Friday, December 15, 2017

What’s behind the trend towards private search engines?

Recently on Search Engine Watch, we rounded up six newcomers to the search engine landscape that are worth keeping an eye on for the future.

Each new search engine takes a slightly different approach to searching the web, but there is one trait that many of the recent ones have in common: private, secure searching.

Oscobo, WhaleSlide, Gyffu and GoodGopher are just some of the non-tracking, private and secure search engines that have been launched in the last two or three years, joining more well-established engines like StartPage, DuckDuckGo, Mojeek and Privatelee.

Is this cluster of private search engines just a passing fad, or is it indicative of an increasing trend among users towards secure, private search? And if so, what does this mean for more mainstream search engines like the all-seeing Google?

I spoke to leading figures at three private search engines, both new and established – Gabriel Weinberg, founder and CEO of DuckDuckGo, Robert Beens, CEO of StartPage, and Robert Perin, co-founder and Managing Director of Oscobo – to find out why they thought more and more people could be turning to private search, and what the ramifications are for the wider industry.

Why launch a private search engine?

All three search engines whose leaders I spoke to came to the industry at very different times: StartPage was originally founded as Ixquick in 1998, and made the transition to private search in 2006; DuckDuckGo was founded in 2008; and Oscobo officially launched at the beginning of 2016.

For StartPage, the decision to become a private search engine was taken when the company noticed the sheer amounts of user data that it was accumulating and not using, and made a conscious decision to get rid of it.

For Beens, who led the initiative for StartPage to become a private search engine, it was a way for StartPage to distinguish itself in an already competitive industry, and the business case for this decision outweighed the benefits of any potential income from selling user data.

“From a business perspective, [monetizing our users’ data] makes absolutely zero sense. The only thing that sets us apart from bigger search that do monetize people’s user behavior is the fact we don’t. That’s what attracts people to us. It’s true that the revenue we make on our ads is far less than what others tend to make – so be it. It’s what makes us unique.”

Beens couldn’t have known for sure, as early as 2006, whether his gamble on a private search model was going to pay off in the long run, but he was looking for a point of distinction from Google, which was already dominant by then. “I thought that it would give us a differentiator in a difficult market at the moment. It’ll make us stand out. I’m proud of doing that.”

Beens believes that Google, along with most tech companies, has a “blind spot” when it comes to privacy – providing an opening for other search engines to compete in spite of Google’s attractive search product. His decision also gave StartPage the prestigious title of being the first search engine in the world to offer private search.

Notoriously pro-privacy search engine DuckDuckGo was also created because founder Gabriel Weinberg was looking to improve on what Google was doing, though he didn’t initially set out to create a company around his search tool. He told Forbes in an interview that he “backed into” search – “I didn’t think about it from a business perspective at the time.”

Now, however, DuckDuckGo is keen to tout the fact that it doesn’t track its users as a key selling point, along with what it believes is a cleaner, more fun design and a better overall search experience.

Robert Perin, meanwhile, was aware when he launched Oscobo in 2016 that there were already other private search options out there for people to use. He and co-founder Fred Cornell therefore decided to differentiate themselves by going local – focusing initially on a UK audience, to distinguish Oscobo from US-centric search engines like DuckDuckGo – before broadening their approach to include other countries.

A former employee at BlackBerry, Perin was inspired to develop a private search engine when he realized just how much technology was encroaching onto our everyday lives, particularly with the advent of mobile.

“Technology is creeping into our lifestyles – we carry our mobile phones around with us everywhere we go. The next step is the Internet of Things – you look at remotely-controlled heating and lighting, which can be used to analyze someone’s electricity consumption, but also to know what time they’re going home. If that data is being shared with everyone, it can be manipulated to any degree.

“Search has gone from being a relatively harmless tool to being an almighty and powerful tool. It’s the starting point for the internet. And as technology creeps into our homes and our lives, we have to hold back how much data is being handled.”

Why are people using private search?

Do people use private search purely because of concerns about data privacy? Edward Snowden’s NASA spying revelations are often pointed to as a watershed moment for people wanting to switch to private search engines. But while this is undoubtedly a significant driving factor, there is a variety of other reasons why people would opt to search privately.

DuckDuckGo’s Gabriel Weinberg points out that using a search engine which doesn’t tailor its results to the user can allow them to break out of the “filter bubble” that many users of mainstream search engines are trapped in.

“Use of a private search engine enables you to escape the “filter bubble,” where results are filtered based on what a search engine thinks it knows about you, such as your political ideologies,” he told Search Engine Watch.

“This echo chamber is extremely pernicious in a search context where you expect to receive unbiased information. Unfortunately, with other [non-private] search engines, that’s not the case.”

