Local search marketing is key for any location but when faced with a competitive market, it’s essential that you have strategies to help you stand out.
The closer the user is to a location, the more likely it will rank. However, in denser areas, a location will face more competition.
By accelerating efforts around Google My Business (GMB) and location page management, a location’s relevance and prominence can increase a business’s rankings resulting in increased local visibility, especially in competitive markets.
In this post, we will break down strategies for both GMB and location pages to drive more local business.
Rio SEO simplifies complex local marketing by empowering enterprise brands with solutions that engage customers throughout the search ecosystem. Our Open Local Platform powers the marketing solutions that multi-location brands need to establish a local presence and connect with customers.
I’m about to commit web content suicide with a long-winded introduction that doesn’t just get right to the actionable takeaways you’ll get by reading this article.
Wanna watch a car wreck?….
I never really thought I had much to say about brand marketing or creating brand identity. That’s why I never really wrote about it before. It’s not because, if I’m honest with myself, that I have nothing to say. My failure to share what I think is a very important perspective on a topic so many people fail to understand comes from a personal failure of my own. I often fail to realize the value that I have. I generally feel that my knowledge is limited, that the learning of one thing just means there’s even more to learn. It’s a double-edged sword. The trait allows me to constantly push myself, but it also means I gloss over my own strengths. It usually takes someone else to notice a certain level of expertise within me that I end up partly believing it myself.
That’s what happened when a few folks at different times described my career in terms of helping to build the Rank Ranger brand. Until that moment I never really thought about sharing my views on brand building and even now I don’t consider myself an “expert.” But I did start to concretize and formalize my thoughts on brand building as a result. So if you’re still reading after that longwinded introduction, here’s what I think brand building really is at its very core (and why we fail so badly with it).
What I Think Brand Identity Is Not
Sometimes the easiest way to explain a hard concept is by explaining what it isn’t. When trying to put my thoughts on what I think brand building is and what brand identity is at its core, I felt like I was jumping too many steps. It felt that the impact of my outlook was getting watered down and glossed over. So I’m going to start with some of the common misconceptions around brand identity that I see out there.
I didn’t get this list from some other post from whatever site. These may not be the top 5 most common misconceptions about brand identity. These are what I think to be the latent underpinnings of some of the brand-building I see going on out there.
It’s Not an Association
More often than not, and I’m guilty of the same, I see brands trying to build associations. I see them trying to get consumers to associate them with traits like trust, reliability, competency, and the like. This is not brand building and in my opinion, has very little to do with brand identity.
This is getting the user over the final hurdle of clicking the Pay button once they have already connected with your brand’s identity but still think of you as some cold and untrustworthy machine and not a living entity. Building associations around trust and authority, to me, are about getting rid of that final fear when the charade that a brand can even have an identity (more on that later) falls away. (That’s not to say there are not other reasons driving consumer anxiety.) When the facade of your brand falls, you need one last thing to get the user to open their wallets and that’s the notion that many others have done so and only with positive results.
Positive sentiment is not an identity. It wouldn’t be for us as people and it, therefore, is not for your brand either.
It’s Not a Personality
This is the easiest trap in the world to fall into. Giving your brand some pizzaz and charisma is not an identity. If someone defined you by your charm and charisma would they be doing you justice? If you said yes you’re just vapid. Giving off the impression that your brand is fun-loving, beyond just being shallow, has very little to do with identity per se.
I get the notion. It’s the idea of channeling your inner-identity through your brand. And I’m not saying that’s bad per se, nor am I saying that there’s no impact from that sort of thing. I’m just saying that I don’t see that as building brand identity… at all.
To me, that’s like saying a piece of furniture has a personality. Furniture definitely has personality. A really well-crafted intricate piece of furniture channels the inner-creativity of its designer. But would you say that furniture has an identity? Let’s not mix up the concept of personality with the concept of identity. Sure, your brand comes off like a well-tanned surfer having the time of their life, but you still don’t have any identity, not even close.
If People Have Identity Then Your Brand Needs to be a Person
I want to dispel the most common myth about brand identity, namely that brands have any. A brand cannot have an identity. It’s like the spoon in the Matrix, the sooner you realize the truth that there is no brand identity the sooner you’ll be able to craft one.
I’m going to leave you hanging with what I mean here for a few moments. I think again that here too I need to build up to what I’m talking about and how I see things. I need to offer my “brand identity weltanschauung” for what I just said to make any sense at all.
When Brand Identity Works
Why do we try to create sentiment around our brands? Why do we try to give them personality? It’s because we recognize truth which is that brand identity is the manifestation of the brand as an actual person. There is a certain precognitive reality we’re all aware of. We all know, deep down, that only people have an identity (animals as well, but we’re not trying to channel our inner- when building our brand’s identity).
What we do then is try to inadequately superimpose an identity onto our brands. We do this by creating sentiment, user associations, brand personality, etc. The truth is that no attempt at superimposing identity will work.
What does work? Tying your brand to a person. I want to showcase some examples of this concept in the wild so as to help advance my earlier proposition that a brand per se cannot have an identity.
Here are some that stuck out to me:
1) Nike: As much as I hate his guts, New England Patriots head coach showed me Nike’s true power by naming his after the brand. I didn’t catch it at first because when I heard his ’s name was Nike it didn’t phase me. But then it hit me. Why didn’t it phase me? I mean if someone named their Reebok or Adidas I definitely would have thought that was bizarre.
