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What It Is & How It Works

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Canonicalization is the process that search engines use to determine the main version of a page. That is the page that will be indexed and shown to users. The chosen version is canonical, and ranking signals like links will consolidate to that page. This process is sometimes referred to as standardization or normalization.

According to Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Gary Illyes, ~60% of the internet is duplicate content.

Canonicalization is complex and often misunderstood. I don’t think most of the duplicates are nefarious. It’s mostly going to be technical issues that cause them. We’ll look at this more in a bit. I’m going to talk about how the canonicalization process works as well as:

A lot of different signals go into the canonicalization process. These include:

  • Duplicates
  • Canonical link elements
  • Sitemap URLs
  • Internal links
  • Redirects

Google looks at all the different signals and weighs them to determine what the canonical version should be. That’s the version of the page they will index and what they usually show to users.

A potential scenario when Google decides on the canonical based on internal links and the canonical URL.

A potential scenario when Google decides on the canonical based on internal links and the canonical URL.

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Duplicates

With duplicate content, Google will pick a canonical version to index. All the eligible pages form a cluster of pages, and the signals that go to the pages in that cluster will consolidate at the chosen canonical. That canonical may even change over time.

How duplicate signals consolidateHow duplicate signals consolidate

Some SEOs believe there is a duplicate content penalty, but that’s not true. Generally, you’re going to have one version or another indexed. It may not be the version you want to be indexed, but it will be indexed and rank just as well as any other version of the same page.

Here are some examples of what can cause duplicate pages and sometimes canonicalization issues:

  • HTTP and HTTPS variants (e.g., http://www.example.com and https://www.example.com)
  • Non-www and www variants (e.g., http://example.com and http://www.example.com)
  • URLs with and without trailing slashes (e.g., https://example.com/page/ and https://example.com/page)
  • URLs with and without capital letters (e.g., https://example.com/page/ and https://example.com/Page/)
  • Default versions of the page such as index pages (e.g., https://www.example.com/, https://www.example.com/index.htm, https://www.example.com/index.html, https://www.example.com/index.php, https://www.example.com/default.htm, etc.)
  • Alternate versions of pages. This could include mobile versions (e.g., example.com and m.example.com), AMP versions (e.g., example.com/page and amp.example.com/page), print versions (e.g., example.com/page and example.com /page/print), alternate versions meant for other countries but containing the same content (e.g., example.com/en-us/, example.com/en-gb/, example.com/en-au/), or versions in a dev or staging site (e.g., dev.example.com).
  • URL parameters (e.g., example.com?parameter=whatever). These may exist because of tracking codes, faceted navigation, sorting content, session IDs, etc. There are some instances where parameters may change the page’s content so that it’s not a duplicate.
  • Other pages showing the full content. Google may choose the wrong canonical when another page displays the content in full. This may include the main blog page, paginated pages, tag pages, category pages, or feed pages.
  • Scraped or syndicated content. Content syndication best practices generally recommend having a canonical tag back to the original content or at least a link to the original content. That’s because the canonical chosen can be a completely different domain. They try to select the original source as the canonical, but in some cases, they choose the wrong page.

Most of these aren’t usually issues. As I mentioned, Google will usually choose one version or another as the canonical. There are a few exceptions to this.

  1. Sometimes with content syndication, the original source isn’t chosen as the canonical. This is a real problem. How would you feel if someone else started ranking for an article you wrote?
  2. Hreflang does not solve duplication on international sites. Google will generally try to swap to show the correct version, but it’s not guaranteed, and this setup often breaks. When this happens, users see pages from the wrong country. It’s best to avoid having the same content on multiple pages for international websites.
  3. With some JavaScript sites (typically app shell models), the initial code for the pages can look like other pages or even the code from other websites. Sometimes these pages get canonicalized to other pages on the same or even different websites.

I believe part of the problem with both hreflang and the JavaScript content is that Google may be running the duplicate detection via crawl algorithms that detect duplication patterns, again after just seeing the code, and yet again after rendering the pages.

Google’s render path marked up where I believe duplicate detection systems are run.Google’s render path marked up where I believe duplicate detection systems are run.

Google’s render path marked up where I believe duplicate detection systems are run.

Google’s render path marked up where I believe duplicate detection systems are run.

With the pages using hreflang, if they decide that the pages are duplicates without crawling them, they may not be able to swap them properly.

