Implementing best practice for your title tags and meta descriptions
The world of online marketing can be confusing. You get told you need to do SEO, another tells you that you need to do Google AdWords, someone else tells you that its all about content and others say you need to build your social status on Facebook and Twitter. There are lots and lots of terms to understand from landing pages to H1 tags to quality scores to Dynamic Keyword insertion which sounds extremely unpleasant. And before I forget – there is just so much data and I don’t know what is more important and what I should look at. Talking to small and medium size business enterprises (SME’s) there eyes glaze over if you try and explain or even vaguely provide some light on the subject.
Many SME’s get caught up in the hype of online marketing and feel they have to get “online” asap otherwise they are missing out. So they rush out and spend thousands of dollars on SEO or AdWords and in the end have little or nothing to show for it, except, less money in the bank and a high level of frustration. Despite this, many will continue to plough more and more money into online marketing digging an even deeper whole of frustration and a lightening their wallet.
Online marketing can be a useful tool to market your business, brand, product or service, but it should not necessarily always be seen as you sole strategy for marketing and for some businesses online marketing may be a more passive activity as opposed to the main strategy. For example your company may manufacture vacuums that are sold through branded retail stores. Therefore your online marketing strategy may be about supporting these sales by ensuring there is exceptional and up to date product information so customers who are considering purchasing your vacuum over others can understand the specifications, features and benefits of the vacuum. It would be about making sure manuals are in PPF format and are easily available. Customer may want to see a a branded website with a phone number, product support etc so they can see who they contact if they have a problem with a vacuum. Also you may want to build some demonstration videos and put these on YouTube for the sales people to use to demonstrate your product on TVs in store or for customers to view when considering the benefits of your vacuum. But your marketing strategy may still also include TV ads or in store posters and displays or brochures for sales people to hand to customers. What is more important is how you use online marketing as part of your overall marketing strategy.
There are lots and lots of websites that will help you analyse and spend your online marketing dollars and many will be a waste of your money if you don’t first have a plan and secondly have a way to implement your plan. Lets talk about planning first.
Building a plan does not need to be complex and your not looking to build a 100 page document. Rather, you simply need to think about what goals your trying to achieve. For example using our vacuum manufacturer, we may have goals to increase sales of vacuums by 20% and increase brand awareness and improve support for the retailers selling your vacuums.
The online marketing strategy then becomes a process to support these goals and the the retail store sales process. Part of the online strategy may also be to help build the brand online in support of TV advertising and in shop display. Each of the retail chains selling your vacuums may also have an online presence so ensuring you have current photos of the product from different angles together with descriptions, specifications etc of the product. For some of your leading retail outlets you may even decide to provide them with unique content such as unique product descriptions, photos etc to assist them in their SEO and therefore ranking highly when customers are searching for vacuums. As you can see, online marketing is not just about Facebook, AdWords and writing blog articles and sometimes just doing the basics really really well (ie photos of the product, well written descriptions and demonstration videos) can go a long way to building a more successful strategy. So take a step back and understand your marketing goals and overall marketing strategy and therefore take the time to plan how your online marketing activities will support this.
Implementation can be difficult and many SME’s struggle in this area, not only because they have failed to plan, but also because they don’t know what they should be doing and then how to do this. For example, above we indicated writing unique product descriptions for your top retailers. Any good SEO consultant/agency would possibly suggest this, however, if you are seeking help and the agency has not asked to see your plan OR suggested doing one then you should move on and find the next agency. If they are just suggesting writing blog articles or SEO or AdWords then you need to question if this is right for you. I would suggest the book on Traction at the end of the article if you don’t have a strong opinion on what are the best ways to get “Traction” with customers.
Implementation can be easier once you have your plan and you know what your looking for. Using our example above, we decide we need to find a writer to write 10 unique descriptions of 300 to 400 words for our vacuum, and each will be provided to 10 individual branded retailers selling your vacuum to use on their website. Usually we can use a service such as iwriter, writeraccess, thecontentauthority or textbroker to do this quickly and cheaply. But I would always stress to use the highest quality writers in these services.
Demonstration videos can be expensive but there are ways to do this more cost effectively. For example there are sales staff demonstrating your vacuums in store each day and you most likely you have a business development manager or sales rep who could film with just an iPhone, sales staff in each brand demonstrating your product . Your sales rep could also be filmed explaining the product and the features and benefits. You could then create an outline of what you want in the edited version and use a freelancer on upwork.com to edit the videos into a demonstration video with some text to focus on each feature or benefit. You could also find someone on upwork to do you a script for a voice over. The voice over you could be your sales rep OR you could get a voice over done by a professional through a service such as voices.com.
