- Within the digital marketing space, the conversation around privacy and cookie changes has focused heavily on programmatic and paid social
- But how will third-party cookie deprecation and new privacy regulations impact paid search?
- Here is what search marketers can expect and how to prepare
In the digital marketing world, targeting, measurement, and optimization have foundationally relied on the ability to accurately track user behaviors and performance across the web. However, as we all know, platforms like Google and Apple have introduced privacy-focused initiatives over the past few years that complicate targeting and measurement for advertisers.
When discussing the impacts of these changes, much of the conversation has focused on programmatic and paid social, which are undoubtedly the digital channels feeling the greatest impact. What has not been discussed in great detail is the impact on search marketing. How should advertisers adapt their paid search strategies to adjust to these new realities?
Before digging into action items, let’s recap the newest updates and how they’ll impact paid search campaigns.
Chrome’s privacy updates will have a greater impact than iOS
There are two key privacy changes top-of-mind for search marketers in 2021. App Tracking Transparency (ATT), introduced through Apple’s iOS 14.5 update, requires a user to opt-in before a company can track their data across other apps or websites. Fortunately, the impact of this update on search programs for most advertisers is limited. Advertisers may see fluctuations in universal app campaign (UAC) volume, and search properties with a larger app-based audience (for example, YouTube) will experience some degradation in measurement and targeting. By and large, though, the ATT update is more of an issue for programmatic advertisers than search marketers.
Google Chrome’s third-party cookie deprecation, coming in 2023, will have a larger impact on paid search. From a targeting perspective, remarketing lists for search ads (RLSA) will become less effective without data on users’ behaviors across non-Google properties. As of Q3 2020, RLSA accounted for 20 percent of Google search ad clicks for Merkle advertisers – so this is a significant segment of traffic. There will also be new measurement challenges, especially for companies relying on proprietary reporting tech.
While iOS 14.5 is already a reality for advertisers, there is more than a year left to prepare for Google’s third-party cookie deprecation. There are several steps search marketers can take now to optimize performance within a more privacy-focused environment.
1. Lean into first-party data audience solutions to target
Effective audience segmentation and targeting will continue to be critical in search moving forward. Google offers several in-platform audience options, such as in-market and affinity audiences, that don’t rely on third-party data and can be leveraged by advertisers indefinitely.
However, there’s a greater opportunity for organizations to differentiate themselves by crafting a strong audience strategy using their own first-party data with Customer Match. Many advertisers already use Customer Match to some degree, but the data may not be refreshed regularly, or it may not be segmented in detail. The transition away from third-party cookies is the perfect impetus for fine-tuning a first-party data strategy.
First, advertisers should assess the quality of their first-party data. How comprehensive is the data that’s collected? Are there a lot of duplicate records, or is there a reliable unique record for each customer? All of the slicing and dicing in the world won’t be helpful if the data you’re working with is fundamentally flawed.
Next, marketers should assess opportunities to segment their customer lists in meaningful ways – a single “email subscribers list” isn’t going to cut it anymore. Smart segmentation is always important, but it will become even more critical because it will empower Google to build more tailored similar audiences.
After establishing segments, there must be a plan to refresh those audiences frequently. Determine an appropriate cadence for updating customer match lists and determine who’s responsible for doing it. Currently, this can be done through the Google Ads API or within the Google Ads interface.
Once a foundation is in place for your audience strategy, revisit your approach quarterly to ensure that segments continue to align with attributes important to your customers and your business. This also creates a natural check-in point to confirm that lists are being updated as expected and that they’re all receiving traffic. If needed, audience bid modifiers should be adjusted to reflect current performance.
On the topic of bidding…
2. Test or transition to Smart Bidding to take advantage of Google’s proprietary signals
While we, as advertisers, will have lesser user data available to us without third-party cookies, Google will continue to have a wealth of information about its users and their behavior on Google-owned properties. Google Ads’ Smart Bidding allows advertisers to take advantage of those audience signals to reach the right person at the right bid with machine learning. That’s not to say that segmentation isn’t important with Smart Bidding – it still is. One of the many signals the bidder looks at is all of the audiences a given user belongs to, including customer match audiences.
Advertisers can and should take advantage of custom audience segmentations through Google Analytics, Looker, or Google Cloud Platform (Big Query). And they should automate the pushing of defined customer audiences to Google marketing activation to maximize business data with Google’s Smart Bidding.
