• Adwords Changes for 2016

    Google announced some significant Adwords changes during the Google Performance Summit in May.  While they have not given any specific dates for the updates to roll out it is well worth getting familiar with the new concepts.

    Some Adwords Stats and Why Mobile is Everything

    Most of the statistics that Google provide are specific to the US market. However, the UK follows the same trends and much of what they have experimented with the big US retailers they also trailed here in the UK.

    image of mobile phone with search During the Performance, Summit Google stated that they handle at least 2 trillion searches per year,  although they don’t give any breakdown to that figure.  However, it is known that more than half those searches happen on mobile.  Which is massive for Adwords when you consider that the Adwords platform is a little over 15 years old and was built in a “desktop” age.

    Additionally nearly half of all mobile searches on Google are location related.  Location searches are growing at a faster rate than other mobile queries.

    Think about people searching for “…. near me.”

    So all of these changes have the mobile user/experience at their heart.  In early 2016 Google removed the adverts that were displayed on the right-hand side of the page.  Instead of showing 3 or 4 adverts at the top and three at the bottom of the page.  This change was specifically aimed at harmonising the desktop/tablet/mobile experience.

    Adwords Changes for 2016

    Expanded Text Ads

    The format of the text ad has not significantly changed since the inception of Adwords.  Currently, the text ad is made up of:

    • 25 character headline
    • Two 35 character description lines
    • The display URL
    • Optional extensions.

    The new Adwords text format consists of:

    • Two 30 character headlines
    • One 80 character description line
    • The display URL
    • Optional extensions

    In effect, many text adverts already had two headlines as with the correct use of punctuation it has been possible to show the headline and description line 1 on the same line.  However, the available advert text moves up from a possible 95 characters to 140.

    new text ad following Adwords changes
    New ad format showing increased space

    This is a huge change and will make bidding for the top 2 positions more important than ever.  Currently, the search results page for a competitive search term contains four adverts at the top of the page.  Assuming that remains the same the extra space that the new text ads take up will push everything else right to the bottom of a mobile screen.

    No doubt Google will test this new format, but they expect it to roll out later this year.  That has to mean in the next few months as it’s highly unlikely they would make such a significant change immediately before the main shopping seasons.

    This means recreating ad creatives across entire campaigns.

    Responsive Display Ads

    Many small advertisers keep clear of display ads, partly because of the perceived complexity of selecting Ads creatives and sizing options.

    In future advertisers will only have to provide one Image, the ad text (headline and description) and the target URL.  Google will take care of how the advert displays on different devices.

    image showing The New Google Display Avderts
    The New Google Display Adverts

    Specific Bid Adjustments for Device Types

    There has been an argument for creating specific campaigns for mobile rather than using the existing bid adjustments.  Whether that is right or not probably depends on the point of view and circumstances.

    In future, Google will allow you to bid more or less for desktop, tablet or mobile.  The adjustment range is increased to 900%.  So instead of having to gear the bid adjustments against desktop it will be possible to structure the bids relative to each device.

    Local Ads for Google Maps

    As so many mobile searchers have a local intent, it makes sense start including advertising within Google maps (promoted pins).  This changes leverages the existing local extensions, but also expanding the information available to searchers from within maps.  Aside from business location, and opening times it will also be possible to check stock levels and see special offers.

    image showing a promoted pin on google maps
    Promoted pins and business pages on Google maps.

    How will these Adwords changes affect Small Businesses

    Theses changes are possibly the most significant updates to the Adwords platform since the system was created in 2000; reflecting how the internet is used in the mobile age.

    The Adwords interface is also undergoing a redesign, although don’t expect to see that live for quite some time.  It’s a massive undertaking, and while a demo was shown at the event, likelihood is that it won’t be widely available until the end of 2017.

    While the system does allow business owners to manage their accounts, the frequency of Adwords changes highlight the importance of employing an Adwords Specialist, especially for advertisers in highly competitive markets.

    Images are screenshots taken from the Innovations Keynote speech.

  • Google’s Declaration of War on Non Mobile Friendly Websites

    You may have heard about the upcoming update that Google is about to roll out. The original notification about the mobile friendly update came back in February, and it is due to be unleashed on 21st April 2015.

