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20 Tips and Best Practices

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20 Tips and Best Practices

Most people choose WordPress as their website’s CMS because it’s easy to use and SEO friendly out of the box. 

Both of these things are true, but it’s important to remember that WordPress is just a content management system (CMS). So the mere fact that you’re using WordPress isn’t enough to rank on search engines.

Luckily, WordPress makes it super easy to implement many SEO best practices.

In this guide, we’ll cover 20 SEO best practices, share tips to help you rank higher, and explain how to implement them on your WordPress website.

Here are the practices that made the list:

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  1. Check search engine visibility settings
  2. Set preferred domain
  3. Set up permalinks
  4. Require manual approval for blog comments
  5. Install an SEO-friendly theme
  6. Install an all-in-one SEO plugin
  7. Make sure to generate a sitemap
  8. Exclude low-value content from indexing
  9. Install Ahrefs’ SEO plugin
  10. Write a “clickworthy” title
  11. Set an SEO-friendly URL slug
  12. Use headers to create hierarchy
  13. Internally link to relevant content
  14. Add alt text to images
  15. Write a compelling title tag
  16. Write a compelling meta description
  17. Nest pages in subfolders
  18. Install WP Rocket
  19. Minify code
  20. Install ShortPixel

1. Check your search engine visibility settings

There’s a checkbox in WordPress that, if checked, is effectively an SEO death sentence for your website because it prevents Google from indexing your pages. And if Google can’t index your pages, they can’t rank.

You’ll find this under Settings > Reading > Search engine visibility:

Search engine visibility in WordPress

Make sure this is unchecked if you want to stand any chance of ranking whatsoever.

Google looks at domain.com and www.domain.com separately, so it’s important to choose a preferred version for your site. You can do this under Settings > General. Just set the WordPress Address (URL) and Site Address (URL) to your preferred version.

Preferred domain in WordPress

For a new website, it doesn’t really matter which version you choose. But if your pages are accessible at both URL versions, your best bet is to use the version with the most backlinks.

To see which version this is, plug them both into Ahrefs’ Batch Analysis tool and check their referring domains.

For us, it’s clearly the non-www version:

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Referring domains to preferred domain in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

The beauty of WordPress is it automatically redirects the other version to the preferred version so that search engines and visitors can only access your site at the preferred domain.

WARNING

Changing the preferred version can cause technical issues if your site has already been up and running for a while. If you’ve any concerns, it’s worth enlisting the help of a developer to make sure everything goes smoothly.

Permalinks are basically the URL format for your posts and pages, and the “post name” option tends to be the most SEO-friendly because it helps:

  1. Make it immediately obvious what the page is about.
  2. Keep URLs short, which can prevent them from truncating in the search results.

However, if you’re already using a different permalink structure, then changing it can lead to broken pages. So if you make a change, you’ll want to crawl your website with a tool like Ahrefs’ Site Audit after the fact to check for 4XX errors:

4XX errors in Ahrefs' Site Audit

If there are any, you’ll want to use a WordPress plugin like Redirection to redirect the old URLs to the new ones.

4. Require manual approval for blog comments

Spammy blog comments are unlikely to cause penalties or any drastic SEO issues because they’re pretty much always nofollowed. But according to Google, they can still cause some SEO issues for a few reasons.

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Luckily, WordPress makes it really easy to solve this issue once and for all by offering users the option to set all blog comments to require manual approval.

You can do this in Settings > Discussion > Comment must be manually approved:

Blog comment approval in WordPress

5. Install an SEO-friendly theme

Pretty much all WordPress themes are responsive and mobile-friendly these days, so there’s not much to worry about there. What you really need to check when choosing a theme is its performance.

If the theme is bloated with unnecessary code and features, it’ll slow your website down. And that’s not good, given that page speed has been a Google ranking factor for over a decade.

So when choosing a theme, it’s worth reading through the description to see what’s included. If there’s a bunch of features you won’t use, it may not be the best choice for you.

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You can also run the theme demo through PageSpeed Insights for a better sense of its performance.

WordPress theme in PageSpeed Insights

If you already have a theme and its performance isn’t great, give tips #18–20 a shot and hire a developer to optimize it if it’s still slow.

6. Install an all-in-one SEO plugin

Extend the SEO functionality of WordPress and make it easier to optimize aspects of your site with an all-in-one SEO plugin. We use Yoast SEO, but there are plenty of other alternatives.

To install it, go to Plugins > Add New > Search for “Yoast SEO” > Click Activate > Click Install:

Installing Yoast SEO for WordPress

Most of the settings will be good out of the box, but we’ll adjust a few of them as we go.

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7. Make sure to generate a sitemap

Sitemaps list the important posts and pages on your site to help search engines discover them. Yoast SEO creates a sitemap for you, but you need to make sure the option is turned on.

To do that, go to SEO > General > Features > Toggle “XML sitemaps” on:

XML sitemaps toggle in Yoast SEO

8. Exclude low-value content from indexing

You should only allow Google to index pages that offer value to searchers. Tag pages and format-based archives rarely fall into this category, so it’s generally best practice to exclude them from indexing.

To do that, go to SEO > Search Appearance > Taxonomies > Toggle “Show Tags in search results?” off:

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Excluding tag pages from indexing in WordPress using Yoast SEO

Do the same for format-based archives too.

9. Install Ahrefs’ SEO plugin

Our free WordPress SEO plugin audits and monitors content performance and gives recommendations on how to improve it.