Robert Perin believes that tech-savvy users who know about the scope of Google’s data collection use private search to escape ‘Big Brother’, or because of ethical concerns about the amount of data being stored, even if they’re not sure how it’s being used.

A photograph of a poster (said to be from one of the Google cafeterias) reading "GOOGLE IS WATCHING YOU" with "Google" being the Google logo. The logo also has two eyes in the Os.

Image by Patrick Barry, available via CC BY-SA 2.0

The average, non-technical person, however, is more likely to be persuaded by an argument such as dynamic pricing – in which pricing levels are adjusted based on a user’s perceived ability to pay. The prospect of unlimited choice, he says, is also a powerful one – the idea that your search results won’t be limited based on decisions that you happen to have made in the past.

“If you went to a restaurant and you were handed a menu with nothing but steaks on it, because last time you ate a steak, therefore they presume you just want a steak – you’d be kind of annoyed by that!” Perin laughs.

“And with the larger search engines, because they’re doing profiling on you, you’ll just get shown what they think you want, and also what is more beneficial to them that you click on. So it is a limited choice, in that sense.”

Is this a trend that’s growing, as evidenced by the number of new search engines that allow users to search privately?

“Absolutely,” says Robert Beens of StartPage. “There are all sorts of search engines jumping on the bandwagon, who want to get a share of that [private search] market – it’s a market that’s definitely growing.

“We’re not against it – competition is always good.”

“Privacy is both mainstream and growing fast,” agrees Gabriel Weinberg, pointing to the increasing traffic numbers on DuckDuckGo as evidence of this trend in action. DuckDuckGo passed the 10 million searches per day milestone in 2015, and is closing in on the 20 million mark, with an average of around 19 million searches daily in December 2017.

“Most people still aren’t aware there is a search engine out there that doesn’t track them, though as the word continues to get out, usage of DuckDuckGo continues to increase,” says Weinberg.

“The amount of people who care about their data privacy is by no means a small number and this group is certainly not niche. 24% of US adults currently are concerned enough about their online privacy to take significant actions to try to protect it.”

DuckDuckGo’s growing traffic over time

The cost of convenience

But there’s a trade-off between the privacy and security of using private search engines and the convenience and accuracy which come from using a search engine that learns from your data and personal preferences.

Users of mainstream search engines have become accustomed to this level of uncanny, ‘mind-reading’ accuracy, and while it might be unsettling at times, they’re still unwilling to give it up even for the sake of data privacy. I asked my interviewees whether private search engines that don’t track user data can provide the same level of tailored searching as those who do.

“Most of the personalization that people want from a search engine is actually localization, like getting local weather or restaurant info,” says Gabriel Weinberg.

“We can provide those results without tracking our users because approximate location information is sent automatically with the search request, which we can use to give you relevant answers, and then immediately throw that information away without ever storing it.

“We believe you can switch to DuckDuckGo and protect your data without compromising on results.”

Oscobo’s Robert Perin admits that users might have to work a little harder to get the results they want when using a private search engine, but that ultimately, the differences aren’t huge.

“We give algorithmic results, based on just the words that you typed in,” he says.

“Searching for ‘cheap mobile phone’ doesn’t say, ‘Oh! He likes Apple – only show him the Apple ones.’ It’s going by what you’ve written. If you do want to see Apple phones, then you’ll need to type in ‘cheap iPhones’. It’s a little less intuitive, perhaps, than what we’re used to – but how much harder do you really have to work?”

“It’s a question of habits and convenience. How much of a hassle is it to have to retype ‘Hilton hotel Paris’ instead of typing ‘H-i-l’ and having the search completed for you? Is that a massive, massive benefit that’s worth selling your identity for?

“And also, what’s the cost? I think when people realize what the cost of convenience is, then they change.”

Robert Beens of StartPage agrees that once people become aware of the extent of the data tracking that takes place online, they are likely to want to change their habits.

“If you give me five minutes to talk to people, I can convince them to use a private search engine.

“But the personal data market exists below the surface – no-one knows about it, and it takes a fairly technical level of understanding to know what’s going on. So it takes education and awareness of the facts behind data tracking, and then people can make a conscious choice to use one or the other.”

 

What does this mean for Google and SEO?

If there is indeed a steadily snowballing trend towards the use of private search engines, is this going to impact on mainstream, user-tracking search engines like Google and Bing further down the line?  And what about SEO? Do SEOs need to start worrying about optimizing for private search engines?

