There are plenty of articles out there that talk about out-of-the-box A/B tests you can immediately run on your e-commerce site.
Although, with cookie cutter tests, you’re taking a risk. You might be running tests on parts of your site that don’t really need a test right now.
It’s kind of like throwing darts versus strategically moving a chess piece. The chances that one of those test ideas helps solve a pain point that’s happening specifically on your site is very low.
The same goes with any tests you run based off of assumptions or case studies you’ve seen on other sites in the past.
Your visitors are unique. Someone who visits your e-commerce site will behave differently than how they would on any other e-commerce site. That includes your competitors, who sell the same exact products.
That’s why the following 9 A/B test ideas are based on basic UX principles that you can apply and are catered to the experience your website alone provides.
Unfortunately, these aren’t out-of-the-box test ideas that you can run on your site immediately.
Fortunately, these aren’t out-of-the-box test ideas that you can run on your site immediately (see what I did there? 😉). These ideas will be specific to the experience you provide, increasing the chances you’ll have a winning variation.
In this post, we’ll cover three common content issues—unnecessary content, missing content, and lack of influence—and apply them to the most commonly visited page types on your e-commerce site:
The product listing page
The product detail page
The checkout flow
Reduce Unnecessary Content
This refers to any content that is distracting, unclear, or downright confusing. Removing it is the easy part. Finding the content that isn’t necessary is what requires work.
First, ask yourself questions as you look at the page. Do a quick heuristic analysis on your own to develop some assumptions on what content might not be necessary. Explore things like:
Does a user have to stop and think in order to comprehend this view?
Is there a simpler way to communicate the main point of the page?
Is there too much information stuffed onto one page or region?
Are there unnecessary hyperboles that aren’t adding value to the information a user is looking for?
Are there any elements on the page that are distracting and not adding value to the main subject of the page? Some examples:
Unnecessary promotional banners
Exhaustive looking elements (long forms, tables, lists, large blocks of text, etc.)
Does a user have to leave the page to make any relevant comparisons?
Then, set up some usability tests and ask your users similar questions as they go through the same experience.
Are there any elements on this page that distract you from your intent?
Are there any functions that you find unnecessary and would never imagine yourself using?
Is there any language that isn’t clear or direct?
Is there any content that you don’t need to know at this point?
Is there any content that might discourage you from taking the next step?
FYI: You’ll ask these same questions for the product listing page, product detail page, and the checkout flow.
For the following test ideas that address unnecessary content, we looked at some of the most commonly-used e-commerce sites and asked ourselves some of these questions to identify unnecessary content, some of which you might be using on your experience as well.
Test Idea #1: Reduce Unnecessary Content on the Product Listing Page
Here are some common patterns we observed in regards to unnecessary content on the product listing page. Test removing these elements from your site if you provide a similar experience.
Promotions or Featured Deals That Take Up Too Much Real Estate on the Landing View
Your landing view is the most important part of any experience. Not giving users immediate view of what they are there for (browsing through product cards/categories) causes frustration and abandonment.
The Reviews Rating and Count for Non-reviewed Products
This is especially true when you don’t have a lot of reviews on your products in the first place. People will disproportionately choose only the few select products that have high ratings/review counts, leaving the rest of your products by the wayside. Showing no stars, or replacing with a small “no reviews yet” comment might be a better option for that product’s click-through rate.
Distractions in the Product Card Image
Especially when it comes to apparel, you don’t want your model’s shirt to take all the attention when you are trying to sell the pants. Keep the complementary/surrounding visuals neutral so the focus is on the product you’re trying to sell.
Non-pertinent Icons, Links, and Text
It’s easy to want to stuff everything you can onto a product listing page. But some things are better left for the product detail page or even in the checkout flow. Like multiple rating systems, “verified” icons, random crowns, or contact links.
alibaba.comTest Idea #2: Reduce Unnecessary Content on the Product Detail Page
Here are some common patterns we observed in regards to unnecessary content on the product detail page. Test removing these elements from your site if you provide a similar experience.
Busy Navigation and Menus
When you’re users are still browsing categories and product types, it’s acceptable (actually encouraged) to make sure they have easy access to all the navigation items, search boxes, or featured deals.
But when a user gets to an individual product, you want to reduce those distractions so they can focus on the singular subject at hand. The featured deal and banner advertisement below draw attention away from the product and its details.
Unnecessary White/Empty Space in Product Image
Especially for aesthetically-driven products, you want your product image to display trust, quality, and attention to detail. This includes keeping your products featured at the center of your main product image.
Use surrounding white space in a balanced manner, and keep the product in the middle of your users’ view. When you push your product down, as seen below, it reduces a user’s perceived value of the product as it’s “at the bottom” of the image. The way you design the presentation of your product directly mimics the way users perceive it. Plus, in this case, users could see some important details of the product on the landing view instead of having to scroll for it.
You want your users to spend as little cognitive load (AKA thinking juice) as possible to purchase your product. Don’t try to be too witty or clever, especially with your most important CTAs. All product detail pages should have a clear “add to cart” or “buy” call out so users don’t second-guess if they are about to press the right button.
target.comTest Idea #3: Reduce Unnecessary Content in The Checkout Flow
Here are some common patterns we observed in regards to unnecessary content in the checkout flow. Test removing these elements from your site if you provide a similar experience.
