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How To Write A Stand Out SEO Resume (With Examples)

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How To Write A Stand Out SEO Resume (With Examples)

The type of SEO work you’ll embark on depends on the type of industry you work in. You might find an opportunity:

  • In-house.
  • With an agency.
  • At an SEO SaaS company.
  • As an Independent or Freelance Consultant.

Whatever your aspirations, you need a professional and high-quality SEO resume to set you apart.

Our industry continues to see substantial growth year after year, and an increasing number of companies nationwide are recognizing the significance of SEO on their marketing initiatives.

This is evident by a rising reliance on in-house and external efforts to drive organic traffic.

And if you’re looking for a career in SEO, that’s great news for you.

In this article, you’ll learn about the current state of the U.S. SEO job market, different types of roles, what employers are looking for in winning candidates, and how to craft a resume that will stand out.

What Does The SEO Job Market Look Like Going Into 2022?

As companies’ SEO needs grow, so do the number of available SEO positions, the diversity of those positions, and the range of industries hiring SEO professionals.

Image from Conductor, January 2022

And as your experience grows, so too will your salary, making SEO an appealing career choice to invest in.

How To Write A Standout SEO Resume (With Examples)Image from Search Engine Journal, January 2022

To keep track of this evolving industry and guide you towards the right SEO job, we’ve created this SEO job market overview.

Let’s start with…

Who Hires SEO Professionals?

In-House SEO

One of the biggest benefits of being an in-house SEO expert is having access to its first-party research and data.

Plus, you are privy to the company’s marketing objectives and previous efforts, which puts you in a strong position to kick off your work.

Seek out companies with dedicated SEO teams or individuals. The number of SEOs in a company will give you a sense of its current investment in the field.

Joining an existing team may also aid your transition into the company and clarify opportunities for growth.

That being said, now’s a great time to advocate for a new SEO role or team.

Organic has proven itself the lifeblood of company web traffic and remains reliable even in uncertain times.

Consider pitching a new SEO role within your current company by proving the organic’s value to a CMO skeptical of bringing SEO in-house.

Or during an interview, suggest it as a role you could eventually step into given your SEO skill set.

Agency SEO

At agencies, SEO roles would all be client-facing.

You’d be supporting the SEO needs of other companies.

Difficulties include potentially not having access to first-party data, clarity into the client’s marketing objectives, or being able to directly implement the changes that will have the greatest impact.

However, the benefits include exposure to multiple clients across a variety of industries, platforms, data sources, and SEO challenges.

These will provide you with a wealth of experience that expands your skills and makes you a highly appealing job applicant.

SEO SaaS (Software As A Service) Company

You can’t get much more SEO than working for a company dedicated to the industry.

And there are many options.

Similar to at an agency, your role could be client-facing, using your mastery of your SaaS platform to support their needs.

This type of role could eventually lead you to oversee the strategic direction of client relationships.

Outside of SEO teams, there is a range of departments that include SEO-dedicated roles:

  • Sales: Promoting the benefits of SEO to prospective customers.
  • Account Management: Helping clients establish their SEO goals. and strategic needs through the productive use of your company’s platform or service.
  • Marketing: SEOing the company itself to promote its values, emphasize its SEO expertise, and organically promote its offerings.

Independent Or Freelance Consultant

Freelancing can provide you with more flexibility around title, salary, and hours.

It doesn’t commit you to any particular company but by developing strong relationships with in-house teams, you may be able to establish a roster of regular roles.

This type of position would allow you to be highly independent but it also leaves you at the whim of your temporary employer.

There may be limited guidance and access to first-party data, both of which you should determine in advance to set expectations.

What Types Of SEO Jobs Are Currently Available?

Once you’ve investigated the industries that hire SEOs, you can look for the following positions:

In-house Or Agency

  • SEO Analyst.
  • SEO Specialist.
  • SEO Senior Analyst.
  • SEO Manager.
  • SEO Senior Manager.
  • SEO Director.

You may also find that you’re qualified for roles with similar titles in marketing, analytics, content, or dev departments that have an SEO component.

But carefully read each job description to ensure that your expectations align with those of the company you’re applying to.

SEO SaaS Company

  • SEO Performance Analyst
  • SEO Success Manager
  • SEO Success Senior Manager
  • Customer Support Manager
  • SEO Customer Success director
  • VP SEO Customer Success.

You can also look for roles within Account Management, Sales, or Marketing.

Looking at the Career sections of these companies or at employee LinkedIn profiles will help you understand the job titles for each department.

Consultant/Freelancer

Freelancing or consulting as an SEO may give you the freedom to choose your own job adventure, including picking your own title.

But this isn’t always the case.

Freelancing at an agency, for example, may require you to accept an assigned title based on the way an SOW was written that included your position.

However, you can decide how you want to present yourself on your resume.

You could ignore specific titles and focus on a title related to your consultancy expertise.

In that case, ensure that your accomplishments accurately reflect the level of effort, managerial responsibilities, and budgets as a means of expressing the scope of your experience.

What Are SEO Employers Looking For?

The most critical part of any resume is your experience.

But building a noteworthy and eye-catching record of your accomplishments that will help the reader envision you at their company is a challenging feat.

Not only does each job need to demonstrate the impact of your work but you want to show growth from one to the next.

Ensure that you layer SEO within as many line items as possible.

