Tag Archive | "Searchers"

Google asking dissatisfied searchers to submit questions manually in the search results

If Google doesn’t have content for your query, it may ask you to help content creators to make content that will eventually answer your query.

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How Your Brand Can Create an Enviable Customer Experience for Mobile Web Searchers

Posted by ronell-smith

Here I am, seated in a Manhattan, New York restaurant, staring at corned beef hash that looks and tastes like what I imagine dog food to look and taste like.

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Not very edible corned beef hash

I’m pissed for two reasons:

  • It cost nearly $ 25 and was entirely inedible
  • I should have known better given the visuals depicted after doing a Google image search to find the dish, which was offered at a nearby restaurant

In retrospect, I should have checked A and B on my phone before ordering the $ 25 plate of Alpo. And though I didn’t do that, other would-be customers will, which means the business owner or SEO had better follow the steps below if they wish to stay in business.

The bad news is I no longer relish the thought of eating at high-end NY restaurants; the good news is this experience totally reshaped the way I view mobile, opening my eyes to simple but very effective tactics businesses of all types can immediately put to use for their brands.

My mobile education

We’ve all heard how mobile is transforming the web experience, reshaping the landscape for marketers, brands and consumers.

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As marketers, we now have to account for how our content will be accessed and consumed on mobile devices, whether that’s a phone, tablet or phablet. As brands, we realize our efforts will be judged not only on how well or high we show up in the SERPs, but also on much we can delight the on-the-go prospect who needs information that’s (a) fast, (b) accurate and (c) available from any device.

As prospects and consumers, we’ve come to know and value customer experience in large part because brands that use mobile to deliver what we need when we need it and in a way that’s easily consumed, have earned our attention — and maybe even our dollars.

But that’s where the similarities seemingly end. Marketers and brands seem to get so wrapped up in the technology (responsive design, anyone?) they forget that, at the end of the day, prospects want what they want right now — in the easiest-to-access way possible.

I’ve come to believe that, while marketers appreciate the overall value of mobile, they have yet to realize how, for customers, it’s all about what it allows them to accomplish.

At the customer/end-user level it’s not about mobile-friendly or responsive design; it’s about creating an enviable customer experience, one web searchers will reward you for with traffic, brand mentions and conversions.

I was alerted to the prominence of mobile phone use by noticing how many people sit staring at their phones while out at dinner, even as family members and friends are seated all around them. “How rude,” I thought. Then I realized it wasn’t only the people at restaurants; it’s people everywhere: walking down the street, driving (sadly and dangerously), sitting in movie theaters, at work, even texting while they talk on the phone.

One of my favorite comments with regard to mobile’s dominance comes with the Wizard of Moz himself, when he shared this tweet and accompanying image last year:

But my “aha!” moment happened last year, in Manhattan, during the corned beef hash episode.

After working until brunch, I…

  1. Opened iPhone to Google
  2. Typed “Best corned beef hash near me”
  3. Scanned list of restaurant by distance and reviews
  4. Selected the closest restaurant having > 4-star review ratings
  5. Ended up disappointed

That’s when it hit me that I’d made errors of omission at every step, in large part by leaving one very important element out of the process, but also by not thinking like a smart web user.

Normally my process is as follows, when I wish to enjoy a specific meal while traveling:

  1. Open iPhone to Google Search box
  2. Type “Best _________ near me”
  3. Scan list of restaurants by distance and reviews
  4. Select restaurant having > 4-star review rating but has excellent reviews (> 4.5) of the dish I want and has great images of the dish online
  5. Delight ensues

That’s when three things occurred to me like a brickbat to the noggin’:

  • This is a process I use quite often and is one that has proved quite foolproof
  • It’s undoubtedly a process many other would-be customer are using to identify desirable products and services
  • Marketers can reverse-engineer the process to bring the customers they’re hoping for to their doors or websites.

(Eds. note: This post was created with small business owners (single or multiple location), or those doing Local SEO for SMBs, in mind, as I hope to inform them of how many individuals think about and use mobile, and how the marketers can get in front of them with relevant content. Also, I’d like to thank Cindy Krum of Mobile Moxie for encouraging me to write this post, and Local SEO savant Phil Rozek of Local Visibility System for making sure I colored within the lines.)

Five ways to create an enviable customer experience on mobile

#1 — Optimize your images

Image optimization is the quintessential low-hanging fruit of online marketing: easy to accomplish but typically overlooked.

For our purposes, we aren’t so much making them “mobile-friendly” as we are making them search-friendly, increasing the likelihood that Google’s crawlers can better decipher what they contain and deliver them for the optimal search query.

First and foremost, do not use a stock image if your goal is for searchers to find, read and enjoy your content. Just don’t. Also, given how much of a factor website speed is, minify your images to ensure they don’t hamper page speed load times.

But the three main areas I want us to focus on are file name, alt text and title text, and captions. My standard for each is summed up very well in a blog post from Ian Lurie, who proposes an ingenious idea:

The Blank Sheet of Paper Test: If you wrote this text on a piece of paper and showed it to a stranger, would they understand the meaning? Is this text fully descriptive?