Before a page is even rendered, it may “look” like another page based on the HTML content. Google may choose the canonical based on this initial version and may not prioritize it for rendering because it’s already deemed a duplicate page. This usually resolves itself after rendering, but it can take some time to clear up.

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Google has a couple of rules they generally follow when it comes to canonicalization of duplicates.

1. They prefer HTTPS pages over HTTP pages

They will generally index the HTTPS version, but there are a few issues or conflicting signals that may cause them to choose the HTTP version instead, such as:

  • Having an invalid security certificate
  • HTTPS page links to HTTP resources on the page (excludes images)
  • HTTPS redirecting to HTTP
  • HTTPS page having a rel=“canonical” link element pointing to the HTTP page

2. They prefer shorter URLs over longer URLs

This has been misconstrued over the years by SEOs to say that all your URLs should be shorter. But that’s not what was meant by the original statement. What Google said was that if you had, for instance, a clean short version of a URL and a longer version with parameters attached, they would generally choose the shorter version of the URL without the parameter as the canonical version.

Canonical link element

This is also commonly referred to as a canonical tag. It looks like this:

<link rel=”canonical” https://www.example.com />

The canonical tag is sometimes referred to as a hint because it’s just one canonicalization signal. Google ignores it if other signals are stronger.

If the canonical tag is respected, all signals like links will pass. However, if the canonical is ignored, no value is passed. The value isn’t lost; it stays with the original page or goes to whatever page Google chooses as the canonical.

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A canonical link element can be implemented in two different ways. It can be in the <head> section or the HTTP header.

A fun anecdote. Google’s SEO Starter Guide used to be a PDF. They didn’t have a canonical tag set in the HTTP header, and people used to “steal” the listing with their own duplicate version.

Sometimes the <head> section of a page will end before it should. This is usually caused by a tag in the <head> not closed out properly. When that happens, a canonical tag may be put into the <body> section instead. If that happens, your canonical tag won’t be respected.

Invalid canonical tag located in the<body></noscript><img class=

Invalid canonical tag located in the <body> section

Sitemap URLs

The URLs you include in your sitemap are also a canonicalization signal. Most of the time, you only want to include URLs of pages that you want to be indexed.

There are some exceptions to this because sitemap URLs also help with crawling. After a website migration, you should create a sitemap that still lists the old pages, even though they aren’t canonical. This will help the redirects be processed faster. You’ll want to delete this sitemap after most of the redirects have been picked up and processed.

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Internal links

It matters how you link to pages. Internal links are another canonicalization signal.

Generally, you should link to the version of a page you want to be canonical and update the links to any URLs that may have changed. However, there are exceptions to this, such as with faceted navigation. In some cases like this, what is best for users may trump what is best for SEO.

Redirects

There are several different types of redirects, and they’re all canonicalization signals. They pass PageRank and help determine which URL gets shown in Google’s index.

301s and 308s send signals forward to the new URL. 302s and some 307s send signals backwards to the redirected URL. If a 302 is left in place long enough or the URL it’s redirected to already exists, it may be treated as a 301 and send signals forward instead. It requires enough signals to flip the scale we saw earlier for canonicalization signals. As links build up, internal links are changed, sitemap URLs are updated, etc., more signals point to the new URL than the old URL, and the flip occurs.

At some point the scale flips for 302sAt some point the scale flips for 302s

At some point the scale flips for 302s

A 307 has two different cases. In cases where it’s a temporary redirect, it will be treated the same as a 302 and attempt to consolidate backward. When web servers require clients to only use HTTPS connections (HSTS policy), Google won’t see the 307 because it’s cached in the browser. The initial hit (without cache) will have a server response code that’s likely a 301 or a 302. But your browser will show you a 307 for subsequent requests.

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There are also other types of redirects like those implemented with JavaScript. These are also canonicalization signals and pass the full value just like other redirects as long as they can be seen and processed by Google. They’re fine to use in most cases.

How to check the canonical

Your main source of truth for what Google chose as the canonical will be the URL Inspection tool in Google Search Console. Enter the URL, and it will show what the declared canonical is and what Google chose as the canonical.

The declared and Google-selected canonical via Google Search ConsoleThe declared and Google-selected canonical via Google Search Console

If you don’t have access to Google Search Console, the recommended way to check the version of a page Google has indexed is to paste the URL into Google. The top result is usually the canonical.

Similarly, if you check the cached version of a page in Google and a different page is shown, Google has selected a different version of the page.

