Incubeta Ignite – The Next Steps in Search

Read Time: 5 Minutes 30 Seconds

November started with somewhat of an SEO shakeup, as Google announced that, as of May 2021, Page Experience Signals would be included within the Search ranking process. If a site performs poorly or doesn’t comply with the new algorithm, then you can almost certainly expect to see some sort of downturn in Organic Google performance. The question that needs asking is, what does that mean for your Google Ranking and SEO strategy? 

We asked just that to Incubeta’s UK Director of Search Experience, Joe Comotto, & ZA SEO Analyst, Bridget Hoepner, who were joined by Binary Bear’s Founder & CEO Joe Doveton to discuss all things search.

As explored within our piece last month (Google’s New Search Criteria), Google’s new algorithm update will focus specifically on the amalgamation of numerous metrics and pre-existing search signals – such as mobile-friendliness, safe-browsing, HTTPS-security & page load speed – with Google Core Web Vitals. This amalgamation will be rolled out in May 2021, under the title of Page Experience signals and will measure how a user will perceive the experience of a specific web page. Have a read of the full blog here.

During their discussion Joe, Bridget and Joe focused on six key topics: SEO & UX, Core Web Vitals, Building and Adapting Sites, Third Party Platforms & Affiliates, Cross Sector Impact and Further Google Updates.

SEO and UX

As Joe Doveton highlights – historically speaking, SEO and UX often operate in silos – with both seen as separate disciplines in their own right. Whilst many digital marketers might not implement cross team collaborations across both channels at this time, Google’s new update will undoubtedly encourage advertisers to change this somewhat dated approach – breaking down barriers to combine SEO and UX in a harmonious manner within their marketing strategy. 

Google’s algorithm update adds weight to the age-old argument of customer centricity, and will encourage advertisers to put users at the centre of their strategy. Advertisers will likely push organic optimisation as high priority through the holistic implementation of SEO and UX in a seamless approach. 

Core Web Vitals

Despite Core Web Vitals sounding fairly complicated, it ultimately means the metrics by which businesses can measure the quality of their site’s user experience using three specific core vitals; load time, interactivity and visual stability. 

Joe Comotto went on to detail these specific core vitals. Load time, or Largest Contentful Paint is the measurement of perceived load speed – marking the specific point in the page load timeline when the main content of the page has downloaded and is ready to interact with. Interactivity, or First Input Delay is the measurement of responsiveness or interactivity of the user. This measurement is only triggered by clicks or taps – not scrolls or zooms. Visual Stability, or Cumulative Layout Shift measures stability, quantifying the amount of unexpected layout shifts in page content visible to the user.

Bridget furthered the discussion, highlighting how advertisers can use a number of different tools to help measure their performance within these metrics. Such as; Lighthouse, Page Speed Insights, Core Vital Report within Google Search Console and Google Analytics.

Building & Adapting

Whilst certain previous Google algorithm updates have targeted certain sectors of search, the page experience update isn’t focusing on a specific sector per say – it’s targeting all websites with a definitive focus on usability. Bridget expanded on this topic, discussing how there are certain types of websites that will have to pay close attention to the new update; such as publishers who rely on top news stories as a primary drive of traffic. 

For existing brands, it’s important to remember that, whilst metrics are helpful in the management and monitoring of performance, they need to be considering users at the heart of their strategy – what exactly are they trying to achieve on your website, and how can you streamline that experience?  For new brands, we could potentially say they have the upper hand when it comes to this specific ranking signal – fixing what already exists is often more challenging than starting afresh.

Whether old or new, brands who are using seamless platforms should be inquiring about upcoming releases and improvements, specifically identifying if they are focusing on Core Web Vitals. And , if so, how are the platforms you’re using actually responding to these metrics and page experience signals.

Third Party Platforms

As Joe Doveton mentioned, the most important thing to consider, whether building or adapting your website, is that the developer brought in to assist is both up to date and aware of these upcoming algorithm updates. You should be asking questions such as; who’s doing the hosting, what CDN is being implemented and how can my site be optimised to respond to Core Web Vitals. 

Bridget expanded on this, discussing how, in the run up to May, brands should be identifying what their main core objectives are for their users – translating this to their third party platforms (be it plugins or widgets) to optimise the functionality and interactivity of their site.