For a larger scale marketing effort or campaign, tie in SEO to highlight your individual contribution to the team.

When writing a description of professional achievements, keep these sentence structures in mind:

[Active success verb] + [KPI improvement] due to [project/SEO initiative][Active action verb] + [project/SEO initiative] + which resulted in [KPI or output improvement]

For example:

  • Grew organic traffic by +25% after establishing monthly optimization plans to update content based on keyword analysis reflective of ever-changing user intent.
  • Improved site load speed after reducing site technical errors by 20%. Prioritized broken issues such as links, redirect, and images which lead to lag and hurt the user experience.
  • Created the team’s first SEO strategy that outlined all SEO plans and objectives for the year and established a cross-team collaborative workflow.

The goal is to prove how your actions, either independently or as part of a team, contributed to SEO business objectives.

Skills

Three key SEO skill areas that hiring managers are always looking for are Content Writing, Technical, and Data Analytics.

Content Writing

Writing and language are at the heart of SEO since the goal is to match user intent, via language used in searches, to the content you have on your site.

It’s a form of Q&A. Valuable applicants can show how they conduct keyword research, interpret it, and directly apply findings to writing content.

The same goes for knowing all of the written components that make content more likely to rank well on Google, such as Title Tag, Meta Description, and Alt Tags.

Preparing these yourself using keyword research prior to content publication, shows you can save your team’s time and energy by getting SEO-ed content live faster.

Technical

The majority of technical SEO expectations don’t require direct web design, web development, or programming experience, though you should highlight any related capabilities you have.

These can be highly beneficial to an SEO career and are skill sets you should invest in if you want to advance your technical capabilities.

Key technical SEO support includes understanding and optimizing the backend components of a site that help get it ranked and improve rank.

You’ll be expected to run site crawls to identify what helps your pages (ex: inclusion of meta tags) and what hurts it (ex: slow page speed, broken links).

You may be asked to launch a new site or support a site migration, which has many technical implications.

Depending on the company, you may be able to update the website yourself or request changes be made.

Asking for clarification about this in advance will help you determine your workload.

Data Analytics And Reporting

Knowing how to compile, organize, and analyze data is especially relevant for SEO roles.

What’s even more valuable is knowing how to derive insights from data and use it to tell a story. To do this, make Excel your best friend if you haven’t already.

Learn how to do vlookups, concatenates, IF statements, and pivot tables.

Once you do, you won’t know how you ever survived without them.

Using SEO data, you can tell the story of the full organic traffic funnel, from content appearing on Search Engine Results Page (SERP), to clicks through to the site based on specific queries, to site organic pageviews, and on to eventual conversions.

To do this, you’ll need to be familiar with site analytics platforms, Google’s Search Console, and whatever ways your company tracks conversions.

Mapping out this funnel will support optimization creation and aid you in obtaining buy-in for your efforts.

If you don’t have experience with these platforms, there are online courses and training available.

But also consider requesting access to these platforms at your current job, even if you don’t use them in your day-to-day, to practice with.

Proving expertise in at least one of these SEO-related skills and knowledge of the other two will help you stand out for SEO roles.

Outside of these, a hiring manager may look for the following items in your resume, especially for more experienced candidates:

Insights And Optimizations

Optimization is the literal name of the game.

Ensure that as you write out your professional accomplishments, you reference the insights you’ve uncovered, the optimizations that were implemented, and their impact.

Interpersonal Skills

Being able to present yourself well, communicate clearly, and concisely explain the critical thinking behind your SEO practices will make you appear not only confident but reliant and trustworthy.

Think about how to express these efficiently in the way you write your accomplishments and plan ahead for how you can let these qualities shine in an interview.

Diversity In Your Customer, Client, And Brand Base

Having a well-rounded background of industry knowledge will help showcase your value.

Especially when working with customers, experience and familiarity with different fields make you a very appealing job prospect.

It lets you jump right into various client worlds’ and make yourself invaluable to them.

SEO Tools

To emphasize your skills and range of day-to-day abilities, call out the tools you’ve used and mastered.

Start by creating a Skills section in your resume and listing out the SEO tools you’ve had experience with.

You don’t need to include specific tools under Experience.

Use that section to focus on taking credit for initiatives and results.

But if you incorporate language relevant to the processes and capabilities of the platforms and tools, those reading your resume who are familiar with the tools will understand their supportive role.

Tools fall into two different sets, both of which are important to include.

First, there are the paid tools and those that connect directly to a website that companies and clients give you access to.

For example:

Usage and application of at least one of each of these will be looked for by potential employers.

This isn’t just to check off requirements but to understand the ways you’ve been exposed to SEO and get a sense of how you work.

Experience with tools will almost certainly be asked about in an interview so be prepared to address platform use cases and outcomes from your resume.

For team efforts, focus on your individual role with the tool and collaboration with other team members.

Second, there are a plethora of free SEO resources that a skilled SEO professional should have at their fingertips.

These not only help you with your craft but also look great on a resume. A few include:

These aren’t required but a knowledgeable SEO hiring manager will look for these tools to indicate that you’re leveraging SEO skills and applying SEO capabilities on a regular basis.

SEO Resume Tips For Those New To The Field

Early in your career and especially for your first job, it’s fine to only have experience with one of the three key SEO skills.

For example, if you wrote for a college publication, had a marketing or analytics internship, or worked on a personal dev project, lean into it and focus on the tactical capabilities you’ve learned.

