Why We Can’t Do Keyword Research Like It’s 2010 – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Keyword Research is a very different field than it was just five years ago, and if we don’t keep up with the times we might end up doing more harm than good. From the research itself to the selection and targeting process, in today’s Whiteboard Friday Rand explains what has changed and what we all need to do to conduct effective keyword research today.

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

What do we need to change to keep up with the changing world of keyword research?

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat a little bit about keyword research, why it’s changed from the last five, six years and what we need to do differently now that things have changed. So I want to talk about changing up not just the research but also the selection and targeting process.

There are three big areas that I’ll cover here. There’s lots more in-depth stuff, but I think we should start with these three.

1) The Adwords keyword tool hides data!

This is where almost all of us in the SEO world start and oftentimes end with our keyword research. We go to AdWords Keyword Tool, what used to be the external keyword tool and now is inside AdWords Ad Planner. We go inside that tool, and we look at the volume that’s reported and we sort of record that as, well, it’s not good, but it’s the best we’re going to do.

However, I think there are a few things to consider here. First off, that tool is hiding data. What I mean by that is not that they’re not telling the truth, but they’re not telling the whole truth. They’re not telling nothing but the truth, because those rounded off numbers that you always see, you know that those are inaccurate. Anytime you’ve bought keywords, you’ve seen that the impression count never matches the count that you see in the AdWords tool. It’s not usually massively off, but it’s often off by a good degree, and the only thing it’s great for is telling relative volume from one from another.

But because AdWords hides data essentially by saying like, “Hey, you’re going to type in . . .” Let’s say I’m going to type in “college tuition,” and Google knows that a lot of people search for how to reduce college tuition, but that doesn’t come up in the suggestions because it’s not a commercial term, or they don’t think that an advertiser who bids on that is going to do particularly well and so they don’t show it in there. I’m giving an example. They might indeed show that one.

But because that data is hidden, we need to go deeper. We need to go beyond and look at things like Google Suggest and related searches, which are down at the bottom. We need to start conducting customer interviews and staff interviews, which hopefully has always been part of your brainstorming process but really needs to be now. Then you can apply that to AdWords. You can apply that to suggest and related.

The beautiful thing is once you get these tools from places like visiting forums or communities, discussion boards and seeing what terms and phrases people are using, you can collect all this stuff up, plug it back into AdWords, and now they will tell you how much volume they’ve got. So you take that how to lower college tuition term, you plug it into AdWords, they will show you a number, a non-zero number. They were just hiding it in the suggestions because they thought, “Hey, you probably don’t want to bid on that. That won’t bring you a good ROI.” So you’ve got to be careful with that, especially when it comes to SEO kinds of keyword research.

2) Building separate pages for each term or phrase doesn’t make sense

It used to be the case that we built separate pages for every single term and phrase that was in there, because we wanted to have the maximum keyword targeting that we could. So it didn’t matter to us that college scholarship and university scholarships were essentially people looking for exactly the same thing, just using different terminology. We would make one page for one and one page for the other. That’s not the case anymore.

Today, we need to group by the same searcher intent. If two searchers are searching for two different terms or phrases but both of them have exactly the same intent, they want the same information, they’re looking for the same answers, their query is going to be resolved by the same content, we want one page to serve those, and that’s changed up a little bit of how we’ve done keyword research and how we do selection and targeting as well.

3) Build your keyword consideration and prioritization spreadsheet with the right metrics

Everybody’s got an Excel version of this, because I think there’s just no awesome tool out there that everyone loves yet that kind of solves this problem for us, and Excel is very, very flexible. So we go into Excel, we put in our keyword, the volume, and then a lot of times we almost stop there. We did keyword volume and then like value to the business and then we prioritize.

What are all these new columns you’re showing me, Rand? Well, here I think is how sophisticated, modern SEOs that I’m seeing in the more advanced agencies, the more advanced in-house practitioners, this is what I’m seeing them add to the keyword process.

Difficulty

A lot of folks have done this, but difficulty helps us say, “Hey, this has a lot of volume, but it’s going to be tremendously hard to rank.”

The difficulty score that Moz uses and attempts to calculate is a weighted average of the top 10 domain authorities. It also uses page authority, so it’s kind of a weighted stack out of the two. If you’re seeing very, very challenging pages, very challenging domains to get in there, it’s going to be super hard to rank against them. The difficulty is high. For all of these ones it’s going to be high because college and university terms are just incredibly lucrative.

That difficulty can help bias you against chasing after terms and phrases for which you are very unlikely to rank for at least early on. If you feel like, “Hey, I already have a powerful domain. I can rank for everything I want. I am the thousand pound gorilla in my space,” great. Go after the difficulty of your choice, but this helps prioritize.

Opportunity

This is actually very rarely used, but I think sophisticated marketers are using it extremely intelligently. Essentially what they’re saying is, “Hey, if you look at a set of search results, sometimes there are two or three ads at the top instead of just the ones on the sidebar, and that’s biasing some of the click-through rate curve.” Sometimes there’s an instant answer or a Knowledge Graph or a news box or images or video, or all these kinds of things that search results can be marked up with, that are not just the classic 10 web results. Unfortunately, if you’re building a spreadsheet like this and treating every single search result like it’s just 10 blue links, well you’re going to lose out. You’re missing the potential opportunity and the opportunity cost that comes with ads at the top or all of these kinds of features that will bias the click-through rate curve.

So what I’ve seen some really smart marketers do is essentially build some kind of a framework to say, “Hey, you know what? When we see that there’s a top ad and an instant answer, we’re saying the opportunity if I was ranking number 1 is not 10 out of 10. I don’t expect to get whatever the average traffic for the number 1 position is. I expect to get something considerably less than that. Maybe something around 60% of that, because of this instant answer and these top ads.” So I’m going to mark this opportunity as a 6 out of 10.

There are 2 top ads here, so I’m giving this a 7 out of 10. This has two top ads and then it has a news block below the first position. So again, I’m going to reduce that click-through rate. I think that’s going down to a 6 out of 10.

You can get more and less scientific and specific with this. Click-through rate curves are imperfect by nature because we truly can’t measure exactly how those things change. However, I think smart marketers can make some good assumptions from general click-through rate data, which there are several resources out there on that to build a model like this and then include it in their keyword research.

This does mean that you have to run a query for every keyword you’re thinking about, but you should be doing that anyway. You want to get a good look at who’s ranking in those search results and what kind of content they’re building . If you’re running a keyword difficulty tool, you are already getting something like that.

Business value

This is a classic one. Business value is essentially saying, “What’s it worth to us if visitors come through with this search term?” You can get that from bidding through AdWords. That’s the most sort of scientific, mathematically sound way to get it. Then, of course, you can also get it through your own intuition. It’s better to start with your intuition than nothing if you don’t already have AdWords data or you haven’t started bidding, and then you can refine your sort of estimate over time as you see search visitors visit the pages that are ranking, as you potentially buy those ads, and those kinds of things.

You can get more sophisticated around this. I think a 10 point scale is just fine. You could also use a one, two, or three there, that’s also fine.

Requirements or Options

Then I don’t exactly know what to call this column. I can’t remember the person who’ve showed me theirs that had it in there. I think they called it Optional Data or Additional SERPs Data, but I’m going to call it Requirements or Options. Requirements because this is essentially saying, “Hey, if I want to rank in these search results, am I seeing that the top two or three are all video? Oh, they’re all video. They’re all coming from YouTube. If I want to be in there, I’ve got to be video.”

Or something like, “Hey, I’m seeing that most of the top results have been produced or updated in the last six months. Google appears to be biasing to very fresh information here.” So, for example, if I were searching for “university scholarships Cambridge 2015,” well, guess what? Google probably wants to bias to show results that have been either from the official page on Cambridge’s website or articles from this year about getting into that university and the scholarships that are available or offered. I saw those in two of these search results, both the college and university scholarships had a significant number of the SERPs where a fresh bump appeared to be required. You can see that a lot because the date will be shown ahead of the description, and the date will be very fresh, sometime in the last six months or a year.

Prioritization

Then finally I can build my prioritization. So based on all the data I had here, I essentially said, “Hey, you know what? These are not 1 and 2. This is actually 1A and 1B, because these are the same concepts. I’m going to build a single page to target both of those keyword phrases.” I think that makes good sense. Someone who is looking for college scholarships, university scholarships, same intent.

I am giving it a slight prioritization, 1A versus 1B, and the reason I do this is because I always have one keyword phrase that I’m leaning on a little more heavily. Because Google isn’t perfect around this, the search results will be a little different. I want to bias to one versus the other. In this case, my title tag, since I more targeting university over college, I might say something like college and university scholarships so that university and scholarships are nicely together, near the front of the title, that kind of thing. Then 1B, 2, 3.

This is kind of the way that modern SEOs are building a more sophisticated process with better data, more inclusive data that helps them select the right kinds of keywords and prioritize to the right ones. I’m sure you guys have built some awesome stuff. The Moz community is filled with very advanced marketers, probably plenty of you who’ve done even more than this.

I look forward to hearing from you in the comments. I would love to chat more about this topic, and we’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

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Deconstructing the App Store Rankings Formula with a Little Mad Science

Posted by AlexApptentive

After seeing Rand’s “Mad Science Experiments in SEO” presented at last year’s MozCon, I was inspired to put on the lab coat and goggles and do a few experiments of my own—not in SEO, but in SEO’s up-and-coming younger sister, ASO (app store optimization).

Working with Apptentive to guide enterprise apps and small startup apps alike to increase their discoverability in the app stores, I’ve learned a thing or two about app store optimization and what goes into an app’s ranking. It’s been my personal goal for some time now to pull back the curtains on Google and Apple. Yet, the deeper into the rabbit hole I go, the more untested assumptions I leave in my way.

Hence, I thought it was due time to put some longstanding hypotheses through the gauntlet.

As SEOs, we know how much of an impact a single ranking can mean on a SERP. One tiny rank up or down can make all the difference when it comes to your website’s traffic—and revenue.