Online marketing is a powerful tool, but it does not need to be difficult and it does not need to be a money pit. It needs to be used as part of an overall marketing strategy. Taking the time to plan your marketing strategy and then how your online marketing strategy can assist is extremely important.
An example of a well executed marketing strategy was that by Disney for the launch of a new movie the Jungle Book. The NY times provides a great summary of their strategy. Most importantly you can see how they planned and implemented their strategy.
If you still trying to work out the best way to market your product, brand, service or business, then a good book designed for start-ups but also a great refresher would be Traction. They look at 19 methods to build traction and discuss each and why some work and others don’t for different businesses. Maybe you have not found your Bullseye or you have outgrown your Bullseye and need to rethink your marketing and sales strategy. Taking a step back and considering this when building your overall marketing strategy should be an important part of your process.
Many businesses advertise on Google AdWords with the view it will bring in lots of quality customers and orders. Yes, it does have the possibility of doing this, but there is a major caveat. Unless you have your website in order AND you have each of the web pages that you want to use as landing pages (at a minimum) set up correctly and creating a great experience for your customers / visitors, then you will be wasting your money advertising on Google AdWords.
Google does not do a very good job communicating this to its advertisers and unfortunately many companies that manage AdWords campaigns for businesses also fail to communicate this. Further, many businesses either don’t want to understand or just don’t know what they don’t know, and the result is that AdWords becomes an expensive channel to acquire customers or generate visitors. In addition, it is not always easy to understand and it does take time to sit down and make sense of the concepts in order to address the issues when contemplating AdWords or fixing up your AdWords campaign.
The key to making your AdWords campaign effective is understanding Ad rank. Google have a great video which does explain Ad rank, but what is surprising is despite the billions of dollars that Google receives in revenue each year this video, that explains how Ad rank works, has only been seen 421,000 times between June 18 2014 and today. The concern we have is that millions and millions of advertisers are wasting their money on AdWords because they do not understand Ad rank and how it impacts the amount of money they spend on each click. Further, Google in the video tells you how you can reduce the amount you pay per click but is vague in terms of how you find out information to fix the problems and improve your Ad rank.
So lets first talk about Ad rank. If you watch the video from Hal Varian you will get a great overview of how Ad rank works, however, there are a number of things Hal talks about in the video that are extremely important. If we start with the key components of Ad rank which are listed below, the part that Google does not disclose is the algorithms behind determining a score for each of these as well as exactly how much each of these influence Ad rank. The main Ad rank factors are:
- Expected click thru rate
- Landing page experience
- Ad relevance
- Ad formats
Landing Page Experience
Before advertising on Google AdWords, the landing pages that you are going to use for your AdWords campaigns as well as getting your website in order, are extremely important. Failure to do this will ensure you get a low Ad rank and your AdWords campaigns will cost you a lot more money than they need to.
If you watch the first part of Hal’s video, he emphasises that Google wants people to find what they are looking for. Google organic search results and AdWords are all about getting a person to the thing they are looking for easily and quickly. In order to try and work out what a person is looking for, Google have algorithms that collect data on pages to try and determine what an individual page is about, and what type of experience a person will have when they visit a page.
In the support area of Google AdWords, Google do provide a high level overview of landing page experience, but implementation really means to focus on these 200 components of the algorithm in order to ensure your landing page experience rating is above average. Google of course does not have people reviewing every internet page, but by using data such as bounce rate, page speed, unique text etc, they are able to effectively determine if that page is a page that people are finding useful, relevant, original and trustworthy.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to get your website and pages in order first, before endeavouring an an AdWords campaign. If your website is slow, or if your product descriptions are the same as 500 other websites because you got them from your supplier or because you have not provided an intuitive navigation system for a customer then it would be recommended you NOT advertise on AdWords. Spend some time to fix your pages and website so you will provide a great experience for your customers. This also means considering if your customer is visiting on different devices such as mobile and tablets, as well as a desktop computer. If you do this, not only will you have a better AdWords campaigns, but you will find you may do better in your organic results as well.
We find the term Ad Formats a little misleading because they are not really an ad format but rather an ad enhancement. For example when Google talk about Ad Formats you would be incorrect to think of display ads or banner sizes or keywords vs banners ads. What Google actually mean is there ad extensions and sitelinks which Google provide in addition to an Ad when advertising on Google. These ad extensions and sitelinks provide the person searching with additional information such as your business location, phone number, rating by previous customers and so forth. Implementation of these is very easy to do, but more importantly crucial to ensuring you maximise your Ad rank and minimise your AdWords cost.
A word of advice is that you should have your ad extensions and sitelinks all in the same account as the account that will manage your AdWords account. This should also be the same account as your Google Analytics. Not compulsory, but highly recommended. We have seen some businesses who have shops listed under a number of different Google (email) accounts so that when you go to run an AdWords campaign and link Ad extensions, not all the shops or business locations show up.