Whatever your advertising goals may be, there is likely a Google Ads Smart Bidding strategy to suit your business needs. For search marketers not yet using Smart Bidding, it’d be smart to start testing in early 2022 to iron out any kinks and have a full-blown Smart Bidding approach before 2023.
3. Get comfortable with new reporting methods
We’ve talked a lot about adapting to the changes to come with targeting, but privacy updates also create challenges for reporting. There will be a measurement gap that advertisers need to solve. Fortunately, Google Ads has solutions in place to help fill holes with enhanced and modeled conversions.
Enhanced conversions improve reporting accuracy by using an advertiser’s hashed first-party data to tie a conversion event to an ad interaction. Enhanced conversions are powerful in that they make a one-to-one connection between an impression or click and a purchase. Modeled conversions, on the other hand, find their power in scalability; Google has been using them to report on cross-device conversions for several years. When used in combination, advertisers get the benefit of precision where a one-to-one connection exists, while smartly estimating conversions in areas where it does not.
As privacy regulations increasingly muddy the reporting waters, the stakes are higher to work with Google to fill the gaps. If you’re relying primarily on proprietary technology for reporting, consider using Google’s measurement system to get a more complete picture of performance. Understanding the full impact of search is critical for being able to optimize and allocate budgets effectively. Note that Google’s global site tag or tag manager is required to appropriately track conversions.
4. Monitor universal app campaigns for performance changes
Advertisers using UAC to drive app downloads via paid search should closely monitor performance for those campaigns. So far, Merkle has observed a slow downward trend in tracked installs as a result of Apple’s ATT update. To avoid the effects of ATT, some advertisers are increasing their investment in Android or shifting spend there entirely. UAC can continue to be an effective channel for marketers, but reduced visibility on iOS may require bid or budget shifts in order to hit performance goals.
Privacy updates are changing the way marketers approach targeting and measurement. Don’t panic – but do put a plan in place. With the right adjustments, search advertisers can effectively pivot along with the industry. More than ever, advertisers must value first-party audiences driven by search to further customer engagement, experiences, and marketing ROI. Using that first-party data, in conjunction with machine-learning-based bid strategies and modeled and enhanced reporting, will create a foundation to help future proof search campaigns for privacy updates in the years to come.
Matt Mierzejewski is SVP of Performance Marketing Lab and Search at Merkle Inc.
Why Does Google Not Recognize My Competitor’s Links As Manipulated?
This week’s Ask An SEO question comes from Arvin from Vancouver, Canada, who wrote:
“One of our competitors has gotten tons of backlinks from unrelated posts including forums like that of apache.org (and many other .edu sites, too). Even after updates like Penguin, why are they considered relevant backlinks by Google?”
Let me begin by saying, Arvin, that we are a sports-loving family.
I currently have four kids on seven teams.
I love the lessons that sports teach my kids.
And one of the big lessons I work to instill in my kids is never to blame the referees for a loss.
I’ve never seen any sporting event where, if one of the teams did something better, the referee’s call would never factor into the outcome.
This lesson translates well to SEO.
Focusing on your competitor’s SEO instead of improving your own is a frustrating waste of time.
But, as an SEO, it is important to understand the factors that are affecting the rankings of each keyword.
Like Anyone Could Ever Know
Unless you work at Google, you can never be certain about why one site is ranking over another.
We can run sophisticated mathematical models to try to understand the algorithm.
But the bottom line is we can’t ever know for sure.
In fact, I’m not even sure the folks that work at Google could unequivocally tell you why one site ranks over another.
The algorithm is so complex that no one person could ever decipher it completely.
How Do You Know The Links Are Relevant?
There is no way to know if the links that your competitor has built are being counted by Google.
Google knows a lot more than our tools tell us it knows.
None of the many backlink analysis tools available on the market today can tell you if Google is counting a link or isn’t.
These tools use data gleaned from their own analysis to determine if a link is relevant or if it is toxic.
Meanwhile, one piece of content or simple link from a strategic site could be boosting the site’s rankings.
Concentrate On Your Competitor’s Strengths
When you look at the “bad” things your competitors are doing, you may miss a tactic that could put you over the top for that keyword you just can’t get to rank.
