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20 simple tips to optimise your PPC campaigns

Targeting the people who want the products or services you sell is fundamental to online marketing, and Pay Per Click (PPC) is a great way of doing this.

The problem, however, is that far too many business owners are seduced by the Google ‘free money’ offer and give it a go, only to be disappointed. Before they know it they’ve burned through hundreds of pounds (or dollars) of cash with nothing to show for it.

Sound familiar?

If you can relate to this then perhaps the following infographic from Marketing Infographics might help.

Published in 2015, we like this one as it has 20 actionable tips at the bottom which can help you to focus on what is important and make a difference to your PPC campaigns.

Get it right and it can be the difference between burning cash and making a profit.

Remember, PPC adverts appear at the top far more frequently than organic results and almost half of searchers can’t tell the difference between paid and organic adverts.

So go on, give PPC a try and if you have already tried and found it didn’t work then speak to a Google Partner agency like us and let us help you turn your fortunes around

ppc-optimisation-infographic

Website Security

Want to secure your WordPress website? Here’s a simple checklist

With over a quarter of the world’s websites being created on WordPress these days, it has become the number one target for hackers.

Despite the WordPress framework being a secure environment, the addition of themes and plug ins creates an instant vulnerability for most sites. There are various ways of mitigating against these threats and the following infographic from Wordfence does a good job of describing the sort of things you should be considering when securing your website.

By coincidence, it also happens to describe all the features of the current Wordfence plug in. They are not the only ones to produce a security plug in for WordPress but Wordfence is definitely one of the best.

How-Best-In-Class-WordPress_Security-Plugins-Protect-Your-Website

The Evil of Negative SEO

Why is your WordPress website vulnerable to hackers? This infographic will tell you

It seems like hardly a day goes by without a story about website hacking, data leaking and the business problems that arise from this activity.

If you have a WordPress website then the dangers of a hack attack are even more real as WordPress can be extremely vulnerable to certain types of attack.

The problem arises from the fact that over a quarter of the world’s websites are now on WordPress, and with the same logic that hackers used previously, designing viruses for Microsoft products as most of the world were on PC’s, today they are devising hacks for WordPress.

The key question though, is how do the hackers know what to attack?

We particularly liked this infographic from the fabulous people at Wordfence which shows you quite clearly, who is hacking, what they are looking for and by default, what you should be locking down.

infographic-who_is_attacking_your_wordpress_website

google-local-pack-filters

Mobile is shaping our future more than you might think, and removing ‘free’ from Google’s vocabulary

The thing about mobile traffic is that local really does become local. It doesn’t matter where you live, local is where you are standing at any point in time

As an example, local to me is my house and where I live but when I come to work in Runcorn, local is a completely different place. In fact, I don’t know the local environment near my work half as well as I know the local environment near my home. It stands to reason really as I come to work, spend all day here and then go home. Generally, I don’t feel the need to venture out for anything.

So when I want to find a local restaurant, or locksmith, or car valeting company in Runcorn, I have to start searching.

If I use Google to search from my desktop it already knows where I am based on my IP address, but other search engines struggle as they don’t geo locate me in the same way.

On a mobile, everything changes.

My mobile GPS coordinates are available to my phone and as such they are available to my search capabilities on the phone. Google knows this and cleverly uses this data to send me results which are truly local.

google-local-pack-filters

image courtesy of SEO Roundtable

This means that if I happen to go to London for the day, or Southampton, or Edinburgh, then I can simply use my phone to find the services I need locally.

Google have been developing a lot of functionality recently around the local services, the local pack in the results and as we wrote a few months ago, the way that local information will later be used to monetise these listings for Google.

In the US Google are testing a new set of filters which are aimed to improve the way this looks, as you can see on the right.

Key here is that you can further filter the results you see so you can include or exclude businesses based on your own criteria such as distance, opening hours or ratings.

At present this is only a test but our expectations are that this, or something like it, will soon become the mainstay of the local offering from Google.

Google knows that vast numbers of searches are done daily for local goods and services and the better it gets at delivering and refining these results the more opportunity it has to introduce its advertising platform into these results. Of course, it may first need to define exactly what it means by ‘top rated’ so we all have a chance of getting there, but that is just a minor point.

The reality is that as the original organic listings were supplanted by advertising, so will the local pack.

So enjoy the good times for now as Google delivers your free traffic. It won’t last forever.

Birthday cake

Aqueous Digital shortlisted for two categories at the Halton Business Awards

The team at Aqueous are buzzing with the news that they have been shortlisted for the second year running at the upcoming Halton Business Awards.

The awards, due to be held this Friday 22nd April 2016 at The Holiday Inn, Runcorn, mark that time of year where Halton based businesses are recognised for their efforts.

This year Aqueous are shortlisted in two categories; Marketing Excellence and Excellent Customer Service.

Naturally the team are all excited and looking forward to finding out if we have won anything, as it is always nice to get public recognition of a job well done.

We will keep you posted with tweets on the night and celebrating the success of business from all over Halton. Whoever wins, we will all be able to celebrate that businesses in Halton can grow, thrive and survive and become world class businesses.

You can find out more about all the finalists on the Halton Chamber website and if you want to wish us luck please like and share this on social!

The Custodian Of Marvels

Interview with ‘steampunk’ author Rod Duncan

As a bit of a departure this week we are privileged to have something of a scoop on the Aqueous Digital blog.

This week we have an interview with the excellent author Rod Duncan who is responsible for the ‘Gas Lit Empire‘ series of books and who was nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award in 2014 for the first in this series, ‘The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter’.

