UX, Content Quality, and SEO – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by EricEnge

Editor’s note: Today we’re featuring back-to-back episodes of Whiteboard Friday from our friends at Stone Temple Consulting. Make sure to also check out the first episode, “Becoming Better SEO Scientists” from Mark Traphagen.

User experience and the quality of your content have an incredibly broad impact on your SEO efforts. In this episode of Whiteboard Friday, Stone Temple’s Eric Enge shows you how paying attention to your users can benefit your position in the SERPs.

For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard.
Click on it to open a high resolution image in a new tab!

Video transcription

Hi, Mozzers. I’m Eric Enge, CEO of Stone Temple Consulting. Today I want to talk to you about one of the most underappreciated aspects of SEO, and that is the interaction between user experience, content quality, and your SEO rankings and traffic.

I’m going to take you through a little history first. You know, we all know about the Panda algorithm update that came out in February 23, 2011, and of course more recently we have the search quality update that came out in May 19, 2015. Our Panda friend had 27 different updates that we know of along the way. So a lot of stuff has gone on, but we need to realize that that is not where it all started.

The link algorithm from the very beginning was about search quality. Links allowed Google to have an algorithm that gave better results than the other search engines of their day, which were dependent on keywords. These things however, that I’ve just talked about, are still just the tip of the iceberg. Google goes a lot deeper than that, and I want to walk you through the different things that it does.

So consider for a moment, you have someone search on the phrase “men’s shoes” and they come to your website.

What is that they want when they come to your website? Do they want sneakers, sandals, dress shoes? Well, those are sort of the obvious things that they might want. But you need to think a little bit more about what the user really wants to be able to know before they buy from you.

First of all, there has to be a way to buy. By the way, affiliate sites don’t have ways to buy. So the line of thinking I’m talking about might not work out so well for affiliate sites and works better for people who can actually sell the product directly. But in addition to a way to buy, they might want a privacy policy. They might want to see an About Us page. They might want to be able to see your phone number. These are all different kinds of things that users look for when they arrive on the pages of your site.

So as we think about this, what is it that we can do to do a better job with our websites? Well, first of all, lose the focus on keywords. Don’t get me wrong, keywords haven’t gone entirely away. But the pages where we overemphasize one particular keyword over another or related phrases are long gone, and you need to have a broader focus on how you approach things.

User experience is now a big deal. You really need to think about how users are interacting with your page and how that shows your overall page quality. Think about the percent satisfaction. If I send a hundred users to your page from my search engine, how many of those users are going to be happy with the content or the products or everything that they see with your page? You need to think through the big picture. So at the end of the day, this impacts the content on your page to be sure, but a lot more than that it impacts the design, related items that you have on the page.

So let me just give you an example of that. I looked at one page recently that was for a flower site. It was a page about annuals on that site, and that page had no link to their perennials page. Well, okay, a fairly good percentage of people who arrive on a page about annuals are also going to want to have perennials as something they might consider buying. So that page was probably coming across as a poor user experience. So these related items concepts are incredibly important.

Then the links to your page is actually a way to get to some of those related items, and so those are really important as well. What are the related products that you link to?

Finally, really it impacts everything you do with your page design. You need to move past the old-fashioned way of thinking about SEO and into the era of: How am I doing with satisfying all the people who come to the pages of your site?

Thank you, Mozzers. Have a great day.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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8 Ways Content Marketers Can Hack Facebook Multi-Product Ads

Posted by Alan_Coleman

The trick most content marketers are missing

Creating great content is the first half of success in content marketing. Getting quality content read by, and amplified to, a relevant audience is the oft overlooked second half of success. Facebook can be a content marketer’s best friend for this challenge. For reach, relevance and amplification potential, Facebook is unrivaled.

  1. Reach: 1 in 6 mobile minutes on planet earth is somebody reading something on Facebook.
  2. Relevance: Facebook is a lean mean interest and demo targeting machine. There is no online or offline media that owns as much juicy interest and demographic information on its audience and certainly no media has allowed advertisers to utilise this information as effectively as Facebook has.
  3. Amplification: Facebook is literally built to encourage sharing. Here’s the first 10 words from their mission statement: “Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share…”, Enough said!

Because of these three digital marketing truths, if a content marketer gets their paid promotion* right on Facebook, the battle for eyeballs and amplification is already won.