Well, no. While the approach that DuckDuckGo, StartPage, Oscobo and others take to data privacy is different to Google and Bing, the search technology that underpins them is often the same as those used by mainstream search engines. Robert Perin refers to Oscobo as a “Bing/Yahoo feed”, while StartPage gets its results from Google.

DuckDuckGo draws its search results, particularly Instant Answers, from a wider range of sources including Wikipedia and DuckDuckBot (its crawler); but it also has an agreement in place with Bing, Yahoo and Yandex in which these search engines provide results without any user data being exchanged.

Private search engines see this as an opportunity to provide users with the best of both worlds – the accuracy of more advanced search technology, with the anonymity and security of private searching.

As for repercussions for Google, Perin is skeptical about whether a trend towards private search will make a difference to Google, which is unlikely to do anything meaningful to give up the reams of user data on which it relies for so much of its revenue. (According to Investopedia, about 90% of Google’s entire income stems from advertising).

Infographic: 25 Percent of Global Ad Spend Goes to Google or Facebook | Statista Source: Statista

“Ultimately, I think they’ll do everything they can to keep as much data as they can, because that’s where the value is.”

Perin emphasizes that Oscobo isn’t looking to disrupt mainstream search engines with what it does. “Our aim wouldn’t be to shake [Google] up; it’s to give people an alternative.”

Robert Beens echoes this, stating, “The choice is free. If people want an alternative, we want to be there with the best product that we can have.”

Thursday, December 14, 2017

How much should SEO cost?

How much should you be paying for SEO services?

This subject can be a real minefield, so we first recommend some quick background reading of Jayson DeMers’ commentary from 2015 on how much time SEO should take, and also Clark Boyd’s recent article on choosing the right SEO agency.

All read up? Great, let’s get cracking.

Determining a price for a service like SEO is unlike buying a product with a set amount of industry standard component parts and an easily distinguishable utility, which tends to allow for a tighter range of pricing.

The price associated with an SEO campaign can be determined by a significant amount of factors: what work has been conducted previously? What internal resources are available to support the campaign? How competitive is the industry? What are the goals of the campaign?

These are but a handful of the types of factors involved. As a result, putting a cost on SEO can sometimes feel akin to a ‘how long is a piece of string’ scenario.

(Twice half its length, in case you were wondering).

In an attempt to give some quantifiable measures, Jason DeMers estimated that SEO campaigns could require between 12 and 104 hours per month, which is a rather large range, especially with no indication of price per hour.

It is the unfortunate truth that it would be irresponsible to give an exact answer as to how much you should be paying for SEO: the real answer is that no one size fits all. This is demonstrated by the range of pricing shown by North Star Inbound’s survey into enterprise SEO.

We therefore need to ask key questions which will allow us to hone in on a range of pricing for an SEO campaign, from which you should be able to make a more educated decision.

Is SEO a viable marketing channel for you?

According to research by BrightEdge in 2014, more half of the traffic to an average brand’s website comes from organic search. But you don’t need a study to tell you that. You probably use a search engine every single day.

As such, there is a decent chance that SEO is indeed a viable marketing channel for you. However, you should still do some initial calculations to understand if you should be investing in SEO. This is particularly poignant for businesses that are either trying to create a market, or are operating in a fledgling industry where there may not be established search traffic.

Use a combination of keyword research tools, click through rate percentages, conversion rates and net margins to understand what the likely monetary benefit would be if you were to gain your coveted relevant top spots in the SERPs.

This exercise will also demonstrate a maximum budget at which point (purely from a revenue generation point of view) the investment will not deliver an ROI or will start to result in diminishing returns, at which point layering in alternate marketing channels to your strategy may become a better option.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Are you being offered £200 per month with guaranteed first place rankings in a competitive industry quickly? Sure.

The problem is that the phrase ‘do it cheap, do it twice’ doesn’t quite explain the potential impact of this situation. The result of bad SEO doesn’t stop at lost marketing budget and time.

The potential ramifications of cheap, spammy SEO are much worse. Not only may you have to undo all of the work previously conducted but should you feel the fury of, say the salty cold slap of a Penguin-related Google penalty, your website may become near invisible in the SERPs for a considerable amount of time.

Scaremongering over.

Speak to more than one agency

In the end, as with a lot of things in the world, you can pay whatever you want to. As an example, most coffee shops charge in the region of a couple of pounds for a coffee but there are those that charge hundreds of pounds for a single cup of the brown stuff. It is the same for SEO.

That is why it is important to speak to a number of agencies so that you are able to get an understanding of the price ranges and also what each agency is offering in return for your money. It’s also just good due diligence.

