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This time last year we wrote two posts about voice search – I compiled a list of statistics on voice search and Steve put down his thoughts on what search will look like in 2020 if 50% of queries were voice.

I updated my post throughout the year (with good reason, as it made our top 10 traffic driving pages for us in 2017), and one stat stood out in particular from one of the sources in an article by Wesley Young – that stat was from Cisco.

Cisco estimates connected devices will top 50 billion by 2020, and that number will hit 34.8b this year (2018), an increase of 22%. Smart speaker adoption is a driver in the voice search market, so what will this plethora of devices mean to local search and SEO? Also what does that mean for businesses looking to connect with users at a local level? (Google released 5 new ways  to reach local customers earlier in 2018.)

I thought I’d go ahead and list my top local search marketing statistics to try and find out. As with last year I plan to continually update this post (and, if it makes 2018’s top 10 posts, that would be swell).

Devices

“Google Maps has a market reach of more than 90% amongst Android users worldwide.” – via Statista 

“Mobile searches for ‘where to buy’ have grown 85 % since 2015.” – via Geo Marketing

“Mobile searches for ‘store hours‘ peaked on Christmas Day (it’s the highest day of the year for that search).” via Think with Google

“Nearly 1/3 of all mobile searches are related to location.” via Think with Google

“Nearly 2/3 of smartphone users are more likely to purchase from companies whose mobile sites or apps customize information to their location.” via Think with Google

“The ‘location of things’ market — which enables connected devices to monitor and communicate their geographic location — is expected to reach $72 billion by 2025.” via Grand View Research

“By 2021, mobile devices alone will influence $1.4 trillion in local sales.” according to Forrester via WWD.com

Terminology

“82% of smartphone users use a search engine when looking for a local business.” via Think with Google

“Local terminology searches ‘nearby‘ and ‘closest‘ have dropped 23% in the last 6 months (July 2017 to Jan 2018).” via Google trends (Google put this down to people understanding that searches will be personalised for them: “local relevance is expected, but not always overtly requested”.)

“Over the last 2 years, searches for local places without the qualifier ‘near me’ have grown 150%, faster than comparable searches that do not include ‘near me’.” via Think with Google

“Searches for ‘is it going to rain today‘ have grown 85% in the last 2 years.” via Think with Google (interesting to see here the knock on effect to equivalent searches such as ‘Leeds weather forecast):

Preferences

“76% of consumers prefer to shop in physical stores during the holiday season.” via Geo Marketing

“Most users will use their smartphone to find store locations (27%), to find deals (18%), compare prices (13%), and research products online (6%). But only 3% plan to use their mobile devices to make purchases.” according to Charge it Spot via Geo Marketing

“74% of mobile bookings are made for same-day check-in.” according to data from Hotels.com

“Nearly 2/3  smartphone users are more likely to purchase from companies whose mobile sites or apps customize information to their location.” via Think with Google

“64% of Americans prefer buying from brick-and-mortar stores because a majority says it’s important for them to try a product in-person.” via Pew Research Center

Online vs in-store

“For large multi-channel retailers, the brick-and-mortar store will continue to make the largest revenue contribution until at least 2026.” via Accenture

“Only 27% of the UK population made an online grocery purchase over the last year and the number of consumers converting to internet shopping is slowing.” via Kantar World Panel

“Mobile searches for ‘where to buy’ for clothing and apparel are increasing. In footwear searches are up 140%, t-shirts up 80%, baby clothing up 125%, bras up 155%, and swimwear up 110%.” via Think with Google

“In beauty products, mobile searches for ‘where to buy’ are also up: face powder up 400%, make-up removers up 130%, fragrances up 440%, haircare and styling up 90%, and lipsticks/glosses are up 630%.” via Think with Google

“In food and groceries, mobile searches for ‘where to buy’ are up for the following categories: condiments and dressings (130%), frozen foods (470%), household cleaners (70%), salt (155%), and soft drinks (50%).” via Think with Google

“In home products, mobile searches are on the up for ‘where to buy’: bakeware (65%), blinds/shades (115%), fencing (180%), bedding (110%), and garden furniture (135%).” via Think with Google

“In toiletries, mobile searches for ‘where to buy’ are up: creams and moisturisers (285%), aromatherapy (40%), exfoliants & scrubs (260%), toothpaste (410%), and waxing & accessories (205%).” via Think with Google

“In toys and games, mobile searches for ‘where to buy’ are up: dolls & accessories up 60%, models up 115%, games & puzzles up 225%, brain teasers up 95%, and radio controlled toys up 20%.” via Think with Google

“55% rate their ability to check in store availability on their mobile device as absolutely critical or very important.” via Salesforce.

“47% rate their ability to locate items in store on their mobile device as absolutely critical or very important.” via Salesforce.

“46% rate their ability to order on their mobile device and pick up items in store as absolutely critical or very important.” via Salesforce.

“Face-to-face in-store spending declined by 2.6% (as of September 2017).” according to Visa consumer spending index via Internetretailing.net

“50% of UK shoppers reported that long lines for the till have played as a contributing factor as to why costumers abandoned their shopping in the brick-and-mortar store.” via Internetretailing.net

“Almost a third (30%) cited shops not having the items they wanted in stock as the reason for avoiding the high street at Christmas.” via Internetretailing.net

“This year, around 90% of global sales will happen in a physical store.” via Google Inside Adwords

Local business listings

“56% of local retailers haven’t claimed their Google my business listing.” according to Brand Muscle via Local Search Association

“82% of businesses haven’t claimed a business listing on Bing.” according to Brand Muscle via Local Search Association

“57% of local retailers are self-managing digital marketing efforts, 25% hire an agency/vendor, and only 18% are managed by corporate.” according to Brand Muscle via Local Search Association.

“Business listings with a website get 25-35% more clicks.” according to Google

“Seven out of ten customers visit a business or make a purchase based on info they found online.” via Google

“More than half of ‘near me’ searches result in a store visit.” according to Mediapost via Streetfightmag.com

“97% of brand marketers say they don’t think their local partners are ready to market to mobile shoppers.” according to Netsertive via Streetfightmag.com

Seen a stat we’ve missed? Tweet me @Mikerjeffs or @Branded_3
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This time last year we wrote two posts about voice search – I compiled a list of statistics on voice search and Steve put down his thoughts on what search will look like in 2020 if 50% of queries were voice.