For this reason it’s crucial that content marketers keep a close eye on Facebook advertising innovations and seek out ways to use them in new and creative ways.

In this post I will share with you eight ways we’ve hacked a new Facebook ad format to deliver content marketing success.

Multi-Product Ads (MPAs)

In 2014, Facebook unveiled multi-product ads (MPAs) for US advertisers, we got them in Europe earlier this year. They allow retailers to show multiple products in a carousel-type ad unit.

They look like this:

If the user clicks on the featured product, they are guided directly to the landing page for that specific product, from where they can make a purchase.

You could say MPAs are Facebook’s answer to Google Shopping.

Facebook’s mistake is a content marketer’s gain

I believe Facebook has misunderstood how people want to use their social network and the transaction-focused format is OK at best for selling products. People aren’t really on Facebook to hit the “buy now” button. I’m a daily Facebook user and I can’t recall a time this year where I have gone directly from Facebook to an e-commerce website and transacted. Can you remember a recent time when you did?

So, this isn’t an innovation that removes a layer of friction from something that we are all doing online already (as the most effective innovations do). Instead, it’s a bit of a “hit and hope” that, by providing this functionality, Facebook would encourage people to try to buy online in a way they never have before.

The Wolfgang crew felt the MPA format would be much more useful to marketers and users if they were leveraging Facebook for the behaviour we all demonstrate on the platform every day, guiding users to relevant content. We attempted to see if Facebook Ads Manager would accept MPAs promoting content rather than products. We plugged in the images, copy and landing pages, hit “place order”, and lo and behold the ads became active. We’re happy to say that the engagement rates, and more importantly the amplification rates, are fantastic!

Multi-Content Ads

We’ve re-invented the MPA format for multi-advertisers in multi-ways, eight ways to be exact! Here’s eight MPA Hacks that have worked well for us. All eight hacks use the MPA format to promote content rather than promote products.

Hack #1: Multi-Package Ads

Our first variation wasn’t a million miles away from multi-product ads; we were promoting the various packages offered by a travel operator.

By looking at the number of likes, comments, and shares (in blue below the ads) you can see the ads were a hit with Facebook users and they earned lots of free engagement and amplification.

NB: If you have selected “clicks to website” as your advertising objective, all those likes, comments and shares are free!

Independent Travel Multi Product Ad

The ad sparked plenty of conversation amongst Facebook friends in the comments section.

Comments on a Facebook MPA

Hack #2: Multi-Offer Ads

Everybody knows the Internet loves a bargain. So we decided to try another variation moving away from specific packages, focusing instead on deals for a different travel operator.

Here’s how the ads looked:

These ads got valuable amplification beyond the share. In the comments section, you can see people tagging specific friends. This led to the MPAs receiving further amplification, and a very targeted and personalised form of amplification to boot.

Abbey Travel Facebook Ad Comments

Word of mouth referrals have been a trader’s best friend since the stone age. These “personalised” word of mouth referrals en masse are a powerful marketing proposition. It’s worth mentioning again that those engagements are free!

Hack #3: Multi-Locations Ads

Putting the Lo in SOLOMO.

This multi-product feed ad was hacked to promote numerous locations of a waterpark. “Where to go?” is among the first questions somebody asks when researching a holiday. In creating this top of funnel content, we can communicate with our target audience at the very beginning of their research process. A simple truth of digital marketing is: the more interactions you have with your target market on their journey to purchase, the more likely they are to seal the deal with you when it comes time to hit the “buy now” button. Starting your relationship early gives you an advantage over those competitors who are hanging around the bottom of the purchase funnel hoping to make a quick and easy conversion.

Abbey Travel SplashWorld Facebook MPA

What was surprising here, was that because we expected to reach people at the very beginning of their research journey, we expected the booking enquiries to be some time away. What actually happened was these ads sparked an enquiry frenzy as Facebook users could see other people enquiring and the holidays selling out in real time.

Abbey Travel comments and replies

In fact nearly all of the 35 comments on this ad were booking enquiries. This means what we were measuring as an “engagement” was actually a cold hard “conversion”! You don’t need me to tell you a booking enquiry is far closer to the money than a Facebook like.