Ignorance is not bliss

Another unfortunate fact about the SEO industry: people get their fingers burnt by agencies all the time. That may not be a popular statement to make, but it is the truth. Don’t get me wrong – there are lots of awesome agencies out there, but making sure you instruct one of the awesome ones can be tricky.

We would highly recommend ensuring that someone in your business has a solid understanding of SEO basics so that the correct questions can be asked during the tender process. Identifying what you are trying to achieve and what is required in order to provide an ROI is a good starting point, from which you can dive into the campaign strategy with your prospective agencies.

Over the course of your tender process you should get a clearer understanding of what the general consensus is for your campaign strategy and also highlight red flags if they appear. For a concise list of questions to ask, please see Clark Boyd’s article.

Select what’s right for you

One thing is for sure: good SEO ain’t cheap. The aforementioned survey from North Star Inbound demonstrated that campaigns can range from below $1000 per month to $20,000+ (with over a quarter of those surveyed in the $20,000+ per month bracket).

The point is though that for some businesses paying over $20k per month would be suicide; the search market may not be large enough to warrant such expenditure or the business might not have sufficient marketing budget set aside.

On the other hand, for a business that requires a $20,000+ monthly retainer in order to get the required results, paying $2000 per month just won’t cut it. To fall back on yet another phrase, it’s horses for courses.

So where does that leave us? Hopefully closer to a process by which you can assess how viable an SEO campaign would be for your business.

You may not have an exact price upon which to go out to the market, but as I mentioned earlier, SEO isn’t quite that simple. What this article should help you do, along with other articles on Search Engine Watch, is identify which bracket you sit in according to your own requirements and subsequently narrow down selecting an an agency to work on the campaign.

The price range will likely provide you with a floor at which it is clear that you would not get the desired results, and also demonstrate where the point of diminishing returns is.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

How to future-proof your SEO for 2018

We’re (frighteningly!) almost to the end of the year, and with just a couple of weeks left in December, it’s time to start preparing for what SEO might look like in 2018.

A little while ago, we highlighted our seven SEO trends for 2018 that you should be watching out for. But what practical steps should you be taking with your SEO to prepare for next year?

In this article, I’ll break down some key trends you should be preparing for in 2018, and what you can do to future-proof your SEO for the year ahead.

Let’s dive into it.

Voice search and digital assistants

As Tereza Litsa wrote in our 2018 trends article, we can expect voice search and digital assistants to reach even greater prominence in 2018.

Digital assistants in people’s smartphones have been around for a while, but their accuracy has greatly improved over the past couple of years as natural language search improves, to the point where search increasingly resembles a fluid and intuitive conversation. This is important for widespread adoption.

Add to that the fact that a new legion of smart home hubs from Google, Amazon, Apple and others is being installed in people’s homes (think how many of your consumers might be getting a 2nd generation Amazon Echo or an Echo Plus for Christmas), and it’s crucial to optimize for voice search if you want to stay competitive.

Here are some basic principles to adhere to when optimizing for voice search and digital assistants:

Optimize for natural language queries – long-tail keywords, full sentences and questions

Although keywords are still important, people are searching less with disconnected individual keywords like “Barack Obama age” and more with full questions like “How old is Barack Obama?”

To optimize for these, think about the questions you want your website to surface for, and search them to see how well you rank. Can you produce Q&A-style content that will answer these types of queries? Consider also producing content with a slightly more conversational tone that will match the way that people are phrasing their queries.

Aim for the featured snippet

Featured snippets have long been known as “position zero” on the SERP, but with voice search they become even more crucial. If a search result for a voice query has a featured snippet, that’s what will be read aloud to the user as the answer to their question.

Incorporating a numbered or bullet point list or table with the key points of your content can help your chances of grabbing a featured snippet, as can creating Q&A style content.

Optimize for actions and apps

People don’t just ask questions to their digital assistants; they also give them commands, like “search for [keyword] on [app]”, so think about ways to optimize for these.

If you do have an app, deep linking or app indexing will allow users to access it via search, and thus via their digital assistants. Apple has already produced SiriKit, which will enable your iOS and watchOS apps to work with Siri – an important future-proofing move for the advent of Apple’s HomePod.

For a deeper dive into voice search optimization, check out the following guides:

Linkless link-building

This one might seem like a contradiction in terms, but let me explain. Link-building is still a valuable tactic for SEO: we recently looked at a study on enterprise SEO strategy which found that small businesses are particularly likely to benefit from link-building as an SEO strategy.

But link-building for SEO also isn’t as simple as it used to be even a few years ago, with Google algorithm updates like Penguin and Fred cracking down on sites with poor link profiles, and Google issuing warnings to bloggers over freebie links.