Mention the range of projects, skills, tools, research, and clients you were exposed to.

As you try to join the field of SEO or are entry-level looking to move up, leverage the range of online resources for getting started with SEO.

This thorough guide consolidates 37 basic SEO tips into one hub.

If you’re not sure where to start, focus on the top SEO skills recommended by those in the industry, especially the tips for beginners.

Most will tell you to learn and reinforce knowledge of the skills and tools listed above.

In addition, work on the following SEO project journey to understand its individual components and how they connect together.

Leverage data to uncover searches driving current trends, whether those searches show your page, and if what shows up encourages people to click through.

Use that data to find content gaps with high enough search volume to warrant the creation of new content or edits to existing content.

Look to understand the basics of HTML, CSS, and Javascript, particularly, what are the components that can be read by Google and help the site get ranked.

Based on what Google can read, it then decides whether that content is relevant to a specific keyword.

So know when to apply your writing skills or when to collaborate with writers to incorporate the best language that answers users’ searches in the on-page and coded site components.

Those Applying To More Experienced SEO Roles

If you’re already got a few years of experience, focus on further strengthening your SEO resume in the following ways:

Highlight how your experience and tactical capabilities in the three key SEO skills have evolved, especially in your more recent roles.

Demonstrate development for each and take credit for your role in project conception, execution, and results.

Apply a similar process to strategic growth.

Go beyond a one-off project.

Present your role in influencing a shift in a business practice via large-scale impact and long-lasting value.

For example: Explain how you trained and obtained buy-in from a team of content writers, who were previously unfamiliar with SEO and keyword research.

Then show how your efforts both halted unnecessary errors and set content up for success from the moment it’s published.

Include any managerial experience, the number of direct reports and trainings hosted to show impact and recognition.

What Helps An SEO Resume Stand Out

Whether you’re applying for your first SEO job or looking to improve or refresh your SEO resume, the list below covers all the essential, optional, and red-flag components that will set you up for success on your job hunt.

How To Write A Standout SEO Resume (With Examples)Image created by author, January 2022

Necessary Structural Components

  • Name.
  • Contact information.
  • Professional experience.
  • Professional skills and platform knowledge.
  • Academic education.

While these may seem like obvious inclusions, there are a few things to note.

Contact Information

A full address used to be commonplace on resumes but it’s no longer required since email is the primary method of communication.

If it’s needed by employers, they’ll request it in the application process.

Professional Experience And Skills

While details about these sections are included above, it’s critical that the information you include is accurate to you and your experience and relevant to the job description.

Determine if it’s worthwhile sending out different versions of your resume to different companies based on the job descriptions.

The time that will take should be well worth the effort.

Education

The placement of this section should depend on the level of professional experience you’ve had.

Keep it at the top of your resume, under contact information, if you’re a recent grad or haven’t yet had a job with skills relevant to SEO.

Once your professional experience becomes relevant to the work you’re applying to, move Education below it.

Direct experience is what recruiters and hiring managers will want to see first.

For each institution attended, including the school’s name, major/area of study, years attended, and degree/s awarded.

If no degree was awarded, summarize what was studied but do not include the degree name or level.

Include any non-degree SEO, writing, marketing, design, UX, dev/tech, or analytics courses that trained and tested you in platform usage and/or awarded marketing certifications.

Add them to Skills or Experience if you took a course while employed to distinguish them from degree-based education.

Optional Components Include

  • Volunteer experience.
  • Awards won.
  • Languages known and level of proficiency.
  • URL for a LinkedIn profile.

Overall: Including these should come down to relevancy.

If awards represent the quality of work, if volunteer experience represents the quality of character, and if languages show skill of value, include them.

But if they take up too much space or seem frivolous, limit or remove them.

LinkedIn Profile Link

This isn’t required as your resume should be the full depiction of your work.

But sharing it might have other benefits.

You may have overlapping connections with company employees or their connections.

Or you may have posted SEO or marketing content that shows you’ve got a finger of the pulse of the industry.

If you include it, personalize your profile’s URL so that it’s short and clearly contains your name.

For example:

  • www.linkedin.com/in/firstnamelastname
  • www.linkedin.com/in/firstnamemiddleinitiallastname

Optional, But Not Recommended

  • Photo.
  • Summary statement.
  • Hobbies.
  • Use of more than one page (no more than two).
  • URLs for social media profiles.

Overall: Don’t include fluff or irrelevant content that will needlessly elongate your resume and take focus from your experience.

Expect resume readers will only look at the first page so keep your relevant experience there.

Remove any of the above if they push experience off the first page.

If you absolutely must have two pages, put skills, education, volunteerism, and/or awards on page two.

Use a summary statement if you have something to add that isn’t obvious elsewhere in your resume.

But most people applying for the same job would likely want to call out similar qualities and qualifications so a statement may do little to differentiate you from other candidates.

Components That Will Negatively Impact Your Resume

  • Spelling mistakes or grammatical inconsistencies.
  • Unoriginal or untruthful content.
  • Poor formatting in digital or printed versions.
  • Professional experience entirely irrelevant to the job.
  • Lack of continuity and short tenure in previous roles (for full-time positions).

Common red flags include:

Mistakes And Unoriginal Content

Assume that any company you apply to has resume-reading software that may call out mistakes or scan for plagiarism and remove you from the running.