Mentions of Other Products
When a user is in the checkout flow, the last thing you want them to do is to leave. So don’t give them any reason to. When you feature other products (related products, popular, etc.), you are enticing your user to abandon their checkout process and to possibly reconsider making a purchase.
The saying “content is king” has been echoed by countless digital marketers across the globe. While creating useful and significant content for your brand is imperative for SEO success, it’s not enough. In order for your content to rank in competitive search engine result pages (SERPs), people need to link to it. Digital marketers can speed up this process of gaining valuable backlinks by conducting link building campaigns (otherwise known here as “outreach”).
While there are several link building strategies you can implement, all of them have one thing in common—email. Most people have a love/hate (mostly hate) with their email inbox, but distributing your content or guest post inquiries through email is the best way to build links. Yes, outreach can be done through other communication channels, like social media or messenger apps, but email trumps in comparison. Email is still the preferred communication method amongst most people (especially business professionals). In fact, Statista reports that there were approximately 281 billion emails sent and received in 2018.
With that many emails being sent out in the marketplace, it’s important for you to know how to stick out from the crowd. Luckily, we’ve written a guide to help you do this. Without further ado, here are six components of the best email practices for link building.
1. Hit the Right Target
This one may seem obvious, but outreach gets a bad rap due to not-so-savvy internet marketers promoting themselves or their content to the wrong people. Just like most things in digital marketing, targeting the right group of people is essential for success. Before you send off hundreds or even thousands of emails, it’s important that you do three things:
Find the Right Person
Fortunately for all of us, there are several ways for link builders to find the right audience to pitch themselves or their content to. The easiest way is to use Google search queries to find publications and influencers who are in your industry. On that same vein, setting up Google Alerts for industry-related keywords will bring fresh new content (a.k.a. publications to pitch) to your inbox on a daily basis.
Outreachers can also use Reddit, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media platforms to conduct audience research. Additionally, paid tools like Buzzsumo allow you to conduct thorough research on the top publications and influencers who are discussing topics related to your field.
Make It Relevant for That Person
The contacts that you will email need to find value in the content you are promoting. You want to make their lives easier—not annoy them by crowding their inbox with useless or irrelevant information. Before sending a pitch to one of your contacts ask yourself, “How does this email add value to this person?” If you can’t confidently answer this question, then you need to reevaluate why you are sending that pitch to them. Your pitch has to be relevant, and useful to them or their readers.
Use the Right Tools to Reach That Person
As I mentioned above, you can use Google search queries and social media to find the right audience. But how do you find the best email address? How can you possibly keep track of all of the people you’re emailing? And how do you know if they are opening your emails? We’ve written about the best tools for outreach, so definitely check that out. There are several tools available to find your contact’s email address and keep track of your link building campaigns—organization is key here.
2. Obsess Over Your Subject Line
Subject lines will make or break your link building efforts. You need to grab your recipient’s attention and give them a reason to open your email. If they don’t open your email, then the chances of getting your content covered are extremely slim.
Quick Tips for Great Subject Lines
Leave out unnecessary information. Minor details should only be in your email body.
Try using different subject lines for your follow-ups; test out a different angle.
Use buzzwords that will interest your contact, pose a question, or offer a solution to a problem.
Use alerts like [Data], [Survey], [Report], or [Map] to describe your content.
Example: Let’s say that you want to obtain a backlink on a huge sports publication via guest posting. You spend a significant amount of time looking for the perfect contact and crafting the ultimate pitch. However, you send the sports editor an email with this subject line:
Unless the editor is desperate for writers, you are most likely not going to get a response.
Instead, try being more specific and timely with your subject lines:
Don’t be afraid to A/B test your subject lines as well. If a high number of your contacts aren’t opening your emails, try sending them the same pitch with a different subject line.
3. Personalize, Personalize, and Then Personalize Some More!
Editors, bloggers, and influencers enjoy authenticity. Personalizing your emails lets them know that you’re an actual person—not a robot spammer. Additionally, it shows that you put forth the effort to get to know them and their line of work. Personalization goes a long way, and it increases your response rates.
In fact, Backlinko recently conducted a study where they analyzed 12 million outreach emails. They found that emails with personalized message bodies have a 32.7% better response rate. Additionally, they found that personalized subject lines boost response rates by 30.5%. Personalization is the name of the game.
How to Personalize
You need to do more than include your contact’s first name in your email. Any robot can do that! Here are some quick personalization tips:
Talk about their work in a conversational, authentic, complimentary tone. Skim something they’ve written (obviously you can’t read hundreds of articles for your outreach, but get an idea of what they’ve published). Try to be specific–if you’re too vague, it can come off as disingenuous.
Ask relevant questions about their work. Asking thought-provoking questions to your contacts will most likely lead them to engage with you.
Personalize yourself. There’s no harm in introducing yourself. Providing background information about yourself helps your recipients visualize you as an actual person. Be brief if you do this, though.
While personalization leads to higher response rates, the true magic of personalization is that it helps you build long-term relationships with people relevant to your industry. These relationships can excel your link building efforts for years to come.