It’s because Nike is represented by a person whereas Reebok and Adidas are not.
I understand why you’re looking at me sideways. Nike isn’t represented by a person. There is no one person who is the spokesperson of Nike. There is no one person who carries the identity of their brands on their backs.
No, there is no one person. There are many.
When I was a kid (and still to this day) Nike meant Michael Jordan to me. Perhaps to the current generation, it means Colin Kapernick or whomever.
What Nike does is take the top athletes in the world and use them to manifest their brand. In return there is a sharing of identity, Michael Jordan becomes associated with Nike but Nike also becomes a part of who Michael is. There is identity symbiosis. Except Nike doesn’t do this with one person. They’ve used multiple athletes, each representing what it means to be the generation’s top talent, to create an aggregate identity of being a champion.
That is, Nike gets its identity as being a champion not from itself, but by borrowing it from the real people who manifest and represent the brand. They use what I’ll call a multiple representative model to siphon identity from its ambassadors. [For the record, I think using spokespeople is a poor man’s version of the concept I’m laying out here.]
As I said earlier, there is no brand identity (inherently).
2) Disney: I could have used 100 different examples to showcase the use of fictional characters so as to build brand identity. From McDonald’s (Ronald McDonald) to Planters (Mr. Peanut) nothing beats the mouse when it comes to building brand identity. Disney has used its Mickey Mouse to portray the brand as creative, entertaining, and downright magical!
Having already stated the above with Nike, the concept here isn’t hard. Instead of using actual people to represent who your brand is, you can use a fictional character. The point remains the same, in order to create identity Disney borrows it from a character it created itself.
[Mascots and gimmicky characters are the poor man’s version of this identity construct.]
Fictional or not, the concept is the same, there is no brand identity, there are only “people.”
3) Sports Teams: I know that how sports teams portray identity is very similar to how Nike does. However, the nuance in one of the major ways a sports team builds identity, I think, is the most parallel to how your average brand builds identity.
In sports, there’s a term called a franchise player. This player is so good, and is so popular, that they become the face of the franchise. Over time, the players come to represent who the team is.
Take the New York Yankees. If you asked a fan (such as myself) who are the Yankees you’d get answers like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe Dimaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Derek Jeter. In other words, you would get people. We identify our teams by the players who have played for them. If many of these players are successful over a long period of time, we might come to define the franchise as “winners.” In others, whether as a loser or a winner, any identity the team has comes from the people who represent it over time.
Not to go too far down a sports wormhole, but take Derek Jeter who I just mentioned above. Jeter, while not my favorite Yankee player growing up (I had an affinity for The Warrior, Paul O’Neil) he was who I thought of when I thought of the Yankees (still is actually). People say that Jeter personified what it meant to “be a Yankee” via his amazing play and purely humble personality.
The truth is, to a large extent it’s the other way around. Jeter, by being both great and humble, defined the Yankees (as we know them now). He gave the Yankees an identity via his own. Babe Ruth, the all-time Yankee great was not known for being calm and humble, the man was a 1920’s version of John Belushi in Animal House. Jeter’s personality was captivating and as part of his inherent ties to the team, he lent that identity to the franchise.
Why? Because only people have identities, not brands.
(I’ll come back to how this closely mirrors how most brands truly build identity.)
Why Does ‘Brand as a Person’ Work?
I can’t see a way to relate to identity without speaking or thinking of the concept philosophically. If you want to speak to the meta issue preventing brands from truly creating an identity, the lack of taking the issue to its natural philosophic implications would be it. Perhaps philosophical is the wrong word, I mean existential really (which, of course, is a branch of philosophy).
The question to me isn’t why does brand identity work when it does, but why does identity work? Why do we feel like we need identity altogether? What is so troubling to us about a corporation or a company simply being corporate? Why do we need to humanize the brand with identity?
I don’t intend to deeply answer these questions here. I only want to point out that the way I see things, there is a very primordial drive at work here, the drive to connect. For whatever reason, we want to connect with brands, and brands want to connect with us. We want to connect with they who provide for us. This is very parental, isn’t it?
Connection is only possible with something that has vitality, with something that has an identity. Only people have identities (again, I’m leaving animals out of this for now, so everyone who owns a , please keep it cool). There’s something captivating about the depth and recesses of identity. Identity is synonymous with “being” and “being” is ineffable, which makes it simply captivating.
But what if you try to superimpose identity onto something that has none? What if you try to animate that which has no life? Wouldn’t that be tantamount to idolatry?
Isn’t that what we do when we try to give a brand, which is an inanimate (perhaps ethereal) object, identity? Trying to superimpose identity onto a brand, to me, is a form of marketing idolatry. It might work a bit, but it’s very easy to unmask.
That’s why I feel there is no alternative to using “people” to build a brand’s identity because only people possess the commodity. I think that’s why you see brand’s that siphon identity in this way become in a sense legendary. These brands have given their consumers the ability to connect.
Brands parading around an endless stream of artificial personality are about as connective as the wooden puppets they actually are. Whereas brands that borrow their identity from genuine sources have tremendous lasting power, as the impression they make speak to us in a totally different way. We identify with these brands as the people who represent them, not the constructs some marketers are fabricating behind the scenes.