Formatting

Using fonts that are too small and margins that are too narrow may look visually unappealing and suggest that you have trouble editing down your work.

Tiny margins may also prevent your resume from printing out properly.

Irrelevant Job Experience

Don’t waste the reader’s time by going into irrelevant detail about past roles.

If you must include a role to indicate a gap in time, then limit it to your title, employer, and dates.

Oldest Job Experience

If you’ve been in the industry for more than two or three jobs, scaling back on details from your first job/s or internships.

Lack Of Continuity And Short Tenure

While two years is no longer the job tenure standard, staying for less than a year across multiple jobs may make you seem unworthy of the investment a company plans to make in its new hires.

While there are good reasons for a short job tenure (bad fit, layoffs, better opportunities, etc…),  you become less appealing if this is a clear trend in your work history.

SEO Resume Examples

Here are two examples of SEO resumes to use for inspiration. They incorporate titles, experience, achievements, skills, and styles that help SEO resumes get noticed.

You can also see how the formatting guidelines and correct balance of components mentioned above are represented on paper.

If you choose to emulate them, be sure to change and personalize them as much as possible.

Conclusion

There’s no question – writing a great resume takes serious work.

It’s incredibly challenging to condense your entire professional and educational life into such a limited space.

Then needing to refine and condense even further with each new position you attain.

For SEO experts, this can be even more of a feat since the SEO industry has only recently been recognized as a full-time job and not just a skill.

But by following these recommendations, connecting with others in the field, practicing explaining your role and accomplishments with non-SEOs, and pushing yourself to expand your SEO knowledge, you’ll find that writing and talking about SEO becomes more natural.

And most importantly, just be your organic self.

More Resources:


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10 Tips on How to Rock a Small PPC Budget

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10 Tips on How to Rock a Small PPC Budget

Many advertisers have a tight budget for pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, making it challenging to maximize results.

One of the first questions that often looms large is, “How much should we spend?” It’s a pivotal question, one that sets the stage for the entire PPC strategy.

Read on for tips to get started or further optimize budgets for your PPC program to maximize every dollar spent.

1. Set Expectations For The Account

With a smaller budget, managing expectations for the size and scope of the account will allow you to keep focus.

A very common question is: How much should our company spend on PPC?

To start, you must balance your company’s PPC budget with the cost, volume, and competition of keyword searches in your industry.

You’ll also want to implement a well-balanced PPC strategy with display and video formats to engage consumers.

First, determine your daily budget. For example, if the monthly budget is $2,000, the daily budget would be set at $66 per day for the entire account.

The daily budget will also determine how many campaigns you can run at the same time in the account because that $66 will be divided up among all campaigns.

Be aware that Google Ads and Microsoft Ads may occasionally exceed the daily budget to maximize results. The overall monthly budget, however, should not exceed the Daily x Number of Days in the Month.

Now that we know our daily budget, we can focus on prioritizing our goals.

2. Prioritize Goals

Advertisers often have multiple goals per account. A limited budget will also limit the number of campaigns – and the number of goals – you should focus on.

Some common goals include:

  • Brand awareness.
  • Leads.
  • Sales.
  • Repeat sales.

In the example below, the advertiser uses a small budget to promote a scholarship program.

They are using a combination of leads (search campaign) and awareness (display campaign) to divide up a daily budget of $82.

Screenshot from author, May 2024

The next several features can help you laser-focus campaigns to allocate your budget to where you need it most.

Remember, these settings will restrict traffic to the campaign. If you aren’t getting enough traffic, loosen up/expand the settings.

3. Location Targeting

Location targeting is a core consideration in reaching the right audience and helps manage a small ad budget.

To maximize a limited budget, you should focus on only the essential target locations where your customers are located.

While that seems obvious, you should also consider how to refine that to direct the limited budget to core locations. For example:

  • You can refine location targeting by states, cities, ZIP codes, or even a radius around your business.
  • Choosing locations to target should be focused on results.
  • The smaller the geographic area, the less traffic you will get, so balance relevance with budget.
  • Consider adding negative locations where you do not do business to prevent irrelevant clicks that use up precious budget.

If the reporting reveals targeted locations where campaigns are ineffective, consider removing targeting to those areas. You can also try a location bid modifier to reduce ad serving in those areas.

managing ppc budget by location interactionScreenshot by author from Google Ads, May 2024

4. Ad Scheduling

Ad scheduling also helps to control budget by only running ads on certain days and at certain hours of the day.

With a smaller budget, it can help to limit ads to serve only during hours of business operation. You can choose to expand that a bit to accommodate time zones and for searchers doing research outside of business hours.

If you sell online, you are always open, but review reporting for hourly results over time to determine if there are hours of the day with a negative return on investment (ROI).

Limit running PPC ads if the reporting reveals hours of the day when campaigns are ineffective.

Manage a small ppc budget by hour of dayScreenshot by author from Google Ads, May 2024

5. Set Negative Keywords

A well-planned negative keyword list is a golden tactic for controlling budgets.

The purpose is to prevent your ad from showing on keyword searches and websites that are not a good match for your business.

  • Generate negative keywords proactively by brainstorming keyword concepts that may trigger ads erroneously.
  • Review query reports to find irrelevant searches that have already led to clicks.
  • Create lists and apply to the campaign.
  • Repeat on a regular basis because ad trends are always evolving!

