Do bounce rates affect a site’s search engine ranking?

The bounce rate debate continues…

Bounce rates and how they affect a website’s ranking on Google has been discussed, dissected, and dismembered over and over again.

As fully transcribed on this site, a conversation between Rand Fishkin, CEO of Moz, and Andrey Lipattsev, Google’s search quality senior strategist, led to a surprising discussion on click and bounce rates affecting search rankings.

Rand stated that he has recently been running a few experimental tests with various crowds of 500 to a couple thousand people.

Everyone participating was prompted to take out their cellphones, laptops, and digital what-have-yous and perform a specific search. Once the search listing appeared, he had everyone in the crowd click one of the listings at the bottom of the results page and then click away from that site. He then monitored the results over the next few days.

Rand found a whole bunch of inconsistencies. In a little more than half of the experiments, the ranking did change on the search engine results page (SERP), and in a little less than half of the experiments, the rankings did not change.

This begs the question:

Do bounce rates affect a site’s search engine ranking? If so, how much?

Lipattsev believes that for each individual search query in the experiment, the generated interest regarding those specific searches impacts the rankings change rather than just the clicks and bounces.

He said that if a certain topic is gaining a substantial amount of searches and an increase in social media mentions, Google would pay more attention to that rather than a site getting more clicks.

Lipattsev says that it is certainly doable to determine exactly what causes a large rankings jump for an individual listing, but Internet-wide, it is much more difficult.

All this being said, what actually is a bounce rate?

The bounce rate is the percentage of visitors to a particular site who navigate or “bounce” away after only viewing that individual webpage.

Usually, the term ‘bounce rate’ has a negative connotation associated with it. People think that if a visitor only visits one page and then leaves, it’s bad for business. Their logic isn’t that flawed, either. After all, a high bounce rate would indicate that a site does not have the high-quality, relevant content Google wants out of its top ranked sites.

A great Search Engine Journal article shows nine negative reasons why your website could potentially have a high bounce rate, including poor web design, incorrect keyword selection, improper links, and just bad content. It’s true that these high bounce rates can reflect poorly on a website… sometimes.

So, what gives?

Having a high bounce rate on something like a ‘contact us’ page can actually be a good thing. That’s more of a call-to-action site, where the goal of that particular page is to have the user find the contact information, and then actually contact the business. The visitor got what they came for and then left. Extra navigation around the website doesn’t really mean anything in this case.

Of course, if your site is more content-driven or offers a product or service, then your goal should be to have a higher click-through rate (CTR) and more traffic to each page.

bouncy castles

But what about Google?

Does Google know your bounce rate and are they using it to affect rankings? This Search Engine Roundtable article provides the short answer (which is “no”).

Many organizations don’t use Google Analytics, so Google has no way of tracking their bounce rate information. And even with the analytics that they can trace, it’s difficult to determine what they actually mean because every situation is different.

There are many factors that go into determining how long a visitor stays on a particular webpage. If a visitor remains on a site for over 20 minutes, they could be so engaged with your site’s content that they can’t even imagine leaving your wonderful webpage… or… it could mean they fell asleep at the screen because your website was so boring. It’s too difficult to tell.

If you are operating one of those websites that should have a lower bounce rate, these tips on lowering that number should be able to help. Some highlights include making sure each of your pages loads quickly, offers user-friendly navigation, avoids cluttered advertisements, and features quality content!

If bounce rates don’t affect Google’s rankings as much as you thought, you wonder how significant other ranking factors are. Well, Google recently revealed that magical information. They narrowed it down to three top ranking factor used by Google to drive search results:

  • Links: strong links and link votes play a major role in search rankings.
  • Content: having quality content is more important than ever.
  • RankBrain: Google’s AI ranking system.

It’s no shock that links and content matter, but RankBrain is still relatively new. It’s Google’s new algorithm to help determine search results (after factoring in links and content). RankBrain filters more complex searches and converts them into shorter ones, all the while maintaining the complexity of the search, thusly refining the results.

Google’s newest AI technology – and whatever other secret technologies they are working on – may resolve the never-ending debate over bounce rates, but it’s certainly going to be a difficult process.

More research is to come and Andrey believes the challenge to make bounce rate click data a strong and measurable metric is “gameable,” but Google still has a long way to go.

“If we solve it, good for us,” Andrey said, “but we’re not there yet.”

There is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to SEO and all its intricacies. The greatest answer to any SEO question is always “it depends.”

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How Google fights webspam and what you need to learn from this

Google has this week revealed its annual report on how it has policed the internet over the last 12 months. Or at least how it policed the vast chunk of the internet it allows on its results pages.

Although it’s self-congratulatory stuff, and as much as you can rightfully argue with some of Google’s recent penalties, you do need to understand what Google is punishing in terms of ‘bad quality’ internet experiences so you can avoid the same mistakes.

It’s important to remember that Google for some people IS the internet, or at least the ‘front door’ to it (sorry Reddit), but it’s equally important to remember that Google is still a product; one that needs to make money to survive and (theoretically) provide the best possible experience for its users, or else it is off to DuckDuckGo they… uh… go.

So therefore Google has to ensure the results it serves on its SERPs (search engine results pages) are of the highest quality possible. Algorithms are built and manual reviews by actual human beings are carried out to ensure crappy websites with stolen/thin/manipulative/harmful content stay hidden.

Here’s how Google is currently kicking ass and taking names… and how you can avoid falling between its crosshairs.

google webspam

How Google fought webspam

According to Google, an algorithmic update helped remove the amount of webspam in search results, impacting 5% of queries.

The remaining spam was tackled manually. Google sent more than 4.3 million messages to webmasters notifying them of manual actions it had imposed on sites affected by spam.

Following this, Google saw a 33% increase in the number of sites that went through a spam clean-up “towards a successful reconsideration process.” It’s unclear whether the remaining sites are still in the process of appealing, or have been booted off the face of the internet.

Who watches the watchmen?