I’ve know Rod for many years and having read his recent ‘steampunk’ novels I was struck by how he was able to reinvent a modern day Victorian version of England and make it so real. On that basis I started by asking him about who his writing influences were when he was growing up.

If you had to pick a single influence, which author would you say most compelled you to become a writer?

Douglas Adams – though it is an unfair question, since no single author compelled me to become a writer. But when I was fifteen, I heard the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on the radio and for the first time became aware of authorship. Someone made that, I thought. A single human being came up with all that magic – dreamed it up out of his head. How amazing!

Growing up, which was your favourite book?

I was late in learning to read. I didn’t read much until I was in my late teens. But I did have stories read to me. My father was a big science-fiction fan. He read to me from Asimov and Arthur C Clarke. He also read Sherlock Holmes stories to me. So perhaps it’s no surprise I now write science fiction set in a Victorian-esque world.

Some writers suffer from creative block; what do you do to generate fresh ideas?

Creative block doesn’t come from a lack of fresh ideas. Not for me, anyway. It comes from being overly critical of one’s own work. I see it this way – there are two writer personalities inside each of us. One is the creative genius. The other is the critical editor. They vie with each other for supremacy. If the creative genius is too powerful, you tend to write large amounts of rubbish. If the critical editor is too powerful, you can never get started because nothing seems good enough. We call that writers block. The trick is to get these two writer personalities balanced. Good writing flows when they are in an equal partnership.

Fresh ideas generate spontaneously when you are writing. The more you entertain them, the more readily new ones arrive. But if you are blocked, you’re not writing.

How difficult was it to get your first novel published?

The first novel is something of a myth. Most novelists will have gone through a period of writing things that never got published before they reach the breakout moment. So my ‘first’ novel was actually my fifth. I guess that probably answers the question of how difficult it can be to get published.

What would you say are the key differences between writing for print and writing for the web?

Stand in a bookshop and watch people browsing. You’ll see them glance at the cover and the back blurb before turning to the first page to read. They’re trying to decide whether it will be worth their time and money. If they decide to buy it, there will be a significant commitment.

That interaction with the first few pages of the novel forms a kind of contract between writer and reader. The writer is saying, I will provide you with a book that maintains this style and genre and lives up to this promise. The reader is saying, OK, I’ll commit to this story, intending to stick with it to the end. If it gets slow or confusing for a chapter or two, I may still read on, trusting that I am being prepared for something worth the effort.

When someone reads from the Web, there need be no such contract. If reading a novel is like a marriage, this is a one night stand. If it stops being fun or interesting, all you’ve got to do is click and you’re gone.

Both forms of writing need to be concise. Both need to be as good as they can be. But you can’t easily play the long game with writing on the web. You can’t give the reader a slow build-up, knowing that their intensity of experience will be worth it in the end.

How much has the internet changed the way you write?

The Internet has changed the way I research. If I want some obscure piece of information, I don’t need to plan a trip to the reference library. For example, things like Google’s Ngram viewer allow me to figure out how word usage has changed over the last couple of hundred years – vital for me in writing a Victorian-esque novel.

The Internet also allows readers to get in touch. People even send me messages before they finished reading the novel, to let me know how they’re getting on with it. That brings me a lot of joy and encouragement.

How important is the blog tour in sci fi/fantasy?

Science fiction and fantasy writers are also science-fiction and fantasy readers. We’re privileged to be part of a community. And that community is well networked online. The blog tour – writing a series of guest posts on other people’s blogs – is a natural way of participating in that community. It is part of a conversation that continues in conventions and through social media. Which is a long way of saying that I think the blog tour is very important.

How many articles do you have to write and what sort of response do you get to what you write?

The number of articles can vary widely. To give it a ballpark figure, I’d probably hope to write between ten and thirty posts to come out over a period of a couple of months. Ideally that would form a tight cluster leading up to the publication of a new novel. I’m always hoping that next time I’ll meet that ideal!

As for the response – the only metric I have for that other number of friendships that are forged through the process. I ‘meet’ people that way in the virtual world, stay in contact through social media and hope to meet them face-to-face at conventions.

It may be that I end up selling more novels that way. But if that ever became my primary motivation for writing guest blogs or participating in social media, my readers would surely sense it. I don’t think it would work. For me, it’s all about relationships. That’s why I have a twitter account and a Facebook page. It’s part of the conversation. And so are my novels.

Have a look at my Twitter feed @RodDuncan and you’ll get a sense of what I mean. The Facebook page is here:  https://www.facebook.com/gaslitempire/

Where did the idea come from for the Gas Lit Empire?

The Gas-Lit Empire is an alternate history that began a couple of hundred years ago. I won’t say exactly what caused it – that’s one of the secrets you’ll unravel if you read the books. But the result was a Luddite inspired revolution. With the Luddites in control, science and technology have been artificially held back. Time has passed but the world still looks much as it did in 1900.

The idea for it came originally from the built environment of Leicester, where the story begins. If you walk around the city today and look carefully, you’ll see hints of the Victorians who built it. I remember walking down a backstreet and seeing a place where the road surface had been damaged. A thin skim of asphalt had crumbled away, revealing cobblestones underneath. It was as if the Victorian world and the modern world were both present.

That gave me the seed of the idea. But it was when I ‘discovered’ the protagonist, Elizabeth Barnabus, that the idea turned into this extraordinary adventure story.

In your latest book, what surprises do we have in store for us about Elizabeth Barnabus?

The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter was the first book in the series. That introduced Elizabeth and the strange world of the Gas-Lit Empire. The adventure continued in book two, Unseemly Science. But as readers pick up the story in book three, the Custodian of Marvels, they still don’t know exactly how the Gas-Lit Empire began. Nor does Elizabeth. But through her most dangerous exploit so far, she is about to find out.