I updated my post throughout the year (with good reason, as it made our top 10 traffic driving pages for us in 2017), and one stat stood out in particular from one of the sources in an article by Wesley Young – that stat was from Cisco.

Cisco estimates connected devices will top 50 billion by 2020, and that number will hit 34.8b this year (2018), an increase of 22%. Smart speaker adoption is a driver in the voice search market, so what will this plethora of devices mean to local search and SEO? Also what does that mean for businesses looking to connect with users at a local level? (Google released 5 new ways  to reach local customers earlier in 2018.)

I thought I’d go ahead and list my top local search marketing statistics to try and find out. As with last year I plan to continually update this post (and, if it makes 2018’s top 10 posts, that would be swell).

Devices

“Google Maps has a market reach of more than 90% amongst Android users worldwide.” – via Statista 

“Mobile searches for ‘where to buy’ have grown 85 % since 2015.” – via Geo Marketing

“Mobile searches for ‘store hours‘ peaked on Christmas Day (it’s the highest day of the year for that search).” via Think with Google

“Nearly 1/3 of all mobile searches are related to location.” via Think with Google

“Nearly 2/3 of smartphone users are more likely to purchase from companies whose mobile sites or apps customize information to their location.” via Think with Google

“The ‘location of things’ market — which enables connected devices to monitor and communicate their geographic location — is expected to reach $72 billion by 2025.” via Grand View Research

“By 2021, mobile devices alone will influence $1.4 trillion in local sales.” according to Forrester via WWD.com

Terminology

“82% of smartphone users use a search engine when looking for a local business.” via Think with Google

“Local terminology searches ‘nearby‘ and ‘closest‘ have dropped 23% in the last 6 months (July 2017 to Jan 2018).” via Google trends (Google put this down to people understanding that searches will be personalised for them: “local relevance is expected, but not always overtly requested”.)

“Over the last 2 years, searches for local places without the qualifier ‘near me’ have grown 150%, faster than comparable searches that do not include ‘near me’.” via Think with Google

“Searches for ‘is it going to rain today‘ have grown 85% in the last 2 years.” via Think with Google (interesting to see here the knock on effect to equivalent searches such as ‘Leeds weather forecast):

Preferences

“76% of consumers prefer to shop in physical stores during the holiday season.” via Geo Marketing

“Most users will use their smartphone to find store locations (27%), to find deals (18%), compare prices (13%), and research products online (6%). But only 3% plan to use their mobile devices to make purchases.” according to Charge it Spot via Geo Marketing

“74% of mobile bookings are made for same-day check-in.” according to data from Hotels.com

“Nearly 2/3  smartphone users are more likely to purchase from companies whose mobile sites or apps customize information to their location.” via Think with Google

“64% of Americans prefer buying from brick-and-mortar stores because a majority says it’s important for them to try a product in-person.” via Pew Research Center

Online vs in-store

“For large multi-channel retailers, the brick-and-mortar store will continue to make the largest revenue contribution until at least 2026.” via Accenture

“Only 27% of the UK population made an online grocery purchase over the last year and the number of consumers converting to internet shopping is slowing.” via Kantar World Panel

“Mobile searches for ‘where to buy’ for clothing and apparel are increasing. In footwear searches are up 140%, t-shirts up 80%, baby clothing up 125%, bras up 155%, and swimwear up 110%.” via Think with Google

“In beauty products, mobile searches for ‘where to buy’ are also up: face powder up 400%, make-up removers up 130%, fragrances up 440%, haircare and styling up 90%, and lipsticks/glosses are up 630%.” via Think with Google

“In food and groceries, mobile searches for ‘where to buy’ are up for the following categories: condiments and dressings (130%), frozen foods (470%), household cleaners (70%), salt (155%), and soft drinks (50%).” via Think with Google

“In home products, mobile searches are on the up for ‘where to buy’: bakeware (65%), blinds/shades (115%), fencing (180%), bedding (110%), and garden furniture (135%).” via Think with Google

“In toiletries, mobile searches for ‘where to buy’ are up: creams and moisturisers (285%), aromatherapy (40%), exfoliants & scrubs (260%), toothpaste (410%), and waxing & accessories (205%).” via Think with Google

“In toys and games, mobile searches for ‘where to buy’ are up: dolls & accessories up 60%, models up 115%, games & puzzles up 225%, brain teasers up 95%, and radio controlled toys up 20%.” via Think with Google

“55% rate their ability to check in store availability on their mobile device as absolutely critical or very important.” via Salesforce.

“47% rate their ability to locate items in store on their mobile device as absolutely critical or very important.” via Salesforce.

“46% rate their ability to order on their mobile device and pick up items in store as absolutely critical or very important.” via Salesforce.

“Face-to-face in-store spending declined by 2.6% (as of September 2017).” according to Visa consumer spending index via Internetretailing.net

“50% of UK shoppers reported that long lines for the till have played as a contributing factor as to why costumers abandoned their shopping in the brick-and-mortar store.” via Internetretailing.net

“Almost a third (30%) cited shops not having the items they wanted in stock as the reason for avoiding the high street at Christmas.” via Internetretailing.net

“This year, around 90% of global sales will happen in a physical store.” via Google Inside Adwords

Local business listings

“56% of local retailers haven’t claimed their Google my business listing.” according to Brand Muscle via Local Search Association

“82% of businesses haven’t claimed a business listing on Bing.” according to Brand Muscle via Local Search Association

“57% of local retailers are self-managing digital marketing efforts, 25% hire an agency/vendor, and only 18% are managed by corporate.” according to Brand Muscle via Local Search Association.