More than 400,000 spam reports were manually submitted by Google users around the world. Google acted on 65% of them, and considered 80% of those acted upon to be spam.


There was a huge 180% increase in websites being hacked in 2015, compared to the previous year. Hacking can take on a number of guises, whether its website spam or malware, but the result will be the same. You’ll be placed ‘in quarantine’ and your site will be flagged or removed.

Google has a number of official guidelines on how to help avoid being hacked. These include:

  • Strengthen your account security with lengthy, difficult to guess or crack passwords and not reusing those passwords across platforms.
  • Keep your site’s software updated, including its CMS and various plug-ins.
  • Research how your hosting provider handles security issues and check its policy when it comes to cleaning up hacked sites. Will it offer live support if your site is compromised?
  • Use tools to stay informed of potential hacked content on your site. Signing up to Search Console is a must, as it’s Google’s way of communicating any site issues with you.

google spam fighting

Thin, low quality content

Google saw an increase in the number of sites with thin, low quality content, a substantial amount likely to be provided by scraper sites.

Unfortunately there is very little you can do if your site is being scraped, as Google has discontinued its reporting tool and believes this problem to be your own fault. You just have to be confident that your own site’s authority, architecture and remaining content is enough to ensures it ranks higher than a scraper site.

If you have been served a manual penalty for ‘thin content with little or no added value’ there are things you can do to rectify it, which can mostly be boiled down to ‘stop making crappy content, duh’.

1) Start by checking your site for the following:

  • Auto-generated content: automatically generated content that reads like it was written by a piece of software because it probably was.
  • Thin content pages with affiliate links: affiliate links in quality articles are fine, but pages where the affiliates contain descriptions or reviews copied directly from the original retailer without any added original content are bad. As a rule, affiliates should form only a small part of the content of your site.
  • Scraped content: if you’re a site that automatically scrapes and republishes entire articles from other websites without permission then you should just flick the off-switch right away.
  • Doorway pages: these are pages which can appear multiple times for a particular query’s search results but ultimately lead users to the same destination. The purpose of doorway pages are purely to manipulate rankings.

2) Chuck them all in the bin.

3) If after all that you’re 100% sure your site somehow offers value, then you can resubmit to Google for reconsideration.

For more information on Google’s fight against webspam, read its official blog-post.

And finally, I’ll leave you with this terrifying vision of things to come…

robots and people

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Why are SEOs slow to implement Accelerated Mobile Pages?

It’s been just over two months since Google launched Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), its super-fast brand of mobile webpages running on an amped-up version of HTML.

Accelerated Mobile Pages are designed to speed up the experience of browsing the mobile web, providing page load times which are anywhere from 15 to 85% faster than regular mobile pages. We know that site speed has been a signal in Google’s search ranking algorithms since 2010, and that Google has repeatedly given ranking preference to sites which are optimised for mobile.

Given these two facts, together with the fact that AMP is Google’s own initiative, and it isn’t much of a stretch to conclude that AMP websites are likely rank much better in search than sites with ordinary mobile webpages.

Yet the first survey conducted since the advent of AMP has found that uptake of AMP among professional SEOs is still relatively low. The survey, carried out by SEO PowerSuite, looked at awareness and uptake of AMP among a pool of 385 SEO professionals in North America and Europe.

Of the respondents surveyed, less than a quarter (23%) had taken concrete steps to implement AMP on their mobile sites since the feature’s launch.

Overall awareness of Accelerated Mobile Pages among respondents was high: 75% of the SEO professionals surveyed were aware of AMP. But of these, 21% said they were only aware of the existence of AMP “in passing”, meaning that altogether, nearly half of SEOs (46%) were either unaware of AMP or had only a passing awareness of the feature.

A column graph showing awareness of AMP among SEOs surveyed, with 21% of SEOs aware of AMP "in passing", 35% "have done SOME research" into AMP, 18% "have done A LOT of research" into AMP, while 25% are "not aware" of AMP.

Of those SEOs who hadn’t yet begun to implement AMP on their mobile sites, a high proportion (42%) intended to do more research before making definitive plans. 29% said they had plans to implement AMP in the next six months, and only 5% of respondents said they had no intention of supporting AMP on their mobile sites whatsoever.

The evidence suggests that AMP is fertile ground for getting ahead in search, and a full 80% of survey respondents believed that AMP would have a significant (49%) or moderate (31%) effect on search rankings. So why have SEOs mostly held back from implementing AMP on their mobile sites so far?

A column graph showing the implementation plans for AMP among SEOs. 23% of SEOs are "currently implementing" AMP, 29% are planning to implement AMP in the next 6 months, 42% are "researching" AMP and 5% "have no plans to support" AMP.

Creating an AMP version of your mobile site sounds like a concrete and straightforward way to get ahead in search results, but in practical terms it’s easier said than done. As Damon Kiesow, Head of Product at publishing company McClatchy, told Neiman Lab:

“Everything we know about building a webpage we have to relearn. But we’re relearning it from the premise of converting a current product over, not creating a product from scratch. It’s a fairly complex process!”

Because AMP strips out a lot of the dynamic elements that slow down page loading time, embracing AMP might also mean that SEOs and search marketers have to do away with features that they depend on for business, such as comment systems, lead capture forms and other types of pop-up.

There’s also the very obvious fact that Google’s roll-out of AMP isn’t all that widespread yet. Accelerated Mobile Pages still don’t show up in search results outside of, meaning that many of the non-US respondents to SEO Powersuite’s survey may be deliberately holding fire until AMP will make a difference to search results in their country.

A screenshot of mobile results for "EU referendum", showing AMP-ified BBC News stories in the "top stories" carousel at the top of search results.Accelerated Mobile Pages still have yet to make an appearance in search results outside of

And of course, there is the occasionally-forgotten fact that the world of search consists of more than just Google. In a situation where implementing AMP would take a lot of time and resources, SEOs may be hesitant to go all-in on a feature that will only affect the standing of their mobile site on Google, especially if they market to a country which favours another major search engine, such as China or Russia.