4. Get to the Point Quickly
While it is true that there are wildly successful long pitches, most editors and journalists that receive your pitch see hundreds of emails daily. Here are some tips to keep things concise:
Get to the point of your email as quickly as possible.
Have a clear call-to-action, and only one to avoid confusion.
Use bullet points for easy skimming.
If you’re promoting content, include a link at the bottom of your email to a Google Drive folder with all the assets your contact will need to write an entire article.
5. Communicate Value in Your Email Body
At the end of the day, you need to provide value to your email recipients. Whether you’re pitching yourself as a guest author for their blog or you’re promoting a recent content piece you want them to link to, you need to quickly explain why your pitch is worthwhile.
If you’re pitching yourself for a guest post, tell your contact that your expertise in your field in unique. Showcase your previous work, tell them why you’re a fit for their publication, and let them know that your article will be useful for their readers.
If you’re promoting a piece of content on your site, tell your contacts why they should cover and link to it. Does your content piece contain data that nobody else has? Is it the most up-to-date piece in your industry? Will their readers find it useful? Why?
The most successful outreachers are those that follow a simple rule—be a giver, not a taker.
In the Backlinko study we mentioned above, emailing the same contact multiple times leads to 2x more responses. Website editors, reporters, and bloggers get hundreds—if not thousands—of emails in any given day. It can be easy for your outreach pitches to get lost in the abyss of a never-ending email inbox.
Follow-ups ensure that your pitches rise above the noise of a crowded inbox. However, sending short and generic follow-ups can actually do more harm than good. Each time you follow-up with someone, make sure to provide them with more value. It can be more information about yourself, a fresh idea for their site, or previously undisclosed data from your content piece.
In all of your link building efforts, it’s important for you to prioritize quality over quantity. Emailing the appropriate person, crafting an outstanding subject line, personalization, communicating value, and following-up takes a lot of effort.
Resilience and persistence are the keystones of the most successful outreach campaigns. Your efforts will pay dividends, and over time, your successes will turn into great coverage, quality backlinks, a healthier backlink profile, and better organic search visibility—which makes everyone happy, right? Just remember to use the right metrics to prove your success!
Attribution, simply put, is a way to assign credit for sales or leads back to the initial marketing activities that drove it.
An attribution model is a way of assigning more or less credit to a marketing campaign, content, or channel depending on where in a customer’s journey they encountered it.
To demonstrate how attribution models work, let’s look at a hypothetical customer journey.
A Sample Customer Journey
Somebody discovers your brand through an ad on Google on a Monday. They browse around briefly, then leave.
On Wednesday, they scroll through their Facebook feed and see a retargeting ad and remembered the product they were looking at and visit again.
On Friday night, they’re hanging out at home on their couch with the tablet and recall your brand name from the previous day and search on Google, this time clicking on an organic listing. While at your site, they see a product they like, but it’s out of stock. They see an “email me when this product becomes available” call to action and sign up for the email reminder.
Next week, when the product comes back in stock they get the reminder email and visit your site again from that campaign. But they want to make sure they’re getting the best deal, so they go to a competitor’s website to check the price on a similar item.
Lastly, since they’re familiar with your brand now, instead of reopening the email they got earlier, they just go directly to the site, search for the item, and buy it for $100.
Applying Attribution Models
Now that we’ve laid out that customer journey, let’s look at how credit for that sale is assigned under a few attribution models.
Last Click Attribution
Last click attribution, sometimes called last touch, is the most common model and the most problematic for two reasons:
By the time the last touch happens, a potential customer is already educated and familiar with your brand. Which means, they come directly to your site or search for your brand name in Google.
Almost every analytics platform uses last touch attribution by default. annual shareholder reports tend to also use last touch attribution when talking about digital results. Why? Because they’ve been that way forever and old habits die hard.
Revisiting our customer journey using last click attribution, direct gets all the credit for the sale, completely obscuring the marketing efforts that came before it.
Incredible! Our brand strength is off the charts! Why are we even paying for traffic? Or to send out these expensive email blasts? Or to work with our SEO agency? We should stop doing all of that and just rely on word-of-mouth.
For more on the last click attribution problem, check out this post.
First Click Attribution
Under a first click (or first touch) attribution model the opposite is true; only the first stop in the user journey would get the entirety of the credit for that $100 sale. None of the other touch points leading up to that sale would be credited at all, even though they played an important role in the transaction.
So going back to our customer journey, if we paid $2 to generate that initial ad click, and the first touch attribution model tells us we generated $100 through that ad, we’d rightly think that our ROI for paid search is 50:1!
Wow! We should just shovel our entire marketing budget to Google Ads at that rate!
So why don’t we just give equal credit to all the touch points in a user journey and simplify everything? That’s what a linear model does.
We call it the “Participated Award” of attribution models. You did it, little Johnny! There are no winners and losers, but you tried really hard and that counts for something.
Do you know the value of your Google Ads investment?
As marketers, we have what can feel like endless options to utilize our often limited marketing budgets.
How do you know where to invest? PPC is often a low-funnel highly-targeted place to start, but how do you justify the results you are driving? Should you be spending more? Less?
