The following was a presentation I gave at our Spring 2016 Digital Marketing Conference. The session looked at the latest trends and developments in digital marketing, web development, seo and social media.

In this presentation we covered the following topics:

  • Web Development & SEO
  • Artificial Intelligence in SEO & RankBrain
  • Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)
  • The Algorithm Will Change. What to do?
  • Social Media Trends
    • Speed
    • Video & Live Streaming
    • Decreasing Reach, Increasing Costs

Web Development and SEO

I’m combining these two into 1 topic as they are becoming so intertwined these days. I’m sure you are all aware of what the basics of Search Engine Optimisation are and what they entail, i.e. On page optimisation with your Title Tags, Meta Tags, etc and your off page optimisation efforts with link building.

You’ll have to bear with me for a bit as we get quite technical at times in this topic – but if you stick with me it’ll be worth it!

Typically when we talk SEO, we are talking google, since here in Australia google accounts for the vast majority of searches. On Monday, Google’s share of search was 94.34%. How your website ranks within google is calculated by its search algorithm, which is an immensely complicated algorithm and is becoming increasingly more complicated with an estimated 500 to 600 updates per year.

Some of the key updates in recent years include:

Panda

An update which focused on increasing the rankings of higher quality sites and demoting the rankings of lower quality sites.

Penguin

This update focused on devaluing sites that had gained backlinks to their site from lower quality sources.

Hummingbird

This is a bit different to Panda and Penguin. Where they were modifications to the algorithm, Hummingbird was a completely new algorithm that incorporated parts of the old algorithm (eg Penguin & Panda). One of the key purposes of this update was to better understand a users intent. There’s some speculation that this update was to better enable voice searches from mobile devices.

With the constant updates happening, how can you possibly stay up to date and know what is important and what isn’t important to take note of?

One way is to look at what Google is telling us is important (they have a blog), and another is to look at the major updates that have taken in recent years to see where trends are heading.

There are a number of key themes that Google has been highlighting the past year and keep cropping up in blog posts and algorithm updates. They are:

  • Quality content
  • Mobile friendliness
  • Site speed

Artificial Intelligence in SEO, RankBrain

Within Hummingbird (Google’s Search Algorithm) we have something called RankBrain. This was introduced in the middle of 2015 and made public towards the end of the year and is one of the hundreds of ranking “signals” that affect how websites rank.

Initially, it affected less than 15% of searches, but in June of this year, Google is now including RankBrain in every query.

So why should we take notice of RankBrain? Greg Corrado, a senior artificial intelligence research scientist at Google said this:

“In the few months it has been deployed, RankBrain has become the third-most important signal contributing to the result of a search query”

It’s come out of nowhere to be the 3rd most important ranking signal. Since that statement Google has also confirmed what the number 1 and 2 ranking signals are and they are content and links pointing to your site.

So what is RankBrain?

RankBrain is Google’s Machine Learning Artificial Intelligence System that it uses to process results. In particular:

“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.”

Google used to do a more basic form of this in the past, for example, it knew that shoe and shoes were essentially the same as were swim and swimming. It could even identify if you were querying about apple the company or apple the fruit depending on the combinations of words. But this takes the intelligence to another level.

What does this mean for you and your website?

According to Google, there is nothing you can do to rank for it, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore it. What is the essence of what it is doing? It’s trying to understand queries that have never been searched on before, and with the increasing prevalence of voice search where people ask Siri questions, it’s no longer a 2 or 3 keyword phrase that Google is trying to understand.

So what this means is that topics are important. In the past the typical SEO process was to do keyword research, find a stack of high volume keywords and produce content specifically around each keyword. It is now far better to build a comprehensive page on a topic that will rank for numerous keywords and variants. If you have a dominant page on a topic, with RankBrain you will be more likely to come up in the search results for never before used queries.

Never before queries will likely become more common with voice search, as the way you talk is different to how you typically type.

Key Takeaway

Produce comprehensive content that is useful for users.

Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)

AMP is all about speed. Over the past number of years, Google has been pushing hard for companies to improve the speed of their websites. This makes sense in the context of increased use of mobile smart devices with research showing that 53% of consumers will abandon a page that takes more than 3 seconds to load.

What do you think is the average load time for the top 30 eCommerce websites in the US? (eg eBay, Walmart, Amazon, Victoria’s Secret)

As of last week, it’s 7.12 seconds

Only 1 of the 30 loads in under 3 seconds!