For example, if the plugin spots that one of your pages is no longer ranking in the top three for its target keyword, it’ll tag it as “No longer well-performing” and give a personalized recommendation on how to improve based on your settings:

Ahrefs' SEO Plugin

Here, it recommends that we update a post that no longer ranks. If we hit the suggestion caret, it gives advice on how to do that:

Content recommendations in Ahrefs' SEO WordPress plugin

Recommendation

The next eight tips are content-related. Keep them in mind when adding posts and pages to your WordPress website.

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10. Write a “clickworthy” title

Every page and post in WordPress needs a title, which you set here:

Clickworthy title in WordPress

This title usually gets shown elsewhere on your WordPress website. For example, the title for this post shows up on our blog archive page:

Example of a blog post title

For that reason, it’s important that your title entices visitors to click through to your page while accurately describing what the page is about. In other words, the title should be clickworthy but not clickbait.

If you’re struggling to write something that fits the bill, take inspiration from the SERP titles of the top-ranking pages for your target keyword, as these are often the same or similar to the page title. You can do that in Google, but it’s better to use our free SERP checker for more accurate, non-personalized results:

Ahrefs' free SERP checker

For example, you can see above that many of the pages ranking for “SEO tips” talk about boosting traffic or rankings in their SERP titles. So this is probably a good angle for a clickworthy title for this topic.

11. Set an SEO-friendly URL slug

By default, WordPress sets the URL to the full title of the post or page. This is rarely ideal because it’s usually long, and long URLs tend to get truncated in the search results.

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For a more SEO-friendly URL, click “Edit,” enter your primary keyword (or a close variation), and replace the spaces with dashes.

URL slug in WordPress

12. Use headers to create hierarchy

Headers create structure and help visitors and search engines to better understand the hierarchy of your content.

In WordPress, you can use the WYSIWYG editor to quickly and easily add relevant headers. Just hit the “Paragraph” dropdown, and you’ll see six header options:

Heading tags in WordPress

Sidenote.

If you’re using WordPress’ block editor, things will look slightly different. You’ll need to click to add a “Heading” block instead. 

As most WordPress themes use the post title as the first header (H1), it’s best practice to use H2-H6 in the content itself.

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13. Internally link to relevant content

Internal links point to other pages and posts on your website. They’re important for SEO because they help:

  1. Keep visitors on your site.
  2. Boost the “authority” of your other content and rank the content higher.

You can add internal links to posts and pages in WordPress using the WYSIWYG editor. Just highlight the text you want to use as the anchor, hit the “Insert/edit link” button, and paste in the URL of another page or post on your website.

Adding internal link in WordPress

Sidenote.

Again, things may look a bit different if you’re using the block editor, but the process is pretty much the same. 

If you’re not sure if and where to add internal links, sign up for a free Ahrefs Webmaster Tools (AWT) account, run a crawl in Site Audit, then go to the Link opportunities report to see relevant internal link suggestions:

Internal link suggestions in Ahrefs' Site Audit

For example, you can see above that it recommends we internally link the phrase “link building tactics” in our guide to bad links to our list of link building strategies.

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14. Add alt text to images

Alt text is important because it:

  1. Tells Google what images are about, which may help them rank higher on Google Images.
  2. Improves accessibility for visually impaired visitors using screen readers.
  3. Replaces the broken image on the page if the image breaks.

To add alt text in WordPress, fill in the “alt text” field when uploading an image:

Adding alt text to images in WordPress

Sidenote.

Once again, things may look slightly different in the block editor, but there’s still an “alt text” field. 

Just try to keep it short and sweet while being descriptive.

Recommended reading: Alt Text for SEO: How to Optimize Your Images

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15. Write a compelling title tag

Google usually uses your title tag for the snippet in the search results.

Yoast sets your title tag to your post or page title by default. This is often fine, as you should have already crafted an enticing post title. But sometimes it’s too long, so it’s worth pasting in the full title manually to make sure it’s not likely to truncate.

If it gets highlighted green, you’re all set. If it gets highlighted red, it’s too long.

Adding title tag in WordPress using Yoast SEO

You can usually solve the issue of a lengthy title tag by removing any superfluous information. Easy ways to do this include:

  • Removing information in brackets.
  • Removing unnecessary words.
  • Rephrasing.

16. Write a compelling meta description

Meta descriptions aren’t a direct Google ranking factor, but Google often uses them for the search result snippet.

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For that reason, it’s important to write a compelling meta description that supports your title and further entices people to click.

Here are a few tips for doing that:

  • Double down on search intent
  • Use an active voice
  • Keep it under 120 characters

Recommended reading: How to Write the Perfect Meta Description

17. Nest pages in subfolders

Assuming that you set your permalink structure to post name, your page and post URLs will look like this:

domain.com/post-name
domain.com/page-name

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But with pages, you can create them with different levels using subfolders.

For example, let’s say you’re a digital marketing agency offering three different services: SEO, PPC, and social media marketing.

Here’s the best way to structure that:

  1. Create a “Services” landing page that lists the services you provide
  2. Create individual pages for each service you offer
  3. Link to each service page from your “Services” page

Here’s what your URL structure will look like by default:

domain.com/services/
domain.com/seo/
domain.com/ppc/
domain.com/social-media-marketing/

That looks OK. But it is better to nest the individual service pages under the “/services/” subfolder like this:

domain.com/services/
domain.com/services/seo/
domain.com/services/ppc/
domain.com/services/social-media-marketing/

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That’s easy to do in WordPress. Just use the “Parent” dropdown on the page editor and choose the “Services” page.

