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How to Create a Small Business Budget in 6 Steps (+Templates)

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If you want to be successful in business, then you need to know where every dollar goes. It’s not enough to have a rough idea—it needs to be on paper. That’s where a business budget comes in. But according to a study by Clutch, 46% of small businesses don’t have a declared budget. That’s almost half 😮.

small business budget stat

Budgeting can be intimidating, but don’t worry—you don’t need a financial or accounting background to create a small business budget. In this post, I’m going to cover all of the budgeting basics you need to know, show you how to create a small business budget, and then provide templates so you’re not starting from scratch.

Table of contents

Why you need a small business budget

In a nutshell, budgeting forces you to focus on your business objectives and serves as a compass to know if you’re headed in the right direction.  Plus, every business goes through financial fluctuations over time. Budgeting helps you navigate these, from late payments to getting the rug pulled out from under you. Here are the key benefits of having a small business budget:

  1. Financial health check. It lets you know if you have enough funds for generating revenue, operating expenses, and expansion.
  2. Achieve long-term goals. Know whether you need to cut expenses or increase revenue to achieve your strategic, operational, and financial goals.
  3. Grow your business. Investors or lenders will first look at your income and expenses before investing in you.
  4. Maintain financial security. It helps keep the doors open in case of a recession, off month, a downturn, slow payments, and delayed checks.
  5. Capitalize on opportunities. With a budget in place, you won’t miss out on any valuable opportunities for profitability.

Knowing how much money is coming in and going out allows you to give every penny a “job” and use every dollar to your business’s greatest benefit.

How to create a small business budget in 6 steps

Now that you understand how important a budget is, here’s how you can create one so you can ensure smooth business operation and facilitate efficient cash flow:

1. Separate your business finances from your personal finances

This is one of the cardinal rules to succeed in business. It’s tempting for small business owners to mix business and personal finances, but it almost always leads to disaster. Disaster in three forms:

  • Stagnation: Without an accurate view of your financial position—that is, how the business is performing with regard to its objective, you’re not likely to progress.
  • Taxation: It helps you manage things like business expenses for taxation purposes
  • Litigation: Mixing budgets blurs the legal line between you (the business owner) and your business. It protects you from liabilities and your personal assets in case of litigation

But how do you do that? Here are a couple of steps you can take when creating your budget.

small business budgeting basics - c corp vs s corp vs llc
Image source

  • Apply for a business checking account and credit card.
  • Use separate accounting systems for personal budgets and business finance

Separating the two helps you treat your small business like an independent entity. Aside from tax advantages, you set your business up for higher profit margins. Note also that minority-owned businesses can register as a minority business enterprise to receive additional support.

2. Set aside a contingency fund for emergencies

Murphy’s law states, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” That’s why you should set aside a contingency fund for your business.

If this isn’t the first business you’ve started, you know you’ll always get surprise expenses when you least expect it. For example, let’s say you operate a printing business. Then right after getting a life-changing contract, your main printer breaks down before you even start. That’s when a contingency fund saves the day.

A contingency fund for emergencies will safeguard your business when these unexpected costs arise. So while it’s tempting to spend that extra income to buy that new MacBook you don’t need, don’t do it. For now, set aside some of that money. A good rule of thumb is to set aside three to six months of your small business operating expenses.

It will prepare you and your business in case one of your pieces of equipment breaks down, or you need to replace it. Of course, you could always take out a loan, but it wouldn’t hurt to have more options.

3. Identify your revenue streams

Grant Cardone likes to say “Cash flow is king.” Where does your money come from? How much and how often does it come in? For small business budgeting to work, you must have the answers to these questions.

That means tallying all your revenue (not profit) sources every month. In case you don’t know the difference between revenue and profit, revenue is all the money your business generates before expenses. After subtracting expenses, then you’re left with a profit.

small business budgeting basics - revenue vs profit

Sum up your revenue for the year and divide it by 12 to find your monthly income or revenue. Using this information, you can look at how your revenue changes over time. This will help you find and manage seasonal patterns and downturns.

4. Determine your fixed costs

The next step in creating a small business budget is to include all your fixed costs. Fixed costs are recurring costs that are vital for your business operations. These operating costs either come up every day, week, month, or year. That includes everything from rent, debts, utilities, and payroll costs to taxes and insurance.

small business budgeting basics - fixed costs

Image source

That said, no two businesses are the same. So take some time to identify any other fixed costs necessary to run your business. Once you’ve identified them, sum them up to get a precise figure of your fixed costs on a month-to-month basis. If your business is new, then you can project these values.

But ensure you factor in these monthly expenses as part of your business budget. That way, you can set aside money to cover them. Once you’ve done that, the next step is subtracting them from your revenue.

5. Determine your variable costs

As you went through your fixed costs, you probably noticed other inconsistent expenses in your business. These inconsistent costs are known as variable costs or expenses because they change depending on how you use them. They include utilities,  advertising costs, professional development , supplies, your salary, etc.

how to create a small business budget - fixed vs variable costs

Image source

For example, you might increase production costs to get more raw materials to match the increasing popularity of certain products. Or if you are running a SaaS business, you might need to invest more budget in certain seasons to get more clients.

Discretionary expenses

Discretionary expenses are also considered variable expenses because while they are nice to have, they’re not essential for your business. These include things like education, consulting, etc., which might help increase profitability.

You want to lower your variable costs in lean months, starting with discretionary expenses. And when your profits are on the uptrend, you can allocate more money to variable expenses to help you grow faster.

Tally all your variable expenses at the end of each month. This paints a clear picture of how they fluctuate depending on business performance so you can make accurate predictions.

6. Create a profit and loss statement

After gathering all the data above, it’s time to assemble all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle to make sense of it all. That means creating a profit and loss (P&L) or income statement, like the one shown below.

how to create a small business budget - profit loss income statement

Image source

You’ve probably heard of a P&L statement, and it’s probably giving you a headache just thinking about it. But it doesn’t have to be that way. That’s because you’ve already done the heavy lifting by collecting all the data points. All that’s left is to sum up your revenue streams and subtract the total of all your expenses for the month.

Hopefully, you’ll get a positive figure in the end—in which case, congratulations because you’re making a profit. If you get a negative figure, don’t worry about it. Why? You now know where your money is going and can make the necessary adjustments to turn a profit.

Small business budget templates

Whether you’re looking to optimize a small marketing budget or get a firm grasp on all of your expenses, there’s something in this list of small business marketing budget templates for everyone.

Capterra

Capterra’s small business budget template is easy to use and employs all of the components we defined above, like fixed costs, variable costs, revenue, and profit. You can use it in Excel or Google Sheets.

small business budget templates - capterra

Template Lab

Template Lab’s small business budget template section gives you a few different templates to work with, in word document and spreadsheet format. These templates are useful for itemizing your expenses.

small business budget templates - itemized example

LocaliQ’s marketing budget template

LocaliQ’s Complete Guide to Marketing Budgets not only provides you with a marketing budget template, but also walks you through the marketing budget basics.

localiq small business budgeting template

Practical Spreadsheets’ Income statement template

To generate an income statement, you can use this income statement Google Sheet template to input your revenue and expenses.

small business budget templates - income statement example

Create your small business budget today

Whether it’s your first or second business, mastering small business budgeting basics is the key to success. Follow these steps to create a small business budget:

  1. Create separate business and personal accounts.
  2. Set aside money for an emergency fund.
  3. Identify your revenue streams.
  4. Determine your fixed costs.
  5. Determine your variable costs.
  6. Create a profit/loss income statement.

With a small business budget, you’ll have insight into how your business is performing, which will then help you make the right financial decisions to thrive. Good luck!

About the author

Jon Morgan is the founder of two successful e-commerce and SaaS businesses. He’s passionate about sharing what he has learned from working with business owners through Venture Smarter.

The post How to Create a Small Business Budget in 6 Steps (+Templates) appeared first on WordStream.

SEO is math

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SEO often doesn’t get a fair seat at the table when marketing budgets are determined. 

Even though SEO is marketing.

As we’re approaching a time when many companies are having meetings in their conference rooms to determine budget allocations for the upcoming year, I want to help further the case as to why SEO should have a voice in the room (and budget in your marketing plans).

But first, let me address a bit more why I feel SEO doesn’t get its fair shake.

Proving the value of SEO is complicated

SEO can be a challenge for some in marketing departments to wrap their heads around. There are many moving parts and it’s not as easy as PPC when you understand exactly how that works. 

With PPC it’s generally a matter of:

  • Choose keywords.
  • Write/ place ads.
  • Pay when someone clicks.
  • Send that click to a landing page of your choosing.
  • Report on results (sales/leads).

It’s true. SEO is more complex than this. And, because of its complexity, I will often instruct prospects to think carefully about not just when to invest in SEO, but whether SEO is even a really viable investment in the first place. Often, the answer to these questions is “it depends.” 

Remember, an investment in SEO doesn’t just revolve around hiring an agency or an individual in-house to oversee and drive the strategy.

Unlike PPC, there are many other considerations, including:

  • Web design and development that may be required, such as:
    • Creating a new architecture / navigational structure.
    • Creating new page templates to better support SEO.
    • Creating a blog/resource section on your website (if you don’t already have one).
  • Content, such as:
    • Page content.
    • Resourceful content.
    • Thought leadership, white papers or webinars.
  • PR and legal reviews:
    • Ensuring that content meets with company compliance needs (especially for medical/pharma/legal/insurance industries and other highly regulated industries).

Case in point: My agency has a client who’s engaged us to aid in the re-structuring of their website (including an audit of their existing presence versus that of a competitor).

The work coming out of this audit resulted in 130 hours worth of web development requirements this client needs to see through to completion in order for the investment that they’ve made with us to be substantiated. 

I highly recommend that you consult with a trusted friend/partner who has experience in SEO to help you to make this determination. Many SEOs (the nice ones 😊) would be happy to provide a free analysis/opportunity assessment. Take advantage of the advice.

Today, I’m going to assume that we’ve determined that there is an opportunity for SEO to provide value for your business. Undoubtedly, if you’re in the conference room trying to determine what – if anything – to budget for SEO, you will want to better understand:

  • The size of the opportunity.
  • The size of the investment needed to get you there. 

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Size of the opportunity

When determining the “value” of an SEO effort, there are two sides to the coin. 

One easy metric is to consider “replacement cost” of the traffic. If you were to buy this same traffic via PPC (that you’re considering targeting via SEO) what would it have cost? Semrush makes this available via their “Traffic Cost” metric:

Semrush traffic cost metric

This can sometimes be a big number, as we see for Search Engine Land. You may find that many of your competitors are realizing this kind of value, yet you aren’t. 

That may be as far as you need to go to make your case to the board that SEO is “worth the investment.” That’s one way to measure it. 

Understanding the traffic potential of SEO efforts

But if you’re a mature marketer, you will try to move beyond just “click value” to something more meaningful. 

  • Tangible value.
  • Sales.
  • Leads.
  • Downloads of white papers. 
  • Sign-ups for webinars.

How you measure this will depend upon whether your business is ecommerce or B2B/lead gen. For both verticals, you’ll need to do two things:

  • Identify the possible keywords that you’ll want to target.
  • Determine what it might take to compete (i.e., site structure/link acquisition).

Since I’m assuming that you’re a marketing head and perhaps not an SEO, here’s how I would quickly suggest you conduct this type of assessment. 

Using Semrush (subscription required), navigate your way to the Organic Research section. Here, you can enter the domains/website addresses for direct competitors who you believe are doing well with their organic presence. 

Once you’ve found a competitor who appears to have a significant organic presence, click into the Top Organic Keywords section and click View all organic keywords.

Semrush "View all organic keywords"

You will now see a complete list of your competitors’ keywords. But this will also include your competitors’ “brand” keywords (their company name, etc.). You need to filter this:

Semrush organic keywords advanced filters.

Still, though, this data isn’t great. It’s showing us any keywords that our competitor is ranking for within Google’s top 100 results.

Let’s make this more meaningful/useful by reducing that number down to rankings “which matter” (that’s a subjective metric). In this case, I’m going to only concern myself with the top 20 ranking keywords:

Semrush top 20 organic keywords

Now I have a workable list of keywords that I know are driving significant organic search traffic to my competitor(s):

Semrush keyword list

This shows me that:

  • There are 19,029 keywords ranking in Google’s top 20.
  • The “local guide program” is driving a large share of traffic to my competitor.
  • The “seo” keyword would have cost me approximately $6.20 cost per click if I were to buy that traffic via Google Ads. 

And, as mentioned previously, we can see the “value” of this competitors’ non-brand organic traffic, based on the “replacement cost” (“Traffic Cost”):

Semrush Traffic cost.

If you’re highly ambitious, this is the next step that you can take. Download the Top 20 Rankings list into a spreadsheet. 

Semrus top 20 keyword export.

Create columns into your spreadsheet to make some assumptions (i.e., Ranking Top 3; Ranking 4-7; Ranking 8-10; or you may want to get as detailed as to estimate each top 10 position). 

Since we have the estimated monthly search volume for each keyword, you can now multiply those numbers by the potential click-through rate of each potential/future rankings. 

Thanks to Backlinko’s work on average CTR in the Google SERP, we have some estimates:

Google Organic CTR breakdown by position.

SEO is an imperfect science. But this at least gives you some visibility into the traffic potential that exists for an investment. In short, it puts some math into the projections

Assessing SEO opportunities in ecommerce and B2B/lead gen

Now that you have at least an idea of the traffic potential, we need to break out the tasks for determining what potential “real” value might exist, in terms of things that are more tangible (sales/leads, etc.). 

For the purposes of this article, I’ll be focused on either an ecommerce website or a B2B/lead gen website.

Ecommerce opportunity assessment

If you’re an ecommerce website, you should have a general sense of:

  •  Conversion rate into a sale.
  • Average (net) value of a sale. 

Knowing these things, you can run some estimates on how much you might make based upon varying degrees of traffic increases. 

For instance:

  • 10,000 visits per month x 1.5% conversion rate into a sale = 150 sales. 
  • 150 sales x $300 average net value of a sale = $45,000 per month. 

Knowing this potential real value, you can then assess if the investment that you believe will be required in an SEO effort is “worth it.” 

B2B/lead gen opportunity assessment

If you’re B2B/lead gen, you should have a sense of conversion rate into a lead (and hopefully you’re tracking form submissions, phone calls, chat/messaging apps and other “leads”/conversion types). 

Working with this and your internal data on conversion rates from lead to qualified lead and qualified lead to sale, you should be able to calculate the potential ROI. 

Taking the same traffic potential above (10,000), here’s what that calculation might look like:

  • 10,000 visitors x 5% conversion rate into a lead = 500 leads. 
  • Let’s say that ½ of those leads are qualified (500 x .5 = 250). 
  • Then, let’s say that we convert 40% of our qualified leads into a sale (250 x .4 = 100). 
  • So, we have 100 potential sales from the SEO investment. 

What’s our average net value of a sale? 

Every business is different. We have a client whose average net value of a sale is $400,000. That makes the ROI argument pretty easy to make. 

But let’s say that your average net value of a sale is $400. With 100 sales x $400, that’s $40,000 in net value from your SEO investment.

Knowing this, you can determine how much you can profitably invest into an SEO effort.

Putting the math in SEO

These formulas are far from perfect. But they provide an opportunity to put math behind what you’re asking for in an investment into an SEO effort. 

You should also caution those involved that SEO is not a quick fix. It may very well be that you’ll spend the first months of the effort in deep research before big changes occur. 

As mentioned above, other hard (internal) costs could be involved, such as a restructuring of your website, content additions, page additions and PR/thought Leadership items. Do your best to account for these things.

While there are certainly times when I have strongly recommended against a company investing in an SEO effort, it’s more often that you’ll know me as a champion of the channel. 


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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About The Author

Mark Jackson is the President and CEO of Vizion Interactive, an agency founded in Dallas, Texas in 2005 and specializing in SEO Services, Paid Media Services (Search/Display/Social/Video/Amazon), Local Listing Management and Conversion Rate Optimization. Mark was a co-founder of the Dallas-Fort Worth Search Engine Marketing Association and Kansas City Search Engine Marketing Association and has been a contributor to Search Engine Watch, ClickZ, Pubcon and the Search Engine Strategies conferences.

How to turn your Google Business Profile into a revenue-generating channel

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Before purchasing, your customers always look for reviews and references to reinforce and validate their intent.

In the U.K., I worked with an agency that served 600 small businesses of which a large percentage were florists. A flower shop customer’s intent can be one of the following:

  • Look for seasonal flower arrangements (Valentine’s, Mother’s Day, etc.).
  • Type of flowers to buy for a dinner date.
  • Learn how to make a Christmas wreath.
  • Wedding flower services.

When a potential customer has a clear intent, two things can happen: 

  • They will start their influence journey on TikTok, Instagram or YouTube. Looking at videos to seek inspiration on flower arrangements or the most appropriate flowers for specific occasions.
  • Go straight to Google to type one of the following queries:
    • Flower Delivery + location
    • Same day flower delivery
    • Same day flower delivery + location
    • Wedding flower services
    • Flower subscription services

And it is here where a well-optimized Google Business Profile (GBP) can become a significant source of influence because of its reviews, information, images and products.

An enhanced GBP drives more leads from your listing even though you’re not ranking as high as other listings. Optimize the following elements to turn your Google Business Profile into a revenue-generating channel.

1. Info section: Categories

The category chosen considerably impacts the rankings at the local level. Your company’s primary categorization explains what it performs (i.e., law firm, dentist, plumber, hair salon, etc). Furthermore, this will be the sole category accessible to the entire public.

In the example below, the primary category is “Florist” and the additional category is “Flower delivery.”

Google Business Profile: Categories

2. Reviews

About 77% of consumers “always” or “regularly” read online reviews when browsing for local businesses, according to BrightLocal’s recent survey.

Reviews are an increasingly important ranking component and a conversion factor. They are crucial to local businesses, not only to stand out but to build credibility.

Google will emphasize reviews for branded searches and display them prominently on your company profile.

Another important aspect of reviews is always replying, which encourages customers to leave reviews and increases your credibility.

Google Business Profile: Reviews

Reviews may bring in additional consumers, provide insightful criticism, and reveal problems or successes in the customer service department.

Read Google’s guidelines on prohibited and restricted content and best practices for getting reviews. Fellow contributor Joy Hawkins brings more insights in her piece, 1-star review attacks plague restaurants on Google.

