. For example, do you sell any culturally relevant items? Engage in those cultural conversations, tying in your products’ relevancies to make products more significant to the average consumer and help these customers see exactly when and how your products become useful in their lives.Read the Signs
Whether you are a B2B or B2C marketer, once you’ve launched your display retargeting campaign, you’ll start accumulating data. Dig into that data to discover how your strategy is performing. Are you targeting the right people? Are people engaging with your ads? Are different demographics responding to your ads that you hadn’t previously considered? Feed these insights back into your campaigns, further refining your efforts into lean mean retargeting machines.
As we move into 2015, retargeting is a must-have strategy for marketers across all spectrums. With display retargeting campaigns, you get to serve messaging directly linked to customer behavior. There is perhaps no better way to directly engage with your customers and hone your distinct brand voice, ultimately increasing conversions. Just remember, before implementing your strategy, learn the differences between different approaches to retargeting, and use these tools to build the best plan for your brand.
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Last year, display retargeting became the major player in online marketing. According to a report commissioned by Adroll, the majority of US brands committed 10-50% of their budgets to retargeting in 2014. This staggering percentage shows just how drastically the digital marketing industry is shifting toward reengaging customers via tracking. Just tracking customers isn’t the only ingredient making up the recipe for display retargeting success though – you also need to strategize.
Any brand launching a display retargeting campaign must first develop a targeted strategy tailored to the products and services they offer, which may vary significantly for companies offering B2B vs. B2C goods. Knowing how to implement a display retargeting strategy specific to your business model can play a key role in your brand’s long term growth and success.
This week, we’ll focus on B2B display retargeting strategies.How Should B2B Marketers Use Display Retargeting?
Typically, display retargeting campaigns are product based and the best campaigns continuously serve customers many different kinds of ads. However, B2B brands rarely offer diverse product sets. Rather, these kinds of companies typically push a limited number of products or services for big returns. So, doing the math here, if B2B brands only offer a select few products and display campaigns are generally product based, requiring many different kinds of ads to succeed, won’t implementing this kind of strategy cause these brands to keep pushing the same few products over and over again? Probably. Couldn’t that become quite monotonous? Probably. So then… B2B marketers should just not use display retargeting? Actually, quite the contrary!
While a product-based display retargeting campaign may not be appropriate for the B2B marketer, this is not the only display retargeting strategy available. Instead, B2B marketers should implement display retargeting strategies focused on building rapport with their clients and expanding brand awareness. Here’s how…Push Your POV
B2B products are typically big budget items. Swaying another business to sign over that kind of hefty sum requires more than just a catchy slogan. How do you win that kind of deal? Use display retargeting! Display retargeting campaigns provide B2B marketers the unique opportunity to repeatedly communicate why their products and services are unique – automated rapport building.
TIP – In the B2B landscape, display retargeting ad copy should not necessarily push product, but rather, communicate how a brand approaches the work they do – what are their values? Their point of view? Authentically communicating this information repeatedly with a retargeted display ad ingrains that philosophy in the customer’s mind, building a relationship deeply rooted in shared belief – the strongest bond in existence, also known as the connection that helps those sales just sell themselves.Specify Messaging
Display retargeting campaigns are only as effective as the responses they illicit. So how can marketers get the responses they want? By developing a killer messaging strategies, of course! As far as creative messaging goes, B2B display banners should…
Dynamic display retargeting takes the retargeting game a step further. Instead of just serving static ads, now brands have the capability to set copy in their ads to change dynamically based on customer history. Whoa!
TIP – Build copy based on available actions. This way, you can more appropriately talk to each consumer based on where they are, at that moment, in the conversion funnel.Ready, Set, Strategize!
As previously stated, killer display retargeting strategies come from diversifying your efforts. Flood the marketplace with as much and as many messaging components as possible. Success typically materializes for brands who serve a variety of different display banners across a wide range of platforms and websites. Display retargeting is a brand investment; the greater the messaging diversity, the more conversion chances you are affording your brand.