Nesting pages in WordPress

Recommendation

The next three tactics are about page speed. Use these to speed up your website and improve its performance. Note that we haven’t covered every optimization you can make here, as page speed is a complex topic. So if you want to delve deeper into this side of things, read our full guide to speeding up your WordPress website.

WP Rocket describes itself as a web performance plugin that boosts your page speed. The beauty of the plugin is that it makes a bunch of useful optimizations out of the box, including browser and server caching.

Here’s what caching does in a nutshell:

  • Browser caching – Saves common files on visitors’ hard drives so they don’t have to keep re-downloading them on repeat visits.
  • Server caching – Saves static versions of your webpages on your server so they’re ready and waiting whenever a visitor requests them.

This is not a free plugin but, in my opinion, it’s well worth the $49 price tag if you have the budget. If you’re looking for a free plugin that does something similar in terms of caching, try one of the many other caching plugins available.

Minification removes unnecessary white space from your code to reduce file sizes.

Minified vs un-minified code

It’s simple enough to enable minification if you’re using WP Rocket. Just head to the File Optimization settings and check the options to “Minify CSS files” and “Minify JavaScript files.”

Minification in WP Rocket

If you’re not using WP Rocket, give Autoptimize a shot (it’s free).

warning

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Enabling minification can lead to features breaking in some instances. So it’s always best to test how this affects your website in a staging environment before deploying live.

ShortPixel automatically compresses and optimizes the images you upload to WordPress. This makes the image files smaller, reduces strain on your server, and makes things load faster for your visitors.

To get started, install the plugin, activate it, then enter your API key in the settings.

Note that ShortPixel is a freemium plugin. So if you’re compressing more than 100 images per month, you’ll need to buy some credits or sign up for a paid plan. This only costs a few dollars and is well worth the money, in my opinion.

If you do have the budget for a paid plan, it’s also worth hitting the option to bulk optimize the images already uploaded to WordPress.

Resizing images using ShortPixel

Final thoughts

WordPress is flexible, easy to use, and provides a good base for SEO. But it can only get you so far because it’s just a CMS. If you’re serious about ranking on Google, there are a few more things you’ll need to do.

Ready for better rankings? Read our step-by-step guide to ranking high on Google.

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Got questions about WordPress SEO? Ping me on Twitter.




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SEOs, Are You Using These 6 Mental Models?

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SEOs, Are You Using These 6 Mental Models?

People use mental models to comprehend reality, solve problems, and make decisions in everyday life. SEO is not an exception here, yet it’s not a topic you often hear about in this industry.

The thing is, you need to be careful with mental models because they’re sneaky. We tend to develop them during our lives, inherit them from our colleagues and mentors, and rely on them almost instinctively while not fully aware of their influence or the existence of better alternatives.

So, let’s talk about mental models you will find helpful in your SEO work and the ones you should approach with caution.

3 helpful mental models

In the noisy, uncertain world of SEO, these will be your north star.

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First principles thinking is a problem-solving approach that involves breaking down complex problems into their most basic elements and reassembling them from the ground up.

It’s about asking oneself what is absolutely true about a situation and then reasoning up from there to create new solutions.

Using first principles thinking to rearrange the same building blocks into a brand new shape. 

Uncertainty is a chronic condition in SEO. And it is so by design because the whole industry is based on Google’s secrets. Access to the truth is extremely limited. We got to the point that we got used to accepting speculation and theories on SEO so much that we started to crave them.

This is where the first principles come in. Whenever you need a brand new solution for a problem or when you feel that you’ve gone too far into speculation, come back to the first principles — things that have the best chance to be true in this industry. For example:

The Pareto Principle (aka the 80/20 rule) is about a disproportionate relationship between inputs and outputs, effort and results, or causes and effects. A small number of causes (20%) often leads to a large number of effects (80%).

The Pareto principleThe Pareto principle
The 80/20 rule: 80% of results come from 20% of the projects.

This concept was named after Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist who, in 1906, noticed that 80% of Italy’s land was owned by 20% of the population.

If we use this principle as a mental model in decision-making, we’ll find it easier to prioritize work. It’s ok to ignore some things because they likely won’t matter that much. The result that you’re after will come from focusing on the things that will likely have the biggest impact, and not from spreading yourself too thin.

For example, if you want to build links to your site, pitch your best content. That can be the content that has already proven to earn links in the past.

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Best by links report in Ahrefs.Best by links report in Ahrefs.

Or if you need to recover some of that lost traffic, home in on the pages that lost the most traffic.

Top pages report in Ahrefs. Top pages report in Ahrefs.

The key is to treat the 80/20 as an approximation, a heuristic, and not take the numbers literally. To illustrate, roughly 80% of our site’s traffic comes from no more than 6% of pages.

Total organic traffic breakdown in Ahrefs. Total organic traffic breakdown in Ahrefs.

But on the other hand, if we try to find the top 20% pages that contribute to the traffic the most, we’ll find that they bring not 80% but 96.8% traffic. However you look at it, the idea still holds — a small amount of causes led to a large portion of effects.

“It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”

Sounds very much like SEO already, doesn’t it?

This quote comes from Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking-Glass,” and it’s how the Red Queen explains to Alice the nature of her kingdom, where it requires constant effort just to maintain one’s current position.