How did you feel to be nominated for the Philip K Dick award?

Amazing! It is one of the most prestigious juried awards in science fiction, so to have reached the shortlist was a great honour. I had a wonderful experience going out to Seattle to the award ceremony and reading an extract from the novel in front of the great and the good – including George R.R. Martin. In the end, I didn’t win it. But I don’t feel bad about that, since the very wonderful Meg Elison got it for her novel The Book of the Unnamed Midwife.

What is next for you in your writing career?

I’m writing another novel set in the Gas-Lit Empire. I’m keeping the details of that under wraps for the time being. Meanwhile, I continue to work on screenplays in collaboration with other writers. A horror film that I co-wrote is in production. It is called Acid Daemons. You can find out more about it here.

Thanks for that Rod, it was great to chat to you and we wish you all the very best with your latest project.

Google Partner Badge

How to decide if an SEO Company could help your website

Most website owners get at least one email a day offering them SEO services and most ignore them.

But how do you know if your website really could benefit from Search Engine Optimisation and if it could, what exactly should you be paying for?

The starting point

Most people, when faced with the task of optimising a website will look online for some help and there’s no shortage of tools out there with which you can test your site. As an example, we ran a Google search for “online SEO checker” and selected the top six organic results.

Each of them offers a free analysis service so we put the url of a website we own into each of them and asked them to review our website.

The results varied across the piece and those that gave scores ranged from 46 to 61 out of 100, so overall this site was about half optimised according to these tools.

SEO checker 6 SEO checker 5 SEO checker 4 SEO checker 3 SEO checker 2 SEO checker 1

The issue is that none of them were consistent. Some were better than others, some missed obvious things and others picked up on items which would make no material difference to your everyday SEO. On the whole, most of them did find the easy and obvious bits so there is definitely some value in running these tests.

All of them however suffered from the same problem which is that they are designed to hook you into buying their SEO service. Some offered partial reports with certain elements being ‘premium’ service whilst others gave you the same thing for free. One of them even allows a banner advert trying to sell you ‘premium links’ which is more likely to get you a Google Penalty than anything else. The trick here is to run your website across a number of these different free services and pick out anything that is consistent on all of them.

For example, on our site, all bar one of the checkers picked up the fact that the meta description on the home page was missing. Given that this is a key element in getting your sales message across it’s pretty important. The fact that most of them found the issue highlighted that we needed to change it and that this was one element that should definitely be on the ‘to do’ list.

If you do this for your website you will quickly see which things are essential to fix to optimise your website for Google.

The next steps

Having run the tests you may well find that there are some bits you can do and some you can’t do. The question is, should you do anything about them?

Well, as a rule of thumb if your site scores well overall i.e. above 75 or more on their score charts then you may well be able to get away with doing nothing. This is not advocating that you ignore your site’s optimisation, more that you shouldn’t need to spend large sums of money putting right the things highlighted as wrong.

If you are lucky enough to have a website which does score highly then it is still worth addressing the things which are highlighted that you can do yourself, such as meta descriptions, content or title tags.

Seo-optimization

There may well be some elements which you won’t be able to do such as reducing the number of inline CSS styles or HTML compression. These elements can make a difference to the way your site is optimised so it’s worth considering getting these fixed.

The decision on whether to proceed with these changes needs to be done with a bit of context in mind.

Some of these tools are designed to make you feel as if your website is a hopeless wreck with these changes being made. As an example, we tested https://www.google.co.uk/ on each of them and none of them gave it a clean bill of health. Even putting the url’s of the checkers themselves through their tools, they still didn’t get 100%.

Even if you did make all the changes they suggest and get your site to 100% the question remains, will this make any difference to where you rank on Google?

The SEO decision

We often get people coming to us who have been through this sort of process and in many cases they have tried some ‘cheap SEO’ to see what happens. In most cases they get some simple technical changes to their site (if they are lucky) which encompass no more than these free tools will give you or they get some automated link building which does little for the site or its rankings on Google.

The problem is that even doing the things they recommend could still make no difference.

As an example, changing title tags, H1’s and meta descriptions are common bits of advice given to anyone optimising a website. But what should you change them to? Do you actually know? How do you find out? What research should you be doing to determine what these things should say and having made the changes what are you expecting to happen? How will you measure the results?

And so we end up talking to customers and prospective customers about the thing you really pay for with SEO; time and experience.Google

It seems odd that in so many areas of life we take it for granted that we need a specialist to help us.

If your teeth are hurting you go to a dentist and will pay large sums of money for specialist help. Similarly, with a legal problem, we seem to have no problems paying Solicitors for their time and advice.

Now I appreciate that SEO doesn’t have the same standing as these professions. It’s not been around for hundreds of years and there is no single professional body which oversees the competence of its members. And on that basis choosing a good SEO firm can be something of a lottery. So, how do you do it?

What SEO should really do for your website

First off you want to find a firm that understands Marketing. Not just someone who says they do but preferably someone with qualifications to back it up.

The reason for this is simple; SEO is no longer all about just the technical side of getting your website ranking. We have seen many examples of websites that rank highly for keywords and get lots of traffic yet don’t do any business.

Why? Because the website has been optimised for machines, not humans.

Last time we checked it’s humans that need and buy your products and services which is where the Marketing knowledge is essential. Modern websites need a careful blend of technical know-how and traditional sales and marketing.

If you get this bit right then SEO should help your website to rank well for the keywords that matter to your business and help encourage people to buy from you.

We’ve compiled a quick list of some of the things that are thrown at us about SEO. Do any of these strike a chord with you?

