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A Technical SEO Guide To Lighthouse Performance Metrics

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A Technical SEO Guide To Lighthouse Performance Metrics

Maybe you’re here because you’re a die-hard fan of performance metrics. Or maybe you don’t know what Lighthouse is and are too afraid to ask.

Either is an excellent option. Welcome!

Together, we’re hoping to take your performance improvement efforts from “make all the numbers green” to some clear and meaningful action items.

Note: This article was updated for freshness in January 2022 to represent versions 8 and 9.

Technical SEO and Google Data Studio nerd Rachel Anderson joined me on this merry adventure into demystifying developer documentation.

We’re going to answer:

  • What is Lighthouse?
  • How is Lighthouse different from Core Web Vitals?
  • Why doesn’t Lighthouse match Search Console/Crux reports?
  • How is Performance Score calculated?
  • Why is my score different each time I test?
  • Lighthouse Performance metrics explained
  • How to test performance using Lighthouse

What Is Lighthouse?

Performance is about measuring how quickly a browser can assemble a webpage.

Lighthouse uses a web browser called Chromium to build pages and runs tests on the pages as they’re built.  The tool is open-source (meaning it is maintained by the community and free to use).

Each audit falls into one of five categories:

  1. Performance.
  2. Accessibility.
  3. Best Practices.
  4. SEO.
  5. Progressive Web App.
Screenshot from Lighthouse, January 2022

For the purposes of this article, we’re going to use the name Lighthouse to refer to the series of tests executed by the shared Github repo, regardless of the execution method.

Version 9 is currently out on Github and is slated for large-scale rollout with the stable Chrome 98 release in February 2022.

Lighthouse And Web Core Vitals

On May 5, 2020, the Chromium project announced a set of three metrics with which the Google-backed open-source browser would measure performance.

The metrics, known as Web Vitals, are part of a Google initiative designed to provide unified guidance for quality signals.

The goal of these metrics is to measure web performance in a user-centric manner.

Within two weeks, Lighthouse v6 rolled out with a modified version of Web Core Vitals at the heart of the update.

July 2020 saw Lighthouse v6’s unified metrics adopted across Google products with the release of Chrome 84.

Chrome DevTools Audits panel was renamed to Lighthouse. Pagespeed insights and Google Search Console also reference these unified metrics.

This change in focus sets new, more refined goals.

How Is Lighthouse Different Than Core Web Vitals?

The three metrics represented by Core Web Vital are part of Lighthouse performance scoring.

Largest Contentful Paint, Total Blocking Time, and Cumulative Layout Shift comprise 70% of Lighthouse’s weighted performance score.

The scores you’ll see for CWV in Lighthouse are the result of emulated tests.

It’s the same metric but measured off a single page load rather than calculated from page loads around the world.

Why Doesn’t Lighthouse Match Search Console/Crux reports?

For real users, how quickly a page assembles is based on factors like their network connection, the device’s network processing power, and even the user’s physical distance to the site’s servers.

Lighthouse performance data doesn’t account for all these factors.

Instead, the tool emulates a mid-range device and throttles CPU in order to simulate the average user.

These are lab tests collected within a controlled environment with predefined device and network settings.

Lab data is helpful for debugging performance issues.

It does not mean that the experience on your local machine in a controlled environment represents the experiences of real humans in the wild.

The good news is you don’t have to choose between Lighthouse and Core Web Vitals. They’re designed to be part of the same workflow.

Always start with field data from the Chrome User Experience Report to identify issues impacting real uses.

Then leverage the expanded testing capabilities of Lighthouse to identify the code causing the issue.

If you’re working on a site pre-launch or QAing changes in a non-public environment, Lighthouse will be your new best #webperf friend.

Workflow for performanceScreenshot from Lighthouse, January 2022

How Is Lighthouse Performance Metrics Calculated?

Performance scores from LighthouseLighthouse, January 2022

In versions 8 and 9, Lighthouse’s performance score is made of seven metrics with each contributing a percentage of the total performance score.

Lighthouse metricsCreated by author, January 2022

Why Is My Score Different Each Time I Test?

Your score may change each time you test.

Browser extensions, internet connection, A/B tests, or even the ads displayed on that specific page load have an impact.

If you’re curious/furious to know more, check out the documentation on performance testing variability.

Lighthouse Performance Metrics Explained

Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)

  • What it represents: A user’s perception of loading experience.
  • Lighthouse Performance score weighting: 25%
  • What it measures: The point in the page load timeline when the page’s largest image or text block is visible within the viewport.
  • How it’s measured: Lighthouse extracts LCP data from Chrome’s tracing tool.
  • Is Largest Contentful Paint a Web Core Vital? Yes!
  • LCP Scoring
  • Goal: Achieve LCP in < 2.5 seconds.
LCP measurementsCreated by author, January 2022

What Elements Can Be Part Of LCP?

  • Text.
  • Images.
  • Videos.
  • Background images.

What Counts As LCP On Your Page?

It depends! LCP typically varies by page template.

This means that you can measure a handful of pages using the same template and define LCP.

Lighthouse will provide you with the exact HTML of the LCP element, but it can be useful to know the node as well when communicating with developers.

The node name will be consistent while the exact on-page image or text may change depending on which content is rendered by the template.

How To Define LCP Using Chrome Devtools

  1. Open the page in Chrome.
  2. Navigate to the Performance panel of Dev Tools (Command + Option + I on Mac or Control + Shift + I on Windows and Linux).
  3. Hover over the LCP marker in the Timings section.
  4. The element(s) that correspond to LCP is detailed in the Related Node field.
A Technical SEO Guide To Lighthouse Performance MetricsCreated by author, January 2022

What Causes Poor LCP?