It was used to name an evolutionary biology theory which posits that each species must adapt and evolve not just for incremental gains but for survival, as their competitors are also evolving. Sorry, we’re in an endless race.

The Red Queen Theory as an endless race.The Red Queen Theory as an endless race.
SEO is like a road with no finish line—the race continues forever.

You can probably already guess how this applies to SEO — rankings. If you want to maintain high rankings, you can’t stop improving your pages. There will always be enough competitors to challenge your position.

But in our world, pressure comes from competitors and the environment. Google keeps evolving too, pushing the bar for content higher, making elements that used to give you an edge a standard.

I’m sure we’ve all been there – even our top backlink-earning, top traffic-generating, most time-consuming content gets pushed down. But if you keep optimizing, you get a chance to come back to the top.

Position history graph in Ahrefs.Position history graph in Ahrefs.

This mental model is another way of saying that SEO works best as an always-on strategy without a set end date or final goal.

3 mental models to watch out for

It’s not so much about avoiding them but being able to spot them when they happen or could happen.

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A local maximum (aka local optimum) refers to a solution that is the best solution within a neighboring set of solutions, but not necessarily the best possible solution overall (global optimum).

Local maxima.Local maxima.

So if you’re feeling that you’re spending immense effort just to make marginal improvements, you have to be willing to assume that you’ve hit a local maxima. Then, the question to ask is: what can I do differently?

Here’s an example.

Until November last year, traffic to our site was a series of local optima. Our content marketing was delivering the results, but the growth was relatively slow. Obviously, we were doing the same tried and tested stuff. But then we launched two programmatic SEO projects that instantly elevated us to a level we’d have to work years for — look how fast the yellow line grew (pages) and how that corresponded with the orange line (traffic).

Organic performance graph in Ahrefs.Organic performance graph in Ahrefs.

The sunk cost fallacy is a cognitive bias that occurs when people continue to do something as a result of previously invested resources (time, money, effort) despite new evidence suggesting that the current path will not lead to a beneficial outcome.

Sunk cost fallacy as a graph.Sunk cost fallacy as a graph.
Sunk cost in action: the more you invest in something, the more attached to it you become.

We all know SEO is a long-term game, right? Strategies like these are crowded with long-term projects with big time and money investments. Sometimes, despite the investments, you just can’t go beyond a certain level of traffic, backlinks, etc.

Now, this mental model, this voice in your head, will tell you to keep going down the same path no matter what. Loss aversion kicks in, acting like a defense mechanism for your past selves and actions. And the more aggressive and blind the “hustle” culture is at one’s team, the harder it is to see clearly.

But, overall, it could be better for you and the company to let it go and focus on something else. You can even come back to it later with a fresh mind. But continuing something just because you’ve been doing it for some time is a losing strategy.

Example. Despite several attempts and time counted in years, Ahrefs doesn’t rank for “seo”.

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Position history for "seo" via Ahrefs.Position history for "seo" via Ahrefs.

Sad but true. And from our point of view, it’s frustrating. Almost like we’re the only ones not to get invited to the party, the only ones not to graduate from high school… you get the idea.

But not ranking for “SEO” hasn’t hindered our growth, so it’s better to cut losses and deal with unfulfilled ambition than to let that goal hold us back from other projects (like that programmatic project mentioned above).

Confirmation bias is the tendency to give more attention and weight to data that support one’s own beliefs, while simultaneously dismissing or underestimating evidence that contradicts those beliefs.

Confirmation bias - beliefs outweigh the facts. Confirmation bias - beliefs outweigh the facts.

We’re all guilty of this. It’s human nature. And it’s not exclusively a bad thing. I mean, in some situations, this tendency can keep us on “the bright side” and help us go through tough times or keep our motivation up.

So, I think that it’s not something to get out of your system completely. Just be mindful of situations where this can negatively affect your judgment:

  • Selective evidence in ranking factors. You see a page ranking high, and you think it’s because of an aspect you strongly believe in, disregarding all of the evidence against it (e.g., long-form content, social signals).
  • Bias in keyword selection. Your keyword selection runs along the lines of your beliefs about the audience preferences without substantial evidence to back up these beliefs.
  • Bias in strategy development. After developing a new strategy, you encounter a talk or an article advocating a similar approach, which immediately reinforces your confidence in this strategy.
  • Focus on confirmatory data during audits. During a content audit, you find a small piece of data that confirms your belief. As a result, you may prioritize minor findings over more significant but less personally affirming data.
  • Overconfidence in familiar tactics. Leaning on SEO tactics that have worked in the past, you develop a sense of overconfidence in them. You resist trying anything new or the idea that a dip in performance comes from an unfamiliar factor.

Keep learning

If you like what you’re reading, I think you will find other mental models fascinating:

Want to share models you find useful? Ping me on X or LinkedIn.



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PPC Experts On AI In PPC: Potential & Limitations

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PPC Experts On AI In PPC: Potential & Limitations

This is an excerpt from SEJ’s PPC Trends 2024 ebook, our annual roundup of expert opinions on what you can expect over the course of the next 12 months. 

This year, new AI features rolled out on PPC platforms, and marketers began adopting generative AI in earnest.

The dust is settling after the initial exuberance about AI, and we’re starting to see more nuanced and cautionary opinions develop.

In this section, you’ll see contributors highlighting the benefits of both AI-powered automated ad campaigns and adopting generative AI in your workflow.

You’ll also see cautionary words, reminding you that human thinking and creativity still drive online interactions.