The three examples outlined so far are for travel companies. Travel is a great fit for Facebook as it sits naturally in the Facebook feed, my Facebook feed is full of envy-inducing friends’ holiday pictures right now. Another interesting reason why travel is a great fit for Facebook ads is because typically there are multiple parties to a travel purchase. What happened here is the comments section actually became a very visible and measurable forum for discussion between friends and family before becoming a stampede inducing medium of enquiry.

So, stepping outside of the travel industry, how do other industries fare with hacked MPAs?

Hack #3a: Multi-Location Ads (combined with location targeting)

Location, location, location. For a property listings website, we applied location targeting and repeated our Multi-Location Ad format to advertise properties for sale to people in and around that location.

Hack #4: Multi-Big Content Ad

“The future of big content is multi platform”

– Cyrus Shepard

The same property website had produced a report and an accompanying infographic to provide their audience with unique and up-to-the-minute market information via their blog. We used the MPA format to promote the report, the infographic and the search rentals page of the website. This brought their big content piece to a larger audience via a new platform.

Rental Report Multi Product Ad

Hack #5: Multi-Episode Ad

This MPA hack was for an online TV player. As you can see we advertised the most recent episodes of a TV show set in a fictional Dublin police station, Red Rock.

Engagement was high, opinion was divided.

TV3s Red Rock viewer feedback

LOL.

Hack #6: Multi-People Ads

In the cosmetic surgery world, past patients’ stories are valuable marketing material. Particularly when the past patients are celebrities. We recycled some previously published stories from celebrity patients using multi-people ads and targeted them to a very specific audience.

Avoca Clinic Multi People Ads

Hack #7: Multi-UGC Ads

Have you witnessed the power of user generated content (UGC) in your marketing yet? We’ve found interaction rates with authentic UGC images can be up to 10 fold of those of the usual stylised images. In order to encourage further UGC, we posted a number of customer’s images in our Multi-UGC Ads.

The CTR on the above ads was 6% (2% is the average CTR for Facebook News feed ads according to our study). Strong CTRs earn you more traffic for your budget. Facebook’s relevancy score lowers your CPC as your CTR increases.

When it comes to the conversion, UGC is a power player, we’ve learned that “customers attracting new customers” is a powerful acquisition tool.

Hack #8: Target past customers for amplification

“Who will support and amplify this content and why?”

– Rand Fishkin

Your happy customers Rand, that’s the who and the why! Check out these Multi-Package Ads targeted to past customers via custom audiences. The Camino walkers have already told all their friends about their great trip, now allow them to share their great experiences on Facebook and connect the tour operator with their Facebook friends via a valuable word of mouth referral. Just look at the ratio of share:likes and shares:comments. Astonishingly sharable ads!

Camino Ways Mulit Product Ads

Targeting past converters in an intelligent manner is a super smart way to find an audience ready to share your content.

How will hacking Multi-Product Ads work for you?

People don’t share ads, but they do share great content. So why not hack MPAs to promote your content and reap the rewards of the world’s greatest content sharing machine: Facebook.

MPAs allow you to tell a richer story by allowing you to promote multiple pieces of content simultaneously. So consider which pieces of content you have that will work well as “content bundles” and who the relevant audience for each “content bundle” is.

As Hack #8 above illustrates, the big wins come when you match a smart use of the format with the clever and relevant targeting Facebook allows. We’re massive fans of custom audiences so if you aren’t sure where to start, I’d suggest starting there.

So ponder your upcoming content pieces, consider your older content you’d like to breathe some new life into and perhaps you could become a Facebook Ads Hacker.

I’d love to hear about your ideas for turning Multi-Product Ads into Multi-Content Ads in the comments section below.

We could even take the conversation offline at Mozcon!

Happy hacking.


*Yes I did say paid promotion, it’s no secret that Facebook’s organic reach continues to dwindle. The cold commercial reality is you need to pay to play on FB. The good news is that if you select ‘website clicks’ as your objective you only pay for website traffic and engagement while amplification by likes, comments, and shares are free! Those website clicks you pay for are typically substantially cheaper than Adwords, Taboola, Outbrain, Twitter or LinkedIn. How does it compare to display? It doesn’t. Paying for clicks is always preferable to paying for impressions. If you are spending money on display advertising I’d urge you to fling a few spondoolas towards Facebook ads and compare results. You will be pleasantly surprised.