All these questions are crucial to getting the most out of your broader marketing mix. But the answer isn’t always as straightforward as it seems, even in the world of PPC where calculating your ROI is often much easier than most other digital channels (and certainly easier than more traditional marketing channels).
It sounds simple. You have Google Analytics and conversion tracking set up. So you ask yourself, “did my click result in a conversion?”
But many other questions come from this. How much is a conversion worth? How often do your conversions result in revenue? What are your margins?
These are much larger questions that we’ll save for another blog post. The one we’ll focus on here is simply, “who deserves credit for a conversion?” And that brings us to attribution.
What is Attribution?
Attribution is considered by many to be the most important marketing argument. In marketing, attribution is the action of deducing what deserves credit for a conversion. Sounds relatively straightforward, right?
However, things can get messy quickly as sales funnels get longer. For instance, what deserves credit for the conversion in this user path scenario?
Google Ads and Google Analytics both default to an attribution model called last click. So with those defaults in place, as many businesses use, 100% of the credit for the conversion above would go to a direct site visit, despite the heavy influence paid search, paid social, and display played in the nine-step path this user traveled down on their way to converting.
When you lay it out like that, it’s easy to see there are unlimited different combinations of touchpoints that could result in a conversion…so maybe last click doesn’t always fit.
Let’s take a look at the other attribution models available within Google Ads.
In Google Ads, there are six different attribution models to choose from that distribute credit in different ways. I’ll go through them and discuss when you might want to use each.
Last click attribution gives 100% of the credit for a conversion to an ad when it was the last click that led to the conversion (again, this is the default setting).
Example: This model is best used when trying to identify which channels are most responsible for bottom of the funnel deal closing.
First click gives 100% of the credit for a conversion to an ad that was the first click in a path that led to a conversion.
Example: This model is best used when trying to identify how users are introduced to your brand (new users).
Credit is distributed evenly across all clicks that the user had on their way to a conversion.
Example: This model is more useful when you are trying to understand how all your channels are playing a role in a conversion.
Credit is weighed by the click’s proximity to the conversion using a seven-day half-life. A click eight days before a conversion gets half the credit of a click one day before the conversion.
Example: This model is best used when trying to learn what strategies are better brand introducers and what strategies drive the most conversions.
Credit is distributed with 40% credit towards the first click and 40% credit towards the last clicks. The remaining 20% is spread evenly between the clicks in the middle.
Example: This model is most useful when you value brand introduction and conversion driving the most.
Credit is shared based on the weight of each click. Clicks that play a more significant role historically in driving conversion earn more weight. This model is specific to each advertiser’s individual conversion data.
Example: This model is the most scientific. It uses algorithms to weigh conversions, and with enough data, is most useful when trying to understand which channels are playing the largest role in driving conversions.
Each model has pros and cons inherently. So how do you pick one that is going to work for you?
Choosing an Attribution Model
In many cases, we are all so used to last click attribution that it’s hard to buck the trend and start fresh with something new, even if we know it is misrepresenting the data. We all have reports to create and people to report to.
With that in mind, it’s important to decide on a model using facts, data, and a clear understanding of your goals and expectations.
Google Analytics has a nifty tool to help.
Model Comparison Tool
In Google Analytics under Conversions > Attribution you will find the Model Comparison Tool.
This tool allows you to pit up to three different attribution models against one another for the same data set to see how your conversion data changes as you begin to consider different models.
Specifically, you can toggle the tool to just view Google Ads data.
Start with Last Interaction (i.e. last click) and start comparing different models. Check the “% change in conversion” column to begin to get a picture of how Google Ads performs differently with a different model in place. You’ll start to notice that some campaigns and strategies are affected differently by different models.
Before Making a Switch
There is a lot to consider before making the jump to a new model in Google Ads.
Consider your business goals. What are you trying to get out of Google Ads? If you are investing significant budget into Google Ads, it’s likely you are expecting conversions. But are you limiting yourself in scenarios like the one we outlined at the start?
Review your Top Conversion Paths in Google Analytics to learn what paths users are most often taking.
When you do change your attribution model in the Conversions section of Google Ads, your data will begin to shift and it will not retroactively update historical data. You’ve most likely been optimizing towards one model for some time, so make sure everyone is on the same page before switching.
Attribution is a huge question, and most of the biggest brands and highest spending advertisers struggle with it. There is very likely not a one size fits all answer to “the right” attribution model for you.
But just because the industry default has historically been last click doesn’t mean you have to continue the trend. Weigh your options, look at the data, consider your goals, and pick a model that reflects your strategies and business.
Once you settle on a new, more accurate model, you can begin collecting new data. In theory, the new data will be more representative of your goals, so you should be able to start making optimizations off it that will help improve your overall business KPIs.
Keywords are a seemingly inescapable aspect of the SEO world. SEO professionals (myself included) encourage clients to focus on more meaningful metrics besides the humble keyword ranking, but the fact remains that ranking well in Google for keywords with significant search volume will (usually) result in traffic to your site.
Of course, keeping track of keywords isn’t free. Whether you spend your time manually checking rankings or your money on a keyword rank tracking solution, you have to limit how many keywords you track per page and per website. So, that begs the question, “how many keywords should you track?”