Ultimately, SEOs have to weigh up the potential benefits of getting in on AMP ahead of their competitors and possibly securing a better spot on the Google SERP versus the drawbacks and costs of implementing the new protocol. SEO Powersuite noted in their published results of the survey that, “the delay in quick adoption [of AMP] offers an opportunity for agile marketers to get ahead of their competition in mobile search by implementing AMP immediately.”

They pointed out that getting in early with AMP has the potential to be beneficial for a long time thereafter, because “As any SEO professional working to overtake competitors knows, Google’s institutional memory is long. It can be difficult to get the search behemoth to “forget” (i.e. to stop ranking) brands it has mentally defined as industry leaders and therefore deserving of higher ranking because of AMP support.”

Therefore, investing resources in AMP at this stage could allow SEOs and search marketers to reap the rewards further down the line. It’s still early days, and with relatively few SEOs apparently having staked their claim with AMP so far, the field is wide open for others to make a move if they judge it to be worthwhile.

For lots more valuable insight on the changing face of digital marketing, attend our two-day Shift London event in May.

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How to achieve face-melting content marketing ROI

Jason Miller knows a thing or two about content. He’s the Senior Content Marketing Manager at Linkedin, who presented a session titled “How to Achieve Face-Melting Content Marketing ROI” at ClickZ Live NY last week.

With that title, the session immediately piqued my interest and Jason did not disappoint.

In case you were wondering, face melting is:

“The condition in which, due to an extreme exposure to an event of epic awesomeness, horror or any other emotion on the more extreme end of the spectrum of emotions, one loses all perception of space and time including (but not limited to) a brief lapse in physical awareness. Such an emotional rush can even override Pain, which in some cases may be the cause of the rush.”

Source: The Urban Dictionary

To put this in context, you don’t need more content; you need more EPIC and AWESOME content – aka more relevant content.

According to Jason, in a recent survey, 44% of overall respondents say they would consider ending a brand relationship because of irrelevant promotions. An additional 22%, say they would definitely defect from the brand.

Rage against irrelevance

Developing relevant content doesn’t need to be a difficult exercise. It doesn’t require any special tools or secret sauce. It all begins with having empathy with your prospects and customers. The formula looks like this:

Useful x Enjoyable x Inspired = Innovative Content ~ Ann Handley

The process begins with the creation of a piece of “Big Rock Content” Not a 2,000 word evergreen piece, but something closer to a 50 or 100 page ebook. Something Awesome. Something Epic. Something like The Sophisticated Marketers Guide to LinkedIn

Big, thick, juicy content is the gift that keeps on giving. A single piece of Big Rock content can be repurposed to attract links, generate traffic and build brand awareness for a year or more. Jason suggests thinking of it as something akin to Leftover Turkey.


If distracted by the turkey, this may be a better visual for you:


Once your content is published, blast the news EVERYWHERE: Company pages, email, blog, sponsored updates, Display ads, SlideShare, PPC, Twitter, etc. Use turkey slices to fuel your content hubs.


It’s easy to develop a set of goals, but a plan is specific, time phased and measurable. After determining what constitutes your Big Rock & turkey slices, Jason gave an example of a five week rollout

  • Week 1: Publish Big Rock Content, Influencer Outreach, Sponsored Updates
  • Week 2: Big Rock Webinar, Influencer Outreach, Sponsored Updates
  • Week 3: Big Rock Webinar, Influencer Outreach, Sponsored Updates, Turkey Slice 1, Turkey Slice 2
  • Weeks 4 & 5: Big Rock Webinar, Influencer Outreach, Sponsored Updates, Turkey Slice 1, Turkey Slice 2, Turkey Slice 3, Turkey Slice 4

Your blog ties it all together

Sticking with his food analogy, Jason developed some Blogging Food Groups:

Blogging Food Groups

To be served up on the following schedule (with the associated time commitment)

  • Monday: Vegetables (35% time spent in development)
  • Tuesday: Meats (20% time spent in development)
  • Wednesday : Whole wheat & grains (25% time spent in development)
  • Thursday: Condiments (5% time spent in development)
  • Friday: Desserts (15% time spent in development)

The marketing team of the future

Jason may like his food, but he really loves Kiss.

He used the band as an analogy of how digital marketing symmetry works:

  • SEO – Lays the groundwork
  • Social – Fuels the content
  • Content – Fuels the demand

In the case of the band:

  • They consistently deliver content that their fans want to consume and share
  • Their PR efforts guide their vision as one of the hottest bands in the world
  • They deliver amazing experiences on tour (Event Marketing)
  • They built a thriving community

The Takeaway

Big Rock content isn’t something that would be nice to have. It’s something that you need. As Hummingbird, RankBrain and other algorithms get better; you need to become a smarter marketer. Following this approach to content marketing is sure to give you an edge over most competitors.

To learn more about the changing face of digital marketing, come to our two-day Shift London event in May.

Chuck Price is the founder of Measurable SEO and contributor to Search Engine Watch.

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Do 50% of adults really not recognise ads in search results?

Around half of adults are unable to recognise ads in Google’s search results, according to a survey. 

This surprising statistic comes from Ofcom’s Adults’ media use and attitudes report, released this month.

While I’ve seen studies suggesting that many people don’t know the difference between paid and organic ads, that 50% could look at a set of results like those below and still not spot them seems bizarre.

paid and organic results

The stats

For Ofcom’s study, ‘adults who use search engines’ were shown a picture of the SERPs for ‘walking boots’.

This is what the SERP looks like now, but the study was carried out in 2015, so the shopping results were not there at that time. As the study says:

“Their attention was drawn to the first three results at the top of the list, which were distinguished by an orange box with the word ‘Ad’ written in it. They were then prompted with three options and asked whether any of these applied to these first three results.”

walking boots

The 1,328 survey respondents were allowed to select more than one answer so, for example, some may have said that the ads were both paid links and the best results.