SEO is NOT

  • The only thing you need to do to get your website to work well
  • A replacement for good solid professional Marketing
  • A tick box exercise, as Google changes daily[1]
  • A ‘quick’ process to get your website on the ‘front page’ for an indeterminate number of phrases/keywords
  • A panacea for all that ails your website
  • A dark art with smoke and mirrors

SEO is

  • An essential component within a Digital Marketing Strategy
  • A professional service to help deliver long term Marketing and business goals and strategies
  • A long-term process that delivers consistent benefits and sales leads to your business
  • About understanding and recognising the changes made by the search engines and adjusting your website accordingly.
  • An ongoing process to help identify how best to optimise your website so that the Search Engines can crawl and index your website properly
  • Just one part of the overall marketing jigsaw

Summary

So, the summary is that SEO should help you to deliver business, not just rankings. Getting the technical elements of the website right is an important step towards success but not the only step. Be wary therefore of firms that can offer a ‘tick box’ solution to your issues as in many cases this simply won’t have the desired effect.

If you are going to pay for SEO services you want transparency on what they are going to do for you, a clear plan which starts with basic research and understanding of your market and a strategy for how this influences both your keyword positions and the way customers see your website.

If you need some reassurance then choose a company who are part of the Google Partners programme as firms are only allowed to be Partners if they can demonstrate competence and an understanding of Google’s products.

To find out more about how Aqueous could help you call us on 0800 285 1424 and let us start the process of helping you drive your business forward.

 

[1] In 2013 Google made over 380 changes to its algorithm

Merry Christmas from Aqueous Digital

Happy Christmas everyone from all the team at Aqueous

It’s that time of year when thoughts turn from work to rest and time spent with family, friends and those we love. At Aqueous, the hard working team are taking a few days well earned rest but will be back in straight after the Bank Holiday.

For those who might need us here’s our opening hours over the holidays;

Christmas Opening Hours

Here’s wishing each and every one of you a fabulous Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year.

Penguin

Five trends that will dominate SEO in 2016

It’s the end of 2015 so time for a look ahead and a prediction on where we think the real changes are going to happen in 2016. Some of these are with us already and will only increase in importance, but others may surprise you.

1. Voice search changes everything, but it’s only the start

It’s quite a bold statement but it needs something as dramatic as this to successfully sum up the way Google is heading.

November saw an article in Time magazine (worth ten minutes of your time to read by the way) entitled Google Searches for its Future and if you don’t have time for that here’s a very simple summary;

The Evolution of Search

Amit Singhal, who is Google’s senior vice president in charge of all search-related products, has been working on this project for some time and was quoted in the interview saying that this is likely to consume the next few years of his life.

The vision? Think Star Trek and their communicators.

Amit Singhal

Amit Singhal from Google – Copyright Time.com

To quote the interview;

“The company’s hope is that, together, this transforms the concept of “Googling” from something that happens via a static search bar into a kind of ongoing conversation with an omniscient assistant, ready to step in and fulfill [sic] any request—even ones you haven’t thought about yet.”

The key to this is of course, understanding you, and this explains why digital companies want to ‘own’ you. The four biggest and most noteworthy of these are Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft and if you have or use any of their products just spend an hour diving into the Terms and Conditions you have signed up to.

They own you. All of you.

They all reserve the right to track everything you do and offer you suggestions as to what you might like to do based on your past behaviour.

Right now each of the companies is at the voice product stage with Microsoft embedding Cortana into mobile phones, Apple using Siri, Facebook having ‘M’ in Messenger and Google is pursuing this with its own ‘OK Google’ voice product which featured in TV adverts in July 2015. Even Amazon is getting in on the act with a voice product named ‘Echo’ that sits in your home waiting for voice commands.

OK Google Rockhopper Penguin

So what’s the next move?

Well, the predictive arm of Google’s assistant, ‘Google Now’, is planning to be an even more powerful evolution of traditional search. Launched in 2012, ‘Google Now’ aims to find information for users before they even think of typing it into the search box.

Google Now

This is how it is described;

“Initially Now offered obvious features that were readily accessible via apps, like weather forecasts and sports scores. But the information available is getting increasingly sophisticated, making use of Google’s different services (and its tracking capabilities).

The program will pick up on your daily commute schedule and use real-time traffic data to recommend when you should leave home to make it to work on time. It will comb through your emails to produce info cards showing your upcoming flight times, purchased movie tickets or incoming package shipments. Google Now can even remember where you parked your car.”

The next step is ‘Now on Tap’ which allows Google to scan whatever is on a user’s smartphone screen and then pull up relevant information or links to relevant apps.

Google wants to implement ‘Now’ cards that can tell you which of the restaurants near you have the shortest waiting time, create holiday itineraries for an upcoming long weekend or send you reminders to take your prescription medicine.

And so we come to the most disturbing bit. This is where they are all going;

Google has to convince users they should trade their personal data for convenience. ‘Now’ is an opt-in service, and it works best when you essentially hand the digital keys of your life over to Google and trust the company to drive.

(The red and bold emphasis in the paragraph above is mine and there simply because this is the most disturbing part of the whole tale.)

Apple, which is building out its own predictive search feature into Siri, has been quick to cast Google’s data-hungry model as a potential invasion of privacy. In a June speech, Apple CEO Tim Cook did everything but call out Google by name when he said, “Some of the most prominent and successful companies have built their businesses by lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information. They’re gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it. We think that’s wrong.”

Google stresses that it doesn’t sell user data to third parties, but the company isn’t apologetic about the fact that Now works better the more Google knows about you. “We can build a far better future by knowing a little bit more about you,” Singhal says. “People should only opt in if they get value out of it. Otherwise they should go to ‘My Accounts’ and just delete all that data.”