Where Your Brand Identity Construction Begins
I think you already know what I’m going to say here. It’s not hard to see. Still, I have to verbalize it nonetheless. While you could hire world-class athletes to represent your brand and while you could rely on a captivating piece of fiction as well, I think you know where your brand’s identity should come from… you and the people you work with.
The brands I see out there that really resonate with me, are the ones where the people who work there take a public role on social media, within their content, and so forth. And I’m not talking about a post on Twitter showing how much fun the staff is having. That to me comes off as being cheap. I’m talking about instances where the brand puts their people out there front and center, offers opportunities for interaction, and showcases their thoughts, ideas, and success!
To bring it full circle, this model of brand identity is pretty much what works for sports franchises. Which again, is why I highlighted the paradigm above. Instead of star players, a company can build identity for itself by showcasing star employees. Just as a team siphons identity from its franchise players, a brand can borrow everything that the people who work for them represent.
In truth, that’s all I’ve done with my own brand identity efforts. I’ve tried to become a reliable source of information, ideas, and insights and I’ve tried to inject a bit of personality into it all. In the process, I’ve been able to infuse Rank Ranger with a part of my own persona (of course, Rank Ranger’s identity goes well beyond my own). That is, I’ve worked to try to introduce folks to our brand through me as a person so that when someone interacts with me and hopefully sees me as responsive or engaging or insightful they’ll feel that they will get the same with Rank Ranger.
The beauty of this is that there’s perfect symmetry. When using your own team members to build identity none of the false pretenses of a celebrity for hire comes with it. Michael Jordan is not driving Nike with the same ambition that he used to drive to the hoop. However, Jessica from marketing who is part of the public face of your company is!
Before You Leave…
Brand identity as sourced in people is the convergence of two entities (the person and the brand) so that the sharing of identity can take place. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who will disagree with me. All I’m really trying to do here is share my personal outlook on the topic. Of course, elements like product identity and how a company behaves in the real world play a role in a brand’s identity. I’m not denying that in what I have said here. Rather, I’m pointing out my belief that aspects such as a strong product identity are either sources in “person” identity or only have any legs to stand on when attached to a person and their identity.
Again, these are just my musings on how I think about brand identity. Nothing less, nothing more. Take ’em for what they are!
About The Author
Mordy is the official liaison to the SEO community for Wix. Despite his numerous and far-reaching duties, Mordy still considers himself an SEO educator first and foremost. That’s why you’ll find him regularly releasing all sorts of original SEO research and analysis!
The holiday season is quickly approaching, and undoubtedly, your holiday local marketing strategy likely looks different than it did a few years ago. While the pandemic continues to affect business operations, early predictions for the holidays show it won’t have a heavy impact on sales.
Sales are anticipated to rise 2.7% compared to 2020, with e-commerce sales predicted to rise an impressive 11.3%. Considering an increase in sales this holiday season, your brand must be armed with sound tactics to stand out from your competition and streamline the customer experience.
To help you propel your holiday local marketing strategy, we assembled a panel of digital marketing and SEO experts from three leading performance marketing agencies to discuss how consumer behavior has shifted, what brands must take into consideration to keep up with current trends, and where to allocate your budget this holiday season.
Our panelists included:
Richard Mastriani, Vice President of SEO at Performics
Here are the key takeaways our panelists shared during the webinar.
Anticipate Accelerated Digital Adoption
Digital adoption became imperative at the onset of the pandemic. As most customers were forced to purchase household necessities and other items solely online when COVID-19 first wreaked havoc, consumers of all demographics have now largely accepted e-commerce. In fact, e-commerce sales continue to experience strong growth, rising by about 30% year over year.
During the webinar, we polled our audience to learn what channel they anticipate will drive the most sales this holiday season. A resounding 42% of the audience said they anticipate their business’ website will drive the majority of their sales this holiday season. 21% of the audience also indicated that the majority of their sales would come from social media. As evidenced by our poll results, digital channels should continue to be prioritized this holiday season and beyond.
Digital KPIs to Track to Measure Success
As Joe mentioned in the webinar, having a firm understanding of how users interact or travel through your site, the time they spend on your site, how many pages they view per session, and where users are exiting are key KPIs to consider when refining your digital efforts. These insights can help you discover:
Popular products to highlight or discount
What customers are most interested in
Where you need to optimize your on-page content
Where to spend your advertising dollars
Opportunities for search engine optimization
What pages are driving the most leads
How to make your conversion funnel more seamless
Create an Optimal Omnichannel Experience
As our panel shares, omnichannel marketing is growing and must be prioritized. 60 to 70 percent of consumers shop/research both in-store and online, and this figure continues to grow year over year. Additionally, despite the Delta variant, almost half of US consumers say they are reverting to normal behavior outside their homes, such as in-store shopping.
Every channel, whether customers are shopping online from a desktop or mobile device, your social media accounts, or in a brick-and-mortar store, must be equally optimized this holiday season.
As customers seek your business through multiple channels, you must not only be present but should also be prepared to present consistent messaging across each one. For example, if a customer sees your Google My Business (GMB) listing display special hours for the holidays, your local landing page for that location should also have these same holiday hours. Our panel reiterates that providing an exceptional customer experience is key, as modeled by Google who continues to optimize its products and services to improve its user experience.
Be Ready To Engage Where Customers Are Reaching Out
Given early predictions for increased online shopping this holiday season, providing exceptional customer service will play a pivotal role in building brand loyalty. As technology continues to accelerate and more consumers are turning to digital, businesses must be prepared to engage with customers at multiple touchpoints.