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Recently, Google sent warning notifications via email and Google Webmaster Tools, warning webmasters that web pages need to be optimized with a mobile-friendly design or face losing rankings in search engine results pages. While Google has not formally announced any changes to its mobile ranking algorithm, these warnings suggest that one is likely on its way. If all signs indeed point toward that truth, then websites ignoring their mobile experience will most certainly pay a price. Google’s motivation for this change makes perfect sense considering A) Mobile search has officially supplanted desktop search as the more popular way to scour the web and B) This change falls directly in-line with their objective for search users – provide the best online experience by providing the best content possible.
Essentially, these warnings are wake-up calls, alerting trend-trailing businesses and webmasters to start taking mobile optimization seriously. By exclusively providing mobile-friendly websites, Google will now ensure it serves its users easily accessible content, optimized for consumption on any device, at any time. However, with every new edict comes inevitable fallout…
Even though many brands are already ahead of the curve with their mobile experiences, this change still stands to have a profound impact on businesses of all sizes; both the mobile and non-mobile optimized.
What This Means for Big Business The Little Guys are Catching Up
At this point, most of the larger, higher-earning businesses have already optimized for mobile simply because these kinds of brands generally have more resources to invest in their mobile SEO. Until now, simply having a mobile site was enough of an advantage for these heavyweights to stay ahead of any smaller-scale competitors. However, with these changes in place, staying ahead in the mobile game may become a bit more complex.
Now that Google is,in a sense, forcing webmasters to create a mobile friendly experience–pushing businesses who may not have invested in their mobile web design to go that extra mile; the search engine is leveling a previously skewed playing field and eliminating the advantage big brands had by simply launching a mobile site. With more brands entering the mobile playing field, just having a mobile-friendly experience won’t cut it anymore. Moving forward, to win the search game you won’t just need a mobile site, you’ll need a better mobile site.
What This Means for Small and Medium Sized Businesses Mobile Searches to Increase
Two facts are true.
1) Many small and medium sized business are presently not optimized for mobile.
2) People like easy things.
By strongly encouraging all brands to provide easier and, hopefully, more enjoyable mobile experiences for online searchers, the number of mobile-friendly experiences available is likely to increase, giving people what they like… something easier. This combination of factors will likely result in the number of mobile searches increasing. With the amount of mobile search users trending upwards already, we can conclude that it is now more damaging than ever for businesses currently neglecting the mobile component of their websites, turning their backs on viable organic traffic, to continue refraining from optimization.
Small and medium sized businesses who lack the resources to optimize their mobile experiences will definitely feel this warning’s hit hard. Thus, to keep pace with the competition, small and medium sized businesses must be willing to invest in their mobile SEO in some capacity. Luckily, Google provides step by step guides to help webmasters convert their web pages to a mobile friendly design. However, before embarking on implementation, it is important to first understand the reasons Google has flagged your website before taking the appropriate steps to remedying these issues. Here are the most important architectural and content elements commonly neglected in the mobile experience:
With Big Changes Come Big Opportunities
Google updates its search algorithm rapidly, and typically makes no formal announcements when changes occur. Since Google has been so open about this particular update, personally warning offending webmasters, we can surmise mobile is an issue especially hot in the company’s mind. Any loss in time, money, and effort in updating your website will be gained back when you retain and strengthen your mobile SERP visibility.
Regardless of the size of your business, or the industry you’re in; it is more important than ever to provide users with a satisfactory mobile experience. Google’s improved mobile SERPs will further encourage web surfers to search the web via their mobile devices. Anyone ignoring mobile, or thinking their mobile experience is “good enough,” will surely lose out in the long run.
Perhaps the best way to view mobile strategy is by taking a more holistic approach. From this viewpoint, it is important to consider your mobile experience as more than a simple redesign of the existing desktop site. The mobile user is different from the desktop user. Mobile users may be surfing your website from anywhere at any time; as well as have entirely different mindsets and needs over desktop users. Use data to uncover who your prospective mobile users are and how they’re interacting with your website differently on a mobile device to provide yourself with a better foundation for formulating an effective mobile strategy.
For more in-depth information about improving your mobile design, check out Google’s guide to mobile design. Here you can test your website, and find information about fixing errors and optimizing for mobile.