But can you? Can you go to My Accounts and delete all the data? What happens to the useful bits that you already have stored there?

Google’s plan is clear. They want to make “ambient computing” a reality. Essentially computing that is seamlessly present wherever you are, so easily accessible that you barely even realize that you’re interacting with a computer. And they want this to be available Worldwide.

Google’s Gary Illyes even went as far as to day that said that he would love to see Google Now replace traditional e-commerce transactions. Seriously? This is heavy stuff as it requires us all to embed Google so far into our lives that it knows everything about us, all of the time.

Whether you want this or not, it is a reality and it is coming. The question is how will that affect business and what do we need to do now to build for the future? That’s the challenge for SEO.

2. Mobile search will dominate in 2016

Earlier this year, Google announced that for the first time, it was seeing more search activity on mobile than desktop with the one caveat that this was for ten countries, including the US. During October Google has now said this is the case worldwide. The summary is that right now over half the worldwide Google searches are on a mobile device.

This is massive. It means that we have moved away from the birth of search and we are now in a new and uncertain future.

Google also confirmed that as well as the data it holds on websites it says it has indexed 100 billion links within apps.

Mobile phone on a laptopThis is a frightening number and goes some way to explaining a story that went around the SEO community earlier in the year saying that there may be a ranking benefit from sites which have an app.

Last year Google said that more searches were happening on mobile devices than desktop in the US, Japan and eight other countries that weren’t named. In some countries desktop searches still top mobile but the direction of travel is clear.

It’s worth noting that this doesn’t mean that desktop searches have diminished. Stats on desktop search from comScore routinely show the overall amount has risen from month to month. Rather, it’s that mobile searches have been a growing new segment that have caught up and now overtaken desktop search.

On the whole, desktop search has grown. As a percentage, it has dropped.

That’s because we’re living in what I’ve called an “always-on search world,” where we’re always able to search.

Got a query? Your phone is always in reach, as opposed to the past when you’d have to get to wherever your computer was.

So the overall volume of search queries has grown. And now you can also ask your mobile to search for data through a voice activated service meaning a whole new range of searches are opening up.

Mobile is clearly incredibly important and of growing importance, so if you have not gone mobile friendly – do it. If you are not thinking about Apps and App Indexing, get thinking.

As you can see from the first subject in this article, mobile is essential for not only the way people search now but to make the future voice and predictive services a reality.

Of course, this is a slow process but is being given a bit of a shove by Google’s latest development which is Accelerated Mobile Pages.

Google announced in October a new initiative to make the web even faster on mobile, an open source project called Accelerated Mobile Pages.

The technology is new; it is AMP HTML, a new open framework built entirely out of existing web technologies, which allows websites to build light-weight webpages.

The current issue for many is that you probably need to maintain two different code bases to manage it properly.

Google however has wide support from Twitter, Pinterest, WordPress.com, Chartbeat, Parse.ly, Adobe Analytics and LinkedIn so it appears to have gained considerable traction already with some big names on board.

You can try it out in search by going to http://g.co/ampdemo on your mobile device. I tried it and it loads pages at a lightning quick speed which is massively beneficial on a mobile device in most of the country where 4G (or even 3G) coverage is sparse.

Google Accelerated Mobile Pages

This fully aligns with Google’s drive towards mobile and the massive rise in mobile searches.

In fact, in November Google issued a statement saying;

“Google will begin sending traffic to your AMP pages in Google Search early next year, and we plan to share more concrete specifics on timing very soon.”

So where is this likely to go? Well, Google is committed to making mobile the default platform for websites so you need to be thinking long and hard about how you make your site mobile friendly if you haven’t already.

The good news however for those on WordPress is that they announced the development of a plugin to the AMP standard.

The plugin will enable WordPress publishers to create AMP versions of posts with a single click, WordPress said in a blog post;

“We believe that open source is one of the most powerful ideas of our generation. We strongly and actively support a free, open internet. We’re very happy to support an open source initiative like AMP, which brings publishers and technology companies together to make a better mobile experience for everyone.”

So 2016 will see more and more news about mobile data and search and inevitably, as it gets easier to use a mobile to search, so the usage will rise. The SEO landscape means anyone not thinking mobile and voice first is missing out.

3. Beware of the Penguin; it will be a killer

PenguinWe’ve written a lot in the past about being hit by the Penguin algorithm and in fact had one or two clients who came to us with penalties who were never able to free themselves from its grasp.

The problem typically is that there are so many awful backlinks pointing to the website that they could not remove them or disavow them fast enough. And even if they did manage to clean them up the Penguin has to wait for a refresh meaning that it could be over a year before your efforts are rewarded.

Now we are told if you get a slap from penguin for bad links it should be possible to get an instant bounce back.

Garry Illyes from Google said on Twitter that the update still should be on schedule by the end of 2015, but in early December it was announced that this is likely to be delayed until 2016.

He also said it should be the real-time/continuous version that we are expecting. So if you get slammed by Penguin and the algorithm is real time, as soon as Google processes your link removals (i.e. disavows or links are actually removed) you can potentially recover immediately.

This is the theory but the reality may be very different.

I argued as far back as 2013 that Google was wrong to penalise sites with bad backlinks and that they could achieve much better results by simple rewarding good link building. After all, the logic goes that if they know which links are bad they must, by definition, know which links are good, or at least not toxic.

The inherent problem with this is that Google’s entire algorithm and thereby competitive advantage, relies on counting and valuing links for it to work. It needs the rest of the world to link to make sense of the digital environment.

The fact that this is common knowledge and that people have been cheating it ever since Google first arrived doesn’t help matters.