3. Products

Google Business Profile: Products

When updated regularly, the Products section can be a powerful lever to generate revenue. It is placed higher up than the Services category so it is more prominent.

In this section, you can include: 

  • Images.
  • Call-to-action buttons. 
Google Business Profile: Product listing with CTA

This gives you an opportunity to match your customers’ search intent with relevant products, making it easier and faster for them to reach a purchase decision.

Did you know you can add products at the top of your local and map listings? You can find out how to do it here.

4. Images

Images heavily influence customers during their research phase before purchasing. Google is making information more useful, allowing users to do searches with images and text and get relevant results.

However, adding images (especially logos) to the Image section of your GBP can be tricky. Ensure the pictures you upload for your products, logos, and general imagery are high resolution. 

When adding images to your Product section, make sure it complies with Google’s guidelines for Business Profile photos

5. Posts

Publishing posts on your Business Profile provides an excellent opportunity to promote new products, events, workshops or special offers.

You can add call-to-action buttons on your posts to help increase transactions and revenue and most of all, make it easy for your customer to complete a purchase.

Google Business Profile: Post with CTA

Posts should not be used to turn keywords into topics and create unhelpful content to influence the search result pages. It will not work, and this practice is considered spam. 

Instead, your posts should be brief, concise, informative and useful to your customers.

UTM tags are crucial to track precisely how many visits, transactions and revenue your Google Business Profile drives to your website. 

Here is how to add UTM tags to your website URL.

Go to Google’s Campaign URL Builder (bookmark it) and enter the following information in lowercase:

  • Website URL.
  • Campaign source.
  • Campaign medium.
  • Campaign name.
Google Campaign URL builder

Then, at the bottom of the page, you should end with a URL such as this:

https://margaritasflowers.com/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=gbp-listing

Campaign URL

Now go to the info section on Google Business Profile and paste the URL you just created on the blank space with the earth icon (which stands for a website).

Google Business Profile: Add website URL

Then if it doesn’t have any errors, it should start tracking and, in a few days, you will be able to see its data on Google Analytics. To see its data on GA, go to Acquisition > Campaigns > All Campaigns.

Campaigns > All Campaigns” class=”wp-image-388218″ srcset=”http://www.zeeshank9.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/how-to-turn-your-google-business-profile-into-a-revenue-generating-channel-8.png 265w, http://www.zeeshank9.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/how-to-turn-your-google-business-profile-into-a-revenue-generating-channel-36.png 249w, http://www.zeeshank9.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/how-to-turn-your-google-business-profile-into-a-revenue-generating-channel-37.png 83w, http://www.zeeshank9.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/how-to-turn-your-google-business-profile-into-a-revenue-generating-channel-38.png 150w” sizes=”(max-width: 265px) 100vw, 265px”>

Then you will be able to see all the campaigns. Look for “gbp-listing.”

Case study: A local flower shop

Magnolia’s is a lovely flower shop in a gorgeous village in Northamptonshire in the U.K.

On Jan. 15, 2021, just before the big season (Valentine’s, Mother’s Day and Easter), I helped them make some improvements to their Google Business Profile, such as:

  • Improving their information section.
  • Adding products and categories based on most sold products and most searched products and services.
  • Starting to publish posts to keep their customers up to date regarding new product launches, upcoming flower workshops and offers.

From zero in revenue at the beginning of January 2021, Magnolia generated €27,328.80 (roughly the same in dollars) in sales by April 2021, just from their Google Business Profile.

Local flower shop's GA performance.

What to avoid on Google Business Profile

Keyword stuffing

Adding keywords or cities to your Google Business Profile name is unnecessary unless your business is registered as such.

Additional keywords will not have any influence whatsoever on local rankings or organic listings. Remember that anything we do on GBP will not affect other listings and vice versa. 

Important note: If you have keywords on your business name, read this post on Google’s Vicinity Update, the largest update on local search in five years that rolled out in November 2021. 

Sectors such as lawyers, insurance and dentists experienced significant fluctuations. Businesses that ranked in areas far from their locations and had keywords in their name were negatively affected.

There is a huge myth that adding keywords to your business description (on the info section) will impact visibility and local rankings. This is not true, and it’s simply a spammy practice. 

Make sure your business descriptions are concise and contain information that will be helpful for your customers to know.

Hawkins shares more details here: No, the Google My Business description does not impact ranking.

Barry Schwartz also recently covered Google’s updated Business Profile posts spam policies.

Hashtags

Google is not Instagram or Twitter, so hashtags will be completely useless and look bad on your content for GBP. They don’t have any effect on discoverability and local search.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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About The Author

Maria Amelie White works as Head of SEO at Kurt Geiger a luxury British retailer with concessions in luxury stores such as Harrods and Selfridges in the UK.
Maria is an MSc in Psychological Research from the University of Oxford and has worked in SEO for over 12 years, specializing in Technical SEO, International SEO, Local SEO and Digital PR.

Webinar: The secret to a customer-centric approach with faster ROI

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With high inflation and low consumer confidence, plus the lingering effects of the supply chain crisis, nobody knows quite what to expect this holiday season. But one thing is for sure: if you want your business to succeed, you need to be prepared with relevant, connected experiences across every customer interaction.

That’s where AI comes in. Join experts to learn how to help your marketing stand out among the crowd.

Register today for “Expert Advice: Make Your Marketing Stand Out This Holiday Season,” presented by Blueshift.


Click here to view more Search Engine Land webinars.


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About The Author

Cynthia Ramsaran is director of custom content at Third Door Media, publishers of Search Engine Land and MarTech. A multi-channel storyteller with over two decades of editorial/content marketing experience, Cynthia’s expertise spans the marketing, technology, finance, manufacturing and gaming industries. She was a writer/producer for CNBC.com and produced thought leadership for KPMG. Cynthia hails from Queens, NY and earned her Bachelor’s and MBA from St. John’s University.

12 Easy & Effective Ways to Increase Engagement on Instagram

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Marketers and business owners are constantly looking for ways to interact with their audience. With more than 1.4 million monthly active users (Source: Statista), Instagram offers serious potential for building your brand. But you need more than just an account and an audience to experience the full potential of this platform.

how to increase instagram engagement - most popular social media platforms worldwide

You need engagement. Comments, shares, likes, saves, and other actions that show your content resonates with your audience.

In this post, we’re going to share 12 ways you can increase your Instagram engagement and build an emotional connection with your followers.

Why does Instagram engagement matter?

Instagram engagement is not about how many users are following you, but about how your followers interact with your posts. Engagement metrics include:

  • Comments
  • Shares
  • Likes
  • Saves
  • Stories views
  • Interactions with stories stickers
  • Brand mentions
  • Link click-throughs
  • Direct Messages (DMs)

Not only does high engagement indicate that your content resonates with your audience, but the Instagram algorithm also considers engagement when deciding what content to show users.

how to increase engagement on instagram - algorithm ranking factors

If your posts have high engagement, they’ll be more likely to appear in the feeds of users you consistently engage with, helping to increase your reach and brand awareness.

How to increase engagement on Instagram

Given Instagram’s popularity, successful social media marketers consider Instagram engagement a priority. Here’s how you can increase your Instagram engagement.

1. Know your audience

The first step in keeping your followers engaged is identifying your audience. If you don’t know what intrigues and motivates them, you won’t know how to create content that engages them. Here’s how to do it:

  • Define your buyer personas. This is a clear representation of who your ideal customer is. What are their pain points and desires? What are their hobbies? What do they do for work? What’s their schedule like?
  • Look at Instagram audience insights. Here you will find demographic information about your audience. Under the “Insights” section, click “Audience.” You’ll find details about people interacting with your posts, including their location, age, and gender.

how to increase engagement on instagram - audience insights

  • Look at your competitors’ profiles. Who likes and comments on their posts? What content are they sharing? How do they interact with their followers?
  • Use social listening tools. This can help you track any mentions of your brand or products. See what people are saying and what they want you to address.

2. Use strong captions with CTAs

Strong captions accomplish three things. They:

  • Add context to the pictures in your post
  • Bring out your brand personality
  • Drive your audience to take an action

That last one is key. After writing a catchy caption on what the post is about and adding hashtags and emojis, it’s time to prompt them to take action. For example, “Let me know what you think in the comments” or “Click the link in our bio to learn more.”

Here’s a video of Honest Beauty’s founder, Jessica Alba. In the caption, the CTA prompts their audience to click the link on their bio to purchase the products.

how to increase instagram engagement - caption with CTA

Image source

Speaking of CTAs…

📙 Free guide  >> The 36 Best Call to Action Phrases (Ever)

3. Engage your audience through creative interactive stickers

Instagram has plenty of interactive story stickers you can use to drive engagement with your posts. You can use the stickers in different ways:

  • Use the quiz sticker to ask your followers fun questions, including multiple-choice questions.
  • Use the music sticker to add soundtracks or lyrics to your stories. Be creative and match the song with the mood, such as cheerful music on a Monday motivation post or maybe a dramatic tone to a long-awaited announcement.
  • Use the poll sticker to ask for people’s opinions. It could be something like which packaging they prefer or which products they like more.
  • Ask for your followers’ thoughts about something with the questions sticker. You can also prompt them to ask you about something. If you’re willing to open the floor, host an AMA (ask me anything).

Stories stickers make your audience feel recognized and that their opinion matters. Every question asked or poll taken is one more engagement.

how to increase engagement on instagram - stories with stickers

Browse through even more engaging Instagram Story ideas here.

4. Create interesting Instagram Stories & Reels

Who doesn’t love Instagram Reels, especially when they’re interesting? These short, entertaining videos are an excellent way for marketers and business owners to drive visibility and engagement to their pages.

Instagram Reels ideas are endless: to share customer experiences, before-and-after videos, interactive how-to videos, and behind-the-scenes peeks.

how to increase instagram engagement - example of a reel

You can also use our Instagram Story templates so you’re not starting from scratch!

5. Use carousel posts to encourage more engagement

According to Socialinsider, of all Instagram post types, carousels have the highest engagement rate of 1.92% (and 2.33% when you use all 10 carousel slides).

how to increase engagement on instagram - engagement rate of post types

You can’t miss taking advantage of this to increase your engagement. There are many ways of using carousel posts—don’t just pick any images and expect your followers to camp on it. Get creative and mix in videos to attract even more interaction. Use them for:

  • User-generated content
  • Product tutorials
  • Multiple product views
  • Before and after photos
  • Your brand story
  • Customer reviews

Canva hosts a weekly design challenge and uses carousel posts to display the highlights for the week’s theme.

how to increase instagram engagement - example of a carousel post

Image source

Every carousel slide is a chance to drive engagement—10 opportunities in 1 post. Don’t miss out on yours.

6. Create and post relatable memes

An endless stream of perfect images and pristine products can become monotonous to your followers. Memes are more authentic and can attract your audience’s attention, especially if they’re relatable and resonate with your followers.

Like this one:

how to increase engagement on instagram - example of post with relatable meme

Followers are more likely to share, comment, and even repost them on their stories because they don’t feel like they’re sharing an ad. And who doesn’t want a good laugh anyway? So put on that meme lord (or lady) hat and enchant your brand’s way into your followers’ hearts.

Inspiring quotes and repurposed tweets are perfect for driving engagement.

7. Post valuable content regularly

Sharing funny posts is great, but you shouldn’t forget to add value for your followers. Create unique content they can repeatedly reference or share with their circles. We have tons of Instagram post ideas here, but for starters:

  • Helpful tips in eye-catching infographics
  • Graphs and charts to visualize data
  • Step-by-step tutorials
  • Creative ideas

If you’re creating a carousel post with a step-by-step how-to guide, recipe, or a list of tips, include a “Save this Post” call to action. Encourage your followers to save it and come back later for reference.

how to increase engagement on instagram - example of a useful post

Image source

8. Host and collaborate with industry influencers

Instagram is an interactive platform. What’s the point if you’re not engaging and interacting with other accounts?

Engaging with similar accounts expands your net and helps you reach potential followers. It’s even better when the other accounts are people with much bigger nets—industry influencers. Influencers have loyal followings that can increase your visibility and introduce your brand to audiences that would have been otherwise hard to reach.

Find influencers in your industry, build a relationship with them, and then collaborate with them. Feature them in your posts, repost their content, and co-create content with them.

how to increase instagram engagement - influencer post

Not only will they engage with these posts, but they’ll also share them with their own followers.  This will grant you broader coverage and help you attract more relevant followers as well.

9. Run Instagram lives

Your Instagram followers want to see the face behind the account once in a while. And considering that 82% of followers prefer watching a live stream to reading social posts, why not try out Instagram live?

Instagram live videos give your followers a more immersive experience. They also get to meet and interact with you in a personal, engaging way.

Viewers can ask questions, share ideas, and leave comments in real time—a perfect way for your brand to engage with followers. If you’re wondering what types of content you can share on Instagram live, try;

  • Q&A sessions on your brand, products, or relevant topics.
  • Sneak peek sessions for a product you’re about to launch.
  • Discussions on current trends or events in your industry.
  • Customer support FAQs.
  • Learning sessions with industry influencers.

Tap into the power of selling during live sessions with Instagram Live Shopping (one of our digital marketing trends of this year). With this feature, you can interact with your viewers and sell directly to them. Save your live videos so potential customers can shop for the featured products after the live stream.

how to increase instagram engagement - instagram live shopping post

10. Use polls and questions to get feedback

Want to know how your audience perceives your brand and products? Create polls and questions on your Instagram stories.

Polls, unlike contests, are easy to create using stickers. Plus, you don’t need a good reason to create one. Just think of a quick question to which you’d also be happy to respond.

Use polls to ask about preferences, would-you-rathers, favorites, and more.

how to increase engagement on instagram - story with poll

11. Leverage the power of hashtags

If you’re not using Instagram hashtags, you’re missing out on a valuable opportunity to get your content into your potential followers’ feeds. Hashtags help you to categorize your posts and get found by people when they’re exploring specific topics. This is a great way to get your content in front of the people most likely to engage with it—follower or not.

Instagram allows you to use up to 30 hashtags, but don’t use all of them on every post. Stick with the ones that are most relevant to the post so you can attract a relevant audience to each one. One of the best ways to find hashtags is just to search them right in Insta:

how to increase instagram engagement - example of a hashtag search

12. Post when your audience is most active

Your memes may be hilarious and your content helpful, but if you post when your audience is asleep, well…if only there were a way for them to view from dreamland. But there isn’t. So, post when your audience is most active.

The best time to post on Instagram varies depending on your audience, location, and content type.

how to increase instagram engagement - best time to post

To find the right time for you, check out the benchmarks from the post linked above, choose a baseline to start with, then use your analytics to find out what works for your audience.

Follow these tips to increase engagement on Instagram

Engaging your audience on Instagram doesn’t just give you favor with the algorithm (which gives you greater exposure and brand awareness), but it also creates an emotional connection between you and your followers.

Here are our top strategies for increasing Instagram engagement:

  1. Know your audience
  2. Use strong captions
  3. Use interactive stickers
  4. Create interesting Stories and Reels
  5. Use carousel posts
  6. Share relatable memes
  7. Post valuable content regularly
  8. Collaborate with industry influencers
  9. Host Instagram live videos
  10. Use polls and questions to get feedback
  11. Leverage the power of hashtags
  12. Post when your audience is most active

And don’t forget the basics! Ensure your Instagram bio is optimized to align with your brand’s value, plan your content in advance, and check your Instagram analytics regularly to see what’s working.

 

About the author

Winnie Chege is a freelance content writer with a specialty in eCommerce, digital marketing, and SaaS industries.

The post 12 Easy & Effective Ways to Increase Engagement on Instagram appeared first on WordStream.

Google September 2022 product reviews update rollout complete

0

Google’s September 2022 product reviews update is now fully rolled out. Google said this update only applied to English-language product reviews.

It took six days to complete, beginning Sept. 20 and concluding Sept. 26.

This marks the end of a flurry of Google algorithm updates that started with the helpful content update (Aug. 25 to Sept. 9), continued with the September 2022 core update (and Sept. 12 to 26) and concluded with the fifth version of the product reviews update.

Rollout complete. According to Google’s search ranking update page, “The rollout was complete as of September 26, 2022.”

Google’s July 2022 product reviews update also took six days to fully roll out.

There has been some discussion within the SEO community about the September product review update. Barry Schwartz covered that in What We’re Seeing From The Google Product Reviews Update #5 over Search Engine Roundtable.

About Google’s product review updates. These algorithm updates are meant to reward high-quality product reviews (in the form of insightful analysis and original research). Google said it will promote these types of product reviews in its search results rankings.

In short, if you were impacted, that means you probably need to put more effort into improving your product review content. Figure out how to make it unique so it stands out from the competition.

Why we care. Staying on top of Google’s multiple algorithm updates is important. This is a bit unique because Google rolled out overlapping updates this month – product reviews and a core update. Google says the product review update should only impact product review content. But having overlapping algorithm updates could complicate things – especially if you’re trying to diagnose ranking or visibility changes (positive or negative).


New on Search Engine Land

About The Author

Danny Goodwin is Managing Editor of Search Engine Land & SMX. In addition to writing daily about SEO, PPC, and more for Search Engine Land, Goodwin also manages Search Engine Land’s roster of subject-matter experts. He also helps program our conference series, SMX – Search Marketing Expo. Prior to joining Search Engine Land, Goodwin was Executive Editor at Search Engine Journal, where he led editorial initiatives for the brand. He also was an editor at Search Engine Watch. He has spoken at many major search conferences and virtual events, and has been sourced for his expertise by a wide range of publications and podcasts.

5 Google Ads examples with relevant and quality ad copy

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Relevance is often discussed in digital marketing. It’s an important topic because not only is it good for consumers, but it is also good for advertisers since the inception of quality score

Advertisers with higher quality scores and relevance are typically rewarded with more traffic and lower CPCs. 

The following data (indexed to allow multiple verticals and clients to be merged) proves this point. As ad relevance scores go up, CPCs go down and CTR goes up. 

Based on our data, an above-average ad relevance score vs. a below-average ad relevance score can decrease CPCs by 40%. 

Indexed CPC and CTR by ad relevance rating.

One of the most critical elements in relevance is the ad copy. In this article, I will break down several ad copy examples and identify what helps make them quality. 

The elements of a relevant PPC ad

To start, we should set the ground rules.

Recently, Google has taken more control of ad optimization. With responsive search ads being the default ad type, Google has the power to choose the headline and the description it deems will perform best. 