Poor LCP typically comes from four issues:

  1. Slow server response times.
  2. Render-blocking JavaScript and CSS.
  3. Resource load times.
  4. Client-side rendering.

How To Fix Poor LCP

If the cause is slow server response time:

  • Optimize your server.
  • Route users to a nearby CDN.
  • Cache assets.
  • Serve HTML pages cache-first.
  • Establish third-party connections early.

If the cause is render-blocking JavaScript and CSS:

  • Minify CSS.
  • Defer non-critical CSS.
  • Inline critical CSS.
  • Minify and compress JavaScript files.
  • Defer unused JavaScript.
  • Minimize unused polyfills.

If the cause is resource load times:

  • Optimize and compress images.
  • Preload important resources.
  • Compress text files.
  • Deliver different assets based on the network connection (adaptive serving).
  • Cache assets using a service worker.

If the cause is client-side rendering:

Resources For Improving LCP

Total Blocking Time (TBT)

  • What it represents: Responsiveness to user input.
  • Lighthouse Performance score weighting: 30%
  • What it measures: TBT measures the time between First Contentful Paint and Time to Interactive. TBT is the lab equivalent of First Input Delay (FID) – the field data used in the Chrome User Experience Report and Google’s upcoming Page Experience ranking signal.
  • How it’s measured: The total time in which the main thread is occupied by tasks taking more than 50ms to complete. If a task takes 80ms to run, 30ms of that time will be counted toward TBT. If a task takes 45ms to run, 0ms will be added to TBT.
  • Is Total Blocking Time a Web Core Vital? Yes! It’s the lab data equivalent of First Input Delay (FID).

TBT Scoring

  • Goal: Achieve TBT score of less than 300 milliseconds.
A Technical SEO Guide To Lighthouse Performance MetricsCreated by author, January 2022

First Input Delay, the field data equivalent to TBT, has different thresholds.

FID Time in millisecondsCreated by author, January 2022

Long Tasks And Total Blocking Time

TBT measures long tasks – those taking longer than 50ms.

When a browser loads your site, there is essentially a single line queue of scripts waiting to be executed.

Any input from the user has to go into that same queue.

When the browser can’t respond to user input because other tasks are executing, the user perceives this as lag.

Essentially, long tasks are like that person at your favorite coffee shop who takes far too long to order a drink.

Like someone ordering a 2% venti four-pump vanilla, five-pump mocha whole-fat froth, long tasks are a major source of bad experiences.

Short tasks vs. long tasksScreenshot by author, January 2022

What Causes A High TBT On Your Page?

Heavy JavaScript.

That’s it.

How To See TBT Using Chrome Devtools

A Technical SEO Guide To Lighthouse Performance MetricsScreenshot from Chrome Devtools, January 2022

How To Fix Poor TBT

  • Break up Long Tasks.
  • Optimize your page for interaction readiness.
  • Use a web worker.
  • Reduce JavaScript execution time.

Resources For Improving TBT

First Contentful Paint (FCP)

  • What it represents: FCP marks the time at which the first text or image is painted (visible).
  • Lighthouse Performance score weighting: 10%
  • What it measures: The time when I can see the page I requested is responding. My thumb can stop hovering over the back button.
  • How it’s measured: Your FCP score in Lighthouse is measured by comparing your page’s FCP to FCP times for real website data stored by the HTTP Archive.
  • Your FCP increases if it is faster than other pages in the HTTP Archive.
  • Is First Contentful Paint a Web Core Vital? No

FCP Scoring

  • Goal: Achieve FCP in < 2 seconds.
FCP timeCreated by author, January 2022

What Elements Can Be Part Of FCP?

The time it takes to render the first visible element to the DOM is the FCP.

Anything that happens before an element that renders non-white content to the page (excluding iframes) is counted toward FCP.

Since iframes are not considered part of FCP, if they are the first content to render, FCP will continue counting until the first non-iframe content loads, but the iframe load time isn’t counted toward the FCP.

The documentation around FCP also calls out that is often impacted by font load time and there are tips for improving font loads.

FCP Using Chrome Devtools

  1. Open the page in Chrome.
  2. Navigate to the Performance panel of Dev Tools (Command + Option + I on Mac or Control + Shift + I on Windows and Linux).
  3. Click on the FCP marker in the Timings section.
  4. The summary tab has a timestamp with the FCP in ms.

How To Improve FCP

In order for content to be displayed to the user, the browser must first download, parse, and process all external stylesheets it encounters before it can display or render any content to a user’s screen.

The fastest way to bypass the delay of external resources is to use in-line styles for above-the-fold content.

To keep your site sustainably scalable, use an automated tool like penthouse and Apache’s mod_pagespeed.

These solutions will come with some restrictions to functionalities, require testing, and may not be for everyone.

Universally, we can all improve our site’s time to First Contentful Paint by reducing the scope and complexity of style calculations.

If a style isn’t being used, remove it.

You can identify unused CSS with Chrome Dev Tool’s built-in Code Coverage functionality.

Use better data to make better decisions.

Similar to TTI, you can capture real user metrics for FCP using Google Analytics to correlate improvements with KPIs.