Understanding of paid-for results returned by Google searches, among adults who use search engine websites or apps:

ofcom 1

To clarify the results, 60% identified them as paid links, while 49% identified them only as paid ads, i.e. they selected only the correct answer.

Ofcom also split the results out between newer and more established internet users. Newer users in this case are defined as those who first went online less than five years ago. There were 160 newer users surveyed, and 1,113 older users.

These are the response to the same question as before, just split by old and new:

ofcom 2

In a nutshell: newer users were less likely to identify that the results with the yellow ad label were indeed paid results. 34% of newer and 51% of established users gave only the correct answer.

I asked Andrew GirdwoodHead of Media Technology at Cello Signal about the findings. He was pretty surprised: 

“I’ve closely followed the evolution of disclosure in search engine ads over the years. At one point the lines were blurred – Yahoo’s paid inclusion, for example, traded your money with for some sort of organic search position. Those days, in Europe and America, are long gone. Regulators on both sides of the Atlantic watch closely.

The ad badge updates to Google’s paid search should have made it crystal clear the listing has been paid for. We’re talking about a bright yellow “Ad” label beside the result. How can you miss it? Searching for competitive keyword? Google returns a whole column of Ad, Ad, Ad and Ad mentions. It leaps off the badge to me.

It is just short of mind boggling that 50% of searchers in the UK can’t see the Ad disclosure. When Steve Krug published “Don’t Make Me Think” in 2000 to offer advice on web usability I wonder if he had imaged an audience that was both digitally savvy and web-blind as this.”

Other studies into PPC ads

I’ve looked at this issues before. In 2014, I reported on stats from UX firm Bunnyfoot, which found that 36% didn’t know that PPC ads were indeed ads (a previous study from the same firm produced a figure of 41%).

This was a relatively small sample – 103 people took UX tests with eye-tracking technology and were asked afterwards if they saw any ads.

With the help of Dan Barker, I carried out further tests on this using two separate polls of more than 2,000 UK internet users in total. We asked:

  1. Are people aware of the existence of ads on Google Search?
  2. Do they believe they click Google ads? And, if so, how frequently?

The results were very different to Ofcom’s, with just around 10% not seeing ads in Google results.

However, the very presence of the word ‘ad’ in the question perhaps implied to respondents that there are ads on Google, and gave them a clue about the answer.

There was another study by Varn earlier this year which produced a similar answer to that from Ofcom.

This time, 1,010 Uk internet users were asked the following question. 50.6% couldn’t identify ads:


It is tricky to devise the perfect test for this issue. If you ask users questions, there is the obvious temptation for them to second-guess the answer and say what they think is the right answer, rather than just answering honestly.

The Ofcom test, showing users the results and asking the question seems sound enough to me. Also, that several different studies have found a reasonably high percentage of people not recognising ads, so I can only conclude that there’s something in this.

Why can’t people see the ads?

This is the big question. As someone who has worked in digital for more than 10 years, it’s hard to imagine.

After all, there’s a pretty clear yellow ad label next to the results. You can hardly accuse Google of not disclosing the nature of the link.

However, Google has taken steps which some would interpret as reducing the visibility of ads. Remember, Google has an interest in increasing the number of clicks on its ads.

For example, PPC ads used to be shaded until a couple of years ago, though there were no ad labels.

PPC ads shaded

Recently, Google has experimented with green ad labels. The reason is unclear, but it could be a way to help the ad label blend in with the URL text. Or it could simply be one of a series of experiments to find the best performing format.

green ad labels

I suspect this is a similar thing to banner blindness, in which people have just become immune to, or have learned to ignore the elements on the page that don’t interest them.

Indeed, plenty of eye-tracking studies have shown that users will simply not look at certain elements on a page. Could it be that users are looking at the top results and simply not seeing (or processing) the ‘ad’ label?

Whatever the reason, and whatever the exact proportion of search users who don’t recognise ads in Google, it seems clear that there is an issue here.

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Beyond local SEO: Greg Gifford on how to win the visibility race

Last Friday at a packed-out Brighton SEO conference, expert local search consultant Greg Gifford delivered a fast and furious presentation on the secrets of local marketing visibility: it’s not just about local SEO.

In a slide-show brimming with references to classic car movies, Greg Gifford raced through a host of tips and tricks that can massively improve your business’s local visibility and let you storm ahead of the competition.

The days of “just having a website” and trying to make it rank near the top are over; it takes more than just SEO to market to local customers. That’s not to say that local SEO isn’t important, of course, but it shouldn’t be your only consideration.

A still from the 1965 film 'Thunderball' showing two black cars on the road, one of which is exploding. The text in white reads, "But it takes more than just Local SEO to successfully market to local customers."

By thinking about local SEO as just one part of a wider visibility strategy, you can ensure that your business has a presence across multiple channels, not just in search. That’s better for your customers as well as for you.

In his talk, Gifford gave a run-down of other key areas to pay attention to, and how to optimise each one to target exactly the local audience you want to attract.

But first, because search is still hugely important for a local business, here are some handy tricks that Greg Gifford shared which will help you get ahead in the SEO game.

Quick tips for local SEO

Future-proof your SEO tactics

You only need to look at pizza delivery for an example of how much weight local visibility now carries in search, more than ever before. If you Google “pizza delivery”, even without specifying a location, Google will serve you local results – whether you asked for them or not.

Any algorithm changes that Google makes to its local search results have the potential to shake things up hugely, and the businesses who adapt fastest are often those who end up on top.

Google’s ‘Pigeon’ update in 2014 was a massive game-changer for local SEO, and mobile-oriented ranking changes like Mobilegeddon can have a huge impact on local given that 94% of mobile searches have local intent.

A slide from Greg Gifford's presentation featuring a still from 'Moonraker' with a woman driving a white car. The text reads, "Y'all are lucky... you typically get a preview of major Google updates."