Our panel anticipates consumers will expect responses from businesses across a multitude of different channels, such as social media, apps or via your GMB listing. Prepare your teams in advance for the influx of customer service requests to come this holiday season and ensure you have the staff on hand to meet customers where they are reaching out to your business.
To reduce the level of inquiries your company receives, share answers to frequently asked questions on your landing pages. This may include information on shipping timeframes, any delays in shipping, when to order items in order to arrive by Christmas, as well as health and safety information.
Personalize the Sales Journey
66 percent of consumers expect a business to understand their needs and expectations. 79% of 35-54 year olds say they don’t mind seeing ads when they feel personalized to their interests and needs. This research proves that understanding customers’ needs, as well as going above and beyond their expectations, are becoming common practices to surpass the competition. If you aren’t personalizing your offers for your customers, you risk losing sales. In fact, 52% of customers expect offers to always be personalized, which is up nearly 50% from 2019.
Our panel suggests personalizing your sales journey through paid media, including retargeting ads on social sites. Additionally, adding offers, events, hours, and other pertinent information relevant to each location’s local listing and local landing page also adds an element of personalization.
Create a Google Post to showcase offers, events, COVID-19 Information, and products
Our Experts’ Final Recommendations
“Get your advertising and content ready now, or even earlier next year, for the holidays. Using a vendor or an agency can help ensure your offers, products, and information is updated across all channels.” – Richard Mastriani, Vice President of SEO at Performics
“Repeat your messaging often, especially with an elongated shopping season.” – Joe Sperzel, Group Director of SEO at Horizon Media
“It’s never too late to learn about what you can improve upon next year. When the holiday ends, it’s time to start preparing for next year. You always have to be planning.” – William Álvarez, Director, Organic Search at Catalyst Digital
Want more in-depth insights? Watch the full webinar now!
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Google’s web search algorithm doesn’t care what’s in an image. All that matters is it’s marked up with the correct structured data.
Whether it’s an award-winning photograph, or a blank square, it’s all the same in terms of the SEO value it adds to the page.
This is discussed during the Search Central SEO hangout with Google’s John Mueller recorded on October 22.
A site owner named Andrew Sychev joins the Q&A to ask Mueller about using placeholder images in conjunction with lazy loading.
Sychev has his site set up to load images further down a page as grey squares until a visitor starts scrolling.
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When a visitor gets closer to where the image is located on the page, the grey square is replaced with an actual photo.
This is done to improve page speed and to prevent a page from shifting around in a visitor’s browser, which may happen when a bunch of images are loaded all at once.
Since Googlebot doesn’t interact with web pages, and therefore won’t see the images, Sychev asks if there’s any harm in using this set up.
While this question relates to using lazy loading as a way of improving cumulative layout shift (CLS), the answer given by Mueller applies to SEO in general.
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Would using your own photos add more SEO value to a page than using generic stock images?
Can Google recognize when an image contains useful data, such as a chart or an infographic?
These are all questions that come up around images and web search— and here’s the answer.
Google’s John Mueller On Images & Web Search
As it relates specifically to web search, not image search, Google doesn’t care what’s in your photos.
Google’s only concerned about signals such as structured data and alt text.
That’s what’s important to web search as it can help Google understand the page better.
“I don’t think we care, to be quite honest. I don’t think for web search we look at the specific images on the page and say oh this is a nice image and this is a boring image.
We basically use those images in image search and that’s where we care what the content of the images care. But within web search we don’t really care if it’s a gray square or if it’s a picture of a beach.”
To answer the original question, substituting images for grey squares in a lazy loading setup would be perfectly fine.
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Mueller reiterates that structured data communicates all the information Google needs.
“It sounds okay. I think for the core web vital side, the CLS side, that’s something you can test where you try it in one way or the other way. With regards to indexing what is important is that we have information about the images on those pages.
So what you can do if you’re not sure if your lazy loading is recognized by Google is use the image structured data. On the pages themselves, give us the structured data for those images and then we can definitely pick that up.”
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Keep in mind this information is applicable to Google’s web search algorithm only. What’s in an image does matter to the Google Images algorithm.
More important than that— it matters to visitors.
While Google may not care about the work you put into crafting the perfect graphic for a piece of content, your visitors will.
Images can impact how a person feels after consuming a piece of content. If the images made a difference to how much they enjoyed it, then they’re probably going to come back.
A press release is perfect for when your company wants to recognize certain milestones like an important hire, revamped website, new service/product line, etc. While press releases aren’t specifically designed to help with your SEO, they can help generate valuable backlinks.
Each of our full-service press release packages include a professionally written 500-word press release, distribution service, media outreach, display features and social media functionality.
[+] Bronze PR Package: 5 industry categories, Google/Bing/Yahoo search engine pickup, submission to news partners (e.g. Digital Journal, Financial Content, Frankly Media, etc.), anchor text & formatting, 50+ premium news sites, journalists & bloggers, exclusive industry news websites, and 50+ placement locations.
[+] Silver PR Package: 8 industry categories, Google/Bing/Yahoo search engine pickup, submission to news partners (e.g. Digital Journal, Financial Content, Frankly Media, etc.), anchor text & formatting, 80+ premium news sites, journalists & bloggers, exclusive industry news websites, 80+ placement locations, sent to Associated Press (AP) sites (e.g. NY Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, AP Newsroom with 30K+ journalists access), add your Facebook & Twitter feed, add (1) YouTube video, add a block quote, and next-day distribution.