In the world of apps, ranking is just as important when it comes to standing out in a sea of more than 1.3 million apps. Apptentive’s recent mobile consumer survey shed a little more light this claim, revealing that nearly half of all mobile app users identified browsing the app store charts and search results (the placement on either of which depends on rankings) as a preferred method for finding new apps in the app stores. Simply put, better rankings mean more downloads and easier discovery.

Like Google and Bing, the two leading app stores (the Apple App Store and Google Play) have a complex and highly guarded algorithms for determining rankings for both keyword-based app store searches and composite top charts.

Unlike SEO, however, very little research and theory has been conducted around what goes into these rankings.

Until now, that is.

Over the course of five studies analyzing various publicly available data points for a cross-section of the top 500 iOS (U.S. Apple App Store) and the top 500 Android (U.S. Google Play) apps, I’ll attempt to set the record straight with a little myth-busting around ASO. In the process, I hope to assess and quantify any perceived correlations between app store ranks, ranking volatility, and a few of the factors commonly thought of as influential to an app’s ranking.

But first, a little context

Image credit: Josh Tuininga, Apptentive

Both the Apple App Store and Google Play have roughly 1.3 million apps each, and both stores feature a similar breakdown by app category. Apps ranking in the two stores should, theoretically, be on a fairly level playing field in terms of search volume and competition.

Of these apps, nearly two-thirds have not received a single rating and 99% are considered unprofitable. These studies, therefore, single out the rare exceptions to the rule—the top 500 ranked apps in each store.

While neither Apple nor Google have revealed specifics about how they calculate search rankings, it is generally accepted that both app store algorithms factor in:

  • Average app store rating
  • Rating/review volume
  • Download and install counts
  • Uninstalls (what retention and churn look like for the app)
  • App usage statistics (how engaged an app’s users are and how frequently they launch the app)
  • Growth trends weighted toward recency (how daily download counts changed over time and how today’s ratings compare to last week’s)
  • Keyword density of the app’s landing page (Ian did a great job covering this factor in a previous Moz post)

I’ve simplified this formula to a function highlighting the four elements with sufficient data (or at least proxy data) for our analysis:

Ranking = fn(Rating, Rating Count, Installs, Trends)

Of course, right now, this generalized function doesn’t say much. Over the next five studies, however, we’ll revisit this function before ultimately attempting to compare the weights of each of these four variables on app store rankings.

(For the purpose of brevity, I’ll stop here with the assumptions, but I’ve gone into far greater depth into how I’ve reached these conclusions in a 55-page report on app store rankings.)

Now, for the Mad Science.

Study #1: App-les to app-les app store ranking volatility

The first, and most straight forward of the five studies involves tracking daily movement in app store rankings across iOS and Android versions of the same apps to determine any trends of differences between ranking volatility in the two stores.

I went with a small sample of five apps for this study, the only criteria for which were that:

  • They were all apps I actively use (a criterion for coming up with the five apps but not one that influences rank in the U.S. app stores)
  • They were ranked in the top 500 (but not the top 25, as I assumed app store rankings would be stickier at the top—an assumption I’ll test in study #2)
  • They had an almost identical version of the app in both Google Play and the App Store, meaning they should (theoretically) rank similarly
  • They covered a spectrum of app categories

The apps I ultimately chose were Lyft, Venmo, Duolingo, Chase Mobile, and LinkedIn. These five apps represent the travel, finance, education banking, and social networking categories.

Hypothesis

Going into this analysis, I predicted slightly more volatility in Apple App Store rankings, based on two statistics:

Both of these assumptions will be tested in later analysis.

Results

7-Day App Store Ranking Volatility in the App Store and Google Play

Among these five apps, Google Play rankings were, indeed, significantly less volatile than App Store rankings. Among the 35 data points recorded, rankings within Google Play moved by as much as 23 positions/ranks per day while App Store rankings moved up to 89 positions/ranks. The standard deviation of ranking volatility in the App Store was, furthermore, 4.45 times greater than that of Google Play.

Of course, the same apps varied fairly dramatically in their rankings in the two app stores, so I then standardized the ranking volatility in terms of percent change to control for the effect of numeric rank on volatility. When cast in this light, App Store rankings changed by as much as 72% within a 24-hour period while Google Play rankings changed by no more than 9%.

Also of note, daily rankings tended to move in the same direction across the two app stores approximately two-thirds of the time, suggesting that the two stores, and their customers, may have more in common than we think.

Study #2: App store ranking volatility across the top charts

Testing the assumption implicit in standardizing the data in study No. 1, this one was designed to see if app store ranking volatility is correlated with an app’s current rank. The sample for this study consisted of the top 500 ranked apps in both Google Play and the App Store, with special attention given to those on both ends of the spectrum (ranks 1–100 and 401–500).

Hypothesis

I anticipated rankings to be more volatile the higher an app is ranked—meaning an app ranked No. 450 should be able to move more ranks in any given day than an app ranked No. 50. This hypothesis is based on the assumption that higher ranked apps have more installs, active users, and ratings, and that it would take a large margin to produce a noticeable shift in any of these factors.

Results

App Store Ranking Volatility of Top 500 Apps

One look at the chart above shows that apps in both stores have increasingly more volatile rankings (based on how many ranks they moved in the last 24 hours) the lower on the list they’re ranked.

This is particularly true when comparing either end of the spectrum—with a seemingly straight volatility line among Google Play’s Top 100 apps and very few blips within the App Store’s Top 100. Compare this section to the lower end, ranks 401–)500, where both stores experience much more turbulence in their rankings. Across the gamut, I found a 24% correlation between rank and ranking volatility in the Play Store and 28% correlation in the App Store.

To put this into perspective, the average app in Google Play’s 401–)500 ranks moved 12.1 ranks in the last 24 hours while the average app in the Top 100 moved a mere 1.4 ranks. For the App Store, these numbers were 64.28 and 11.26, making slightly lower-ranked apps more than five times as volatile as the highest ranked apps. (I say slightly as these “lower-ranked” apps are still ranked higher than 99.96% of all apps.)

The relationship between rank and volatility is pretty consistent across the App Store charts, while rank has a much greater impact on volatility at the lower end of Google Play charts (ranks 1-100 have a 35% correlation) than it does at the upper end (ranks 401-500 have a 1% correlation).

Study #3: App store rankings across the stars

The next study looks at the relationship between rank and star ratings to determine any trends that set the top chart apps apart from the rest and explore any ties to app store ranking volatility.

Hypothesis

Ranking = fn(Rating, Rating Count, Installs, Trends)

As discussed in the introduction, this study relates directly to one of the factors commonly accepted as influential to app store rankings: average rating.

Getting started, I hypothesized that higher ranks generally correspond to higher ratings, cementing the role of star ratings in the ranking algorithm.

As far as volatility goes, I did not anticipate average rating to play a role in app store ranking volatility, as I saw no reason for higher rated apps to be less volatile than lower rated apps, or vice versa. Instead, I believed volatility to be tied to rating volume (as we’ll explore in our last study).

Results

Average App Store Ratings of Top Apps

The chart above plots the top 100 ranked apps in either store with their average rating (both historic and current, for App Store apps). If it looks a little chaotic, it’s just one indicator of the complexity of ranking algorithm in Google Play and the App Store.

If our hypothesis was correct, we’d see a downward trend in ratings. We’d expect to see the No. 1 ranked app with a significantly higher rating than the No. 100 ranked app. Yet, in neither store is this the case. Instead, we get a seemingly random plot with no obvious trends that jump off the chart.

A closer examination, in tandem with what we already know about the app stores, reveals two other interesting points:

  1. The average star rating of the top 100 apps is significantly higher than that of the average app. Across the top charts, the average rating of a top 100 Android app was 4.319 and the average top iOS app was 3.935. These ratings are 0.32 and 0.27 points, respectively, above the average rating of all rated apps in either store. The averages across apps in the 401–)500 ranks approximately split the difference between the ratings of the top ranked apps and the ratings of the average app.
  2. The rating distribution of top apps in Google Play was considerably more compact than the distribution of top iOS apps. The standard deviation of ratings in the Apple App Store top chart was over 2.5 times greater than that of the Google Play top chart, likely meaning that ratings are more heavily weighted in Google Play’s algorithm.

App Store Ranking Volatility and Average Rating

Looking next at the relationship between ratings and app store ranking volatility reveals a -15% correlation that is consistent across both app stores; meaning the higher an app is rated, the less its rank it likely to move in a 24-hour period. The exception to this rule is the Apple App Store’s calculation of an app’s current rating, for which I did not find a statistically significant correlation.

Study #4: App store rankings across versions

This next study looks at the relationship between the age of an app’s current version, its rank and its ranking volatility.

Hypothesis

Ranking = fn(Rating, Rating Count, Installs, Trends)

In alteration of the above function, I’m using the age of a current app’s version as a proxy (albeit not a very good one) for trends in app store ratings and app quality over time.

Making the assumptions that (a) apps that are updated more frequently are of higher quality and (b) each new update inspires a new wave of installs and ratings, I’m hypothesizing that the older the age of an app’s current version, the lower it will be ranked and the less volatile its rank will be.

Results

How update frequency correlates with app store rank

The first and possibly most important finding is that apps across the top charts in both Google Play and the App Store are updated remarkably often as compared to the average app.

At the time of conducting the study, the current version of the average iOS app on the top chart was only 28 days old; the current version of the average Android app was 38 days old.

As hypothesized, the age of the current version is negatively correlated with the app’s rank, with a 13% correlation in Google Play and a 10% correlation in the App Store.

How update frequency correlates with app store ranking volatility

The next part of the study maps the age of the current app version to its app store ranking volatility, finding that recently updated Android apps have less volatile rankings (correlation: 8.7%) while recently updated iOS apps have more volatile rankings (correlation: -3%).

Study #5: App store rankings across monthly active users

In the final study, I wanted to examine the role of an app’s popularity on its ranking. In an ideal world, popularity would be measured by an app’s monthly active users (MAUs), but since few mobile app developers have released this information, I’ve settled for two publicly available proxies: Rating Count and Installs.