How does Australia shape up?

I ran the following tests on Monday (24 October, 2016 via Pingdom) to test some Australian sites perform

Some have a long way to go and some perform incredibly well.

With a lot of sites lagging on speed, Google decided to try and provide a way for mobile websites to load faster. That brings us to AMP.

What is AMP?

The best way to start to get an understanding of it is to see it in action.

  • Pull out your smart phones, keep them on silent 🙂
  • Open your favourite browser
  • Visit google.com
  • Search for “Melbourne Cup”, notice the first results. (Note: this was just before the Melbourne Cup, so was a big news item, you may not get the AMP results with this outside of Melbourne Cup season)
  • See if you can count how many seconds it takes to load the page

Notice the following when you are browsing around:

  • Search results are highlighted with a lightning bolt and an AMP signal
  • AMP results appear above all others in a carousel
  • You can swipe right to more pieces of content, even when you have loaded the content
  • Notice the address in the browser, it is still Google
  • Share the article from your browser via email and see what the URL is

How does it work?

AMP HTML

The AMP version of the website is coded in a slightly modified version of HTML

AMP JavaScript

All JS is loaded Asynchronously which means that everything can start loading at once, rather than having to wait for one task to finish before starting the next.

Cache

Google caches your content in advance and serves that up, rather than hitting your servers and awaiting a response.

Advantages of AMP

Page Speed

As we have discussed page speed is something Google is pushing really hard. Yes you can optimise your site without Google AMP, but you’d be hard pressed getting it as fast as you can with Google AMP.

User Experience

How nice was it to load those pages instantly? Also due to the way AMP coding works, the browser knows what the page will look like before it loads the page – this means images and text aren’t jumping all over the place while the page loads.

Brand Loyalty

Users will be able to consume more content more quickly having a better user experience on your site
Reduced load on your server. Similar to implementing a CDN, the content is served from Google’s servers other than your own webserver. This reduces the load and cost (though cost in web hosting these days is negligible)

Ranking priority

Currently AMP stories have a priority in the search engines.

Concerns / Disadvantages

Once the user has clicked on an article as we see the most prominent option for them is to swipe, and that swipe takes them to another publisher. You are giving up a bit of control of the user experience. Is that an issue for you? Do the advantages outway this?It’s restrictive on what you can do on the AMP version of the website.

It’s restrictive on what you can do on the AMP version of the website. However as the technology progresses the capabilities will be expanded. I.e. initially only 5 ad networks were supported – now there are dozens. We also see the introduction of support for e-commerce content.

What’s has the take-up been like?

One year after the introduction of AMP, there are now 600 million AMP pages from 700,000 domains.

What’s the Impact of implementing AMP?

  • Increased ad performance on AMP
  • 80%+ of publishers saw higher viewability rates for their ads
  • 90%+ of publishers saw higher engagement with increased CTRs on their ads
  • The majority of publishers are seeing higher eCPMs for their ads.
  • Washington Post saw a 23% increase in mobile search users who returned within 7 days
  • The Miami Herald saw that users who first landed on an AMP page spent 10 seconds longer than visitors who first landed on a regular mobile page
  • Wired.com had a 25% increased CTR from search results and a 63% increase in clicks on ads for stories in AMP.

https://amphtml.wordpress.com/2016/10/07/amp-a-year-in-review/
https://amphtml.wordpress.com/2016/06/07/ads-on-amp-where-faster-is-better/

Things to keep in mind

  • Websites that have implemented AMP essentially have two pages for every piece of content, so correct html markup (ie rel canonical tags) needs to be in place to help prevent any duplicate content issues
  • You are restricted in what you can have on a page.
  • You can’t use Google Tag Manager, you have a modified cut down version of Google Analytics.
  • Think carefully about what it is you want visitors to do after they have read a page. Can you still get the user to take that action in an AMP enviroment?

What is the Future of AMP

Some of the items on the AMP roadmap for the future include:

  • Support for data entry (ie forms and search)
  • Broaden support to different content types to include news articles, recipes, local listings, product listings etc
  • Deepened support for analytics
  • Provide support for ecommerce analytics
  • Provide support for video analytics

AMP is not just for publishers, it has significant ecommerce implications and even for general content.

What are the SEO Implications?

