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Paid, Owned & Earned Media: What Is The Difference?



Paid, Owned & Earned Media: What Is The Difference?

The internet is like the universe: There are so many things whizzing around all the time and in just about every place that it can be hard to know exactly what’s what.

Just like the universe, we categorize phenomena to understand them better. Media can appear in various types, forms, and channels.

But there are three categories critical for marketers to understand. They are:

  • Paid media.
  • Owned media.
  • Earned media.

The task ahead is to understand what each type of media means and, more importantly, how to employ each separately and together.

What Is Paid Media?

The key to wielding anything skillfully is defining and understanding it. To that end: What is paid media?

As it sounds, paid media is any content you pay to have placed on an advertising platform.

Paid media includes PPC ads on Google, ads on Facebook, and display ads that follow you on websites that sell ad space.

You could also go back to physical paid media and identify newspapers, magazines, and billboards as platforms that sell ad space.

Paid media is one of the primary ways that businesses advertise today.

Ads placed on Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other places generate billions in revenue for those platforms annually.

Your ROI for the paid media you place will depend on so much, from the copy you write to the imagery you use, but rest assured; you can win traffic and conversions from your paid media efforts if you approach them in all the right ways.

Image created by author, February 2023

What Is Owned Media?

Conversely, owned media is any content you entirely own and can publish yourself without additional costs or effort.

Owned media can have any purpose you give to it. Like paid media, your goals for your owned media could be anything, from traffic and clicks to conversions.

The point is that owned media is free to you, and you can disseminate any information you want on your owned platforms.

Owned Media Examples

The most common types of owned media include websites that you own, the organic posts you make on your social media channels, and the email marketing campaigns you run.

These platforms are owned media because you have complete control over them and can publish anything you want without having to pay someone else or rely on any other party to create and distribute it.

What Is Earned Media?

Earned media is probably the one type of content on this list that some readers haven’t heard stated as such, but I’ll bet you have seen earned media before.

Earned media consists of all the content about you or your brand on the internet that doesn’t come from you. It’s nothing that you even touch.

Earned media comprises all the mentions, links, and other discussions in which people on other websites or social media platforms talk about you.

How do you generate that kind of positive word of mouth? It all comes from the work you do on the paid and owned media end of things.

You won’t earn anyone’s free attention if no one knows who you are, and for that, you have to put work in at the beginning.

If you’re generating serious value through your website content, social media posts, and paid media advertising, you’re positioning yourself well to earn that free media.

Earned Media Examples

Because earned media is free attention, and there’s nothing you can do directly to acquire that spotlight, understanding what earned media actually looks like can still be a bit tricky.

Keep that in mind as you peruse this collection of earned media examples that the best brands receive completely on the strength of what they offer the public:

  • Social media mentions.
  • Coverage in any form of news media, including interviews and feature stories.
  • Product or service reviews from influencers, roundup posts, or review websites.
  • Backlinks from other websites.
  • Real estate on search engine results pages (SERPs).

All of these things, even search engine rankings, are technically earned.

Even though you took direct action to make those outcomes more likely, you did not go out and pay to rank in position one on Google.

That happened because you leveraged your owned media on your website, but the result you produced from that effort is surely earned media and nothing else.

You are now receiving “free” attention on a Google SERP for all to see.

How To Integrate Paid, Owned, And Earned Media

As you can imagine, at this point, it pays to combine all these forms of media together in your overall digital marketing strategy.

Paid, owned, and earned media should all be in your business’s digital growth.

The obstacle you now must overcome is: How do you appropriately combine them all?

The simple answer (simple in theory, not necessarily in practice) is that you should coordinate your digital efforts across all your media channels.

Consistency is going to win the day here.

You’ve probably heard this idea before in relation to branding: When you’re developing a business brand, you should keep it the same everywhere you are, from your social platforms to your website to billboards and TV commercials.

The same concept applies to your content.

If you publish an incredible infographic on your website (owned media), post it simultaneously on all your social media channels (owned media).

If website traffic is what you’re after, you can buy digital ad space on the Google Display Network or Facebook (paid media) to attract audiences to your site to see the full infographic.

Ideally, if the content is new and useful enough, it will start to earn backlinks (earned media) and maybe even inclusion in some roundup posts (earned media) about the best infographics in your industry in a certain period.

Again, none of this is to say that combining all three media forms is easy. It surely takes work, persistence, and a whole lot of patience to get it right.