Yes, you can pin some elements down to override this auto-optimize feature, but Google’s leaning more and more on its machine learning capabilities to create the most relevant ad. 

The other key is ad extensions which have just been rebranded as assets. Extensions have blossomed over the past few years, and there are now 19 different types in Google Ads:

  • 8 of them are dynamic (e.g., rating, location extensions, structure snippet).
  • 11 are manually set up (e.g., price, location, lead form). 

When used effectively, all these elements can boost your performance. Remember the data about ad relevance. A more relevant ad can improve your CTR and decrease your CPC. The right information helps reduce friction for customers.  

With that in mind, let’s look at some examples of relevant and high-quality PPC ads. 

Example 1: Car insurance

Car insurance is one of the most competitive categories and high-spend verticals. 

The ad I pulled is an interesting mix of a Top 3 big insurer, Progressive, and other lead generation sites. Notice which ad has bolded keywords that tie to the search term “auto insurance.”

Google Ads results for "Auto insurance"

It’s interesting to note that Progressive doesn’t have the term “auto insurance” in the description, instead focusing on consumer-proof claims (4 of 5). 

They also used call extensions. When ads contain phone numbers, you instantly give the consumer the choice to call or interact online. That consumer choice is vital. 

The other extensions are ratings and deals, which are used well to give consumers a sense of additional information to help make a decision. 

Example 2: Concert tickets

I’m a music fan and started looking for examples for various artists and tickets to shows I might like to see. I found the below example in a search for “My Chemical Romance tickets.” 

Google Ads results for "My Chemical Romance tickets"

Seatgeek did a good job laying out two things:

  • Calling out that the claim that it’s the lowest possible price.
  • I didn’t specify which show I wanted to see, and the listings of various upcoming shows were broken out well in the extensions. This helps me choose a show and go specifically to those listings.

Example 3: Electricity rates

A similar use of the extensions in a different category was for “electricity rates.”  

Google Ads results for "electricity rates"

The use of copy and these extensions provide the right mix of options, while still focusing on performance/conversions (“Get a Quote”).


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Example 4: Noise cancelling headphones

Let’s not forget that Google is not just showing text ads. Shopping ads are prevalent and frequently show for retail searches.

Below is a result for the search “noise canceling headphones.” 

Google Ads results for "noise cancelling headphones"

This is an interesting example because of the broad mix of pricing. 

It looks like the JBL headphones are the cheapest at Target. Target also includes the “In store” note, plus the price markdown and ratings on the product. The combination of price and the robust listings is compelling. 

Most brands don’t consider the price point of competitors as a reason why their conversion rates are high or low when doing optimizations. 

While it’s a different topic, know that competitive research is a critical input needed to understand your performance. 

Example 5: iPhone 14

Let’s look at the hottest consumer product right now, the iPhone 14. The example below is some of the biggest players in the game. 

Google Ads results for "noise cancelling headphones"

The approach for AT&T and Verizon are similar, “Get the iPhone on Us.” What is different is the use of extensions and site links. They each have a different approach. 

Which ad would you click on? Why? 

I personally find the AT&T ad compelling enough in the first position, and the sitelinks let me click on the specific model. 

Optimizing your Google Ads campaigns

When we talk to clients, we talk about the “search experience.” This includes the keyword, ad and landing page – three important elements of a PPC campaign. 

Here, we focused on ads and as you’ve seen, different brands have different approaches – various extensions, copy and price points, among others. All of these will result in different outcomes for their advertisers. 

The data shows there is real business value in delivering high ad relevance. Having the right elements to run tests and optimize is key. Be on the lookout for new elements that Google rolls out and keep testing. 


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


New on Search Engine Land

About The Author

Jason Tabeling is the CEO of Airtank and is an accomplished marketing executive and proven leader with over 20 years of experience growing strong and profitable teams, working for and with Fortune 500 companies in a variety of industries.
Prior to AirTank, Jason served as Executive Vice President of Product for BrandMuscle, an enterprise software and services company focused on Fortune 1,000 brands, where he led product innovation and strategy. He earned the company a Leadership Ranking in the Forrester 2020 Through-Channel Marketing Automation Wave. He also spent 16 years working with Rosetta, Razorfish and Progressive Insurance, leading Paid, Earned and Owned media teams across health care, financial services and retail verticals. He was named a “40 under 40” by Direct Marketing News, has been a judge for the AMA Reggie Awards, and has been published in Forbes and many other publications as a subject matter expert.

How to get more out of your email marketing with SafeOpt

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Let’s face it: many consider email marketing boring. It’s not as flashy as jumping onto BeReal or TikTok, and besides, does Gen Z even use email?

Email marketing can be an exciting channel because it drives a lot of revenue for your business. Research shows that you can expect a 42X ROI when you invest in email marketing. So, let’s go over a few ways you can supercharge your email marketing and make it exciting again.

And yes, Gen Z still uses email – they actually prefer it as the way for brands to communicate with them.

Recover lost shoppers with verified offers

Online shoppers routinely abandon their carts, leading to lost sales. If it’s someone you have in your existing customer database, you might rescue that sale with an abandoned cart email. But if they weren’t logged in, the only option is to buy retargeting ads which don’t guarantee a strong ROI.

Thanks to platforms like SafeOpt, you can tap into an email list of 175M+ U.S. shoppers to send them a brand-approved offer and recover lost sales. You generate more revenue, and your abandoned shoppers are delighted because they save time and money.

Make sure your emails are built for mobile first

The majority of emails are now viewed on mobile. It’s no longer good enough to have your emails optimized for mobile. It has to be built with mobile as the primary screen and then optimized for desktop.

This means you might have to rethink a few things. For instance, research suggests mobile email readers click less than desktop. This makes a bit of intuitive sense because there’s less real estate to work with on mobile.

This might mean you consciously decide to build your emails with fewer calls to action and items to click on. This constraint can be good sometimes, as it forces you to focus on what clicks in the email will really drive business outcomes for you.  

The name of the game is “personalization”

The average person gets more than 100 emails per day. Personalizing your emails is the best way to stand out from the crowded inbox and to get your messages noticed and read.

You can start small with your personalization journey. Maybe you just include their name in the subject line or the body of the email. Don’t have their name? You can include a recent product they’ve purchased or shown interest in.

Your personalization of emails can get more sophisticated as you gather more first-party data and incorporate it into your messages. You can include wishlist items, references to sections of the website they visited and much more.

Personalizing pays off, too. A personalized subject line is 50% more likely to be opened than a generic one.

Test, test and perfect

If you love data and experimentation, then email marketing is amazing because you can constantly be testing. Some elements you should routinely be testing are:

  • Subject lines
  • Day or time of send
  • Main call to action
  • The images within your email.

Testing can become unwieldy unless you come at it with the right strategy. First off, know what kind of testing you’re going to do and why. An A/B test or split testing only focuses on a single variable and will get you different results than a multivariate test, which tests different variable combinations at once.

Second, have an end goal in mind with your testing. This should be more than just a hunch or hypothesis: you should have an important goal like improving click-through rates by 15%.

From there, make sure that you’re waiting until you have statistically significant results. This might mean running your test for longer or expanding the sample size. This can be a pain if you have a smaller sample size but it’s worth it to make sure you’re getting actionable results.

Once you do get those insights, be sure to take action! If your test revealed that personalized subject lines get higher open rates, then start incorporating personalized subject lines into as many relevant emails as possible. Insight without action is worthless.

Finally, remember that you’re never done testing. You should implement the winners of your tests but that should lead to the next set of tests. You can always improve your email performance if you have a test-and-learn mindset.

Make email marketing exciting again

If you follow some of the strategies outlined above, your email marketing program will deliver a ton of value. And a growing business is always exciting.


New on Search Engine Land

About The Author

SafeOpt is a digital commerce platform created to maximize your website’s revenue while complimenting your brand’s existing marketing efforts. Trusted by over 1,000 brands, SafeOpt allows you to send 3-5x more emails to your lost shoppers. 175M+ shoppers in SafeOpt’s network are waiting to receive verified offers from partner brands like yours. Learn more today at SafeOpt.com and see how SafeOpt has generated millions of dollars in revenue for 1,000+ eCommerce brands across all industries.

Google Analytics 4: A breakdown of Demographic and Tech details reports

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Google Analytics 4 may look simple on the surface, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. Did you know that there are multiple reports hidden in GA4?

Out of the box, the left-side navigation in GA4 looks pretty bare.

There are only 18 reports vs. the 90+ (not including integration reports) in Universal Analytics. 

But contrary to popular belief, GA4 actually has a lot of the same reports built in.

The best examples of this are the GA4 Demographic details and Tech details reports.

Where the reports are in Universal Analytics

In Universal Analytics, these are all separate reports and each report is separated into subcategories as seen below.

Universal Analytics - Various reports separated in subcategories.

On top of this, UA sometimes has additional dimensions you can choose from.

For instance, you can switch to “City” instead of “Country.”

But this made it confusing to know whether a report was standalone or another dimension in a single report. 

Universal Analytics - Individual report or primary dimension change?

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The Demographics details report in GA4

Instead of multiple reports and a primary dimension change, GA4 combines all logical demographic dimensions into a single report, the Demographic details report.

The Demographics details report in GA4

The Tech details report in GA4

The same goes for the Tech details report.

The Tech details report in GA4

Here, you get 10 reports in one, including:

  • Browser
  • Device category
  • Device model
  • Screen resolution
  • App version
  • Platform
  • OS version
  • Platform / device category
  • Operating system
  • OS with version

Now that you know where some of your favorite and most used reports have moved to, hopefully, GA4 feels a little more comfortable.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


New on Search Engine Land

About The Author

Krista Seiden is the principal digital analytics consultant and chief instructor with KS Digital, an analytics consultancy she founded in 2019, helping businesses make the most of their investments in digital marketing and analytics. Previously, Krista was VP, product marketing and growth at Quantcast. Prior to that, she was at Google for nearly 7 years, where she led product management efforts across the Google Marketing Platform and served as the external evangelist for the Google Analytics suite of products. Krista is a keynote speaker, practitioner, writer on Analytics and Optimization, and passionate supporter of #WomenInAnalytics. You can learn more about Krista and KS Digital over at KS Digital.

Webinar: Your customer insights can help you thrive in economic uncertainty

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Most marketers work day in and day out to stay on top of how their market is evolving, but just one unexpected factor can shift the entire trajectory of your industry.

Join this webinar for an eye-opening discussion about how to identify consumer concerns, determine market barriers and where potential gaps may be using consumer and market intelligence.

Register today for “Sink or Swim: 5 Ways to Survive a Struggling Economy,” presented by NetBase Quid.


Click here to view more Search Engine Land webinars.


New on Search Engine Land

About The Author

Cynthia Ramsaran is director of custom content at Third Door Media, publishers of Search Engine Land and MarTech. A multi-channel storyteller with over two decades of editorial/content marketing experience, Cynthia’s expertise spans the marketing, technology, finance, manufacturing and gaming industries. She was a writer/producer for CNBC.com and produced thought leadership for KPMG. Cynthia hails from Queens, NY and earned her Bachelor’s and MBA from St. John’s University.

Google September 2022 Core Update rollout is now complete

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Google has confirmed that the September 2022 Core Update – the second core update this year – has completed rolling out.

Released on Sept. 12, it took two full weeks to roll out. And it came three days after the helpful content update finished rolling out on Sept. 9.

Rollout complete. According to Google’s search ranking update page, “The rollout was complete as of September 26, 2022.” The page seems to have been updated about an hour ago.

September 2022 Core Update impact. Based on data from tracking tools, the September 2022 core update hit fast, but was less impactful than previous updates. While there was some rank volatility, the consensus was that it was weaker than past Google core updates.

What to do if you are hit. Google has previously given advice on what to consider if you are negatively impacted by a core update. Google has said you can see some recovery between core updates, but the most significant changes will come following a future core update.

Product Review Update sill rolling out. As a reminder, the September 2022 Product Review Update, released Sept. 20, is continuing to roll out now. We’ll let you know when it’s finished rolling out so you can see what impact, if any, it had on your site.

Why we care. Although the overall impact of this Google core update seems less widespread, sites have been impacted. Now is the time to start digging into your analytics data to see if any pages have lost visibility or rankings – and figure out a plan of action to improve those pages to regain any lost rankings over time.


New on Search Engine Land

About The Author

Danny Goodwin is Managing Editor of Search Engine Land & SMX. In addition to writing daily about SEO, PPC, and more for Search Engine Land, Goodwin also manages Search Engine Land’s roster of subject-matter experts. He also helps program our conference series, SMX – Search Marketing Expo. Prior to joining Search Engine Land, Goodwin was Executive Editor at Search Engine Journal, where he led editorial initiatives for the brand. He also was an editor at Search Engine Watch. He has spoken at many major search conferences and virtual events, and has been sourced for his expertise by a wide range of publications and podcasts.

How to Optimize Your Facebook Ads: 10 Tips & Tricks from the Pros

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Facebook advertising may have been hit hardest by Apple’s privacy updates, but it is by no means losing its effectiveness. In fact, according to Sprout Social, Facebook’s ad revenue grew 56% in 2021 alone, and according to Statista, there are 10 million active advertising accounts. That’s 150 football stadiums’ worth of Facebook advertisers.

how to optimize facebook ads - number of monthly active advertisers

So: Facebook ads are still strong, and Facebook advertisers are a plenty—which means you need to know how to optimize your Facebook ads so you can stand out and get the most out of your budget.

Which also means you’re in the right place, because in this post, I’m going to provide a roundup of 10 Facebook ad optimizations from PPC influencers and pros near and far.

Table of contents

  1. Perfect your account structure
  2. Set up the Pixel with Google Tag manager
  3. Consolidate your conversions
  4. Target on-platform engagement
  5. Use the fast takeoff method
  6. Target parallel interests
  7. Target influencers’ audiences
  8. Use in-market segments from search
  9. Scale optimization with automated rules
  10. Have a full-funnel strategy

How to optimize your Facebook ads

You’re going to find a mix of tips in here—some are strategic, others tactical; some are cut and dry while others are downright clever—but they’re all designed to help you maximize both your time and your budget, and they all come from pros who are in the platform every day.

1. Perfect your account structure

This one isn’t so much an optimization as a best practice, or rather, a requirement if you want to succeed at all in Facebook ads; and Empiric Marketing, LLC founder Brett McHale addresses it in his habits of highly effective Facebook advertisers post.

Too many times, advertisers break out their campaigns according to who their targeting rather than what their objective is. So let’s say you have an SEO ebook for small businesses. You have three different variations of the ebook—one for physical therapists, one for interior designers, and one for lawyers.

Instead of creating three separate campaigns for each audience, the better way to go is to create one campaign for the ebook and then within the campaign create three ad sets for each audience. This is how Facebook campaigns and ad sets are meant to be used.

With this proper Facebook ad account structure, you can more efficiently manage and optimize your ads as well as scale your efforts and offers.
how to optimize facebook ads - account structure setup

Click to enlarge

2. Set up the Meta Pixel with Google Tag Manager

That’s right. Google Tag Manager can be used for more than just Google Ads conversion tracking. For any paid media strategy, if you want to track conversions that take place on your website, you’ll need to install a tracking pixel. Through partner integrations, Facebook Ads Manager has made it possible to set up the Meta Pixel without using code—but some of them can get clunky. There is one, however, that isn’t exactly codeless but that Brett has found, in his years of experience, to be the easiest: through Google Tag Manager.

With Google Tag Manager, you can install a container code on each of your website pages. Then insead of, having to add code to each of your pages every time you want to install a pixel, you can just connect it to GTM. Google’s page on GTM is here.

facebook ad optimization - google tag manager pixel setup

You can then do the same to set up the Facebook Conversions API. Because of privacy measures, you’ll want to use both the Facebook Conversions API and Meta Pixel together get a more complete picture of your ads’ performance.

With visibility into what actions visitors are taking after viewing your ads, and who those visitors are, you can then make data-driven optimizations and retarget people who have been to your site.

3. Consolidate your conversions

Okay one more tip from Brett. Once your pixel is set up, you can then tell Facebook which conversion events you want to track. Looking back to our SEO ebook example, you could set up a separate conversion event for each ebook download, but if you do, this is what you’ll see when you’re at the campaign-level view:

how to optimize facebook ads - campaign-level view of conversions

You’ll have to dig into each ad set’s data to look at how many total conversions you’re getting from the campaign.

But if you create one ebook download conversion event, you can then get a total conversion count quickly from the campaign view. It’s a small detail that can save you time and help you make decisions faster.

Plus, with Aggregated Event Measurement, you’ll want to consolidate your conversions as much as possible. While you can create events that are not in your eight priority events list, these events will not be reported on if they’re taken by iOS 14+ users who have opted out of Facebook tracking.

4. Lean into on-platform engagement

This optimization is brought to you by PPC influencer Michelle Morgan. One of the most effective Facebook retargeting campaigns is that of showing ads to previous website visitors. For example, you could retarget visitors who signed up for your newsletter, who submitted a contact form, or who viewed a specific product page. But with iOS 14+ users being able to opt out of tracking, these website retargeting audiences aren’t as reliable as they once were.

One way to work around this is to retarget users based on their interaction with your Facebook page instead. These audiences will be accurate since they rely on Facebook’s first-party data.

facebook ad optimizations - retargeting options for page engagement

Learn about this on-platform strategy (and more like it) here.

5. Use the fast takeoff method

This Facebook strategy comes from AdEspresso and it’s a way of speeding up the algorithmic learning period in Facebook Ads.

Once you set a Facebook ad campaign live, it takes time before Facebook can really start optimizing its ad delivery for your specific goals, because it needs time to collect enough meaningful data.

If you’re working with a small budget, your ad may not be served as frequently and will therefore take longer to get through this learning phase.

With the fast takeoff method, you’ll create your Facebook ad campaign as usual, then assign a budget higher than what you expect to spend. Let the campaign run with this budget until it reaches 10,000 impressions, then bring the budget back down. This will speed up the learning phase and also give you data you can use to make your own optimizations.

6. Target parallel interests

Michelle touches on this a bit in her scaling Facebook ads post, and Steve Bruce calls this out in his post on Facebook ad mistakes.

Facebook offers detailed targeting on a number of different interests. But instead of targeting an interest identical to the product or service you’re advertising, think outside the box a bit.