Resources For Improving FCP

Speed Index

  • What it represents: How much is visible at a time during load.
  • Lighthouse Performance score weighting: 10%
  • What it measures: The Speed Index is the average time at which visible parts of the page are displayed.
  • How it’s measured: Lighthouse’s Speed Index measurement comes from a node module called Speedline.

You’ll have to ask the kindly wizards at webpagetest.org for the specifics but roughly, Speedline scores vary by the size of the viewport (read as device screen) and have an algorithm for calculating the completeness of each frame.

Speed index measurementsScreenshot by author, January 2022
  • Is Speed Index a Web Core Vital? No.

SI Scoring

  • Goal: achieve SI in < 4.3 seconds.
Speed Index metricsCreated by author, January 2022

How To Improve SI

Speed score reflects your site’s Critical Rendering Path.

A “critical” resource means that the resource is required for the first paint or is crucial to the page’s core functionality.

The longer and denser the path, the slower your site will be to provide a visual page.

If your path is optimized, you’ll give users content faster and score higher on Speed Index.

How The Critical Path Affects Rendering

Optimized rendering vs unoptimized timesScreenshot by author, January 2022

Lighthouse recommendations commonly associated with a slow Critical Rendering Path include:

  • Minimize main-thread work.
  • Reduce JavaScript execution time.
  • Minimize Critical Requests Depth.
  • Eliminate Render-Blocking Resources.
  • Defer offscreen images.

Resources For Improving SI

Time To Interactive

  • What it represents: Load responsiveness; identifying where a page looks responsive but isn’t yet.
  • Lighthouse Performance score weighting: 10%
  • What it measures: The time from when the page begins loading to when its main resources have loaded and are able to respond to user input.
  • How it’s measured: TTI measures how long it takes a page to become fully interactive. A page is considered fully interactive when:

1. The page displays useful content, which is measured by the First Contentful Paint.

2. Event handlers are registered for most visible page elements.

3. The page responds to user interactions within 50 milliseconds.

  • Is Time to Interactive a Web Core Vital? No

TTI Scoring

Goal: achieve TTI score of less than 3.8 seconds.

TTI scoring systemCreated by author, January 2022

Resources For Improving TTI

Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)

  • What it represents: A user’s perception of a page’s visual stability.
  • Lighthouse Performance score weighting: 15%
  • What it measures: It quantifies shifting page elements through the end of page load.
  • How it’s measured: Unlike other metrics, CLS isn’t measured in time. Instead, it’s a calculated metric based on the number of frames in which elements move and the total distance in pixels the elements moved.
CLS Layout Score formulaCreated by author, January 2022

CLS Scoring

  • Goal: achieve CLS score of less than 0.1.
CLS Scoring systemCreated by author, January 2022

What Elements Can Be Part Of CLS?

Any visual element that appears above the fold at some point in the load.

That’s right – if you’re loading your footer first and then the hero content of the page, your CLS is going to hurt.

Causes Of Poor CLS

  • Images without dimensions.
  • Ads, embeds, and iframes without dimensions.
  • Dynamically injected content.
  • Web Fonts causing FOIT/FOUT.
  • Actions waiting for a network response before updating DOM.

How To Define CLS Using Chrome Devtools

  1. Open the page in Chrome.
  2. Navigate to the Performance panel of Dev Tools (Command + Option + I on Mac or Control + Shift + I on Windows and Linux).
  3. Hover and move from left to right over the screenshots of the load (make sure the screenshots checkbox is checked).
  4. Watch for elements bouncing around after the first paint to identify elements causing CLS.

How To Improve CLS

Once you identify the element(s) at fault, you’ll need to update them to be stable during the page load.

For example, if slow-loading ads are causing the high CLS score, you may want to use placeholder images of the same size to fill that space as the ad loads to prevent the page shifting.

Some common ways to improve CLS include:

  • Always include width and height size attributes on images and video elements.
  • Reserve space for ad slots (and don’t collapse it).
  • Avoid inserting new content above existing content.
  • Take care when placing non-sticky ads near the top of the viewport.
  • Preload fonts.

CLS Resources

How To Test Performance Using Lighthouse

Methodology Matters

Out of the box, Lighthouse audits a single page at a time.

A single page score doesn’t represent your site, and a fast homepage doesn’t mean a fast site.

Test multiple page types within your site.

Identify your major page types, templates, and goal conversion points (signup, subscribe, and checkout pages).

If 40% of your site is blog posts, make 40% of your testing URLs blog pages!

Example Page Testing Inventory

Example Page Testing InventoryCreated by author, January 2022

Before you begin optimizing, run Lighthouse on each of your sample pages and save the report data.

Record your scores and the to-do list of improvements.

Prevent data loss by saving the JSON results and utilizing Lighthouse Viewer when detailed result information is needed.

Get Your Backlog to Bite Back Using ROI

Getting development resources to action SEO recommendations is hard.

An in-house SEO professional could destroy their pancreas by having a birthday cake for every backlogged ticket’s birthday. Or at least learn to hate cake.

In my experience as an in-house enterprise SEO pro, the trick to getting performance initiatives prioritized is having the numbers to back the investment.

This starting data will become dollar signs that serve to justify and reward development efforts.

With Lighthouse testing, you can recommend specific and direct changes (Think preload this font file) and associate the change to a specific metric.

Chances are you’re going to have more than one area flagged during tests. That’s okay!

If you’re wondering which changes will have the most bang for the buck, check out the Lighthouse Scoring Calculator.

How To Run Lighthouse Tests

This is a case of many roads leading to Oz.

Sure, some scarecrow might be particularly loud about a certain shade of brick but it’s about your goals.