Hypothesis

Ranking = fn(Rating, Rating Count, Installs, Trends)

For the same reasons indicated in the second study, I anticipated that more popular apps (e.g., apps with more ratings and more installs) would be higher ranked and less volatile in rank. This, again, takes into consideration that it takes more of a shift to produce a noticeable impact in average rating or any of the other commonly accepted influencers of an app’s ranking.

Results

Apps with more ratings and reviews typically rank higher

The first finding leaps straight off of the chart above: Android apps have been rated more times than iOS apps, 15.8x more, in fact.

The average app in Google Play’s Top 100 had a whopping 3.1 million ratings while the average app in the Apple App Store’s Top 100 had 196,000 ratings. In contrast, apps in the 401–)500 ranks (still tremendously successful apps in the 99.96 percentile of all apps) tended to have between one-tenth (Android) and one-fifth (iOS) of the ratings count as that of those apps in the top 100 ranks.

Considering that almost two-thirds of apps don’t have a single rating, reaching rating counts this high is a huge feat, and a very strong indicator of the influence of rating count in the app store ranking algorithms.

To even out the playing field a bit and help us visualize any correlation between ratings and rankings (and to give more credit to the still-staggering 196k ratings for the average top ranked iOS app), I’ve applied a logarithmic scale to the chart above:

The relationship between app store ratings and rankings in the top 100 apps

From this chart, we can see a correlation between ratings and rankings, such that apps with more ratings tend to rank higher. This equates to a 29% correlation in the App Store and a 40% correlation in Google Play.

Apps with more ratings typically experience less app store ranking volatility

Next up, I looked at how ratings count influenced app store ranking volatility, finding that apps with more ratings had less volatile rankings in the Apple App Store (correlation: 17%). No conclusive evidence was found within the Top 100 Google Play apps.

Apps with more installs and active users tend to rank higher in the app stores

And last but not least, I looked at install counts as an additional proxy for MAUs. (Sadly, this is a statistic only listed in Google Play. so any resulting conclusions are applicable only to Android apps.)

Among the top 100 Android apps, this last study found that installs were heavily correlated with ranks (correlation: -35.5%), meaning that apps with more installs are likely to rank higher in Google Play. Android apps with more installs also tended to have less volatile app store rankings, with a correlation of -16.5%.

Unfortunately, these numbers are slightly skewed as Google Play only provides install counts in broad ranges (e.g., 500k–)1M). For each app, I took the low end of the range, meaning we can likely expect the correlation to be a little stronger since the low end was further away from the midpoint for apps with more installs.

Summary

To make a long post ever so slightly shorter, here are the nuts and bolts unearthed in these five mad science studies in app store optimization:

  1. Across the top charts, Apple App Store rankings are 4.45x more volatile than those of Google Play
  2. Rankings become increasingly volatile the lower an app is ranked. This is particularly true across the Apple App Store’s top charts.
  3. In both stores, higher ranked apps tend to have an app store ratings count that far exceeds that of the average app.
  4. Ratings appear to matter more to the Google Play algorithm, especially as the Apple App Store top charts experience a much wider ratings distribution than that of Google Play’s top charts.
  5. The higher an app is rated, the less volatile its rankings are.
  6. The 100 highest ranked apps in either store are updated much more frequently than the average app, and apps with older current versions are correlated with lower ratings.
  7. An app’s update frequency is negatively correlated with Google Play’s ranking volatility but positively correlated with ranking volatility in the App Store. This likely due to how Apple weighs an app’s most recent ratings and reviews.
  8. The highest ranked Google Play apps receive, on average, 15.8x more ratings than the highest ranked App Store apps.
  9. In both stores, apps that fall under the 401–500 ranks receive, on average, 10–20% of the rating volume seen by apps in the top 100.
  10. Rating volume and, by extension, installs or MAUs, is perhaps the best indicator of ranks, with a 29–40% correlation between the two.

Revisiting our first (albeit oversimplified) guess at the app stores’ ranking algorithm gives us this loosely defined function:

Ranking = fn(Rating, Rating Count, Installs, Trends)

I’d now re-write the function into a formula by weighing each of these four factors, where a, b, c, & d are unknown multipliers, or weights:

Ranking = (Rating * a) + (Rating Count * b) + (Installs * c) + (Trends * d)

These five studies on ASO shed a little more light on these multipliers, showing Rating Count to have the strongest correlation with rank, followed closely by Installs, in either app store.

It’s with the other two factors—rating and trends—that the two stores show the greatest discrepancy. I’d hazard a guess to say that the App Store prioritizes growth trends over ratings, given the importance it places on an app’s current version and the wide distribution of ratings across the top charts. Google Play, on the other hand, seems to favor ratings, with an unwritten rule that apps just about have to have at least four stars to make the top 100 ranks.

Thus, we conclude our mad science with this final glimpse into what it takes to make the top charts in either store:

Weight of factors in the Apple App Store ranking algorithm

Rating Count > Installs > Trends > Rating

Weight of factors in the Google Play ranking algorithm

Rating Count > Installs > Rating > Trends


Again, we’re oversimplifying for the sake of keeping this post to a mere 3,000 words, but additional factors including keyword density and in-app engagement statistics continue to be strong indicators of ranks. They simply lie outside the scope of these studies.

I hope you found this deep-dive both helpful and interesting. Moving forward, I also hope to see ASOs conducting the same experiments that have brought SEO to the center stage, and encourage you to enhance or refute these findings with your own ASO mad science experiments.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below, and let’s deconstruct the ranking formula together, one experiment at a time.

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Simple Steps for Conducting Creative Content Research

Posted by Hannah_Smith

Most frequently, the content we create at Distilled is designed to attract press coverage, social shares, and exposure (and links) on sites our clients’ target audience reads. That’s a tall order.

Over the years we’ve had our hits and misses, and through this we’ve recognised the value of learning about what makes a piece of content successful. Coming up with a great idea is difficult, and it can be tough to figure out where to begin. Today, rather than leaping headlong into brainstorming sessions, we start with creative content research.

What is creative content research?

Creative content research enables you to answer the questions:

“What are websites publishing, and what are people sharing?”

From this, you’ll then have a clearer view on what might be successful for your client.

A few years ago this required quite an amount of work to figure out. Today, happily, it’s much quicker and easier. In this post I’ll share the process and tools we use.

Whoa there… Why do I need to do this?

I think that the value in this sort of activity lies in a couple of directions:

a) You can learn a lot by deconstructing the success of others…

I’ve been taking stuff apart to try to figure out how it works for about as long as I can remember, so applying this process to content research felt pretty natural to me. Perhaps more importantly though, I think that deconstructing content is actually easier when it isn’t your own. You’re not involved, invested, or in love with the piece so viewing it objectively and learning from it is much easier.

b) Your research will give you a clear overview of the competitive landscape…

As soon as a company elects to start creating content, they gain a whole raft of new competitors. In addition to their commercial competitors (i.e. those who offer similar products or services), the company also gains content competitors. For example, if you’re a sports betting company and plan to create content related to the sports events that you’re offering betting markets on; then you’re competing not just with other betting companies, but every other publisher who creates content about these events. That means major news outlets, sports news site, fan sites, etc. To make matters even more complicated, it’s likely that you’ll actually be seeking coverage from those same content competitors. As such, you need to understand what’s already being created in the space before creating content of your own.

c) You’re giving yourself the data to create a more compelling pitch…

At some point you’re going to need to pitch your ideas to your client (or your boss if you’re working in-house). At Distilled, we’ve found that getting ideas signed off can be really tough. Ultimately, a great idea is worthless if we can’t persuade our client to give us the green light. This research can be used to make a more compelling case to your client and get those ideas signed off. (Incidentally, if getting ideas signed off is proving to be an issue you might find this framework for pitching creative ideas useful).

Where to start

Good ideas start with a good brief, however it can be tough to pin clients down to get answers to a long list of questions.

As a minimum you’ll need to know the following:

  • Who are they looking to target?
    • Age, sex, demographic
    • What’s their core focus? What do they care about? What problems are they looking to solve?
    • Who influences them?
    • What else are they interested in?
    • Where do they shop and which brands do they buy?
    • What do they read?
    • What do they watch on TV?
    • Where do they spend their time online?
  • Where do they want to get coverage?
    • We typically ask our clients to give us a wishlist of 10 or so sites they’d love to get coverage on
  • Which topics are they comfortable covering?
    • This question is often the toughest, particularly if a client hasn’t created content specifically for links and shares before. Often clients are uncomfortable about drifting too far away from their core business—for example, if they sell insurance, they’ll typically say that they really want to create a piece of content about insurance. Whilst this is understandable from the clients’ perspective it can severely limit their chances of success. It’s definitely worth offering up a gentle challenge at this stage—I’ll often cite Red Bull, who are a great example of a company who create content based on what their consumers love, not what they sell (i.e. Red Bull sell soft drinks, but create content about extreme sports because that’s the sort of content their audience love to consume). It’s worth planting this idea early, but don’t get dragged into a fierce debate at this stage—you’ll be able to make a far more compelling argument once you’ve done your research and are pitching concrete ideas.

Processes, useful tools and sites

Now you have your brief, it’s time to begin your research.

Given that we’re looking to uncover “what websites are publishing and what’s being shared,” It won’t surprise you to learn that I pay particular attention to pieces of content and the coverage they receive. For each piece that I think is interesting I’ll note down the following:

  • The title/headline
  • A link to the coverage (and to the original piece if applicable)
  • How many social shares the coverage earned (and the original piece earned)
  • The number of linking root domains the original piece earned
  • Some notes about the piece itself: why it’s interesting, why I think it got shares/coverage
  • Any gaps in the content, whether or not it’s been executed well
  • How we might do something similar (if applicable)

Whilst I’m doing this I’ll also make a note of specific sites I see being frequently shared (I tend to check these out separately later on), any interesting bits of research (particularly if I think there might be an opportunity to do something different with the data), interesting threads on forums etc.