6. Smart Bidding

Smart Bidding is a game-changer for efficient ad campaigns. Powered by Google AI, it automatically adjusts bids to serve ads to the right audience within budget.

The AI optimizes the bid for each auction, ideally maximizing conversions while staying within your budget constraints.

Smart bidding strategies available include:

  • Maximize Conversions: Automatically adjust bids to generate as many conversions as possible for the budget.
  • Target Return on Ad Spend (ROAS): This method predicts the value of potential conversions and adjusts bids in real time to maximize return.
  • Target Cost Per Action (CPA): Advertisers set a target cost-per-action (CPA), and Google optimizes bids to get the most conversions within budget and the desired cost per action.

7. Try Display Only Campaigns

display ads for small ppc budgetsScreenshot by author from Google Ads, May 2024

For branding and awareness, a display campaign can expand your reach to a wider audience affordably.

Audience targeting is an art in itself, so review the best options for your budget, including topics, placements, demographics, and more.

Remarketing to your website visitors is a smart targeting strategy to include in your display campaigns to re-engage your audience based on their behavior on your website.

Let your ad performance reporting by placements, audiences, and more guide your optimizations toward the best fit for your business.

audience targeting options for small ppc budgetScreenshot by Lisa Raehsler from Google Ads, May 2024

8. Performance Max Campaigns

Performance Max (PMax) campaigns are available in Google Ads and Microsoft Ads.

In short, automation is used to maximize conversion results by serving ads across channels and with automated ad formats.

This campaign type can be useful for limited budgets in that it uses AI to create assets, select channels, and audiences in a single campaign rather than you dividing the budget among multiple campaign types.

Since the success of the PMax campaign depends on the use of conversion data, that data will need to be available and reliable.

9. Target Less Competitive Keywords

Some keywords can have very high cost-per-click (CPC) in a competitive market. Research keywords to compete effectively on a smaller budget.

Use your analytics account to discover organic searches leading to your website, Google autocomplete, and tools like Google Keyword Planner in the Google Ads account to compare and get estimates.

In this example, a keyword such as “business accounting software” potentially has a lower CPC but also lower volume.

Ideally, you would test both keywords to see how they perform in a live campaign scenario.

comparing keywords for small ppc budgetsScreenshot by author from Google Ads, May 2024

10. Manage Costly Keywords

High volume and competitive keywords can get expensive and put a real dent in the budget.

In addition to the tip above, if the keyword is a high volume/high cost, consider restructuring these keywords into their own campaign to monitor and possibly set more restrictive targeting and budget.

Levers that can impact costs on this include experimenting with match types and any of the tips in this article. Explore the opportunity to write more relevant ad copy to these costly keywords to improve quality.

Every Click Counts

As you navigate these strategies, you will see that managing a PPC account with a limited budget isn’t just about monetary constraints.

Rocking your small PPC budgets involves strategic campaign management, data-driven decisions, and ongoing optimizations.

In the dynamic landscape of paid search advertising, every click counts, and with the right approach, every click can translate into meaningful results.

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What Are They Really Costing You?

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What Are They Really Costing You?

This post was sponsored by Adpulse. The opinions expressed in this article are the sponsor’s own.

As managers of paid media, one question drives us all: “How do I improve paid ad performance?”. 

Given that our study found close variant search terms perform poorly, yet more than half of the average budget on Google & Microsoft Ads is being spent on them, managing their impact effectively could well be one of your largest optimization levers toward driving significant improvements in ROI. 

“Close variants help you connect with people who are looking for your business, despite slight variations in the way they search.” support.google.com

Promising idea…but what about the execution?

We analyzed over 4.5 million clicks and 400,000 conversions to answer this question: With the rise in close variants (intent matching) search terms, what impact are they having on budgets and account performance? Spoiler alert, the impact is substantial. 


True Match Vs. Close Variants: How Do They Perform?

To understand close variant (CV) performance, we must first define the difference between a true match and a close variant. 

 

What Is a True Match? 

We still remember the good-old-days where keyword match types gave you control over the search terms they triggered, so for this study we used the literal match types to define ‘close variant’ vs ‘true match’. 

  • Exact match keyword => search term matches the keyword exactly. 
  • Phrase match keyword => search term must contain the keyword (same word order).
  • Broad match keyword => search term must contain every individual word in the keyword, but the word order does not matter (the way modified broad match keywords used to work).   

 

What Is a Close Variant? 

If you’re not familiar with close variants (intent matching) search terms, think of them as search terms that are ‘fuzzy matched’ to the keywords you are actually bidding on. 

Some of these close variants are highly relevant and represent a real opportunity to expand your keywords in a positive way. 

Some are close-ish, but the conversions are expensive. 

And (no shocks here) some are truly wasteful. 

….Both Google and Microsoft Ads do this, and you can’t opt-out.

To give an example: if you were a music therapist, you might bid on the phrase match keyword “music therapist”. An example of a true match search term would be ‘music therapist near me’ because it contains the keyword in its true form (phrase match in this case) and a CV might be ‘music and art therapy’.


How Do Close Variants Compare to True Match?

Short answer… poorly, on both Google and Microsoft Ads. Interestingly however, Google showed the worst performance on both metrics assessed, CPA and ROAS. 