Looking to test an entire staging site? Time to learn some NPM.

Have less than five minutes to prep for a prospective client meeting? A couple of one-off reports should do the trick.

Whichever way you execute, default to mobile unless you have a special use-case for desktop.

For One-Off Reports: PageSpeed Insights

Test one page at a time on PageSpeed Insights. Simply enter the URL.

Lab and field data available in PageSpeed InsightsScreenshot from PageSpeed Insights, January 2022

Pros Of Running Lighthouse From PageSpeed Insights

  • Detailed Lighthouse report is combined with URL-specific data from the Chrome User Experience Report.
  • Opportunities and Diagnostics can be filtered to specific metrics.  This is exceptionally useful when creating tickets for your engineers and tracking the resulting impact of the changes.
  • PageSpeed Insights is running already version 9.
    Pagespeed Insights opportunities and diagnostics filtered by metricScreenshot from PageSpeed Insights, January 2022

Cons Of Running Lighthouse From PageSpeed Insights

  • One report at a time.
  • Only Performance tests are run (if you need SEO, Accessibility, or Best Practices, you’ll need to run those separately)
  • You can’t test local builds or authenticated pages.
  • Reports can’t be saved in JSON, HTML, or Gist format. (Save as PDF via browser functionality is an option.
  • Requires you to manually save results.

For Comparing Test Results: Chrome DevTools Or Web.dev

Because the report will be emulating a user’s experience using your browser, use an incognito instance with all extensions, and the browser’s cache disabled.

Pro-tip: Create a Chrome profile for testing. Keep it local (no sync enabled, password saving, or association to an existing Google account) and don’t install extensions for the user.

How To Run A Test Lighthouse Using Chrome DevTools

  1. Open an incognito instance of Chrome.
  2. Navigate to the Network panel of Chrome Dev Tools (Command + Option + I on Mac or Control + Shift + I on Windows and Linux).
  3. Tick the box to disable cache.
  4. Navigate to the Lighthouse panel.
  5. Click Generate Report.
  6. Click the dots to the right of the URL in the report
  7. Save in your preferred format (JSON, HTML, or Gist)
    Save options for Lighthouse ReportsScreenshot from Lighthouse Reports, January 2022

Note that your version of Lighthouse may change depending on what version of Chrome you’re using. v8.5 is used on Chrome 97.

Lighthouse v9 will ship with DevTools in Chrome 98.

How To Run A Test Lighthouse Using Web.Dev

It’s just like DevTools but you don’t have to remember to disable all those pesky extensions!

  1. Go to web.dev/measure.
  2. Enter your URL.
  3. Click Run Audit.
  4. Click View Report.
    web.dev view report optionScreenshot by author, January 2022

Pros Of Running Lighthouse From DevTools/web.dev

  • You can test local builds or authenticated pages.
  • Saved reports can be compared using the Lighthouse CI Diff tool.
    Lighthouse CI Diff toolScreenshot from Lighthouse CI Diff, January 2022

Cons Of Running Lighthouse From DevTools/web.dev

  • One report at a time.
  • Requires you to manually save results.

For Testing At Scale (and Sanity): Node Command Line

1. Install npm.
(Mac Pro-tip: Use homebrew to avoid obnoxious dependency issues.)

2. Install the Lighthouse node module with npm

install -g lighthouse

3. Run a single text with

lighthouse <url>

4. Run tests on lists of usings by running tests programmatically.

Pros Of Running Lighthouse From Node

  • Many reports can be run at once.
  • Can be set to run automatically to track change over time.

Cons Of Running Lighthouse From Node

  • Requires some coding knowledge.
  • More time-intensive setup.

Conclusion

The complexity of performance metrics reflects the challenges facing all sites.

We use performance metrics as a proxy for user experience – that means factoring in some unicorns.

Tools like Google’s Test My Site and What Does My Site Cost? can help you make the conversion and customer-focused arguments for why performance matters.

Hopefully, once your project has traction, these definitions will help you translate Lighthouse’s single performance metric into action tickets for a skilled and collaborative engineering team.

Track your data and shout it from the rooftops.

As much as Google struggles to quantify qualitative experiences, SEO professionals and devs must decode how to translate a concept into code.

Test, iterate, and share what you learn! I look forward to seeing what you’re capable of, you beautiful unicorn.

More resources:


Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal




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New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

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New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

A keynote at Google’s Marketing Live event showed a new AI-powered visual search results that feature advertisements that engage users within the context of an AI-Assisted search, blurring the line between AI-generated search results and advertisements.

Google Lens is a truly helpful app but it becomes unconventional where it blurs the line between an assistant helping users and being led to a shopping cart. This new way of engaging potential customers with AI is so far out there that the presenter doesn’t even call it advertising, he doesn’t even use the word.

Visual Search Traffic Opportunity?

Google’s Group Product Manager Sylvanus Bent, begins the presentation with an overview of the next version of Google Lens visual search that will be useful for surfacing information and for help finding where to buy them.

Sylvanus explained how it will be an opportunity for websites to receive traffic from this new way to search.

“…whether you’re snapping a photo with lens or circling to search something on your social feed, visual search unlocks new ways to explore whatever catches your eye, and we recently announced a newly redesigned results page for Visual search.

Soon, instead of just visual matches, you’ll see a wide range of results, from images to video, web links, and facts about the knowledge graph. It gets people the helpful information they need and creates new opportunities for sites to be discovered.”