If you’re advertising toys, for example, instead of targeting just “toys” as an interest, you might target children’s clothing. Or if you’re advertising workout equipment, you might try people interested in electronic music or healthy recipes.

how to optimize facebook ads - detailed targeting

7. Target influencers’ audiences

This Facebook ad optimization strategy is similar to targeting parallel interests and comes to you from Lyfe Marketing. Even if you’re targeting the right interests, you can’t tell, until you’ve chosen the interest, just how big that audience will be. Some audiences are too small on their own, and others are shrinking due to privacy changes.

What you can do, however, is a little market research into the pages your followers are following and liking. Not pages of direct competitors, but of influencers and other adjacent brands. For example, if you are advertising pet supplies or even an adoption agency, take a look at the National Humane Society’s page:

how to optimize facebook ads - humane society's facebook page with follower count

2.5M followers.

Plug this into the detailed targeting box in your ad set and you can get a decent-sized audience.

how to optimize facebook ads - detailed targeting humane society page likers

You can even narrow it down to certain geos.

how to optimize facebook ads - detailed targeting humane society page likers

8. Use in-market segments from search

Facebook ad optimization #8 is coming in hot from PPC influencer (and former WordStreamer) Navah Hopkins.

Facebook has removed or restricted several targeting categories from the platform in the name of privacy, such as those involving employment, real estate, or finance. What you can do, however, is run a search campaign on Google using in-market audience targeting. This type of targeting does still allow you to reach these categories of users. This will then get qualified users to your site where you can build a list to upload to Facebook for a lookalike or retargeting campaign.

google ads targeting - in market segment example

Get the scoop on this and (two more) creative Facebook audience targeting strategies here.

9. Scale optimization with automated rules

The credit goes to Klientboost for this Facebook optimization tip. Managing any PPC account involves consistent monitoring and tweaking. For example, you may:

  • Check for low-performing ads and pause them after a certain period of time.
  • Increase or decrease your budget for a campaign if it reaches a certain threshold of clicks or conversions.
  • Increase your bid if your campaign is performing sluggish.

With automated rules in Facebook Ads Manager, you can program Facebook to check up on these things for you and perform the resulting action.

how to optimize facebook ads - custom rule creation setup

Just be careful with this one. There shall be no set n’ forgettin’ here; you’ll still need to do some light monitoring and maintenance. Automation is

10. Go for the full funnel

One more tip from Michelle, which she addresses in her list of Facebook ad mistakes. If you’re going to spend the money to run a top-of-funnel Facebook ad campaign, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you fail to nurture them through your funnel—to guide them to action that actually translates to revenue for your business.

Now one way to do this is to run a traffic campaign, collect email addresses on your site, and then enter those emails into a nurture email series. But why not use additional Facebook ad campaigns to nurture these audiences?

For example, if you run an awareness or traffic campaign, you can then create a remarketing list of users that engaged with those campaigns and target them later with an ad using the leads or sales objective.

facebook ad optimizations - list of campaign objectives aligned with the funnel

There’s a reason why Facebook offers objectives across the funnel. Follow our tips here on how to build a full-funnel Facebook advertising strategy.

Optimize your Facebook ads….starting now

Hopefully, there’s something in this list of Facebook ad optimizations that you haven’t yet tried. Do keep in mind, however, that if you make any changes to your campaigns, you need to give Facebook at least 24 hours to make the adjustment and then give it sufficient time to recalibrate its delivery optimizations before you draw any conclusions.

To finish off, here is the list of how to optimize your Facebook ads:

  1. Perfect your account structure
  2. Set up the Pixel with Google Tag manager
  3. Consolidate your conversions
  4. Target on-platform engagement
  5. Use the fast takeoff method
  6. Target parallel interests
  7. Target influencers’ audiences
  8. Use in-market segments from search
  9. Scale optimization with automated rules
  10. Have a full-funnel strategy

The post How to Optimize Your Facebook Ads: 10 Tips & Tricks from the Pros appeared first on WordStream.

Natural language search – what’s all the hype?

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Traditional search engines use manual tagging or keywords queried against their index to provide results to a customer. This neglects what your customers think, how they behave and what they expect from their search experience.

With the evolution of search experiences provided by personalization masters like Google, Amazon and Netflix, customers want the same personalized experience on every website they visit.

Natural language search is essential to providing users with the relevant search they crave. It moves beyond keyword matching and programming tedious manual rules. It uses artificial intelligence to infer meaning from complex queries. It learns from data and search patterns to provide a uniquely personal search experience to every customer.

During this webinar, presenters discuss why NLP is gaining momentum and why companies should start investing in tools with NLP to help organizations better predict intent, surface content and customize digital experiences for everyone.

Key takeaways:

  • Keep up to date with the latest trends in the evolution of search technology.
  • Gain crucial insight into the world of natural language processing (to stay ahead of the competition).
  • Learn to enhance your search experience with the help of machine learning (it’s easier than you think!)

Speakers:

Hanieh Deilamsalehy, machine learning researcher, Adobe

Eric Immermann, practice director, search and content, Perficient

Kurt Cagle, managing editor, Data Science Central

Vincent Bernard, R&D director, Coveo


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About The Author

We believe that relevance and personalization are critical for businesses to win in the new digital experience economy, to serve people the way they expect, and that applied AI is an imperative. Coveo is a market-leading AI-powered relevance platform. Our SaaS-native, multi-tenant platform injects search, recommendations, and personalization solutions into digital experiences. We provide solutions for commerce, service, website, and workplace applications. Our solutions are designed to provide tangible value to our customers by helping drive conversion and revenue growth, increase profitability, reduce customer support costs, increase customer satisfaction and website engagement, and improve employee proficiency and satisfaction.

15 horrible mistakes even professional online writers make

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Writing. Everyone thinks they can do it, no one wants to do it, and it’s never perfect.

We love writing because it stimulates the mind, informs us of something new, and teaches us new ways to think about important topics in our lives. 

However, writing can be a difficult skill to master. Even when you think you have, you’ll keep making the same mistakes as when you started. 

Likewise, writing requires intense discipline and is not for the wandering or distracted mind. 

So the next time you make a mistake or find yourself procrastinating content for a client, don’t sweat it. Even professional writers make some of these common mistakes. 

1. Not knowing your target audience 

Content requires focus and purpose. 

Unfortunately, even as a seasoned veteran in the digital marketing industry, it’s easy to write broad content based on a few high-volume keywords with little relevance. 

Writing content without understanding your audience is like throwing money at the wall and hoping it sticks. 

Solution

Meet your audience where they surf. Use social listening tools like Hootsuite, examine Reddit forums, and look at other popular blogs/publications in your industry to examine what keywords users use to discuss and research topics in your industry. 

In addition, keyword and topic research will uncover various subtopics that users are searching for and want answers to enrich your content. 

Bonus tip: If you’re creating content for a client or business and want to excite them, focus on their top ROI products and services first. Find those money keywords with high relevance and low competition to create content that speaks to their audience and gains them traffic quickly. 

2. Thinking too narrow

Writing quick blog posts around a single keyword may fulfill your client’s needs, but it most likely won’t net them much return on their investment. If your content thinks too narrow or fails to provide any unique perspective or educational value, it’s just as valuable if you never wrote it in the first place. 

Solution

If you’re calling yourself a professional writer, you need to produce high-quality content. Research high-ranking content in your field and find new ways to provide additional insight or personal tips to enrich content. 

It’s easy to regurgitate the same content as everyone else, but if you want to move the needle with your content, you’ll need to think outside the box. 

3. Having a boring headline

There’s nothing more frustrating than failing to gain any traction on a piece of content you worked incredibly hard and long on. 

Often, the problem isn’t your content; it’s your headline. 

Solution 

To garner clicks on your content, you’ll need to first research what keywords drive clicks and traffic. From there, I follow a simple formula for most of my headlines:

  • Keep titles to an appropriate length (55-60 characters).
  • Insert relevant keyword toward the front of the title.
  • Provide a solution or reason for reading (e.g., Become a Better Writer Today).
  • Use power words to entice clicks.

4. Not having a strong hook

The two most common reasons people click on content are for quick answers and stories. So, ideally, your headers should provide quick answers to subtopics and your opening has a strong hook to pull the reader into your piece. 

Like a headline, your hook will determine whether or not you get clicks for content. 

Solution

Make an impression on the reader. Easier said than done, right? But the point is to avoid going straight into a story or description. You need to give the reader a reason to read your post. 

While there is no hard and fast rule for writing hooks, here are a few general tips:

  • Cite a wild statistic. (e.g., Did you know that 50% of writers don’t even know how to write hooks?)
  • Make a surprising or controversial statement.
  • Ask a thought-provoking question.
  • Start a story in medias res.
  • Use an insightful quote.

Bonus tip: Use your first one or two paragraphs to lead people into a story. In certain cases, you might not dive into the details of your content until the first body paragraph. 

I often come across several articles on highly reputable publications with unoptimized header tags or one-word lists that provide minimal context. Optimizing header tags allow readers to scan your article and find the right subtopics they’re researching. 

Furthermore, optimizing header tags allows Google to direct users from an answer box to the highlighted portion of your webpage. 

Solution

Find a seed keyword and then add question phrases to answer specific subtopic questions on Google SERPs. 

Additionally, create subtopics for any related long-tail keywords. For example, if you write about motorcycles, listing out specs, like the suspension and motor, in specific sections with optimized keywords will give users the exact information they’re looking for and tell them where to find it. 

Bonus tip: Take a note from the pyramid writing style of journalism. Start with the main topic at the top of your article, then write specific sections of your article with subtopics that relate to the main topic. 

6. Not making content scannable  

Good content should be easily scannable and consumable. 

Most people will bounce right off a page that contains large run-on paragraphs and scrolls for a mile. 

Solution

Make content less intimidating by breaking paragraphs up with images, videos, infographics, spaces and well-optimized headers.

Experiment with multimedia where it would make more sense to tell a story or explain a specific topic. 

People are typically visual and kinesthetic learners, so find ways to appeal to those learning styles without inundating them with large paragraphs. 

7. Failing to invest enough in editing

According to Stephen King, about 10% of writing is editing, but I’ve heard some authors say it’s a lot more. Realistically, any error you make in writing should be attributed to your editing. For this reason, writers need to master the editing process. 

Solution

Ever heard the phrase “work smarter, not harder?” When I say invest more time in editing, I’m not talking about devoting more time or spending more money; I mean optimizing the process. 

Pass your editing to another team member and get some fresh eyes on a piece. 

Bonus tip: Wait a day or two and then quickly edit a draft so that you have an entirely fresh perspective on a topic. This strategy will make the editing process more efficient and less cumbersome. 


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8. Using complex jargon and words

This point relates to not knowing your audience, but it’s a mistake that we’re all guilty of making as writers and SEO professionals. 

Using overly complex jargon and language can be difficult for readers to interpret and follow along with your content. If readers need to constantly Google every other word or phrase you’re saying, they’ll quickly grow bored and irritated. 

Solution

Always substitute complex words with simple language. Ideally, you should be writing for an audience with the vocabulary of a 5th or 6th grader to make content easy to consume and retain. 

Bonus tip: If you’re forced to use jargon, explain it, link it to another page on your site, and spell out any acronyms. 

9. Making content too long

One of the hardest habits for long-time writers to kick is creating lengthy sentences and paragraphs. Unfortunately, we all have a natural impulse to say as much as possible or over-explain our points at the risk of overwhelming our audience. 

I always recommend limiting the wording of online content to its medium. For example, blog posts don’t need to be over 2,500 words – save that content for an ebook!

Solution

Depending on the medium, paragraphs in blog posts should only be one to three sentences at most. Additionally, if you’re not writing an evergreen guide, keep subtopics short and sweet, saving content for each subtopic on a separate post!

Bonus tip: Take some inspiration from Hemmingway and his infamous iceberg theory. In some cases, your content can be simple and doesn’t need to explain every argument. For example, most readers understand why “content is king” and don’t need a paragraph reinforcing this point. 

10. Not providing a clear call to action 

Realistically, your content should provide solutions or next steps to motivate your readers toward a desired action. However, if you don’t include a clear call to action (CTA) or related content on your website, you could risk losing website visitors forever. 

Solution 

Give readers a reason to stay on your site or interact with your writing more. Offer a newsletter signup link at the end of an article or provide a CTA button that leads to a sale or consultation if you’re writing for a business. 

Bonus tip: Create a drip campaign for readers who sign up for your newsletter using related content that eventually leads them to purchase something from your website. 

You should always provide relevant links throughout your content to build authority on your website. Additionally, interlinking also increases website time on page and increases your website’s likelihood of a conversion. 

Solution 

Use your favorite organic research tool like Semrush to find your top-performing/highest ROI pages and insert links in your content relevant that reinforce the main topic of the article.

Bonus tip: Form content clusters around main topics and provide supporting links to subtopics on separate pages that interlink with each other. For example, suppose you have a top-navigation page for content marketing and a supporting page on link building. In this case, insert links in both pages of content to link between each other. 

12. Forgetting to promote your content 

On the flip side, most professional writers are often lazy when it comes to promoting their content. Unless you have an established audience on social media or your blog, your content’s reach won’t go far without links and shares.

Solution

Build links to your content by reaching out to other authors who have written about similar topics and asking for a link. In addition, there are several ways to build links to your site and specific content pages, such as guest posting, content syndication, reaching out to influencers, etc. 

The goal is exposure, which will drive relevant metrics to your site and help it rank for various keywords. 

Bonus tip: Advertise your content on sites like Facebook and Twitter to help put your content directly in front of your targeted audience. Sure, many people are skeptical of ads on social media, but if your content is good, it will drive engagement. 

13. Not reviewing content

If we’re not tracking the performance of our content after it’s written, we’re not gaining any insight into what we’re doing wrong. 

Solution

Use Google Search Console, Google Analytics, or your favorite organic research tool to see which content is driving traffic to your site and which is not generating clicks. Compare this data to its keyword ranking and identify areas where meta tag optimizations, different keywords, or adding multimedia could give your content an edge over the competition.

Content is a serious investment, so track its performance to get the best return out of your investment. 

Bonus tip: Consider repurposing content by updating it to modern standards or adding video or infographics to content to help it rank organically again. 

14. Spending too much time on one piece

Time management is one of the hardest skills for a writer to master. Depending on the length and topic of a piece, you could spend hours working on a single piece. 

As a writer, your living is based on your work output. So how do you improve your output and spend less time on each piece without sacrificing quality?

Solution 

Optimize your process with a few helpful hints:

  • Block off a specific time in your day for writing.
  • Set a goal for each piece of content, along with times to hit.
  • Create a separate space in your home office for writing.
  • Hone your craft by constantly writing (not when you’re in the mood).
  • Create a template and then go in and fill in the blanks.
  • Eliminate any distractions in your workspace.

Bonus tip: Find your flow state. Everyone has a way to enter a flow state of total concentration and focus. Meditate or listen to music if it helps you get into that flow state. 

15. Not reading enough

I find that very few professional writers don’t read, but it’s still a helpful reminder that you’re not reading enough. 

Reading is like weight lifting for a writer; it helps strengthen those brain muscles and form new neural pathways. 

In addition, reading more about your industry and the topics you’re writing about will make you a topical authority and increase your credibility. 

Solution 

Set aside time each day or every other day for reading. I often block off some time during my lunch hour to read from my favorite publications, like Search Engine Land, so I’m always informed of the latest news in the SEO industry.

Bonus tip: Practice different forms of writing to improve your writing. For example, try writing about new topics, writing fiction, or writing for different formats like newsletters or press releases. This helps keep the mind fresh, and you’ll never get bored of writing. 

All professionals make mistakes, but most of them are not published online for the whole world to see. However, your work will only improve if you go back to basics from time to time and refresh your writing knowledge.

This is why I read William Zinsser’s “On Writing Well” almost annually to hone my writing skills and get back to the basics. 

However, the best way to overcome these mistakes is to keep writing. Never feel discouraged because even the most seasoned writers make mistakes constantly.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


New on Search Engine Land

About The Author

Ron Lieback is the founder/CEO of ContentMender, an SEO-driven content marketing agency based in Northeastern Pennsylvania, and the author of “365 to Vision: Modern Writer’s Guide (How to Produce More Quality Writing in Less Time).” While working in digital marketing for the past decade, Lieback has ghostwritten nearly 500 articles for C-level executives across various industries. He also contributes content to leading motorcycle magazines, including Cycle World.

TikTok video descriptions now have a 2,200 character limit

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TikTok video descriptions, once limited to 300 characters, have now been updated to 2,200 characters.

What this means. The update was first noticed by social media consultant Matta Navarra on Twitter, who posted that the new character limit allowed users to express more details about their content, generate more engagement, and make their videos more searchable.

Early reactions. Some people on Twitter aren’t too thrilled with the update. Ash-win Fern-&-es posting “But no one really reads the description there. Would be helpful for some to add more hashtags though.” Grady Hopper says “I don’t get why this matters 95% of most people’s views probably come from fyp not search.” FYP is TikTok’s “For You” Page, where they show users suggestions of accounts to follow and videos to watch.

TikTok, the new Google. Though the general reaction here is “meh,” some people see the value in longer captions for optimizing SEO. In response to tweets saying that nobody reads the descriptions, Rhayven J says “Even if they don’t, the algorithm will. If folks know SEO, then this is a huge game changer.”

TikTok is known for trying to replace Google search among its Gen Z users. This latest update could be a step in that direction.

Why we care. If you’re using TikTok as part of your social or ad strategy, have your copywriters on standby and take advantage of the new 2,200 character limit. Don’t forget to keep SEO and Helpful Content best practices in mind when creating your new captions


New on Search Engine Land

About The Author

Nicole Farley is an editor for Search Engine Land covering all things PPC. In addition to being a Marine Corps veteran, she has an extensive background in digital marketing, an MBA and a penchant for true crime, podcasts, travel, and snacks.

The biggest mystery of Google’s algorithm: Everything ever said about clicks, CTR and bounce rate

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It’s the biggest mystery and controversy of Google’s search ranking algorithm. For a long time, the SEO community has debated: is the click-through rate (“CTR”) of search results listings a ranking factor? Or the closely related “bounce rate” and “dwell time”? 

I present to you everything Google has ever said about this, along with some observations and opinions.

Clicks, CTR, bounce rate and dwell time

If you are newer to SEO, the concept of clicks or click-through rate (“CTR”) being ranking factors is simple to explain. Once a user performs a keyword search, they can then click on a listing on Google’s search results page. Google could count those clicks as a type of vote for the content in the results and lend more ranking ability to those listings that draw more clicks for the keyword in question. 