Cross Sector Impact

It is highly likely that we’ll see varying degrees of impact across the industry, with certain sectors reacting more to the algorithm update than others. This variation will be heavily influenced by the competitive set in which brands sit. Joe Comotto elaborated on this, explaining that – if your sector has invested heavily in site performance and UX, then you’ll see less impact of the update, compared to sectors that haven’t invested in page and site experience. It will also be dependent on one’s competitors and how one’s peer set is performing in that space. If your direct competitors haven’t invested in site performance and page experience then there’s a real opportunity to succeed. 

Over the next six months, benchmarking against competitors will be a huge asset to brands, helping to contextualise their situation and optimise their SEO and UX strategy.

Further Google Updates

The question that many are asking is whether Google’s Page Experience updates will have an impact on further updates launched by the search engine – such as the recent core algorithm update Google announced last week. Primarily speaking, we’re unlikely to see a change in ‘impact’ for these further Google updates. Aside from Google’s Page Experience update, the majority of new/further core algorithm updates aren’t major updates – more an optimisation or ‘cleaning’ of the existing algorithm. 

Unanimously so, Joe, Bridget and Joe all emphasised that Google’s Page Experience update and Core Algorithm update are two separate ‘sides of the coin’ so to speak. Each valid in their own right – neither necessarily impacting the other.

Analysing your site user experience is more important now than ever before, and for the remainder of the holiday season we are offering a free personalised Core Web Vitals Dashboard to our readers. Get in touch with Sophie Dixon today to claim your free audit ([email protected]).

For more information on what page experience signals will mean for your business have a read of our blog on Google’s New Search Criteria, or watch the full discussion on The Next Steps in Search.

This blog was originally published on Incubeta.

Google’s New Search Criteria

Read Time: 3 Minutes 25 Seconds

Last week Google announced that, as of May 2021, Page Experience Signals would be included within the Google Search ranking process. Since their initial announcement in May, Google has identified a 70% median increase in the number of users engaging with Lighthouse and Page Speed Insights, with many site owners using Search Console’s Core Web Vitals report to identify areas of improvement. Changing their algorithms to include user experience within search ranking will allow Google to streamline the user journey, whilst pushing advertisers to improve their page experience, for fear of being knocked down the SERP. 

So how should one prepare for this? Despite Google introducing the idea of page experience signals within search ranking close to seven months ago, the new feature is relatively unexplored, and as so often happens whenever Google launches a new update, it has been met with a flurry of queries. We asked our Director of Search Experience, Joe Comotto what this update will mean for the search industry, and how businesses can prepare their strategy in advance of the launch in May 2021.

1: What is Page Experience

“Page Experience” is a Google Algorithm update that will be introduced to Google’s search ranking process. The update will focus specifically on how a user will perceive the experience of a specific web page, combining the Google Core Web Vitals with the pre-existing search signals which includes mobile-friendliness, safe-browsing, HTTPS-security, and intrusive interstitial guidelines.

After introducing the idea of page experience signals within search ranking back in May 2020, Google have now formally announced that the update will be included in Google Search ranking from 2021 onwards, specifying that the inclusion of page experience signals will:

“measure how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page and contribute to our ongoing work to ensure people get the most helpful and enjoyable experiences from the web.

2: Why is this important?

If your site performs poorly or doesn’t comply with these requirements, then you can almost certainly expect to see some sort of downturn in Organic Google performance.

Sites that not only answer the searcher’s query, but provide a good user experience will now be ranked by Google at the top of the SERPS. You might have really great content but if you’re providing users with a lousy site experience and they can’t easily access the information, then Google isn’t doing its job. This has become even more of a requirement as user adoption of mobile has increased, emphasising the issue even more.

3: How do you prepare for this?

If you haven’t already started planning then there is still plenty of time left, and understanding how you currently perform is a good place to start. The best way to ensure that your website is meeting Google’s standards for site quality is to measure your performance using Core Web Vitals. 

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): measures loading performance. To provide a good user experience, LCP should occur within 2.5 seconds of when the page first starts loading.
  • First Input Delay (FID): measures interactivity. To provide a good user experience, pages should have a FID of less than 100 milliseconds.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): measures visual stability. To provide a good user experience, pages should maintain a CLS of less than 0.1.