“Business listings with a website get 25-35% more clicks.” according to Google

“Seven out of ten customers visit a business or make a purchase based on info they found online.” via Google

“More than half of ‘near me’ searches result in a store visit.” according to Mediapost via Streetfightmag.com

“97% of brand marketers say they don’t think their local partners are ready to market to mobile shoppers.” according to Netsertive via Streetfightmag.com

Seen a stat we’ve missed? Tweet me @Mikerjeffs or @Branded_3
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Links from other websites to your own are vital for ranking well in Google’s search results; however, links from disreputable sources could land you with a manual action. As such, information on your link profile is vital, so you know who is linking to you and can gain additional insight on the kind of websites you would like to get links from in future.

Unfortunately, there can be a problem in gaining in-depth information on your links, as Google Search Console can appear to limit how many domains it displays from your backlink profile. At one point, Google Search Console would only show up to 1,000 of the domains linking to your website.

This could be enough to show a good selection of the links you have, but for bigger or older websites, you need a larger data set. This is especially crucial if you want to audit your links, but you’re unable to see some of the links that may need removing.

So – what can you do to solve the issue?

I have been able to download data for one website with details of over 10,000 domains linking to the website in question.

Once logged into Google Search Console, select the Search Traffic tab, then click the option marked ‘Links to Your Site’ (see below):

You are given the following three options for downloading a comprehensive view of your backlinks:

The first two will only give a limited amount of link data, up to 1,000 links or less. By choosing ‘Download latest links’, you can view an expansive list of links in the form of a CSV, allowing you to start the process of fully understanding your link profile.

If you want to get a better view of your backlink profile, Google have made it possible, if you know where to look. Assuming your site is currently suffering from a manual action, you will be able to see the links that could be causing problems and remove them. If you don’t have any links that could be problematic, then you will be able to see the kind of links you could target in future to improve your website.

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I’m not going to pretend this post is anything more than a list of statistics. Statistics on voice search that you can read and refer to in order to understand how optimising sites for users will change in 2017 as usage of voice search increase.

2017 saw the launch of Home – Google’s voice-activated speaker powered by the Google Assistant and also the integration of Google Assistant into our TVs.  December 2016 saw Amazon’s Echo products become their most popular product over the holiday period. According to Google, their Assistant is now available on more than 400 million devices, including speakers like Google Home, Android phones and tablets, iPhones, headphones, TVs, watches and more.

Predictions

“50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020” according to comscore

“About 30% of searches will be done without a screen by 2020.” via Mediapos

“We estimate there will be 21.4 million smart speakers in the US by 2020” according to Activate

“By 2019, the voice recognition market will be a $601 million industry”, according to a report from Technavio via Skyword.

“This year (2017), 25 million devices will be shipped, bringing the total number of voice-first devices to 33 million in circulation.” based on a new study by VoiceLabs via Mediapost

Current Usage

“Google voice search queries in 2016 are up 35x over 2008” according to Google trends via Search Engine Watch

“40% of adults now use voice search once per day” according to Location World

“Cortana now has 133 million monthly users” according to Microsoft/Tech Radar

“In May 2016, 1 in 5 searches on an Android app in the USA were through speech” according to KPCB

“25% of 16-24s use voice search on mobile” via Global Web Index

“41% of people using voice search have only started  in the last 6 months” according to MindMeld

“60% of people using voice search have started  in the last year” according to MindMeld

“11% of people using voice search started  more than 3 years ago” according to MindMeld

19% of people use Siri at least daily. (HubSpot, 2015) (Source: https://www.hubspot.com/marketing-statistics)

“9% of users said that they’ve used AI personal assistants like Siri or Cortana in the past day” according to AYTM

“45% of those who have used AI personal assistants said they’ve used Siri. 33% have used Google Now. 27% used Microsoft’s Cortana. 10% have used Amazon Echo or Alexa.” via AYTM

“1 in 5 online adults have used voice search on their mobile in the last month” via Global Web Index

“37% use Siri, 23% use Microsoft’s Cortana AI, and 19% use Amazon’s Alexa AI at least monthly.” (HubSpot, 2015) (Source: https://www.hubspot.com/marketing-statistics)

“We estimate that 325.8 million people used voice control in the past month” according to Global Web Index (that’s almost 10% of the online population according to Internet Stats).

“We estimate that the retail giant (Amazon) has sold 5.1 million of the smart speakers in the U.S since it launched in 2014” according to CIRP via Geekwire.

“Amazon sold approximately 2 million units in the first nine months of 2016” according to CIRP

“Amazon sold 4.4 million Echo units in its first full year of sales” according to Geek Wire

“25% of searches on Windows 10 taskbar are voice. On desktop!” according to Purna Virji

“Only around a third of smartphone owners use their personal assistants regularly, even though 95% have tried them at some point.” according to Creative Strategies via The Economist

“Only 11% of respondents who already own an Amazon Alexa or Google Home device will also buy a competing device.” via Voicelabs.

“Application growth for Amazon Alexa has been impressive – over 500% in the second half of 2016″ according to Voicelabs.

“Evercore estimates 500,000 Google Home units shipped in 2016” via Bloomberg

“65 percent of people who own an Amazon Echo or Google Home can’t imagine to going back to the days before they had a smart speaker.” via Geomarketing.com

“42 percent say voice-activated devices have quickly become “essential” to their lives. via Geomarketing.com

“The Echo Dot was the best-selling product on all of Amazon in the 2018 holiday season” via Techcrunch

“1 in 2 use voice technology on their smartphone, 1 in 3 voice technology users use voice technology daily.” via ComScore

“47% expect their voice technology usage to increase” via ComScore

” The number of households in the US with smart speakers has grown 49% in the last 5 months (Jun-Nov 2017)” via ComScore

“Amazon and Google account for 94% of all smart speakers in use” via Strategy Analytics

“Google Home has roughly a 25 percent share of the US smart speaker market.” via Search Engine Land

“56% of online grocery shoppers use or plan to use voice controlled smart assistant/speaker” via Global Web Index

“52% of people keep their voice activated speaker in their common room (e.g family or living room), 25% in bedroom and 22% in their kitchen” via Think with Google

“72% of people who own a voice-activated speaker say their devices are often used as part of teir daily routine.” via Think with Google

“41% say using their voice-activated speaker is like talking to a friend or another person.” via Think with Google

Intent

“Mobile voice-related searches are 3X more likely to be local-based than text” via Search Engine Watch

But “just 13 percent of smart speaker owners use their smart speakers to find a local business” according to an NPR survey via Geomarketing.com

“Home Alone and Elf were the most requested 2016 holiday movies with Alexa.” via Amazon

“Customers use Amazon Echo for many purposes, with one-third using it as an information provider responding to questions and over 40% as an audio speaker for listening to streaming music.” according to CIRP.