Similarly, “dwell time” would be counting how long one stays on a webpage after clicking through to a page from the search results. 

A “bounce” happens when one clicks through to a webpage and leaves without navigating to another page. The assumption is that if a bounce happens too rapidly, the user may have found the page’s content unsatisfactory for their query. 

“Dwell time” is also how long the user may linger on the webpage before clicking elsewhere or back to the search results. All of these signals center upon the click to listings in the search results.

Click-through rate, or “CTR”, is the most controversial and mysterious of Google’s “ranking factors.”

The mystery: Are CTR and bounce rate ranking factors?

Despite many of my colleagues believing Google’s official line about CTR or bounce rates not being ranking factors, I will confess that I have long wavered on the question, and I have often suspected it indeed could be a ranking factor. In a recent poll I took on Twitter, CTR was voted the most controversial of all ranking factors.

However, there are a lot of good reasons to believe Googlers when they tell you what does or does not influence search rankings. I have worked in information retrieval myself, and I have known and conversed with a number of official Google evangelists in person or via chats, emails, etc. – and they uniformly give great advice and all seem to be highly honest and generally good people. 

But…

…there have been those moments when something rises and sticks in rankings that do not seem like it should, based on all the classic ranking factors that we know.

I have long worked in online reputation management where SEO is leveraged heavily to try to improve how a person or organization appears in search when their name is queried. 

There have been these weird instances where a nasty blog post or article with few or no major external links will abruptly pop up in the rankings – and, it just stays. 

In contrast, other content that has been around longer and has stronger links just cannot gain traction against the nasty-gram item. 

You cannot help but notice the difference when these reputation-damaging items arise on the scene. Such pages often have scandalous and intriguing titles, while all the other pages about a subject have more normal, conservative titles. 

When you search for a name, and you see some title referencing them along with the word “lawsuit”, “indictment”, “exposed”, “arrested”, “scam”, etc., you are immediately curious, and you will want to click to hear what it is all about. 

I have sometimes described this as “rubbernecking on the information super-highway” because it is like how people are drawn to slow down and look when they see a terrible wreck on the road. You see the scandalous title in the search results, and the impulse is to click it.

It has often seemed like the scandalous headlines keep drawing clicks, and this activity seems to buoy the content into appearing high in the rankings on Google’s Page 1.

I have even engineered more scandalous headlines on positive pages to draw attention for a client. Once that engineered content is getting most of the attention, the original negative item starts to subside in the results. When this happens, it seems like users’ clicks are to blame.

But, is the dynamic just coincidental correlation? Or is it exactly what it appears it could be – an outcome based, in part, on quantities of relative click-through numbers? 


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Reasons to suspect Google uses CTR as a ranking factor

Beyond my anecdotal examples, there are a number of good reasons to suspect that Google could use clicks of links in the search results as a ranking factor. Here are a few:

If this is unused data, why track the clicks? I tried to recall when I first glanced at Google results’ HTML and saw that the links were being tracked. It might be sometime in the early 2000s. 

What do they do with all that data? After the advent of the inclusion of search analytics in Google’s Webmaster Tools (later renamed to Google Search Console), this click data was at least used in webmaster reports. 

But, it was collected by Google well before the search analytics report. 

2. Google tracks clicks on ads

Click data affects rankings within the paid ads section. So, why wouldn’t they do the same in organic? 

It would not be a surprise if Google used a similar method in organic that they use in paid search, because they essentially have done that with their Quality Score. 

Over 15 years ago, Google rolled out its Quality Score, which affects ad rankings – and there is now ample evidence of Google using quality criteria in organic rankings. 

While different parts of Google – such as keyword search versus Maps – use different ranking methods and criteria, Google sometimes cross-pollinate methods.

If it is used or has been used in the past for personalized search results, it clearly can be used for regular results, too.

4. An independent researcher examined click-throughs as a ranking factor and found it to be a potentially valuable method

Dr. Thorsten Joachims examined click-throughs as a ranking factor and found it to be a potentially valuable method. Notably, he found:

  • “The theoretical results are verified in a controlled experiment. It shows that the method can effectively adapt the retrieval function of a meta-search engine to a particular group of users, outperforming Google in terms of retrieval quality after only a couple of hundred training examples.” 

Thus, in a limited study, it was found to be effective. Considering this, why wouldn’t Google use it? Of course, his definitions for “outperforming Google” and determining usefulness likely differ from the criteria used by Google.

5. Bing uses click-throughs and bounce rate as ranking factors

Microsoft Bing search engine confirmed that they use click-throughs and bounce rate as ranking factors. However, they mentioned caveats around it, so some other user engagement context is also used for evaluation. 

Search engines certainly use different signals and methods to rank content in search results. But, it is an interesting counterpoint to rhetoric that it is “too noisy” of a signal to be useful. If one search engine can use the signal, the potential is there for another.

6. If Google convinces people that CTR is not a ranking factor, then it reduces Google search as a target for artificial click activity

This makes it seem like there could be a substantial motive to downplay and disavow click activities as ranking factors. A parallel for this is Autocomplete functionality, where users’ searches, and potentially also click activity, used to be very prone to bot manipulation. 

Google has long disliked artificial activity, like automated requests made by rank-checking software, and has evolved to detect and discount such activities.

However, bot activity in search results targeting ranking improvement through artificial clicks would likely quickly become more significant than they already handle. This can potentially create a negative impact on services similar to DDoS attacks. 

Despite the years and years of stating that CTR is not a ranking factor, I have seen many jobs posted over time on microtask platforms for people to perform keyword searches and click upon specific listings. The statements may not have accomplished deterrence, and Google may already be effectively discounting such manipulation attempts (or they are hopefully keeping some of that artificial activity out of Analytics data).

7. Google AI systems could potentially use CTR and Googlers would not know if or when it was impacting rankings

Three years ago, when I wrote about how Google could be using machine learning to assess quality of webpages, I strongly suggested that user interactions, such as click-through rate, could be incorporated into the machine learning models generated for a quality scoring system. 

An aspect of that idea could potentially happen, depending upon how Google builds its ML systems. All potential data points about websites and webpages could be poured into the algorithm. The system could select ranking factors and weight them according to what matches up with human quality rater assessments of search results. 

With such massive processing power to assess ranking factors, an algorithm could theoretically decide if CTR was or was not a useful predictor of quality for a particular type of webpage and/or website. 

This could produce ranking models for many thousands of different kinds of webpage and search query combinations. In such a system, CTR might be incorporated for ranking scientific papers but not for Viagra product pages, for instance. 

The mystery remains

You might think that that third point would essentially set the record straight as Google flat out stated the ranking factor for personalization. But the mystery and controversy remain as the question centers upon overall rankings in a broader sense beyond just personalized results. The controversy surrounds whether CTR is used as a core ranking signal. The blog post disclosing clicks as a personalized ranking factor was from 2009 – when personalization effects seemed a little more overt in search. 

Because there is some reasonable basis for thinking Google could use CTR as a ranking factor more broadly beyond limited effect in personalization, it creates the groundwork for many SEOs to easily believe that it is indeed a major ranking factor. 

Of course, one of the biggest reasons people in SEO have come to think CTR is a ranking factor is because it naturally has a high correlation with rankings. 

This is the high-tech version of the age-old question: which came first – the chicken or the egg? 

The links on the first page of search results have the vast majority of clicks for any given query, and on the first page of search results, the higher ranking listings typically receive more clicks than those that are lower. This makes CTR as a ranking factor seductive. 

The obvious question is: Is this coincidental correlation or is it evidence of causation? 

Where cause and effect are so closely intertwined, the prospect of confirmation bias is very easy – and this is why one should be extremely careful.

This leads us to what Google has said over time about CTR as a ranking factor. 

Everything Google has ever said about CTR as a ranking factor

2008

Former Googler Matt Cutts commented that bounce rate was not a ranking factor, stating that it would be spammable and noisy (meaning it would contain a lot of irrelevant data that is unhelpful to ranking determinations).

Former Googler Matt Cutts commented that bounce rate was not a ranking factor.

2009

In a Google Search Central video, Cutts was asked, “Are title and description tags helpful to increase the organic CTR – clicks generated from organic (unpaid) search – which in turn will help in better ranking with a personalized search perspective?” 

He only answered a part of the question, saying that “…so many people think about rankings, and stop right there…”, advising the person to improve their page title, URL and snippet text to help their CTR. 

He avoided answering whether CTR could affect rankings. Of course, this question was specific to personalized search. 

Nine months later, Bryan Horling, a Google Software Engineer, and Matthew Kulick, a Google Product Manager, disclosed that clicks on listings were used in rankings in personalized search, as I noted above. 

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2012

An FTC Google Probe document (regarding an antitrust evaluation) was leaked to the Wall Street Journal. It recorded a statement from Google’s former chief of search, Udi Manber, saying: 

  • “The ranking itself is affected by the click data. If we discover that, for a particular query, hypothetically, 80 percent of people click on Result No. 2 and only 10 percent click on Result No. 1, after a while we figure out, well, probably Result 2 is the one people want. So we’ll switch it.” 

The document further reported that:

  • “Testimony from Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt confirms that click data is important for many purposes, including, most importantly, providing ‘feedback’ on whether Google’s search algorithms are offering its users high quality results.” 

A bit of the context is missing in this document because the segment about rankings and click data comes directly after a missing page – it appears that all the odd pages from the document are missing.

Leaked Google Antitrust Hearing Recommendation Document, FTC

Danny Sullivan, former Editor-in-Chief of Search Engine Land, and current Search Liaison at Google, tweeted about the leaked document’s reference to rankings being affected by click data, stating:

In the comments, he further stated, “I asked again a few months ago 🙂 no answer.” 

It seemed mysterious that Google declined to answer one way or the other, and some interpreted this to mean that they indeed did use clicks as a ranking factor. 

Or, perhaps the reason was that clicks are used only in certain, limited contexts rather than broadly as an across-the-board ranking factor.

2014

Rand Fishkin performed a test by watching the ranking of one of his blog posts. He called on his social media followers to conduct searches for it and then click on the listing in the search results. The page’s listing climbed to the top ranking position. This is worth mentioning in the timeline because Googlers appear to have become irritated at Fishkin’s publicized test and the conclusions. 

Fishkin acknowledged that the test did not eliminate the possibility that other ranking factors might have caused the ranking improvement, such as links produced by the social media post. But, the sequence of events showed apparently considerable correlation between the clicks and the ranking change. 

A 2015 post on the topic of CTR as a ranking factor by the late Bill Slawski with feedback from Fishkin, suggested that some thresholds of clicks would need to be reached for the listing before CTR begins to play a role in rankings. 

Slawski’s blog post examined a Google patent that had been recently granted that described “user feedback,” which could potentially be clicks in search results, as a ranking factor. 

The patent was: “Modifying search result ranking based on a temporal element of user feedback.” Notably, the patent’s description specifically mentions factors that can affect the appearance of materials in search, such as recency and trends. 

One interpretation of Fishkin’s test results could be that items like news articles and blog posts may achieve higher than typical rankings after their introduction, combined with click-through rate data, as part of Google’s freshness or recency algorithms. (Eric Enge similarly theorized this in a 2016 blog post.) 

Thus, topics spiking up in popularity shortly after introduction, like blog posts and news articles, might be able to appear higher as part of Universal Search for brief periods. Such ranking ability might not last, however, and arguably might not be deemed ranking factors in the broad sense that affects keyword search rankings over the longer term. 

2015

At the SMX Advanced conference, Jennifer Slegg reported that Gary Illyes from Google stated that they “see those trying to induce noise into clicks,” and for that reason, they know that using those types of clicks for ranking purposes would not be good. 

This speaks directly to the idea that Google would claim not to use it to reduce the likelihood that people would attempt to manipulate the signal. 

The statement here asserts that Google is already seeing artificially influenced clicks in search results and because they already see such click campaigns going on, they are not using the signal. 

Illyes went on to essentially confirm the earlier 2009 disclosure that Google uses clicks in a limited way to feature previously-visited search results higher for individuals through personalization. He also stated that clicks in search results were used for evaluation, such as checking whether algorithm changes or UI changes had impacted the overall usefulness of search results.

In a Google Search Central hangout, John Mueller states that click-through rate is used to check algorithms at a high level after making changes to see if people are still finding what they’re looking for. 

  • “That’s something that on a very aggregated level makes sense for us to use, but on a very detailed site or page-wide level it’s a very, very noisy signal, so I don’t think that would really make sense as something kind of to use as a ranking factor there.” 

While the wording of the statement seems a bit ambiguous, Mueller seems to be trying to persuade the audience that it would not make sense for Google to use the signal because it is noisy. Thus, no one should worry about it as a ranking factor. 

Nearly a month later, in another hangout, Mueller refers to “CTR manipulation, dwell time manipulation,” saying, “these things may not even work,” which is, again, a little ambiguous. 

But, much later in 2015, Mueller states more absolutely in regards to bounce rate: 

  • “So we don’t use anything from Analytics as a ranking factor in search. So from that point of view, that’s something that you can kind of skip over. We do sometimes use some information about clicks from search when it comes to analyzing algorithms. So when we try to figure out which of these algorithms are working better, which ones are causing problems, which ones are causing problems, which ones are causing improvements in the search results, that’s where we would look into that. But it’s not something that you would see on a per-site or per-page basis.”

In late 2015, a Googler posted in the Google My Business help forums (Google My Business has since been renamed “Google Business Profile”) that one of the main types of factors they use for ranking local business listings is:

  • “Search history: In the past how many times has the listing been clicked on by users searching with the keyword.” 

Naturally, this excited some commentary and attention. Google rapidly edited the part within a couple of days of its publication to remove the mention of clicks, restating it to read:

  • “Search history: The number of times it has been useful historically on the basis of relevance, prominence and distance.”
Google My Business help forum answer.

Interestingly, I was told by a Googler in the past that local listings used “listing engagement” as a ranking factor. 

In Google Maps search results, or those same local listings embedded within regular keyword search results (Google pulls local search listings into the keyword search results under Universal Search for appropriate queries), the listing engagement factor is some combined metric of all interactions with local listings and not just limited to clicks on the link to the website.

It can include clicks to get Driving Directions, clicks to call the phone number, clicks to copy the address, clicks to share the listing, etc. 

The Googler’s accidental disclosure of listing clicks as a ranking factor would seem to confirm what I was told about listing engagement.

As Barry Schwartz conjectured, the sequence of events implied that the Googler made a mistake about what he wrote or accidentally posted accurate information that Google does not want SEOs to know. 

Google would not confirm or deny that clicks are a ranking factor. Again, while Google can and does cross-pollinate some methods from one vertical to another, the ranking factor post was very specifically about Maps and local search listings rankings and not about core rankings of webpages.

2016

At the SMX Conference in San Jose, Google engineer Paul Haar provided an overview presentation on how Google develops its search rankings

In the slideshow presentation, two of his slides spoke about using click statistics to evaluate changes to the algorithm.

One item they look at when they test algorithm updates is “changes in click patterns,” which in the presentation included the caveat, “Harder to understand than you might expect” (which Haar did not mention verbally).

It was clear that the click data, as he described it, was only used to evaluate changes to the algorithm versus being used as core ranking signals. But, some attendees used the click references in the presentation as proof positive that Google uses CTR for rankings.

Paul Haar's SMX Conference slide.

2018

Google’s Gary Illyes did an AMA on Reddit where Darth_Autocrat asked him: 

  • “Rank Brain: Lots of people keep saying that part of the RB system includes UX signals, including Dwell Time, Bounce Rate, Click Through Rate etc. As I understood it, RB was about trying to fathom what results to serve for unrecognised searches. Can you please confirm/deny whether RB uses UX signals of any kind?”

Illyes answered:

  • “No. RankBrain is a PR-sexy machine learning ranking component that uses historical search data to predict what would a user most likely click on for a previously unseen query. It is a really cool piece of engineering that saved our butts countless times whenever traditional algos were like, e.g. “oh look a “not” in the query string! let’s ignore the hell out of it!”, but it’s generally just relying on (sometimes) months old data about what happened on the results page itself, not on the landing page. Dwell time, CTR, whatever Fishkin’s new theory is, those are generally made up crap. Search is much more simple than people think.” 

Illyes displayed some clear irritation with Fishkin’s prior experiments/statements around CTR as a ranking factor in denying user experience (“UX”) signals as ranking factors. 

The harsh mention directed at someone specific is very unusual in my experience with the typically polite, friendly and patient Googlers, so this denouncement attracted a lot of attention.

The vehemence, characterizing CTR as “made up crap,” and laying responsibility for CTR as a rank element theory at Fishkin’s feet seemed very oddly out of proportion – especially as you add the various other information around click-throughs-as-ranking-factors I have cited herein. 

So, was Illyes’ irritation caused by having to answer questions about a bogus ranking factor repeatedly, or because Fishkin showed some real effects that called into question Google’s insistence that CTR does not affect core rankings?

2019

Moz’s then-Senior SEO Scientist Britney Muller pointed out Google Cloud documentation that implied that CTR was a ranking factor. The document said:

  • “When you click a link in Google Search, Google considers your click when ranking that search result in future queries.” 

However, Barry Schwartz reminded everyone that this document appeared to quote from the 2009 blog post establishing that clicks were used in personalized search. 

2020

At the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee Antitrust Hearing examining big tech companies, Google provided very interesting text about how it uses “long clicks” versus “short clicks” in determining whether:

  • Users who clicked through to ad links may have found value in the page associated with the ad.
  • Changes to the search results presentation of ads may have negatively impacted the quality of paid or organic content or increased the time it takes for users to click on the search results. 

The text Google provided reads:

  • “Changes to the presentation of search ads are rigorously tested across a wide variety of metrics, including impact on users and advertisers. For example, a proposed change may lead to more “short clicks” (where users quickly hit the back button on their browser to return to the Google SERP) and fewer “long clicks” (where users stay on the advertiser’s landing page for a relatively long time, suggesting that they found the ad and corresponding website useful). Or, a proposed change may affect the amount of time it takes users to decide on what to click (known as “time to first click”) or adversely affect quality trade-offs between paid and organic content (known as “whole-page metrics”).”

The verbiage involving “short clicks” and “long clicks” is a description of bounce rate and dwell time for ads. The parenthetical aside about how long clicks can indicate the users found the ad and corresponding website useful seems a bit out of place within this text, which is otherwise a description of how Google assesses overall changes impacting the search results page.