But integrating paid, owned, and earned media is absolutely your best bet for getting your content and business brand out there in the digital space in a way that people will notice.

media comparison tableImage created by author, February 2023

Which Is Best: Paid, Owned, Or Earned Media?

Finally, I want to address a remaining question that some of you may have at this point: Of paid, owned, and earned media, which one is the best for earning digital attention?

Frustrating though it may be, the answer is that – it depends!

No one type of digital media will be best for your business across the board, and here’s why: Each has its pros and cons.

Take paid media, for example. You can make up a killer ad for Google or Instagram and say that’s how you’re going to get all your attention, but remember that you have to pay for that and factor your expenses into your earnings.

Sure, you get guaranteed placement on the platform, but it comes at the cost of real money and still no promise of reward.

With owned media, you have sort of the opposite pros and cons. You own the media platforms. It’s your website and your social media channels.

You don’t have to pay to publish content there, and you control everything about what you publish.

But remember that if you own this media, you also own the effort to disseminate it to your digital audiences. You get no Google or Meta ad platforms to place your stuff. It’s all about the organic traffic you can drum up yourself.

Then there’s earned media, which you have no control over whatsoever.

The thing is, just about everyone who maintains an online presence is doing so to earn a living, promote a cause, or gain attention in some way.

Everyone wants earned media, and it can easily be combined with anything else that you’re doing to form a strong, healthy digital marketing approach.

Which form of media is best? It’s up to you to decide.

You know what you can handle, from the actual costs of paid media to the organic efforts you’d have to put in for owned media. Earned media can come as a result of either of those.

The best type of media for your business is the one you can handle with true finesse.

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Google Clarifies Organization Merchant Returns Structured Data




Google updates organization structured data for merchant returns

Google quietly updated their organization structured data documentation in order to clarify two points about merchant returns in response to feedback about an ambiguity in the previous version.

Organization Structured Data and Merchant Returns

Google recently expanded their Organization structured data so that it could now accommodate a merchant return policy. The change added support for adding a sitewide merchant return policy.

The original reason for adding this support:

“Adding support for Organization-level return policies

What: Added documentation on how to specify a general return policy for an Organization as a whole.

Why: This makes it easier to define and maintain general return policies for an entire site.”

However that change left unanswered about what will happen if a site has a sitewide return policy but also has a different policy for individual products.

The clarification applies for the specific scenario of when a site uses both a sitewide return policy in their structured data and another one for specific products.

What Takes Precedence?

What happens if a merchant uses both a sitewide and product return structured data? Google’s new documentation states that Google will ignore the sitewide product return policy in favor of a more granular product-level policy in the structured data.

The clarification states:

“If you choose to provide both organization-level and product-level return policy markup, Google defaults to the product-level return policy markup.”

Change Reflected Elsewhere

Google also updated the documentation to reflect the scenario of the use of two levels of merchant return policies in another section that discusses whether structured data or merchant feed data takes precedence. There is no change to the policy, merchant center data still takes precedence.

This is the old documentation:

“If you choose to use both markup and settings in Merchant Center, Google will only use the information provided in Merchant Center for any products submitted in your Merchant Center product feeds, including automated feeds.”

This is the same section but updated with additional wording:

“If you choose to use both markup (whether at the organization-level or product-level, or both) and settings in Merchant Center, Google will only use the information provided in Merchant Center for any products submitted in your Merchant Center product feeds, including automated feeds.”

Read the newly updated Organization structured data documentation:

Organization (Organization) structured data – MerchantReturnPolicy

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What Is It & How To Write It




What Is It & How To Write It

In this guide, you will learn about alternative text (known as alt text): what it is, why it is important for on-page SEO, how to use it correctly, and more.

It’s often overlooked, but every image on your website should have alt text. More information is better, and translating visual information into text is important for search engine bots attempting to understand your website and users with screen readers.

Alt text is one more source of information that relates ideas and content together on your website.

This practical and to-the-point guide contains tips and advice you can immediately use to improve your website’s image SEO and accessibility.

What Is Alt Text?

Alternative text (or alt text) – also known as the alt attribute or the alt tag (which is not technically correct because it is not a tag) – is simply a piece of text that describes the image in the HTML code.

What Are The Uses Of Alt Text?

The original function of alt text was simply to describe an image that could not be loaded.

Many years ago, when the internet was much slower, alt text would help you know the content of an image that was too heavy to be loaded in your browser.

Today, images rarely fail to load – but if they do, then it is the alt text you will see in place of an image.

Screenshot from Search Engine Journal, May 2024

Alt text also helps search engine bots understand the image’s content and context.