What this means is that if the Penguin update does go live in 2016, and there’s no reason to suggest it won’t, then we could see some significant fall out from its effects very quickly. The last recognised update was December 2014 so if you have been hit by a link penalty since then the chances are you are still hampered by it today.

Whilst the principle is fine we need to consider the impact that previous Penguin updates have had on websites. If history teaches us anything it is that Penguin updates all come with considerable fall out. Expect the 2016 version to be equally devastating.

4. Google’s RankBrain brings AI to your search results

Bloomberg reported in October 2015 about a new method Google uses to interpret a “very large fraction” of the search queries they see every day. The new method is called “RankBrain” and has already been live in Google for months now.

Google Rank Brain Artificial IntelligenceRankBrain is basically a way for Google to understand more ambiguous queries better. It uses AI (artificial intelligence) to try to guess what your query is referring to, like a human would.

Greg Corrado, a senior research scientist at Google confirmed that it uses a human “gut feeling” approach, to interpret the hard to understand searches.

He also said this is considered the third most important signal of the hundreds of signals Google uses in search. This is crucial and has been overlooked by many SEO’s to date.

To quote from the original article;

“RankBrain uses artificial intelligence to embed vast amounts of written language into mathematical entities — called vectors — that the computer can understand. If RankBrain sees a word or phrase it isn’t familiar with, the machine can make a guess as to what words or phrases might have a similar meaning and filter the result accordingly, making it more effective at handling never-before-seen search queries.”

It is live worldwide now and has been for quite some time, with Gary Illyes from Google saying it “was launched months ago,” and it doesn’t kill SEO, he added “your SEO magic still works” with RankBrain.

But does it? The traditional and typical ‘SEO magic’ relies on keywords as the basis for any optimisation, but what do you do it the machine has learning capability and can interpret metaphors as searches for specific items? What if keywords are no longer the key to your ‘SEO magic’?

As an example, if you need a local plumber you are more likely when using voice search, to ask ‘find me a local plumber’ as opposed to typing in ‘plumber + location’.

But do the words ‘find me a local plumber’ appear anywhere on the website? Indeed do they need to? Or is Google now so advanced that it can dispense with the requirement to have the ‘right words in the right order’ on the page?

The author of the story at Bloomberg also added on Twitter that the AI in RankBrain is not run in real-time but rather “periodically re-trained” over time.

In other words, it is learning as it goes along.

The development of this AI took over a year and has been carefully blended into the main search algorithm so that it can now handle around 15% of all the search queries that Google receives.

But what about when Google gets these queries wrong? Some webmasters are speculating that this is why we are seeing more zombie traffic via Google and this has been quite a talking point during 2015.

Either way, the result is clear; SEO has changed and the old ‘SEO Magic’ simply won’t cut it in 2016. Expect early learnings and results to come from the bigger brands with the higher traffic volumes and expect all the smaller players to be playing catch up throughout the year.

5. Local becomes everything as Google starts to dominate this space

I wrote about this recently in this article but it’s worth repeating and updating it here as it is a game changer.

Back in the 1990’s, pre-internet and certainly pre-Google, there really were only a few ways that most businesses generated enquiries on a daily basis.

Aside from the huge brands with the deeper pockets for TV and in some cases Radio, the millions of small businesses, SME’s in the UK and ‘Mom and Pop’s’ in the US, relied on traditional print media for their day to day existence.

Local newspapers always had thriving advertising sections and directories such as Yellow Pages, Thomson’s and a multitude of smaller players made a living in this space.Directories are now irrelevant

Many businesses got around 80% of their revenue from a 20 mile radius of where they were based and despite the rise of the Internet this hasn’t changed much over the past twenty years.

And then along came Google. And the world as we knew it changed.

Fast forward 20 years and we are living daily with the new paradigm. Today Google is the behemoth of the advertising world and everyone dances to their tune. Yellow Pages is a pamphlet which floats gently to your doormat once a year and rumour has it that Thomson’s will actually give up on printing a directory in the next year or so.

If I owned a directory I wouldn’t, as Google is about to destroy all Directories and aggregators in the online space.

I first covered this in July of this year for our SEO customers to give them a heads up on the changes that were coming to their online environment but now we have the real thing in action and it’s a game changer.

In summary, Google has created an advert box which puts home service providers in touch with searchers. Plumbers, builders and the like will be able to get leads directly from Google without them having to go anywhere else.

The service has been trialled in the San Francisco Bay Area and was covered admirably by Ginny Marvin in her article when it first appeared.

This was the image which accompanied the original article;

Google Home Services 1

Having ironed out early glitches, observers noticed Google rolling it out of the San Francisco area with adverts spotted for the search ‘San Jose house cleaners’;

 

Google Home Services 2

 

Google officially announced it on Google+ saying:

From “unclog bathroom sink” to “locked out of apartment,” there are millions of searches every day on Google for plumbers, locksmiths, and other home services. To help these businesses better connect with their customers, we’re introducing AdWords Express home service ads — available today in beta for plumbers, locksmiths, house cleaners, and handymen in select cities throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Learn more about home service ads google.com/homeserviceads

Remember that this is the core space in which directories, aggregators and local newspapers used to play.

Whether you think this to be a good or bad idea it seems that trials are telling Google two things; firstly that users like it and secondly that they can make money at it. You will notice that it is currently occupying the top slot in place of the usual top three advertisements meaning that to dominate PPC search you will now need to sign up to their ‘home service ads’ programme.

It is still unclear if the standard PPC rules apply regarding size of bids, quality score and content/keywords but this will become clearer as the trial progresses and it moves towards mainstream roll out.

The reality is that Google knows it can make money at this and any aggregator or directory should be massively concerned at this development.