Are you ready for this one? It wouldn’t be an SEO article if it didn’t have the following sentence:
Start With Keyword Research
Unfortunately, keywords don’t materialize out of thin air or come to us in a vision. Even more, you can’t just assume you know what keywords people use to search and what you should be ranking for. That’s why you should always start with keyword research.
There’s plenty of information out there on how to perform keyword research successfully, but I’ll outline some of my preferred steps and best practices below.
Hop into your site’s GSC Performance section to see a table of queries that domain ranks for.
Conveniently, this section defaults to show which queries got your site the most clicks over the past three months. This gives you a great idea of what Google thinks your site deserves to rank for, and if you click the Pages tab, which pages are ranking.
Once you’ve identified the keywords you want to rank highly for, assign them to appropriate landing pages. In all likelihood, you will have already identified your target pages while performing the keyword research.
The number of target organic landing pages will directly influence the answer to our main question about the appropriate number of keywords to track.
How Many Keywords Should You Track?
You’ve decided which of your pages you want to optimize as organic landing pages, but how many keywords should you optimize each page for?
At the bare minimum, one; some pages may have a singular focus that answers only one query. It’s much more likely that you’ll want to target two or three keywords per page, even if they’re just close variations. Any more than four is a bit crowded; after all, each page only has one title tag and meta description. With a range of keywords per page determined, we can estimate how many keywords we’ll track.
Take the number of organic landing pages you’ve chosen
Multiply that number by the range of keywords per page (1-4) to get your range, or
Multiply the number of organic landing pages by 2.5, the average of the range.
For example, let’s say you’re working on a services site with five unique offerings and three blog posts that you want to target as landing pages. Between these pages and your homepage, you should expect to track 9-36 or about 22 keywords on average.
Of course, rules of thumb are meant to be broken. We work with a manufacturing client that offers ten unique manufacturing products. Without including their blog-focused keywords, we’re tracking 62 keywords for their site.
Other sites might not be as cut and dried. We work with a major news publishing site which often ranks 1st for extremely high-volume keywords due to their backlink profile and industry authority. We actively track over 200 keywords for them, most of which don’t directly correspond to a static landing page such as a product or service page.
Or, if you’re dealing with a site for a 20-year-old digital marketing agency run by some of the biggest nerds in the industry, you might end up with nearly 500 keywords on your tracking list so you can keep an eye on all the various blog posts you’ve published over the years.
How To Track Keyword Rankings
Although I did mention it as a possibility, you’re probably not going to want to manually track keyword rankings by doing a Google search every day (from the same machine, using a private browsing window, at the same time of day, etc.) and looking for your site.
Fortunately, there are plenty of options available for keyword tracking.
We love our Vancouver neighbo(u)rs to the north! Their robust tool allows you to set up keyword tracking for desktop and mobile, specific locations, different languages, and tons of other features. They also archive HTML snapshots of the SERPs for the keywords you track so you can see how your site and your competitors showed up in Google results.
Another favorite of ours is Ahrefs, a true Swiss army knife for digital marketers. Rather than specifying which keywords you’d like to actively track, Ahrefs updates daily with all keywords that your tracked sites rank for. You may not be able to keep tabs on that ambitious keyword you’d like to rank for but never have, but it’s still incredibly comprehensive.
This is a great free option, but you get what you pay for. We already saw how you can use Search Console to identify what you’re already ranking for in Google search. However, the platform only shows your average ranking for a given keyword over a period of time. That means if you spent weeks ranking 80th for a term, but suddenly jumped to 2nd, your 28-day average ranking will be in the 70s.
There are, of course, dozens of options out there; these are just the few that I recommend.
What to Watch for in Rank tracking
You’ve done your keyword research, assigned terms to target landing pages, signed up for a monthly subscription to your tool of choice… so now what? Should you sweat over every movement in the rankings, no matter how small? (No.) Should you be worried if all the keywords a single page ranks for plummet 50 positions? (Probably.)
The easiest way to stay on top of your rank changes and have peace of mind for your site(s) is to set up position change alerts. For example, STAT allows you to create custom alerts based on position movement. My most used alert is “If the number of keywords in the top-ten falls by 5%”. The difference between a first- and second-page result is significant.
Of course, fluctuations are to be expected. Google is notoriously capricious, and you may find your rankings undergoing a single-day jump or a back and forth oscillation.
This screenshot from STAT shows a client’s keyword ranking doing what rankings do best: bouncing up and down.Find Your Goldilocks Number
I’ve given you a framework for estimating how many keywords to track, but anyone in digital marketing can tell you that our rules aren’t so much set in stone as they are written in chalk until someone comes along and hoses down the sidewalk.
You may find that you prefer to track far more or far fewer keywords than I’m recommending. Maybe you don’t bother tracking rankings at all! As long as the tracking that you do is valuable to you and your client, the exact number doesn’t matter.
You know those blog posts that attempt to answer questions about something you’re keenly interested in, but then the first 80% of them beat around the bush until they actually provide the insights you’re looking for (if at all)?
This isn’t one of those posts. Neither you or I are interested in wasting a few minutes of your life only to be let down wishing you could get your time back.