Knowing where the issues exist on your site is the next step and this is best achieved through a site-wide audit of your pages. Identifying some of the quick wins that you can implement between now and May will put you in good stead for when the update is rolled out. However, don’t ignore the bigger projects because of their complexity. They may take up more time and resources, but the more complex the task the bigger the performance uplift and getting key stakeholders to buy in will be key to your success.

And don’t forget, whilst these changes are being driven by an SEO requirement, the benefits are far reaching and will impact the performance of other channels within your marketing strategy such as PPC.

For more information on what page experience signals will mean for your business, join us on the 10th December at 12:30pm for Incubeta Ignite: The Next Steps in Search, with Incubeta’s Joe Comotto, and Binary Bear’s Joe Doveton. Sign up link here.

This blog was originally published on Incubeta.

Webinar Wrap Up: SEO to the Rescue

Read Time: 5 mins 30 secs

In the fifth instalment of Incubeta’s Virtual Learning Series, Joe Comotto brings his knowledge of SEO to highlight how this often overlooked practise can play an important role in getting your business through the pandemic and into the new normal.

The coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns have seen marketers cutting back, or even entirely removing, their marketing spend. With a dependence on paid media, we often find that brands overlook the role that SEO can play for your business. As budgets decrease, now is the time to evaluate your strategy to find a place for investment and prioritisation in SEO; doing so will help your business to get through the storm and into the new normal.

To give you an idea of the change in the landscape to date, 1 in 3 consumers have already changed their approach to shopping. Google Search ads – the starting point of many a digital advertising campaign – lost 7% of their impressions from January 13th 2020 to March 9th 2020. Finally, with the vast of the majority of the population now at home, we’re seeing a huge increase in mobile usage. With these shifts, there is an opportunity for SEO professionals and content marketers to ramp up their impact, creating content that drives conversions now and builds their brand long term.

In his webinar, Joe highlighted the top 6 tips for anyone wanting to invest more in their SEO strategy during this period, including some areas that should be your immediate focus for right now. 

Be Aware of the Trends

Search behaviour is changing rapidly, so it’s more important than ever to stay on top of market trends. Tools such as Google Trends will be incredibly useful here to help you identify new keywords and themes.

For example, we’re seeing customers moving online in increasing numbers, and instructional searches – think “how to’s” and recipes – have risen dramatically since the lockdown began. Searches for exercise classes online have quickly overtaken those for exercise classes “near me” as people look for workouts that they can do without leaving the house. 

Schema

Schema markup is a specific kind of code you can add to your site to help search engines return more informative results for users; think rich snippets! Naturally, this means that Google loves schema, and it really helps your brand stand out in the SERP.

There are 818 different kinds of schema to take advantage of. Some common types you might already recognise (or even be using!) include FAQ, HowTo, Opening Hours and Item Availability; but there’s new COVID-19 related schema that you can make use of throughout this period. These can be really useful when you’re looking to provide date-stamped updates for things like travel bans or school closures, as well as to indicate where an event may have been cancelled or moved online.

In terms of implementation, it’s fairly straightforward as most have a CMS plugin you can use. You don’t need any coding skills to be able to get set up and there are lots of free tools available to create and validate the schema. 

Content

Customers will likely have many questions about your brand’s approach to COVID, so make sure to keep them updated with relevant FAQ content. A lot of this content can then be repurposed or slightly modified for a post-lockdown world, giving you evergreen content that you can continue to share.

Instructional pieces on how to care for and clean products will be useful to your current customers, as well as anyone researching how to care for specific products during lockdown. Similarly, consumers will be looking for activities to stave off the boredom, so DIY guides will likely see some good performance over this period.

It’s also worth noting that many consumers will be limiting their spending throughout this period, so creating content that’s tailored to the awareness and consideration stages of the marketing funnel. With more people working from home, a retailer might see success from a piece around how to style a perfect WFH outfit. Advice on how to make money go further will also likely be appreciated and helps to present yourself as a thought leader within your space. When those consumers are ready to purchase again, your business should then be front of mind.

Business Listings

During this period, it is crucial that your Google My Business Listing is up to date. This way, you can quickly and easily let customers know if your store is temporarily closed, so your customers don’t leave the house for a closed shop. You can also let your customers know if you’re providing a pick-up service and add special hours to your listing. If you own thousands of stores, Google have made this easier by providing the ability to update your special opening hours in bulk.