Image created by Adpulse, May 2024

1718772963 395 What Are They Really Costing You

Image created by Adpulse, May 2024

Want to see the data – jump to it here…

CVs have been embraced by both platforms with (as earlier stated), on average more than half of your budget being spent on CV variant matches. That’s a lot of expansion to reach searches you’re not directly bidding for, so it’s clearly a major driver of performance in your account and, therefore, deserving of your attention. 

We anticipated a difference in metrics between CVs and true match search terms, since the true match search terms directly align with the keywords you’re bidding on, derived from your intimate knowledge of the business offering. 

True match conversions should therefore be the low-hanging fruit, leaving the rest for the platforms to find via CVs. Depending on the cost and ROI, this isn’t inherently bad, but logically we would assume CVs would perform worse than true matches, which is exactly what we observed. 


How Can You Limit Wastage on Close Variants?

You can’t opt out of them, however, if your goal is to manage their impact on performance, you can use these three steps to move the needle in the right direction. And of course, if you’re relying on CVs to boost volume, you’ll need to take more of a ‘quality-screening’ rather than a hard-line ‘everything-must-go’ approach to your CV clean out!

 

Step 1: Diagnose Your CV Problem 

We’re a helpful bunch at Adpulse so while we were scoping our in-app solution, we built a simple spreadsheet that you can use to diagnose how healthy your CVs are. Just make a copy, paste in your keyword and search term data then run the analysis for yourself. Then you can start to clean up any wayward CVs identified. Of course, by virtue of technology, it’s both faster and more advanced in the Adpulse Close Variant Manager 😉.

 

Step 2: Suggested Campaign Structures for Easier CV Management  

Brand Campaigns

If you don’t want competitors or general searches being matched to your brand keywords, this strategy will solve for that. 

Set up one ad group with your exact brand keyword/s, and another ad group with phrase brand keyword/s, then employ the negative keyword strategies in Step 3 below. You might be surprised at how many CVs have nothing to do with your brand, and identifying variants (and adding negative keywords) becomes easy with this structure.

Don’t forget to add your phrase match brand negatives to non-brand campaigns (we love negative lists for this).

Non-Brand Campaigns with Larger Budgets

We suggest a campaign structure with one ad group per match type:

Example Ad Groups:

    • General Plumbers – Exact
    • General Plumbers – Phrase
    • General Plumbers – Broad
    • Emergency Plumbers – Exact
    • Emergency Plumbers – Phrase
    • Emergency Plumbers – Broad

This allows you to more easily identify variants so you can eliminate them quickly. This also allows you to find new keyword themes based on good quality CVs, and add them easily to the campaign. 

Non-Brand Campaigns with Smaller Budgets

Smaller budgets mean the upside of having more data per ad group outweighs the upside of making it easier to trim unwanted CVs, so go for a simpler theme-based ad group structure:

Example Ad Groups:

    • General Plumbers
    • Emergency Plumbers

 

Step 3: Ongoing Actions to Tame Close Variants

Adding great CVs as keywords and poor CVs as negatives on a regular basis is the only way to control their impact.

For exact match ad groups we suggest adding mainly root negative keywords. For example, if you were bidding on [buy mens walking shoes] and a CV appeared for ‘mens joggers’, you could add the single word “joggers” as a phrase/broad match negative keyword, which would prevent all future searches that contain joggers. If you added mens joggers as a negative keyword, other searches that contain the word joggers would still be eligible to trigger. 

In ad groups that contain phrase or broad match keywords you shouldn’t use root negatives unless you’re REALLY sure that the root negative should never appear in any search term. You’ll probably find that you use the whole search term added as an exact match negative much more often than using root negs.


The Proof: What (and Why) We Analyzed

We know CVs are part of the conversations marketers frequently have, and by virtue of the number of conversations we have with agencies each week, we’ve witnessed the increase of CV driven frustration amongst marketers. 

Internally we reached a tipping point and decided to data dive to see if it just felt like a large problem, or if it actually IS a large enough problem that we should devote resources to solving it in-app. First stop…data. 

Our study of CV performance started with thousands of Google and Microsoft Ads accounts, using last 30-day data to May 2024, filtered to exclude:

  • Shopping or DSA campaigns/Ad Groups.
  • Accounts with less than 10 conversions.
  • Accounts with a conversion rate above 50%.
  • For ROAS comparisons, any accounts with a ROAS below 200% or above 2500%.

Search terms in the study are therefore from keyword-based search campaigns where those accounts appear to have a reliable conversion tracking setup and have enough conversion data to be individually meaningful.

The cleaned data set comprised over 4.5 million clicks and 400,000 conversions (over 30 days) across Google and Microsoft Ads; a large enough data set to answer questions about CV performance with confidence.

Interestingly, each platform appears to have a different driver for their lower CV performance. 

CPA Results:

Google Ads was able to maintain its conversion rate, but it chased more expensive clicks to achieve it…in fact, clicks at almost double the average CPC of true match! Result: their CPA of CVs worked out roughly double the CPA of true match.                 

Microsoft Ads only saw slightly poorer CPA performance within CVs; their conversion rate was much lower compared to true match, but their saving grace was that they had significantly lower CPCs, and you can afford to have a lower conversion rate if your click costs are also lower. End outcome? Microsoft Ads CPA on CVs was only slightly more expensive when compared to their CPA on true matches; a pleasant surprise 🙂.