Paid search. Google Ads. Ad Rank. You have questions. We’re going to answer them. No fluff. No bullsh*t. Here you go.
1. What Is Ad Rank?
Google defines ad rank as “a value that’s used to determine your ad position and whether your ads will show at all.” Your ad rank is the result of any given paid search auction and is compared to those of your competitors to determine if and where on the SERP your ad will show in relation to these competitors.
2. How Is Ad Rank Calculated?
According to Google, ad rank is calculated using several factors, including your maximum CPC bid amount (and whether or not that meets a minimum threshold), your auction-time quality score, the context of a user’s search, and your enabled ad extensions. Your ad rank is also recalculated each time an ad is eligible for and competes in an auction. Therefore, it’s entirely possible that an ad for one of your keywords will show up in position #1 at the top of the page for one user’s search and in a different position for another’s.
3. Can I Just Bid More to Get the Best Ad Rank in an Auction?
Not necessarily. Don’t forget about the other factors; quality and context matter! If your quality score is high and your assets (keyword, ad copy, etc.) are highly relevant, you can still wind up getting the best ad rank in an auction while bidding less than your competitors. Likewise, if your quality score is low and your assets aren’t as relevant to your user’s context (where they are in the funnel, for example), you could bid higher than all of your competitors and still not get the best ad rank.
4. How Are Ad Rank and Quality Score Related?
While your keyword quality score factors into determining ad rank for a given auction, your ad rank does not directly impact quality score as a result of that auction. Quality score is, however, determined in part by your expected click-through rate (CTR) which takes into account your historical CTR trend. That trend can be influenced by an improved ad position, which is determined by your ad rank.
I know that seems like circular logic but stick with me for a moment.
It’s common for ads that show up first at the top of the SERP to naturally have an advantage at acquiring a higher CTR. Because your positioning is determined by ad rank, that positioning can (but is not guaranteed to) help improve your CTR trend which, thereby, positively impacts your quality score. That improved quality score then directly factors into your ad rank for future auctions.
5. How Do I Improve Ad Rank?
Having a better ad rank means better visibility on the SERP. The more visible you are, the more likely someone is to click on your ad. There are a few ways to directly improve your ad rank, which all refer to the factors mentioned earlier in question 2:
Increase your maximum CPC bids
Improve your quality scores
Ensure your keywords and text ads are highly relevant to the search queries which may trigger them
Optimize ad extensions and use as many as are relevant to your account
There you have it! Hopefully, your questions have been answered, and you’re well on your way to improving your ad rank. And don’t forget to bookmark this page in case you need to reference it in the future.
Updated on June 25, 2019, to include current research tools and resources.
One of the first tools I fell in love with when I started mountaineering was an ice axe. An ice axe probably doesn’t sound like something you could love. It’s certainly not warm and fuzzy. You can definitely use it as a weapon. But hear me out! It’s essential for scrambling and climbing on snow and ice and is jaw-droppingly versatile. You can use it as a walking stick to keep balance, for self-arrest if you fall, and to maintain control when glissading down a slope. It’s literally a lifesaver.
Thinking about how much mountaineering tools make my adventuring life easier and how I enjoy suggesting that other people use them, made me realize how many content research and ideation tools make my process way more efficient and that I should probably share those with people, too.
Why Do You Need Content Research Tools?
One of the main reasons for using tools for content ideation is to understand what your users are searching for, so you can deliver the most engaging and useful content to them.
In Content Strategy for the Web, Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach write:
“Great content meets users’ needs and supports key business objectives. It keeps people coming back for more.”
When you’re coming up with content ideas, it’s essential to think about what’s going to make people return to your site. One way to do this is by answering people’s questions. Not only is this a great way to engage with people on your website, but writing blog posts in this way can help you drive a lot of organic traffic, especially if you grab the “featured snippet” or “people also ask” sections of the SERPs.
A Few of My Favorite Research Tools
If you currently write content but need some new methods for finding topics for your blog, read below for my favorite content research tools (some free, some paid).
1. Free Content Research Tools
Content topic research is more of an art than a science. There isn’t a prescriptive, one-size-fits-all approach. It’s best to pick a starting point and then see where you end up from there. To begin to get a feel for what people are searching for, I suggest starting with one of the free content research tools and then dive into the paid tools to find out how viable your ideas are (I’ll talk about my favorite paid tools later on in this post).
One fantastic place to start is Quora. Quora is a website where people ask, answer, edit, and organize questions. Its sole purpose is to solve people’s problems by responding to questions, just like you do with the content on your website.
Let’s pretend your company sells matcha. If you search “matcha,” it pulls up questions people asked around the topic. The inquiry below is an excellent potential topic to explore on your website or social media platforms:
Try typing in different keywords and seeing what questions come up—some will most likely be potential content topics, or at least help you verify your current ideas.
A search engine’s goal is to match up a searcher’s intent with a quality piece of content that satisfies that purpose. When someone enters a query into the search bar, the engine will attempt to find the most relevant pages to display in its search results.
An excellent tool for discovering what potential customers are searching for is the Google Ads Keyword Planner. This tool allows you to research new keywords and ideas, and you can access the tool without running a campaign—I just recommend following some instructions.