Google recently updated their Google My Business support to prioritise listings for critical health businesses, as well as any new listings, claims and verifications for these businesses. The Review and Q&A functionality, on the other hand, has been disabled for the time being.

Speed

Page speed is somewhat of an outlier here, as it’s certainly not a quick win and you’ll likely need additional support from your developer team. However, if you have the bandwidth, capacity and the time to look at increasing your page load speed then it will pay dividends in the future; not only to your SEO but your paid media as well.

For most organisations, we strongly recommend that you look into AMP, with the exception of retailers as there is a lot more additional work required to maintain it. But, if you’re pushing out lots of news or updates, AMP is the best way to get that information out there and featured on Google’s Carousel. If you have the time and resources to invest here, it’s certainly worth the returns. 

Plan and Measure

The most important point to take away from this is the need to plan and measure. One of the biggest problems we have as SEO’s is proving the value of what we do, so being able to get enterprise-level focus on SEO and educating people internally is key to keeping SEO on the table. 

The best way to do this is to relate your goals and KPIs back to business measurable outcomes. More often than not, if you want to get C-Suite buy-in, you’ll need to relate everything you do back to revenue. You need to show that your action caused a specific increase in revenue. By planning effectively and understanding the best way to measure this will ultimately allow you to keep SEO on the table as a priority for the business. 

This post was originally published on incubeta.com

SERP Update: PDFs on Mobile

As Google continues to update what appears in the SERP and how; we are beginning to see a new feature appearing amidst mobile search results. 

After arguing that PDFs aren’t mobile-friendly in 2018, attitudes at Google have begun to change as some users report seeing the first page of a PDF appearing for some mobile searches. 

Screenshot of Google Search Results for "travel pdf", with the top result showing the first page of a PDF.

While this won’t force too many changes for brands, it’s likely that we’ll begin to see producers of PDFs working to create more attractive front pages for their documents in order to draw the users’ attention. However, more data is needed to evaluate whether PDF thumbnails impact CTR, or what causes one PDF appears rather than another.

What this does highlight is a continuing shift towards the importance of optimising the search experience as a whole. Marketers will need to think about how they approach PDFs as a part of the SEO ecosystem; something they’ve never had to do before. The focus must now be on making the most of all of our organic and owned media – tying them all together for the benefit the user.

As more information and trends become apparent, we’ll be sure to update with best practices for SEO.

NMPignite Debates: The Future of SEO

Read time: 4 mins 30 secs

NMPi welcomed guests for our first NMPignite Debates event; a panel discussion all about the future of SEO. We were joined by Jennifer Hoffman (DeepCrawl), Joe Doveton (Binary Bear), Michael Bass (Marks and Spencer), Fred Maude (Incubeta) and Joe Comotto (NMPi) for a hugely insightful morning of discussion and debate.

It’s easier to forget that Google is not just here to serve us as marketers, but is a business of its own with its own goals and targets. As we watch how Google has changed over the last 20 years or so, building out their own properties, we can see how they have been driven by one singular goal: creating a positive user experience that answers search queries in the quickest and most effective way possible. 

Building an Entity

Our panel couldn’t agree on whether we should be considering Google as a competitor or simply as the landscape that we exist within. Regardless, with the changes that we’ve seen in the SERP, savvy marketers would do well to build their businesses and SEO strategies to provide that same positive user experience while circumventing Google.

The key to success lies in building a brand: you want users to remember you, the service you provide, and how you can help them answer their specific queries. We were spoilt by SEO and Google in the early days, but there is perhaps now an overreliance on Google to send us traffic. In building your brand, you’re able to reduce your reliance on generic key terms so that rather than searching for “flights to Belfast” and being served things like Google’s travel aggregator, a user would search “Expedia” or go direct to site, trusting the service and experience that they receive from Expedia to be able to help them with their query. 

One way that you can do this is by building an entity, as this is how Google is understanding not only brands but specific ideas, dates and concepts. While the idea of entities isn’t entirely new, it certainly deserves more recognition. Google not only understands things in terms of entities, but it uses machine learning to make sense of the relationships between them to serve better results in the SERP. For example, the entity “Meryl Streep” connects to “22 June 1949” by the relationship “has birthday”. In clearly establishing the relationships between entities that you own, you are able to signpost to Google what your brand is about, and the types of content that are relevant to your brand. 