Warning: Don’t use site: searches for checking canonicals. It shows what Google knows about, not necessarily what’s indexed or the selected canonical.

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Within Site Audit, we show many issues related to canonicalization. Keep in mind that we’re flagging best practices in most cases. Because the canonical is a hint, Google and other search engines will have to choose which version of a page to index.

Canonicalization issues in Ahrefs' Site AuditCanonicalization issues in Ahrefs' Site Audit

Even if your website has lots of issues related to canonicalization, search engines may be able to figure out what version should be indexed and where they should consolidate signals. It may not create any real problems for them.

Fun fact. When running a Site Audit, we only count the canonical version of pages as crawl credits. Some other tools count every version of a page towards the credits. On many sites, this can eat multiple credits per page!

There’s a lot that can go wrong with canonicalization. Let’s look at some common mistakes.

Mistake #1: Blocking the canonicalized URL via robots.txt

Blocking a URL in robots.txt prevents Google from crawling it, meaning that they cannot see any canonical tags on that page. That, in turn, prevents them from transferring any “link equity” from the non-canonical to the canonical.

Unless you have a crawl budget issue, it’s probably better to let all the signals consolidate. Even if you’re going to block or noindex some versions, you still may want to check for versions with links that you should canonicalize instead. However, as Google tends to crawl non-canonical pages less over time, you may just want to wait.

Mistake #2: Setting the canonicalized URL to ‘noindex’

Never mix noindex and rel=canonical. They’re contradictory instructions.

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As John Mueller states, Google will usually prioritize the canonical tag over the ‘noindex’ tag.

Mistake #3: Setting a 4XX HTTP status code for the canonicalized URL

Setting a 4XX HTTP status code for a canonicalized URL has the same effect as using the ‘noindex’ tag: Google will be unable to see the canonical tag and transfer “link equity” to the canonical version.

Mistake #4: Canonicalizing all paginated pages to the root page

Paginated pages should not be canonicalized to the first paginated page in the series. Instead, self-referencing canonicals should be used on all paginated pages.

Why? As Google’s John Mueller stated on Reddit, this is improper use of the rel=canonical.

The main thing to avoid, since this post is about canonicalization, is to use the rel=canonical on page 2 pointing to page 1. Page 2 isn’t equivalent to page 1, so the rel=canonical like that would be incorrect. 

John MuellerJohn Mueller

We have a guide on pagination for SEO and best practices if you’re interested.

Mistake #5: Don’t use the URL removal tool in Google Search Console for canonicalization.

This can remove all versions of a URL, effectively deindexing your page from search.

Mistake #6: Not keeping canonicalization signals consistent.

As we talked about earlier, there are many different canonicalization signals.

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Having different signals suggest different canonicals means that you will be relying on Google to select a canonical for you. The more consistent signals you show them with your preferred version, the more likely it is that version will be the chosen canonical.

Mistake #7: Not using canonical tags with hreflang

Hreflang tags specify the language and geographical targeting of a webpage.

Google states that when using hreflang, you should “specify a canonical page in the same language, or the best possible substitute language if a canonical doesn’t exist for the same language.”

Mistake #8: Having multiple rel=canonical tags

Having multiple rel=canonical tags will usually cause Google to ignore them. In many cases, this happens because tags are inserted into a system at different points, such as by the CMS, the theme, and plugin(s). This is why many plugins have an overwrite option meant to ensure they are the only source for canonical tags.

Another area where this might be a problem is with canonicals added with JavaScript. If you have no canonical URL specified in the HTML response and then add a rel=canonical tag with JavaScript, it should be respected when Google renders the page. However, if you have a canonical specified in HTML and swap the preferred version with JavaScript, you send mixed signals to Google.

Mistake #9: Rel=canonical in the <body>

Rel=canonical should only appear in the <head> of a document. A canonical tag in the <body> section of a page will be ignored.

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Where this can become a problem is with the parsing of a document. Even if the page’s source code has the rel=canonical tag in the correct place, many different things such as unclosed tags, JavaScript injected, or <iframes> in the <head> section can cause the <head> to end prematurely while rendering. In these cases, a canonical tag may be accidentally thrown into the <body> of a rendered page where it will not be respected.

Final thoughts

Many of the tools SEOs had for handling canonicalization have been taken away, such as the URL Parameters Tool and Preferred Domain setting in Google Search Console. However, there are still plenty of other signals to help Google choose a canonical.