What Are They Really Costing You

Image created by Adpulse, May 2024

ROAS Results:

Both platforms showed a similar story; CVs delivered roughly half the ROAS of their true match cousins, with Microsoft Ads again being stronger overall. 

 

1718772963 395 What Are They Really Costing You

Image created by Adpulse, May 2024

Underlying Data:

For the data nerds amongst us (at Adpulse we self-identify here !) 

1718772963 88 What Are They Really Costing You

Image created by Adpulse, May 2024


TL;DR

Close variant search terms consume, on average, more than half an advertiser’s budget whilst in most cases, performing significantly worse than search terms that actually match the keywords. How much worse? Read above for details ^. Enough that managing their impact effectively could well be one of your largest optimization levers toward driving significant improvements in account ROI. 


Image Credits

Featured Image: Image by Adpulse. Used with permission.

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How To Uncover Traffic Declines In Google Search Console And How To Fix Them

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How To Uncover Traffic Declines In Google Search Console And How To Fix Them

Google Search Console is an essential tool that offers critical insights into your website’s performance in Google search results.

Occasionally, you might observe a sudden decline in organic traffic, and it’s crucial to understand the potential causes behind this drop. The data stored within Google Search Console (GSC) can be vital in troubleshooting and understanding what has happened to your website.

Before troubleshooting GSC traffic declines, it’s important to understand first what Google says about assessing traffic graphs in GSC and how it reports on different metrics.

Understanding Google Search Console Metrics

Google’s documentation on debugging Search traffic drops is relatively comprehensive (compared to the guidance given in other areas) and can, for the most part, help prevent any immediate or unnecessary panic should there be a change in data.

Despite this, I often find that Search Console data is misunderstood by both clients and those in the first few years of SEO and learning the craft.

Image from Google Search Central, May 2024

Even with these definitions, if your clicks and impressions graphs begin to resemble any of the above graph examples, there can be wider meanings.

Search Central description  It could also be a sign that…
Large drop from an algorithmic update, site-wide security, or spam issue This could also signal a serious technical issue, such as accidentally deploying a noindex onto a URL or returning the incorrect status code – I’ve seen it before where the URL renders content but returns a 410.
Seasonality You will know your seasonality better than anyone, but if this graph looks inverse it could be a sign that during peak search times, Google is rotating the search engine results pages (SERPs) and choosing not to rank your site highly. This could be because, during peak search periods, there is a slight intent shift in the queries’ dominant interpretation.
Technical issues across your site, changing interests This type of graph could also represent seasonality (both as a gradual decline or increase).
Reporting glitch ¯_(ツ)_/¯ This graph can represent intermittent technical issues as well as reporting glitches. Similar to the alternate reasons for graphs like Seasonality, it could represent a short-term shift in the SERPs and what meets the needs of an adjusted dominant interpretation of a query.

Clicks & Impressions

Google filters Click and Impression data in Google Search Console through a combination of technical methods and policies designed to ensure the accuracy, reliability, and integrity of the reported data.

Reasons for this include:

  • Spam and bot filtering.
  • Duplicate data removal.
  • User privacy/protection.
  • Removing “invalid activities.”
  • Data aggregation and sampling.

One of the main reasons I’ve seen GSC change the numbers showing the UI and API is down to the setting of thresholds.

Google may set thresholds for including data in reports to prevent skewed metrics due to very low-frequency queries or impressions. For example, data for queries that result in very few impressions might be excluded from reports to maintain the statistical reliability of the metrics.

Average Position

Google Search Console produces the Average Position metric by calculating the average ranking of a website’s URLs for a specific query or set of queries over a defined period of time.

Each time a URL appears in the search results for a query, its position is recorded. For instance, if a URL appears in the 3rd position for one query and in the 7th position for another query, these positions are logged separately.

As we enter the era of AI Overviews, John Mueller has confirmed via Slack conversations that appearing in a generative snapshot will affect the average position of the query and/or URL in the Search Console UI.

1718702762 996 How To Uncover Traffic Declines In Google Search Console AndSource: John Mueller via The SEO Community Slack channel

I don’t rely on the average position metric in GSC for rank tracking, but it can be useful in trying to debug whether or not Google is having issues establishing a single dominant page for specific queries.

Understanding how the tool compiles data allows you to better diagnose the reasons as to why, and correlate data with other events such as Google updates or development deployments.

Google Updates

A Google broad core algorithm update is a significant change to Google’s search algorithm intended to improve the relevance and quality of search results.

These updates do not target specific sites or types of content but alter specific systems that make up the “core” to an extent it is noteworthy for Google to announce that an update is happening.

Google makes updates to the various individual systems all the time, so the lack of a Google announcement does not disqualify a Google update from being the cause of a change in traffic.

For example, the website in the below screenshot saw a decline from the March 2023 core update but then recovered in the November 2023 core update.

GSC: the website saw a decline from the March 2023 core updateScreenshot by author from Google Search Console, May 2024

The following screenshot shows another example of a traffic decline correlating with a Google update, and it also shows that recovery doesn’t always occur with future updates.

traffic decline correlating with a Google updateScreenshot by author from Google Search Console, May 2024

This site is predominantly informational content supporting a handful of marketing landing pages (a traditional SaaS model) and has seen a steady decline correlating with the September 2023 helpful content update.

How To Fix This

Websites negatively impacted by a broad core update can’t fix specific issues to recover.

Webmasters should focus on providing the best possible content and improving overall site quality.