[+] Gold PR Package: 10 industry categories, Google/Bing/Yahoo search engine pickup, submission to news partners (e.g. Digital Journal, Financial Content, Frankly Media, etc.), anchor text & formatting, 125+ premium news sites, journalists & bloggers, exclusive industry news websites, 125+ placement locations, sent to Associated Press (AP) sites (e.g. NY Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, AP Newsroom with 30K+ journalists access), sent to database of 3K+ US newspapers and 1,500 magazines, add your Facebook & Twitter feed, 24/7 press release Twitter, add (1) YouTube video, add a block quote, and next-day distribution.
[+] Platinum PR Package: 10 industry categories, Google/Bing/Yahoo search engine pickup, submission to news partners (e.g. Digital Journal, Financial Content, Frankly Media, etc.), anchor text & formatting, 200+ premium news sites, journalists & bloggers, exclusive industry news websites, 250+ placement locations, sent to Associated Press (AP) sites (e.g. NY Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, AP Newsroom with 30K+ journalists access), sent to database of 3K+ US newspapers and 1,500 magazines, add your Facebook & Twitter feed, 24/7 press release Twitter, add (1) YouTube video, add a block quote, and next-day distribution.
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Is Search as Journey Effective? [00:03:53 – 00:19:54]
Last week, we talked about how Google is very likely to go product heavy and how that leaves searchers looking for information prior to buying in the lurch. Today, we’re going to look at this from the perspective of Google needing to take Search as a Journey out of infancy.
Search as a Journey, born in the fall of 2018, was meant to get the user to where they want to go and guide them along the way. And it hasn’t exactly done that yet!
To recap, last week, we discussed how PLAs are showing up before the informational results for informational commerce queries. In this instance, Mordy said the solution is for Google to make sure that the Research Carousel is always, or almost always, above the fold.
The problem is, Mordy believes this sort of problem is not only related to certain commerce queries but that it is systemic.
We talked last week about how Google has conflicting goals at times. In specific, Google’s need to push products on the main SERP to support shopping puts it at **** with what’s best for a certain and prominent demographic of users.
Well, Mordy thinks that that very problem along with Google’s push for answers puts it at **** with Search as a Journey, or at least a vital component of it. The problem puts Google at **** with the accessibility of deeper, more targeted, and overall more substantial content! Why? Because there are not a lot of access points to that content.
For example, the “Interesting Finds” feature you would think would show you deeper content, but not, it just shows the same kind of thing you see in the organic results. It’s literally the same URLs far too often.
In a lot of ways, and here’s the problem, Google is incentivizing the creation of highly-detailed and highly-nuanced content. For example, SERP filters that point the user towards more specific content and the lack of opportunity for your average site to rank for top-level content (because you’re competing with super authorities) all push for the creation of deeper and more specific content. Even answers on the SERP incentive you to write deeper content as they eliminate a lot of the opportunity to drive traffic with top-level content.
But at the same time, you have very little access via the SERP to this deeper sort of content. That’s what we saw with products last week. The access points, even on informational commerce queries, play a strong second fiddle to PLAs, product carousels, etc. Even on SERPs filled with answers, information, and top-level content the access points to deeper content is not there. How is Google supporting Search as a Journey if it’s not giving us access to it?
For example, if you pull up a sports team on the SERP the page is going to be filled with top-level direct “answerish” content. You will get options to extend your journey, your exploration. You get carousels of other sports teams whereupon clicking you get a SERP filled with more top-level direct “answerish” content. Do you know what you don’t get? Deep content!
Google’s mixed messaging is both confusing to the industry and holds back Search as a Journey! Instead of Search as a Journey opening up new vistas to searchers, it helps them pick up where they left off at times. It shows some related topics but it doesn’t really get in there like you would want it to.
Here’s a quick example. Recipes. What do you get when you search for ‘how to make chocolate cake?’ Maybe you’ll get a Featured Snippet or a video carousel. When Mordy bakes, everything goes wrong and it never turns out right. Wouldn’t a carousel of mistakes to avoid be awesome here? That would be perfect as it would be something the user wouldn’t necessarily think of on their own to search, but they would totally look into if it was shown to them.
But as it is now, you get nothing to really extend the journey. Search as a Journey is a great concept, but Google’s multifaceted goals are holding it back both directly and indirectly in so far as Google just doesn’t seem focused on bringing the right opportunities to the SERP.
Chasing and Tracking Google Updates and SERP Features: A Conversation with Dr. Pete Meyers [00:19:54 – 00:54:47]
Mordy: You are listening to another In Search SEO podcast interview. Today we have a magical man. He lives in the ethos that is all that is good, grand, and noble about SEO. He’s on the Mount Rushmore of SEO. He’s one of the most upstanding, uncompromising, irreplaceable people in the industry. He’s Moz’s own marketing scientist. He’s Dr. Pete Meyers.
Pete: Hey, nice to be here. I can’t add anything to that.
M: I always tell my guests that this is the pinnacle of the interview. It’s all downhill from here.
P: At least you got a good start.
M: So I sort of view you as like the Madonna of SEO because it’s just Dr. Pete. How did that come about? How did you end up being Dr. Pete?