To future-proof your SEO for 2018, therefore, you need to do two things: focus on quality, long-term link-building, and learn to appreciate the value of linkless backlinks. Here’s how.

Cultivate long-term relationships for quality backlinks

In a presentation at Brighton SEO this year, Greg Gifford espoused the value of building real-world relationships in order to score backlinks that your competitors can’t get. He was talking about local SEO, but while this might be especially true for local SEO, it’s key for SEO on a broader level as well.

The enterprise SEO study that I mentioned earlier found that PR is by far the single most effective link-building tactic for businesses of all sizes (though for small businesses, guest blogging was almost comparable). Good PR and outreach can allow you to build invaluable relationships with those quality publications that will give your site a ton of referral authority.

Even if you don’t manage to score a backlink, a mention will go a long way – read on to find out why.

Track and build linkless mentions

Search engines are increasingly able to associate mentions with brands, and use them as a trust signal to determine a site’s authority.

At SMX West 2016, Duane Forrester, former Senior Product Manager at Bing, asserted that Bing figured out how to associate mentions without a link “years ago”, and SEO experts have noticed a patent by Google which indicates Google has long been doing the same.

So along with your regular backlink monitoring, make sure you invest in a web monitoring tool that can help you track mentions of your brand, as well as focusing on PR, reputation management, brand awareness and online reviews.

For more on this, check out:

Mobile-first indexing

Google’s long-awaited mobile-first index is already being rolled out, so if you aren’t already mobile-first in your approach to SEO, you need to be in 2018.

Mobile traffic (traffic on smartphones, tablets and similar devices) has already outstripped desktop traffic and is continuing to climb, which means that it’s a fair assumption that users who reach your site will be on a mobile device, and possibly searching on the go.

Here’s how you can be prepared.

Be fast

Speed is of the essence in SEO regardless of device, but it’s even more crucial on mobile, as mobile users have been shown to be considerably less patient when waiting for sites to load. Be sure to test for issues with your mobile site speed, and be aware of the things that can bloat your site and slow it down, like images and JavaScript.

Design for context

Google has been emphasizing for some time in its search quality evaluator guidelines that mobile users approach their searches with a radically different context to desktop users.

While someone on a desktop computer is likely to be searching in a limited number of settings (in the office, at home or possibly in a café), mobile users can be absolutely anywhere.

Therefore, a truly future-proof mobile website will be able to respond to user context. This sounds futuristic, but there are already subtle ways that this can be accomplished, particularly with m-commerce websites. For more on how to achieve this, check out why mobile commerce sites should be designed for context.

Set up AMP, Instant Apps or Progressive Web Apps

Thanks to Google’s recent drive towards improving user experience on the mobile web, brands now have several options for a streamlined, hyper-fast mobile app or site. If you’re already confident that your mobile site or app provides an optimum experience, then stick with what you have; but if you’ve been looking to upgrade, consider implementing one of these options.

  • Accelerated Mobile Pages: Google’s “lightning-fast” mobile web solution has been hit and miss with SEOs since its launch in February of last year, but Google is still keen to push it and has continued to implement upgrades to make it faster and more engaging.
  • Android Instant Apps: Android Instant Apps are apps that can be shared and accessed via a link without a full download, combining some of the advantages of mobile websites with an app experience.
  • Progressive Web Apps: PWAs are an “app-like” take on the mobile web which can function offline and be pinned to a home screen, incorporating some of the advantages of apps into a mobile website.

Here are some more guides that will help you get your mobile SEO into shape:

AI and machine learning

If 2017 confirmed one thing, it’s that the old days of discrete, name-able Google algorithm updates are behind us. Google’s Gary Illyes confirmed as much in a flippant keynote at Brighton SEO in which he stated that Google makes two to three updates to its ranking algorithm per day, 95-98% of which are “not actionable for webmasters”.

The reason for this is due to Google’s increasing use of AI and machine learning in its ranking algorithms. Google’s algorithms are no longer a set of clearly-defined rules set down by humans, but a constantly learning and fluctuating entity.

This, of course, has thrown webmasters and SEOs into a spin about how, exactly, they can optimize for artificial intelligence.

We’ve addressed this in a number of recent articles on Search Engine Watch, and the overriding message is: don’t worry about “optimizing for RankBrain” or “optimizing for AI”. If you stick to fundamental SEO best practices, you’ll be fine. Gary Illyes spelled this out in his Brighton SEO keynote:

Every single update that we make is around quality of the site or general quality, perceived quality of the site, content and the links or whatever. All these are in the Webmaster Guidelines. When there’s something that is not in line with our Webmaster Guidelines, or we change an algorithm that modifies the Webmaster Guidelines, then we update the Webmaster Guidelines as well.