But if you live outside the US, you’re in luck (for once!): Google algorithm updates always hit the US before they roll out anywhere else, so by keeping an eye on what’s happening in the States, you can ‘future-proof’ your SEO tactics and know exactly what to do by the time the update comes to you.

And even if you live in the US, there’s still a way you can get ahead: Gifford recommends keeping an eye on’s local search ranking factors research, an extensive survey conducted across SEO experts analysing the changes in ranking factors they have observed over the past year. This will give you the low-down on what changes search experts sense in the winds and how they recommend dealing with them.

Make your blog a local destination

Maintaining a blog is still an excellent content and SEO strategy, giving businesses a platform to publish regular, fresh and insightful content and build a relationship with their visitors.

But in the words of Greg Gifford, “Don’t just market your shit!” Make your blog a local destination; share all sorts of things that people want to read.

A slide featuring a still from the 1989 film 'License to Kill' with the words "A few important tips" in orange and then in white, "Make your blog a local destination". Below it is a URL to visit for ideas for local blog posts:

Visitors will be turned off by a blog that is clearly just another mouthpiece for the company to promote its products. By thoughtfully curating all sorts of valuable local content, you can turn your blog into a go-to destination, boost its visibility and build relationships and links with other local blogs and businesses.

And speaking of local businesses…

Get those local business links!

When it comes to inbound links to your website, businesses will fight tooth and nail to try and get links from sites with the most domain authority. But Greg Gifford’s tip is one that many businesses wouldn’t even consider: go after “crappy little church websites”. You know the ones, with Microsoft Word clipart and neon green Comic Sans font in the header.

These kinds of tiny hyper-local websites have a huge amount of local relevance, and so their links carry a lot of weight. Best of all, none of your competitors will be going after them, so you can snap them up and enjoy the boost.

A photograph of a village church with a tower and a spire, underneath a blue sky and surrounded by trees and gravestones.Increase your local SEO with inbound links from highly hyperlocal websites – even if they aren’t always of the best quality. Photo by Lincolnian, made available via CC BY-SA 2.0

Build ‘local silos’ to show up in nearby cities

If you want your site to show up in search for a city you’re not located in, Gifford recommends building what he calls ‘local silos’ targeted at nearby cities.

A silo is the name given to a system or sector that operates in isolation from others. You’ve probably heard a lot about we should be breaking down silos, but in this case, they can work to your advantage.

To build ‘local silos’, create little self-contained zones of information within your site that are based around the city or neighbourhood you want to target and optimise the heck out of them.

Publish blog posts about that city, get links back from local businesses, and make sure they point to pages within the silo; and before too long, you’ll see your silos start to rank in local searches for that area.

A photograph showing a row of grey silos against a blue sky, with hay bales piled at the foot of each.Building silos can be a good thing, when it comes to local SEO. Photograph by Doc Searls, made available via CC BY 2.0.

Track your Google My Business clicks

In the midst of all the cool local SEO hacks, it pays to remember the basics, like making sure your business is listed on Google My Business and your profile is complete.

Gifford also advises adding tracking parameters to your Google My Business links in order to monitor the traffic coming to your site via that page. Local SEO Guide has a good guide on how to do this with Google’s URL builder tool.

It’s also worth keeping an eye on developments with Google Posts, which Google seems to be prepping as a significant platform for business promotion, and which could possibly be the next major development in local search if Google rolls it out on a larger scale.

How to optimise your email marketing

So we’ve covered the ‘local SEO’ part of local visibility; how about the ‘beyond’? Greg Gifford’s first tip might seem a little old-school, but it’s still one of the most effective marketing tools at your disposal: email marketing.

Gifford advises making sure that you’re using a responsive email design. Brands who have fully embraced responsive emails see 55% more Clicks to Open (CTO) from mobile and 23% more from desktop compared to brands who haven’t, according to research by Yesmail.

A still from 'Fast & Furious' with Email Marketing at the top in orange text, and then in white, "Adding a video to an email results in up to a 300% increase in CTR." Below is a link to read more about videos in email:

Adding video to your emails can increase their attractiveness and interactivity, and a survey conducted by Forrester Marketing Group found that including a video in email marketing increased Click-Through Rate by 200 to 300%.

That statistic is from 2010, but more recent statistics have shown that just including the word “video” in an email subject line can raise open rates by 19% and Click-Through Rates by 65%.

Having a carefully curated list of email addresses to target can also come in handy when using Facebook Ads, as we’ll see later on.

Go beyond YouTube

If you’re going to commit to using video in your marketing strategy, Gifford has one key recommendation for you: don’t use YouTube. Instead, the video hosting service that Gifford recommends for keeping control of your content and tracking the important metrics is Wistia.

A still from the 1970 film 'Five Easy Pieces' showing a man who appears to be having an argument with a dog through a car window. The header at the top reads, "Videos" in orange. Below it, "Use Wistia to host your videos" is written in white. At the bottom it reads, "The ONLY choice for video hosting:"

Here are some of the reasons he lists for opting for Wistia instead of YouTube or another major video host:

  • Wistia provides detailed video analytics, including engagement statistics, trend graphs, and individual viewer ‘heatmaps’ which show the parts of a video each user watched, skipped and rewatched.
  • You can tie user information to email addresses, and also use Wistia’s ‘Turnstile’ tool to add a form that requires users to input their email address at any point before, after or during the video.
  • Wistia allows you to give your videos a custom play button, which according to Wikia’s former Director of Growth and Acquisition Casey Henry can increase your play rate by 19%.
  • Similarly, you can also add a custom thumbnail to your videos, which can potentially boost your play rate by as much as 35% (and often winds up looking much nicer).
  • Wistia embeds on Facebook play in the news feed, and on Twitter will expand into a Twitter card that also allows users to play them in-stream.