P: You know, it’s funny because I was not so loud about my Ph.D. when I finished school, especially since I changed careers, but I think one of my clients realized I had a Ph.D. and for some reason, it was a big deal to them and they started to always call me Dr. Pete on the phone. When I went out on my own and started my consulting firm, my last name is Myers and it’s so common to misspell as it’s spelled like 500 different ways. So I thought I’ll use Dr. Pete and see how it goes and it was the best accidental branding decision I ever made. But now I don’t even hear it. New employees ask if they’re supposed to call me Dr. Pete and I tell them to please just call me Pete.
M: That’s awesome. What’s the Ph.D. in?
P: Human experimental psychology.
M: Well, that kind of relates.
P: Yeah. Truthfully, it was cognitive psychology. It’s just they didn’t call it that yet.
M: So let’s get into the wider world of tracking Google SERP and Google algorithms. But I have to ask you before we get started, so we’re competitors. What the hell are you doing here?
P: Yeah, it’s kind of awkward because before quarantine this was going to be a cage match.
M: Right, I have my ladder still outside.
P: I guess part of it is coming out of academia. I still have that research mindset a little bit. That’s not to say academia is not competitive. So some of it is that research background. I guess I care more about getting the right answer some days than the competition. But I also think, frankly, if you sum us all up, the big players, we’re about half a billion dollars while Google is 100 billion. Some days, we got to play nice with each other. I’ve always been impressed with the generosity of people in the industry and the data science. Even our biggest competitors now, like SEMRush, we talk with. There’s also a little bit of karma too. Sometimes I let somebody know what’s going on with Google and a month later I get something back.
M: Yeah, it’s such an interesting field where there’s so much depth, so much theory, and so much practicality going on that it’s almost stupid not to talk to people.
P: We’re also at a point in the industry where you can’t know everything. I mean, I’m sure there are some people who think they do. But you can’t keep up with it all and you can’t know everything. There’s always going to be some gap.
M: On this note of being open with each other, when there’s a big surge in rank fluctuations or SERP features, will you check out SEMRush or go to Rank Ranger?
P: Absolutely. I just view it as confirmation sometimes, just so I’m on the right track. If I’ve got a big spike and nobody else does then something’s wrong.
It’s funny. One of the older tools launched two weeks before MozCast went public and it was like somebody else publishing your dissertation. And credit where it’s due, they didn’t rip it off or anything, they were just doing it in parallel. I think it was one of those ideas that it was in the right place at the right time. Frankly, we don’t put a lot of front end resources on MozCast so sometimes there’s just some bits and pieces other people have that are cool to see.
M: Yeah, SEMrush has a whole per niche breakdown. We were thinking about doing that too.
P: Yeah, you guys have a couple of page factors that we don’t look at.
M: I literally do the same thing. Recently, our Knowledge Panel data was off and all of a sudden there’s this giant drop in Knowledge Panel results. So I thought something is probably broken, let’s check MozCast. And to be honest, I think we were both broken.
P: Yeah, that happened.
Some people ask me about data sets and things like that. We bought STAT Search Analytics about a year ago. I work with Eric on the STAT team and they have a much different and larger data set because they work with enterprise folks. So we compare a lot internally too.
M: That’s interesting. Is it vastly different?
P: It is because MozCast was meant to be static forever which has pros and cons. The pro is I have six years of history that I know really well. It’s not changing every day, but it’s also pretty small. With STAT, we have a little better access to cross customer sets, all anonymized of course, but it’s much larger and enterprise-focused. Moz is a little more for mid-market customers. We also, quite frankly, have a data structure that is not built to look across all the data. It’s very compartmentalized by customers. It was designed that way for privacy and various things.
M: Yeah, we did the same thing. Same problem. We should buy a STAT. Where do you get one of those?
P: Find some nice Canadian and ask around.
M: Right, it’s funny because when I look at the different weather tools, I’ll think that they’re looking at a very similar data set that we are or they’re not looking at a very similar data set than we are. It’s interesting because I think people think that this is the data and it’s either right or it’s wrong, but it’s way more nuanced than that.
P: Yeah, there’s no representative sample of SERPs. You could type in anything. Even for Google, they say that 15% of searches are things that Google has never seen. We’ve tried to create that gold standard SERP set and you can do better and worse, but there’s no set. It’s not like a population you’re sampling where you know the characteristics. It’s way more complicated than people think.
M: That’s a really nice pivot into that piece you wrote on the winners and losers on the Google algorithm updates. In case some listeners missed this, you wrote this awesome piece about a winners and losers list. I once did a winners and losers list based on an algorithm update and I will never do it again. One, because I got a lot of flack about it and two because it was a really annoying pain in the ass. Because there are so many data spikes where you can catch a winner but it’s not really a winner, rather it’s a reverse from the day before. It’s one of those things where I feel that we take these winners and losers as if they’re the 10 Commandments. It’s kind of crazy. Do you really think that these are the most winning and losing sites across the entire internet?
P: It depends on the data set. We talk about that a lot. But it also depends on the timespan and volatility of that niche and volatility of the site. I don’t want to bash anybody because there are people who do good work.
M: Right, I don’t want to bash anybody, obviously.
P: Right, but to go in a different direction. When I first started analyzing algorithm updates, I would look at what keywords shifted the most. I even published early on who the big movers are, then I tried to figure out how they were connected, and then things got a little shady. Someone at Google must be just shaking their head.
M: Every time I write a post, I must stick in 400 caveats to please don’t take this as the gospel.