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People are searching on mobile more than ever. As Google pushes for a richer and more dynamic mobile search experience, how can local businesses dominate the SERPs for local searches conducted on mobile devices?
Spend More to Get More
Mobile is the space to bid aggressively, for a few reasons. First and foremost, customers are becoming significantly more active on mobile each year. In fact, mobile Internet traffic actually exceeded desktop traffic for the first time over this past Thanksgiving weekend, solidifying mobile’s dominance in the search sector. Second, mobile screens are smaller than desktop screens. And while, yes, screen sizes are increasing, ad space is not always getting that increased space. In the end, smaller screens means decreased SERP real estate availability. Third, it is crucial to remember that local campaigns do not exist in a vacuum disparate from the effects of national competition. Just because you are running a local campaign does not mean your competition is limited to other brands’ local businesses. You are also competing against national businesses that invade local markets.
TIP – If you are going to bid and engage people aggressively, position yourself to respond to incoming inquiries aggressively as well. Spend money at the right times by scheduling your call extensions to pop up at the right times. For example, when you bid up for local relevance near brick and mortar locations, make sure you have staff onsite, ready to answer the phones and/or greet people as they walk in the door. Remember though, you can still be active in different ways at times when your call center is not open.
Track Call Length
What KPIs should marketers measure to appropriately gauge how their paid and earned local campaigns are faring in the mobile SERPs? The paid ads your brand is running on mobile for local searches should already use mobile-specific calls to action like “Call Now,” and your mobile ads should feature easy-to-use call extensions and location extensions.
TIP – Instead of simply tracking clicks, evaluate metrics that give some insight into the quality of action taken as a result of these ads – metrics like call length. Tracking call length offers valuable insight into A) the quality of calls your messaging is garnering, and B) how well the staff servicing your call center is complimenting your paid ads. The longer your customers are on the phone may indicate the higher the likelihood they’re on track to convert.
Defend your Territory
In terms of paid ads, keep bidding on your brand! When you cut out paid brand bidding, you stop defending your territory, effectively inviting competitors to rank for your terms and jeopardizing your brand’s online reputation. Balance your efforts toward garnering both brand and non-brand visibility by, if you are in an ROI model, capitalizing on low-CPA, relevant traffic. For Google, relevance is an important efficiency driver which can drive up your click-thru rate, validate your site, drive up quality score, and provide you relevant traffic with a strong ROI. In effect, this tactic is a cost-effective way to show up when people are looking for you.
TIP – Whether they be ROI or CPA, keeping in mind your key performance indicators, spend as much money for brand as possible, and then budget for non-brand. If you have budget for a non-ROI approach, one tactic might be budgeting toward exploratory traffic and learnings; a great way to find new audiences.
Local mobile SERP domination requires a sustainable long-term strategy. While time-on-site and click-through rate are indeed useful metrics that influence your site’s ability to rank organically, focusing solely on these metrics when it comes to your brand’s mobile strategy can distract you from your long-term business objective: conversions.
Figure out what the true mobile-specific conversion is for the mobile interaction you want customers to perform, either in the ad or on your site when served on a mobile device, and use your ads to drive customers toward those actions. Provide the appropriate conversion point for the experience you want. Typically, the primary objective ofads on a mobile SERP is to relay the right kind of information to searchers so that they quickly get offline and into your brand’s physical store or on the phone with a representative.
TIP – Strategize appropriately by tailoring ad copy to encourage consumers along this kind of mobile consumer decision journey toward offline conversion. Serve your most mobile-friendly pages for this journey, and take advantage of ad extensions like sitelinks to portray navigational information, phone numbers, and store hours and support your audience as they move to offline conversions.
Let Google Work for You
Many silly errors can occur whilst stitching together the bidding facilitation of third-party products. Avoid unnecessary errors by letting Google do the work for you. Use all of Google Adwords’ bells and whistles that go with it to consolidate your efforts in one place. Adwords has a lot of great options when it comes to call tracking and SERP domination, easy ways to make your ads stand out and they are always inventing something new that might work really well in different verticals.