Although Google will hide info for certain terms with extremely high volume, the Keyword Planner tool provides the average search volume for specific terms and phrases, and it can show you how competitive the market is for that query and how expensive a paid search bid might be.
One of our favorite ways to use the Keyword Planner is to find the Wikipedia page for your topic and then plug that into the “Your landing page” field. For example, some of the keyword ideas from looking up the Wikipedia page for “Hiking” are:
Once you uncover what people are actually searching for, you can either optimize your current content for those keyword phrases or create new content.
Plain Old Google
Don’t get so sucked into using tools that you forget to look at the actual search engine results pages. Plugging a keyword into Google and seeing what comes up via Google Suggest can be a simple, but effective way to kick off your content ideation process.
You can use Google Suggest to go down a kind of keyword rabbit hole. Start by inputting a simple query, such as “jogging” and see what Google pulls up.
You can then choose one of the suggestions, plug it back into Google, and see what comes up in Google Suggest this time.
For example, if you sell jogging shoes, you could write a blog post titled, “The Top 5 Jogging Shoes for Flat Feet.”
If you want additional data about these queries directly in the SERPs, you can install the free Chrome and Firefox plugin, Keywords Everywhere. The tool will give you data such as Google keyword search volume, CPC, and competition data of keywords.
They also pull “related keywords” and “people also search for” and display them on the right-hand side of the SERPs, which you can export to a CSV file.
Let’s get straight to it – yes! You need a tag manager. And the good news is no, you don’t need to be very technical or a code wiz to do it.
Saying yes to a tag management system is saying yes to saving time, saving work for your development team, increasing the ability to track useful conversions on your website, as well as the ability to solve pesky (and common) issues like cross-domain tracking.
A tag manager requires a little bit of legwork to implement, but the payoff is well worth the effort.
What is a Tag Manager Used For?
Tag management solutions are the most effective way to implement third-party code on your website. Once you’ve installed tag manager code on your site, you can add all other third-party code via your tag manager. This gives you the flexibility to change, update, and deploy code at any time.
A tag manager then sends data back to those third-party sites based on defined user actions on your website.
There are many tag management solutions available, each with their own set of pros and cons. While paid management solutions come with lots of extra bells and whistles, as a Google Partner company, we prefer Google Tag Manager. It’s free, integrates natively with many other Google products, and is equipped with integrators to platforms such as Hotjar, LinkedIn, Quora, and several others. There is also a “Custom HTML” and “Custom Image” tag option to meet any other tagging code needs, such as marketing automation platforms, and Facebook Pixels.
We’ll be using GTM in our examples today.
Benefits of a Tag Manager
While there are many benefits to a tag manager, I’ve identified some personal favorites:
Lower Dependency on the Development Team
After tag manager code is installed on your site, you have free reign of code management and implementation after that. No need to wait around for sprints, or file Jira tickets for code additions for small updates. This gives your team agility in launching or making changes to digital marketing efforts.
Increased Website Performance
Tag managers reduce the instances of additional code on the back-end of your website. It’s worth noting that any hard-coded additions to your site may result in longer load times (to which we say AH!). Long load times mean that users will not stick around and wait for your page to load, which translates to lost business. A tag management system lightens the burden of code.
Preview and Test Changes
If you’re using a tag manager to track user actions on your site such as form fills, clicks, or page views, you can launch preview mode to ensure tags and triggers are set up the way they should be. Preview testing ensures you’re only tracking what you intend to track, and allows you to catch any errors before publishing.
How Difficult is it to Implement on My Website?
Tag managers require a one-time hard code implementation to the back end of your website.
For instance, Google Tag Manager gives you two pieces of code—one to put in the <head> and one to put in the <body>. Ask your web development team to do this for you, or do it yourself if you’re savvy enough.
Your website might even include a plugin where you can place the code, and the plugin will insert the code dynamically.
Creating Tags and Triggers
Having some background knowledge of HTML is helpful when creating tags and triggers for third-party code, but not necessarily required. When you create a tag for third-party code and GTM has a native integration for that product, you may only need to input certain elements of code.
For example, let’s say you want to implement Floodlight code which tracks conversions on your website. A Floodlight tag is provided in HTML, but Google Tag Manager has a native integration that only requires you to dynamically insert three parts of the HTML code: the Advertiser ID, Group Tag String, and Activity Tag String. You can use the “?” buttons for help if you’re unsure which parts of the code that is.
It is also helpful to know what code elements to use in triggers to capture user interactions. If you’re still learning, my advice is to click around in Preview mode and see what variables are available to you when you click on them. Seeing which variables return values allows you to use them strategically to create triggers.
Which Tag Manager Should I Pick?
As I said before, there are a variety of tag management options out there. Whether you prefer a paid management solution and the support that comes with it such as Launch by Adobe, Tealium, and Signal Tag Manager, or if Google Tag manager is the right tool for you, the decision will be dependent on your business and needs. However, regardless of which solution you pick, I say: Yes to tag management!
I hate checklists. But an SEO audit requires one. So I surrender.