What is interesting about this is that Google apparently finds bounce rate to be useful in some contexts. If useful for assessing an ad’s effectiveness, why not a search result listing?

But, it is also clear that this refers specifically to assessing the impact of overall search results presentation and/or algorithmic changes – it is not stating that it impacts rankings.

It is further notable that this is the very way that Google has stated it uses click-through data in search results – as a means of assessing the overall impact of changes to the search results.

In a Google Search Central video titled “Google and the SEO community: SEO Mythbusting,” Schwartz asked Google’s Martin Splitt about whether search engined used user data from Chrome and Android, mentioning how the Direct Hit search engine years ago had used click data for rankings and it got compromised by people clicking to manipulate the results. 

Splitt responded:

  • “It is very noisy as a data source. It’s so noisy… when I say, ‘no we’re not using it for ranking,’ then I mean exactly that. And we might use it for A/B testing of different ways of presenting things in the front end, or we might be using it for I don’t know what. But, people tend to only hear the bits they want to hear, and then you get misrepresented, and then we have to clean up that rather than doing other good things for the community.”

2021

An SEO professional tweeted the question to Mueller, “Is CTR a ranking factor?” 

Mueller tweeted the reply:

  • “If CTR were what drove search rankings, the results would be all click-bait. I don’t see that happening.” 

So, what is the takeaway after reviewing some of the most prominent Google mentions about CTR as a ranking factor over time? Definitively, is it, or isn’t it a ranking factor?

There really is no mystery about click-through rate as a ranking factor

Google has been pretty consistent across time in its communications about how it uses clicks in search results. Sometimes the language is ambiguous where it should not be. Other times, they’ve been uncoordinated in messaging around the topic. 

Considering the company’s large size, relatively few employees know the specifics of the ranking system. Unsurprisingly, some flubs have occurred around this. 

But, a large part of the issue has been caused by some degree of semantics and miscommunications about what people mean when they discuss “ranking factors.” It seems very clear in retrospect that when Googlers say that CTR is not a ranking factor, they mean it is not a “core ranking factor” applicable to all webpages. 

This reminds me of how Google Maps / Google Local personnel used to state that “review rating scores are not a ranking factor.” But after some years, they moved away from that language. 

The reason is that while business rating numbers do not help rankings of listings in general, there are search interfaces where users are allowed to filter the search results based on ratings – making it a de facto ranking factor in those instances. 

Unfortunately, CTR appears to be in a similar category: It actually is a ranking factor in some limited contexts.

3 instances where click-throughs are likely ranking factors in Google

Google records your historical search keywords and the results listings you clicked upon. 

This history of search can cause previously visited pages to rank higher in your search results for the same keyword next time. This one is confirmed by Google.

Google can temporarily enhance rankings of listings when there has been a surge in searches and clicks to specific webpages. It ought to be noted that there is some likelihood that the clicks on listings alone are likely not the only signal incorporated, however. 

Google may detect an increase of mentions in social media and other sources in tandem with the item. Research has indicated that a minimum threshold of searches and clicks must be reached before the ranking enhancement occurs. Also, there is some likelihood that the ranking benefit may evaporate after a while.

3. Local search and maps

Google slipped up when they disclosed this and then “corrected” their statement. However, the revised text did not remove the possibility they use listing engagement data – since the “number of times it has been useful historically” would only be assessed through usage of the listing. 

User interactions with business listings verify searcher interest after seeing the listing in the search results. 

Users can click upon several potential elements in local listings, including clicking to call, getting directions, saving the listing, sharing the listing, viewing photos, and more. 

Using clicks in local/maps is likely less noisy, as the interfaces may be less prone to bot activity. It may not be feasible to have cheap labor conducting the engagement activities with contextual tech factors verifying real usage.

CTR data matters

The above are cases where Google apparently uses click-through data to affect rankings. They have confirmed the first instance, which can only affect individuals’ search results. 

Various research cases, such as ones conducted by Fishkin, suggest the second instance also occurs, but it is also pretty limited in scope.

It would also explain some of the content rankings I have seen anecdotally in reputation management cases involving news articles or blog posts that rank against stronger materials. This is not entirely certain, because some of these items may be ranked due more to mentions, links and references via social media. 

The third instance seems highly likely due to the sequence involved with the unintentional disclosure in Google Business Profile forums. It is also supported by some anecdotal evidence and industry analysis of usage data.

Compared to the broader rankings of all webpages, these three instances where clicks are likely incorporated are practically edge cases. Technically, these ranking processes do not comprise evidence of CTR as a core ranking factor. 

I believe Google’s multiple personnel have consistently been forthright over time in representing that CTR is not a core ranking factor.

They do not use it generally to determine rankings of webpages, but they do use it in aggregate to assess the impact of changes made to the search results – either changes to the user interface of the results or the overall rankings.

Google’s overall guidance on this has been pretty consistent over time in denying CTR as a core ranking factor.

Inconsistency in terminology confuses the question of CTR as a ‘ranking factor’

There has been inconsistency in definitions when talking about this. The fact that CTR affects rankings of pages under personalized search means that CTR is indeed a “ranking factor,” period, full-stop. 

It is a game of semantics to say that it affects some personalized rankings, but it is not a ranking factor. Several of Google’s ranking factors are contextual or specific to particular topics or search verticals. 

Google’s algorithm is also a hybrid of multiple algorithms. For instance, for local searches, some Maps listing rankings are replicated in the keyword search results. For current event topics, some News rankings get embedded in the keyword search results. 

The likelihood is that ranking factors, the weighting of them, and ranking assessment algorithms are becoming more individualized by types of queries over time – and this is likely to continue.

Google has chosen not to use CTR as a core ranking factor because it is prone to manipulation through bots and cheap labor. 

They have called the signal too “noisy” because of this, and perhaps also because users click in and out of pages at many speeds and for many reasons. 

But, Googlers have said it was “noisy” for at least 14 years, which now seems odd. 

The company that has so effectively fought webspam is unable to filter out artificial click influence? 

A top black hat SEO wizard confided in me a few years ago that he had discontinued doing black hat work because it had just gotten so progressively hard that he sought a different means of income. So, Google is not an easy target for artificial manipulation. At this point, black hat SEO is unstable. 

Google polices its ad clicks for exactly this type of fraudulent manipulation. So, the “noisy” excuse seems a bit worn out, doesn’t it?

However, I believe Matt Cutts, Gary Illyes, John Mueller and Martin Splitt when they say that Google does not use it as a core ranking signal. 

Mueller is also believable in that Google would not want page titles to become terribly click-baity as a reaction to a disclosure that CTR could improve rankings.

The signal is “noisy,” not just due to potential artificial manipulation – it is also noisy because people click in and out of search results listings in varying patterns. 

If a user clicks on five listings in the SERP before choosing one, what is the takeaway? 

Google has determined that the signal is too blurry to be beneficial except in some specific cases. 

Some will never be persuaded that CTR is not a core ranking factor in Google. It will always correlate to a large degree with rankings, which will be misconstrued as cause as much as effect. 

But, all the former and current Googlers I have known have been honest and have given good advice. Why disbelieve so many of them?

Attempting to manipulate CTR to gain rankings is contraindicated. The three instances where CTR likely affects rankings are not terribly good targets for trying manipulation. 

Where personalization is concerned, CTR only affects rankings for the person who clicked on the listing. 

Where recency or trending topics are concerned, it is highly likely that other signals would need to be included in the mix, such as freshness of the content and social media buzz. The buzz and engagement would likely need to be continued to maintain the ranking, plus there could be a time limit for how long the effect lasts, too. 

In the case of Local/Maps listing rankings, it will not be easy to game – can a bot request driving directions and geospatially follow them to the location? The clicks used are not isolated signals in a vacuum – there are ancillary activities that go along with them which may be assessed in conjunction with the click. 

Will a bot access the listing through the mobile app or make a phone call? In general, cheap labor paid to click on search results may often be foreign, and Google detects foreign users, proxied IP addresses, and artificial usage patterns.

I think Google should probably change its standard messaging around CTR at this point. They ought to make an official document on the various ways it uses click-throughs in search results as its definitive guidance on the matter. 

It may be that more transparent disclosure might reduce artificial influence attempts. Google could acknowledge that it affects personalized search and potentially contributes to recent/trending topics and Maps listings. 


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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Content API for Shopping and Google Ads API updated for country targeting

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Updates to the country targeting for shopping products, with the introduction of the feedLabel field, have begun.

Recent updates to the API. Last month we announced that Google was removing the country targeting requirements were being removed and replaced with a new feedLabel field. Today Google announced updates to those changes including:

For Google Ads

  • Any Google Ads account can set the feed_label field in ShoppingSetting for Shopping and Performance Max campaigns. You can set feed_label in the Google Ads UI and the Google Ads API.

For Merchant center

  • As of September 14th, 2022 we‘ve started the gradual rollout of feed labels in the Merchant Center UI. When this feature is enabled in the UI, merchants will be able to create a new feed with feed label set to any valid string. 

In the Content API:

  • Products that have only feedLabel, and not targetCountry, if they were added in the Merchant Center UI.
  • Products with feed labels that aren’t two-letter country codes.

API behavior summary. Additionally, the following is a clarification from Google about the current API behavior for feedLabel:

  • Insertion: You can only call Products.insert on products with a matching feedLabel and targetCountry. Currently, Products.insert might return an error if you don’t provide a matching targetCountry. This behavior hasn’t changed if you continue to use only targetCountry.
  • Targeting: If you set feedLabel to a valid 2-letter CLDR territory code, you must still set the shipping attribute of the products resource to the same country in order to target that country. For example, if you set a new feedLabel to “US”, you must also set the country field in the shipping attribute to “US”. If you don’t set both fields, the product might not be eligible to serve in that country. You can configure targeting for an entire feed in the Merchant Center UI.
  • Get/List: When you use Products.list or Products.get, you might see products that only have feedLabel (and not targetCountry) set if they were added in the Merchant Center UI.
  • Product IDs: Once a feedLabel is set for a product it becomes part of the product Id. This means you can’t modify the feedLabel for that product (this is similar to how language works). If you wish to change the feedLabel you will need to create a new product with a different product Id.

Coming next. Google says that once the rollout of feed labels is complete, they will accept Products.insert calls with feedLabel set to any string. targetCountry will be optional.

For datafeeds, the datafeeds resource will be updated to include feedLabel in the Content API for Shopping.

Dig deeper. You can read the full announcement from Google here.

Why we care. If you’re a developer and you’re using APIs for content or shopping campaigns, you’ll no longer have to set a target country, but instead use the feedLabel in its place. You can opt-in or out of these features,


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Nicole Farley is an editor for Search Engine Land covering all things PPC. In addition to being a Marine Corps veteran, she has an extensive background in digital marketing, an MBA and a penchant for true crime, podcasts, travel, and snacks.

New Google issue may affect ad serving

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It’s just not Google’s week… or month… or year. Today, Google Ads Liason Ginny Marvin just posted to Twitter that they’re currently aware of an internal issue impacting ads serving. Here’s what she said.

Is this related to the other Ads Manager issues they’ve reported this month? We’re not sure. The Tweet is too vague to know what specifically is happening.

This sounds familiar. Just yesterday we reported on other outages and “updates” from Google affecting publishers. This new issue could be related, but again, we’re not sure. Check that out here.

Why we care. The constant outages and issues from Google are getting a little out of hand, don’t you think? Maybe it seems like a lot because we report on them, but, correct me if I’m wrong, we don’t see this many issues from Facebook or Instagram, or even Microsoft for that matter.

Google’s Googleyness here is lacking.


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About The Author

Nicole Farley is an editor for Search Engine Land covering all things PPC. In addition to being a Marine Corps veteran, she has an extensive background in digital marketing, an MBA and a penchant for true crime, podcasts, travel, and snacks.

How to define SERP intent and ‘source type’ for better analysis

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SERP analysis coupled with your keyword research is a staple of any modern SEO campaign.

Analyzing search intent is already a process within this. But when it comes to SERP analysis, all too often I see reports that stop at classifying a result by its intent – and that’s it.

We know that for queries with multiple common interpretations, Google works to provide a diversified results page with differentiations often being:

  • Result intent (commercial, informational).
  • Business type (national result, local result).
  • Aggregators and comparison sites.
  • Page type (static or blog).

And then when planning content we might develop a strategy based on Google ranking some informational pieces on Page 1, so we’ll create informational pieces too. 

We may also use a tool to “aggregate” metrics on the first page and create artificial keyword difficulty scores.

This is where this strategy falls down, and in my opinion, will continue to show diminishing returns in the future.

This is because the majority of these analysis pieces don’t acknowledge or take into account source type. I personally believe that this is because the Search Quality Rater Guidelines that have led to E-A-T, YMYL, and page quality becoming a major part of our day-to-day workings don’t actually use the term source type, but it does talk about assessing and analyzing sources for things like misinformation or bias.

When we start to look at source types, we also need to look at and understand the concepts of quality thresholds and topical authority. 

I’ve talked about quality thresholds, and how they relate to indexing in previous articles I’ve written for Search Engine Land:

But when we relate this to SERP analysis, we can understand how and why Google is choosing the websites and elements it is to form the results page and also achieve an idea of how viable it may be to effectively rank for certain queries.

Having a better understanding of ranking viability helps with forecasting potential traffic opportunities and then estimating leads/revenue based on how your site converts.


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Defining source types

Defining source types means going deeper than just classifying the ranking website as informational or commercial, as Google also goes deeper.

This is because Google compares websites based on their type, and not just the content being produced. This is particularly prevalent in search results pages for queries that can have a mixed intent and returns results of both commercial and informational intent.

If we look at the query [rotating proxy manager] we can see this in practice in the top 5 results:

# Result Website Intent Classification Source Type Classification
1 Oxylabs Commercial Commercial, Lead Generation
2 Zyte Commercial Commercial, Lead Generation
3 Geek Flare Informational Informational, Commercial Neutral
4 Node Pleases Me Informational Open Source Code, Non-Commercial
5 Scraper API Informational Informational, Commercial Bias

Quality thresholds are determined by the website’s identity, general domain type (not just the blog subdomain or subfolder) and then context.

When Google retrieves information to compile a search results page, it will compare websites being retrieved first based on their source type group first. So in the example SERP, Oxylabs and Zyte will be compared first against each other, before the other source types elected for inclusion or that rank highest based on weighting and annotation. 

The SERP is then formed based on these retrieved rankings and then overlaid with user data, SERP features, etc.

At face value, by understanding the source types that Google is choosing to display (and where they rank) for specific queries we can know whether they are viable search terms to target given your source type.

This is also common in SERPs for [x alternative] queries where the business may want to rank for competitor + alternative compounds.

For example, if we look at the top 10 blue link results for [pardot alternatives]:

# Result Website Intent Classification Source Type Classification
1 G2 Informational Informational, Non-Commercial Bias
2 Trust Radius Informational Informational, Non-Commercial Bias
3 The Ascent Informational Informational, Non-Commercial Bias
4 Capterra (Blog) Informational Informational, Non-Commercial Bias
5 Jotform Informational Informational, Non-Commercial Bias
6 Finances Online Informational Informational, Non-Commercial Bias
7 Gartner Informational Informational, Non-Commercial Bias
8 GetApp Informational Informational, Non-Commercial Bias
9 Demodia Informational Informational, Non-Commercial Bias
10 Software Suggest Informational Informational, Non-Commercial Bias

So if you are Freshmarketer or ActiveCampaign, while the business may see this as a relevant search term to target, and it aligns with your product positioning, as a commercial source type you’re unlikely to gain Page 1 traction.

This doesn’t mean to say that having the messaging, and comparison pages on your website are not important pieces of content for user education and conversion.

Different source types have different quality thresholds

Another important distinction to make is that different source types have different thresholds.

This is why third-party tools that produce keyword difficulty scores based on a metric such as backlinks for all results on Page 1 have issues, as not all source types on the majority of SERPs are judged in the same way.

This means that in order to ascertain the “benchmark” for what it will take your website and content to get into a traffic-driving position, you need to compare against other websites with the same source types, and then the type of content that they’re ranking with.

Topic clusters and frequency

Establishing good topic clusters and having easy-to-follow information trees allow search engines to understand your website source type and “usefulness depth” with greater ease.

This is also why, in my opinion, for a number of queries in the same space (e.g., tech), you are likely to see websites akin to G2 and Capterra frequently for a broad range of queries. 

A search engine can have a greater level of confidence in returning these websites in the SERPs, regardless of the software/tech type, as these websites have:

  • High publishing frequencies.
  • A logical information tree.
  • Developed a strong reputation for helpful, accurate information

When developing webpages within the topic clusters, aside from semantics and good keyword research, it’s also important to understand the basics of natural language interfaces, particularly the Stanford Natural Language Inference (SNLI) corpus.

The basics of this are that you need to test the hypothesis against the text, and the conclusion is either that the text entails, contradicts, or is neutral against the hypothesis.

For a search engine, if the webpage contradicts the hypothesis, then it will have low value and shouldn’t be retrieved or ranked. Whereas if the webpage entails, or is neutral against the query, then it can be considered for ranking to both provide the answer and potential non-bias perspective (depending on the query).

We do this to an extent through content hubs/content clusters that have become more popular in the past five years as ways of demonstrating E-A-T and creating linkable, high-authority assets for non-brand search terms.

This is achieved through good information architecture on the website, and being concise in our topical clusters and internal linking, making it easier for search engines, at scale, to digest.

Understand source types to inform your SEO strategy

By better understanding the source types ranking most prominently for the target search queries, we can produce better strategies and forecasting that yield more immediate results.

This is a better option instead of driving toward search terms that we’re simply not appropriate for and won’t likely see a return in traffic against the resource investment.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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Dan Taylor is head of technical SEO at SALT.agency, a UK-based technical SEO specialist and winner of the 2022 Queens Award. Dan works with and oversees a team working with companies ranging from technology and SaaS companies to enterprise e-commerce.

4 dos and don’ts of a digital marketing apprenticeship

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Internships are a staple of early-day careers. Most companies will expect new hires to have some sort of internship experience after graduating college. For the most part, internships do a good job of taking care of college students and entry-level working professionals.

Digital marketing isn’t always an obvious career choice for those who are not in the conventional time in their careers for internships. Setting up budding marketers at different stages in life requires a bit more of a dynamic approach than “for credit” internships.  