When it comes to kicking off your research, you can start wherever you like, but I’d recommend that you cover off each of the areas below:

What does your target audience share?

Whilst this activity might not uncover specific pieces of successful content, it’s a great way of getting a clearer understanding of your target audience, and getting a handle on the sites they read and the topics which interest them.

  • Review social profiles / feeds
    • If the company you’re working for has a Facebook page, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find some people who’ve liked the company page and have a public profile. It’s even easier on Twitter where most profiles are public. Whilst this won’t give you quantitative data, it does put a human face to your audience data and gives you a feel for what these people care about and share. In addition to uncovering specific pieces of content, this can also provide inspiration in terms of other sites you might want to investigate further and ideas for topics you might want to explore.
  • Demographics Pro
    • This service infers demographic data from your clients’ Twitter followers. I find it particularly useful if the client doesn’t know too much about their audience. In addition to demographic data, you get a breakdown of professions, interests, brand affiliations, and the other Twitter accounts they follow and who they’re most influenced by. This is a paid-for service, but there are pay-as-you-go options in addition to pay monthly plans.

Finding successful pieces of content on specific sites

If you’ve a list of sites you know your target audience read, and/or you know your client wants to get coverage on, there are a bunch of ways you can uncover interesting content:

  • Using your link research tool of choice (e.g. Open Site Explorer, Majestic, ahrefs) you can run a domain level report to see which pages have attracted the most links. This can also be useful if you want to check out commercial competitors to see which pieces of content they’ve created have attracted the most links.
  • There are also tools which enable you to uncover the most shared content on individual sites. You can use Buzzsumo to run content analysis reports on individual domains which provide data on average social shares per post, social shares by network, and social shares by content type.
  • If you just want to see the most shared content for a given domain you can run a simple search on Buzzsumo using the domain; and there’s also the option to refine by topic. For example a search like [guardian.com big data] will return the most shared content on the Guardian related to big data. You can also run similar reports using ahrefs’ Content Explorer tool.

Both Buzzsumo and ahrefs are paid tools, but both offer free trials. If you need to explore the most shared content without using a paid tool, there are other alternatives. Check out Social Crawlytics which will crawl domains and return social share data, or alternatively, you can crawl a site (or section of a site) and then run the URLs through SharedCount‘s bulk upload feature.

Finding successful pieces of content by topic

When searching by topic, I find it best to begin with a broad search and then drill down into more specific areas. For example, if I had a client in the financial services space, I’d start out looking at a broad topic like “money” rather than shooting straight to topics like loans or credit cards.

As mentioned above, both Buzzsumo and ahrefs allow you to search for the most shared content by topic and both offer advanced search options.

Further inspiration

There are also several sites I like to look at for inspiration. Whilst these sites don’t give you a great steer on whether or not a particular piece of content was actually successful, with a little digging you can quickly find the original source and pull link and social share data:

  • Visually has a community area where users can upload creative content. You can search by topic to uncover examples.
  • TrendHunter have a searchable archive of creative ideas, they feature products, creative campaigns, marketing campaigns, advertising and more. It’s best to keep your searches broad if you’re looking at this site.
  • Check out Niice (a moodboard app) which also has a searchable archive of handpicked design inspiration.
  • Searching Pinterest can allow you to unearth some interesting bits and pieces as can Google image searches and regular Google searches around particular topics.
  • Reviewing relevant sections of discussion sites like Quora can provide insight into what people are asking about particular topics which may spark a creative idea.

Moving from data to insight

By this point you’ve (hopefully) got a long list of content examples. Whilst this is a great start, effectively what you’ve got here is just data, now you need to convert this to insight.

Remember, we’re trying to answer the questions: “What are websites publishing, and what are people sharing?”

Ordinarily as I go through the creative content research process, I start to see patterns or themes emerge. For example, across a variety of topics areas you’ll see that the most shared content tends to be news. Whilst this is good to know, it’s not necessarily something that’s going to be particularly actionable. You’ll need to dig a little deeper—what else (aside from news) is given coverage? Can you split those things into categories or themes?

This is tough to explain in the abstract, so let me give you an example. We’d identified a set of music sites (e.g. Rolling Stone, NME, CoS, Stereogum, Pitchfork) as target publishers for a client.

Here’s a summary of what I concluded following my research:

The most-shared content on these music publications is news: album launches, new singles, videos of performances etc. As such, if we can work a news hook into whatever we create, this could positively influence our chances of gaining coverage.

Aside from news, the content which gains traction tends to fall into one of the following categories:

Earlier in this post I mentioned that it can be particularly tough to create content which attracts coverage and shares if clients feel strongly that they want to do something directly related to their product or service. The example I gave at the outset was a client who sold insurance and was really keen to create something about insurance. You’re now in a great position to win an argument with data, as thanks to your research you’ll be able to cite several pieces of insurance-related content which have struggled to gain traction. But it’s not all bad news as you’ll also be able to cite other topics which are relevant to the client’s target audience and stand a better chance of gaining coverage and shares.

Avoiding the pitfalls

There are potential pitfalls when it comes to creative content research in that it’s easy to leap to erroneous conclusions. Here’s some things to watch out for:

Make sure you’re identifying outliers…

When seeking out successful pieces of content you need to be certain that what you’re looking at is actually an outlier. For example, the average post on BuzzFeed gets over 30k social shares. As such, that post you found with just 10k shares is not an outlier. It’s done significantly worse than average. It’s therefore not the best post to be holding up as a fabulous example of what to create to get shares.

Don’t get distracted by formats…

Pay more attention to the idea than the format. For example, the folks at Mashable, kindly covered an infographic about Instagram which we created for a client. However, the takeaway here is not that Instagram infographics get coverage on Mashable. Mashable didn’t cover this because we created an infographic. They covered the piece because it told a story in a compelling and unusual way.

You probably shouldn’t create a listicle…

This point is related to the point above. In my experience, unless you’re a publisher with a huge, engaged social following, that listicle of yours is unlikely to gain traction. Listicles on huge publisher sites get shares, listicles on client sites typically don’t. This is doubly important if you’re also seeking coverage, as listicles on clients sites don’t typically get links or coverage on other sites.

How we use the research to inform our ideation process

At Distilled, we typically take a creative brief and complete creative content research and then move into the ideation process. A summary of the research is included within the creative brief, and this, along with a copy of the full creative content research is shared with the team.

The research acts as inspiration and direction and is particularly useful in terms of identifying potential topics to explore but doesn’t mean team members don’t still do further research of their own.

This process by no means acts as a silver bullet, but it definitely helps us come up with ideas.


Thanks for sticking with me to the end!

I’d love to hear more about your creative content research processes and any tips you have for finding inspirational content. Do let me know via the comments.

Image credits: Research, typing, audience, inspiration, kitteh.

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The Nifty Guide to Local Content Strategy and Marketing

Posted by NiftyMarketing

This is my Grandma.

She helped raised me and I love her dearly. That chunky baby with the Gerber cheeks is
me. The scarlet letter “A” means nothing… I hope.

This is a rolled up newspaper. 

rolled up newspaper

When I was growing up, I was the king of mischief and had a hard time following parental guidelines. To ensure the lessons she wanted me to learn “sunk in” my grandma would give me a soft whack with a rolled up newspaper and would say,

“Mike, you like to learn the hard way.”

She was right. I have
spent my life and career learning things the hard way.

Local content has been no different. I started out my career creating duplicate local doorway pages using “find and replace” with city names. After getting whacked by the figurative newspaper a few times, I decided there had to be a better way. To save others from the struggles I experienced, I hope that the hard lessons I have learned about local content strategy and marketing help to save you fearing a rolled newspaper the same way I do.

Lesson one: Local content doesn’t just mean the written word

local content ecosystem

Content is everything around you. It all tells a story. If you don’t have a plan for how that story is being told, then you might not like how it turns out. In the local world, even your brick and mortar building is a piece of content. It speaks about your brand, your values, your appreciation of customers and employees, and can be used to attract organic visitors if it is positioned well and provides a good user experience. If you just try to make the front of a building look good, but don’t back up the inside inch by inch with the same quality, people will literally say, “Hey man, this place sucks… let’s bounce.”

I had this experience proved to me recently while conducting an interview at
Nifty for our law division. Our office is a beautifully designed brick, mustache, animal on the wall, leg lamp in the center of the room, piece of work you would expect for a creative company.

nifty offices idaho

Anywho, for our little town of Burley, Idaho it is a unique space, and helps to set apart our business in our community. But, the conference room has a fluorescent ballast light system that can buzz so loudly that you literally can’t carry on a proper conversation at times, and in the recent interviews I literally had to conduct them in the dark because it was so bad.

I’m cheap and slow to spend money, so I haven’t got it fixed yet. The problem is I have two more interviews this week and I am so embarrassed by the experience in that room, I am thinking of holding them offsite to ensure that we don’t product a bad content experience. What I need to do is just fix the light but I will end up spending weeks going back and forth with the landlord on whose responsibility it is.

Meanwhile, the content experience suffers. Like I said, I like to learn the hard way.

Start thinking about everything in the frame of content and you will find that you make better decisions and less costly mistakes.

Lesson two: Scalable does not mean fast and easy growth

In every sales conversation I have had about local content, the question of scalability comes up. Usually, people want two things:

  1. Extremely Fast Production 
  2. Extremely Low Cost

While these two things would be great for every project, I have come to find that there are rare cases where quality can be achieved if you are optimizing for fast production and low cost. A better way to look at scale is as follows:

The rate of growth in revenue/traffic is greater than the cost of continued content creation.

A good local content strategy at scale will create a model that looks like this:

scaling content graph

Lesson three: You need a continuous local content strategy

This is where the difference between local content marketing and content strategy kicks in. Creating a single piece of content that does well is fairly easy to achieve. Building a true scalable machine that continually puts out great local content and consistently tells your story is not. This is a graph I created outlining the process behind creating and maintaining a local content strategy:

local content strategy

This process is not a one-time thing. It is not a box to be checked off. It is a structure that should become the foundation of your marketing program and will need to be revisited, re-tweaked, and replicated over and over again.