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If I had to summarize these insights in three sentences, they would be;

  • AI is very good at the things it’s good at, and very bad at the things it’s bad at.
  • AI is a square peg, so beware of round holes; AI is not a panacea.
  • AI can be a multiplier of productivity and results, but some processes are worth the difficulty.

How AI Can Improve Social Media Advertising Performance

Akvile DeFazio, Founder, AKvertise

Akvile DeFazio

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is quickly becoming an integral part of the advertising industry, transforming how companies reach their target audience and how advertisers increase effectiveness and efficiency in managing ad accounts.

Here are some ways AI can help drive more results in 2024:

Targeting Improvements

Just a few short years ago, campaigns and ad sets were set up more granularly, but after iOS updates, Meta launched several new machine learning options that advertisers can leverage for better results and find their customers.

Now, in Meta Ads Manager, there are Advantage+ Audiences that leverage machine learning to help advertisers reach the most valuable audiences much faster.

By enabling this, you can also share an audience suggestion, such as recent purchasers, so then the system can prioritize people matching using this high-value audience profile before expanding the targeting net wider.

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If you work in ecommerce, Meta’s Advantage+ shopping campaigns can help find new customers using its automatic placements, lowest-cost bid strategies, and more by serving the best ads to the people most likely to convert using its AI.

Creative Optimization

When it comes to creative optimization, particularly on platforms like Meta Ads, running dynamic ads with various creatives can be highly effective.

Platforms like Meta leverage AI to serve your target audience with the most relevant creative content, increasing the likelihood of achieving your campaign optimization goals.

By trusting the system to determine the best approach, you can expect improved and faster results compared to manual testing by humans.

In this past year, its performance has improved significantly, and I believe it will continue to do so.

Measuring Results

AI also offers extensive analytics and reporting capabilities, enabling advertisers to measure the success of their campaigns accurately.

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With data-driven insights, advertisers can identify the most effective ads and targeting strategies, enabling them to make informed decisions for optimizing campaigns.

We use tools that allow us to import data, conduct trend analysis, create graphs, and obtain valuable insights.

By streamlining reporting and analysis, the right AI-powered tool serves as a time-saving asset that can guide optimization efforts and drive favorable outcomes.

This is only the start of the AI revolution transforming the social media advertising landscape. Brands can now connect and interact with their target audience in a more impactful manner and achieve their various goals.

Embracing AI experimentation can be worthwhile, as it elevates our human capabilities, increasing our efficiency, productivity, and effectiveness in our work.

If you haven’t already, add AI to your advertising stack to elevate your growth goals for 2024.

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AI & Personalization In Marketing

Alex Macura, Founder/CEO, Your Digital Assembly

Alex MacuraAlex Macura

The world is a fast-paced place, and the marketing industry is even more so. It has to be, just to keep up.

Over the past 50 years, we’ve seen growth in digital marketing, social media and mobile marketing, television, and database marketing.

But what does the future and, more specifically, 2024 hold for the industry as a whole? Let’s take a look.

A Surge In AI Marketing

AI gives marketers the ability to analyze huge amounts of data in seconds, boosting efficiency and productivity.

Predictive analytics can help to predict consumer and purchase behavior, allowing for more tailored, targeted ad campaigns.

And it can learn over time, too, constantly evolving into a more competent version of itself. So, if you’ve resisted getting on board the AI train, it’s time to step up to the platform.

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More Personalized Content

Another area AI excels in? Personalization – which is why, in 2024, hyper-personalization is set to become our new reality.

Customers want to feel seen, so any brand that takes the time to curate a buying experience specifically for them will gain traction.

Thanks to AI and advanced analytics, content can become more tailored than ever, strengthening brand relationships and boosting return on investment (ROI).


Finding The Balance Of Generative AI In Ads

Amy Hebdon, Founder + Managing Director, Paid Search Magic

Amy HebdonAmy Hebdon

There are many ways to use generative AI to enhance your campaigns – and only two ways to get it wrong:

  • Blindly rely on it for everything.
  • Refuse to use it for anything.

Generative AI is in its infancy and capable of making mistakes, so fully relying on it for 100% accuracy is a bad idea.

At the same time, avoiding it because it can’t completely replace you needlessly limits your ability to be more creative and productive.

Between those extremes are countless opportunities to improve and streamline your work. Use generative AI for discovery, challenging assumptions, brainstorming, iterating and refining ideas, editing, and strategy.

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You don’t need costly subscriptions to get started, either. The free version of ChatGPT is a great entry point to meaningfully improve your work and workflow.


Standing Out In A Playing Field Leveled By AI

Andrea Atzori, Director, Ambire

Andrea AtzoriAndrea Atzori

Automation serves as a formidable ally in streamlining the mundane aspects of our operations, such as campaign build and reporting.

By harnessing automation, we not only expedite these processes significantly but also diminish the likelihood of human errors creeping in.

Nevertheless, it remains undeniable that the very innovations ushered in by AI and machine learning (ML), if not managed, also bear the capacity to homogenize content, often yielding results that hover around the realm of mediocrity or average at best.

Consequently, if we do not settle for average but instead strive for marketing excellence, this pursuit involves leveraging the full spectrum of available data and tools to our advantage.

Only by adopting this approach can we mitigate rising costs and consistently deliver outstanding outcomes.

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Scale Isn’t Everything, Don’t Forget The Power Of Humans & Creativity

Ben Wood, Director of Growth & Innovation, Hallam

Ben WoodBen Wood

One trend we’ve been referencing for years is the growing impact of machine learning and automation on advertisers.