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Has Google Gone Too Far with the Bias Toward Its Own Content?

Posted by ajfried

Since the beginning of SEO time, practitioners have been trying to crack the Google algorithm. Every once in a while, the industry gets a glimpse into how the search giant works and we have opportunity to deconstruct it. We don’t get many of these opportunities, but when we do—assuming we spot them in time—we try to take advantage of them so we can “fix the Internet.”

On Feb. 16, 2015, news started to circulate that NBC would start removing images and references of Brian Williams from its website.

This was it!

A golden opportunity.

This was our chance to learn more about the Knowledge Graph.

Expectation vs. reality

Often it’s difficult to predict what Google is truly going to do. We expect something to happen, but in reality it’s nothing like we imagined.

Expectation

What we expected to see was that Google would change the source of the image. Typically, if you hover over the image in the Knowledge Graph, it reveals the location of the image.

Keanu-Reeves-Image-Location.gif

This would mean that if the image disappeared from its original source, then the image displayed in the Knowledge Graph would likely change or even disappear entirely.

Reality (February 2015)

The only problem was, there was no official source (this changed, as you will soon see) and identifying where the image was coming from proved extremely challenging. In fact, when you clicked on the image, it took you to an image search result that didn’t even include the image.

Could it be? Had Google started its own database of owned or licensed images and was giving it priority over any other sources?

In order to find the source, we tried taking the image from the Knowledge Graph and “search by image” in images.google.com to find others like it. For the NBC Nightly News image, Google failed to even locate a match to the image it was actually using anywhere on the Internet. For other television programs, it was successful. Here is an example of what happened for Morning Joe:

Morning_Joe_image_search.png

So we found the potential source. In fact, we found three potential sources. Seemed kind of strange, but this seemed to be the discovery we were looking for.

This looks like Google is using someone else’s content and not referencing it. These images have a source, but Google is choosing not to show it.

Then Google pulled the ol’ switcheroo.

New reality (March 2015)

Now things changed and Google decided to put a source to their images. Unfortunately, I mistakenly assumed that hovering over an image showed the same thing as the file path at the bottom, but I was wrong. The URL you see when you hover over an image in the Knowledge Graph is actually nothing more than the title. The source is different.

Morning_Joe_Source.png

Luckily, I still had two screenshots I took when I first saw this saved on my desktop. Success. One screen capture was from NBC Nightly News, and the other from the news show Morning Joe (see above) showing that the source was changed.

NBC-nightly-news-crop.png

(NBC Nightly News screenshot.)

The source is a Google-owned property: gstatic.com. You can clearly see the difference in the source change. What started as a hypothesis in now a fact. Google is certainly creating a database of images.

If this is the direction Google is moving, then it is creating all kinds of potential risks for brands and individuals. The implications are a loss of control for any brand that is looking to optimize its Knowledge Graph results. As well, it seems this poses a conflict of interest to Google, whose mission is to organize the world’s information, not license and prioritize it.

How do we think Google is supposed to work?

Google is an information-retrieval system tasked with sourcing information from across the web and supplying the most relevant results to users’ searches. In recent months, the search giant has taken a more direct approach by answering questions and assumed questions in the Answer Box, some of which come from un-credited sources. Google has clearly demonstrated that it is building a knowledge base of facts that it uses as the basis for its Answer Boxes. When it sources information from that knowledge base, it doesn’t necessarily reference or credit any source.

However, I would argue there is a difference between an un-credited Answer Box and an un-credited image. An un-credited Answer Box provides a fact that is indisputable, part of the public domain, unlikely to change (e.g., what year was Abraham Lincoln shot? How long is the George Washington Bridge?) Answer Boxes that offer more than just a basic fact (or an opinion, instructions, etc.) always credit their sources.

There are four possibilities when it comes to Google referencing content:

  • Option 1: It credits the content because someone else owns the rights to it
  • Option 2: It doesn’t credit the content because it’s part of the public domain, as seen in some Answer Box results
  • Option 3: It doesn’t reference it because it owns or has licensed the content. If you search for “Chicken Pox” or other diseases, Google appears to be using images from licensed medical illustrators. The same goes for song lyrics, which Eric Enge discusses here: Google providing credit for content. This adds to the speculation that Google is giving preference to its own content by displaying it over everything else.
  • Option 4: It doesn’t credit the content, but neither does it necessarily own the rights to the content. This is a very gray area, and is where Google seemed to be back in February. If this were the case, it would imply that Google is “stealing” content—which I find hard to believe, but felt was necessary to include in this post for the sake of completeness.