It’s hard to say whether or not this will bring search traffic to websites and what the quality of that traffic will be. Will they stick around to read an article? Will they engage with a product review?

Visual Search Results

Sylvanus shares a hypothetical example of someone at an airport baggage claim who falls in like with someone else’s bag. He explains that all the person needs to do is snap a photo of the luggage bag and Google Lens will take them directly to shopping options.

He explains:

“No words, no problem. Just open Lens, take a quick picture and immediately you’ll see options to purchase.

And for the first time, shopping ads will appear at the very top of the results on linked searches, where a business can offer what a consumer is looking for.

This will help them easily purchase something that catches their eye.”

These are image-heavy shopping ads at the top of the search results and as annoying as that may be it’s nowhere near the “next level” advertising that is coming to Google’s search ads where Google presents a paid promotion within the context of an AI Assistant.

Interactive Search Shopping

Sylvanus next describes an AI-powered form advertising that happens directly within search. But he doesn’t call it advertising. He doesn’t even use the word advertising. He suggests this new form of AI search experience is more than offer, saying that, “it’s an experience.”

He’s right to not use the word advertisement because what he describes goes far beyond advertising and blurs the boundaries between search and advertising within the context of AI-powered suggestions, paid suggestions.

Sylvanus explains how this new form of shopping experience works:

“And next, imagine a world where every search ad is more than an offer. It’s an experience. It’s a new way for you to engage more directly with your customers. And we’re exploring search ads with AI powered recommendations across different verticals. So I want to show you an example that’s going live soon and you’ll see even more when we get to shopping.”

He uses the example of someone who needs to store their furniture for a few months and who turns to Google to find short term storage. What he describes is a query for local short term storage that turns into a “dynamic ad experience” that leads the searcher into throwing packing supplies into their shopping cart.

He narrated how it works:

“You search for short term storage and you see an ad for extra space storage. Now you can click into a new dynamic ad experience.

You can select and upload photos of the different rooms in your house, showing how much furniture you have, and then extra space storage with help from Google, AI generates a description of all your belongings for you to verify. You get a recommendation for the right size and type of storage unit and even how much packing supplies you need to get the job done. Then you just go to the website to complete the transaction.

And this is taking the definition of a helpful ad to the next level. It does everything but physically pick up your stuff and move it, and that is cool.”

Step 1: Search For Short Term Storage

1716722762 15 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

The above screenshot shows an advertisement that when clicked takes the user to what looks like an AI-assisted search but is really an interactive advertisement.

Step 2: Upload Photos For “AI Assistance”

1716722762 242 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

The above image is a screenshot of an advertisement that is presented in the context of AI-assisted search.  Masking an advertisement within a different context is the same principal behind an advertorial where an advertisement is hidden in the form of an article. The phrases “Let AI do the heavy lifting” and “AI-powered recommendations” create the context of AI-search that masks the true context of an advertisement.

Step 3: Images Chosen For Uploading

1716722762 187 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

The above screenshot shows how a user uploads an image to the AI-powered advertisement within the context of an AI-powered search app.

The Word “App” Masks That This Is An Ad

Screenshot of interactive advertisement for that identifies itself as an app with the words

Above is a screenshot of how a user uploads a photo to the AI-powered interactive advertisement within the context of a visual search engine, using the word “app” to further the illusion that the user is interacting with an app and not an advertisement.

Upload Process Masks The Advertising Context

Screenshot of interactive advertisement that uses the context of an AI Assistant to mask that this is an advertisement

The phrase “Generative AI is experimental” contributes to the illusion that this is an AI-assisted search.

Step 4: Upload Confirmation

1716722762 395 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

In step 4 the “app” advertisement is for confirming that the AI correctly identified the furniture that needs to be put into storage.

Step 5: AI “Recommendations”

1716722762 588 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

The above screenshot shows “AI recommendations” that look like search results.

The Recommendations Are Ad Units

1716722762 751 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

Those recommendations are actually ad units that when clicked takes the user to the “Extra Space Storage” shopping website.

Step 6: Searcher Visits Advertiser Website

1716722762 929 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

Blurring The Boundaries

What the Google keynote speaker describes is the integration of paid product suggestions into an AI assisted search. This kind of advertising is so far out there that the Googler doesn’t even call it advertising and rightfully so because what this does is blur the line between AI assisted search and advertising. At what point does a helpful AI search become just a platform for using AI to offer paid suggestions?

Watch The Keynote At The 32 Minute Mark

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Ljupco Smokovski

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How Do I Get A Job With A PPC Agency

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Conversion Tracking In PPC Campaigns

This month’s “Ask A PPC” question is particularly significant because the job market has been quite volatile.

“How do I get a job with a PPC agency when I have only worked in-house. What experience would they want?” – Karl Toronto

It’s understandable that people want to know which skills employers seek when hiring for a PPC team. There can be a disparity between what people think they need and what the market actually demands.

We’ll delve into some data and commentary to explain why various traits are valued.

It’s crucial to understand that the ideal candidates will be versatile and have an aptitude for all aspects of digital marketing.

However, no one can excel at everything, so leveraging your strengths or preferences is beneficial.

Ensure that you’re securing the best role for yourself while the company hiring you finds the best fit for them.

Here Are The Essential Skills

  • Analytics.
  • Creativity.
  • Ad network knowledge.
  • Willingness to test/learn.
  • Culture fit.

Discrepancy Between Market Demands And Perceived Needs

I conducted a poll on my LinkedIn to gauge the skills desired by current employers and practitioners.