Recovery, however, may occur when the next broad core update is rolled out if the site has improved in quality and relevance or Google adjusts specific systems and signal weightings back in the favour of your site.

In SEO terminology, we also refer to these traffic changes as an algorithmic penalty, which can take time to recover from.

SERP Layout Updates

Given the launch of AI Overviews, I feel many SEO professionals will conduct this type of analysis in the coming months.

In addition to AI Overviews, Google can choose to include a number of different SERP features ranging from:

  • Shopping results.
  • Map Packs.
  • X (Twitter) carousels.
  • People Also Ask accordions.
  • Featured snippets.
  • Video thumbnails.

All of these not only detract and distract users from the traditional organic results, but they also cause pixel shifts.

From our testing of SGE/AI Overviews, we see traditional results being pushed down anywhere between 1,000 and 1,500 pixels.

When this happens you’re not likely to see third-party rank tracking tools show a decrease, but you will see clicks decline in GSC.

The impact of SERP features on your traffic depends on two things:

  • The type of feature introduced.
  • Whether your users predominantly use mobile or desktop.

Generally, SERP features are more impactful to mobile traffic as they greatly increase scroll depth, and the user screen is much smaller.

You can establish your dominant traffic source by looking at the device breakdown in Google Search Console:

Device by users: clicks and impressionsImage from author’s website, May 2024

You can then compare the two graphs in the UI, or by exporting data via the API with it broken down by devices.

How To Fix This

When Google introduces new SERP features, you can adjust your content and site to become “more eligible” for them.

Some are driven by structured data, and others are determined by Google systems after processing your content.

If Google has introduced a feature that results in more zero-click searches for a particular query, you need to first quantify the traffic loss and then adjust your strategy to become more visible for similar and associated queries that still feature in your target audience’s overall search journey.

Seasonality Traffic Changes

Seasonality in demand refers to predictable fluctuations in consumer interest and purchasing behavior that occur at specific times of the year, influenced by factors such as holidays, weather changes, and cultural events.

Notably, a lot of ecommerce businesses will see peaks in the run-up to Christmas and Thanksgiving, whilst travel companies will see seasonality peaks at different times of the year depending on the destinations and vacation types they cater to.

The below screenshot is atypical of a business that has a seasonal peak in the run-up to Christmas.

seasonal peaks as measured in GSCScreenshot by author from Google Search Console, May 2024

You will see these trends in the Performance Report section and likely see users and sessions mirrored in other analytics platforms.

During a seasonal peak, Google may choose to alter the SERPs in terms of which websites are ranked and which SERP features appear. This occurs when the increase in search demand also brings with it a change in user intent, thus changing the dominant interpretation of the query.

In the travel sector, the shift is often from a research objective to a commercial objective. Out-of-season searchers are predominantly researching destinations or looking for deals, and when it is time to book, they’re using the same search queries but looking to book.

As a result, webpages with a value proposition that caters more to the informational intent are either “demoted” in rankings or swapped out in favor of webpages that (in Google’s eyes) better cater to users in satisfying the commercial intent.

How To Fix This

There is no direct fix for traffic increases and decreases caused by seasonality.

However, you can adjust your overall SEO strategy to accommodate this and work to create visibility for the website outside of peak times by creating content to meet the needs and intent of users who may have a more research and information-gathering intent.

Penalties & Manual Actions

A Google penalty is a punitive action taken against a website by Google, reducing its search rankings or removing it from search results, typically due to violations of Google’s guidelines.

As well as receiving a notification in GSC, you’ll typically see a sharp decrease in traffic, akin to the graph below:

Google traffic decline from penaltyScreenshot by author from Google Search Console, May 2024

Whether or not the penalty is partial or sitewide will depend on how bad the traffic decline is, and also the type (or reason) as to why you received a penalty in the first place will determine what efforts are required and how long it will take to recover.

Changes In PPC Strategies

A common issue I encounter working with organizations is a disconnect in understanding that, sometimes, altering a PPC campaign can affect organic traffic.

An example of this is brand. If you start running a paid search campaign on your brand, you can often expect to see a decrease in branded clicks and CTR. As most organizations have separate vendors for this, it isn’t often communicated that this will be the case.

The Search results performance report in GSC can help you identify whether or not you have cannibalization between your SEO and PPC. From this report, you can correlate branded and non-branded traffic drops with the changelog from those in command of the PPC campaign.

How To Fix This

Ensuring that all stakeholders understand why there have been changes to organic traffic, and that the traffic (and user) isn’t lost, it is now being attributed to Paid.

Understanding if this is the “right decision” or not requires a conversation with those managing the PPC campaigns, and if they are performing and providing a strong ROAS, then the organic traffic loss needs to be acknowledged and accepted.

Recovering Site Traffic

Recovering from Google updates can take time.

Recently, John Mueller has said that sometimes, to recover, you need to wait for another update cycle.

However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be active in trying to improve your website and better align with what Google wants to reward and relying on Google reversing previous signal weighting changes.

It’s critical that you start doing all the right things as soon as possible. The earlier that you identify and begin to solve problems, the earlier that you open up the potential for recovery. The time it takes to recover depends on what caused the drop in the first place, and there might be multiple factors to account for. Building a better website for your audience that provides them with better experiences and better service is always the right thing to do.

More resources: 


Featured Image: Ground Picture/Shutterstock

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