In the UK 95% of all search engine traffic is via Google so anyone looking for a plumber, builder or roofer is using Google.

So that’s it, Directories are now officially dead. Google Home Services ads are now live.

The reality is that when the new system is introduced the top results, which on PPC and Organic for many trades are aggregators, are likely to be removed and replaced with an actual tradesman.

Given that aggregators rely on PPC to make their business model viable this will be a significant blow to their revenue stream. In fact, in a recent sample we took 45% of the advertising belonged to aggregators and these adverts are likely to get displaced although what has happened in the USA is that they now all appear on the right-hand side instead of at the top.

The interesting element from an SEO perspective is the organic listings that are currently below the advertisements and the local pack where there are five aggregators and/or directories. In the US, the results immediately below the adverts are ALL for Yelp;

Google Home Services 5

This doesn’t look so bad until you click the ‘More Plumbers’ button and…..

 

Google Home Services 6

 

Everything other than the Google product is removed and every one of these entries is a paid entry.

Talk about a competition killer. With a monopoly position, Google has now found a way of removing people who would like a part of its revenue stream from the search results.

The argument will go that the user has made a conscious choice to use the service and everything else would be a distraction, but I can’t see that holding any water with the sites that have just been removed.

And for those of you reading this thinking that it won’t affect you; think again. It will.

Every small business owner who wants to appear in these search results will need to firstly have an up to date Google My Business profile page and then have to put budget aside to enter the world of Google PPC. Like it or not, Google will be asking for money for every transaction that goes through this platform and moreover they become the final arbiter of quality.

If a customer complains about your service, or lack of it, you will find your entry ‘deep-sixed’ rendering it impossible to get visibility, enquiries and business.

There are no details so far on how this programme works but your business life will be in the hands of a single provider who can turn the tap on and off at will.Google My Business

You may be sitting there thinking that you are OK as you are not a small home service business. What makes you think that this will stop at tradespeople?

Why not Solicitors? Why not Accountants? In fact why not any business at all?

Back in the day Yellow Pages (or now Yell.com) had over 2,400 classifications which generated revenue and in the online space there must be over 3,000 separate searches that they currently rank for on Google.

What if no one ever got to Yell.com? Or Rated People? Or Checkatrade? Or Thomsonlocal?

What if all the clicks that currently go to these sites go directly to Google?

You can see the compelling logic from Google’s point of view. Aggregators always have been an interruption to search and this new Home Ad Service simply cuts out the middle man.

Is there anything that aggregators can do? Probably not, although it is unlikely that they will go down without a fight.

Whatever your view on this development one thing is for sure; it will redefine the local space in 2016.

UPDATE: We’ve created this infographic to represent the changes and you can see how the five elements link together.

2016 SEO Changes

Facebook logo

Why did Facebook send me 749 emails?

I know what you’re thinking, but this really isn’t a ‘click bait’ headline. They really did send me 749 emails in the last twelve months.

The reason? Simple really; I didn’t go on Facebook.

That’s right, from 9th December last year until today I haven’t visited my personal profile on Facebook.

I had grown increasingly tired of advertisements offering me mature singles and the opportunity to open a betting account when I’m a happily married man who doesn’t gamble. And when they weren’t offering me those delights it was pushing SEO courses, mostly from people who would have to pay me to teach them what SEO really is.

So what did I miss and what did I learn from this absence?

Well, I learned a few things, some of which came as quite a surprise.

I’m awful with birthdays

It’s true; I can’t even remember my brothers and sisters birthdays so I have no chance of remembering friends I went to school with over 40 years ago. That’s one thing that Facebook does well and apart from anything else it means that you at least have the opportunity to say something nice when someone has a birthday.

What I also realised though is that if I don’t post anything, it really doesn’t matter.

Sure I’ve missed the opportunity to be nice but I’m certain that there isn’t a single person who is friends with me on Facebook who is sitting there right now harbouring some niggle about me because I didn’t post on their timeline during the last year. I didn’t even post on my wife’s birthday and she’s OK with it so I expect everyone else is as well.

Facebook’s emails are relentless

At an average of just over two emails a day Facebook has hounded me during the past year. Every day I don’t go on it sends more emails. The problem is that they are unlike every other email sent by any other firm.

Everyone else who sends an email makes sure it contains a message; some sort of compelling reason to read it and then perhaps take action on the contents.

Facebook’s emails are different though. They send me a headline and nothing else.

 

Facebook click bait headlines

Facebook click bait headlines

It’s the ultimate click bait email and frankly bloody annoying, not least of which because some of the stuff that has been posted over the past year looked like it might be interesting. Had I receive more than just a click bait headline I might have been tempted to go on and take a deeper look but I hate being played.

Facebook emails

And because of my irrational hatred of these emails I missed something…..

I missed my friend’s breakdown live on Facebook, and their subsequent rescue

I only found out a week after the event that one of my friends had melted down on Facebook. Their life had taken a turn in the wrong direction and the subsequent outpourings were a clear cry for help. Fortunately for them they have a lot of Facebook friends and more importantly, some real life friends, some of whom were kind enough to ensure that a timely intervention prevented them from doing something stupid.

Had I known I would have picked the phone up as they live a long way away from me. But in many respects this is no different to life thirty years ago when if one of your friends a long way away had a problem you only found out about it long after the event. It doesn’t mean that you don’t feel for them, or that you don’t want to help, far from it.

The upshot is that Facebook extends the net of people for whom you can have an interest and it allows you to maintain more relationships than you would have done thirty years ago. But with this comes enormous pressure and that becomes a facet of modern life which we can all do without.