Is this an isolated incident?

At Five Blocks, whenever we see these anomalies in search results, we try to compare the term in question against others like it. This is a categorization concept we use to bucket individuals or companies into similar groups. When we do this, we uncover some incredible trends that help us determine what a search result “should” look like for a given group. For example, when looking at searches for a group of people or companies in an industry, this grouping gives us a sense of how much social media presence the group has on average or how much media coverage it typically gets.

Upon further investigation of terms similar to NBC Nightly News (other news shows), we noticed the un-credited image scenario appeared to be a trend in February, but now all of the images are being hosted on gstatic.com. When we broadened the categories further to TV shows and movies, the trend persisted. Rather than show an image in the Knowledge Graph and from the actual source, Google tends to show an image and reference the source from Google’s own database of stored images.

And just to ensure this wasn’t a case of tunnel vision, we researched other categories, including sports teams, actors and video games, in addition to spot-checking other genres.

Unlike terms for specific TV shows and movies, terms in each of these other groups all link to the actual source in the Knowledge Graph.

Immediate implications

It’s easy to ignore this and say “Well, it’s Google. They are always doing something.” However, there are some serious implications to these actions:

  1. The TV shows/movies aren’t receiving their due credit because, from within the Knowledge Graph, there is no actual reference to the show’s official site
  2. The more Google moves toward licensing and then retrieving their own information, the more biased they become, preferring their own content over the equivalent—or possibly even superior—content from another source
  3. If feels wrong and misleading to get a Google Image Search result rather than an actual site because:
    • The search doesn’t include the original image
    • Considering how poor Image Search results are normally, it feels like a poor experience
  4. If Google is moving toward licensing as much content as possible, then it could make the Knowledge Graph infinitely more complicated when there is a “mistake” or something unflattering. How could one go about changing what Google shows about them?

Google is objectively becoming subjective

It is clear that Google is attempting to create databases of information, including lyrics stored in Google Play, photos, and, previously, facts in Freebase (which is now Wikidata and not owned by Google).

I am not normally one to point my finger and accuse Google of wrongdoing. But this really strikes me as an odd move, one bordering on a clear bias to direct users to stay within the search engine. The fact is, we trust Google with a heck of a lot of information with our searches. In return, I believe we should expect Google to return an array of relevant information for searchers to decide what they like best. The example cited above seems harmless, but what about determining which is the right religion? Or even who the prettiest girl in the world is?

Religion-and-beauty-queries.png

Questions such as these, which Google is returning credited answers for, could return results that are perceived as facts.

Should we next expect Google to decide who is objectively the best service provider (e.g., pizza chain, painter, or accountant), then feature them in an un-credited answer box? The direction Google is moving right now, it feels like we should be calling into question their objectivity.

But that’s only my (subjective) opinion.

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Reblogged 4 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

I Can’t Drive 155: Meta Descriptions in 2015

Posted by Dr-Pete

For years now, we (and many others) have been recommending keeping your Meta Descriptions shorter than
about 155-160 characters. For months, people have been sending me examples of search snippets that clearly broke that rule, like this one (on a search for “hummingbird food”):

For the record, this one clocks in at 317 characters (counting spaces). So, I set out to discover if these long descriptions were exceptions to the rule, or if we need to change the rules. I collected the search snippets across the MozCast 10K, which resulted in 92,669 snippets. All of the data in this post was collected on April 13, 2015.

The Basic Data

The minimum snippet length was zero characters. There were 69 zero-length snippets, but most of these were the new generation of answer box, that appears organic but doesn’t have a snippet. To put it another way, these were misidentified as organic by my code. The other 0-length snippets were local one-boxes that appeared as organic but had no snippet, such as this one for “chichen itza”:

These zero-length snippets were removed from further analysis, but considering that they only accounted for 0.07% of the total data, they didn’t really impact the conclusions either way. The shortest legitimate, non-zero snippet was 7 characters long, on a search for “geek and sundry”, and appears to have come directly from the site’s meta description:

The maximum snippet length that day (this is a highly dynamic situation) was 372 characters. The winner appeared on a search for “benefits of apple cider vinegar”:

The average length of all of the snippets in our data set (not counting zero-length snippets) was 143.5 characters, and the median length was 152 characters. Of course, this can be misleading, since some snippets are shorter than the limit and others are being artificially truncated by Google. So, let’s dig a bit deeper.