If you have questions, message me on Twitter.

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Reddit Post Ranks On Google In 5 Minutes

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Google apparently ranks Reddit posts within minutes

Google’s Danny Sullivan disputed the assertions made in a Reddit discussion that Google is showing a preference for Reddit in the search results. But a Redditor’s example proves that it’s possible for a Reddit post to rank in the top ten of the search results within minutes and to actually improve rankings to position #2 a week later.

Discussion About Google Showing Preference To Reddit

A Redditor (gronetwork) complained that Google is sending so many visitors to Reddit that the server is struggling with the load and shared an example that proved that it can only take minutes for a Reddit post to rank in the top ten.

That post was part of a 79 post Reddit thread where many in the r/SEO subreddit were complaining about Google allegedly giving too much preference to Reddit over legit sites.

The person who did the test (gronetwork) wrote:

“…The website is already cracking (server down, double posts, comments not showing) because there are too many visitors.

…It only takes few minutes (you can test it) for a post on Reddit to appear in the top ten results of Google with keywords related to the post’s title… (while I have to wait months for an article on my site to be referenced). Do the math, the whole world is going to spam here. The loop is completed.”

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Reddit Post Ranked Within Minutes

Another Redditor asked if they had tested if it takes “a few minutes” to rank in the top ten and gronetwork answered that they had tested it with a post titled, Google SGE Review.

gronetwork posted:

“Yes, I have created for example a post named “Google SGE Review” previously. After less than 5 minutes it was ranked 8th for Google SGE Review (no quotes). Just after Washingtonpost.com, 6 authoritative SEO websites and Google.com’s overview page for SGE (Search Generative Experience). It is ranked third for SGE Review.”

It’s true, not only does that specific post (Google SGE Review) rank in the top 10, the post started out in position 8 and it actually improved ranking, currently listed beneath the number one result for the search query “SGE Review”.

Screenshot Of Reddit Post That Ranked Within Minutes

Anecdotes Versus Anecdotes

Okay, the above is just one anecdote. But it’s a heck of an anecdote because it proves that it’s possible for a Reddit post to rank within minutes and get stuck in the top of the search results over other possibly more authoritative websites.

hankschrader79 shared that Reddit posts outrank Toyota Tacoma forums for a phrase related to mods for that truck.

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Google’s Danny Sullivan responded to that post and the entire discussion to dispute that Reddit is not always prioritized over other forums.

Danny wrote:

“Reddit is not always prioritized over other forums. [super vhs to mac adapter] I did this week, it goes Apple Support Community, MacRumors Forum and further down, there’s Reddit. I also did [kumo cloud not working setup 5ghz] recently (it’s a nightmare) and it was the Netgear community, the SmartThings Community, GreenBuildingAdvisor before Reddit. Related to that was [disable 5g airport] which has Apple Support Community above Reddit. [how to open an 8 track tape] — really, it was the YouTube videos that helped me most, but it’s the Tapeheads community that comes before Reddit.

In your example for [toyota tacoma], I don’t even get Reddit in the top results. I get Toyota, Car & Driver, Wikipedia, Toyota again, three YouTube videos from different creators (not Toyota), Edmunds, a Top Stories unit. No Reddit, which doesn’t really support the notion of always wanting to drive traffic just to Reddit.

If I guess at the more specific query you might have done, maybe [overland mods for toyota tacoma], I get a YouTube video first, then Reddit, then Tacoma World at third — not near the bottom. So yes, Reddit is higher for that query — but it’s not first. It’s also not always first. And sometimes, it’s not even showing at all.”

hankschrader79 conceded that they were generalizing when they wrote that Google always prioritized Reddit. But they also insisted that that didn’t diminish what they said is a fact that Google’s “prioritization” forum content has benefitted Reddit more than actual forums.

Why Is The Reddit Post Ranked So High?

It’s possible that Google “tested” that Reddit post in position 8 within minutes and that user interaction signals indicated to Google’s algorithms that users prefer to see that Reddit post. If that’s the case then it’s not a matter of Google showing preference to Reddit post but rather it’s users that are showing the preference and the algorithm is responding to those preferences.

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Nevertheless, an argument can be made that user preferences for Reddit can be a manifestation of Familiarity Bias. Familiarity Bias is when people show a preference for things that are familiar to them. If a person is familiar with a brand because of all the advertising they were exposed to then they may show a bias for the brand products over unfamiliar brands.