With this thinking in mind, image optimization becomes far simpler:

  • File name: We’re all adults here — don’t be thickheaded and choose something like “DSC9671 . png” when “cornedbeefhash . jpg” clearly works better.
  • Alt text and title text: Given that, in Google’s eyes, these two are the priorities, you must make certain they’re as descriptive as possible. Clearly list what the image is and/or contains without weighing it down with unneeded text. Using the corned beef hash from above as a example, “corned beef hash with minced meat” would be great, but “corned beef hash with minced meat and diced potatoes” would work better, alerting me that the dish isn’t what I’m looking for. (I prefer shredded beef and shredded potatoes.)
  • Caption: Yes, I know these aren’t necessary for every post, but why leave your visitors hanging, especially if an optimal customer experience is the goal? Were I to caption the corned beef, it’d be something along the lines of “Corned beef hash with minced meat and diced potatoes is one of the most popular dishes at XX.” It says just enough without trying to say everything, which is the goal, says Lurie.

“’Fully descriptive’ means ‘describes the thing to which it’s attached,’ not ‘describe the entire universe,’” he adds.

Also, invite customers to take and share pictures online (e.g., websites, Instagram, Yelp, Google) and include as much rich detail as possible.

What’s more, it might behoove you to have a Google Business View photo shoot, says Rozek. “Those show up most prominently (in the Knowledge Panel) for brand-name mobile searches in Google.”

#2 — Make reviews a priority

Many prospects and customers use reviews as a make-or-break tactic when making purchases. Brands, realizing this, have taken note, making it their charge to get positive reviews.

But not all reviews are created equal.

Instead of making certain your brand gets positive reviews on the entirety of its products and services, redouble your efforts at getting positive reviews on your bread-and-butter services.

In many instances, what people have to say about your individual services and/or products matters more than your brand’s overall review ratings.

I learned this from talking to several uber-picky foodie friends who shared that the main thing they look for is a brand having an overall rating (e.g., on Yelp, Google, Angie’s List, Amazon, etc.) higher than 3.5, but who have customer comments glorifying the specific product they’re hoping to enjoy.

“These days, everyone is gaming the system, doing what they can to get their customers to leave favorable reviews,” said one friend, who lives in Dallas. “But discerning [prospects] are only looking at the overall rating as a beginning point. From there, they’re digging into the comments, looking to see what people have to say about the very specific thing they want. [Smart brands] would focus more on getting people to leave comments about the particular service they used, how happy they work with the result and how it compares to other [such services they've used]. We may be on our phones, but we’re still willing to dig into those comments.”

To take advantage of this behavior,

  • In addition to asking for a favorable review, ask customers to comment on the specific services they used, providing as much detail as possible
  • Redouble your efforts at over-delivering on quality service when it comes to your core offerings
  • Ask a few of your regulars, who have left comments on review sites, what they think meets the minimum expectation for provoking folks to leave a review (e.g., optimizing for the desired behavior)
  • Encourage reviewers to upload photos with their reviews (or even just photos, if they don’t want to review you). They’re great “local content,” they’re useful as social-proof elements, and your customers may take better pictures than you do, in which case you can showcase them on your site.

Relevant content:

#3 — Shorten your content

I serve as a horrible spokesperson for content brevity, but it matters a great deal to mobile searchers. What works fine on desktop is a clutter-fest on mobile, even for sites using responsive design.

As a general rule, simplicity wins.

For example, Whataburger’s mobile experience is uncluttered, appealing to the eye and makes it clear what they want me to do: learn about their specials or make a purchase:

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On the other hand, McDonald’s isn’t so sure what I’m looking for, apparently:

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Are they trying to sell me potatoes, convince me of how committed they are to freshness or looking to learn as much as they can about me? Or all of the above?

Web searchers have specific needs and are typically short on time and patience, so you have to get in front of them with the right message to have a chance.

When it comes to the content you deliver, think tight (shorter), punchy (attention-grabbing) and valuable (on- message for the query).

# 4 — Optimize for local content

Like all of you, I’ve been using “near me” searches for years, especially when I travel. But over the last year, these searches have gotten more thorough and more accurate, in large part as a result of Google’s Mobile Update and because the search giant is making customer intent a priority.

In 2015, Google reported that “near me” searches increased by 34-fold since 2011.

And though most of these “near me” searches are for durable goods/appliances and their associated retailers, services, including “surgeons near me,” “plumbers near me,” “jobs near me,” etc., and other things that are typically in a high consideration set are growing considerably, according to Google via its website, thinkwithgoogle.com.

A recent case study of 82 websites (41, control group; 41, test group) shows just how dramatic the impact of optimizing a site for local intent can be. By tweaking the hours and directions page titles, descriptions and H1s to utilize the phrases “franchise dealer near me” and “nearest franchise dealer” the brand saw mobile impressions for “near me” more than double to 8,833 impressions and 46 clicks. (The control group’s “near me” impression share only rose 11%.)

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Image courtesy of CDK Global

Additional steps for optimizing your site for “near me” searches

  • Prominently display your business name, address and phone number (aka, NAP) on your site
  • Use schema markup in your NAP
  • In addition to proper setup and optimization of your Google My Business listing, provide each location with its own listing and, just as important, ensure that the business name, address and phone number of each location matches what’s listed on the site
  • Consider embedding a Google Map prominently on your website. “It’s good for user experience,” says Rozek. “But it may also influence rankings.”