Screenshot from author, LinkedIn, April 2024

Analytical skills emerged as the most sought-after trait. Employers seek individuals who can interpret numbers and discern the story behind them.

However, relying solely on analytical prowess may overlook the importance of creativity.

Creative skills are vital in today’s ad networks, especially emphasizing visual content like videos and campaign types that force visual content (Performace Max/Demand Gen). Neglecting creativity can hinder a company’s branding efforts.

Unexpectedly, ad network skills and cultural fit were deemed far less critical than analytical skills. Brands should prioritize team cohesion for long-term success, yet this aspect is often undervalued.

The disparity between job descriptions and actual skill requirements contributes to the difficulty in the job market.

Agencies that hire for how PPC used to work will be left wanting. Practitioners who only focus on popular skills instead of needed ones will be made obsolete by the privacy-first era obscuring data and AI owning creative.

Analytical Skills

Analytical abilities involve knowing where to find relevant data sources and understanding how they contribute to success.

While PPC historically relied on measurable outcomes, the landscape is evolving, necessitating adaptability in data analysis. Technical proficiency and strategic acumen are crucial for navigating different data sources.

These include:

  • Customer relationship management (CRM) systems.
  • Google Analytics 4 (GA4).
  • Ecommerce platforms.
  • Content management platforms (CMS).

Empathy for various ad channels improves your candidacy, and knowing how to work with post-click data will give you an edge over those who can only work with ad platform data.

While being highly technical isn’t required, having empathy for coding and scripts will give you a better chance to stay current with evolving data mechanics (especially as APIs become even more important for accessing data blocked by privacy-first regulations).

Here are some takes from PPC experts on why analytics is the most important:

A screenshot of a LinkedIn comment by Georgi Zayakov, who describes himself as analytical Screenshot from author, LinkedIn, April 2024
A LinkedIn post by Kathryn B., a paid media specialist at a PPC agencyScreenshot from LinkedIn, April 2024
Screenshot of a LinkedIn post by Nikolaos B., discussing how marketers must become data-savvyScreenshot from author, LinkedIn, April 2024

Creativity

Creativity is essential for crafting compelling ad content, yet many PPC agencies struggle in this area.

Clients are often tasked with providing creative materials due to cost or complexity constraints.

You’ll get a competitive edge if you have these skills:

  • Video Editing: With the rise of PMax, as well as many ad networks leaning heavily into connected TV, having video editing chops will be a huge asset for any team. If you’re not comfortable using conventional editing tools, AI tools like Descript are a great way to take on those tasks.
  • Graphic Design: No matter the ad network your potential employer is hiring for, you will need some ability to design static images. Whether you use stock photos or AI-generated images or come up with the creative yourself, the days of purely text ads are over. Tools like Canva can help bridge the gap for less technical designers, but don’t discount ad network AI.
  • Content Creation: While the first two categories leaned toward visual content, written content is still important (i.e., most ad formats include some text). Having the ability to understand how diverse audiences prefer to be addressed while respecting the specific requirements of each format is a great skill to hone.

While some roles may prioritize analytics or ad network knowledge, emphasizing creative abilities can distinguish you during the hiring process.

Here are some experts who value creativity:

A screenshot of a LinkedIn post by Erik PetersonScreenshot from author, LinkedIn, April 2024
A screenshot of a Linkedin post by Amy HebdonScreenshot from author, LinkedIn, April 2024

Ad Network Knowledge

Ad network expertise is valuable, but adaptability is paramount as platforms evolve rapidly.

Some agencies will have specialists, while others hire folks they expect to be passable at every network they service. It’s important to understand what workflow will enable you to succeed.

If you’re happy working with all platforms, then don’t shy away from it. However, if you do better in focusing on one aspect of PPC, that’s totally valid. Just know it might limit your ability to get hired into smaller “familyesque” agencies.

Understanding auction dynamics and bidding strategies is crucial.

Many of us who entered the industry when manual bidding was more popular have an unfair advantage over those who came in during the Smart Bidding era (i.e., anything from 2020).

This is because manual bidding requires you to think about the mechanics of each ad platform’s auction and how you could use those mechanics to your advantage in building account structure.

Knowing what to track and allocating appropriate budgets are key considerations.

Understanding that some networks require more conversions than others to run (e.g., Meta Ads’ 50 in a 7-day period vs. Google Ads’ 15 in a 30-day period) should influence what you choose to track, as well as how you report the data.

Additionally, if you are under or over budget, you’ll set yourself up to fail. Knowing which channels require a big investment upfront and what the breaking point for each network is (either on underspending or spending too much) is critical.

Awareness of potential pitfalls, such as false positives or negatives, enhances campaign effectiveness. For example, it’s important to know how to check if automatically applying recommendations is on and what tasks it’s on for.

It’s worth noting that none of the experts who chimed in on the poll made a clear case for ad network knowledge specifically.

Willingness To Test

Success in PPC requires openness to experimentation and a willingness to adapt. While this wasn’t one of the criteria in the poll, it was one of the most popular traits experts look for in hiring.

Perfectionism can hinder progress in a fast-changing environment. Testing new ideas and embracing failure as an opportunity for growth are essential.

While analytical skills aid in test design, empathy and creativity are equally vital for devising effective experiments.

Here is an expert who favors a willingness to test:

Screenshot of a social media post by Mike RhodesScreenshot from author, LinkedIn, April 2024

Cultural Fit

Cultural alignment with an agency fosters productivity and job satisfaction. However, you can only achieve that by being honest with yourself about what you want and the mechanics of how you work.