The Bigger Picture

To get a better idea of the big picture, let’s take a look at the display length of all 92,600 snippets (with non-zero length), split into 20-character buckets (0-20, 21-40, etc.):

Most of the snippets (62.1%) cut off as expected, right in the 141-160 character bucket. Of course, some snippets were shorter than that, and didn’t need to be cut off, and some broke the rules. About 1% (1,010) of the snippets in our data set measured 200 or more characters. That’s not a huge number, but it’s enough to take seriously.

That 141-160 character bucket is dwarfing everything else, so let’s zoom in a bit on the cut-off range, and just look at snippets in the 120-200 character range (in this case, by 5-character bins):

Zooming in, the bulk of the snippets are displaying at lengths between about 146-165 characters. There are plenty of exceptions to the 155-160 character guideline, but for the most part, they do seem to be exceptions.

Finally, let’s zoom in on the rule-breakers. This is the distribution of snippets displaying 191+ characters, bucketed in 10-character bins (191-200, 201-210, etc.):

Please note that the Y-axis scale is much smaller than in the previous 2 graphs, but there is a pretty solid spread, with a decent chunk of snippets displaying more than 300 characters.

Without looking at every original meta description tag, it’s very difficult to tell exactly how many snippets have been truncated by Google, but we do have a proxy. Snippets that have been truncated end in an ellipsis (…), which rarely appears at the end of a natural description. In this data set, more than half of all snippets (52.8%) ended in an ellipsis, so we’re still seeing a lot of meta descriptions being cut off.

I should add that, unlike titles/headlines, it isn’t clear whether Google is cutting off snippets by pixel width or character count, since that cut-off is done on the server-side. In most cases, Google will cut before the end of the second line, but sometimes they cut well before this, which could suggest a character-based limit. They also cut off at whole words, which can make the numbers a bit tougher to interpret.

The Cutting Room Floor

There’s another difficulty with telling exactly how many meta descriptions Google has modified – some edits are minor, and some are major. One minor edit is when Google adds some additional information to a snippet, such as a date at the beginning. Here’s an example (from a search for “chicken pox”):

With the date (and minus the ellipsis), this snippet is 164 characters long, which suggests Google isn’t counting the added text against the length limit. What’s interesting is that the rest comes directly from the meta description on the site, except that the site’s description starts with “Chickenpox.” and Google has removed that keyword. As a human, I’d say this matches the meta description, but a bot has a very hard time telling a minor edit from a complete rewrite.

Another minor rewrite occurs in snippets that start with search result counts:

Here, we’re at 172 characters (with spaces and minus the ellipsis), and Google has even let this snippet roll over to a third line. So, again, it seems like the added information at the beginning isn’t counting against the length limit.

All told, 11.6% of the snippets in our data set had some kind of Google-generated data, so this type of minor rewrite is pretty common. Even if Google honors most of your meta description, you may see small edits.

Let’s look at our big winner, the 372-character description. Here’s what we saw in the snippet:

Jan 26, 2015 – Health• Diabetes Prevention: Multiple studies have shown a correlation between apple cider vinegar and lower blood sugar levels. … • Weight Loss: Consuming apple cider vinegar can help you feel more full, which can help you eat less. … • Lower Cholesterol: … • Detox: … • Digestive Aid: … • Itchy or Sunburned Skin: … • Energy Boost:1 more items

So, what about the meta description? Here’s what we actually see in the tag:

Were you aware of all the uses of apple cider vinegar? From cleansing to healing, to preventing diabetes, ACV is a pantry staple you need in your home.

That’s a bit more than just a couple of edits. So, what’s happening here? Well, there’s a clue on that same page, where we see yet another rule-breaking snippet:

You might be wondering why this snippet is any more interesting than the other one. If you could see the top of the SERP, you’d know why, because it looks something like this:

Google is automatically extracting list-style data from these pages to fuel the expansion of the Knowledge Graph. In one case, that data is replacing a snippet
and going directly into an answer box, but they’re performing the same translation even for some other snippets on the page.