All in all, local SERP domination on mobile requires that brands develop calculated strategies across both paid and earned SEO, carefully calibrated to address customer pain points at each stage of the conversion funnel to eventually reach that final transfer of funds for goods. By holistically leveraging both advertising arenas, you can better deliver a complete story to your consumers by appearing in multiple areas of the new local-mobile SERP, effectively strengthening trust in your products and services, and boosting loyalty to your brand as a whole.
Back in November, Yahoo! announced that it was acquiring Brightroll, the premiere online video advertising platform, for $640 million in cash. For advertisers, this was huge news that will undoubtedly change how brands are marketed from here on out.
What This Means for Yahoo!
The online advertising landscape, particularly its display subset, has changed significantly over recent years as digital video in particular becomes a go-to tool for many advertisers. While Yahoo is still a major purveyor of traditional display banner and native ads, it has lagged significantly in the video realm. Prior to its acquisition of Brightroll, Yahoo only owned about 2.4% of the worldwide digital advertising market. The rise of digital video has tested Yahoo, limiting the search engine from streams and streams (pun intended) of revenue, until now.
Going forward, the company will likely see a surge in its digital advertising revenue as well as market share. With its already formidable presence in traditional forms of display media, Yahoo is poised to become one of the largest digital advertisers in the world.
What This Means for Brightroll
Brightroll is not without benefits from the deal. The online video advertising platform now comes under Yahoo’s watchful eye, gaining large amounts of brand stability in the public sector. The platform no longer risks seeing its own brand and/or product compromised by becoming a publically traded entity, an option considered before its acquisition by Yahoo.
What This Means for Marketers
Brightroll has made Yahoo an extremely attractive partner for all manners of online advertising, mainly due to new integration possibilities. Now that Yahoo owns one of the largest online video advertisers in existence, marketers can look forward to a more seamless experience when creating campaigns. The possibilities are endless; within this (theoretical) highly integrated Yahoo interface individual IO’s could be created for traditional display advertising, video, and search. If these possibilities come to fruition, Yahoo would provide intense competition for Google’s AdWords platform, which prior to now, was the only ad platform that provided marketers with all of these tools.
The Future of Display Advertising
By acquiring Brightroll, Yahoo has made a crucial investment in the future of online marketing, positioning itself as a direct influencer of that future. As most marketers know, online marketing is now so much more than search and banner ads on desktops; the rise of digital video and mobile computing has caused advertising revenue in these mediums to skyrocket. Marketers must fully embrace digital video as an effective and lucrative form of online advertising, and must make sure that the brands they represent understand this reality as well and make room in their overall television brand budgets for digital video. But why?
TV advertising remains one of the most direct ways to reach a target audience, and over time, continues to create a rapport with said audience. It follows logically that a shift from TV to online video advertising should become the norm. Brands that run TV ads already operate within the framework to successfully move into the digital realm; it’s simply a matter of shifting the message and style of the ads to appeal to an online audience. It’s crucial to note that audience segmentation is far more specific through online advertising compared to TV. By implementing digital video campaigns, marketers can specify who each campaign should target based on tracked user behavior, limiting impressions to include only those likely to engage with the brand in question; a luxury unavailable with traditional TV ads. Going forward, digital video advertising is going to become an even more crucial part of the digital marketing sphere.
While TV will retain much of its inherent value, brands and marketers alike must take note of and utilize the power of the Internet, and thanks to this new Yahoo/Brightroll partnership, how to go about doing so now involves options.
It’s no surprise that web professionals are always looking forward – technology is a one-way street, with opportunities and rewards for those who get to the great ideas first. Lately there’s been a lot of excitement about visual search. Imagine donning your Google Glasses, heading to the park, and having your trusty specs reveal the species of bird you’re looking at. Is it a goose? A duck? Just a plastic bag really far away?
As cool as that is, we can’t neglect the basic architecture that underlies the web. As we move towards a more visual internet, one of the fundamental pieces that will become even more relevant is the image <alt> tag.