#5 — Use Google App Deep Linking

We’ve all heard the statistics: The vast majority — in some circles the figure is 95% — of apps downloaded to mobile devices are never used. Don’t be deceived, however, into believing apps are irrelevant.

Nearly half of all time spent on the web is in apps.

This means that the mobile searchers looking for products or services in your area are likely using an app or, at the very least, prompted to enter/use an app.

For example, when I type “thai restaurant near me,” the first organic result is TripAdvisor.

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Upon entering the site, the first (and preferred) action the brand would like for me to make is to download the TripAdvisor app:

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Many times, a “near me” search will take us to content within an app, and we won’t even realize it until we see the “continue in XX app or visit the mobile site” banner.

And if a searcher doesn’t have the app installed, “Google can show an app install button. So, enabling your app for Google indexing could actually increase the installed base of the app,” writes Eric Enge of Stone Temple Consulting.

For brands, App Deep Linking (ADL), which he defines as “the ability for Google to index content from within an app and then display it as mobile search results,” has huge implications if utilized properly.

“Think about it,” he writes. “If your app is not one of the fortunate few that get most of the attention, but your app content ranks high in searches, then you could end up with a lot more users in your app than you might have had otherwise.”

(To access details on how to set up Google App Deep Linking, read Enge’s Search Engine Land article: SMX Advanced recap: Advanced Google App Deep Linking)

If your brand has an app, this is information you shouldn’t sleep on.

Typically, when I conduct a “near me” search, I click on/look through the images until I find one that fits what I’m looking for. Nine times out of ten (depending upon what I’m looking for), I’m either taken to content within an app or taken to a mobile site and prompted to download the app.

Seems to me that ADL would be a no-brainer.

Optimizing for mobile is simply putting web searchers first

For all the gnashing of teeth Google’s many actions/inactions provoke, the search giant deserves credit for making the needs of web searchers a priority.

Too often, we, as marketers, think first and foremost in this fashion:

  1. What do we have to sell?
  2. Who needs it?
  3. What’s the cheapest, easiest way to deliver the product or service?

I think Google is saying to us that the reverse needs to occur:

  1. Make it as fast and as easy for people to find what they want
  2. Better understand who it is that’s likely to be looking for it by better understanding our customers and their intent
  3. The sales process must begin by thinking “what specific needs do web searchers have that my brand is uniquely qualified to fulfill?”

In this way, we’re placing the needs of web searchers ahead of the needs of the brand, which will be the winning combination for successful companies in the days ahead.

Brands will either follow suit or fall by the wayside.

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Eye Tracking in 2016: How Searchers Interact with Mobile SERPs vs. Desktop

Posted by rMaynes1

[Estimated read time: 8 minutes]

In 2014, Mediative released an eye-tracking study that looked at how Google’s Search Engine Results Page (SERP) has changed over the last decade, and how searcher behavior has adapted as a result. We learned that:

  1. Top organic results are no longer always in the top-left corner, so users look elsewhere to find them.
  2. Mobile devices have habitually conditioned searchers to scan vertically more than horizontally. Searchers are looking for the fastest path to the desired content.
  3. People are viewing more search results listings during a single session and spending less time viewing each one.
  4. Businesses that are positioned lower on the SERP (especially positions 2–4) see more click activity than they did several years ago, making this real estate much more valuable.
  5. The #1 organic listing still captures the most click activity (32.8%), regardless of what new elements are presented.

On a desktop, the #1 organic listing is shifting further down the page, opening up the top of the page with more potential areas for businesses to achieve visibility.

The way website listings are presented on a mobile search engine results page is significantly different from how they’re presented on a desktop. The decrease in available screen size means there are a limited number of listings immediately visible to searchers, and competition for the top spots can be fierce.

The 2016 eye-tracking study

In this latest eye-tracking study, Mediative took 49 participants of mixed age and gender, asking them to complete 41 search tasks on an iPhone 5 using Google. We used the X2-60 Tobii mobile device eye tracker to track where they looked on the screen, measuring time to first look, how many participants looked, and how many participants clicked on each listing.

The Tobii X2-60

An example of one of the tasks we asked? “You’re interested in taking a vacation to New Orleans. Use Google to find cheap flights from Toronto to New Orleans.” Participants were shown the mobile SERP below:

The area highlighted in the image above shows what’s viewable on the mobile screen, before scrolling is necessary.

Ultimately, we wanted to know:

1. Where on the mobile SERP do searchers look and click the most? How does this differ from desktop searchers?

2. How important is the location of a listing on the SERP to win views and clicks from searchers?

3. Does the need for scrolling negatively or positively impact the views and clicks that listings further down the page receive?

4. What can advertisers do to ensure their Google listings are seen and clicked on a mobile SERP?

Key findings:

1. The #1 organic listing still captures the most click activity; it just takes 87% longer for it to be first seen on a mobile compared to a desktop.