1. Identify your local audience

Most of you reading this will already have a service or product and hopefully local customers. Do you have personas developed for attracting and retaining more of them? Here are some helpful tools available to give you an idea of how many people fit your personas in any given market.

Facebook Insights

Pretend for a minute that you live in the unique market of Utah and have a custom wedding dress line. You focus on selling modest wedding dresses. It is a definite niche product, but one that shows the idea of personas very well.

You have interviewed your customer base and found a few interests that your customer base share. Taking that information and putting it into Facebook insights will give you a plethora of data to help you build out your understanding of a local persona.

facebook insights data

We are able to see from the interests of our customers there are roughly 6k-7k current engaged woman in Utah who have similar interests to our customer base.

The location tab gives us a break down of the specific cities and, understandably, Salt Lake City has the highest percentage with Provo (home of BYU) in second place. You can also see pages this group would like, activity levels on Facebook, and household income with spending habits. If you wanted to find more potential locations for future growth you can open up the search to a region or country.

localized facebook insights data

From this data it’s apparent that Arizona would be a great expansion opportunity after Utah.

Neilson Prizm

Neilson offers a free and extremely useful tool for local persona research called Zip Code Lookup that allows you to identify pre-determined personas in a given market.

Here is a look at my hometown and the personas they have developed are dead on.

Neilson Prizm data

Each persona can be expanded to learn more about the traits, income level, and areas across the country with other high concentrations of the same persona group.

You can also use the segment explorer to get a better idea of pre-determined persona lists and can work backwards to determine the locations with the highest density of a given persona.

Google Keyword Planner Tool

The keyword tool is fantastic for local research. Using our same Facebook Insight data above we can match keyword search volume against the audience size to determine how active our persona is in product research and purchasing. In the case of engaged woman looking for dresses, it is a very active group with a potential of 20-30% actively searching online for a dress.

google keyword planner tool

2. Create goals and rules

I think the most important idea for creating the goals and rules around your local content is the following from the must read book Content Strategy for the Web.

You also need to ensure that everyone who will be working on things even remotely related to content has access to style and brand guides and, ultimately, understands the core purpose for what, why, and how everything is happening.

3. Audit and analyze your current local content

The point of this step is to determine how the current content you have stacks up against the goals and rules you established, and determine the value of current pages on your site. With tools like Siteliner (for finding duplicate content) and ScreamingFrog (identifying page titles, word count, error codes and many other things) you can grab a lot of information very fast. Beyond that, there are a few tools that deserve a more in-depth look.

BuzzSumo

With BuzzSumo you can see social data and incoming links behind important pages on your site. This can you a good idea which locations or areas are getting more promotion than others and identify what some of the causes could be.

Buzzsumo also can give you access to competitors’ information where you might find some new ideas. In the following example you can see that one of Airbnb.com’s most shared pages was a motiongraphic of its impact on Berlin.

Buzzsumo

urlProfiler

This is another great tool for scraping urls for large sites that can return about every type of measurement you could want. For sites with 1000s of pages, this tool could save hours of data gathering and can spit out a lovely formatted CSV document that will allow you to sort by things like word count, page authority, link numbers, social shares, or about anything else you could imagine.

url profiler

4. Develop local content marketing tactics

This is how most of you look when marketing tactics are brought up.

monkey

Let me remind you of something with a picture. 

rolled up newspaper

Do not start with tactics. Do the other things first. It will ensure your marketing tactics fall in line with a much bigger organizational movement and process. With the warning out of the way, here are a few tactics that could work for you.

Local landing page content

Our initial concept of local landing pages has stood the test of time. If you are scared to even think about local pages with the upcoming doorway page update then please read this analysis and don’t be too afraid. Here are local landing pages that are done right.

Marriott local content

Marriot’s Burley local page is great. They didn’t think about just ensuring they had 500 unique words. They have custom local imagery of the exterior/interior, detailed information about the area’s activities, and even their own review platform that showcases both positive and negative reviews with responses from local management.

If you can’t build your own platform handling reviews like that, might I recommend looking at Get Five Stars as a platform that could help you integrate reviews as part of your continuous content strategy.

Airbnb Neighborhood Guides

I not so secretly have a big crush on Airbnb’s approach to local. These neighborhood guides started it. They only have roughly 21 guides thus far and handle one at a time with Seoul being the most recent addition. The idea is simple, they looked at extremely hot markets for them and built out guides not just for the city, but down to a specific neighborhood.

air bnb neighborhood guides

Here is a look at Hell’s Kitchen in New York by imagery. They hire a local photographer to shoot the area, then they take some of their current popular listing data and reviews and integrate them into the page. This idea would have never flown if they only cared about creating content that could be fast and easy for every market they serve.

Reverse infographicing

Every decently sized city has had a plethora of infographics made about them. People spent the time curating information and coming up with the concept, but a majority just made the image and didn’t think about the crawlability or page title from an SEO standpoint.

Here is an example of an image search for Portland infographics.

image search results portland infographics

Take an infographic and repurpose it into crawlable content with a new twist or timely additions. Usually infographics share their data sources in the footer so you can easily find similar, new, or more information and create some seriously compelling data based content. You can even link to or share the infographic as part of it if you would like.

Become an Upworthy of local content

No one I know does this better than Movoto. Read the link for their own spin on how they did it and then look at these examples and share numbers from their local content.

60k shares in Boise by appealing to that hometown knowledge.

movoto boise content

65k shares in Salt Lake following the same formula.

movoto salt lake city content

It seems to work with video as well.

movoto video results

Think like a local directory

Directories understand where content should be housed. Not every local piece should be on the blog. Look at where Trip Advisor’s famous “Things to Do” page is listed. Right on the main city page.

trip advisor things to do in salt lake city

Or look at how many timely, fresh, quality pieces of content Yelp is showcasing from their main city page.

yelp main city page

The key point to understand is that local content isn’t just about being unique on a landing page. It is about BEING local and useful.

Ideas of things that are local:

  • Sports teams
  • Local celebrities or heroes 
  • Groups and events
  • Local pride points
  • Local pain points

Ideas of things that are useful:

  • Directions
  • Favorite local sports
  • Granular details only “locals” know

The other point to realize is that in looking at our definition of scale you don’t need to take shortcuts that un-localize the experience for users. Figure and test a location at a time until you have a winning formula and then move forward at a speed that ensures a quality local experience.

5. Create a content calendar

I am not going to get into telling you exactly how or what your content calendar needs to include. That will largely be based on the size and organization of your team and every situation might call for a unique approach. What I will do is explain how we do things at Nifty.

  1. We follow the steps above.
  2. We schedule the big projects and timelines first. These could be months out or weeks out. 
  3. We determine the weekly deliverables, checkpoints, and publish times.
  4. We put all of the information as tasks assigned to individuals or teams in Asana.

asana content calendar

The information then can be viewed by individual, team, groups of team, due dates, or any other way you would wish to sort. Repeatable tasks can be scheduled and we can run our entire operation visible to as many people as need access to the information through desktop or mobile devices. That is what works for us.

6. Launch and promote content

My personal favorite way to promote local content (other than the obvious ideas of sharing with your current followers or outreaching to local influencers) is to use Facebook ads to target the specific local personas you are trying to reach. Here is an example:

I just wrapped up playing Harold Hill in our communities production of The Music Man. When you live in a small town like Burley, Idaho you get the opportunity to play a lead role without having too much talent or a glee-based upbringing. You also get the opportunity to do all of the advertising, set design, and costuming yourself and sometime even get to pay for it.

For my advertising responsibilities, I decided to write a few blog posts and drive traffic to them. As any good Harold Hill would do, I used fear tactics.

music man blog post

I then created Facebook ads that had the following stats: Costs of $.06 per click, 12.7% click through rate, and naturally organic sharing that led to thousands of visits in a small Idaho farming community where people still think a phone book is the only way to find local businesses.

facebook ads setup

Then we did it again.

There was a protestor in Burley for over a year that parked a red pickup with signs saying things like, “I wud not trust Da Mayor” or “Don’t Bank wid Zions”. Basically, you weren’t working hard enough if you name didn’t get on the truck during the year.

Everyone knew that ol’ red pickup as it was parked on the corner of Main and Overland, which is one of the few stoplights in town. Then one day it was gone. We came up with the idea to bring the red truck back, put signs on it that said, “I wud Not Trust Pool Tables” and “Resist Sins n’ Corruption” and other things that were part of The Music Man and wrote another blog complete with pictures.

facebook ads red truck

Then I created another Facebook Ad.

facebook ads set up

A little under $200 in ad spend resulted in thousands more visits to the site which promoted the play and sold tickets to a generation that might not have been very familiar with the show otherwise.

All of it was local targeting and there was no other way would could have driven that much traffic in a community like Burley without paying Facebook and trying to create click bait ads in hope the promotion led to an organic sharing.

7. Measure and report

This is another very personal step where everyone will have different needs. At Nifty we put together very custom weekly or monthly reports that cover all of the plan, execution, and relevant stats such as traffic to specific content or location, share data, revenue or lead data if available, analysis of what worked and what didn’t, and the plan for the following period.

There is no exact data that needs to be shared. Everyone will want something slightly different, which is why we moved away from automated reporting years ago (when we moved away from auto link building… hehe) and built our report around our clients even if it took added time.

I always said that the product of a SEO or content shop is the report. That is what people buy because it is likely that is all they will see or understand.

8. In conclusion, you must refine and repeat the process

local content strategy - refine and repeat

From my point of view, this is by far the most important step and sums everything up nicely. This process model isn’t perfect. There will be things that are missed, things that need tweaked, and ways that you will be able to improve on your local content strategy and marketing all the time. The idea of the cycle is that it is never done. It never sleeps. It never quits. It never surrenders. You just keep perfecting the process until you reach the point that few locally-focused companies ever achieve… where your local content reaches and grows your target audience every time you click the publish button.