Apprenticeships need to be structured in a way that honors the experience the new digital marketer has from other professional and life experiences, while still ensuring they get the foundations right. 

Here are the dos and don’ts of structuring a digital marketing apprenticeship to ensure you and your apprentice get the most out of working together. 

1. Do compensate your apprentice for their time 

Internships allow companies to “pay” for work in class credit. This enables brands who otherwise could not afford to take on budding digital marketers. 

Adults in the working world typically can’t use college credits. 

It’s also unreasonable to ask anyone to work for free. This includes investing the time to learn the craft. Coming up with a stipend of any size (even as little as $500 per month) can go a long way in:

  • Building confidence in your apprentice that they are worthy and they can build a career in digital marketing. Knowing you are earning from day one can help new practitioners push through the initial learning hump. 
  • Cultivating loyalty between the apprentice and the brand. One of the biggest “risks” of new hires is investing the time into someone who leaves in under a year. Starting your working relationship off by honoring their time and skills goes a long way in building trust that you will do right by your hire. 

Structuring compensation for marketing tasks can take many different forms. Whether you go with an hourly rate or a flat rate, it’s important that the rate doesn’t’ cause an operational burden.

For example, when I work with an apprentice, I sell their services specifically. The client knows they are getting someone learning, and they also get discounted access to an expert strategist.

If you work in-house, break down the tasks that your team currently are working on by hourly cost. An established member of the team will be more expensive to assign “grunt work” tasks. Freeing up 5-10 hours per week at a more expensive rate will help bottom line margins, while also facilitating a new marketer to get hands-on experience.  

2. Don’t set unrealistic timelines for your apprentice

Just as it’s important to compensate your apprentice for their work, it’s also important to pace their learning and working timelines. 

Gaining mastery of anything requires 10,000 hours and assigned tasks should support the learning process, not create opportunities to fail. 

When an apprentice is first learning, empower them to do tasks that follow up on any certifications you might have them take. It’s easy to forget the learning curve of jargon and developing efficient workflows in tools. Set them up with tasks that give them opportunities to learn in the way they learn best. 

Let the first week be about learning and getting comfortable in whatever part of digital marketing you’re structuring the apprenticeship around. Honor whether your apprentice does better learning by doing, reading, listening, or watching. 


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3. Do allow for two-way candid feedback on progress

We all want to do well and getting words of affirmation can be really helpful in overcoming imposter syndrome. That said if an apprentice is struggling, telling them they’re doing well when they’re not will create a shaky foundation.

Be transparent with your apprentice about the milestones you expect them to hit and how they’re pacing against your expectations. 

When working with an apprentice who is falling a little short, ask questions about how the process could serve them better. When I was first setting up internships and apprenticeships, I struggled to pace the amount of knowledge I’d attempt to impart and actually shut down their confidence. They took longer to get into the workflows than they would have had I allowed them to dictate the learning pace.

4. Don’t accept anyone as an apprentice

It’s important to remember that apprentice programs need to serve the brand just as much as they serve the apprentice. The criteria you look for in new hires should extend to your apprentice. 

Digital marketing requires certain core skills to succeed:

  • Analytical thinking: Being able to dig into the why behind the how. 
  • Empathy: Understanding why people do and think a certain way and being able to adapt to those subtleties.
  • Communication: Being able to articulate what is happening and empower stakeholders to buy into your strategy.

Creativity is needed, but not as mandatory in an apprentice. By removing the pressure to come up with creative, you will allow your apprentice to organically cultivate that skill as they work with the more technical skills. 

If you take on an apprentice with none of the core skills, it invites friction. When I look for apprentices I look for folks who demonstrate the skills I value in unconventional ways. For example, many of my most successful apprentices play MMO video games (which require a lot of data analysis and team development). It also helps that there’s a shared personal interest, so the manager relationship is friendlier and more accessible. 

Takeaways

Apprentice programs can be powerful ways of doing well by doing good.

Going the apprentice road vs. the conventional hire will require extra investment from you to set them up for success. However, the long-term benefits of cultivating an apprentice can ensure you have a team member just as invested in your success as you are. 

Finding a good apprentice requires you to know what you want and be open to finding them in unconventional places. It’s rewarding to see them light up as they gain mastery, and their work will be a source of pride.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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About The Author

A veteran of the digital marketing industry and “Top 25 PPC Expert,” she began as an SEO in 2008, transitioning to PPC in 2012. She manages the strategy and execution of paid media campaigns, as well as helping brands build relationships with profitable partners and customers. Throughout her career, Navah makes a point to give back and loves sharing lessons learned on the international speaking circuit as well as local universities. She is a frequent contributor to several publications and in 2019, she became a founding member of the Paid Search Association.

Webinar: If the customer is always right, your tech should be too

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According to a new survey from Forrester, 56% of your marketing peers plan to increase investment in advertising/marketing solutions over the next year. Where do they plan to invest?

Join this webinar to hear experts from AWS, Forrester, Merkle and Treasure Data discuss findings from the study about the state of customer experiences and the advertising and marketing technologies that influence your ability to meet customer expectations.

Register today for “If the Customer is Always Right, Your Technology Should be Too,” presented by AWS Marketplace.


Click here to view more Search Engine Land webinars.


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Cynthia Ramsaran is director of custom content at Third Door Media, publishers of Search Engine Land and MarTech. A multi-channel storyteller with over two decades of editorial/content marketing experience, Cynthia’s expertise spans the marketing, technology, finance, manufacturing and gaming industries. She was a writer/producer for CNBC.com and produced thought leadership for KPMG. Cynthia hails from Queens, NY and earned her Bachelor’s and MBA from St. John’s University.

More Google Ad incidents and issues

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The last few weeks have seen several problems with the Google Ads Manager, specifically affecting publishers and an incident dating all the way back to August 31.

The original issue. On August 31, Google reported an incident that “Google Ad Manager Historical Report stats are showing lower than expected for some networks. There’s no clear impact on Serving or Data Transfer at this point.”

Fast forward to this week. Yesterday Google reported an additional issue “We’re investigating reports of an issue with Google Ad Manager. We will provide more information shortly.  The affected users are able to access Google Ad Manager, but are seeing error messages, high latency, and/or other unexpected behavior.”

Additionally, they provided the following update from the August 31 incident “Ad Manager Reporting stats remains fixed with all new data since September 1st (PDT) being accurately reported. We are working on correcting the affected data (issue duration: August 30th, 8:00 PM PDT thru August 31st, 5:00PM PDT). Our current ETA to have it fixed is September 23rd.

We received reports from multiple Publishers where Line Items were under-delivered around September 15th and it might be related to this incident. Engineering is investigating and we will provide more details today.”

Later that day. Around 7 pm UTC Google reported “The Reporting workaround fix that was introduced on September 13th to mitigate the missing stats for this incident has impacted the budget extractor causing under-delivery in a few Line Items. A Serving fix has been issued and will be released shortly (expected EOD PDT). This issue potentially only affected Line Items that meet these two criteria:

1. Line Item has been active through the 8/31 (PDT) incident and after the 9/13 (PDT) workaround fix.

2. Line Item had one or more of the following specific changes made on or after the 8/31 (PDT) stats incident: date duration, the actual budget goal, and delivery speed.”

September 21. Today Google posted an update “We expect to resolve the problem affecting a majority of users of Google Ad Manager at Sep 24, 2022, 6:59 AM UTC. Please note that this time frame is an estimate and may change.  The affected users are able to access Google Ad Manager, but may not have access to the most recent data.

Dig deeper. To stay up to date on all Google Ad issues and outages, you can keep checking the status dashboard.

Why we care. These issues affect publishers and shouldn’t have any impact on advertisers. Furthermore, if you suspect an issue with Ads Manager or any other Google platform, let us know!


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Nicole Farley is an editor for Search Engine Land covering all things PPC. In addition to being a Marine Corps veteran, she has an extensive background in digital marketing, an MBA and a penchant for true crime, podcasts, travel, and snacks.

The Big, Easy Cheat Sheet to Google Ads Audience Targeting

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When you think of Google Ads targeting, you probably think of keywords. What you probably don’t think of right away is audiences: showing ads to people based on who they are rather than what they’re searching for.

google ads targeting - keywords vs audiences

Audiences are one of the most powerful and underutilized targeting strategies in Google Ads, and you can target audiences in Search, Display, Discovery, Video, and Shopping campaigns. (Performance Max campaigns use “audience signals,” which is for another post!)

In this post, I’m going to cover all of the Google Ads audience targeting options you have so you can determine which is right for your next campaign.

Table of contents

The easiest way to understand Google’s audience targeting capabilities is to divide them into four categories:

  1. Google’s audience segments
    Detailed demographics, in-market, affinity, life events.
  2. Your data segments
    Remarketing audiences, similar audiences.
  3. Custom segments
    Search term-based, website-based, app-based
  4. Other segments
    Combined segments, optimized targeting, audience expansion.

google ads audience targeting cheat sheet

Let’s explore each one in more detail.

1. Google’s audience segments

Google has four categories of “pre-packaged” audiences, which all advertisers have access to. This is the fastest, easiest way to get your feet wet with audiences.

Detailed demographic targeting

This type of audience targeting goes beyond the basic age/gender/parental status information to provide deeper targeting options based on life and career stages.

Examples:

  • Marital status: Married
  • Homeownership status: Renters

google ads targeting - detailed demographics

Affinity segment targeting

This refers to reaching people who have similar interests, hobbies, and habits. Generally, these are stable over time, and great for awareness marketing.

Examples:

  • Beauty mavens
  • Luxury travelers

google ads targeting - affinity segments

In-market segment targeting

In-market segments are people who are getting ready to purchase specific products or services. People are moved into and out of these categories based on their current shopping behavior, making them great for high-intent prospecting campaigns.

Examples:

  • SEO & SEM services
  • Trips to Singapore

google ads targeting - in-market segments

Life event targeting

As you can expect, this is to target people who are currently going through a significant life transition, such as graduating, getting married, or moving.

Examples:

  • Getting married soon
  • Recently added dog to household

2. Your data segments

Google has moved away from using the term “remarketing” and renamed this section “your data.” The euphemism is still accurate. Google remarketing (also known as retargeting) is when you show your Google ads to people who already have a relationship with your business.

This is one of the most common and generally most profitable paid ads tactics.

google ads targeting - your data segment targeting

Image source

Remarketing audiences

There are four types of remarketing audiences available in Google Ads:

  1. Website: a list of users who’ve interacted with your website
  2. App: a list of users who’ve interacted with your app
  3. YouTube: a list of users who’ve interacted with your YouTube channel/content
  4. Customer Match: a list of users who have given you their personal data (email, phone number, etc.), which you upload into Google Ads

For more help in this realm, Navah Hopkins provides some great remarketing campaign tips here.

Similar segment audiences

Also known as lookalikes or similar audiences, these are lists of users that exhibit similar online behavior to those on your remarketing lists.

For example, the users on a Similar segment generated from your Most Profitable Customers list would be people who are new to your business, and exhibit similar behavior and habits to your best customers, therefore are more likely to be interested in becoming your customers.

google ads targeting - similar segment example

Google Ads will automatically generate similar segments in your account when there is enough data on your remarketing list(s) to do so. This is a very powerful customer acquisition tactic.

3. Google Ads custom segments

Google offers a third kind of unique audience targeting called custom segments. This is a really fascinating intersection between Google’s data and your business that most people don’t think about. It lets you take other pieces of information that Google knows about people, but slices and dice sit in a way that’s unique to your business.

Within Google Ads custom audience targeting, you have three different options for audience creation:

  • The interests and products/services people are searching for
  • The types of websites people browse
  • The types of apps people use

Note that you can’t add custom segments to your Search or Shopping campaigns, but they are a great audience targeting option for Display, Discovery, and Video campaigns.

google ads targeting - custom segment example

For example, when I launched my Google Ads course, I created a custom segment of people who have searched for queries like google ads course, learn google ads, and google ads certification.

Then, I created a second custom segment of people who have apps like Google Ads or Meta Ads on their phone. I added both custom segments to a Video campaign, to reach new audiences who are likely to be interested in Google Ads training.

4. More Google Ads audience targeting

But wait, there’s more!

In addition to Google’s audience segments, your data segments, and custom segments, you have even more audience targeting capabilities in Google Ads.

Combined segment targeting

Google Ads combined segments lets you put together an audience of people who match multiple audience targeting requirements. Plus, a combined segment can contain a custom segment. The possibilities are endless!

For example, you can create a combined segment of people who are:

  • In-market for athletic shoes OR in-market for activewear
  • AND luxury shoppers
  • but NOT on my customer list OR website remarketing list

Optimized targeting

Finally, optimized targeting is how you can leverage Google’s machine learning to find new audiences who are likely to help you meet your business goals.

When you create a Discovery, Display, or YouTube campaign, you will automatically be opted into optimized targeting at the ad group level. The purpose of optimized targeting is to let the algorithms do what they do best, and find pockets of opportunity to get you a better CPA, ROAS, or whatever metric your bid strategy is optimized for (ergo, optimized targeting).

Note that optimized targeting is used in Display, Discovery and conversion-focused Video campaigns, while its “cousin,” audience expansion, is used in reach-focused Video campaigns.

Google Ads audience targeting cheat sheet

And that’s it! Here is a summary of all of the Google Ads audience targeting options we covered in this post.

google ads audience targeting cheat sheet

Google’s audience segments

  1. Detailed demographics
  2. Affinity segments
  3. In-market segments
  4. Life events

Your data segments

  1. Website remarketing
  2. App remarketing
  3. YouTube remarketing
  4. Customer Match
  5. Similar segments

Custom segments

  1. Search term-based
  2. Website-based
  3. App-based

Other

  1. Combined segments
  2. Optimized targeting
  3. Audience expansion

The post The Big, Easy Cheat Sheet to Google Ads Audience Targeting appeared first on WordStream.

TikTok will start banning political campaign fundraising

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TikTok will soon start requiring accounts that belong to U.S. government departments, politicians, and political parties to be verified. They’ll also ban any videos and content that call for fundraising. 

Fighting political misinformation. TikTok and its parent company ByteDance are working to shut down political misinformation in time for the midterm elections in November. Previously they had allowed that content and faced scrutiny from US lawmakers because of it. As a result, TikTok started banning political advertising in 2019.

Request verification. Political accounts can request verification and the platform will also take added steps to confirm the identity of any profiles they believe to belong to politicians or political parties.

Enforcing the ban. TikTok will update its policies to prohibit campaign fundraising. Accounts belonging to politicians and parties will automatically be prevented from accessing any ad features. Additionally, those accounts will also be banned from using money-making features available to influencers on the app such as digital payments and gifting.

Why we care. If you’re a politician or advertiser working on behalf of a politician, be aware of TikTok’s new policies. Politicians or political groups who try to fundraise on the app will be banned. 


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About The Author

Nicole Farley is an editor for Search Engine Land covering all things PPC. In addition to being a Marine Corps veteran, she has an extensive background in digital marketing, an MBA and a penchant for true crime, podcasts, travel, and snacks.

Facebook introduces Collaborative Ads for local delivery

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Facebook is rolling out Collaborative Ads for local delivery to help restaurants and grocery stores give people more ways to shop and order. The ads allow local businesses and packaged goods brands to display their products next to options for people to purchase.

Local delivery competition. Collaborative Ads for local delivery help brands and advertisers reach new customers by showing their products, restaurants, or grocery to new audiences on Facebook and Instagram.

Early testing. Meta reported that fast-food chain Wendy’s saw early success using Collaborative Ads for local delivery by reaching consumers who had shown previous interest in their products on Grubhub to drive high-value conversions.

A few helpful tips. Meta provides a few helpful tips to make the most of your Collaborative ads for local delivery.

  • Use the Catalog Sales objective for lower-funnel activities such as retargeting and high-intent targeting.
  • Use the Conversion objectives for prospecting activities such as targeting first-party audiences and general demographics that are important to your business.
  • Consistently test, learn, and monitor your campaign performance to see how your ads perform and make changes that align with your goals.
  • Negotiate access to Premium Options based on your business needs for Collaborative Ads with your retail partner. Premium Options by Collaborative Ads include extended audience retargeting, basket insights and retailer-customized audiences.

Dig deeper. You can read the announcement from Meta here. To get started with Collaborative Ads for local delivery, visit the setup guide.

Why we care. If you’re advertising for a local brand, grocer, or restaurant, consider setting up a Collaborative Ad for local delivery. Restaurants and brands should test the platform, regardless of whether they’re signed up with Uber, Grubhub, or other local delivery platforms.


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About The Author

Nicole Farley is an editor for Search Engine Land covering all things PPC. In addition to being a Marine Corps veteran, she has an extensive background in digital marketing, an MBA and a penchant for true crime, podcasts, travel, and snacks.

How Twitter uses Signals to help you discover more content, creators, and accounts

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Twitter recommendations are designed to help you “enrich your Twitter experience” by showing Tweets from people you may not follow, based on actions you take on Twitter such as liking, following, or retweeting.

How Twitter uses Signals. Twitter uses Signals to recommend new content. Signals include topics you follow, posts you’ve liked, accounts you follow, and Tweets that people in your network like.

Where recommendations appear. You’ll see recommendations in your Home timeline, as well as in the Explore tab. Recommendations show just below a small notification that says “You might like.”

Controlling your recommendations. If you don’t want to see a certain recommendation, you can select “Not interested in this Tweet/Topic” from the Tweet menu. If you like or Retweet a recommendation, it sends the signal that you find it interesting.

You can use the “sparkle” icon at the top right corner of your Home timeline. This icon lets you toggle between seeing top “For You” Tweets, which include recommendations from accounts and Topics you don’t follow, and “Latest” Tweets from only the accounts you do follow. 


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How Twitter improves recommendations. A new “X” design on Tweets makes it much easier to remove a Tweet from your Home timeline if you don’t want to see it.

Dig deeper. If you want to read the full blog post from Twitter, you can do so here.

Why we care. Browsing social media should be a seamless, hassle-free experience. You follow people you know, like, and trust because you want to see what they’re posting and because you’re interested in what they have to say. Seeing posts from accounts you don’t follow can be a nuisance if they’re not closely aligned with your beliefs and interests.

If you’re seeing too many posts you’re not interested in, try using the “Latest” feature to only see posts from accounts you already know. Or do like I do and “X” them all out.