Users who are familiar with Reddit may choose Reddit because they don’t know the other sites in the search results or because they have a bias that Google ranks spammy and optimized websites and feel safer reading Reddit.

Google may be picking up on those user interaction signals that indicate a preference and satisfaction with the Reddit results but those results may simply be biases and not an indication that Reddit is trustworthy and authoritative.

Is Reddit Benefiting From A Self-Reinforcing Feedback Loop?

It may very well be that Google’s decision to prioritize user generated content may have started a self-reinforcing pattern that draws users in to Reddit through the search results and because the answers seem plausible those users start to prefer Reddit results. When they’re exposed to more Reddit posts their familiarity bias kicks in and they start to show a preference for Reddit. So what could be happening is that the users and Google’s algorithm are creating a self-reinforcing feedback loop.

Is it possible that Google’s decision to show more user generated content has kicked off a cycle where more users are exposed to Reddit which then feeds back into Google’s algorithm which in turn increases Reddit visibility, regardless of lack of expertise and authoritativeness?

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Kues

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WordPress Releases A Performance Plugin For “Near-Instant Load Times”

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WordPress speculative loading plugin

WordPress released an official plugin that adds support for a cutting edge technology called speculative loading that can help boost site performance and improve the user experience for site visitors.

Speculative Loading

Rendering means constructing the entire webpage so that it instantly displays (rendering). When your browser downloads the HTML, images, and other resources and puts it together into a webpage, that’s rendering. Prerendering is putting that webpage together (rendering it) in the background.

What this plugin does is to enable the browser to prerender the entire webpage that a user might navigate to next. The plugin does that by anticipating which webpage the user might navigate to based on where they are hovering.

Chrome lists a preference for only prerendering when there is an at least 80% probability of a user navigating to another webpage. The official Chrome support page for prerendering explains:

“Pages should only be prerendered when there is a high probability the page will be loaded by the user. This is why the Chrome address bar prerendering options only happen when there is such a high probability (greater than 80% of the time).

There is also a caveat in that same developer page that prerendering may not happen based on user settings, memory usage and other scenarios (more details below about how analytics handles prerendering).

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The Speculative Loading API solves a problem that previous solutions could not because in the past they were simply prefetching resources like JavaScript and CSS but not actually prerendering the entire webpage.

The official WordPress announcement explains it like this:

Introducing the Speculation Rules API
The Speculation Rules API is a new web API that solves the above problems. It allows defining rules to dynamically prefetch and/or prerender URLs of certain structure based on user interaction, in JSON syntax—or in other words, speculatively preload those URLs before the navigation. This API can be used, for example, to prerender any links on a page whenever the user hovers over them.”

The official WordPress page about this new functionality describes it:

“The Speculation Rules API is a new web API… It allows defining rules to dynamically prefetch and/or prerender URLs of certain structure based on user interaction, in JSON syntax—or in other words, speculatively preload those URLs before the navigation.

This API can be used, for example, to prerender any links on a page whenever the user hovers over them. Also, with the Speculation Rules API, “prerender” actually means to prerender the entire page, including running JavaScript. This can lead to near-instant load times once the user clicks on the link as the page would have most likely already been loaded in its entirety. However that is only one of the possible configurations.”

The new WordPress plugin adds support for the Speculation Rules API. The Mozilla developer pages, a great resource for HTML technical understanding describes it like this:

“The Speculation Rules API is designed to improve performance for future navigations. It targets document URLs rather than specific resource files, and so makes sense for multi-page applications (MPAs) rather than single-page applications (SPAs).

The Speculation Rules API provides an alternative to the widely-available <link rel=”prefetch”> feature and is designed to supersede the Chrome-only deprecated <link rel=”prerender”> feature. It provides many improvements over these technologies, along with a more expressive, configurable syntax for specifying which documents should be prefetched or prerendered.”

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See also: Are Websites Getting Faster? New Data Reveals Mixed Results

Performance Lab Plugin

The new plugin was developed by the official WordPress performance team which occasionally rolls out new plugins for users to test ahead of possible inclusion into the actual WordPress core. So it’s a good opportunity to be first to try out new performance technologies.

The new WordPress plugin is by default set to prerender “WordPress frontend URLs” which are pages, posts, and archive pages. How it works can be fine-tuned under the settings:

Settings > Reading > Speculative Loading

Browser Compatibility

The Speculative API is supported by Chrome 108 however the specific rules used by the new plugin require Chrome 121 or higher. Chrome 121 was released in early 2024.