In 2023, we’ve seen a huge acceleration in technological innovation.

We’ve experienced the democratization of creative production via generative AI tools built into Google Ads and other networks, reducing cost and increasing the speed of production.

This has lowered the barrier to entry to platforms such as YouTube, and display formats for smaller advertisers with less budget to spend on assets.

We’ve also seen much-publicized advances in large language models (LLMs), enabling the development of scripts with limited programming capabilities, and offering huge economies of scale for campaign creation and PPC account expansion.

What we’ll start to see in 2024 are the second-order effects of generative AI. These are the less obvious ripple effects caused by AI over the longer term.

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Despite the increase in our capabilities to create ads at scale using generative AI, this might not enhance performance but could hamper it:

  • AI is already adept at creating ads at scale, such as automatically created ads and demand generation features in Performance Max.
  • It’s easier than ever for advertisers to get started and enable more features due to automated creative capabilities. The lower barrier to entry could mean users see even more ads than they’re used to.
  • Relying on automated creative may result in generic, feature-based ads.
  • Buyers will learn to tune out these ads.

Increased Value On Human Perspectives And Creators

As consumers learn to tune out to the homogenous advertising enabled by generative AI, we’ll see an increased desire for human perspectives and creativity.

We’ve already seen Google start to surface creators and influencers via their “perspectives” feature with the introduction of Search Generative Experience, and I expect this to bleed through into the advertising landscape.

Partnering with consumer-facing creators and influencers as part of your paid media strategy will increase in importance in the year ahead to maximize your reach across Google’s evolving search landscape and beyond.

Back To Basics: Creative-First Advertising

Today, we have so many channels to manage that it’s easy for things to become disconnected. What holds it together? A creative idea.

If your campaigns lack a coherent, consistent creative concept, your campaigns will not perform.

Sometimes, we get so caught up in the platform choices we forget about the message we’re trying to get out through them.

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With the advent of generative AI, I think creativity will be a key differentiating factor for successful campaigns. Starting with a strategy, then a creative concept should always come before media planning.

This serves as a golden thread – a compelling creative idea that ties all your marketing and advertising activities together and helps you stand out from the crowd.


AI-Powered Campaigns Deliver A Future Where Marketers Can Spend Less Time On Optimization

Corey Morris, President/CEO, Voltage

Corey MorrisCorey Morris

AI-generated content is not going away anytime soon and is inevitably making its way into AI-powered ad campaigns in 2024.

AI can craft descriptions, headlines, and ad copy tailored to your client’s campaign objectives, resulting in effective, personalized content.

This personalization is possible because AI can understand user behavior patterns and apply experimentation and winning results to campaigns in real time.

You can monitor and manage your client’s campaign performance in real-time, ensuring that your campaigns perform relative to your goals.

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Performance Max Campaigns

Performance Max campaigns will now utilize machine learning and artificial intelligence technology more thoroughly in 2024.

Performance Max campaigns, following search campaigns, are subjectively one of the most effective ways to reach a broader audience and achieve a higher return on investment.

Google now offers the option to upgrade various campaigns, including dynamic search ads and display campaigns to Performance Max campaigns.

Some current benefits of transitioning to Performance Max campaigns include:

1. Increasing creative assets.

The benefit of Performance Max campaigns utilizing your creative assets allows search engines to properly convert your search ad to best fit the intended user base on their search queries.

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Creative assets will now have more flexibility when changing any text in your ad copy.

2. Implementing inventory-based ads.

When your product data feed is connected to a Performance Max campaign, your ads will now function based on the inventory you have left in stock.

This can be a huge time-saving benefit because you won’t have to manually examine your product inventory amount.

The upgrades to Performance Max campaigns will ultimately lead to a higher usage rate with advertisers.


Automate Campaigns, Not Strategies: What Are You Doing & Why?

Tim Jensen, Sr. Search Marketing Specialist, M&T Bank

Tim JensenTim Jensen

As PPC managers move forward in a world of increasingly automated, “done for you” campaigns, fully understanding the concerns and goals of your client/boss will help set you ahead.

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This is not an excuse for not staying up-to-date with current ad platform functionality, but it’s too easy to drift into a “plug-and-play” mentality with the direction in which the PPC world is headed.

Setting up a conversion pixel is relatively easy these days (in many cases), but ask yourself why you are tracking that conversion, and how it ties into the business goals the company ultimately cares about.

Churning out 15 responsive search ad headlines is easier with AI, but will those stand out in the search engine results page (SERP) against creatively brainstormed headlines that speak to the heart of the customer’s needs?

Generating a list of keywords can be as simple as plugging a URL or a couple of seed phrases into Keyword Planner, but are those the most relevant terms that ideal customers are searching for?

On the positive side, increased automation in platforms has reduced the need for constant hands-on tweaking, such as in bid management. This frees up more time you can spend keeping the lines of communication open with the stakeholders you answer to.

Take some time in 2024 to think through how you can better understand stakeholder goals, and how to tie in your targeting, creative, and bidding approach to best meet those objectives.

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Expect Less Campaign Control – Find Exciting New Ways To Spend Your Time

Lauren Weisel, Director of SEM, Media.Monks

PPC Experts On AI In PPC: Potential & LimitationsPPC Experts On AI In PPC: Potential & Limitations

One major theme of 2023 has been automation, and I expect this to continue well into 2024.