Own the SERP

A subtlety that some of our panel have noticed is this shift away from Search Engine Optimisation and towards a full Search Experience. This brings both SEO and UX specialists closer together as we consider the user journey all the way from search query to conversion. First here is the rise of things like Featured Snippets and Zero-Click Searches, which provide opportunities for brands to “skip the queue” so to speak, and end up in that coveted position zero. While it isn’t as easier to measure interactions with these positions, they do allow brands to build up their brand awareness. On top of this, Structured Data is also playing a huge role in technical SEO strategies. 

If organic clicks are at a premium, it puts more of an impetus on brands to improve the landing experience in order to reinforce a positive user journey. This means working to reduce friction and increasing engagement, to name a few best practices. There are other examples of how UX or CRO can fit into SEO – such as site speeds, the length of content, and whether or not you are answering a user’s question – that can all be taken into account here.

Technology

To serve users the most relevant answers, Machine Learning and AI is gradually becoming more and more relevant within search; take the rollout of BERT as a key signal to this end. While it only affects about 10% of search results at the moment, the idea behind this particular update is to get consumers used to using natural language when searching, rather than talking in keywords. This certainly nods towards preparations for voice search which, despite being something of a red herring right now, is where we seem to be heading. For now though, BERT will be most relevant for the long-tail of the long-tail search terms; helping to understand the most complicated of searches. 

On the brand-side, automation is a growing trend for SEOs to help them become more efficient. Technology can also help to pull together and unlock the potential of all of your data sources – paid, organic, channel – to find the incrementality of paid search compared to SEO and vice versa. 

Takeaways

We are now in the death-throes of using search as a tactic for driving traffic; SEOs should focus on putting digital at the heart of all of their marketing efforts as we move into 2020. Our panellists ended the session by giving their single biggest takeaway for the year to come:

  • Build a brand, think about your content as an entity and how you communicate this to Google: don’t put all your eggs in one Google basket;
  • Effectively organise your data, as this will help you to make decisions;
  • De-silo your SEO so that it can work more effectively with PPC;
  • CRO is rebranding as experimentation, and this will be the year it goes mainstream;
  • Create positive customer experiences – at the end of the day, this is why they keep coming back.

Meet BERT – Google’s Latest Update

Google’s algorithm updates have always had a significant impact on how marketers handle their SEO efforts, but their latest update – BERT – has been heralded as the most important update in five years, and is set to impact 10% of search queries. But what exactly is BERT, and what impact will it have on organic search as we know it?

The Future of Search is Conversational

In recent years, we’ve all heard that marketing is conversational, but BERT shows that Google has firmly subscribed to this. With voice search becoming increasingly popular thanks to the rise of smart speakers, Google’s latest update is designed to help Search better understand natural language and more conversational queries. 

BERT stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, and is a “deep learning algorithm”. The algorithm seeks to give context to Google Search queries so that Google can understand a user’s more natural searches. Sometimes, the context of a search is crucial to getting the right results – for example, there are many different uses of the word “type”. When considered on their own, you might receive results that are entirely irrelevant to these kinds of words. It’s the context around the rest of the query that demonstrates specifically what a user wants. 

Given that there has been a trend towards longtail search terms, particularly as people talk rather than type their queries, this update provides the opportunity for content creators to go back and retest content that might not have been as successful previously. As Google begins to understand search terms with the context of their intent, you may find engagement rising where previously it had remained low. 

Success after BERT

To ensure your organic search success after the rollout of BERT, you’ll want to ensure that your content is well written, and uses words precisely. If your content or pages are unclear, it makes it more difficult for Google to understand the overall context. When developing content, be sure to keep the user front of mind; having a clear focus on the point your page is trying to make. By writing for users, Google is better able to understand the context and relationship between words and hence make sure you’re appearing for the most relevant searches.

The full impact of BERT is still unclear, but what we can already see is the continuing optimisation towards conversational voice searches. Context will be incredibly important, ensuring that you continue to appear on the most relevant searches. Focus on precision, and you’ll likely see the benefit for your organic search.