Browsers that do not support will simply ignore the plugin and will have no effect on the user experience.

Check out the new Speculative Loading WordPress plugin developed by the official core WordPress performance team.

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How Analytics Handles Prerendering

A WordPress developer commented with a question asking how Analytics would handle prerendering and someone else answered that it’s up to the Analytics provider to detect a prerender and not count it as a page load or site visit.

Fortunately both Google Analytics and Google Publisher Tags (GPT) both are able to handle prerenders. The Chrome developers support page has a note about how analytics handles prerendering:

“Google Analytics handles prerender by delaying until activation by default as of September 2023, and Google Publisher Tag (GPT) made a similar change to delay triggering advertisements until activation as of November 2023.”

Possible Conflict With Ad Blocker Extensions

There are a couple things to be aware of about this plugin, aside from the fact that it’s an experimental feature that requires Chrome 121 or higher.

A comment by a WordPress plugin developer that this feature may not work with browsers that are using the uBlock Origin ad blocking browser extension.

Download the plugin:
Speculative Loading Plugin by the WordPress Performance Team

Read the announcement at WordPress
Speculative Loading in WordPress

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See also: WordPress, Wix & Squarespace Show Best CWV Rate Of Improvement

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10 Paid Search & PPC Planning Best Practices

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10 Paid Search & PPC Planning Best Practices

Whether you are new to paid media or reevaluating your efforts, it’s critical to review your performance and best practices for your overall PPC marketing program, accounts, and campaigns.

Revisiting your paid media plan is an opportunity to ensure your strategy aligns with your current goals.

Reviewing best practices for pay-per-click is also a great way to keep up with trends and improve performance with newly released ad technologies.

As you review, you’ll find new strategies and features to incorporate into your paid search program, too.

Here are 10 PPC best practices to help you adjust and plan for the months ahead.

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1. Goals

When planning, it is best practice to define goals for the overall marketing program, ad platforms, and at the campaign level.

Defining primary and secondary goals guides the entire PPC program. For example, your primary conversion may be to generate leads from your ads.

You’ll also want to look at secondary goals, such as brand awareness that is higher in the sales funnel and can drive interest to ultimately get the sales lead-in.

2. Budget Review & Optimization

Some advertisers get stuck in a rut and forget to review and reevaluate the distribution of their paid media budgets.

To best utilize budgets, consider the following:

  • Reconcile your planned vs. spend for each account or campaign on a regular basis. Depending on the budget size, monthly, quarterly, or semiannually will work as long as you can hit budget numbers.
  • Determine if there are any campaigns that should be eliminated at this time to free up the budget for other campaigns.
  • Is there additional traffic available to capture and grow results for successful campaigns? The ad platforms often include a tool that will provide an estimated daily budget with clicks and costs. This is just an estimate to show more click potential if you are interested.
  • If other paid media channels perform mediocrely, does it make sense to shift those budgets to another?
  • For the overall paid search and paid social budget, can your company invest more in the positive campaign results?

3. Consider New Ad Platforms

If you can shift or increase your budgets, why not test out a new ad platform? Knowing your audience and where they spend time online will help inform your decision when choosing ad platforms.

Go beyond your comfort zone in Google, Microsoft, and Meta Ads.

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Here are a few other advertising platforms to consider testing:

  • LinkedIn: Most appropriate for professional and business targeting. LinkedIn audiences can also be reached through Microsoft Ads.
  • TikTok: Younger Gen Z audience (16 to 24), video.
  • Pinterest: Products, services, and consumer goods with a female-focused target.
  • Snapchat: Younger demographic (13 to 35), video ads, app installs, filters, lenses.

Need more detailed information and even more ideas? Read more about the 5 Best Google Ads Alternatives.

4. Top Topics in Google Ads & Microsoft Ads

Recently, trends in search and social ad platforms have presented opportunities to connect with prospects more precisely, creatively, and effectively.

Don’t overlook newer targeting and campaign types you may not have tried yet.

  • Video: Incorporating video into your PPC accounts takes some planning for the goals, ad creative, targeting, and ad types. There is a lot of opportunity here as you can simply include video in responsive display ads or get in-depth in YouTube targeting.
  • Performance Max: This automated campaign type serves across all of Google’s ad inventory. Microsoft Ads recently released PMAX so you can plan for consistency in campaign types across platforms. Do you want to allocate budget to PMax campaigns? Learn more about how PMax compares to search.
  • Automation: While AI can’t replace human strategy and creativity, it can help manage your campaigns more easily. During planning, identify which elements you want to automate, such as automatically created assets and/or how to successfully guide the AI in the Performance Max campaigns.