Agencies demand intense effort and collaboration, making compatibility with colleagues crucial.

Anyone looking to make the shift from in-house to agency needs to be prepared for a much faster pace of work and a lot more agency.

Open communication with leadership regarding preferred management and learning styles will ensure a positive working relationship.

Respect for peers and a supportive atmosphere contribute to a fulfilling work environment.

Here are a few thoughts on cultural fit from polled experts:

The image shows a LinkedIn post by David Zebrout containing text discussing the importance of integrating PPC network knowledge with intertimed optimizations in generating profitable growth.Screenshot from author, LinkedIn, April 2024
LinkedIn post by Lisa Erschbamer discussing the importance of cultural fit and individual personality in team dynamics for effective performance at a PPC Agency.Screenshot from author, LinkedIn, April 2024
A screenshot of a LinkedIn post by Aaron Davies discussing the importance of cultural fit, individual skills, and team communication in marketing for a PPC agency. The post has reactions and a question comment by NavahScreenshot from author, LinkedIn, April 2024

Final Thoughts

Navigating the current job market can be challenging, but understanding industry needs and honing relevant skills increases your chances of success.

Balancing technical proficiency with creativity and cultural fit is essential for thriving in a PPC role. By aligning with market demands and showcasing your strengths, you can secure rewarding opportunities in the field.

Have a question you’d like us to address? Fill out the form!

More resources:


Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal

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Why Every Marketer Should Be On Reddit

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Why Every Marketer Should Be On Reddit

In its nearly 20 years of existence, Reddit has built a robust, dynamic, and highly engaged community.

It has cemented itself as not only one of the key influencers for the internet culture we have come to know today, but also as one of the top 10 social media sites in the world, with more than 500,000 monthly visitors across more than 100,000 active communities.

Despite its size and influence, marketers have long avoided, overlooked, and failed to establish a presence on what is arguably one of the most influential social media sites today.

To be fair, Reddit has always been known as one of the hardest communities to have marketing success with, requiring months (if not years) of dedicated commitment to actually being a part of the community and engaging with your audience through meaningful, genuine, and honest interactions.

To many, that is just too much risk and too much work, but let’s be honest – most amazing things take risk and hard work. And for all of you who put in that work to be successful on Reddit, you already see the payoff it brings.

Regardless of the reasons, marketers who continue to overlook Reddit’s potential are missing out on an extremely influential community with ideal targeted demographics, where authenticity and genuine connections lead to valuable information, positive branding, and marketing success.

Not convinced? Let’s take a closer look at Reddit!

Reddit Stats You Cannot Ignore

Reddit users are dedicated to their use of the platform, with a reported 82 million (16.4%) of its 500 million users visiting the site daily, sharing over 1 billion posts, with over 16 billion comments across 100,000+ active communities, making it easily one of the top visited and most active sites in the United States today.

The user base is so loyal that they spend, on average, 20 minutes on the platform each day (and over 45 minutes a day for long-time users of more than 7 years) and, in many cases, are inactive on other social platforms.

This makes Reddit one of the only places to actually get in front of this massive audience, with 32% being inactive on Facebook, 37% on Instagram, 41% on TikTok, and 53% on X.

When it comes to demographics, a 2019 survey concluded that the overall Reddit audience was majority male (59%), ranged in age (36% aged 18-29; 25% aged 30-49), and well educated (42% college degree; 31% some college) making them an ideal audience many businesses looking for success.

They also helped Reddit improve revenues by 21% to $804 million in 2023, with a global addressable market for advertising estimated at $1.4 trillion by 2027.

Thought by many to be mostly a North American audience, Reddit claims more than 50% of its traffic comes from international users, a rather impressive climb from its earlier years.

It is important to remember, though, that Reddit is a platform that allows communities to grow and thrive, so those demographics change from subreddit to subreddit.

If that isn’t enough to grab your attention, surveys have found that 75% of users find Reddit a trustworthy source for making purchasing decisions.

For years now, it has been included heavily and prominently in Google search results, which have become even more visible due to reports following their inclusion in SGE results and with Google’s recent $60 million a year deal with Reddit to have real-time access to Reddit content and to use its content to train Google’s future AI models.

Speaking of Reddit’s visibility in Google’s search results, let’s take a closer look at why that deal is so important, especially to search marketers.

Reddit In Google Search, SGE, And Google’s Reddit Deal

For years, Reddit results have been prominently displayed in Google’s search results – so much so that users have even started adding the term “reddit” to the end of their search queries.

So often, you will see Google suggest search lines with the term “reddit” prefilled at the end.

Screenshot by author from search for [are purple mattresses good], Google, May 2024

Even without selecting the query that includes “reddit,” you will notice Reddit’s prominent placement in two places: discussions and forums, and Reddit sitelinks, which are both just below the ads and the first organic result.

Reddit resultsScreenshot by author from search for [are purple mattresses good], Google, May 2024

This was amplified by Google’s recent Helpful Content Update (HCU), which allowed platforms like Reddit and other forums to show up more frequently in search results,

Reddit’s ability to be helpful in satisfying a user’s search for information is so successful – in combination with reported shortages in new content for AI models from all major platforms – it is not surprising Google struck a deal with Reddit to show its content faster in search results and to use the content in training future AI models.

Since news of the deal between Reddit and Google was reported, there has been a lot of additional focus on Reddit’s visibility in Google’s search results.