P: I’ll occasionally DM John Mueller asking, “Is this the dumbest thing you’ve ever read?”
I don’t think I realized when I started this tracking how volatile things were. Once I saw ‘Xbox 360’ really moved. And then I go look back 30 days and notice that it’s moving every day. You know, people always say that news sites move a lot. Yeah, the news is all over the place. The top stories change by like 40% over the course of a week.
I don’t think we realize how volatile and real-time the SERPs are. You have to factor that in. This was a great example with LinkedIn where if you look at the right day, like LinkedIn lost 100%. It’s so easy to overgeneralize.
M: Is there a benefit at all in your mind? I know Lilly Ray did 550 different winners and losers for different verticals which was a different take on having just five winners and five losers.
P: I think as long as we get better at it over time than it’s okay. I think we all recognize that there are limitations. I think the next step for us is to categorize these sites and look more in that sense. I did an analysis that was super complicated that I can’t publish trying to correlate the core updates because I think we have an intuition that the same sites keep getting hit or keep going up or down.
M: Yeah, like Healthline or Doctor Axe.
P: Yeah, so we spot those. I did a correlation between the absolute movement and if the same sites were moving all the time. The short answer is they don’t seem to be for the most part.
M: You just saved me hours of time.
P: The only real relationship I found is that the sites that moved in this core update tend to be related to the sites and moved in the most recent core update, which is not the most useful. So I think they’re more different than we think. But I think the trick is that Google’s not targeting individual sites so we have to look at what are the common factors of these sites, is it niche-based, or is it something they’re doing? That’s tough because that pulls in so much more data that we can’t see on the SERP.
M: Right. You have to actually go in there and use this thing called your brain which we don’t.
By the way, I have seen sites that for whatever reason, whether it’s an unconfirmed update or a core update, move every single time.
P: Yeah, there’s definitely a small subset that is being affected.
M: Why is that?
P: I think there’s a common thread to the core update. Truthfully, my hope was that if I could find a relationship between them, I could spot unannounced core updates. That was my dream
M: You can even predict who will get hit in the next quarter update.
P: One thing that really strikes me is that a while back, eBay took a big legitimate SERP hit and I wrote an article about it. I’ve worked with four hedge funds based on that one article.
We have the same problem with the press. I used to have a contact with the Wall Street Journal and I worked with the press a lot over the years. Truthfully, those winners and losers takes are ***. There’s money and press in that. I’m not saying they have ulterior motives or anything else. I think we’ve all kind of grown and evolved as we’ve gone but that’s a rush. That’s a hit when you publish that big news that this mega-site got hit. You can get sucked into that a bit.
There are times when marketing asks, “Hey, are you going to publish about this Google update?” And I tell them, “I don’t have anything to say.” I’ve dug into the data and what I’ve learned is that I don’t know anything. It’s not a very long blog post.
M: I don’t think people realize that. It’s very hit or miss. You can either find something or you can totally not find anything.
P: Yeah, and there’s a little luck in there too.
M: Totally. And most of the time I find something it’s not because I set out to find that. I set out to find something else and I went down this whole rabbit hole.
P: Don’t give away the secret sauce.
M: The secret sauce is that there’s no secret sauce.
We track all the SERP data and all this algorithm data and, at least for myself, I don’t focus day-to-day on practical SEO. It’s a weird space to be in. Because you’re dealing with SEOs who are very practically minded. But you’re looking at, at least for myself, tons of SERP data, algorithm data, update data, etc. And obviously, I’m looking at our SEO at the same time. But I find at least for me that it offers me a very different perspective. I end up giving SERP theory, SERP philosophy, or SERP abstraction, as opposed to giving five tips on how to do this. So how does it impact you to be looking at all that kind of data?
P: Yeah, it is weird. It is almost like academic SEO in a sense. Certainly, there are people who criticize us that they’re doing the work and we’re chasing the algorithm. We’ve heard it all.
I have asked over the years if this is useful. Why do I keep doing this? Originally, I was really frustrated. I think it was that testimony before Congress that Eric Schmidt did in 2011 or 2012 when he was CEO where under oath he said there were 600 or so updates a year. We have all these people, like Barry Schwartz, who are trying to name the updates and you have Eric mentioning 600 while we only named 13. And now it’s closer to 3000 updates a year. And I know that might mean some very small niche features.
So that’s what got me started. I was frustrated with this huge gap where we would just sit around waiting for Google to tell us when an update was coming. It just seemed so counter to our culture as SEOs. But I think over the years, the thing that people said to me is that it really helps to know if it was just me or was it the whole world. Was it just me or was it Google? At least then I know where to start. That’s the thing that’s kept me on it.
It’s funny as a content marketer I have the problem of making this Google update actionable. What does this actually mean? I’m always sending it to the editors with no conclusion.
M: I have the same problem with finding the takeaways.
That’s awesome. The same thing with SERP features. Who the hell cares? Playing devil’s advocate here, who cares how many sitelinks are on page one of the SERP?
P: I have an easy answer to that one. I think if you look at the early days of SERP features we just saw them as add-ons. We got the SERP and it can have up to seven ads, it can have video thumbnails, it can have news, it can have images, and they were all these building blocks that Google could put on the SERP if there was relevant content. Then over time, there was a clear shift where SERP features became fundamentally about intent and it’s not just something where every SERP can have this.