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SEO Los Angeles – MezzoLogic Explains Why Search Engine Optimization is Important

SEO Los Angeles – Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is no longer an option if you want your online business to be successful, it’s a necessity. One of the primary reasons for conducting SEO…

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Understand and Harness the Power of Archetypes in Marketing

Posted by gfiorelli1

Roger Dooley, neuromarketing expert, reminds us in his book Brainfluence that in 80% of cases we make a decision before being rationally aware of it.

Although Dooley explains this effect in terms of how our brain works, in my opinion, distinctly separating neuroscience and the theory of archetypes would be incorrect. On the contrary, I believe that these two aspects of the study of the human mind are complementary.

According to
Jung, archetypes are “[…] forms or images of a collective nature which occur practically all over the Earth as constituents of myths and—at the same time—as individual products of unconscious”. He then, added something that interests us greatly: “The [forms and images] are imprinted and hardwired into out psyches”.

Being able to design a brand personality around an archetype that connects unconsciously with our audience is a big first step for: brand loyalty, community creation, engagement, conversions.

The Slender Man is the “Internet age” version of the archetype figure of the Shadow

Archetypes can be also used for differentiating our brand and its messaging from others in our same market niche and to give that brand a unique voice.

If we put users at the center of our marketing strategy, then
we cannot limit ourselves in knowing how they search, how they talk on social media, what they like to share or what their demographics are.

No,
we should also understand the deep psychological reasons why they desire something they search for, talk the way they talk, share what they share, and their psychological relation with the environment and society they live in.

Knowing that,
we can use archetypes to create a deep emotional connection with our audience and earn their strong positive attitude toward us thanks to the empathy that is created between them and us.

Narrative modes, then, help us in shaping in a structured way a brand storytelling able to guide and engage the users, and not simply selling or creating content narrative doomed to fail.

The 12 archetypes




graph by Emily Bennet

The chart above presents the 12 Jungian archetypes (i.e: Hero), to what principal human desire (i.e.: leave a mark on the world) they correspond and what is the main behavior each one uses for achieving that desire (i.e.: mastery).


Remember: if the audience instinctively recognizes the archetypal figure of the brand and its symbolism and instinctively connect with it, then your audience is more ready to like and trust what your brand proposes
.

On the other hand, it is also a good exercise to experiment with archetypes that we would not think are our brand’s one, expanding the practice of A/B tests to make sure we’re working with the correct archetype. 

The Creator

In my last post I used Lego as example of a brand that is winning Internet marketing thanks to its holistic and synergistic use of offline and online marketing channels.

I explained also how part of its success is due to the fact Lego was able to shape its messages and brand personality around the Creator archetype (sometimes called the “Builder”) which is embodied by their tagline, “let’s build”.

Creators tend to be nonconformist and to enjoy self expression.
A Creator brand, then, will empower and prize its audience as much as it is able to express itself using its products.

The Ruler

The Ruler is the leader, the one setting the rules others will follow, even competitors. Usually it’s paired with an
idea of exclusiveness and status growth.

A brand that presents itself as a Ruler is suggesting to their audience that they can be rulers too.

A classic example of Ruler brand is Mercedes:

The Caregiver

Altruism, compassion, generosity.
Caregiver brands present themselves as someone to trust, because they care and empathize with their audience.

The Caregiver is one of the most positive archetypes, and it is obviously used by nonprofit organizations or governmental institutions like UNICEF, but brands like Johnson & Johnson have also shaped their personality and messages around this figure.

The Innocent

The Innocent finds positive sides in everyone and everything

It sees beauty even in things that others will not even consider, and feels in peace with its inner beauty.

Dove, obviously, is a good representation of the Innocent archetype.

The Sage

The Sages wants to know and understand things. 


The Sage is deeply humanist and believe in the power of humankind to shape a better world through knowledge
.

However, the Sage also has a shadowed side: intolerance to ideas others than their own.

Google, in both cases, is a good example a Sage brand.

The Explorer

The Explorer is adventurous, brave, and loves challenges. He tends to be an individualist too, and loves to challenge himself so as to find his real self.


Explorer brands prompt their audience to challenge themselves and to discover the Explorer within

Red Bull is a classic example of these kinds of brands, but REI and Patagonia are even better representations.

The Hero

In many aspects, the Hero archetype is similar to the Explorer and Outlaw ones, with the difference that the Hero many times never wanted to be the hero, but injustice and external events obliged him to find the courage, braveness, and the honor to become one.

Nike, and also its competitor Adidas, shapes its brand voice around this archetypal figure.

The Magician

The Magician is clever, intelligent, and sometimes his ability can be considered supernatural. 


The Magician is able to make the impossible possible
. Because of that some of the best known technology brands use this archetype as their own to showcase their innovation and how they use their advanced knowledge creatively.

Apple—even if you are not an Apple fan—created a powerful brand by shaping it around this archetype. 

The Outlaw


The Outlaw is the rebel, the one who breaks the rules in order to free his true self
.

The Outlaw goes against the canon and is very aware of the constrictions society creates.

A great example of a brand that very well represents the Outlaw archetype is Betabrand.

The Everyman

It is perfectly fine to be “normal,” and happiness can come from simply sharing things with people we love.


Brands targeting the Everyman audience (and painting themselves as such) craft their messages about the beauty of simple things and daily real life
.

Ikea is probably the brand that’s achieved mastery in the use of this archetype over the past few years.

The Jester 

Fun, irreverent, energetic, impulsive and against the established rules at the same time, the Jester is also the only one who is able to tell the truth with a joke. 

Jesters can be revolutionary too, and their motto could be “a laugh will bury you all.”


A brand that presents itself as the Jester is a brand that wants to make our lives easier and more bearable, providing us joy.

The Lover


Sensuality is the main characteristic of the Lover archetype
, as well as strong physicality, passion, and a need for deep and strong sensations.

But the Lover can be also the idealist, the romantic longing for the perfect love.

Archetypes and brand storytelling

Our brain, as many neuroscientists have proved, is
hard-wired for stories (I suggest you to watch this TEDx too).

Therefore, once we have decided what archetype figure best responds both to our audience and our values as a brand,
we must translate the psychology we created for our brand into
brand storytelling.
That storytelling must then be attuned to the psychology of our audience based on our psychographic analysis of them.

Good (brand) storytelling is very hard to achieve, and most of the time we see brands that miserably fail when trying to tell branded stories.

Introducing the Theory of Literary (or Narrative) Modes

In order to help my clients find the correct narrative, I rely on something that usually is not considered by marketers: the
Theory of Literary Modes.

I use this theory, presented first by
Northrop Frye in it essay Anatomy of Criticism, because it is close to our “technical marketer” mindset.

In fact:

  1. The theory is based on a objective and “scientific” analysis of data (the literary corpus produced by humans);
  2. It refuses “personal taste” as a metric, which in web marketing would be the same as creating a campaign with tactics you like but you don’t really know if your public is interested in. Even worse, it would be like saying “create great content” without defining what that means.

Moreover, the
Theory of Literary Modes is deeply structured and strongly relies on semiotics, which is going to be the natural evolution of how search engines like Google will comprehend the content published in the Internet. Semantic thinking is just the first step as well explained 
Isla McKetta here on Moz few months ago.

Finally, Northrop Fryed
considers also archetypes this theory because of the psychological and semiotic value of the symbolism attached to the archetypal figure.

Therefore, my election to use the Theory of Literary Modes responds 

  1. To the need to translate ideal brand storytelling into something real that can instinctively connect with the brand’s audience;
  2. To make the content based on that storytelling process understandable also by search engines.

The Theory of Literary Modes in marketing

To understand how this works in marketing, we need to dig a little deeper into the theory.

A literary work can be classified in two different but complementary ways:

1) Considering only the
relation between the nature of the main character (the Hero) and the ambient (or environment) where he acts.

2) Considering also
if the Hero is refused or accepted by society (Tragedy and Comedy).

In the
first case, as represented in the schema above, if the Hero:
  1. Is higher by nature than the readers and acts in a completely different ambient than theirs, we have a Romance;
  2. Is higher by nature than the readers, but acts in their same ambient, we have an Epic;
  3. Is someone like the reader and acts in the reader’s own ambient, we are in field of Realism;
  4. Is someone lower by nature than the readers and acts in a different or identical ambient, we are in the realm of Irony, which is meant as “distance.”
A fifth situation exists too, the
Myth, when the nature of the Hero is different than ours and acts in an ambient different than ours. The Hero, in this case, is the God.

If we consider also if society refuses or accepts the hero, we can discover the different versions of Tragedy and Comedy.

I will not enter in the details of Tragedy, because
we will not use its modes for brand storytelling (this is only common in specific cases of political marketing or propaganda, classic examples are the mythology of Nazism or Communism).

On the contrary,
the most common modes used in brand storytelling are related to Comedy, where the Hero, who usually is the target audience, is eventually accepted by society (the archetypal world designed by the brand).

In
Comedy we have several sub modes of storytelling:

  1. “The God Accepted.” The Hero is a god or god-like kind of person who must pass through trials in order to be accepted by the society;
  2. The Idyll, where the Hero uses his skills to explore (or conquer) an ideal world and/or become part of an ideal society. Far West and its heir, Space Opera (think of Interstellar) are classic examples. 
  3. Comedy sees the hero trying to impose his own view of the world, fighting for it and finally being awarded with acceptance of his worldview. A good example of this is every well ending biopic of an entrepreneur, and Comedy is the exact contrary of melodrama. 
  4. On a lower level we can find the Picaresque Comedy, where the hero is by nature inferior to the society, but – thanks to his cleverness – is able to elevate himself to society’s level. Some technology business companies use this narrative mode for telling their users that they can “conquer” their market niche despite not having the same economic possibilities as the big brands (this conquering usually involves the brand’s tools).
  5. Finally we have the Irony Mode of Comedy which is quite complex to define. 
    1. It can represent stories where the hero is actually an antihero, who finally fails in his integration into the society. 
    2. It can also be about inflicting pain on helpless victims, as in mystery novels. 
    3. It can also be Parody.