“Nearly 50% of people are now using voice search when researching products.” via Social Media Today

“High consumer usage of voice assistants in autos (51%) and household (39%) indicates increased comfort with the technology” – according to Activate via WSJ.

“Google’s AI has been reading nearly 3,000 romance novels in order to improve its conversational search abilities” via Click Hub

‘Personal assistants’ is the top marketing search of 2016″ according to Bing via Econsultancy

“Voice activated speaker owners would like to receive the following from brands; deals, sales and promos (52%), personalised tips and info (48%), events and activity information (42%), business information such as store location (39%) and customer service support (38%).” via Think with Google

Reason

“Humans can speak 150 words per minute vs type 40 words per minute” via Katherine Watier

“28% think voice search is a more accurate way of searching” via Katherine Watier

“43% cite that using voice search is quicker than using a website or an app” via Katherine Watier

“42% say that use while driving is  a reason for using voice search” Katherine Watier

“21% don’t like typing on their mobile phone and so turn to voice search” via Katherine Watier and Statista, 2015 (Source: https://www.hubspot.com/marketing-statistics)

“82 percent of Amazon Echo smart speaker owners subscribe to Amazon Prime” via Geomarketing.com

“More than two thirds of current owners of Amazon Echo and Google Home smart speakers are planning to buy another smart speaker within the next six months” according to Strategy Analytics

Errors

“outside 35% of normal recognition errors, 31% were noise related and 22% were pronunciation related” according to Research Gate

“Today, speech recognition word error rate is 8 percent.” via Bruce Clay

“Fifteen years ago quality had stalled, with word-error rates of 20-30%. Microsoft’s latest system, which has six neural networks running in parallel, has reached 5.9% (see chart), the same as a human transcriber’s.” via The Economist

Seen a stat we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments below or tweet me @mikerjeffs

Update 2nd January 2018: On the 21st December 2017, Google launched the first version of the Google assistant guidelines. You can save the PDF here.

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Branded3 | SEO by Stephen Kenwright - 1M ago

In 2006, before iPhones and Androids, a Google document mentioned the search engine uses “over 200 signals” for ranking. There are probably thousands of ranking signals now and we can’t pretend to know what they are. What we do know is how much of an impact optimising for the most significant ranking factors has – and how easy it was to get that done in the real world.

We work with almost 100 businesses internationally, tracking on average 15 competitors and 500 keywords per website. We took the 2015 Moz Ranking Factors study as a starting point (since we contributed to that anyway) and assessed what has become more or less important; what’s more important for the enterprise brands we work with; and what we can actually get done. If a change is easier for you to make – congratulations! You’ve got a competitive advantage.

View the study in full and rank factors by their ease and importance using this interactive asset below:

  Top 10 ranking factors you should be optimising for in 2018
  1. Page-level keyword and content based metrics – If your page isn’t relevant for the query – but more importantly doesn’t answer the user’s intent – you don’t rank. Most businesses from SME-size upwards use a content management system which should make this easier. It’s not all about publishing more – the biggest, quickest wins come from optimising what you’ve got.
  2. Dwell time or long click metrics – When you put a page live, the question you should ask yourself is: “how can we absolutely guarantee that the searcher won’t click the back button?” You know more about your business and products than anyone and it’s time to demonstrate.
  3. Existence/quality of verified real-world business info – The combined traffic driving power of voice search, the local pack, Google Maps and the Knowledge Graph is immense, and it relies on the accuracy of the information its being fed. You should absolutely clean and own your data across the web. Optimisation of WikiData and location data are not only hugely important, but don’t often require development resource or approval from compliance.
  4. Use of responsive design and/or mobile optimised – This is not only a prerequisite of ranking on a mobile device, it’s also getting easier and easier to get buy-in. Brands without mobile websites in 2018 are at the tail-end of the “laggards” phase and it’s easy to quantify how much money you’re losing out on without a mobile site.
  5. Uniqueness of content across the whole site – De-duplication of content across the website speeds everything up, prevents cannibalisation and makes better use of crawl budget. Most modern CMS systems feature some way to deal with this issue. You can even take some shortcuts in Search Console.
  6. Page is mobile friendly – Mobile-friendly is a rare example of Google telling businesses, in a developer-queue friendly format, what they need to do to pass – and giving the seal of approval when the standards have been met.
  7. Uniqueness of content on the page – Have the best possible answer on the web, whatever the question being asked. Research every possible intent and constantly improve your best performing pages.
  8. Page load speed – The fastest page usually wins. Again, Google gives us a to-do list – and compares us against the rest of our industries, which has made buy-in a little easier to get across our clients, but advancements in technical SEO are accelerating. Content delivery networks (CDNs) are the norm and site speed should be at the top of everyone’s technical agenda.
  9. Quantity of searches for this keyword + specific brand name, URL or domain – We’ve proved this is a thing, but this one is a little bittersweet. Searchers are doing this partially because it’s easier to search Google for pages on your website than use your navigation or your own internal search. So we’d much rather you optimise those things – and so would your users.
  10. Relative CTR from Google SERPs to the page for the keyword – Optimising for click through rate (CTR) is so easy. Schema mark-up is relatively straightforward to implement, giving us better looking listings. We constantly test title tags and meta descriptions too, which have often been branded as “not a ranking factor” and have therefore been ignored (budget constraints usually). If we can get a better CTR in second than the result in first, then rankings don’t even matter – but the results will usually swap over time anyway.
The elephant in the room
  1. Links – We are absolutely confident that links are the single biggest ranking factor. But link building is hard. It’s hard to get people to link to you. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact value of an individual link. All our metrics are bullsh*t. Most websites benefit more from links than from any other single ranking factor, but it will suck up a disproportionate amount of time and resource if you don’t manage it carefully.
Methodology

The Moz Ranking Factors 2015 study was our starting point (it’s the most recent version at the time of writing). 150 very clever people (including our own Tim Grice) answered Moz’ survey to put it together and who are we to argue?