Instead of looking at all the things you think they are getting away with, look at what they are doing that is legitimate that you aren’t doing.
Frequently, when a prospect comes to me screaming about the travesty of an “inferior” company is ranking above them, the real reason for the ranking usually has nothing to do with the perceived injustice.
But usually when we find the real reason – or at least what I think is the real reason – we uncover a technique that this prospect should double down on.
It could be that your competitor has more robust content around a specific subject.
It could be that your competitor is utilizing technical SEO techniques better than you are.
It could be a thousand things.
Bottom line – when doing competitive analysis, concentrate on discovering things your competitors are doing better than you are.
Look for techniques you can modify for your own use rather than concentrating on how your client is cheating.
Especially if you don’t plan to cheat yourself.
And I recommend you don’t.
Ask an SEO is a weekly SEO advice column written by some of the industry’s top SEO experts, who have been hand-picked by Search Engine Journal. Got a question about SEO? Fill out our form. You might see your answer in the next #AskanSEO post!
Featured image: VectorMine/Shutterstock
5 Key On-Page Optimizations For Local SEO
When trying to capture those “near me” results, these are definitely beneficial.
However on-page optimization also plays a significant factor in the signals that are sent to the search engines to influence your local rankings.
On-page SEO helps you rank higher in organic results and in MapPack results, as well.
Here are five on-page optimization tips to help boost your local visibility in search.
1. Make Sure Your NAP Is Consistent
NAP is an acronym for Name, Address, and Phone Number.
These three simple pieces of information can make or break your local SEO strategy.
Make sure you have these bits of information displayed prominently on your site. A footer is a great place to house your NAP since it will appear on every page.
Linking it to your Google Map is even better.
You can also display your NAP on service area pages and on your contact page in the body.
Consistency matters. It’s important that this key business information is the same anywhere potential customers find you online – and anywhere Google may be using it for comparison to ensure its accuracy.
This helps crawlers and bots to connect the dots between your Google Business Profile, website, and other local citations through the web.
Don’t get lost in minute details such as abbreviations over spelling out street names. It doesn’t really matter as long as you choose one and stick with it.
2. Spruce Up Your On-page Content
Your site content is an opportunity to show both your customers and the search engines that you are the authority in your area for the service you provide.
Include specific details such as landmarks and street names, in addition to the services you provide in this area. Make it clear why the customer would need your service in that specific area.
The more you sound like you belong there, the better the user experience for your customer.
Think as your customer thinks.
If you were looking for your service near you, what terms would you use?
Would you include your local metro, city, or even neighborhood?
The answers to these questions will help you determine the type of content you need and which keywords to include in this content.
These keywords will help you target both combination searches [dentist in Chicago] and GPS-based searches [dentist] while sitting in Chicago.
This is where the “near me” searches come into play.
Google matches the location of the user (using IP or geolocation) with sites that service the area near the user to provide these search results.
You can optimize these keywords on overall service pages or on targeted pages created specifically for the service and the targeted service area.
Using the dentist example, let’s say you offer teeth whitening services throughout the Chicago and Southern Wisconsin areas.
In addition to your main teeth whitening page, you may have individual pages for teeth whitening in Chicago, Evanston, Milwaukee, and Racine.
Each of those pages should be hyper-targeted and optimized for that specific location.
Don’t be shy here; this may be the landing page for many of those location-based searches.
Really tell your customer why they should trust you enough to click on either the next page or your CTA.
Don’t forget to do your research.
Customers who live in an area will know the common jargon and things that are native to the area.
If you come in with half-baked information, they won’t trust that you are authentic and truly care about their local area.
3. Optimize Header Tags
If you haven’t explored this subject yet, be sure to check out this resource on best practices in using header tags.
By creating local-based service pages, you have just created additional real estate to create highly targeted header tags including local-based keywords + your services.
Having great header tags gives both the visitors to your site and the crawlers a basic idea of the overall structure of the page and what to expect as they read through the content.
Be careful not to just stuff keywords into the header tags as this will be unnatural to both your visitors and the crawlers.
Keep it relevant.
4. Internal Linking
Use the power of internal linking throughout the site to educate both your customer and the search engines that you are available to serve customers in that local area.
As you are adding city names to your on-page content, you can use them as an anchor link to the service area pages.
You can also get a bit creative and create widgets, lists, and blocks that house multiple links to your service areas on top-level pages for a bit of SEO boosts.