In cases such as the one shown below, the knowledge panel that appears to the right of the results on a desktop (left image) becomes a key feature at the top of the mobile SERP (right image). Searchers have to scroll in order to see the organic listings that can be seen without scrolling on a desktop. This didn’t deter searchers from seeking out the top organic listing, however — it just took longer.

Takeaway:

The relevancy of your listing to the searcher’s intent becomes more important than ever as it’s taking longer for people to first lay eyes on the organic listing. This provides more of an opportunity for them to be distracted by other brands and features on the SERP that appear before the organic listings.

2. Only 7.4% of clicks were below the 4th organic listing versus 16% on a desktop, and only 62.9% of tasks resulted in a scroll-down.

Takeaway:

Being above the 4th organic listing — whether in an organic, local, knowledge graph, paid position, etc — is critical. Fewer and fewer clicks are going to listings below the top 4 organic listings, leaving less opportunity for advertisers to drive traffic to their sites.

Mobile SEO needs to be taken extremely seriously. However, many businesses don’t realize the importance of optimizing their sites specifically for mobile, resulting in ranking lower on a mobile than on a desktop.

  • Invest in putting as much relevant content into your SERP listing and use available tools such as Schema to ensure that your listing stands out on the screen, increasing the likelihood of capturing clicks.
  • Take advantage of the fact that other elements are presented above the organic listings, where over 35% of the page clicks on mobile were won.
  • Track mobile rankings separately so as to optimize specifically for mobile, depending on the results that are seen.
Tips to rank higher in the mobile SERPs:

  • If you have an app, ensure it’s indexed. More and more, apps are going to be competing with websites for rankings and traffic.
  • Remember you’re dealing with a reduced space, so ensure your most important information is at the very beginning of page titles and descriptions, including priority keywords in the body of the website content.
  • Websites with Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) might result in higher rankings. Although not confirmed by Google, the company did reiterate the importance of page speed and the need to improve page load times, of which AMP is one way to achieve this.

3. 11% more clicks went to the knowledge graph on a mobile phone compared to a desktop, and almost 22% less clicks went to the top #1 organic listing on a mobile compared to a desktop.

A heat map showing the views captured by a knowledge graph result on a mobile phone. The displayed knowledge graph is shown to the right.

The introduction of more elements at the top of the page requires significant scrolling before the lower organic listings are reached, and these additional elements took a portion of clicks away from the top organic listings in that time.

When we studied mobile SERPS that only included organic listings, we found that:

  • 99% of people looked at the top organic listing vs. 83% on a desktop
  • 40% of page clicks were to the top organic listing vs. 34% on a desktop
  • 75% of page clicks were to the top 4 organic listings vs. 60% on a desktop

When we studied mobile SERPS that also included paid listings, local listings, a knowledge graph, etc, we found that:

  • 78.5% of people looked at the top organic listing vs. 99% on organic-only pages
  • 33.2% of page clicks were to the top organic listing vs. 40% on organic-only pages
  • 57% of page clicks were to the top 4 organic listings vs. 75% on organic-only pages

Takeaway:

Features on the mobile SERP such as the knowledge graph results have the potential to capture a significant amount of attention away from the organic listings. The major difference between a knowledge graph on a desktop versus a mobile phone is that scrolling is required on a phone to see organic listings. Once again, the importance of a strong mobile SEO strategy cannot be understated. If you find your organic listing is losing too many clicks to the knowledge graph, find other keywords that don’t produce the knowledge graph and include them in your optimization strategy.

4. The top sponsored ad is seen by 91% of searchers.

Takeaway:

Mobile screen real estate is extremely valuable. You have two ways to try and earn as much of that real estate as you can: paid search and mobile SEO. Although paid search can’t guarantee that you’ll always appear at the top of the results, a good paid search campaign can definitely help capture more clicks.

Consider paid text ads if you’re looking to improve website traffic, or optimize for local searches if appropriate, rather than focusing all efforts on ranking #1 in the organic listings. As three paid ads on mobile become more common, brands must be prepared to see a drop in traffic from organic listings, and perhaps consider increasing their investments in paid search.

5. 19.2% of page clicks on average went to the top 2 sponsored text ads, compared to 14.5% on a desktop.

Takeaway:

Paid search represents a bigger opportunity for traffic to your site on a mobile compared to desktop, especially if ad extensions are present.

Tips for using paid search ad extensions to push organic listings from view:

  • Location extensions ensure the business address is shown alongside the ad.
  • Call extensions add the ability to call the business directly from the paid ad.
  • App extensions show a link below the ad text that allows people to download your app
  • Site link extensions add links to various website pages from within the ad.
  • Call-out extensions add descriptive text to your ad to describe more about what you do or offer.

6. 47% more clicks went to the map and local listings when they were above the organic listings.

Takeaway:

The positioning of the local listings, whether below or above the organic listings, can have a significant impact on the views and clicks captured by each of the local listings or the organic listings. With only three local listings appearing on mobile, it’s important for your business to be there, especially if your website is struggling to rank in the top 4 organic listings.