Some examples

The Magician, gamification, and the Idyllic mode

Consider this brand plot:

The user (the Hero) can become part of a community of users only if he or she passes through a series of tasks, which will award prizes and more capabilities. If the user is able to pass through all the tasks, he will not only be accepted but also may have the opportunity to be among the leaders of the community itself.

And now
consider sites, which are strongly centered on communities like GitHub and Code Academy. Consider also SAAS companies that present the freemium model like Moz or mobile games like Boom Beach, where you can unlock new weapons only if you pass a given trial (or you buy them).

The Magician is usually the archetype of reference for these kinds of brands. The Hero (the user) will be able to dominate a complex art thanks to the help of a Master (the brand), which will offer him instruments (i.e.: tools/courses/weapons). 

Trials are not necessarily tests. A trial can be doing something that will be awarded, for instance, with points (like commenting on a Moz blog post), and the more the points the more the recognition, with all the advantages that it may offer. 

Gamification, then, assumes an even stronger meaning and narrative function when tied to an archetype and literary mode.

Ikea, the Everyman, and the Comedic mode

Another
example is Ikea, which we cited before when talking of the Everyman archetype.

In this case, the Hero is someone like me or you who is not an interior designer or decorator or, maybe, who does not have the money for hiring those professionals or buying very expensive furniture and decoration.

But, faithful to its mission statements (“design for all”, “design your own life”…), Ikea is there to help Everyman kind of people like me and you in every way as we decorate our own houses.

On the practical side, this narrative is delivered in all the possible channels used by Ikea: web site, mobile app, social media (look at its
Twitter profile) and YouTube channel.

Betabrand, the Outlaw, and Picaresque Comedy

A third and last example can be
Betabrand.

In this case both the brand and the audience is portrayed using the
Outlaw archetype, and the brand narrative tend to use the Picaresque mode.

The Heroes is the Betabrand community who does not care what the mainstream concept of fashion is and designs and crowdfounds “its fashion.”

How to use archetypes and narrative modes in your brand storytelling

The first thing you must understand is what archetype best responds to your company tenets and mission. 

Usually this is not something an SEO can decide by him- or herself, but it is something that founders, CEOs, and directors of a company can inform.

Oftentimes a small to medium business company can achieve this with a long talk among those company figures and where they are asked to directly define the idealistic “why?” of their company.

In case of bigger companies, defining an archetype can seem almost impossible to do, but the same history of the company and hidden treasure pages like “About Us” can offer clear inspiration.

Look at REI:

Clearly the archetype figure that bests fits REI is the Explorer.

Then, using the information we retrieve when creating the
psychographic of our audience and buyer personas, matching with the characteristics each archetype has, and comparing it with the same brand core values, we can start to understand the archetype and narrative mode. If we look at REI’s audience, then we will see how it also has a certain affinity with the Everyman archetypal figure (and that also explains why REI also dedicates great attention to family as audience).

Once we have defined the best archetype commonly shared by our company and our audience, we must translate this figure and its symbolism into brand storytelling, which in web site includes design, especially the following:

  • Color pattern, because colors have a direct relation with psychological reaction (see this article, especially all the sources it links to)
  • Images, considering that in user-centric marketing the ideal is always to represent our targeted audience (or a credible approximation) as their main characters. I am talking of the so called “hero-shots”, about which Angie Shoetmuller brilliantly discussed in the deck I embed here below:

If you want to dig deeper in discovering the meaning and value of symbols worldwide, I suggest you become member of
Aras.org or to buy the Book of Symbols curated by Aras.

  • Define the best narrative mode to use. REI, again, does this well, using the Idyllic mode where the Hero explores and become part of an ideal society (the REI community, which literally means becoming a member of REI). 

We should, then:

  1. Continue investigating the archetypal nature of our audience conducting surveys
  2. Analyzing the demographic data Google Analytics offers us about our users 
  3. Using GA insights in combination with the data and demographic information offered by social networks’ ad platforms in order to create not only the interest graph of our audience but also to understand the psychology behind those interests 
  4. Doing A/B tests so to see whether symbols, images, and copywriting based on the targeted archetypes work better and if we have the correct archetype.

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Everything You Need to Know About Mobile App Search

Posted by Justin_Briggs

Mobile isn’t the future. It’s the present. Mobile apps are not only changing how we interact with devices and websites, they’re changing the way we search. Companies are creating meaningful experiences on mobile-friendly websites and apps, which in turn create new opportunities to get in front of users.

I’d like to explore the growth of mobile app search and its current opportunities to gain visibility and drive engagement.

Rise of mobile app search

The growth of mobile device usage has driven a significant lift in app-related searches. This is giving rise to mobile app search as a vertical within traditional universal search.

While it has been clear for some time that mobile search is important, that importance has been more heavily emphasized by Google recently, as they continue to push
mobile-friendly labels in SERPs, and are likely increasing mobile-friendliness’s weight as a ranking factor.

The future of search marketing involves mobile, and it will not be limited to optimizing HTML webpages, creating responsive designs, and optimizing UX. Mobile SEO is a world where apps, knowledge graph, and conversational search are front and center.

For the
top 10 leading properties online, 34% of visitors are mobile-only (comScore data), and, anecdotally, we’re seeing similar numbers with our clients, if not more.

Mobile device and app growth

It’s also worth noting that
72% of mobile engagement relies on apps vs. on browsers. Looking at teen usage, apps are increasingly dominant. Additionally,
55% of teens use voice search more than once per day

If you haven’t read it, grab some coffee and read
A Teenagers View on Social Media, which is written by a 19-year old who gives his perspective of online behavior. Reading between the lines shows a number of subtle shifts in behavior. I noticed that every time I expected him say website, he said application. In fact, he referenced application 15 times, and it is the primary way he describes social networks.

This means that one of the fasting growing segments of mobile users cannot be marketed to by optimizing HTML webpages alone, requiring search marketers to expand their skills into app optimization.

The mobile app pack

This shift is giving rise to the mobile app pack and app search results, which are triggered on searches from mobile devices in instances of high mobile app intent. Think of these as being similar to local search results. Considering
mobile searcher behavior, these listings dominate user attention.

Mobile app search results and mobile app pack

As with local search, mobile app search can reorder traditional results, completely push them down, or integrate app listings with traditional web results.

You can test on your desktop using a
user-agent switcher, or by searching on your iOS or Android device. 

There are slight differences between iPhone and Android mobile app results:

iOS and Android mobile search result listing

From what I’ve seen, mobile app listings trigger more frequently, and with more results, on Android search results when compared to iOS. Additionally, iOS mobile app listings are represented as a traditional website result listing, while mobile app listings on Android are more integrated.

Some of the differences also come from the differences in app submission guidelines on the two major stores, the Apple App Store and Google Play.

Overview of differences in mobile app results

  1. Title – Google uses the app listing page’s HTML title (which is the app’s title). iOS app titles can exceed 55-62 characters, which causes wrapping and title truncation like a traditional result. Android app title requirements are shorter, so titles are typically shorter on Android mobile app listings.
  2. URL – iOS mobile app listings display the iTunes URL to the App Store as part of the search result.
  3. Icon – iOS icons are square and Android icons have rounded corners.
  4. Design – Android results stand out more, with an “Apps” headline above the pack and a link to Google Play at the end.
  5. App store content – The other differences show up in the copy, ratings, and reviews on each app store.

Ranking in mobile app search results

Ranking in mobile app search results is a
combination of App Store Optimization (ASO) and traditional SEO. The on-page factors are dependent upon your app listing, so optimization starts with having solid ASO. If you’re not familiar with ASO, it’s the process of optimizing your app listing for internal app store search.

Basics of ASO

Ranking in the Apple App Store and in Google Play is driven by two primary factors: keyword alignment and app performance. Text fields in the app store listing, such as title, description, and keyword list, align the app with a particular set of keywords. Performance metrics including download velocity, app ratings, and reviews determine how well the app will rank for each of those keywords. (Additionally, the Google Play algorithm may include external, web-based performance metrics like citations and links as ranking factors.)

App store ranking factors

Mobile app listing optimization

While I won’t explore ASO in-depth here, as it’s very similar to traditional SEO,
optimizing app listings is primarily a function of keyword targeting.

Tools like
Sensor Tower, MobileDevHQ, and App Annie can help you with mobile app keyword research. However, keep in mind that mobile app search listings show up in universal search, so it’s important to leverage traditional keyword research tools like the AdWords Tool or Google Trends.

While there are similarities with ASO, optimizing for these mobile app search listings on the web has some slight differences.

Differences between ASO & mobile app SEO targeting

  1. Titles – While the Apple App Store allows relatively long titles, they are limited to the preview length in organic search. Titles should be optimized with Google search in mind, in addition to optimizing for the app store. Additionally, several apps aggressively target keywords in their app title, but caution should be used as spamming keywords could influence app performance in Google.
  2. Description – The app description on the App Store may not be a factor in internal search, but it will impact external app search results. Leverage keyword targeting best practices when writing your iOS app description, as well as your Android app description.
  3. Device and platform keywords – When targeting for app store search, it is not as important to target terms related to the OS or device. However, these terms can help visibility in external search. Include device and OS terms, such as Android, Samsung Note, iOS, iPad, and iPhone.

App performance optimization

Outside of content optimization, Google looks at the performance of the app. On the Android side, they have access to the data, but for iOS they have to rely on publicly available information.

App performance factors

  • Number of ratings
  • Average rating score
  • Content and sentiment analysis of reviews
  • Downloads / installs
  • Engagement and retention
  • Internal links on app store

For iOS, the primary public metrics are ratings and reviews. However, app performance can be inferred using the App Store’s ranking charts and search results, which can be leveraged as proxies of these performance metrics.