While exploring new features, check out some hidden PPC features you probably don’t know about.

5. Revisit Keywords

The role of keywords has evolved over the past several years with match types being less precise and loosening up to consider searcher intent.

For example, [exact match] keywords previously would literally match with the exact keyword search query. Now, ads can be triggered by search queries with the same meaning or intent.

A great planning exercise is to lay out keyword groups and evaluate if they are still accurately representing your brand and product/service.

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Review search term queries triggering ads to discover trends and behavior you may not have considered. It’s possible this has impacted performance and conversions over time.

Critical to your strategy:

  • Review the current keyword rules and determine if this may impact your account in terms of close variants or shifts in traffic volume.
  • Brush up on how keywords work in each platform because the differences really matter!
  • Review search term reports more frequently for irrelevant keywords that may pop up from match type changes. Incorporate these into match type changes or negative keywords lists as appropriate.

6. Revisit Your Audiences

Review the audiences you selected in the past, especially given so many campaign types that are intent-driven.

Automated features that expand your audience could be helpful, but keep an eye out for performance metrics and behavior on-site post-click.

Remember, an audience is simply a list of users who are grouped together by interests or behavior online.

Therefore, there are unlimited ways to mix and match those audiences and target per the sales funnel.

Here are a few opportunities to explore and test:

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  • LinkedIn user targeting: Besides LinkedIn, this can be found exclusively in Microsoft Ads.
  • Detailed Demographics: Marital status, parental status, home ownership, education, household income.
  • In-market and custom intent: Searches and online behavior signaling buying cues.
  • Remarketing: Advertisers website visitors, interactions with ads, and video/ YouTube.

Note: This varies per the campaign type and seems to be updated frequently, so make this a regular check-point in your campaign management for all platforms.

7. Organize Data Sources

You will likely be running campaigns on different platforms with combinations of search, display, video, etc.

Looking back at your goals, what is the important data, and which platforms will you use to review and report? Can you get the majority of data in one analytics platform to compare and share?

Millions of companies use Google Analytics, which is a good option for centralized viewing of advertising performance, website behavior, and conversions.

8. Reevaluate How You Report

Have you been using the same performance report for years?

It’s time to reevaluate your essential PPC key metrics and replace or add that data to your reports.

There are two great resources to kick off this exercise:

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Your objectives in reevaluating the reporting are:

  • Are we still using this data? Is it still relevant?
  • Is the data we are viewing actionable?
  • What new metrics should we consider adding we haven’t thought about?
  • How often do we need to see this data?
  • Do the stakeholders receiving the report understand what they are looking at (aka data visualization)?

Adding new data should be purposeful, actionable, and helpful in making decisions for the marketing plan. It’s also helpful to decide what type of data is good to see as “deep dives” as needed.

9. Consider Using Scripts

The current ad platforms have plenty of AI recommendations and automated rules, and there is no shortage of third-party tools that can help with optimizations.

Scripts is another method for advertisers with large accounts or some scripting skills to automate report generation and repetitive tasks in their Google Ads accounts.

Navigating the world of scripts can seem overwhelming, but a good place to start is a post here on Search Engine Journal that provides use cases and resources to get started with scripts.

Luckily, you don’t need a Ph.D. in computer science — there are plenty of resources online with free or templated scripts.

10. Seek Collaboration

Another effective planning tactic is to seek out friendly resources and second opinions.

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Much of the skill and science of PPC management is unique to the individual or agency, so there is no shortage of ideas to share between you.

You can visit the Paid Search Association, a resource for paid ad managers worldwide, to make new connections and find industry events.

Preparing For Paid Media Success

Strategies should be based on clear and measurable business goals. Then, you can evaluate the current status of your campaigns based on those new targets.

Your paid media strategy should also be built with an eye for both past performance and future opportunities. Look backward and reevaluate your existing assumptions and systems while investigating new platforms, topics, audiences, and technologies.

Also, stay current with trends and keep learning. Check out ebooks, social media experts, and industry publications for resources and motivational tips.

More resources: 

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Featured Image: Vanatchanan/Shutterstock

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