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About The Author

Nicole Farley is an editor for Search Engine Land covering all things PPC. In addition to being a Marine Corps veteran, she has an extensive background in digital marketing, an MBA and a penchant for true crime, podcasts, travel, and snacks.

Walmart is now selling ads on TikTok, Roku, and Snap

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For the first time ever, Walmart is expanding its ad reach beyond its own ecommerce platform by powering ads on TikTok, Roku, and Snap. Walmart will also have the capability to measure any sales that come from those ads.

Expanding their ad business. Walmart has a $2 billion ad business and has been expanding tremendously, as of late. Their self-service Marketplace now allows advertisers and brands to promote their products by completing their enrollment in minutes, not days.

Walmart has also been increasing the number of ad tech companies and agencies that have access to their API. Walmart uses The Trade Desk as its ad platform, which allows advertisers and brands to use Walmart data to buy ads.


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On the heels of the competition. Kroger has already entered this market by fostering deals with Roku and Pinterest, and has extended its own ad business by working with tech partners PubMatic and Magnite.

Did deeper. Read the full announcement from Business Insider.

Why we care. Advertisers and retailers who are interested in Walmart’s audience should consider setting up an ad account and testing an ad campaign. Walmart also integrates with several ecommerce PPC management tools, so execution should be a breeze.


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About The Author

Nicole Farley is an editor for Search Engine Land covering all things PPC. In addition to being a Marine Corps veteran, she has an extensive background in digital marketing, an MBA and a penchant for true crime, podcasts, travel, and snacks.

Google’s September 2022 core update hit fast but was less significant than previous updates

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On September 12, Google began rolling out its second broad core algorithm update this year – the September 2022 core update. We are now several days into the update, and Google has decided to roll out another algorithm update before it is complete – the September 2022 product reviews update.

So we felt it was safe to look at the impact of the September 2022 core update at this time, as the September 2022 product reviews update is now rolling out. As a reminder, the September 2022 core update is not officially done rolling out yet.

Data providers on the September 2022 core update

So far, we have data from a few data providers, and the data seems to pretty much agree across them all. Both Semrush and RankRanger show that the September 2022 core update hit fast but was not as impactful as the previous core update, the May 2022 core update which we reported was fast and significant.

Semrush. Semrush data showed that the September 2022 core update hit pretty quickly after the announcement. In terms of its volatility tracker, as shown below (or you can view live at the Semrush Sensor tool). You can see, the sensor noticed a pick up in volatility on the 12 of September, which carried on through the 13th and started to dip down on the 14th.

Mordy Oberstein, Semrush Communication Advisor, told us “this update was far weaker overall than the May update which was weaker than the November update,” overall he said. He showed this chart comparing the updates:

With the September 2022 core update, Semrush noticed rank volatility increases relative to pre-update volatility fall off 53% as compared to the May 2022 Core Update. “For context, the November 2021 Core Update increases in rank volatility were 19% more drastic than the May 2022 Core Update. In other words, May was already significantly weaker than the update that preceded it and the September 2022 Core Update has been significantly weaker overall than that,” Mordy explained.

Here is a chart showing the difference by niche:

And if you just look at the “peak” data from Semrush, the September update looks much weaker than the May update:

During this update, about 15% of the top twenty results consisted of URLs that were previously ranking in the top twenty positions. If you compare that to just over 17% and just over 16% during the May 2022 Core Update and November 2021 Core Updates respectively. 

RankRanger. The RankRanger team also analyzed the Google search results after this September 2022 core update rollout and you can see how quickly their tool also picked it up (you can also see this live at the Rank Risk Index tool). RankRanger said the September 2022 core update resulted in “high levels of fluctuations.” You can see they also noticed the spike on September 13th, the day after the update was announced.

RankRanger noticed similar volatility between the September and May updates but said when you dig into the the top 3, top 5, and top 10 positions, you can see the September update showed fractionally less rank volatility than the May update.

This chart shows by month the average position change in Google Search:

This chart shows a comparison between the two updates:

Then RankRanger dug into each vertical to see the volatility by niche or vertical.

Now that RankRanger is owned by Similarweb, they have Similarweb data to show top winners and losers as well:

Moz. Moz publishes its Mozcast data that also showed also a spike on the day after the announcement, the 13th:

Dr. Pete Myers from Moz told us “there was moderately high volatility the first couple of days, but much like the helpful content update, no clear peak and that volatility is barely above 30-day averages right now.”

SISTRIX. SISTRIX, another data provider that tracks the changes in the Google search results, sent their top 20 winners and losers for the September 2022 core update. These are U.S.-based sites from Sistrix’s data set.

More on the May 2022 core update

The SEO community. The September 2022 core update was significant but not so much as the previous May 2022 core update. I covered the community reaction in one blog post on Search Engine Roundtable early on. It includes some of the early chatter, ranking charts and social shares from some SEOs.

On Twitter you can find plenty of examples of SEOs sharing charts from their clients – mostly showing winners but also showing losers – with this update.

What to do if you are hit. Google has given advice on what to consider if you are negatively impacted by a core update in the past. There aren’t specific actions to take to recover, and in fact, a negative rankings impact may not signal anything is wrong with your pages. However, Google has offered a list of questions to consider if your site is hit by a core update. Google did say you can see a bit of a recovery between core updates but the biggest change you would see would be after another core update.

Why we care. It is often hard to isolate what you need to do to reverse any algorithmic hit your site may have seen. When it comes to Google core updates, it is even harder to do so. What this data and previous experience and advice has shown us is that these core updates are broad, wide and cover a lot of overall quality issues. The data above has reinforced this to be true. So, if your site was hit by a core update, it is often recommended to step back from it all, take a wider view of your overall website and see what you can do to improve the site overall.

Hopefully, your company and your clients did well with this update.

More on Google updates

You can read more of our coverage in Search Engine Land’s Google Algorithm Updates history.


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Barry Schwartz a Contributing Editor to Search Engine Land and a member of the programming team for SMX events. He owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on very advanced SEM topics. Barry can be followed on Twitter here.

Why sales needs SEO more than ever

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Sales always has a voice. Revenues have to grow, and anything else is a failure.

But now, many companies have a near-death experience because the sales landscape has radically changed.

Years ago, a salesperson had a valuable Rolodex. The salesperson nurtured the relationships it represented with calls, visits and likely more. They met up at conferences, happy hours and golf outings. The biggest clients would even get invited to company parties and perhaps retreats.

Of course, the Rolodex has evolved into CRMs and the like. But now, it’s just not as useful. The value of a salesperson’s list of names is fundamentally gone.

What changed?

The COVID-19 pandemic suddenly forced salespeople to shift their behavior. They could not meet with clients in person anymore. They found that clients working remotely no longer have a receptionist who can personally hand them a message.

The names they carefully gathered no longer answer their phones. But people respond to email and voicemail messages infrequently.

Reaching someone is basically a game of tag until they quit or surrender.

As a result, relationships have often come to a screeching halt.

Sales networking just isn’t as valuable as it once was.

So a salesperson who used to depend on relationships, meetings, conferences and calls is suffering. And where salespeople still have a loud voice, that voice is now grumbling. The lead sources have dried up and their income is taking a beating.

Who’s to blame?

If sales can’t meet their numbers, everyone in the company is impacted. So Management looks to Sales and demands an explanation.

Of course, it is Marketing’s fault. Their job is to provide leads.

Or it’s Management’s fault. The company should have seen it coming.

Sales executives should have known that their outside sales force was going to suffer, and the company should have invested more heavily in digital lead management. They should have had a survival plan to target new prospects. They should have taken their website to new heights instead of relying on something about to die.

Most salespeople cannot spell SEO or PPC. They have never written content. So regarding the company website, they often have a “build it and they will come” expectation (after all, the internet is free, right?).

In their defense, for a long time, an outside sales force could be relied upon to grow revenues. The sales processes got results. Therefore, the “if it isn’t broken then don’t fix it” approach to marketing used to work.

They simply did not know.

So, surprise – your outside sales team is no longer effective.

  • They may be going to conferences, but attendance at events is still down by 75%. And the prospects who do attend are not decision-makers.
  • They may still be calling their (now old) contacts. More likely than not, these people have changed jobs. In any case, the contacts do not answer their calls.
  • Reaching out to former client companies doesn’t pan out either. The next regime has no idea who you are and certainly has no brand loyalty.

And so the business is suffering.


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What to do?

How do you solve the drying up of sales? The answer will vary. Or in the mantra of SEO, “It depends.”

Somehow you need to generate leads for your sales team. This takes sharpshooter precision, and you have many options depending on your budget. 

You can buy ads (PPC) and maybe earn some quick wins. 

You can buy into the “flood the web with content” approach, with or without a boost from influencers (it may not help, but hey, you have to do something). 

You could buy links (but steer clear of this – it’s the kiss of death). You could accept placed-elsewhere content as sold by snake oil SEOs.

Or you can decide that your survival depends upon doing it right.

The most valuable salesperson

So far, it is clear that the world is slow to recover from the impacts of the last few years. The remote work paradigm is not going away, and sales must adapt. Change is needed.

It is also clear that a cheap solution is money wasted. And in some industries, the outside salesperson is doomed if you cannot provide leads.

In today’s sales reality, your company website is your most important salesperson.

Do SEO as if your survival depends upon it.

And whatever you do, do not hire the cheapest solution, thinking there is no difference. There is a difference if you want to rank on the first page out of 10 million competitors for any keyword that matters. 

Here is my favorite analogy for generating leads: If you want to catch fish, you must use the bait the fish are biting and fish where the fish are. In practical terms:

  • Define the ideal fish – a suitable large-fish client, not always a whale.
  • Find a desired outcome that the ideal fish has been looking to solve.
  • Build a program that delivers those specific results for that ideal fish.
  • Find out where the ideal fish are hanging out and put an offer in front of them.
  • Convert the fish with a pressure-free, trusted expertise sales approach

Sounds simple, right?

What is simple is not always easy. An expert SEO consulting services company may be needed to help you get that message to a lot of fish. 

Then target others, rinse and repeat.

Bottom line, if you find that your leads are diminishing, it is likely because your website traffic is suffering. And that is best addressed with SEO.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


New on Search Engine Land

About The Author

Bruce Clay is the founder and president of Bruce Clay Inc., a global digital marketing optimization firm providing search engine optimization, PPC management, paid social media marketing, SEO-friendly site architecture, content development, and SEO tools and education.
Clay authored the book “Search Engine Optimization All-In-One For Dummies,” now in its fourth edition, and “Content Marketing Strategies for Professionals.” He wrote the first webpage-analysis tool, created the Search Engine Relationship Chart® and is credited with being the first to use the term search engine optimization. Bruce Clay’s renowned SEO training course is available online at SEOtraining.com.

SEM career playbook: Overview of a growing industry

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Digital marketing is a great career field. For more than two decades, digital marketing has been a growing field where individuals can thrive and build impressive careers.

The industry is always changing. But one thing that won’t change is that companies will continue to need smart people to manage their digital marketing initiatives. 

U.S. digital ad spending will continue to grow over the next five years, according to eMarketer research. By 2025, U.S. digital ad spending should reach approximately $315 billion. The rate of change is predicted to slow over the coming years, but the digital marketing industry should continue to provide a wide array of career opportunities. 

U.S. Digital Ad Spending, 2020-2025.

A recent study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows similar trends. Their report does not mention digital marketing specifically, but that data is included in this general report.

According to their 2021 data:

“Overall employment of advertising, promotions, and marketing managers is projected to grow 10 percent from 2021 to 2031, faster than the average for all occupations. About 35,300 openings for advertising, promotions, and marketing managers are projected each year, on average, over the decade.”

The economy is on shaky ground right now. A recession seems to be looming, but no one knows exactly what will happen.

Even if the next 12-18 months are challenging from a macroeconomic viewpoint, the opportunities within the digital marketing industry should continue to thrive. 

Such opportunities can lead you to a small or large agency, an in-house team, your own shop as an individual contractor, and the list goes on. Throughout a career in this field, you will likely find yourself in various roles for a number of organizations. 

The career path of someone in search engine marketing (SEM) will likely move from junior to senior roles.

Let’s explore how many of these roles are structured and how your SEM career might take shape. Your path is unique, but these are guidelines for the industry right now. 

Entry-level/junior SEM roles

Most people will start their career in any field with an entry-level position. The same goes for the digital marketing industry. Many folks will land their first job out of college with a digital agency or in-house with a marketing team.

Also, individuals move into digital marketing from other departments within an organization as well. For example, moving from product development/management to digital marketing. 

These roles often do not require an extensive amount of experience with digital marketing. Most employers will not expect a great deal of experience but they will be looking for individuals with:

  • A drive to excel.
  • An aptitude to learn.
  • A strong ability to communicate. 

The expected duration in each role will depend on where you work.

Some employers promote people faster than others. More aggressive progression is positive if you want to move quickly between roles.

However, if you move too quickly, you will not have time to develop and master the skills that will build toward your next role. On average, individuals will serve in entry-level roles for 12-18 months before being promoted. 

Tasks and responsibilities

The tasks entry/junior level team members complete often focus on supporting more senior members of the team. These duties include:

  • Creating reports.
  • Conducting QA checks.
  • Building SEM campaigns.
  • Monitoring account performance.
  • Attending training sessions and acquiring certifications.
  • Taking meeting notes.
  • Other foundational tasks.

Titles and roles 

There are an endless number of potential titles within the SEM field for each step along your digital marketing career journey. 

There is usually a channel signifier within the title, such as:

  • Digital
  • Search
  • Social
  • SEO
  • Display
  • Paid search
  • Paid social
  • Programmatic 

The second component of titles is the role/seniority. For entry-level roles, you can expect titles like:

  • Associate
  • Specialist
  • Coordinator
  • Strategist
  • Assistant 

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Experienced SEM roles

On average, once someone has 18-24 months of experience in SEM and digital marketing, they are ready to transition to a more experienced role.

Similar to many other industries, just because you may have gained experience and even gotten a promotion, that doesn’t mean you won’t be responsible for certain entry level-tasks. 

A more experienced role within a company will start to contribute to relationships inside and outside the company. Individuals with more experience often help train and oversee junior team members. This doesn’t mean experienced individuals manage entry-level positions – a responsibility usually reserved for the next level of career progression. 

Again, the duration of these experienced roles will vary per company. On average, you can expect to be in a similar position for approximately 12-24 months.

I know most folks are pumped to move to the next level of their careers, but make sure to master every role you occupy before transitioning into the next role. Even though it is tempting to move more aggressively, be sure to build a strong foundation for your career during these critical fundamental times. 

Tasks and responsibilities

When you are in a more experienced SEM role, you will take on more responsibility and ownership within your team, whether you are in an agency or in-house. 

Experienced roles are often seen as experts at execution and QA within accounts. These are the folks who have been in the nitty-gritty with accounts and are ready to be seen as activation leaders. These duties include:

  • Account management
  • Large campaign builds
  • Meeting agenda management
  • Running partial or all client/internal meetings
  • Project management
  • Task delegation

Titles and roles

Similar to entry-level roles, there is a channel signifier as part of the title. Again, those signifiers could include: 

  • Digital
  • Search
  • Social
  • SEO
  • Display
  • Paid search
  • Paid social
  • Programmatic 

The second element of these titles will be position/seniority. You can expect to see titles such as:

  • Manager
  • Strategist
  • Partner

Senior SEM roles

Senior roles in SEM and digital marketing begin to own entire client engagements or in-house programs. Individuals in these roles guide:

  • Overall strategy.
  • Internal and external communication.
  • Client relationship building.
  • Budget planning.
  • Cross-channel management.
  • Complex attribution.
  • Team management.

Folks in these roles are seen as senior members of their media activation team. 

With 3-4 years of experience, individuals in these roles often shift into team management as well. They often strike a balance between:

  • Account management.
  • Client communication.
  • Strategy development.
  • Management of a small team.

I think this is where position duration begins to vary much more significantly between companies. The duration of the senior SEM role could be 18-36 months. This sounds like a long time, but this is also when entirely new skills are acquired and mastered. 

Tasks and responsibilities

Transitioning into a senior role in SEM is a difficult balancing act. Often, you still need to complete tasks from the two prior roles. This happens because you need to fill a junior position or you need to cover for someone who is out of the office.

However, you have management responsibilities as well. These responsibilities can include:

  • Cross-channel strategy.
  • Media planning.
  • Budget forecasting.
  • Owning internal/external communications.
  • Team management.
  • Driving methodology in media campaigns.

Titles and roles

Similar to the other positions, titles and roles can vary between companies. You can expect to see titles such as:

  • Senior manager
  • Lead
  • Director
  • Senior director

Leadership SEM roles

Leadership roles in SEM and digital marketing mean:

  • Managing a team of digital marketers.
  • Understanding macro-level trends within the industry.
  • Guiding high-level cross-channel campaign strategy.
  • Owning internal/external stakeholder relationships, staffing and resource planning. 

Tasks and responsibilities

Leadership roles are higher-level and begin to focus on strategy and development. Individuals in these roles have to be able to see what the team needs in order to deliver excellent SEM results. 

Communication is one of the most important elements of a leadership role. You need to be able to communicate with entire teams, clients, C-level executives, and individually with team members. Responsibilities in this could include:

  • High-level account strategy.
  • Setting objectives and KPIs.
  • Cross-channel media planning.
  • Budget planning and scenario forecasting.
  • Team management.
  • Team member development.
  • Staff planning and hiring decisions.
  • Mentoring junior team members.

Titles and roles 

Leadership titles in SEM vary widely depending on each company. 

Here are a few titles you should expect to see for these roles: 

  • Director
  • Senior director
  • Executive
  • Vice president 

Navigating your SEM career

We could not cover every potential role and title in the SEM industry. Hopefully, this gives you a framework for wherever you are in your career path.

In my next article, we’ll construct a plan to help you be an awesome SEM team member, learn as much as possible throughout your career, develop new skills along your journey and build an amazing career in SEM.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


New on Search Engine Land

About The Author

Joseph Kerschbaum is Senior Vice President of Search & Growth Labs for 3Q Digital. During his 20 years of experience in digital marketing, Joseph has worked with businesses of every size from SMBs to enterprise-scale. Joseph has been a regular speaker at digital marketing conferences for over a decade. Joseph is co-author of the Wiley/Sybex book, “Pay-Per-Click SEM: One Hour a Day,” which was published in 2010. For the past four years, Joseph hosted a podcast, 3Q Digital Download, where he discussed digital marketing strategies with industry leaders.