Basically, if you publish high quality content that is highly cited on the internet – and I’m not talking about just links, but also mentions on social networks and people talking about your branding, crap like that … Then you are doing great.

And fluctuations will always happen to your traffic. We can’t help that; it would be really weird if there wasn’t fluctuation, because that would mean we don’t change, we don’t improve our search results anymore.”

Some further reading and sage advice:

General tips for future-proofing your SEO

In this article I’ve explored how you can optimize for specific trends that will likely be prominent in 2018, but there are also general actions you can take that will future-proof your SEO regardless of what year it is, and what trends shape the industry.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Google AdWords training courses you need ASAP

Much as Google has become synonymous with the Internet, AdWords has become synonymous with marketing.

The search engine giant’s advertising platform is, without a doubt, one of the most integral parts of any online advertising campaign. In fact, for every $1 spent on digital advertising, 42 cents goes to an AdWords campaign.

That being said, regardless of whether you’re a first-time AdWords user or a seasoned online marketer, getting the right training—and certification—can make or break your online advertising efforts.

So if you want to be fully trained in how to use AdWords to its best effect, here are the courses you need ASAP.

Google’s Academy for Ads

Where better to start learning about AdWords than from its creator? When you join Google Partners, which you’ll need to do if you want to get your AdWords Certification, you gain access to libraries of free AdWords training modules with Google’s “Academy for Ads.”

There are several learning paths you can follow, each focused on a different aspect of AdWords, including (but not limited to):

  • AdWords fundamentals (good for certification training). This includes advertising on Google’s Search, Display, and Shopping networks.
  • DoubleClick by Google
  • Advertising on YouTube, advertising apps, and mobile advertising.

The courses are specifically designed to help you pass the AdWords Certification exams, but can also be taken as quick refreshers on best practices when it comes to advertising with Google.

The modules are interactive and provide the information in an easy-to-understand manner, making the courses a great starting point for someone who’s new to AdWords. From ad creation to bidding strategies, keyword selection to trademark infringement, Google Academy for Ads covers all you need to know to set up a successful AdWords campaign.

Udemy: Ultimate Google AdWords Course – Stop SEO and Win with PPC

Udemy is an online repository for people interested in teaching and learning about a virtually endless range of topics—AdWords being one of them.

You can take video-based courses from a number of AdWords experts, some for free and others for a low price (usually around $12 each). Each course is structured like a college class, complete with a series of lectures and assignments for you to complete.

Udemy is a nice option because there’s a course for everyone. Some courses are broad, covering just the AdWords basics, and others are much more focused, covering topics like emotions and ad creation, mobile app advertising, and even as specific as video advertising for dance and yoga businesses.

The highest rated AdWords course on the site can be found here, though it was last updated in January 2017 – let’s hope a 2018 refresh is on the way!

Lynda: Google AdWords Essential Training

Similar to Udemy, Lynda is another online community where teachers and learners come together in the pursuit of knowledge. Lynda’s different from Udemy in that it’s a subscription-based service (with Udemy, you pay by the course).

This means you can potentially get more training for your money by using Lynda, as long as you’re dedicated to setting aside a few hours each week for your AdWords classes.

With Lynda, you can take video-based AdWords courses taught by industry leaders, ranging in topic and timespan. Courses on more focused topics, such as AdWords budgeting tips, are just 5 minutes long.

Other, more extensive courses, like those better suited for AdWords beginners, could last up to 3 hours, but can be completed on your own time. Lynda’s most popular general AdWords course is Google AdWords Essential Training.

LunaMetrics

If you’re prefer learning in a face-to-face environment or are looking to interact and collaborate with other people (in person), LunaMetrics offers the AdWords training you need. LunaMetrics facilitates conference-type events in cities across the U.S., open to anyone with the time (and budget—these courses aren’t cheap) to attend.

The greatest advantage of signing up for one of LunaMetrics’ multi-day AdWords trainings is the collaboration and networking available to you at the event. You’ll meet people from all different industries, with different levels of AdWords expertise, to bounce ideas off and maybe learn a few new tricks.

This is an especially good option if you’re able to attend on a company-sponsored basis because of the professional connections you’ll make and again, the steep price point (right now it costs around $500 to attend the 5-day AdWords training).

WordStream PPC University

WordStream is a Mecca for online advertisers—the online firm offers guidance to assist with all aspects of online marketing. WordStream’s PPC University comes equipped with a wide variety of free AdWords training modules.