Tips to rank in the local listings and capture more clicks:

  • Have a complete and accurate Google+ page for every location. Focus on the number of citations and NAP accuracy across third-party sites and local directories.
  • Get reviews! The stars in the listing only appear once 5 reviews have been generated
  • Ensure your site is full of locally relevant, useful content, with plenty of local keywords used throughout

Measure more than just clicks. Clicks to a local listing from a mobile device can result in a reduction in traffic to the brand’s website, as the local listings link to the Local Finder. It’s therefore important to measure impression data from local listings as well as traffic to business Google+ pages, as this can contribute to driving traffic to local stores and businesses.

To conclude

There’s no doubt about it: being listed at the top of the SERP is critical on a mobile device. People may scroll up and down, but ultimately, with over 92% of clicks going to an area above the 4th organic listing, if your business listing is below that, you’re almost invisible on a mobile search. Mobile must be taken seriously, but there are still far too many businesses that don’t see that importance and are still focusing all their efforts on desktop.

To discover out more takeaways and tips, plus average click-through rates per SERP element, download the full study on our site!

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Giving Searchers a Reason to Prefer Your Brand – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

It’s the season of giving, and that notion extends to search! Brand preferences have an almost tangible impact on several levels, from consumer affinity to a rankings boost on Google. In this holiday edition of our now-traditional Whitebeard Friday, Rand explains why it’s important to keep brand recognition at the forefront of your strategy, and offers up a framework on how to get started on giving searchers a reason to prefer your brand.

Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high resolution version in a new tab!

Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to the special Christmas edition of Whiteboard Friday. Now, whether you celebrate Christmas or not, my family is Jewish, at least ethnically, but we still love Christmas. We used to get a tree and presents and all that kind of stuff. But Merry Christmas to all those of you who celebrate religiously or non-religiously, and to all the rest of you, hopefully you’re having a lovely and wonderful December holiday break time, middle of wintertime. The sun’s going to start getting a little higher in the sky. The days get a little longer. I’m really looking forward to that, especially being here in Seattle.

I want to talk today about giving searchers something, a reason to prefer your brand. This is why it is so critical going forward into the next year, into 2016. We have seen that the last few years have been years where Google, where social media sites, where consumers and customers, web users of all kinds and platforms of all kinds have given brands — especially brands that have recognition, that people have an affinity for — they give them a lot of preference. I’ll show you what I mean.

Even small brand preferences can yield these sort of remarkable and amazing results because of the amplification that they receive all the way down the line in your marketing effort. Let’s say, for example, that you are able to get a slight lift in brand recognition, in brand affinity, in recall, and in positive associations. It’s going to do a few things for you.

Raise CTR in search results

First off, it’ll raise your average click-through rate in search results. As a searcher is performing whatever queries they are, the hopefully many thousands of queries that lead to your site, if you appear in position four, five, or six, you might see a slightly higher click-through rate than what you would normally see for an average website ranking in that position because of the brand preference. What this does, actually, is over time it results in higher rankings because Google is set up to reward a long-term click-through rate bump and all the other signals that come with that into higher ranking

So even if you are someone who says, “Ah, I’m not really sure whether Google’s using click-through rate models in my stuff,” they are in a lot of stuff now. Even if you don’t believe that, what’s happening is you’re getting a slightly higher share of visits, which means a slightly higher share of people who can amplify your brand, link to your brand, all those kinds of things. All of those signals over time slowly, positively increase your potential ranking.

Increase return visits to site

Next up, if you have that slight brand preference, you’re going to increase the rate at which visitors return to your site, come back to you through bookmark, through type-in, through branded search, all of those kinds of things. Those forms of returning visits, whether it is branded search or direct visit or a bookmark, that will lead to browser and search biasing. You can see this in all of your browsers.

If I’m on my iPhone or my Android device, if I’m in Google Chrome on a laptop or desktop, and I start typing something, all of those browsers and all of those systems will look for previous patterns that start to match what I’m typing in or voice searching, and they will be more likely to bias to show me those kinds of things. If I’ve been to Moz in the past and I type just “M” into my Chrome browser, I’m likely to see Moz in that dropdown list of things that it suggests to me, particularly if I visit with some real frequency. So you get that preferential treatment.

But this also goes back to helping your rankings up here because brand-based search queries, as Google has shown, can have an impact on non-branded, unbranded query ranking. If lots of people are searching for let’s say “Virgin America flights to San Francisco,” when Google sees the query of flights to San Francisco, they might say, “Hey, you know what, Virgin America should rank a little bit higher because we’ve seen lots of branded search volume for them.”

Improve conversion likelihood & likelihood for social, press, and WoM Aamplification

Obviously, brand lift can help conversion likelihood which leads to more sales. That’s one of the most direct and obvious ones. That’s one of the reasons that big brand marketers invest so much in it. But it’s also the case they will increase the likelihood, so let’s say that you are reaching out through social media or amplifying messages through social media, through press, obviously through word of mouth which may be somewhat under your control and a lot not in your control, all of that amplification will be slightly enhanced each time with additional brand preference, and that means that in the future you have a larger audience for future marketing, future targeting. It’s hugely helpful there.