So, does every 2nd-generation answer box yield long snippets? After 3 hours of inadvisable mySQL queries, I can tell you that the answer is a resounding “probably not”. You can have 2nd-gen answer boxes without long snippets and you can have long snippets without 2nd-gen answer boxes,
but there does appear to be a connection between long snippets and Knowledge Graph in some cases.

One interesting connection is that Google has begun bolding keywords that seem like answers to the query (and not just synonyms for the query). Below is an example from a search for “mono symptoms”. There’s an answer box for this query, but the snippet below is not from the site in the answer box:

Notice the bolded words – “fatigue”, “sore throat”, “fever”, “headache”, “rash”. These aren’t synonyms for the search phrase; these are actual symptoms of mono. This data isn’t coming from the meta description, but from a bulleted list on the target page. Again, it appears that Google is trying to use the snippet to answer a question, and has gone well beyond just matching keywords.

Just for fun, let’s look at one more, where there’s no clear connection to the Knowledge Graph. Here’s a snippet from a search for “sons of anarchy season 4”:

This page has no answer box, and the information extracted is odd at best. The snippet bears little or no resemblance to the site’s meta description. The number string at the beginning comes out of a rating widget, and some of the text isn’t even clearly available on the page. This seems to be an example of Google acknowledging IMDb as a high-authority site and desperately trying to match any text they can to the query, resulting in a Frankenstein’s snippet.

The Final Verdict

If all of this seems confusing, that’s probably because it is. Google is taking a lot more liberties with snippets these days, both to better match queries, to add details they feel are important, or to help build and support the Knowledge Graph.

So, let’s get back to the original question – is it time to revise the 155(ish) character guideline? My gut feeling is: not yet. To begin with, the vast majority of snippets are still falling in that 145-165 character range. In addition, the exceptions to the rule are not only atypical situations, but in most cases those long snippets don’t seem to represent the original meta description. In other words, even if Google does grant you extra characters, they probably won’t be the extra characters you asked for in the first place.

Many people have asked: “How do I make sure that Google shows my meta description as is?” I’m afraid the answer is: “You don’t.” If this is very important to you, I would recommend keeping your description below the 155-character limit, and making sure that it’s a good match to your target keyword concepts. I suspect Google is going to take more liberties with snippets over time, and we’re going to have to let go of our obsession with having total control over the SERPs.

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The Incredible Shrinking SERP – 2015 Edition

Posted by Dr-Pete

In the beginning, there were 10 results, and it was good. Then, came expanded site-links and Google’s 
7-result SERP. Around the middle of 2014, we started to hear reports of SERPs with odd numbers of organic results – 9, 8, 6, 5, and even 4 page-1 results. At first, these were sporadic and hard to replicate, but they quietly expanded. This is a recent 4-result SERP for “autism speaks”:

By some counts, there are as many as 16 non-paid links on this page (not counting images), but by traditional SEO standards, there are only 4 true organic positions for which you can compete. So, what’s going on here? Is it just random, or is there a method to Google’s madness?

It’s all in the news

For a couple of months, I just assumed these strange result counts were some kind of glitch. Then I noticed an unusual pattern. Last October, Google rolled out the 
“In The News” Update. This update expanded news results to many new sources, but it also seemed to change the pattern of when news results appear. This is 28 days of data from MozCast’s Feature Graph (10K queries):

The presence of News results seemed to be cyclical, dipping early in the week and peaking later in the week. I don’t follow News results closely, so it was just a curiosity at first, until I saw another bit of data. This is the average page-1 result count for that same period:

While the scale of the change was much smaller (please note that both graphs have a restricted Y-axis to make the effect more visible), the opposing shapes of the curves seemed like more than a coincidence. As News results increased, the average page-1 organic result count decreased.

It’s a vertical, vertical world

Spot-checking various SERPs, I was able to confirm this effect. If page 1 had a News box, then the organic result count would be decreased by one (to either 9 results or 6, depending on the starting point). Here’s a sample SERP (I’ve removed snippets to simplify the image) for “samsung galaxy tab”:

This is a basic 10-result SERP, but when a News box comes into play, we’re only left with 9 organic results. This raised the question – were other verticals having a similar impact? Digging deeper, I found that, in addition to News results, Image results and In-depth Articles also occupied one organic position. Remember the example at the top of the post? It’s a brand query, resulting in a 7-result SERP, but it also has News results, Image results, and In-depth Articles. If we do the math: 7 – 1 – 1 – 1 = 4 results. It’s not random at all.