Facebook ads

“Facebook ads used to be the drunk guy that showed up late to the party; now, they’re the cool guy that everyone’s stoked to see,” says Gifford. And if you’re looking to gain local visibility, Facebook ads have a lot of valuable advantages.

  • Facebook’s demographic targeting is incredibly diverse and exact, allowing you to target users based on location, age, gender, interests, and some mind-bogglingly specific parameters like education level, device and mobile connection.
  • You can also load in email lists and use them to create a custom audience of Facebook users who have accounts registered with those addresses.
  • Facebook also allows you to create Lookalike Audiences which will target new groups of people who are similar to audiences you’re already targeting.
  • Facebook’s ‘local awareness ads’ are an incredibly powerful local advertising tool. Google research on local search showed that roughly 70% of users want ads customised to their city or zip code, and between 60 and 70% want ads customised to their immediate surroundings.

Facebook’s local awareness ads allow you to drop a pin on any point on a map, and ads will be shown on mobile devices within a certain radius of that point. Try dropping a map pin on your competitors, on an event or at a conference!

A still from the 1989 film 'Back to the Future Part II', showing a flying DeLorean in the rain, with the text "Facebook awareness ads are awesome!" across it.

Use Beacons

Gifford’s final hot tip for local visibility is to use Beacons. Beacons are “small, Bluetooth-enabled hardware devices that can be installed in physical locations, like retail stores. They silently broadcast a message to any Bluetooth-enabled devices in their proximity, kind of like a lighthouse with text”, as Dan Cristo writes.

Usually Beacons require a dedicated app to work, but Beacon providers have begun setting up app networks which will allow Beacons to pop up a message on someone’s phone as long as any app in the network is running.

A still from the 2014 film 'The Wolf of Wall Street' showing a man lying on the ground and clinging on to a car with one hand. The text in white reads, "We had a beacon in our booth at a recent conference, and tagged 687 unique users!"

The apps are location-aware, so they can be tagged by the Beacon even if they aren’t running. You can then connect directly to Facebook’s API, allowing you to retarget ads at actual foot traffic.

DealerOn, Gifford’s marketing and advertising company, ran some tests with Beacon and found they led to anything from a 34.6% to a 45.7% increase in Click-Through Rate on ads. At a recent conference, the Beacon at DealerOn’s booth tagged 687 unique users.

Beacons are still an emerging technology, but they have the power to improve the customer experience and potentially revolutionise search – especially in a hyperlocal context. So watch out for opportunities and get creative with how you use them.

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The convergence of SEO and UI goals for mobile users

One year after Google put an algorithmic premium on mobile experience, the so-called “Mobilegeddon,” Google is at it again. New tools are coming in late spring to help webmasters make their websites work better on mobile devices.

Mobilegeddon was the consequence of businesses not making their websites easier to use on smartphones and other mobile devices. Google’s updates were an incentive to reward webmasters by ranking mobile-friendly websites higher in search results.


However, there was fallout: webmasters without mobile optimized sites saw as much as a 12% plunge in traffic to non-mobile sites, according to an Adobe study in July 2015.

Small businesses in particular suffered because only a third of such businesses had a mobile optimized website, according to eMarketer.

Google must focus on mobile because more than half of all Google searches are from smartphones and mobile devices. If consumers do not have a good experience when they click on a mobile SERP link, they will likely leave the page (and Google).

Specifically, a Google survey from late 2015 reported a loss of 29% of smartphone users if a site doesn’t satisfy their needs (lack of information or slower load times).

Furthermore, studies show that even a one second increase in load time can lead to an 11% decrease in page views, a 7% decrease in conversions and a 16% decrease in satisfaction.

Mobile-optimized sites are now central to a satisfying web experience.

So as the trend towards mobile continues, there are two reasons why businesses want to optimize their websites for mobile devices: superior customer experience and search engine ranking – and in fact, both are interconnected.

When Google rolled out Panda in 2011, they forever shifted algorithmic signal to include both relevance and quality. Therefore, without a superior customer experience (read: good UI), Google will not give a website a shot at a top SERP ranking and, in turn, high search results won’t result in increased user engagement.

But, mobile Information Architecture (IA) and User Interface (UI) is hard. Because of their mobility, small screen size and cumbersome keyboard entry, consumers interact with mobile devices in an entirely different way than with laptops or desktops and in a different context.

Mobile users do not have patience for anything that’s short of being intuitive, relevant and fast.

google mobile

Making your web page play nice across multiple devices, which has come to be labeled “responsive web design” means that you can use one URL that will adjust to whatever device it’s being used on.

Many websites still require horizontal scrolling or zoom on mobile, and layouts should be viewable on mobile without these shortcomings to the user experience. Responsive pages that can be viewed with ease on a desktop PC, tablet or smartphone are critical to making your webpage stickier for mobile users as well as saving on the cost of developing separate sites for multiple devices.

responsive design

Google is not, however, throwing businesses under the bus. The new tools will allow businesses to enter their website URL to get a diagnostic check to explain why their website isn’t mobile-friendly as well as how to improve the site. The time is (past) if you weren’t pro-active ensuring your site is mobile-friendly – stop everything and call a mobile savvy partner to make it so.

The good news is that brands that invest in mobile optimization and mobile strategies will crush the competition. If there is one unifying theme across all demographics, millennials in particular, it is the pervasive use of mobile devices to research and shop.

In fact, 93% of people who use a mobile device for research make a purchase and according to internal ConsumerAffairs user data, mobile visitors purchase within 2-4 hours compared to 1-3 days for desktop visitors.

Any user interface should be developed considering the way users engage with their mobile devices. Hold it in your hand, and walk through some of the sites you frequent on mobile. Ask yourself these questions:

  • How long does it take the site to load?
  • How do your hands engage with the site?
  • Are you needing to scroll far to get info?
  • Do you have trouble navigating to the point of a form fill or purchase?
  • Is it easy to click and call the business?
  • Where are menu items placed on the mobile UI, and where does your hand align with those menu items and calls to action?