Google continues to roll out campaign types that are heavily automated and give less control to marketers, starting with Performance Max and, most recently, with the launch of Demand Gen.

As Performance Max has evolved over the years, we see many cases where this automated campaign type works incredibly well.

With the recent rollout of Demand Gen campaigns, I suspect Google will continue to move toward either expanding these campaigns’ coverage, or rolling out more automated campaign types.

As Google continues to emphasize these automated campaign types, I expect the percentage of account spends on these campaign types to increase, as well. And beyond this, who knows!

There could be a world where traditional search campaigns as we know them sunset completely, but that’s merely a hypothesis.

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Speaking of traditional search campaigns, I’m also seeing a reduction in control with the emphasis on broad match with auto-bidding this year.

While many clients were skeptical of this new match type, it’s working quite well for many advertisers.

While still available, I’m also seeing less account spend go towards phrase match keywords, and many times without any performance losses for client accounts.

From an account structure standpoint, this rollout has, in a way, been a catalyst for campaign consolidation – a far cry from the SKAG structure I was taught early on in my career.

This reduction in control that advertisers are experiencing within Google will shift how search marketers work.

However, as I reflect on my career as a search marketer, I can point to other industry shifts that seemed huge at the time, but truly freed up time to expand my skillsets.

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I remember when auto-bidding strategies first came on the scene. What would I do with all my time freed up from daily bid adjustments? As automation evolved, marketers shifted how we spent our days (and thankfully, there was plenty of other work to be done).

As control becomes limited in the evolution of Google Ads, search marketers will need to become more creative with strategies to ensure that we continue to move search programs forward with the levers we can pull.

While automated, these campaigns shouldn’t be approached with a “set it and forget it” mindset.

It is a privilege to be able to educate clients and guide them in this ever-changing search landscape. There are so many testing and learning opportunities on the near horizon.

The search landscape has certainly changed a lot, especially over the past year.

While all this automation may seem scary, we must embrace automation to stay ahead of the curve. I suspect we’ll see the trajectory of automation continue to accelerate during the next year.

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Not only is this a hot topic in the search space, but in our culture as a whole. I look forward to all of the automation developments 2024 has in store for search marketers.


Searcher Intent & Audiences Are A Complex Human Formula

Lisa Raehsler, Founder And SEM Strategy Consultant, Big Click Co.

Lisa RaehslerLisa Raehsler

While AI and automation are always hot topics – and the technology advancements amazingly helpful – in 2024, connecting with the customer will be key.

Many advertisers will get away from this by buying into the fast and easy option: Allowing machines to do the work for their digital advertising.

That’s great for tedious task-oriented optimizations – but human strategy, experience, and even intuition will be critical for success in reaching and converting the right customer.

The pros are already in the know. Searcher intent and audiences are a complex human formula advertisers should focus on.

Societal culture, economic conditions, and political concerns change rapidly. Messaging targeting people who experience evolving needs and pain points should take center focus.

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More resources: 


Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal

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7 Changes Marketers Should Make

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7 Changes Marketers Should Make

Paid media’s main job is to increase visibility and drive traffic for your brand.

And as digital marketing evolves, so, too, will your strategy.

In the current state of paid, the main overarching theme is, you guessed it, AI and machine learning.

As paid media platforms get smarter and constantly find ways to infuse AI into campaign workflows and optimizations, marketers must find a way to keep up with the platforms.

The other side of the coin is maintaining user privacy all the while trying to use AI effectively.

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So what major changes should you make to your paid media marketing strategy in 2024?

Here are seven changes you should incorporate without a second thought.

1. Review & Revise Google Tags

If you rely on Google tags for conversion tracking, this change should not be ignored.

In January 2024, Google made an update to its Consent Mode for its Google tags, which will, for now, affect any marketers who run ads targeted to users in the European Economic Area (EEA).

This update requires marketers to take action by March 2024 in order to keep using ad personalization and remarketing features in Google Ads.

Simply speaking, the Consent Mode will need to be updated to adjust its tracking behavior based on how a user interacts with a website’s consent banner.

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The two new parameters introduced to Consent Mode are:

  • ad_user_data: This controls whether user data can be sent to Google for advertising purposes.
  • ad_personalization: This controls whether personalized advertising (remarketing) can be enabled for the user.

As privacy measures continue to become stricter in the United States, it would not be surprising if this becomes required for US advertisers in the somewhat near future.

Keep in mind that in 2024, we’ll have to get comfortable being uncomfortable with imperfect data because of privacy regulations.

2. Make Influencers Part Of Your Marketing Model

Small and large influencers alike are an awesome resource at your fingertips, just as long as your audiences align.

Even brands with a few thousand followers can utilize influencer marketing to make a big difference and gain traction in the market.

Go on a hunt to find the top influencers in your space. Then, figure out the cost per acquisition (CPA) for working with each of them (because you have to court influencers, especially the bigger ones).

From there, you can create a win-win partnership that gets you more leads while the influencer earns income.

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Pro Tip: You can use influencer marketing tools to help you in your journey to integrate core influencers into your business model. Some of the most popular include AspireIQ, BuzzSumo, Upfluence, and NeoReach.
Whichever you choose, make sure the influencers you find are big enough to provide real value to your brand — and that you’re paying a CPA that makes sense for your budget and overall goals.

3. Strategic Audience Management On Multiple Platforms

2024 is the year to nail your audience management strategy, both from a holistic perspective and within each encapsulated platform.