If you’re new to AdWords, you can work your way through WordStream’s PPC 101 and 102 courses, which feature lessons written in a blog-style format that makes it feel like you’re learning from a real person and not a dry textbook. These lessons get into the jargon AdWords experts rely on and cover everything you need to know for a well-rounded AdWords education.

There are also webinars you can attend to expand your AdWords knowledge in a collaborative environment. Take some time to explore WordStream’s site, as you’ll probably find even more opportunities for learning about AdWords and online advertising in general.

Perry Marshall’s Ultimate Guide to Google AdWords

Perry Marshall is a well-known and respected member of the online marketing community. He’s been using AdWords since it was first released in 2002, and is a leading expert on the platform.

In his continued impartation of online advertising knowledge to the masses, Marshall has released his fifth edition of the Ultimate Guide to Google AdWords. This book comes at a low cost and includes free trainings from WebSavvy’s founder, Mike Rhodes. There’s a chapter for everything, including up-to-date AdWords strategies and functionalities.

Marshall’s book is nice to have on-hand when you’re creating or editing your campaigns, serving as a reference point when you find yourself in an AdWords conundrum.

Quick refreshers

If you’re experienced with AdWords and looking to refresh your knowledge of the platform (or are a beginner just looking for a general idea of what AdWords is about) you may not need to commit the time and money required for the aforementioned trainings. You can start with the following, relatively broader, guides and infographics on the topic:

The takeaway

The AdWords training that’s right for you may not consist of just one course or education provider. Finding the format that works for you will require some exploring and experimenting on your own.

Each training provider requires a different amount of time and monetary commitment, so make sure you’re realistic about what your schedule and budget can accommodate for.

But most of all, remember to have fun and get excited about the future success of your AdWords campaigns. AdWords is your key to the world of online advertising, and when you know how to use it correctly, your business will thrive.

Amanda DiSilvestro is a writer for No Risk SEO, an all-in-one reporting platform for agencies. You can connect with Amanda on Twitter and LinkedIn, or check out her content services at amandadisilvestro.com.

Monday, December 11, 2017

How to use Google Trends for SEO

Google Trends, first launched in 2006, provides marketers with invaluable insights into how people search on the world’s most popular search engine.

In its earlier guises, Trends (or Insights for Search, as it was previously known) was a rather static resource, updated only on an infrequent basis with fresh data.

Over time, the power of this service has been tapped in new and enlightening ways.

For example, a study undertaken using Trends data by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz and written up in the New York Times in 2014 found, “Parents are two and a half times more likely to ask “Is my son gifted?” than “Is my daughter gifted?””

Such newsworthy incidents revealed the richness of Google Trends as a data source to the wider public. People’s underlying attitudes, desires, and beliefs start to come to the fore when they communicate with a search engine.

As the megalomaniac founder of a fictional search engine puts it, while discussing the data at his disposal, in the 2015 science-fiction movie Ex Machina:

You see, my competitors, they were fixated on sucking it up and monetizing via shopping and social media. They thought that search engines were a map of what people were thinking. But actually they were a map of how people were thinking.

Both of these examples – one real, one imagined – highlight exactly why Google Trends is so valuable for search marketers.

It is the closest we have to a synthesis of market research and SEO data. With its ability to segment trends by geography, product category, content topic, and date, it allows us to go much broader in our analysis than traditional SEO tools ever could.

With Trends’ recent expansion into News, Shopping, Images, and YouTube, it seems the perfect time to revisit and refresh the many ways in which this powerful tool can help your SEO efforts.

First, some housekeeping

If you are relatively new to Google Trends, there are a couple of things to bear in mind when you look at the data visualizations.

First of all, Google Trends data is adjusted to make visual comparisons between different data sets easier for users. Google offers the following to explain for its methodology:

“Search results are proportionate to the time and location of a query:

  • Each data point is divided by the total searches of the geography and time range it represents, to compare relative popularity. Otherwise places with the most search volume would always be ranked highest.
  • The resulting numbers are then scaled on a range of 0 to 100 based on a topic’s proportion to all searches on all topics.
  • Different regions that show the same number of searches for a term will not always have the same total search volumes.”

In practice, this means that we end up with graphs like the below, showing trended data on a scale from 0 to 100:

cats-dogs

Furthermore, a note is applied to all graphs that look back to before 2016, as Google made a significant update to the collection of data at this point. This can cause some unexpected jumps in graphs at the beginning of 2016, but the overall trends still provide a good guide to the historical demand for a topic.

Now, onto the tips.

How you can use Google Trends for SEO

Keyword research

Keyword research seems the most obvious SEO-based use for Trends, but it is often overlooked in favor of Keyword Planner and the other industry-standard tools.