Ad extensions and sitelinks is an extremely easy way to improve your Ad Rank but surprisingly many business get this wrong by not implementing or by as we outlined above, listing shops or businesses locations in multiple Google accounts rather than one central Google account. Take the time to do this right, set it up correctly and maintain.
Assuming you have spent time to get all your landing pages and website and Ad Formats set up and operating efficiently, then it is worth considering the other factors that will impact your AdWords campaign. To do this we need to understand Quality score.
Knowing what to fix or focus on to improve an AdWords campaign can be hard given Google do not make it easy to understand, let alone get data.
The best way to get an indication of how your doing at least in terms of Expected CTR, Landing Page Experience and Ad relevance is with Quality score. Google does say that “Quality Score is an aggregated estimate of your overall performance in ad auctions, and is not used at auction time to determine Ad Rank“, however, given the lack of any other data this will provide a great starting point and while quality score is not used in Ad rank it does provide the only real indication of these factors. If you need help understanding how to get your quality score for a keyword campaign there is a lot of information on Google at Google AdWords.
When you get your quality score up for say a given keyword then you will get an overall quality score out of 10. In the example above we get a score of 7 out of 10. However, what is more important to understand problems is the anecdotal comment Google supply for expected CTR, Ad relevance and Landing page experience. In the example above we get a “average” score for expected CTR and Ad relevance and an above average score of landing page experience.
The anecdotal rating system is “below average”, “average” and “above average”. If you get a score of average or above average then Google is saying there is nothing major wrong but you can still do some work to improve. If you get a score of below average then you you really still have a lot of work to do. Of course if your at this stage of analysing your quality scores then you should have at least a score of average, if not above average for Landing page experience. If you have a below average score for landing page experience then you should go back and read the section on landing page experience again and focus on those 200 components of the algorithm.
Expected Click thru rate
If your already running an AdWords campaign, in addition to the expected click thru rate rating, you will also have an actual click thru rate for your keyword. What is important to understand is that the actual CTR is a relative measure. For example, CTR for one keyword may be 0.5% and that might get an expected CTR rating of above average while another keyword may get an actual CTR of 2% and a below average expected CTR rating. When you look at your actual CTR, compare it with your expected CTR rating to get a indication of how well your doing. Comparing the CTR across different keywords will not help determine if an actual CTR is good or bad.
Looking at an example. Below are two screen shots of two different keywords (keywords and other data blocked out), one with a quality score of 9 and another with a quality score of 5. What’s interesting about this example is that the CTR on both of these keywords are well over 20% which if you were getting on most keywords you would be extremely happy. But as you can see from the examples, just because your actual CTR relative to other keywords is high (or even exceptionally high), at 28.87%, Google believes this is not high enough and provides a rating of “below average” for the expected CTR. In the second example the keyword has a lower actual CTR at 24.25% but it gets an above average rating for expected CTR.
They key here is to consider your actual CTR together with your expected CTR rating and if your not getting an above average rating then you need to work on your Ad and try some variations to try and get this actual CTR up. Good practice is to always be running two ads so that there are competing. Then once the two ads have generated enough comparison data (ie at least 1,000 to 2,000 impressions), stop the ad with the lower actual CTR and write a new ad to compete with the ad with the current highest actual CTR. This way you are always trying to improve the CTR and therefore your expected CTR rating.
Also your rating can change over time. For example a competitor may start advertising on a keyword and write a better ad and generate a stronger actual CTR which then may move your expected CTR rating from above average to average. So don’t rest even when your expected CTR is above average, continue to work to improve your actual CTR to ensure you retain your above average rating.
Ad relevance measures how closely related your keyword is to your ad. For example if your ad is for shoes and your keyword is “computer” then clearly your ad relevance would be “below average”. However, it is not always as simple to solve for ad relevance as this example does, especially if you are trying to increase your rating from average to above average. As a starting point you need to consider both your ad and keyword and work out if they are specific enough. For example if you have an ad for “ballet flats” rather than “shoes” and the keyword you targeted was “ballet flats” then this would be more relevant. However, this may not be relevant enough to get an above average score and you may be better targeting more specific keywords such as “red ballet flats” and an ad for “red ballet flats” to improve your ad relevance and score from average to above average. The more specific you are the better chance you have at achieving an above average Ad relevance score.
Also review the keywords you target in your page. On your landing page, hopefully you have determined a unique keyword phrase for each page. If this keyword phrase matches your keyword in your AdWords Campaign and in your Ad then you should be well on the way to getting an above average score. If your not you can always check that the keyword phrase on your page is also specific and that Google acknowledges this. Best way to do this is type in that keyword phrase into Google search and see how you rank. If your not ranking on the first page or two then you may need to be more specific with your keyword phrase for a page.