This list reflects our biases:
Technical SEO is big
Google Search Console is not
Log file analysis pops up
We consider link building a separate discipline that deserves its own checklist, so you won’t find it here
We consider keyword analysis a separate discipline that includes content, SEO, social media and paid search, so you won’t find much about it here, either
This isn’t the whole list. Don’t judge me. We have to keep something for ourselves.
There’s some duplication. We’re only human.
We update the list regularly. When we update our internal checklist, we’ll update this one. Sometimes.
It’s definitely copyright Portent 2019. Steal this and make it your own, and we’ll find your pets, seduce them with treats, and take them home with us to pamper and spoil forever and ever. We’re petty. We’re not monsters.
There are a lot of different elements that go into a successful PPC account, but few things are more frustrating than setting up your account only to have your clicks limited by a high cost per click (CPC).
In this post, we will examine what causes high CPCs, and some cover a handful of strategies you can try to drive them down.
Max CPC vs. Actual CPC
Before we start, it’s best to make the distinction between Max CPC and Actual CPC. Max CPC is the maximum amount of money that you’re willing to spend on a click. Actual CPC is what you end up paying.
Example: If your Max CPC bid is $2.00, but you can secure the top spot with a bid of $1.65, you’ll only pay $1.65 per click instead of $2.00.
Of course, there are other factors that go into bidding, but we won’t get into them in this article. You can read about those factors here.
What Causes High CPC?
Before you can work on improving your average CPC, it’s essential to understand the factors that influence it. There are three primary considerations:
Google Ads runs similarly to an eBay auction. Every time someone searches, the auction takes place. Several things determine the winner, but your bid is one of the most significant factors. The more people that are bidding on a keyword, the more expensive it will be.
This is one that you can’t really control, but it’s vital to understand. Using Google’s Keyword Planner can give you an idea of what the expected CPC is for keywords in your industry. In general, industries that have a higher value per conversion have higher average CPCs because advertisers are willing to pay more per click.
Example: For law firms, one conversion could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars for the business, so it makes sense to pay a much higher cost per click. Compare that to a retailer selling boxes of gelatin for $2 a piece. They have to pay a much lower cost per click to remain profitable.
Quality Score is a metric given by Google to rate the quality of your keywords. It combines your historical performance and the overall relevance of your ads, landing pages, and keywords. The end result is a score from 1 to 10 that directly affects what you will have to pay to reach a specific position on the page. The more relevant you are, the less Google will charge you to rank high. We’ll talk about improving your quality score later in the article.
Strategies to Lower CPC
Understanding why your CPC is a specific price empowers you to begin to improve it. Here are a few strategies to keep in mind when attempting to optimize your campaigns and drive down average CPC.
The most straightforward tip to implement is to aim for a lower ad position. Experiment with showing up in position 1, 2, 3, etc. Does showing up in position 3 seriously decrease your clicks? If users are still clicking even when you aren’t in position 1, it may be worth it to settle for a lower position if it means significant decreases in CPC.
Another solution to high CPC is to bid on keywords where your competitors aren’t. The more specific you can get with your keywords while still being relevant, the cheaper your cost per click will become because fewer people are bidding.
Example: If you are running an e-commerce gelatin company (pretty niche, I know), you might think of bidding on the word “gelatin.” Makes sense, but it’s likely that every other online gelatin retailer in the country is also bidding on that keyword.
Instead, bid on “sugar-free strawberry gelatin.” Still relevant, but much less likely to be bid on by competitors.
Improve Ad Relevance
Look to improve your quality score by improving your ad relevance. The closer your ad resembles a user’s search, the higher your rating will be.
Example: Let’s revisit my online gelatin retailer. Say a user searches for “strawberry sugar-free gelatin,” and this ad shows up:
It’s relevant, sure, but it could be better.
Now, what if I changed the headline to this:
Much more relevant to the search.
I know what you’re thinking: “But how can I make an ad that specific for everyone?” I’m glad you asked, that brings us to our next point.
Make Your Ad Groups More Specific
When creating campaigns and ad groups, separate your offerings into small, related groups so you can target each group individually.
Doing this gives yourself the flexibility to create ads tailored specifically to each ad group. This increased ad relevance will provide your quality score a boost, and decrease your average cost per click.
Example: Gelatin Town offers many different types of gelatin, for many different, gelatin-related needs. It’s important to distinguish between all our diverse offerings. So, I would create ad groups like “sugar-free gelatin” and “flavored gelatin” and tailor my ad copy to those specific ad groups.
Test New Landing Pages
If you have multiple landing pages or have the budget to create them, testing new ones can be a fantastic way to improve CPC. Landing pages influence two factors in the quality score: ad relevance and landing page experience. You can find more information on how to create a killer landing page here.
Example: Back to Gelatin Town. If I have an ad group for “sugar-free gelatin,” I want my ads to go to the most relevant landing page possible. So, instead of having the ad linking to my site’s home page, it should link to a page displaying all of Gelatin Town’s delicious sugar-free gelatin.
Now, Go Do It!
So, what did we learn today?
Hopefully, you learned a bit about what causes your actual CPC to be what it is, as well as a few ways to improve the overall health of your account. Following these tips should help you begin to make progress driving your CPC down.