I visited friends

Yes, as strange as it sounds I actually visited friends I hadn’t seen for years. Instead of relying on Facebook to keep a long distance and vicarious watch on their progress I picked the phone up, talked to them and then got in the car and went to see them.

One thing I can tell you is that it’s far better to meet someone face to face than it is to correspond endlessly on Facebook. Actually making the effort to see someone says more than liking their posts or saying hi on their birthdays. You should try it if you haven’t done it recently.

I got more done

I walked into a room the other day where three people were all sat, the TV blaring, and not one of them watching it. All of them were on their ‘devices’ on Facebook.

Facebook is an endless wash of trivia and distracts people more than they would care to admit. How many of you out there reading this have Facebook withdrawal symptoms if you don’t check your timeline every couple of hours?

Trust me; it’s much better if you don’t have to check it at all.

Without the endless distractions I managed to complete a number of key presentations that I had to do, I became Vice Chairman of a local society (yes, actually getting out into the real world and talking to people) and put together an award winning display.

In fact I have probably been my most productive over the past year and achieved more in my personal and business life than I had in the preceding years.

Without the endless need to check in, photograph my food and comment on comments or like people who’ve liked my post I found that I could achieve so much more with the time I got back. Facebook is great for so much but it is a thief of time.

I had no ideas about crazes, fads and soap stars

My brain is awash with trivia. People who know me know that I can generally recall odd snippets of rubbish about a diverse range of subjects but over the past year this has diminished somewhat. I no longer recognise soap stars unless they were in the soap twenty years ago. I can’t tell you who is seeing who or which celebrity misbehaved at some awards ceremony. The wash of daily trivia is genuinely lost on me. But I don’t think this is a bad thing.

I missed the ice bucket challenge but I still gave to charity. I missed the outpourings of grief and rage around disasters and atrocities that happened around the world but I still felt the same emotions as many of you. I didn’t see any cute pets doing crazy things but I’ve still retained my humanity, sense of humour and compassion.

It seems that choosing to not be on Facebook didn’t actually make me a bad person, nor I hope a worse one. It just gave me more time to deal with things in ways I chose, privately, and not in the public spotlight.

I read more

Yes, that old fashioned thing. I read books, I read newspapers, and I read magazines. In fact I read a lot of stuff that wasn’t on a screen and found it both relaxing and therapeutic.

I found myself in railway carriages surrounded by people engrossed in their devices. I sat in meetings where people were forever checking their phones like they had a nervous tic.

And through this I read. Or took time out to think or plan. I even took to writing a monthly column for all of our customers telling them what they needed to know about changes which were happening in the digital landscape.

All of this was better than continually checking my timeline.

My wife thought I’d unfriended her

This was probably the most grief from my decision not to go on Facebook; I was accused of unfriending my wife. The irony of course is that we see each other every day and this was a face to face conversation which seems unlikely if you aren’t friends with someone. We were actually sat next to each other but I think the irony was lost in that particular conversation….

I had been tagged into something recently but when she checked not only was the tag missing but she couldn’t see my profile. The assumption was naturally that I had blocked her but this rather missed the point. The point was that I hadn’t been on Facebook at all so how on earth was I supposed to block her?

As I still haven’t been on I have no idea what happened here, nor what changed but I do know that the following day everything was back to normal. Whether it was a ‘ghost in the machine’ or something else I can’t tell, but what I do know is that I was astonished to be defending myself in a conversation for something I didn’t do.

I spent more time on Twitter

Twitter_logo_blueOddly enough I did find myself turning to Twitter and became much more of a convert than I had been before.

More than anything I found that where Facebook takes some time for a story to get up a head of steam, on Twitter you can verify it within seconds.

Twitter became the medium of choice for my business and we have used this extensively over the past couple of months to drive awareness and business. It is far more effective in getting a message across and doesn’t suffer from being choked at source unless you pay, which is where Facebook has gone.

Like Facebook however it does have annoying adverts in your stream but at least they are clearly marked as such and you can whizz past them if they are not of any use. When I was last on Facebook I found that I was trying to be tricked into clicking on stuff which was actually thinly disguised advertising.

As a Marketing man I love great marketing and despite my rants I don’t mind good relevant advertising appearing in my threads and timelines. I understand it is what makes these platforms free at the point of use. What I would hope is that advertisers take notice of the words ‘good’ and ‘relevant’ in that sentence.

Funnily enough Twitter hasn’t offered me any mature singles or SEO courses but it does want me to start gambling…

So what did I miss?

Despite all the above I can say that there are some things that I missed about Facebook.

The main thing I missed about it is the one thing it was set up to do in the first place; to help me keep in touch with friends. I missed its convenience and the simple way that I can keep up with events in their lives with a relatively short investment of my time.

I missed the humour. I missed the posts from my friends whom I know will always make me laugh. I missed their witty comments, the cheeky banter and the ability to use it to bond with a group.

I missed the photos from where I grew up and places I love to go. I missed the photos from my friends as they enjoyed their lives. I missed their celebrations, triumphs and achievements. I expect I’m all the poorer for this but richer for getting a chunk of my life back. It’s a trade off in the end.

Conclusion

Despite my downer on Facebook it seems that there is a lot of good in the platform and it deserves a place in my daily life. What we need to ensure though is that me and Facebook come to an arrangement what suits both of us. I’m happy to invest my time in it as long as it promises not to overtake my life.

So I’m going back on and will, I’m sure, engage with a lot of people whom I’ve not corresponded with over the past twelve months. I will be taking baby steps at first and I will be controlling how much time it tries to suck from my life so if you are friends with me on Facebook please bear with me.

Oh, and I will be changing my email settings. In some countries 749 emails in a year could be considered harassment…..