This could be in the form of a “metro areas we service” block that includes the name of the metro, an image of the area, and a short excerpt.
The text would then link to the location page.
5. Local Business Schema
Schema markup can help give the search engines a better understanding of your site.
The local business schema type includes important and relevant information such as addresses, reviews, hours of operation, social media accounts, service area geo-shapes, and departments in your code that may not necessarily live in your on-page content.
This tells the bots and crawlers all about who you are, what you do, where you do it, and why others trust you without cramming it all on a page.
This also gives you a bit more control of the information you are putting out there instead of relying on the search engines to figure out different resources around the internet.
How Will I Know If This Is Working?
Once you have everything optimized and ready to go, you will want to know if this is really having an impact on your local SEO strategy.
There are many tools out there however we will take a quick look at a few.
Local Search Results Tools
There is nothing like looking at the SERPs directly unless you can look at the SERPs in a simulated environment that mimics the local area that you are targeting.
With these tools, you even have the option to view Google Maps, select options such as desktop and mobile, and get as granular as the zip code level.
Geo-Grid Local Ranking Tools
Geo-grid local ranking tools like Local Falcon and Local Viking are a bit more visual and monitor the map results within a selected area.
These tools are great because you can actually schedule periodic scans that will capture a snapshot of your results and keep a history of how well your site has performed locally on the maps throughout time.
Since these scans are also keyword-based, it’s also an effective way to monitor optimizations within your content and title tags.
Google Business Profile Analytics
There’s nothing like getting information directly from the horse’s mouth.
When making optimizations, if successful, you should see a boost in your Google Business Profile metrics, whether those are click-throughs to your site, calls, or requests for driving directions.
As your visibility increases, you should naturally see an increase in traffic.
Remember when optimizing for on-page local SEO, keep it simple and relevant to your business.
Once customers see that you are providing what they are looking for in the location that they desire, the rest is natural.
It is your job to make sure that you are providing them with the right information.
Even with the rapid changes within the local SEO space, a solid on-page strategy is a winner for both you and your customers.
Featured Image: MaDedee/Shutterstock
Google’s Core Web Vitals Badge Likely Won’t Happen
Google says there are no plans for a Core Web Vitals badge in search results after proposing the idea when the metrics were first introduced.
A question was submitted asking for an update on the Core Web Vitals badge and whether it’s something that will be rolled out in the future.
It was never 100% confirmed there would be a Core Web Vitals badge in SERPs, but it was an idea Google mentioned on numerous occasions.
Now it sounds like Google won’t be following through on its idea.
Read Mueller’s full response in the section below.
No Plans For A Core Web Vitals Badge In Search Results
Mueller says he can’t promise a CWV badge will never happen, but chances aren’t good.
Since the badge hasn’t rolled out yet, and the idea was first proposed over a year ago, the feeling is that it won’t happen.
“I can’t promise on what will happen in the future, unfortunately. And since we haven’t done this badge so far, and it’s been like over a year, my feeling is probably it will not happen.
I don’t know for certain, and it might be that somewhere a team at Google is making this badge happen and will get upset when I say it, but at least so far I haven’t seen anything happening with regards to a badge like this.
And my feeling is, if we wanted to show a badge in the search results for Core Web Vitals or Page Experience, then probably we would have done that already.”
Muller brings up the fact that Core Web Vitals and Page Experience are always evolving.
The Core Web Vitals metrics, as they are defined today, may include different measurements in the future. It depends what users care about.
“That said, everything around Core Web Vitals and Page Experience is constantly being worked on. And we’re trying to find ways to improve those metrics to include other aspects that might be critical for websites or for users that they care about.
So I wouldn’t be surprised if any of this changes. And it might be that, at some point, we have metrics that are really useful for users, and which make sense to show more to users, and maybe at that point we’ll have something more visible the search results, or within Chrome, or I don’t know. It’s really hard to say there.”
My interpretation of Mueller’s response is that a Core Web Vitals badge in search results isn’t an ideal solution, considering the criteria for earning the badge may change from one year to another.
If the Core Web Vitals were a set of metrics that would remain the same from year to year then a badge might make more sense, but that’s not the case.
Hear Mueller’s response in the video below:
Featured Image: Screenshot from YouTube.com/GoogleSearchCentral, January 2022.
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