…but the study is two years old, and although we don’t personally know every single contributor, we do know that we work with very different businesses in many cases, in some of the most competitive industries worldwide.

So, using the aggregated scores from the Moz panel as a starting point, we asked each member of our SEO team to score the same ranking factor out of 10 for importance. The 150-strong Moz panel is one vote – our SEO Strategists get one vote each, in isolation. Collectively, we’ve worked with hundreds of large websites – at Branded3 and at previous agencies and in-house roles for some of our recent hires – each with hundreds of competitors we’re keeping a close eye on.

Then we asked our SEO team: in your experience, how difficult is it to optimise for these ranking factors?

We’re taking into consideration:

  • How our clients’ SEO teams are working with other internal teams such as development, PR and compliance
  • How our clients’ teams work with their other agencies
  • How far our clients’ budgets typically stretch
  • How far down our clients’ lists of priorities SEO activity tends to be.
How we use this study

If you disagree we’d love you to tell us on Twitter or …

…but really, if your experience says that optimising for a ranking factor is easier than we do, congratulations! You have a competitive advantage. If we all agree that something is a significant SEO ranking factor but you think it’s easy to tick off your list – and we’re telling you everyone else struggles to get it done – it should absolutely be a priority when you’re putting together your SEO strategy.

…especially if you’re currently focused on something that might not be so important.

Tactics that are extremely important but also extremely difficult to optimise for tend to be our long-term strategies. If we’ve previously been looking at things that are difficult – but not that important – we’ll try to move the conversation onto something we think will have more of an impact.

So without further ado…

Our full 2018 Google ranking factors matrix

Top 10 most-important Google ranking factors

Top 10 easiest things to implement 10 things we’re confident aren’t important for rankings Variance The 10 things that are more important in our experience:

  • HTTPS/SSL – The difference here is definitely 2018 (us) vs. 2015 (Moz). Though Google had already claimed that HTTPS was a ranking factor before Moz published its survey results, it was largely untested, with few big sites making the switch. Google has since made several changes increasing the overall importance of HTTPS.
  • Dwell time and long click metrics – We’re collectively 100% convinced time to long click is a huge ranking signal after numerous tests circa 2013-14 – nowadays we try to optimise our clients’ sites to better retain visitors as part of every strategy.
  • Keywords associated with domains through entity association – It’s why AutoTrader will always rank for “used cars”, for example. The brand is synonymous with the keyword.
  • Keyword is present in the root domain name – Exact match domains work, even though they shouldn’t. Some of the businesses we work with have a couple of core keywords where EMDs are extremely difficult to dislodge, even though they look like spam sites.
  • Domain-level, keyword agnostic features – Technical SEO has accelerated since 2015 and the industry has collectively bought into tactics like site speed optimisation (thankfully). Links are harder to come by, which may be part of the story, but actually new technologies like AMP are providing us with a new competitive advantage every month, if we can get them implemented.
  • Quantity of searches for this keyword + specific brand name, URL or domain name – See above.
  • Responsive design and/or mobile optimised – Again this is probably 2015 vs. 2018. Mobile optimisation is becoming more important as Google rolls towards its mobile-first index, so this should be high on your agenda.
  • Page load speed – The faster page usually wins. ‘nuff said.
The 10 things that are less important in our experience:

  • Bounce rate – Google doesn’t use bounce rate, although Bounce Rate as a metric in Google Analytics is often a good indicator of more significant metrics like dwell time (long clicks).
  • Link velocity of the page and page-level link metrics – Internal pages don’t naturally acquire links very often and it’s unreasonable to reward pages that do because there’s almost certainly something going on to make it happen.
  • Topical relevance of linking domains – Again, we’ve written about niche sites Our link acquisition strategies tend to revolve around national press and high authority sites who tend to write about everything. Niche blogs can be good to drive traffic but aren’t usually as good for SEO.
  • Domain is associated with high-authority authors – Author Rank used to be (rumoured to be) a thing and now it isn’t. We’ve moved on in the last two years.
  • Anchor text – Causes penalties. It’s also nearly impossible to get good links with anchor text, so unless you want to get branded anchor text you’re going to be disappointed.
  • Position/context of inbound link – Links in content do fare a little better than sidebars, footers etc. – but does anyone do that anymore?
  • Sentiment – We get great results from regular links on the Daily Mail, where the sentiment is always negative, regardless of what we’ve done.
  • TrustRank – Is a bit more complicated than metrics like MozTrust or Trust Flow would suggest, and we don’t believe it’s based on distance from a trusted set of pages/sites – rather that sites in X industry are expected to have links from a set of specific sites to prove they’re legitimate.
What should you do about this?

We don’t think Google uses totally different ranking factors for big brands and competitive queries so what you need to optimise for depends entirely on what you’re able to do. It’s not helpful to say that Google ranks a website based on a factor that we can do very little about (e.g. Rankbrain) – your starting point should be to decide what’s disproportionately easy for you to do. Do you have less red tape than brands in your sector? Do you have a bigger development team? It’s only a factor in whether you rank if you’ve managed to do something about it.

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Start typing a word into Google and it will autocomplete the word for you. Very helpful – unless you’re a brand that isn’t at the top of the list of Google’s suggestions.

Here’s an update on Brady Forrest’s Google Alphabet, 2008 edition: the 26 brands that Google suggests above all others and are likely to be getting a nice traffic boost because of it. Effectively Autocomplete is showing the most popular keywords at any given time – in this case we’re looking at the 26 most popular brands in the last week before Christmas. When else would a brand most like to be thrust into search results?