That means before building your audiences, you need to understand at a high level who your target customer is.

Further, identify what platforms those types of user-profiles spend their time on.

Once you’ve identified your ideal target customer, then it’s time for the first step in this process:

Building audiences.

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From there, you must set up a strategy to target folks within every stage of the funnel – from upper to lower – and decide which networks make the most sense for the different audience cohorts.

Perhaps the most crucial part of this process is analyzing and refreshing your audiences as the year goes on.

You should definitely plan on retargeting and testing new audiences throughout the year.

If you fail to incorporate this part, you run the risk of targeting the wrong sector of people, ultimately throwing money down the proverbial drain.

However, if you retarget and refresh your approach, you’re bound to find a dynamic audience that correlates with your vision.

In the end, audience management alone can be worth its weight in gold.

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4. Prepare For Video Content Dominance

You’ve likely heard this phrase before in marketing: content is king.

With a slight tweak for 2024, the new hot phrase should be: video content is king.

Not only is video taking over social platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat, but it’s also asserting its dominance in YouTube Ads. YouTube Shorts, the platform’s short-form video offering, is booming.

With this new form of video comes a new ad format: vertical video ads.

Not only should marketers focus on video marketing in general – 2024 is the year to get more sophisticated with video strategy.

Marketers should prioritize creating engaging and high-quality video content that’s appropriate for each platform on which it will be delivered.

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If the thought of creating video content for multiple platforms scares you, just remember that a little goes a long way.

Start by creating evergreen content about your brand and test those with different lengths.

These can be used and recycled on multiple platforms and can be used for organic and paid video content simultaneously.

Just remember to create a variety so that your users don’t see the same message or content on the same platforms, which can reduce the effectiveness of video marketing.

5. Don’t Sleep On Microsoft Ads

Microsoft Ads continues to enhance its advertising platform year after year.

Not only does it have many of the same coveted features as Google Ads, but it has added features that are unique to the platform.

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As a marketing professional, your brand will surely benefit from digging into it more in 2024.

Some of the most notable updates Microsoft Ads launched in the last twelve months include:

  • Video and CTV ads: Microsoft unveiled these new ad types on its platform in September of 2023. Advertisers can choose from online video ads or connected TV ads that are non-skippable while a user is streaming content. This gives advertisers big and small a leg up on what once used to be a very complicated process of buying TV ads.
  • Three new generative AI solutions: Also announced in September 2023, Microsoft came out with three new AI features to help grow and scale. These include Compare & Decide ads, ads for Chat API, and Copilot campaign creation.
  • Data-driven attribution reporting: Gone are the days of last-click measurement! Microsoft Ads enhanced its UET tagging solution and implemented data-driven attributing modeling. It uses machine learning to calculate the actual contributions of each ad interaction.

While Microsoft still holds a lower share of the available search engines, just remember that you’re leaving a whole slew of potential customers behind by not considering this underestimated ad platform.

6. Focus On Optimizing The User Experience

Between a mix of shorter human attention spans and limited marketing budgets, every interaction and website experience counts.

If you find that your pre-sale metrics are favorable – such as high engagement or high CTR – but never result in a sale, you likely don’t have an ad problem. You have a user experience problem.

In 2024, consumers expect more from brands, especially if they’re spending their hard-earned money with that company.

Ask yourself, when was the last time you sat down and went through your website’s checkout process through the lens of a customer?

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If you’re not sure where to start on optimizing your website experience for users, here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Use tools like Hot Jar or User Testing to get real-life analytics of how your customers are interacting and what their pain points are.
  • Review the website landscape on desktop and mobile. While this may be a no-brainer, many websites still forget to optimize for mobile!
  • Make sure that any relevant call-to-actions (CTAs) are above the fold – yes, on mobile, too!
  • Check your site speed.

These are items that should continuously be monitored and not a “set and forget,” which unfortunately happens quite a bit.

Optimizing the website user experience can have a positive impact on those paid media campaigns and can make those dollars go further in the future.

7. Use AI Tools To Your Advantage

Let’s face it: Machine learning and AI aren’t going anywhere.

For marketing leaders, 2024 really is the time to lean into its advantages instead of running away from the inevitable advances.

It’s not a question of whether to use AI or not. It’s a matter of how to use AI to your advantage.

While companies are tightening their budgets and scaling back staff, PPC marketers are constantly being asked to do more with less.

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This is where AI comes in.

In fact, using AI can strengthen your ROI for paid media campaigns of all kinds (whatever channel you prefer).

Just make sure you don’t sacrifice your brand’s personality for a little efficiency.

One way you can do this is with Google’s generated AI assets (currently in beta). Using its Gemini-powered AI solution, the tool allows for more streamlined campaign creation and generated ad assets, including images, headlines, and descriptions for ads, and more.

Additionally, you’re likely already using one of Google’s Smart Bidding strategies to automate the bidding process.

With a combination of creativity and machine learning, your ads have the potential to go farther than ever before.

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Your 2024 Plan Should Not Be Static

If the past year(s) have taught us anything in marketing, it’s to be fluid.

In some cases, tactics that used to be tried and true are now more volatile than ever.

Take advantage of advances in AI to boost your strategic advantage, and keep in mind platforms that you’ve typically shied away from – the time may come to incorporate them into your 2024 strategy.

What changes are you most excited to try this year?

More resources:


Featured Image: Sutthiphong Chandaeng/Shutterstock

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