Evaluate your customer journey pathways and imagine what your UI could do to give a smoother experience to mobile users.

To make sure you are converting web visits to sales, a mobile-friendly website must have print that is big enough to read without having to constantly pinch and zoom; tasks need to be simplified; links need to be clearly visible and spaced far enough apart so that errant clicks don’t occur.

For example, we love the way Flipboard’s user interface aligns with their business objectives. Flipboard gives people a single place to follow all of their interests and then save or share stories, images, and videos into their own Flipboard magazines. To that end, their mobile site is fast, simple and intuitive. The reward? 82 million monthly readers.


To compete for mobile customers and higher search engine rankings, marketers must become mobile UI architects to design a more intuitive and relevant customer experience. Mobile is no longer the alternate platform, it is now the platform of choice.

Mobile devices are the new norm. We do everything on them from making dinner reservations, finding a date, managing our bank accounts, to hailing a ride. Mobile has changed the very foundation of how consumers communicate, connect, and discover online.

Not surprisingly, consumers expect brands to provide a superior mobile experience.

Zac Carman is CEO of ConsumerAffairs and contributor to Search Engine Watch.

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How to optimise your page images to increase site speed

Google’s official slogan is “Don’t Be Evil”, but it’s long been rumoured that the company has a second, internal motto that they tend to keep under wraps:

“You’re either fast, or you’re f***ed.”

We’ve written about site-speed in the past, and there’s no doubt of its importance (if there is, stick around for the stats section of this post) but for content marketers, improving the speed of your website is often seen as a particularly arduous technical exercise that’s completely out of your control. Only a back-end full-stack engineer can speed things up significantly, right?

As it turns out, nothing could be further from the truth. As Tom Bennet from Builtvisible explained in his excellent recent talk at Brighton SEO. Here, I’ll run through some key points Tom addressed to show how and why you should concentrate on delivering a lightning-fast experience to users.

Why is site speed important?

Now, I mentioned stats didn’t I?

According to the official Google webmaster blog, site speed matters. Google itself spends an awful lot of time checking whether or not your site is keeping up with your competitors. If you are slower, then your place in the search results will suffer.

But that’s not the only important factor here. Site speed improves the overall User Experience. As a case in point, Tom mentioned this extraordinary stat from Firefox:


When Firefox increased average page load time by 2.2 seconds, form downloads increased by 15.4%. That equates to more than 10 million downloads per year.

Once you hear figures like that, the value starts to become clear. Tom also took time to quote Steve Souder, a pioneer of much modern web performance work:


So, we know we can do something about it. But where to concentrate our efforts?

What can we do about it?

To illustrate, Tom built a simple, fairly standard content page using bootstrap and jQuery. The content marketing industry churns out thousands of these every day, so it should be fairly relevant:


Next, we fire up the page and measure it using a combination of Yahoo’s Yslow and Google PageSpeed rulesets. Here are the initial results:


Taht F Grade is going to seriously hurt our credibility in Google’s eyes, and 3.9 seconds is going to seem like a grind for users. If you don’t believe me, count slowly to four. Would you be willing to wait that long for every page on a site to open?

But where should marketers focus their efforts to have the most impact?

On a typical page like this, images are by far the largest and most common element, so this is where we should be concentrating to start with.


Now, this isn’t just a case of opening up your images in Photoshop and making them smaller. Resolution does matter (we still want our pages to look beautiful), but only up to a certain point, so the first step is to check our image sizes:


As you can see from the page element, this image has been uploaded at 1024 x 683 pixels, but the user will only ever see it at a maximum of 420 x 289, less than half the upload size.

As always, it’s important to consider the User Experience, so let’s ask ourselves a few questions:

  • What formats should we be using for images? PNGs are great for images with fewer colours or transparencies, while PEGS are perfect for photos.
  • Dimensions: what is the maximum width and height at which the image will be displayed?
  • Finally, do you really need all of those images?

If you have text within an image, get rid of it and use an actual font instead, and use vector graphics or CSS for things like logos or shading on the page. As Tom put it

 “The fastest HTTP request is the one not made.”

Google has a range of guidelines and advice on this available which you should check out.

So, Tom resized, reformatted or replaced his images. How did this affect the overall site speed?


Being diligent with images was enough to shave a whopping 1.2 seconds – or 30% – off of the total page load time.

It’s still not rocketspeed at this point, but it’s much, much better. Tom detailed several other useful tips during his presentation which I will try to cover in the future as well, but for now – time to tighten up those images.

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Understanding intent through voice search

It’s search Jim, but not as we know it.

The dream of an ultimate personal assistant isn’t a farfetched sci-fi fantasy like the interactive computing systems in Star Trek. It’s technology available today already being applied to search engines.


Leading visionaries in search technology, including Google’s Beshad Behzadi in his keynote speech at the SMX West Keynote to Satya Nadella at Microsoft’s Build conference, are articulating a vision of smarter and more capable personalized help that will drive efficiency, focus and ultimately, happiness.

Nadella believes the next big bet for Microsoft is “conversation as a platform.” This is a more intuitive and accessible canvass integrating into apps, as well as artificial intelligence (A.I.) and bots that can interact with other bots. While the devices and technology used to access search are evolving, search will still be an increasingly integral part of everyday life.

The evolution of A.I. through voice search

Today’s digital assistants like Microsoft’s Cortana, Apple’s Siri and Google Now are voice-search enabled and growing smarter with every interaction. According to comScore, 50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020.

Since voice search is more conversational and uses natural language, the A.I. is evolving to understand user intent and context based on the previous search queries, multiple step queries and user behavior.


Words can provide invaluable substance to A.I. technology during the search process. For marketers, the longer query strings from voice search as compared to text provide richer user intent data. While a text query would typically be one to three words, a spoken query is often three or more.