Letter Brand
A Amazon
B BBC
C Currys
D Daily Mail
E Ebay
F Facebook
G Google
H Halfords
I Ikea
J John Lewis
K KFC
L LinkedIn
M Matalan
N Next
O O2
P Paypal
Q Quidco
R Rightmove
S Sports Direct
T Tesco
U Urban Outfitters
V Very
W Wilco
X X-Box
Y YouTube
Z Zoopla
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Branded3 | SEO by Stephen Kenwright - 2M ago

We’ve migrated just under 70 sites onto Episerver in 2017 alone (yes really – read about 58 of them here) so now’s a good time to look at why it’s a platform we like working with and why it works for SEO.

What is Episerver?

Episerver is an enterprise level content management system (CMS) written using Microsoft’s ASP.NET. Updates are frequent and it isn’t open source, so it’s useful for more security-conscious companies – and the admin area is visually appealing and quite intuitive, so it’s easier and more fun to build on than some equivalent platforms. It’s similar in size and scale to our old favourite Sitecore – another .NET based enterprise CMS.

“Enterprise” means that it’s suitable for companies with lots of users; who operate in lots of countries; and who probably want to customise the CMS to their needs – including help executing their SEO strategy. So if we built a website using WordPress we’d install the Yoast SEO plugin to manage meta data etc. for us – building in Episerver allows us to cater for these requirements without the use of plugins.

Episerver SEO plugins

There are SEO plugins available for Episerver – if you’re already using the platform and are missing some features we’d recommend one of these two options:

SEO Manager for Episerver

Mogul SEO Manager has features similar to Yoast, if you’re more familiar with WordPress. Like the CMS, there’s a license fee involved (it’s charged per site, so depending on your domaining strategy it can get quite expensive) but it has all the standard SEO features:

  • When changing a URL the old version is automatically redirected to the new version
    • Remembers the URL history of a page and automatically redirects older versions to the current version, minimising chained redirects
  • Redirects can be managed in the plugin
    • A single new redirect can be added to your current redirects without replacing them
    • Bulk lists can be uploaded
    • Redirects can be created using REGEX if you’re absolutely a professional (seriously, be careful)
  • Canonical tagging
  • Custom 404 pages
  • Sitemap creation

There’s a helpful guide explaining how to install SEO Manager here and there is a free trial version for 30 days. A word of warning: the documentation is poorly maintained so if you don’t already know what you’re doing with some of these features you should reach out to a partner (ahem).

SiteAttention

Like Mogul’s gadget, SiteAttention has a 30 day free trial. It’s charged per page (so it can be very expensive for big sites – if you’re pushing 50,000 pages it’s probably more cost effective to ask your Epi partner to build the features instead) – but it does also work with Sitecore, Umbraco and Drupal, so you may even be familiar with the plugin already.

SiteAttention has more Yoast-esque features, like assessing keyword usage while you type, and is particularly customisable – Mogul is a better choice if you’re at all concerned about the team’s aptitude for SEO as it seems to focus on stopping you breaking things.

The real benefit of SiteAttention is governance. The gadget provides guidance within the Epi interface – great for users who aren’t confident with creating SEO content – and includes rank tracking capabilities. It will even send email notifications if your rankings drop.

If your organisation is well versed in SEO, you’re looking for the basic features and a way to streamline some resource-heavy processes like managing redirects we’d recommend Mogul SEO. If you’re looking for an all-in-one solution SiteAttention is great, but be aware that if you invest in search you might already have access to some better tools (keyword research, tracking and monitoring etc.) elsewhere.

Episerver Find

One of Episerver’s greatest SEO advantages is site search solution Find. It’s built on Elastic and offers endless possibilities. You don’t have to be on Epi to use Elastic, but it’s good to know that there’s a solid search tool in place without hacking anything together.

According to BuiltWith, companies migrating away from the soon-to-be-retired Google Search Appliance are often ending up on Episerver – this is because Find is awesome.

Search engine optimisation out of the box

There’s no real issue with using plugins but we think the basic requirements for SEO should come as standard – things shouldn’t break if a trial expires or an upgrade catches everyone by surprise. Plugins can also over-simplify new technologies, so when you do see a check box for AMP in an SEO plugin it’s rare that it works – or works for long (incidentally there’s no way to implement Accelerated Mobile Pages on DXC using a plugin as far as we’re aware).

Within the admin panel users can manage (without plugins):

  • Canonical tags including hreflang tags and content-language tags
  • Redirects (302 and 301 – it’s easy to switch temporary redirects to permanent redirects without asking a developer)
  • Sitemaps (including multiple sitemaps, News and Video sitemaps)
  • txt files
  • Meta data (which can also be autogenerated)
  • Some forms of governance, such as blocking the publishing of pages that don’t have title tags and meta descriptions specified
  • Integration with site speed monitoring tools like YSlow
  • Automatic resizing and optimisation of images for site speed and UX improvements

Most of these features are not available on a blank Epi install but are straightforward to incorporate. There’s also nothing in Episerver that makes it particularly slow, which for us makes it preferable to some of its main competitors which can be extremely clunky.

Effectively Episerver is more than useful for brands with growth as a primary objective. It requires more development resource than WordPress or Umbraco to get an optimised platform the ground (but less than say, Sitecore or Liferay) but it’s ideal for companies who want a platform that just works in search and lets them get on with the job.

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The European Union has announced it will end “unjustified” geoblocking within 9 months of passing the legislation.

What is geoblocking?

When a computer tries to access online content its IP address is sent to the server hosting the webpage. Geoblocking is the automatic exclusion or redirection of computers located in certain countries, identified by their IP addresses. So when you can’t access BBC iPlayer while on holiday in Spain – that’s geoblocking.

The press releases deems 3 scenarios “unjustified”:

  1. The sale of goods without physical delivery – for example, a Belgian customer wishes to buy a refrigerator and finds the best deal on a German website. The customer will be entitled to order the product and collect it at the trader’s premises or otherwise organise delivery himself to his home (without the seller being involved);
  2. The sale of electronically supplied services – for example, a Bulgarian consumer wishes to buy hosting services for her website from a Spanish company. She will have access to the service and will be able to register and buy the service without having to pay additional fees that a Spanish consumer would not have to pay; and
  3. The sale of services provided in a specific physical location – for example, an Italian family will be able to buy a trip directly to an amusement park in France from the amusement park’s French website without being redirected to an Italian website.