Google has repeatedly stated that it isn’t a ranking factor (well at least not yet), but AMP content gets special treatment as you have already seen. However, you shouldn’t rely on that special treatment always being there, but while it is – you will see higher CTRs to your content.

Perhaps as time goes on, it will become the norm and be more of a must have to keep up with the Jones’ rather than to giving you an advantage.

The Algorithm Will Change:

  • What do you do with this information?
  • Do you constantly chase the algorithm?
  • Do you tweak your site all the time?
  • Do you follow the latest fads?
  • How do you know what it is you should be doing for SEO?

Each year it is estimated that Google Algorithm changes 500 to 600 times. It’s simply impossible to keep up with everything that’s going on. So the best way to tackle what to do for SEO is to think about what google is trying to achieve with their constant changes:Deliver the best possible set of search results for users for each query (with the caveat that they are all about making money)

“Deliver the best possible set of search results for users for each query (with the caveat that they are all about making money). That’s it. Even with that caveat in place, if Google don’t give users the best results – users will go elsewhere and then their money dries up. So it really does come down to Google trying to serve up the best content for their users.”

Is your website the best results for a particular query?

You’ve heard recently that content marketing is the thing to do so you went away and wrote a 500 word article on “Keyword”. Is that the best piece of content out there? Should it really rank number 1? Should the traffic be flooding into your site and the cash flowing?

“SEO is and has always been primarily about the user.”

So produce content that delivers the user value. If you deliver on this, then it will be content that the user wants to tell their friends about (links).

Sure there’s the technical side of SEO and some of it can get quite complicated, but for most company websites the core of technical SEO is quite straightforward. Unique Title Tags and meta descriptions, no duplicate content, local business listings etc etc all that is all important and should be done. But if you have an ordinary website with ordinary content that loads slowly, why is google going to present that to their users?

If you are constantly chasing the next SEO trick, it will come back to haunt you, you might have fleeting success but eventually your traffic from google will tank. Then what are you left with?

Focus on good user experience. Which is good content that answers users questions and a fast loading site.

Social Media Trends

Moving onto the latest trends in Social Media, and by social media I mean Facebook. I’m going to cover the following:

  • Speed
  • Instant Articles
  • Video
  • Declining Reach, Increasing Costs

Speed

Here we are again, Speed. If you hadn’t noticed by now, speed, particularly on mobile is a big thing. Like Google, Facebook is pushing publishers to speed up their sites and they also have their own AMP like solution.

Some things Facebook is doing to encourage publishers to speed up their sites:

  • If a mobile site isn’t loading quickly Facebook may choose not to show the publishers ad to mobile users.
  • Facebook is re-ranking news stories on the client side (ie your mobile device). Here’s what Facebook says about it – “slow-loading content gets temporarily down-ranked while it loads because, before we show a story in your News Feed, we check to see whether the media in the story — the image, the video, the link preview, etc. — has been loaded on your device. If it hasn’t, we re-rank the stories on the client and prioritize those that have fully-loaded media.”
  • Preload content from advertisers based on the likelihood that a user will click on an ad. This can increase the page load time by up to 29%.

Instant Articles

This is Facebook’s version of AMP, but slightly different. The key differences being that Instant articles are show only to FB app users, whereas AMP is used by Google Search, Twitter, Pinterest, Medium and Linkedin.

The bar for entry into Instant Articles is much tougher than for Google AMP. For Instant Articles you need at least 50 articles, have a Facebook page and use Facebook Business Manager. As the name suggests, it’s primarily for articles, with a lot of the same pros and cons exist for Instant Articles as they do for AMP.

“Google AMP is a little different. It’s an open-source initiative, not a business partnership. Rather than trying to keep users within a particular app, as Facebook aims to do, Google is more interested in changing the way publishers build mobile webpages. Google is creating standards and best practices that it hopes content creators will adopt so that its search engine can direct users to the best mobile experiences.” ~ Upwork

All of this tells us that speed is critical for both search and social. If you aren’t focused on the speed of your website, and in particular the speed of your mobile site – you need to start thinking about that now.