    However you may not have noticed, but back in November 2014 Google started labelling websites as being “mobile friendly” and explained their intentions to ensure that their search results pages were returning sites that mobile users would find useful and useable.

    Why is Google penalising non-mobile pages

    image of mobile phone with search Before going any further it is worth considering why Google is making these changes. All Search Engines have one primary concern: that is to return pages in their results that users will find useful, and then to display those pages in an order that reflects their likely usefulness against the user’s query.

    Do not underestimate how important this principle is to the major search engines. If users do not find the results of their searches useful they will go elsewhere.

    So basically Google wants to ensure that if you search for something on your mobile device you will find pages that you are able to easily read and interact with, rather than web pages that display a desktop-only version.

    The existing algorithm is already incredibly complex and it is unclear how Google is going to index and rank pages for this mobile-friendly update. Gary Illyes of Google was recently interviewed and gave some very useful guidance about the update here.

    Who will be affected by the mobile friendly update?

    In the announcement on 26th February Google stated that the change on 21st April will

    affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results

    However even though this is undoubtably a significant change in the algorithm it is difficult to know in advance just how dramatic the changes will be. There are two obvious questions:
    1. What is a “mobile search”

    2. What is a “mobile friendly” website

    The other less obvious question, but potentially significant, is how this update will affect the way that content from apps is returned in Google’s Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). Anyone who maintains Apps will want to make sure that they are indexable by Google to ensure that they are returned. There is a step-by-step guide on Google’s developer site if this concerns you.

    What is a Mobile Search

    Does mobile only relate to Mobile phones? What about tablets, are they mobile? And what about laptops with very small screens e.g. notebooks?

    This was not initially very clear and has lead to some confusion, with people claiming that Tablet users (iPad, Surface, eReaders etc) will only see mobile-friendly results. This would seem odd given that high resolution screens on an iPad are perfectly capable of displaying a desktop web page.

    In early April Google confirmed (via Twitter) that the mobile-friendly change is for mobile users and not for tablet users. So for the time being it is clear that this update will only affect people using Google Search via a mobile (phone).

    Google has offered some advice for webmasters to ensure that their sites are optimised for Tablets.

    What is a Mobile Friendly webpage

    Google has stated that in order to be eligible for the “mobile-friendly” label the following applies:

    • Does not use Flash
    • Text resizes and is readable without zooming
    • The page can be viewed without horizontal scrolling
    • Links are spaced apart so that they are easy to tap

    To help website owners prepare for the changes Google has released a tool to test whether an individual page is mobile-friendly. But a word of caution when using this tool:

    Firstly, the tool only checks individual pages and not an entire site. This is relevant because some content management systems will format pages differently, and secondly the content on an individual page could break the mobile friendliness of that page.

    We have tested a number of pages agains this tool and found some inconsistent results. i.e. pages that display poorly on an iPhone appearing to pass the test. Conversely pages that meet the above criteria failing the test.

    So whilst the test is a useful tool is probably should not be relied on to guarantee that a website will be unaffected by the change on 21st April.

    Does my Website need to be redesigned?

    It is completely understandable that small business owners who perhaps built their own site, or paid someone to do it in the hope that it was a one-tine cost, will be concerned about these changes.

    Mobile users matter, they are important! A mobile user is more likely to be trying to find your business with a view to visiting or calling you. If you have access to your website analytics take a look at the number of visitors from mobile devices. You may be surprised.

    There are so many variables at play it is difficult to recommend a generic course of action. It is hard to think of a business to which mobile traffic from search would not matter. How much work you need to do (if any) to ensure that your website is mobile-friendly will depend on a number of factors:

    • What platform the website is currently on (WordPress, Joomla, custom built, etc.)
    • Your level of skill & knowledge at editing websites
    • Whether the entire site needs to be mobile-friendly or just a selection of pages
    • What you want your mobile visitors to be able to do; place orders, contact you, consume information etc.

    The best course of action is to check your homepage and a selection of your most important pages against the Google mobile friendly tool.