More importantly, alt text is critical for accessibility and for people using screen readers:

  • Alt text helps people with disabilities (for example, using screen readers) learn about the image’s content.

Of course, like every element of SEO, it is often misused or, in some cases, even abused.

Let’s now take a closer look at why alt text is important.

Why Alt Text Is Important

The web and websites are a very visual experience. It is hard to find a website without images or graphic elements.

That’s why alt text is very important.

Alt text helps translate the image’s content into words, thus making the image accessible to a wider audience, including people with disabilities and search engine bots that are not clever enough yet to fully understand every image, its context, and its meaning.

Why Alt Text Is Important For SEO

Alt text is an important element of on-page SEO optimization.

Proper alt text optimization makes your website stand a better chance of ranking in Google image searches.

Yes, alt text is a ranking factor for Google image search.

Depending on your website’s niche and specificity, Google image search traffic may play a huge role in your website’s overall success.

For example, in the case of ecommerce websites, users very often start their search for products with a Google image search instead of typing the product name into the standard Google search.

Screenshot from search for [Garmin forerunner]Screenshot from search for [Garmin forerunner], May 2024

Google and other search engines may display fewer product images (or not display them at all) if you fail to take care of their alt text optimization.

Without proper image optimization, you may lose a lot of potential traffic and customers.

Why Alt Text Is Important For Accessibility

Visibility in Google image search is very important, but there is an even more important consideration: Accessibility.

Fortunately, in recent years, more focus has been placed on accessibility (i.e., making the web accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities and/or using screen readers).

Suppose the alt text of your images actually describes their content instead of, for example, stuffing keywords. In that case, you are helping people who cannot see this image better understand it and the content of the entire web page.

Let’s say one of your web pages is an SEO audit guide that contains screenshots from various crawling tools.

Would it not be better to describe the content of each screenshot instead of placing the same alt text of “SEO audit” into every image?

Let’s take a look at a few examples.

Alt Text Examples

Finding many good and bad examples of alt text is not difficult. Let me show you a few, sticking to the above example with an SEO audit guide.

Good Alt Text Examples

So, our example SEO guide contains screenshots from tools such as Google Search Console and Screaming Frog.

Some good examples of alt text may include:


Tip: It is also a good idea to take care of the name of your file. Using descriptive file names is not a ranking factor, but I recommend this as a good SEO practice.

Bad And/Or Spammy Alt Text Examples

I’ve also seen many examples of bad alt text use, including keyword stuffing or spamming.

Here is how you can turn the above good examples into bad examples:

”google search console coverage report

As you can see, the above examples do not provide any information on what these images actually show.

You can also find examples and even more image SEO tips on Google Search Central.

Common Alt Text Mistakes

Stuffing keywords in the alt text is not the only mistake you can make.

Here are a few examples of common alt text mistakes:

  • Failure to use the alt text or using empty alt text.
  • Using the same alt text for different images.
  • Using very general alt text that does not actually describe the image. For example, using the alt text of “dog” on the photo of a dog instead of describing the dog in more detail, its color, what it is doing, what breed it is, etc.
  • Automatically using the name of the file as the alt text – which may lead to very unfriendly alt text, such as “googlesearchconsole,” “google-search-console,” or “photo2323,” depending on the name of the file.

Alt Text Writing Tips

And finally, here are the tips on how to write correct alt text so that it actually fulfills its purpose:

  • Do not stuff keywords into the alt text. Doing so will not help your web page rank for these keywords.
  • Describe the image in detail, but still keep it relatively short. Avoid adding multiple sentences to the alt text.
  • Use your target keywords, but in a natural way, as part of the image’s description. If your target keyword does not fit into the image’s description, don’t use it.
  • Don’t use text on images. All text should be added in the form of HTML code.
  • Don’t write, “this is an image of.” Google and users know that this is an image. Just describe its content.
  • Make sure you can visualize the image’s content by just reading its alt text. That is the best exercise to make sure your alt text is OK.

How To Troubleshoot Image Alt Text

Now you know all the best practices and common mistakes of alt text. But how do you check what’s in the alt text of the images of a website?

You can analyze the alt text in the following ways:

Inspecting an element (right-click and select Inspect when hovering over an image) is a good way to check if a given image has alt text.

However, if you want to check that in bulk, I recommend one of the below two methods.

Install Web Developer Chrome extension.

Screenshot of Web Developer Extension in Chrome by authorScreenshot from Web Developer Extension, Chrome by author, May 2024

Next, open the page whose images you want to audit.