An EU Commission survey found that 63% of the websites it assessed used some form of geoblocking and that less than 40% of websites allowed “cross-border customers” to complete a purchase. 15% of Europeans currently make purchases from stores based in another EU country – the European Union wants to increase trade between its member countries as part of its Digital Single Market initiative so geoblocking has got to go.

Didn’t Google just geoblock everyone?

Less than a month before the EU’s commitment on 20th November (but after the proposal was first tabled during September’s Digital Summit in Tallinn, Estonia) Google product manager Evelyn Kao announced that searchers will only be able to access results from their local version of Google.

After ruining everyone’s SEO reports for a few weeks while rank tracking software providers got their acts together, this is probably going to have to be rolled back before the ruling comes into force in 9 months’ time. Sorry Google.

What is the most significant change for everyone else?

Similarly to Google a lot of websites automatically redirect visitors to their local version. You’ll have to make changes if a German user types yourdomain.com and you’re using GeoIP redirects to send them to yourdomain.de.

We’ve published a guide to domain strategy for international websites: how to choose between subdomain, subfolder or ccTLD for international expansion.

It’s also important to remember that Google crawls your website using a US IP address – failing to make exceptions for Googlebot usually results in the US version of your website being indexed and the international versions being ignored (and very unlikely to receive traffic from search engines).

There are exceptions to every rule but most businesses should implement hreflang and content-language attributes to prevent search engines from sending visitors to international versions of your website.

Implement hreflang and content-language attributes

Hreflang and content-language tags don’t forcibly redirect users to different language versions of your website but do prevent search engines from showing different language versions in search results. Using alternate hreflang tags on yourdomain.de and yourdomain.com should prevent yourdomain.com from surfacing in google.de and will go a long way to helping you comply with the regulation.

Here’s our guide to implementing the hreflang tag.

Bing doesn’t recognise hreflang attributes so if this is your strategy you’ll need to use the “content-language” meta tag to encourage Microsoft’s search engine to show the correct version of your site to international users.

You’ll need to choose a destination for all EU countries that aren’t currently specified – hreflang and content-language will ensure that specified countries do land on the right website and everyone else is still able to check out on a “generic” international version.

You probably shouldn’t ask visitors to select a country via popups

An obvious solution would be to use a lightbox/popup and ask visitors which country-specific version of your website they’d like to visit (based on the idea that you can’t forcibly redirect users but you can with their permission). However, Google’s recent interstitial penalty means that “intrusive” popups will probably cause a website to lose visibility and therefore traffic, so this probably isn’t a solution.

We think this means that Google will double down on press for its hreflang attribute rather than doing a u-turn on interstitials. Portal-style .com homepages could be an option in this case, with international versions in subfolders or on subdomains/ccTLDs like .de – but this will require hreflang and content-language to preserve visibility.

As an absolute minimum you should set up Search Console profiles for each international subdomain/subfolder and select geotargeting options.

Ecommerce sites will need to look at payment providers

Recent Ofcom research suggests that UK users are more likely to trust online retailers that take PayPal payments (or that link to other reputable payment gateways). Integrating PayPal is a quick fix to ensure you’re compliant with the European Union’s requirement to remove “…barriers such as being asked to pay with a debit or credit card issued in another country” and more realistic than accepting every credit card issued in Europe (although we’re sure someone will add that horrific dropdown).

We think you’ll need to look at delivery options

Under the new rules businesses won’t be required to deliver to every country in the European Union. Their example:

“A Belgian customer wishes to buy a refrigerator and finds the best deal on a German website. The customer will be entitled to order the product and collect it at the trader’s premises or organise delivery themselves to their home.”

…but the Belgian customer must be able to complete the transaction so businesses will have to implement some way of arranging delivery separately. This will cause several problems:

  • You won’t want German customers of the German electronics website to be able to checkout without selecting one of your preferred delivery options because that will increase call centre volumes, emails will be missed and complaints will ensue
  • You won’t want the Belgian customer to be able to complete her purchase without being fully aware that you don’t intend to deliver the goods to her house otherwise you may have to process a lot of refunds and complaints will ensue.

The simplest way will be to auto-detect a customer’s location and change the checkout process for that customer (or create an additional “select your country” field – again, please don’t use a dropdown for this). This can be implemented by developers or using JavaScript injected by a platform like Optimizely.

Bonus: server location can no longer be a ranking signal

The EU press release cites an interesting example – “A Bulgarian consumer wishes to buy hosting services for her website from a Spanish company. She will now have access to the service, can register and buy this service without having to pay additional fees compared to a Spanish consumer.”

Server location is thought to be a signal search engines use to rank websites – a website will appear more prominently in Spanish search results if it’s hosted in Spain, for example (although we believe it’s a pretty minor signal). With the new rules Google will likely be forced to debunk this or change its algorithm.

Step one: questions to ask

There are still some questions to be answered by the EU Commission and European Parliament, but equally there are some questions that you will want to ask yourself:

  • Where do visitors from each EU member state currently land and how do they get there?
  • Do I inform search engines which version of my site they should send searchers to?
  • Are my Geo IP redirects preventing my non-US websites from being crawled and indexed by Google?
  • Can I accept payments from credit and debit cards issued in the EU?
  • Are users able to complete my checkout process from another country?

Need help planning for these changes or implementing hreflang? Contact us or find me on Twitter.

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Branded3 | SEO by Mike Jeffs - 3M ago

Getting stuff done

Agility in search has been a prevalent theme at many events I have attended and spoken at throughout the past two years. In the world of search, brands are still struggling to make changes to their site, their strategy and their technology. Which means the challenge of ‘getting stuff done’ keeps cropping up. Our Strategy Director, Stephen Kenwright discussed elements of this at SearchLeeds 2016 – ‘Stop best practicing, start doing

More recently I spoke at last year’s Digital Olympus where I offered my thoughts on agility in search. I discussed how technology is always evolving at a quicker pace and brands and agencies alike need to be agile to take advantage of new forms of standard practice.