For example, on my desktop I would search for “blue t-shirt.” But when it comes to a voice query, I might ask, “Hey Cortana, where can I find a cool blue t-shirt?” The conversational tone provides a signal of intent to purchase, style preference and desired shopping locations if I granted access to my location. It permits marketers to:

  • Build user-intent models to understand where the user is in the customer journey.
  • Match advertising campaigns (messaging and landing pages) to the right stage of user intent.
  • Develop site content with a conversational tone, providing specific answers to users’ needs and top questions. Voice searchers are looking for quick answers. Content answering specific questions will make your site a go-to resource.

AI, the ‘Added Ingredient’ for enhanced consumer experience and engagement

Technology giants like Microsoft, IBM and Google are focusing on new ways machine-based learning, A.I. and bots can analyze data. Personal assistants like Cortana, powered by Bing search intelligence, can request permission to gather data from email accounts, calendars, social networks, geo-locations and mobile apps to start learning about behaviors and preferences.

The A.I. engine analyzes the information to make recommendations before they have a chance to ask a question. The more interactions a user has with their assistant, the more accurate the predictive models can be – and the more her serendipitous proposals will delight us and make life easier.

A screenshot of a conversation with Siri in which the user (our editor Christopher Ratcliff) tells Siri "Open the pod bay doors HAL", a reference to the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Siri wearily replies, "Oh, not again."

For many, the end of the day reads like a frustrating laundry list of stuff that still needs to get done – including the laundry! Efficiency is now one of the keys to happiness, and technology give us back time to be in the moment.

If I give my personal assistant access to the locations that are important to me and my calendars, she can send reminders when I need to leave to make it on time to my next appointment. The predictive component A.I. can monitor traffic and figure out if I need to leave work now to pick my son up from day care because of a freeway accident. It can deep link into apps, such as Waze, and suggest the best alternative routes based on current road conditions.

Soon, this intelligence will integrate into shared intelligence across A.I. bots, and tasks such as renewing your driver’s license will be done on my behalf and save me time.

For marketers, it’s important to understand and adapt to this new technology to build immersive customer experiences. As deep-linking and intelligent agents are integrated into apps and products, consumer engagement with brands will reach the next evolution. This means there is more potential than ever to influence the path to purchase in the customer journey.


While “Beam me up Scotty” and journeys to the final frontier are not yet a reality for most of us, the capabilities and technology for building the ultimate digital assistant are almost here.

This new “other” way to get things done will make it more appealing for consumers to share personal data so that assistants can become more predictive and take actions on our behalf.

We’ll continue to use search, websites, and apps. But how we interact with them will provide more intent and context for A.I.s and bots to help us get things done in our daily lives. This way we can focus and be fully present in the moments that matter the most.

Steve Sirich is GM Marketing, Bing Ads, Microsoft and a contributor to Search Engine Watch. 

For lots more information, download our Marketer’s Guide to Artificial Intelligence report, which takes a look at how AI can be used for marketing, now and in the future.

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What are featured snippets and how do I get them?

Rob Bucci, the CEO of STAT, delivered a fascinating talk at BrightonSEO last week about the mystery of featured snippets, using his observations after analysing one million queries.

Here’s a round-up of the talk, featuring Rob’s advice on why featured snippets are important and how to increase your chances of obtaining them.

What is a featured snippet?

A featured snippet is a summary of an answer to a user’s query, which is displayed on top of Google search results. It’s extracted from a webpage, and includes the page’s title and URL.

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 10.49.35

There are three types of snippets, depending on the query:

  • Paragraph
  • List
  • Table

According to Rob Bucci and STAT, paragraph snippets are the most common, occupying 82% of the featured snippets, with list snippets appearing in 10.8% of the results and table snippets in 7.3%.

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 10.38.27

Why are featured snippets so important?

Featured snippets offer various benefits for any site that can use them effectively.

1. Maximum authority

By obtaining a featured snippet you prove that Google chose your page over others as the most useful one to users’ relevant queries.

2. Beating the competition

When Google chooses your site to be the quick answer to a specific question, the result is displayed above the organic results, which means that you beat the competition, including a site that may rank #1 for the particular search result.

3. Increase of traffic

Users like featured snippets as they provide quick answers to their questions and this benefits the chosen site with an increase in traffic, which could be upwards of 20-30%.

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 12.35.54

How to earn a featured snippet

During his talk Rob Bucci offered practical advice regarding featured snippets and how to get them. Here are his basic steps that can bring you closer…

1. Analyse keyword opportunities

Use the right tools to start searching for keywords to target. Find the right keyword opportunity that could be ideal for your site.

2. Create new strategic content targeted at snippets

It’s a good idea to create new content while keeping featured snippets in mind, but it’s important that it doesn’t result in unnatural content. Always take into consideration user experience and use ideas that make sense to your vertical.

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 10.46.42

3. Bring in Q&A formatting

Devote a complete page to a single question, if possible, and find a way to incorporate FAQ into content.

4. Make it easier for Google with subheadings, lists, tables, etc

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 12.45.04

Help Google discover your content with basic on-page optimisation techniques.

5. Polish existing snippets for higher CTR

If you have existing snippets, then evaluate and edit them from time to time to ensure a constant traffic back to your site.

Featured snippets in numbers

STAT analysed one million high-CPC queries for its latest study, in order to take a deep dive into featured snippets and here are the most interesting stats to consider:

  • Out of the one million queries that STAT analysed, 9.28% of them contained snippets
  • More than 70% of the featured snippets didn’t come from the very first organic result

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 10.38.49

  • Featured snippets appear with an image 27.58% of the time.

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 12.36.49

  • Keywords with high search volume show featured snippets twice as often.

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  • Higher query word counts result in featured snippets more often.

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 10.43.12

  • Featured snippet URLs score slightly better on readability tests
  • Featured snippets had a 12.5% higher than average social share count (by examining Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest)

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 10.45.14


You don’t have to come first in search to increase your authority and drive traffic to your site, provided that you start creating strategic content that may lead to well-earned featured snippets.

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