Video & Live streaming

More are more businesses are adopting video and in particular live streaming video in their marketing efforts. And some of the most influential people in social media ie Mark Zuckerburg back in 2014 predicted that “in 5 years most of Facebook will be video”

Some key video statistics:

  • End of 2014 Facebook saw 1 billion video views per day
  • By the end of 2015 that had increased to over 8 billion video views per day
  • The number of videos posted per person increased by 75% in 2015
  • Video posts have a 135% greater reach than photo posts
  • 85% of videos played on FB are without sound!
  • Facebook Live videos are played 3x longer than regular videos

Video is not just for entertainment, it helps with conversions:

  • Including video in an email can lead to a 200-300% increased CTR
  • Real Estate listings that include video get over 400% more inquiries
  • 50% of executives look for more information after watching a product / service video
  • Animated explainer videos increased conversion rates by 20%

Live streaming is becoming increasingly common, it started with the explosion of Meerkat and Periscope Apps and then Facebook promptly launched Facebook Live. You can now purchase live streaming specific cameras such as the Mevo Camera for $400 which allow you with an App to control different angles, crops and produce a professional looking live streaming video.

Facebook are pushing live videos heavily, with notifications and news feed priority.

Should you as a business be doing video?

Given some of the above statistics, I think all businesses have the opportunity to start exploring how to utilise video and promoting these.

There are a myriad of ideas you could be doing for videos whether live streaming or traditional:

  • Products overviews
  • Product reviews
  • FAQ videos
  • Staff videos for employer branding
  • Teaser videos
  • Recipe videos etc

Before diving into video and/or live streaming you should probably consider a number of things first:

  • What are your business objectives?
  • What will a live streaming event do for your business?
  • Who is your audience? What do they want to see? What platforms are they active on?
  • Who will front the live stream video? Do you have the right staff for that?
  • What platform will you choose? Periscope? Facebook?
  • Will you record the videos for later use?
  • What live streaming events will you cover? Is it conferences? How-tos? Recipes?
  • What constitutes success? Views? Signups?
  • What frequency will you produce live streaming content?

These are the sorts of questions you should be asking before embarking on any type of content strategy, whether it is written or recorded.

I’m a big fan of video as a medium when done right.

Decreasing Reach, Increasing Costs

Reachpocalypse is here you put up a post on Facebook and you hear the sounds of crickets, no one likes it, no one sees it, no one engages. I’ve even seen it referred to it as Facebook Zero that is organic reach is inevitably trending down to 0. It’s pretty tough to swallow the relentless devaluation of all those Facebook likes bought with hard earned cash and effort.

Will the only way to reach those fans be to purchase them?

In a study by Social Publishing tool – SocialFlow, they said:

“This year, the number of people seeing the average post published on a publisher’s Facebook Page has been cut in half. From January 2016 through mid-July 2016, publishers’ Facebook Pages have experienced a 52-percent decline in organic reach, according to social publishing tool SocialFlow. That stat is based on the company’s analysis of roughly 300 media companies that use its tool to manage their Facebook Pages, which include The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Condé Nast and Time Inc.”

This follows the brand pages who have been hit hard previously and continually.

It is really to be expected though, lots of facebook users have hundreds and even thousands of friends. These have liked hundreds of pages. What should Facebook serve up to them when there is a glut of content being pushed onto Facebook? Should it be the 500 word keyword rich article that you produced? Should it be your video? Why should your content be displayed over someone else’s?Not all is doom and gloom though. As certain types of posts have decreased – one post type has made up for the decline.

Not all is doom and gloom though. As certain types of posts have decreased – one post type has made up for the decline. Video.

In the same Social Flow study, Jim Anderson says this:

“Video is the type of post that performs best by far. Video comprised about one percent of posts in the data we analyzed…..those posts generated eight times the reach and 12 times the shares when compared to other types of posts”

The companies that produce videos aren’t dumping other types of posts, they are all important to the mix of content they provide to their users.

Facebook Ad Costs

The Complete Resource to Understanding Facebook Ads Cost – 2016 Benchmarks!

Adesspresso a Facebook ad management platform studied $100 million in advertising dollars and sliced and diced the data.

Globally CPC has increased to about 38 cents in Q2 2016 from around 31-32 cents in 2015.

In Australia, it’s a slightly different story. You’ll see we are one of the most expensive countries to advertise in, but here the average CPC has declined from about 82 cents to 69 cents.

While there is a decline in Costs per Clicks, I suspect we are having to purchase a lot more clicks that were previously! And our overall advertising spends are increasing. The free ride is definitely over.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Speed is critical
  • Product quality content
  • You can’t rely on other people’s platforms
  • Own the user