Perception of value and quality improves

Also, you can see that perception of value and quality actually improves as brand affinity and recall and recognition goes up. You’ve seen this in lots of consumer tests. One of my favorite examples is the Bing study, where Bing looked at replacing Google’s results with Bing’s results, but they had the Google logo and the Google layout, and then they showed Google’s results in Bing. No matter whose results they showed, if they showed the Google logo next to it, people said those were the better results. So essentially, the brand is part of how we judge the quality of something. It is part of that.

This goes to some consumer-based tests around wine, the flavor that you get from wine or the enjoyment you get from wine. If you set something down and it is a recognized bottle known to be very high in price, known to be hard to get, you will actually see areas of the brain light up and perceive that wine to be better tasting and to provide more enjoyment, even if it’s actually filled with cheap $ 5.00 wine. This psychological preference is actually improving our perception of quality from the brand perspective, and because of that we get higher retention, more recidivism.

So brand can help you in a huge number of ways, both technical through algorithmic and social means, and also psychological means. Worth investing in absolutely, for the years to come, and certainly as the last few years have pushed more and more stuff in web marketing, it becomes essential for all of us.

But how do we do this? I’m not going to be able to get into all the tactical details today. I mean, we could spend a whole Whiteboard Friday on any one tactic in these groups, but I wanted to provide some framework around these groups for you to think about and add potentially to your strategy going into the new year.

Brand values

Things like brand values matching customer values or overlapping with them, or working against them, can impact how a brand is perceived. Most obviously, many consumers are very frustrated with brands like Volkswagen or Enron before that, who we feel like they’ve pulled the wool over our eyes and they’ve been dishonest. Cigarette marketing in the tobacco industry turned off many, many consumers in the western world to a lot of those brands. Then brands that have values that we recognize and respond to, we can see those getting brand lift.

Voice, tone, and visuals

Voice, tone and visuals, this is essentially the style of how you present yourself and whether that matches and has resonance with your audience’s preferences, with their own styles, and with existing cultural cues. So you can see that it’s like speaking the language of your customer, but we’re not talking about a verbal language like English versus Hindi versus Spanish versus German. We’re talking about the resonance on the cultural language level. Are we in the same cultural zeitgeist? Do we have the same cues and recognition? Do we have the same things around nostalgia and associations between concepts, all those kinds of things?

Content

Content, this is one that we talk about a lot, matching your content to your audience’s potential needs, their desires, things they enjoy, their influencers and what their influencers are going to amplify. This is really where content strategy comes into play, because if you take content down to the tactical level only, you are not thinking about the overlap. Well, many times when you’re doing tactical content creation and content amplification, you’re not thinking about the strategic overlap with what’s my audience’s needs, what do they desire, what do they have associations with, what do they enjoy, what do their influencers enjoy, all of that kind of stuff. When you do this, you get closer and closer to making that Venn diagram match, and your content is much more likely to have a strategic, positive impact on brand association.

Brand representatives

Brand representatives, the human beings that we associate with a brand are critically important. In fact, I would say, and many, many marketers have been talking about this for the last couple of years, but more important to a brand’s presence than ever before. We are getting to build brand associations through human associations. Oftentimes that’s founders and CEOs, but many times it is also brand representatives, which can include a large number of people. It can include people who are amplifiers of that brand, not necessarily people who work at the brand, but amplifiers. It can include the testimonials that are present in the marketing messages. It can include brand contributors, whether those are guest contributors or full-time, and of course team members. The big one is often founders and CEOs and sort of the leaders of an organization, but many of these others have influence as well. If those match well to who your customers’ influencers are or the zeitgeist of your customers’ world, that can create additional brand resonance as well.

Pricing and positioning

Pricing and positioning, this is sort of the classic, old-school four P’s of marketing, but the value perceived and the value that is quantifiable against the pricing and the cost associated with the service. Costs, I don’t just mean financial cost, but also setup cost and work-wise and process cost and customers’ own self-perception, meaning that if a customer believes that they are a medium-sized business but you’re selling them a package that’s called enterprise, they may perceive that they’re paying too much. They don’t think of themselves as an enterprise. Even though the enterprise package is right for them and it’s providing the right kind of value, you’re now sort of disconnecting the language of the positioning from what the customer actually thinks of themselves as. That can potentially harm brand affinity.

Psychological nudges

Then, of course, lots and lots of psychological nudges that build associations around a brand. So these are things like familiarity, liking, processing fluency, which we’ve had a whole Whiteboard Friday on processing fluency, I think last year in 2014. Those kinds of things, when I say “processing fluency,” what I’m talking about is the ease with which I recognize something and can make an association. For example, one of my favorite studies around this was the correlation between stock prices of companies that have easily pronounceable names versus hard-to-pronounce names, and you can see that the easier processing fluency of an easier-to-pronounce name over time tends to correlate with higher stock value. Weird. Seems like markets would be more sophisticated than that, but human beings are subject to this stuff. User experience flow, that also fits into the psychological nudges.

As we’re thinking about influencing all this stuff, a lot of times when people talk about brand and building brand, they talk exclusively about brand advertising. But as you can see from all of these categories there’s a lot of organic work that we can do in SEO, in social, in content, in email, in community, in all the channels that we talk about here at Moz that can have a big influence on your brand, and that can have a big influence over time on all of these things positively as well.