Lately there’s been a shift in how things are done within many industries. There’s now a focus on doing newer or smaller things at a much quicker pace. However, in today’s world where everyone is trying to do the ‘next big thing’, but yet protect their current thing, it’s often difficult.

Agility or fluidity?

In our eBook on 2016 search trends, I mentioned agility, referencing ING Nederlands’ agile way of working video:

“the new way of working calls for quicker reactions to changes in client needs”

Agile way of working at ING Netherlands - YouTube

The same can be said for the search landscape. We’ve found there’s generally been a change in client requirements and there’s now a need from clients for a workaround, so as an agency we’ve been challenged to have quicker reactions – a plan B. This has encompassed everything from iframe-ing PR assets to get them live quicker, to testing methods of implementation such as tag manager, or looking at CDN (content delivery networks).

The search landscape changes at such a rapid pace that you must have the ability to quickly amend your strategy for you to get results from Google but also adapt to a Plan B once a client or circumstance has diluted Plan A.

Will it become easier?

No.

If you look at Google’s documented marketing help, the mobile agenda is something they’ve been pushing for a couple of years in some subtle and some not so subtle ways (which then turned out to be subtle – I’m looking at you, Mobilegeddon).

According to Micro Moments the opportunities to satisfy user intent are decreasing, so you need to ensure you can adapt or react as a brand/agency in time to be there in those moments, when it will count.

It’s hugely satisfying when a Plan A gets effectively executed as a Plan B, C or D. This is because as an agency it feels unusual to execute a plan in full without some level of compromise. We’re accustomed to using a somewhat diluted version of our original intention.

Solstice, our sister agency, refers to an ever-growing trend in its clients moving towards agile processes “to gain efficiencies and speed to market”. For us, we’re seeing a change of SEO strategy to an MVP mindset (Minimum Viable Product). As search strategists we need to choose what recommendations can be implemented to present the quickest route to success for a client. Our strategy can’t be linear; it has to be more like a matrix (slide 38).

Feel free to look through my slides on Agility in SEO from Digital Olympus. The latest Digital Olympus event is on 28th November and is free to attend.

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In the last 12 months 91% of the links we placed came from press sites: journalists rather than bloggers.

We love working with bloggers but lots of our clients are in financial services or travel, where blog links often don’t make sense because:

  • Our competitors are getting links from nationals – much more authoritative websites – meaning we have to build higher volumes of links
  • From 2013 Google’s Search Quality Ratings Guidelines started referring to “Your Money or Your Life” websites for sectors like FS, healthcare and legal, which would need to demonstrate a higher degree of “expertise and authority” – we were pretty sure that also applies (or should apply) to the site’s backlink profile, so a financial price comparison website with lots of links from the regulated press > one with lots of links from unregulated bloggers (we’ve definitely proved that to our clients since)
  • In sectors like fashion, TrustFlow, Domain Authority (or whatever you prefer) often aren’t a good proxy for actual authority. Brands thrive on the cutting edge, which is where bloggers in those niches hang out
  • If I can get controversial for a second (and I know I can because I actually said this four years ago): I don’t care about how relevant a linking site is. A link to a travel brand from a massive, all-encompassing website like nytimes.com is going to do more for your search visibility than one from a travel blogger. Relevant stories on big sites will get you more link authority, reach and customers than any kind of story on a relevant site (and again, we keep proving it).

Working with journalists isn’t any easier or harder than working with bloggers, it’s just different. We’ve picked up lots of techniques that contribute to getting more, better links (Laura will share some of these in another BrightonSEO training session in a few months)  – one of my favourites is using search data.

According to the 2015 Edelman Media Forecast (and backed up since), journalists are under increasing pressure to write stories that will get shared on social media – often they’re set traffic-based KPIs. Search data gives us the opportunity to prove stories we’re pitching are in the public’s interest right from the first contact.

Google Trends

Let’s start with the most obvious: Google Trends shows us what the public are searching for in real time. You can break this down by country or city and prove just how interesting your story is to local journalists. For example, the Welsh are nearly twice as festive as people from Northern Ireland if we’re basing that on the popularity of Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas Is You.

This data can be used to back up your stories or help you to come up with them: here’s a link to branded3.com from OK! Magazine Carrie built using some Google Trends data around Love Island. The story is right for their audience and there’s proof of that fact – and it’s right for us because it’s a comment on what’s going on in search. It’s literally explained in that article that this is why we’re linked to.

You can supercharge this data using the Google Trends Datastore, which is populated with analysis of trending stories from Google’s own News Lab, though not much of the data is UK-specific right now.

Keyword research and ranking data

If feeling the pressure to drive traffic to their articles wasn’t enough, journalists are increasingly time-poor too. If we can do the leg work in justifying the story we’re much more likely to get covered. When we’re creating content for our clients’ blogs we’ll usually justify that with keyword search volumes and brief our writers with keywords to include in the copy…but we’re expecting journalists to guess what they might want to rank for (or do their own research).

Please don’t ask a journalist to include keywords because there’s almost no chance they’ll work with you if you do – but insight into the general interest levels of the story you’re pitching can be helpful.

…and in the same way we’re forecasting for our clients we can help our contacts to understand the likelihood that they’ll actually rank for those keywords:

  • Are there publications of a similar authority already on the first page? Google wants diversity in its search results, so if a competitor of the publication you’re working with is ranking then there’s a good chance that the new article could replace it
  • Are the articles already ranking old or new? Is freshness likely to be a factor in that SERP? If so, a new article will probably replace an old one
  • Can you commit to driving traffic or even links to the article? Many businesses still operate a press centre (don’t call it a link scheme – and remember, reciprocal is a dirty word).

It should be pretty obvious that you don’t give out keywords you want to rank for to journalists – the last thing your client needs is another national competing with it – but press websites are a good opportunity to occupy some real top of the funnel terms that are maybe only partially relevant to your product.

Ultimately there are lots of tactics that can improve your success rate…but right now when we think of link building with search data most of us immediately reach for (admittedly awesome) tools like Buzzsumo and analyse which would be the best sites to link to us like we’re building a fantasy football team – I think that time could be better spent analysing how we can make journalists’ jobs easier and actually get the links built.

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