Secondly you can also check that your Ad Groups are set up correctly and that each ad group has a specific theme. If we carry the example above, we may have an ad group for ballet flats and they separate keywords targeting red ballet flats, suede ballet flats and so forth. What would be wrong to do is set up an ad group with ballet flats and dresses. These are two very different products and if you have keywords in the same ad group for ballet flats and dresses you may impact your ad relevance. They key here is to make sure your Ad Group has a tight theme.
- Don’t start an AdWords campaign until you get your website and web pages in order. Make sure you review your website and pages based on the 200 items which make up the Google algorithm to ensure your landing page experience is “above average”.
- Make sure you have all your Ad formats set up and that they are all correct. Make sure all your business addresses and contact details are all managed in the one account.
- Compare your Actual CTR with your Expected CTR rating. Run competitive ads to ensure your always trying to improve your actual CTR and retain an above average expected CTR rating for each keyword.
- Ensure that when you set up your ad groups that they have a tight theme and ensure your keywords are specific enough and achieve a rating for Ad relevance of above average.
Using a platform to build and maintain a website saves you a lot of time and helps you to get up and running very quickly. Install the software or simply visit the platform website, hand over your credit card details, choose a look and feel and start to add some content and your off and running.
Also, usually with some searching (and not always with great how to information – yes wordpress I mean you) you begin to find out how to write your page titles, and possibly be able to hook your website up to Google Analytics, or Bing webmaster tools of Google webmaster tools (and not much else).
Many platforms provide the basics but in most cases they really fail to help the customer really understand AND implement an online marketing strategy.
Now just to clarify, online marketing does not just mean SEO or SEM ads on Google Adwords. Online marketing is a broad term which includes SEM and SEO, but also includes video, podcasts, content, email marketing, social, conversion optimisation, remarketing and more. It is about how you market your website to the audience you want and all or some of these elements may be relevant, but should not be limited to SEO (search engine optimisation) or SEM (search engine marketing).
I recently had this discussion with a CTO and Angel investor as we were discussing if your better being on a platform to solve your online marketing problem.
As we indicated above, the platforms do the basics but I would argue they fail miserably beyond the basics. SEO Training London wrote an article which compared each of the e-commerce shopping carts available in the market place. In this article they ranked 14 different criteria to test for in each shopping cart system including Magneto, Shopify and Big Commerce. These 14 criteria are important but really are just the starting point in your online marketing of your website and surprisingly it was amazing how many failed at some of these basics.
You see the basic factors that Google rank a web page by are estimated to be well over 200 and both Moz and Backlinko have developed list of possibles and probables in this algorithm. So to rely on these basic factors for your SEO, let alone online marketing as a whole is folly.
Using a platform is a good starting point for online marketing as it takes some of the pain away from doing the basics. However, if your serious about selling a product, or getting someone to read your blog or what ever your marketing online, there is certainly a lot more that needs to be done and the industry really fails in this regard. Further it gets even harder if your not on a platform.
To be continued.
For many years I tolled away at trying to run an online business and look to increase sales and conversions. Over about three years I tried a number of SEO / Online marketing firms with little or no result. I therefore decided to get stuck into it myself and I consumed much of what Rand Fishkin, Matt Cutts and many others in blogs and SEO websites were saying.
It was a fast moving time as there were many changes taking place as Google led by Matt Cutts was shaping search results to improve the quality of the results we get when we type a search query into that Google box. There were lots of conflicting (Black Hat vs White Hat vs Grey Hat) sites with how to “Beat Google” and to most people including myself it became very confusing. Every day you would get two or three emails in your email box from someone spamming they new how to get “you to the top of the search results”.
You would also hear the horror stories such as one my electrician told me me how his mate was paying about $1200 per month to a company to get him “to the top of the search results” and clearly it was not paying off and most likely they were using Black Hat activities that Google were targeting with Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird. His results floundered and led to little traffic but he kept paying for bad advice and implementation which is a real problem and I experienced myself.
The best advice for anyone looking to improve traffic to their website is to listen first and foremost to what Google is saying. They provide a ton of tools and information and what to do to improve the quality and user experience of your website and to in time improve your position in the search results. This PDF called “Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide” while not new, does provide a very good guide to the basics and should be the starting pointing of any person looking to improve their website search results.
In future articles we will try to cover some of the insights to what we have learned, the tools that provide useful insights and what good SEO and online marketing practices should be. However, we should stress that building traffic takes time and there are no short cuts – you need to build trust with Google and your fellow internet users. However, if you build quality content that people find useful (and they link to it) and you create a great user experience for those visiting your website, traffic will grow. But this is just common sense right?