All right, everyone. Merry Christmas. If you are celebrating another holiday, may you have a great holiday, and we’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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International SEO Study: How Searchers Perceive Country Code Top-Level Domains

Posted by 5le

The decision to focus your site on an international audience is a big step and one fraught with complexities. There are, of course, issues to deal with around language and user experience, but in addition there are some big technical choices to make including what domains to use.

Any authoritative
international SEO guide will elaborate on the differences between the options of subdirectory, subdomain, and country-code top level domain (CCTLD). One of the most common suggestions is for a site to opt to use a ccTLD (e.g. domain.co.uk) as the domain extension. The reasoning behind this is the theory that the ccTLD extension will “hint” to search engines and users exactly who your target audience should be versus the other, less explicit options. For example, a search engine and human user would know, even without clicking into a site, that a site that ends with .co.uk is targeting a user looking for UK content. 

We have solid data from
Google that a ccTLD does indicate country targeting; however, when it comes to users there is only an assumption that users even notice and make choices based on the ccTLD. However, this is a fairly broad assumption that doesn’t address whether a ccTLD is more important than a brand name in the domain or the quality of a website’s content. To test this theory, we ran a survey to discover what users really thought.

User knowledge of TLDs

Even before trying to understand how users related to ccTLDs it is essential to validate the assumption that users even know that general TLDs exist. To establish this fact, we asked respondents to pick which TLD might be the one in use by a non-profit. Close to
100% of respondents correctly identified a TLD ending with .org as the one most likely to be used by a non-profit. Interestingly, only 4% of people in the US stated that they were unsure of the correct TLD compared to 13% of Australians. Predictably, nearly all marketers (98%) chose the .org answer.

.org cctld survey

Another popular TLD is the .edu in use by educational assumptions, and we wanted to understand if users thought that content coming from a .edu domain might be more trustworthy. We asked users if they received an unsolicited email about water quality in their town whether they would place more trust in a sender’s email address that ended with .edu or .com.
89% of respondents in the US chose the .edu as more trustworthy, while only 79% said the same in Australia. Quite interestingly, the marketer responses (from the survey posted on Inbound.org were exactly the same as the Australians with 79% declaring the .edu to be more trustworthy.

.org cctld survey australia

If users can identify a .org as the correct TLD for a non-profit, and a .edu as a TLD that might be more trustworthy, it is likely that users are familiar with the existence of TLDs and how they might be used. The next question to answer is if users are aware of the connection between TLDs and locations.

Country relationship awareness

Next, we asked respondents to identify the location of a local business using a .ca TLD extension. The majority of respondents across all three surveys correctly chose Canada; and nearly all marketers (92%) got this correct. Oddly, more Australians (67%) correctly identified Canada than Americans (62%). We would have thought Americans should have been more familiar with the TLD of a neighboring country. Additionally, more Americans (23%) fell for the trick answer of California than Australians (15%). Regardless, we were able to conclude that most Internet users are aware of TLDs and that they are tied to a specific country.

canada cctld survey

To really gauge how much users know about TLDs and countries, we asked users to pick the right domain extension for a website in another country. In the US survey, we asked users to pick the correct TLD for an Australian company, and in the Australian survey we used a British company. In each of the questions we gave one correct answer possibility, one almost correct, and two entire wrong choices.For example, we gave .co.uk and .uk as answer choices to Australians.

In both the US and Australia, the majority of respondents chose the correct TLD, although Americans seem to have been confused by whether Australia’s TLD was .AU (35%) or .com.AU (24%).

There is a common practice of using country-code domain extensions as a vanity URL for content that is not geotargeted. For example, .ly is the domain extension for Libya, but it is frequently used on domains that have a word that ends with “ly.” Additionally, .me is the domain extension for Montenegro; however, the TLD is used for many purposes other than Montenegro content.

We wanted to understand if users noticed this type of TLD usage or if they thought the content might still be related to another country. We asked respondents what might be on a website that ended with .TV which is the TLD for the island nation of Tuvalu and is also a popular TLD for TV show websites. 51% of US respondents thought it might be a TV show and 42% chose the “it could be anything” answer. In Australia, 43% thought the site would be a TV show, and 44% said “it could be anything”.

tuvalu cctld survey

One of the answer options was that it could be a website in Tuvalu and interestingly twice as many Australian (9%) chose this option vs US respondents (4.5%). This question was one of the areas where marketers’ answers were very different from those in the US and Australia. 77% of marketers chose the TV show option and only 19% said it could be anything.

Based on the these three results, it is apparent that
users recognize TLDs, know that they are from other countries, and appear to make some judgments around the content based on the TLD.

Decision making using TLDs

Since users know that TLDs are an important part of a URL that is tied to a country of origin, it is important to understand how the TLD factors into their decision-making processes about whether or not they visit certain websites.

We asked users whether they thought medical content on a foreign TLD would be as reliable as similar content found on their local TLD. In the US, only 24% thought the content on the non-local TLD (.co.uk) was less reliable than content on a .com. In Australia, the results were nearly identical to what we saw in the US with only 28% answering that the non-local TLD (.co.uk) was less reliable than the content on a .com.au. Even 24% of marketers answered that the content was less reliable. The remaining respondents chose either that the content equally reliable or they just didn’t know. Based on these results, the TLD (at least as long as it was a reputable one)
does not seem to impact user trust.