Experts throughout the search industry report an increase in not only the total visibility of Reddit going up within search but also the speed at which a Reddit post is indexed and shown to users.

Google responded to concerns about Reddit showing up more in search results, saying that “some of the SEO folks who tend to be vocal on this platform (X) really dislike seeing more forum content in our search results. But actual searchers seem to like it. They proactively seek it out. It makes sense for us to be showing it to keep the search results relevant and satisfying for everyone.”

Google responded to concerns of Reddit showing up more in search resultsScreenshot by author from X (Twitter), May 2024

Although disputed by Google, Roger Montii wrote about one report of Reddit content being indexed within five minutes.

ChatGPT to Surface Reddit Content

Adding to the deal Reddit made with Google, it was recently reported that OpenAI has partnered with Reddit to surface their content in ChatGPT, adding to the clear value that both OpenAI and Google see in Reddit’s content today and in the future.

Of course, this has sparked a lot of interest in companies of all sizes. They want to figure out how their brands can participate and succeed on Reddit in hopes of increasing their visibility in Google’s search results, SGE, and ChatGPT and building their brand’s visibility amongst one of the most influential audiences on the internet today.

**Quick warning: Reddit requires genuine, long-term engagement and a strategy for success. So, I would definitely advise individuals and businesses to avoid trying to game, spam, or blindly jump into marketing on Reddit and take the time to really understand the platform, its audience, and your place of value within its communities.

Let’s look at how some major brands have been successful on Reddit in the past.

noosa Yoghurt

Noosa Yoghurt’s 2021 back-to-school campaign on Reddit was a great example of tapping into niche audiences to create engaging, user-driven content.

To capitalize on Reddit’s community of vocal yogurt enthusiasts, noosa launched a Flavor Poll that invited Redditors to upvote their favorite noosa flavors in the comments. This created a sense of community and interactivity around what could have been a standard poll.

Noosa Yoghurt’s 2021 back-to-school campaign on Reddit.Screenshot by author from Reddit, May 2024

After tallying the upvotes, noosa published a Promoted Post that showcased the results using a sleek custom infographic, highlighting the community’s favorites while also giving the brand important insight into consumer preferences.

Noosa published a Promoted Post that showcased the results.Screenshot by author from Reddit, May 2024

The results:

  • 49% increase in brand recall among Reddit users who were exposed to the campaign.
  • 30% increase in brand favorability.
  • 39% increase in purchase intent (15X the typical lift observed in the food vertical).
  • 50+ billion monthly views.

Sony Pictures Germany

To drum up excitement around the release of “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” in Germany, Sony Pictures Germany crafted a Reddit campaign that combined organic and promoted content to engage the platform’s robust fan communities.

The brand created a Reddit account under the protagonist’s name, u/MilesMorales, and used it to share exclusive content directly within Spiderman-related subreddits.

It also organized an AMA with the German voice actor Miles Morales to create a more personal connection with fans and promoted video posts featuring the movie trailer to amplify the excitement.

Sony Pictures Germany crafted a Reddit campaign.Screenshot by author from Reddit, May 2024

The results:

  • Sony Pictures Germany achieved a click-through rate (CTR) that was 344% higher than that of its standard paid media.
  • 831 upvotes.
  • 618,000 impressions.
  • The film remained No. 1 on the German movie charts for three consecutive weeks.

It is important to note that promoting your content and your brand on Reddit is definitely not the only value Reddit can bring you and your business.

Reddit is an amazing place to get honest feedback.

Whether you are trying to figure out what your target audience wants from your brand, test out a new feature or concept before investing and launching it openly, or even just to have continued open communication with your customers to support them and keep them connected to your brand, Reddit can help you succeed in an amazing way.

Transamerica Helping Reddit Make Dollars Make Sense

Transamerica’s campaign on Reddit is a great example of a company identifying an opportunity to connect with its target audience on the subreddit /r/finance.

This allows the company to better understand its customers’ needs and focus on content creation and future marketing plans.

Transamerica’s campaign on RedditScreenshot by author from Reddit, May 2024

Aligning itself with its audience by demonstrating awareness of the topics around personal finance happening in the subreddit, as well as acknowledging the Redditors working at the company, it asked what topics it could create “specifically for the reddit community” around the topic of finance.

It stayed involved and engaged throughout the campaign, responding to threads and maintaining a lighthearted and sometimes humorous tone.

Transamerica’s campaign on RedditScreenshot by author from Reddit, May 2024

After getting all the feedback it needed, it created content around the more popular requests, going as far as branding and designing them similar to Reddit.

IRA vs 401K venn diagramScreenshot by author from Reddit, May 2024

It even took the time to individually comment a link to the published content on its site, bringing attention back to the overall campaign and the content it created.

This campaign was 10 years ago, and it is still referenced as a core example of engaging on Reddit as a brand in a respectful, thoughtful, and meaningful way.

Why You Should Be On Reddit Wrapup

TL;DR: If your brand has something meaningful to say and is interested in truly connecting with your audience, then yes, you should be on Reddit.

These successful brand campaign examples showcase Reddit’s power when used correctly. With research to understand the specific communities you want to reach, Reddit can have exceptional performance compared to other channels.

The stakes are high to get it right because Reddit communities can be highly negative toward self-serving promotion. But if you put in the effort and solve people’s needs and problems, Reddit has the potential to be a high-performance channel.

Edit: Updated daily active users figure based on Reddit’s Q1 Earnings Report

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Featured Image: Julia Tim/Shutterstock



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