In fact, it serves as the perfect complement to these platforms, bringing to light patterns that they cannot reveal.

Trends will suggest new keywords based on different criteria to those employed in Keyword Planner. For example, it highlights related search queries (using the example of “dogs” again) that have very recently risen in popularity, as we can see in the screenshot below:

dogs_apples

Clearly, these will require a sense check before you add them straight to your keyword list. As stated before, we really can learn something about the human condition from Google Trends.

There will also be some outliers (in this case, the Watch Dogs video game), as Google groups together a lot of related sub-topics under the aegis of the main categories.

Nonetheless, these examples do show how frequently this tool can provide unexpected ideas.

It is also reflective of how the readily available nature of fresh data on Trends can add vital, new elements to a keyword list.

This is significant as we move beyond simple keyword matching and into an age of semantic relevance. Building out a keyword list that contains the spectrum of audience demand for your products is no longer a luxury; it is a pre-requisite for performing well.

Moreover, if SEOs can target trending queries before they peak, competition will be lower and potential rewards will be greater.

For those that would like to examine the data outside of the platform, there are numerous R and Python packages that can make calls via the Google Trends API.

This allows users to download queries in order to manipulate and visualize the data. One such package for R, (gtrendsR), is explained in more detail in this handy blog post.

Combined with a versatile plotting package like ggplot2, this approach opens up a new level of functionality to Google Trends data for SEO research.

Compare search trends across Google search engines

The addition of filters for News, Shopping, Images, and YouTube to Google Trends has opened up a wide range of new SEO research opportunities.

These can be accessed from a drop-down menu at the top of the results page.

cats_dogs_2

Image search data in available from 2008 to the present day and it should prove a very valuable source of inspiration for SEOs.

Not only is image search responsible for a huge amount of queries already, but it is also an area of focus for Google as it aims to fend off threats from the likes of Facebook, Amazon, and Pinterest.

Once more, we can segment the data by sub-region or city and there are suggestions for related image search queries too:

dogs

It is also possible to compare these search trends across two different queries, due to the manner in which Google processes and displays the data. In the example below, I have set the filter to show the trends for “cats” in the US and for “dogs” in the UK:

uk_us_dogs

We can therefore say that image searches for dogs in the UK are more popular than image searches for cats in the US, in relative terms, even though this would likely not be the case in absolute terms.

On YouTube, the eternal cats versus dogs battle lives up to its fiery reputation, with a much narrower gap between the two search topics:

cats_dogs_yt

Trending queries are highlighted here too, which should give us even more reason to keep visiting Google Trends for our research:

Cats_dogs_yt2

Assess and predict seasonal peaks

Perhaps the most common use of Google Trends for SEO is the analysis of peaks and troughs in consumer demand.

To cite a simple, but illustrative, example of how this works, we can look at the search query [olympics]:

olympics

We see significant worldwide peaks every four years for the summer Olympics, with the winter equivalent attracting another (if smaller) increase two years later each time.

In this example, history tells us that we are about to see another peak in demand for [olympics] very soon, but that insight alone does not translate into much.

Firstly, we don’t know the size of the opportunity in absolute terms, as Trends provides only relative values.

However, if we cross-reference what we see in Trends with the data we have from Keyword Planner, we can start to understand what a value of 100 on this chart means in real terms.

Admittedly, Keyword Planner data is indicative at best, but we may also have data from AdWords campaigns. This can at least guide us towards a predicted search volume for the upcoming Olympics.

Of course, it seems very intuitive that a major event will lead to more searches for the event’s name. Nonetheless, if we take this same approach and apply it to less predictable industries, such as fashion for example, Trends can help you to identify keywords before the competition does so.

This is supplemented by Trends’ use of real-time data to suggest new topics.

Trending topics for reactive content

One of the most useful aspects of Google Trends is the access it provides to real-time search data. There are plenty of content marketing and SEO technologies out there, but none can provide data as reliable as the information Google serves from its own databases.

These can be accessed directly from the Google Trends homepage:

trends_homepage

Clicking on a story will then lead to a selection of featured articles, plus a detailed breakdown of search interest and published articles over the past 24 hours:

time

The analysis goes further still by showing search interest by state, related queries, and related topics:

time2

This should be a go-to resource for anyone that produces reactive content, whether for their website, social media, or elsewhere.

Another interesting way to work with this data is to take the URLs that are listed as featured articles and use an SEO tool like Ahrefs or SearchMetrics to source the keywords that the page ranks for.

This provides insight into how quickly a page can be indexed and ranked, along with the quantity of semantically related queries one page can rank for in a short period of time. More than anything, this can help us understand how Google processes and prioritizes fresh content.