The following objectives will have the greatest influence on your mobile app search ranking:

  1. Increase your average rating number
  2. Increase your number of ratings
  3. Increase downloads

For app ratings and reviews, leverage platforms like
Apptentive to improve your ratings. They are very effective at driving positive ratings. Additionally, paid tactics are a great way to drive install volume and are one area where paid budget capacity could directly influence organic results in Google. Anecdotally, both app stores use rating numbers (typically above or below 4 stars) to make decisions around promoting an app, either through merchandising spots or co-branded campaigns. I suspect this is being used as a general cut-off for what is displayed in universal results. Increasing your rating above 4 stars should improve the likelihood you’ll appear in mobile app search results.

Lastly, think of merchandising and rankings in terms of 
internal linking structures. The more visible you are inside of the app store, the more visibility you have in external search.

App web performance optimization

Lastly, we’re talking Google rankings, so factors like links, citations, and social shares matter. You should be
conducting content marketing, PR, and outreach for your app. Focus on merchandising your app on your own site, as well as increasing coverage of your app (linking to the app store page). The basics of link optimization apply here.

App indexation – drive app engagement

Application search is not limited to driving installs via app search results. With app indexing, you can leverage your desktop/mobile website visibility in organic search to drive engagement with those who have your app installed. Google can discover and expose content deep inside your app directly in search results. This means that when a user clicks on your website in organic search, it can open your app directly, taking them to that exact piece of content in your app, instead of opening your website.

App indexation fundamentally changes technical SEO, extending SEO from server and webpage setup to the setup and optimization of applications.

App indexation on Google

This also fundamentally changes search. Your most avid and engaged user may choose to no longer visit your website. For example, on my Note 4, when I click a link to a site of a brand that I have an app installed for, Google gives me the option not only to open in the app, but to set opening the app as a default behavior.

If a user chooses to open your site in your app, they may never visit your site from organic search again.

App indexation is currently limited to Android devices, but there is evidence to suggest that it’s already in the works and is
soon to be released on iOS devices. There have been hints for some time, but markup is showing up in the wild suggesting that Google is actively working with Apple and select brands to develop iOS app indexing.

URI optimization for apps

The first step in creating an indexable app is to set up your app to support deep links. Deep links are URIs that are understood by your app and will open up a specific piece of content. They are effectively URLs for applications.

Once this URI is supported, a user can be sent to deep content in the app. These can be discovered as alternates to your desktop site’s URLs, similar to how
separate-site mobile sites are defined as alternate URLs for the desktop site. In instances of proper context (on an Android device with the app installed), Google can direct a user to the app instead of the website.

Setting this up requires working with your app developer to implement changes inside the app as well as working with your website developers to add references on your desktop site.

Adding intent filters

Android has
documented the technical setup of deep links in detail, but it starts with setting up intent filters in an app’s Android manifest file. This is done with the following code.

<activity android:name="com.example.android.GizmosActivity"
android:label="@string/title_gizmos" >
<intent-filter android:label="@string/filter_title_viewgizmos">
<action android:name="android.intent.action.VIEW" />
<data android:scheme="http"
android:host="example.com"
android:pathPrefix="/gizmos" />
<category android:name="android.intent.category.DEFAULT" />
<category android:name="android.intent.category.BROWSABLE" />
</intent-filter>
</activity>

This dictates the technical optimization of your app URIs for app indexation and defines the elements used in the URI example above.

  • The <intent-filter> element should be added for activities that should be launchable from search results.
  • The <action> element specifies the ACTION_VIEW intent action so that the intent filter can be reached from Google Search.
  • The <data> tag represents a URI format that resolves to the activity. At minimum, the <data> tag must include the android:scheme attribute.
  • Include the BROWSABLE category. The BROWSABLE category is required in order for the intent filter to be accessible from a web browser. Without it, clicking a link in a browser cannot resolve to your app. The DEFAULT category is optional, but recommended. Without this category, the activity can be started only with an explicit intent, using your app component name.

Testing deep links

Google has created tools to help test your deep link setup. You can use
Google’s Deep Link Test Tool to test your app behavior with deep links on your phone. Additionally, you can create an HTML page with an intent:// link in it.

For example
:

<a href="intent://example.com/page-1#Intent;scheme=http;package=com.example.android;end;"> <a href="http://example.com/page-1">http://example.com/page-1></a>

This link would open up deep content inside the app from the HTML page.

App URI crawl and discovery

Once an app has deep link functionality, the next step is to
ensure that Google can discover these URIs as part of its traditional desktop crawling.

Ways to get apps crawled

  1. Rel=”alternate” in HTML head
  2. ViewAction with Schema.org
  3. Rel=”alternate” in XML Sitemap

Implementing all three will create clear signals, but at minimum you should add the rel=”alternate” tag to the HTML head of your webpages.

Effectively, think of the app URI as being similar to a mobile site URL when
setting up a separate-site mobile site for SEO. The mobile deep link is an alternative way to view a webpage on your site. You map a piece of content on your site to a corresponding piece of content inside the app.

Before you get started, be sure to
verify your website and app following the guidelines here. This will verify your app in Google Play Developer Console and Google Webmaster Tools.

#1: Rel=”alternate” in HTML head

On an example page, such as example.com/page-1, you would add the following code to the head of the document. Again, very similar to separate-site mobile optimization.

<html>
<head> 
... 
<link rel="alternate" href="android-app://com.example.android/http/example.com/page-1" /> 
...
</head>
<body>
</body>
#2: ViewAction with Schema.org

Additionally, you can reference the deep link using Schema.org and JSON by using a 
ViewAction.

<script type="application/ld+json"> 
{ 
"@context": "http://schema.org", 
"@type": "WebPage", 
"@id": "http://example.com/gizmos", 
"potentialAction": { 
"@type": "ViewAction", 
"target": "android-app://com.example.android/http/example.com/gizmos" 
} 
} 
</script>
#3 Rel=”alternate” in XML sitemap

Lastly, you can reference the alternate URL in your XML Sitemaps, similar to using the rel=”alternate” for mobile sites.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8" ?>
<urlset xmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9" xmlns:xhtml="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml"> 
<url> 
<loc>http://example.com/page-1</loc> 
<xhtml:link rel="alternate" href="android-app://com.example.android/http/example.com/page-1" /> 
</url> 
... 
</urlset>

Once these are in place, Google can discover the app URI and provide your app as an alternative way to view content found in search.

Bot control and robots noindex for apps

There may be instances where there is content within your app that you do not want indexed in Google. A good example of this might be content or functionality that is built out on your site, but has not yet been developed in your app. This would create an inferior experience for users. The good news is that we can block indexation with a few updates to the app.

First, add the following to your app resource directory (res/xml/noindex.xml).

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?> 
<search-engine xmlns:android="http://schemas.android.com/apk/res/android"> 
<noindex uri="http://example.com/gizmos/hidden_uri"/> 
<noindex uriPrefix="http://example.com/gizmos/hidden_prefix"/> 
<noindex uri="gizmos://hidden_path"/> 
<noindex uriPrefix="gizmos://hidden_prefix"/> 
</search-engine>

As you can see above, you can block an individual URI or define a URI prefix to block entire folders.

Once this has been added, you need to update the AndroidManifest.xml file to denote that you’re using noindex.html to block indexation.

<manifest xmlns:android="http://schemas.android.com/apk/res/android" package="com.example.android.Gizmos"> 
<application> 
<activity android:name="com.example.android.GizmosActivity" android:label="@string/title_gizmos" > 
<intent-filter android:label="@string/filter_title_viewgizmos"> 
<action android:name="android.intent.action.VIEW"/> 
... 
</activity> 
<meta-data android:name="search-engine" android:resource="@xml/noindex"/> 
</application> 
<uses-permission android:name="android.permission.INTERNET"/> 
</manifest>

App indexing API to drive re-engagement

In addition to URI discovery via desktop crawl, your mobile app can integrate
Google’s App Indexing API, which communicates with Google when users take actions inside your app. This sends information to Google about what users are viewing in the app. This is an additional method for deep link discovery and has some benefits.

The primary benefit is the ability to appear in
autocomplete. This can drive re-engagement through Google Search query autocompletions, providing access to inner pages in apps.

App auto suggest

Again, be sure to
verify your website and app following the guidelines here. This will verify your app in Google Play Developer Console and Google Webmaster Tools.

App actions with knowledge graph

The next, and most exciting, evolution of search is leveraging actions. These will be powerful when
combined with voice search, allowing search engines to take action on behalf of users, turning spoken language into executed actions.

App indexing allows you to take advantage of actions by allowing Google to not only launch an app, but execute actions inside of the app. Order me a pizza? Schedule my meeting? Drive my car? Ok, Google.

App actions work via entity detection and the application of the knowledge graph, allowing search engines to understand actions, words, ideas and objects. With that understanding, they can build an action graph that allows them to define common actions by entity type.

Here is a list of actions currently supported by Schema.org

For example, the PlayAction could be used to play a song in a music app. This can be achieve with the following markup.

<script type="application/ld+json">
{
"@context": "http://schema.org",
"@type": "MusicGroup",
"name": "Weezer", "potentialAction": {
"@type": "ListenAction",
"target": "android-app://com.spotify.music/http/we.../listen"
}
}
</script>
Once this is implemented, these app actions can begin to appear in search results and knowledge graph.

deep links in app search results

Overview of mobile app search opportunities

In summary, there are five primary ways to increase visibility and engagement for your mobile app in traditional organic search efforts.

Mobile apps in search results

The growth of mobile search is transforming how we define technical SEO, moving beyond front-end and back-end optimization of websites into the realm of structured data and application development. As app indexing expands to include iOS, I suspect the possibilities and opportunities associated with indexing applications, and their corresponding actions, to grow extensively. 

For those with Android apps, app indexing is a potential leapfrog style opportunity to get ahead of competitors who are dominant in traditional desktop search. Those with iOS devices should start by optimizing their app listings, while preparing to implement indexation, as I suspect it’ll be released for iOS this year.

Have you been leveraging traditional organic search to drive visibility and engagement for apps? Share your experiences in the comments below.

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