UK cctld survey

Digging into the idea of trust and TLD a bit further, we asked the same reliability question about results on Google.com vs Google.de. In the US, 56% of respondents said that the results on Google.de are equally reliable to those on Google.com, and in Australia, 51% said the same thing when compared to Google.com.au. In the marketer survey, 66% of respondents said the results were equally reliable. The fact that the majority of respondents stated that results are equally reliable should mean that users are more focused on the brand portion of a domain rather than its country extension.

CcTLD’s impact on ecommerce

Making the decision to use a ccTLD on a website can be costly, so it is important to justify this cost with an actual revenue benefit. Therefore the real test of TLD choice is how it impacts revenue. This type of answer is of course hard to gauge in a survey where customers are not actually buying products, but we did want to try to see if there might be a way to measure purchasing decisions.

To achieve this result, we compared two different online retailers and asked respondents to choose the establishment that they thought would have the most reliable express shipping. In the US survey, we compared Amazon.co.jp to BestBuy.com. In the Australian survey, we compared Bigw.com.au (a well known online retailer) to Target.com. (Interesting fact: there is a Target in Australia that is not affiliated with Target in the US and their website is target.com.au) The intent of the question was to see if users zeroed in on the recognizable brand name or the domain extension.

cctld trust survey

In the US, while 39% said that both websites would offer reliable shipping, 42% still said that Best Buy would be the better option. Australians may have been confused by the incorrect Target website, since 61% said both websites would have reliable shipping, but 34% chose Big W. Even marketers didn’t seem oblivious to domain names with only 34% choosing the equally reliable option, and 49% choosing Best Buy. The data in this question is a bit inconclusive, but we can definitively say that while a large portion of users are blind to domain names, however, when selling online it would be best to use a familiar domain extension.

cctld trust survey australia

New TLDs

Late last year, ICANN (the Internet governing body) announced that they would be releasing dozens of new
GTLDs, which opened up a new domain name land grab harkening back to the early days of the Internet. Many of these domain names can be quite expensive, and we wanted to discover whether they even mattered to users.

gtld survey

We asked users if, based solely on the domain name, they were more likely to trust an insurance quote from a website ending in .insurance.
62% of Americans, 53% of Australians, and 67% of marketers said they were unlikely to trust the quote based on the domain alone. Based on this result, if you’re looking to invest in a new TLD simply to drive more conversions, you should probably do more research first. 

A new gTLD is probably not a silver bullet.

Methodology

For this survey, I collaborated with
Sam Mallikarjunan at HubSpot and we decided that the two assumptions we absolutely needed to validate where 1) whether users even notice ccTLDs and 2) if so do they really prefer the TLD of their country. While we received 101 responses from a version of the survey targeted at marketers on an Inbound.org discussion, we primarily used SurveyMonkey Audience, which allowed us to get answers from a statistically significant random selection of people in both the United States and Australia.

We created two nearly identical surveys with one targeted to a US-only audience and the other targeted to an Australian-only audience. A proper sample set is essential when conducting any survey that attempts to draw conclusions about people’s general behavior and preferences. And in this case, the minimum number of respondents we needed in order to capture a representative example was 350 for the U.S. and 300 for Australia.

Additionally, in order for a sample to be valid, the respondents have to be chosen completely at random. SurveyMonkey Audience recruits its 4-million+ members from SurveyMonkey’s 40 million annual unique visitors, and members are not paid for their participation. Instead, they are rewarded for taking surveys with charitable donations, made on their behalf by SurveyMonkey.

When tested against much larger research projects, Audience data has been exactly in line with larger sample sizes. For example, an Audience survey with just 400 respondents about a new Lay’s potato chip flavor had the same results as a wider contest that had 3 million participants.

SurveyMonkey’s survey research team was also able to use SurveyMonkey Audience to accurately predict election results in both 2012 and 2013. With a US sample size of 458 respondents and an Australian one of 312 all drawn at random, our ccTLD user preferences should reliably mirror the actual reality.

Summary

There will be many reasons that you may or may not want to use ccTLDs for your website, and a survey alone can never answer whether a ccTLD is the right strategy for any particular site. If you are thinking about making any big decisions about TLDs on your site, you should absolutely conduct some testing or surveying of your own before relying on just the recommendations of those who advise a TLD as the best strategy or the others that tell you it doesn’t matter at all.

Launching a PPC campaign with a landing page on a ccTLD and measuring CTRs against a control is far cheaper than replicating your entire site on a new TLD.

Based on our survey results, here’s what you should keep in mind when it comes to whether or not investing your time and money in a ccTLD is worth it:

  1. Users are absolutely aware of the TLDs and how they might relate to the contents of a website
  2. Users are aware of the connection between TLDs and countries
  3. Users do make decisions about websites based on the TLD; however there are no absolutes. Brand and content absolutely matter.

As to whether a ccTLD will work for you on your own site, give it a try and report back!

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