In the interest of being more methodical, what if we looked at the average page-1 organic result across every combination of verticals in our data set? We’ll stick with a starting point of 10 results, to keep the data clean. Here’s a table with the average counts by vertical combination:

I’ve taken the average out to two decimal places just to be more transparent, but what we’re seeing here is little more than a tiny bit of measurement error. Generally speaking, each instance of a vertical result type (as a whole, not individual links within these verticals) costs a 10-result SERP one organic ranking position. It’s worth nothing that SERPs with all 3 verticals are pretty rare, but when they occur, each of those 3 verticals costs one position and one opportunity for you to rank on page 1.

It’s always something

So, do the same rules apply to 7-result SERPs? Well, Google isn’t a big fan of making my life easy, so it turns out this gets a bit more complicated. When 7-result SERPs originally launched, our data showed that they almost always came with expanded sitelinks in the #1 organic position. By “expanded sitelinks”, I mean something like the following:

Sitelinks usually appear for queries that either have a strong brand connotation or at least a dominant interpretation. While we typically use 6-packs of expanded sitelinks as an example, actual counts can vary from 1 to 6. Originally, the presence of any sitelinks yielded a 7-result SERP. Now, it’s gotten a bit more complicated, as shown by the table below:

Since each row of sitelinks can contain up to 2 links, the general logic seems to be that 1 row of sitelinks equates to 1 additional organic result. If you have 3 rows of sitelinks, then Google will remove 3 organic results from page 1.

Google’s logic here seems to revolve around the actual display of information and length of the page. As they add some elements, they’re going to subtract others. Since the physical display length of of most elements can vary quite a bit, the rules right now are pretty simplistic, but the core logic seems to be based on constraining the total number of results displayed on page 1.

It’s time to rethink organic

All of this raises a difficult question – what is an organic result? As SEOs, we typically don’t think of vertical results as “organic” by our fairly narrow definition, but they’re much more organic than paid results or even Knowledge Graph. What’s more, Google is starting to blur the lines with verticals.

For example, in the past couple of weeks, Google has redesigned the look of In-depth Articles twice. You might think “So what? It’s just a design change,” but take a closer look. At the end of March, Googled removed the “In-depth articles” header. Here’s an example of the new design (for the query “jobs”):

While the thumbnail images and horizontal dividers still set these results apart somewhat, Google’s intent seems to be to make them appear more organic. Keep in mind, too, that other, organic results use thumbnails as well (including videos and recipes).

Then, just a couple of weeks later (our systems detected this on the morning of April 8th), Google went much farther, removing the thumbnails and even the byline. Here’s part of a screenshot for “Putin”:

Can you spot the true organic results here? They’re the first two – the rest of this screenshot is In-depth Articles. The only real clue, beside the count and source-code markers, is the horizontal divider on either end of the 3-pack. On mobile, even the dividers are gone, as every result is treated like a “card” (see below).

As an SEO, I’m still inclined to call these results “vertical” for two reasons: (1) historical precedent, and (2) these results play by different ranking rules. I think reason #2 is the more important one – In-depth Articles are currently dominated by a core set of big publishers, and the algorithm differs quite a bit from regular, organic results.

It’s only the beginning…

You wanna get really crazy? Let’s look at an entire SERP for “polar” on an Android device (Moto G). This result also includes In-depth Articles (warning: scrolling ahead):

Let’s do the math. For starters, it’s a branded result with expanded sitelinks, so we should have a 7-result page. Remember that those last 3 results are In-depth Articles, so we’ll subtract 1, leaving us with what should be 6 results. See the “app pack” in the middle? That’s an Android-specific vertical, and instead of counting the pack as just 1 result, Google is counting each link as a result. So, we’re only left with 3 traditional organic results on this SERP, despite it being packed with information.

I strongly suspect this trend will continue, and it will probably expand. The definition of “organic” is blurring, and I think that all of these vertical results represent SEO opportunities that can’t be ignored. If we’re stuck in the mindset of only one “true” organic, then our opportunities are going to keep shrinking every day.

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Reblogged 4 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it