Featured Snippets are a great example. You don’t generally see those on certain commercial SERPs. They tend to be informational (but not always). They tend to be a certain kind of query. And even with ads now, when Google went from three ads on top to four ads on top, there was an immediate shift in the SERPs that got four ads. They weren’t the ones where people were just bidding enough to justify having four ads. They were the most commercial SERPs that I think Google knew were converting. And now we see it with this whole SERP funnel where you’ll see related research carousels and there are no ads, yet when you click down a layer then there’s the ad. And Google is working on this refinement funnel.
So I think the thing that’s so important now is that those features tell you about intent and tell you what you should be targeting and tell you that maybe you should stay the hell away from that SERP. Maybe you shouldn’t be trying to do organic for wedding dresses where there’s 17 paid positions on the top, a Local Pack, and three other things before you get to organic and think differently about how you target. So that’s the fascinating thing to me. I don’t think these are just stats on checking if it went up or went down. I don’t think that’s that important. But if you’re not doing video on a SERP with a video carousel and a giant video at the top, what’s the point? Go somewhere else. You either start doing video or find a greener pasture for what you do best.
M: I saw one today, for a query about COVID-19 and the top of the SERP was a News carousel, a Video carousel, and a People Also Ask box. It’s unbelievable.
P: I think even Google knows it. Why are they not showing ads? Because there was no money there. Nobody was clicking on those ads. They were lousy ads. They realized we need to get people to the point in the funnel where they want to buy. We have to mimic that.
Right now, COVID-19 is a great example. This is a great time to shift to more mid-funnel to top-funnel content. Maybe you’re not actively selling right now. Maybe you got all sorts of challenges and you’re trying to stay afloat. Get that informational content out there, get your brand awareness, and get that mid-funnel stuff so that when you’re ready to open back up the bottom of the funnel, you can make that move. But those are different SERPs. That’s not just organic versus ads that we used to see. Right. Those are completely different SERPs that require a completely different kind of targeting. We have to be a lot more strategic and get away from that whole vanity keyword viewpoint.
M: It’s funny because when you look at Google, the biggest thing for me how they use their SERP features is such a clue into how they’re thinking about things and I don’t think we spend enough time looking at that.
P: Yeah, it’s very segmented. And when you start to see that there are some exceptions like People Also Ask is in 90% of searches.
M: Yeah, but even that you can see what kind of questions they’re asking.
P: Yeah, it’s an interesting feature to mine. But a lot of times you look at certain features they top at 15-20% and you wonder why they don’t keep going up. People ask me, for example, if everything is going to go to voice and the answer is no because it can’t.
I think what’s interesting is thinking about targeting differently and thinking about how different kinds of content are better for different kinds of SERPs. It’s not all one big mess and we don’t like it because it’s hard. It takes a lot more work to do that. But I just think there’s so much where Google is just trying to say that this stuff is effective and this other stuff isn’t. And if we’re still trying to do all that other stuff, or just hit everything with a hammer, because that’s the only tool we have, we’re just not getting the results we used to get. And we see that we see traffic falling in some cases and CTR falling where we don’t feel like we did anything wrong. We didn’t lose ranking and we didn’t get a penalty, but we’re not aligned with that intent and we’re beating searchers over the head.
M: It’s kind of the point where, not to criticize SEO tools, but there’s really no substitute for looking at the actual SERP and seeing what’s there. You can see there’s a Featured Snippet there, but what’s in that Featured Snippet? What kind of Featured Snippet is it? What was Google trying to do with that Featured Snippet, and so forth?
P: I think the challenge for us is that it’s hard to look at every SERP individually and we do want that aggregate data, but it’s hard to aggregate intent. We’ve been working on intent tools. A lot of us I’m sure have been trying to launch and it’s tough because the UI aspect of how we present that to people is probably harder than the modeling of the content itself.
Optimize It or Disavow It
M: If you had to check just one thing, either SERP feature trends or top-level rank fluctuations. Meaning, you wouldn’t know anything about the niche or you wouldn’t know anything about the sites being impacted, just top-level weather rank fluctuations. Which one would you track?
P: SERP features. No question.
M: Explain, please.
P: I think SERP features have a lot more that’s actionable. That’s why I want that shift. The only thing that top-level ranking tells me is if it was just me or am I crazy. It’s useful to a point but if we don’t break that down, it’s not actionable for most people. As we’ve been talking about, SERP features show us intent. They show us how to segment keywords, they show us how to think differently, and they show us how to target content and what to create. At the end of the day, I just think that it’s much more actionable.
M: Dr. Pete, thank you so much for coming on.
P: Thank you. Good to be here.
SEO News [00:55:22 – 00:59:21]
Google Rich Results Test Tool Out of Beta: Big news, Google has taken its Rich Results Test tool out of beta saying all of the supported markups are now supported by the tool. With this, Google will shutter the Structured Data Testing Tool at some point in the future.
Mobile Image Results Get Knowledge Cards: Mobile image results may now get Knowledge Cards that appear in the preview screen. The cards expand and offer snippets of info on the topic represented by the image.
Google Ads App Now Supports Manager Accounts: The Google Ads app now allows manager accounts so that you can overview data across all accounts.
Google Ads to Ban Spyware Surveillance: Google Ads is banning the advertising of anything that provides surveillance without authorization. The change in policy goes into effect on August 11th.
Tune in next Tuesday for a new episode of The In Search SEO Podcast.
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