    Next review your analytics and see how mobile visitors are using your site at the moment.

    And then give some thought to either changing your site, or instructing someone else to change it for you.

    When thinking about making changes it is worth bearing in mind that Google is unlikely to completely block a site from being returned if someone searches for a business by name.  So for example if you search for “ABC Double Glazing” it seems unlikely that Google would not return at least the homepage for that company’s website.  That would damage user experience.  However the same business would probably not be returned for more general “double glazing” queries.  That being said we won’t know for sure until after the change is implemented.

    The one bit of good news is that the index is apparently going to be dynamically refreshed (much in the same way that the current index is).  This means that if on the 22nd April a website is not mobile-friendly, but by the 30th April it is, then once Googlebot has re-crawled the site the new status will be updated.  However, bear in mind that it can take considerable time for some websites to be re-crawled.

    Because this change has not happened yet there is no way to be sure what to what extent it will affect website owners. You can be sure that there will be some impact and that this is not the end of the matter. Google always tweaks its search algorithms and this is sure to be the first of many changes affecting mobile.  So now might be a good time to review your website and online marketing activities.

  • Why having multiple domains is a waste of time

    There are any number of SEO strategies and techniques that have been publicised over the years, some more successful than others. Some have actually worked for a while, only to be crushed when the Search Engines update their algorithms. For online marketers and people with technical skills this was not so much of a problem. These changes simply meant creating a new website and “off we go again”.

    However when working for a client there is a moral duty to ensure that their business is protected from these changes. So the start point of any new project is to put-aside any preconceived ideas about SEO or Google and to establish what the client actually wants to achieve.

    Every business is different, and every business owner has their own unique plans for their future. A successful online marketing campaign is going to closely mirror those goals and help the business move in the right direction.

    Online marketing has become such an important part of most successful businesses existence that they will rightly regard their virtual address (domain) as being as valuable as their physical address.

    Our goal is to help you achieve your goals, and to ensure that nothing you do in your online marketing activities will harm your business.

    Does owning multiple domains help rank in the Search Engines

    We are quite often asked about the benefits of owning multiple domains for the same business.  It is not uncommon to find that a potential client has purchased 100’s of domains related to their business name or business activity.  Sometime in the belief that this will help them get traffic from Google.

    There is rarely a good business case for maintaining multiple domains and websites for the same core business activity.

    Clearly businesses that are separate legal entities, or carry out entirely unrelated activities can be, and probably should be, kept separate. But in almost every other case the potential benefits do not justify the extra effort (money) involved in maintaining multiple websites.

    To be clear. There is no reason why a business should not own multiple domains. It is also perfectly reasonable to use those domains in offline marketing and pay-per-click advertising. And of course it is also beneficial to own any related domains rather than risk a competitor purchasing them.

    The diagram below outlines a possible example of using multiple domains:

    possible example of Multiple Domains for one website

    The perceived benefits

    People often think that owning multiple web properties will mean that a business can appear in more than one place on the first page of the search engines. However this is becoming increasingly difficult, and Google has publicly stated that they are taking steps to stop this happening. Even if a business manages to attain multiple listing the likelihood is that would only be for non competitive keywords and generate an minimal level of traffic.

    A Search Engine’s number one priority is to return results that users will find useful. And they will go to extraordinary lengths to ensure that this happens. With this in mind Google often refers to wanting to find web pages that it can trust and those that have authority. For a business with a physical presence i.e. shops factories etc. then making sure that their web sites are closely linked and associated with their physical address will help towards engendering trust.  Anything that even potentially could damage trust should be avoided.  In this regard your relationship with Google is just like the relationship between two people; once the trust has gone it takes an awful lot of hard work (and time) to get it back!

    Authority comes from well written unique content that is shared by other people in the same marketplace.

    In future for websites to rank for competitive keywords it will be necessary to spend a lot of effort gaining the search engine’s trust. The authority flows from the quality of the content on the website. So, it makes sense that trying to achieve this outcome for multiple websites for the same business is a signifiant investment in time, which would probably be more profitably spent creating a single high quality website.

    In short: no harm in owning as many domains as you can afford to buy, but be careful what you do with them.