For the uninitiated, it’s important to include descriptive text in the image <alt> tag so search engines and screen readers can understand the content of the picture. The first case helps search crawlers get a better grasp of your site. The latter enables programs to read text aloud to the visually impaired.
“I know all about image <alt> tags,” you may say. Most of us do. Which is why it’s so surprising that many prominent sites are still neglecting them. Without outing anyone, here are several common mistakes you still see on the web.
Worst Case Scenario: alt=””
Leaving an image <alt> tag blank is a missed opportunity. It’s letting the low-hanging fruit dangle right within reach. Does it hurt the ranking of your site? That depends on how you look at it. You probably won’t get docked for blank <alt> tags. But a competitor who’s taken the time to include them has a better chance of being seen as a more comprehensive source. It’s also a great opportunity to get another keyword on the page, and opens the door to being found in Google or Bing image searches.
That last bit is particularly important for ecommerce sites. If you have a bedazzled purse for sale, and I want a bedazzled purse, it’s much harder for us to meet if you’ve described the bag as alt=””. But your competitor is in image search, having clearly marked alt=”bedazzled purse”. This simple action has given them an advantage — the chance to meet the customer searching for bedazzled purses before you do.
Here’s another compelling reason to put something in the tag: if you’re using an image as a link, the <alt> tag copy is viewed by search engines as the anchor text. Leaving it blank dilutes the signal that could be sent to your landing page. Why would you do that? Fill in the <alt> tag and get the credit you deserve.
The Perils of TMI
When it comes to writing your image <alt> tag, you should keep it simple. Oftentimes a scene can be described in a few words. For example, alt=”pink bedazzled purse” is sufficient, whereas alt=”omg look at this pink bedazzled purse with a gold clasp, sequined strap and velour-lined interior” can confuse a search engine and prove very annoying to a visually impaired visitor.
The worst offenders that I’ve come across use an article headline as the image <alt> text. My guess is that this is the default in their content management systems, but it doesn’t make much sense if you want to get traffic through image searches. For example, applying the headline “Changes Ahead for National Parks” to a picture of a bear doesn’t serve the intended purpose of the <alt> tag. Duplicative copy is never good. It may not lead to severe consequences, but represents yet another missed opportunity to clearly denote your page’s purpose for the search engine spiders and, ultimately, the viewer.
The ability to easily edit <alt> tags is a must-have when choosing a CMS. Many offer a field for entering information alongside an image. A CMS that doesn’t allow this is likely deficient in other aspects, as well. The easier the tag interface, the more likely editors are to utilize them.
A Rose by Any Other Name
When it comes to images on ecommerce sites, you want your <alt> tags to reflect people’s queries. It may be fine to say a dress comes in an “emerald forest” color on the tag, but customers aren’t likely to search for that term online. Instead, you should use either “green” or “emerald green” in the <alt> tag. You can determine the best wording by doing some good old-fashioned keyword research.
Remember, this is a tag that will remain hidden to most users. It’s only there to explain the image to search engines or screen readers. Branding concerns can be safely set aside. Optimize to the image, not the sales team.
A Note for the Haters
I have no doubt that right after some people read this, they’ll start looking at <alt> tags on their favorite sites and in Google Image Search. And they’ll find examples of images that perform just fine in search, but break the rules above.
In many cases, that’s because the sites have a lot of authority working in their favor. Google, Bing or Yahoo will always give an official site like cia.gov the benefit of the doubt, as there is much less chance of that site selling links or engaging in spammy behavior. Most of us haven’t earned that inherent trust, and therefore have to work harder to rank.
So start applying those <alt> tags. Be conservative but descriptive, and you’ll have one of the fundamental best practices of SEO checked off the list.
This week, The Search Agency published its most recent edition of the Mobile Experience Scorecard report, focusing this time on the print news and media industry. Thanks to The New York Times Innovation Report release earlier this year, we were clued into this industry’s effort to not only digitize, but also mobilize their content. Using a list of top visited print news and media sites from Experian Marketing Services, we scored these news outlet websites on both user experience and SEO factors, measuring their successes and failures accordingly. Here are a few key findings:
For more on these insights, plus other key findings, download your free copy of our full report here.