Click on Web Developer and navigate to Images > Display Alt Attributes. This way, you can see the content of the alt text of all images on a given web page.

The alt text of images is shown on the page.Screenshot from Web Developer Extension, Chrome by author, May 2024

How To Find And Fix Missing Alt Text

To check the alt text of the images of the entire website, use a crawler like Screaming Frog or Sitebulb.

Crawl the site, navigate to the image report, and review the alt text of all website images, as shown in the video guide below.

You can also export only images that have missing alt text and start fixing those issues.

Alt Text May Not Seem Like A Priority, But It’s Important

Every source of information about your content has value. Whether it’s for vision-impaired users or bots, alt text helps contextualize the images on your website.

While it’s only a ranking factor for image search, everything you do to help search engines understand your website can potentially help deliver more accurate results. Demonstrating a commitment to accessibility is also a critical component of modern digital marketing.


What is the purpose of alt text in HTML?

Alternative text, or alt text, serves two main purposes in HTML. Its primary function is to provide a textual description of an image if it cannot be displayed. This text can help users understand the image content when technical issues prevent it from loading or if they use a screen reader due to visual impairments. Additionally, alt text aids search engine bots in understanding the image’s subject matter, which is critical for SEO, as indexing images correctly can enhance a website’s visibility in search results.

Can alt text improve website accessibility?

Yes, alt text is vital for website accessibility. It translates visual information into descriptive text that can be read by screen readers used by users with visual impairments. By accurately describing images, alt text ensures that all users, regardless of disability, can understand the content of a web page, making the web more inclusive and accessible to everyone.

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Google Dials Back AI Overviews In Search Results, Study Finds




Photo of a mobile device in mans hand with generative google AI Overview on the screen.

According to new research, Google’s AI-generated overviews have undergone significant adjustments since the initial rollout.

The study from SE Ranking analyzed 100,000 keywords and found Google has greatly reduced the frequency of AI overviews.

However, when they appear, they’re more detailed than they were previously.

The study digs into which topics and industries are more likely to get an AI overview. It also looks at how the AI snippets interact with other search features like featured snippets and ads.

Here’s an overview of the findings and what they mean for your SEO efforts.

Declining Frequency Of AI Overviews

In contrast to pre-rollout figures, 8% of the examined searches now trigger an AI Overview.

This represents a 52% drop compared to January levels.

Yevheniia Khromova, the study’s author, believes this means Google is taking a more measured approach, stating:

“The sharp decrease in AI Overview presence likely reflects Google’s efforts to boost the accuracy and trustworthiness of AI-generated answers.”

Longer AI Overviews

Although the frequency of AI overviews has decreased, the ones that do appear provide more detailed information.

The average length of the text has grown by nearly 25% to around 4,342 characters.

In another notable change, AI overviews now link to fewer sources on average – usually just four links after expanding the snippet.

However, 84% still include at least one domain from that query’s top 10 organic search results.

Niche Dynamics & Ranking Factors

The chances of getting an AI overview vary across different industries.

Searches related to relationships, food and beverages, and technology were most likely to trigger AI overviews.

Sensitive areas like healthcare, legal, and news had a low rate of showing AI summaries, less than 1%.

Longer search queries with ten words were more likely to generate an AI overview, with a 19% rate indicating that AI summaries are more useful for complex information needs.

Search terms with lower search volumes and lower cost-per-click were more likely to display AI summaries.

Other Characteristics Of AI Overviews

The research reveals that 45% of AI overviews appear alongside featured snippets, often sourced from the exact domains.

Around 87% of AI overviews now coexist with ads, compared to 73% previously, a statistic that could increase competition for advertising space.

What Does This Mean?

SE Ranking’s research on AI overviews has several implications:

  1. Reduced Risk Of Traffic Losses: Fewer searches trigger AI Overviews that directly answer queries, making organic listings less likely to be demoted or receive less traffic.
  2. Most Impacted Niches: AI overviews appear more in relationships, food, and technology niches. Publishers in these sectors should pay closer attention to Google’s AI overview strategy.
  3. Long-form & In-Depth Content Essential: As AI snippets become longer, companies may need to create more comprehensive content beyond what the overviews cover.

Looking Ahead

While the number of AI overviews has decreased recently, we can’t assume this trend will continue.

AI overviews will undoubtedly continue to transform over time.

It’s crucial to monitor developments closely, try different methods of dealing with them, and adjust game plans as needed.

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