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Monday, February 29, 2016

A note on paid search ad extensions

This month has been the one with two important announcements from Google - affecting both Paid Search realm and Organic Search realm. The first one was removal of sidebar ad slots in Google SERPs; the second one was around Accelerated Mobile Pages and new search carousel dedicated to AMP pages. Today, we will touch base on an advanced topic in paid search which has become even more important due to the perceived reduction in as slot - Ad Extensions. Ad extensions are available in both Google AdWords and Bing adCenter. However the options provided in AdWords is more compared to adCenter. Ad extensions helps in improving the visibility of your ads and also the chance of searchers clicking them.

What are Ad Extensions?

As you may have guessed, ad extensions are providing additional information or improving the ads beyond the standard information you can provide for an ad in AdWords or adCenter. Some of these extensions are straightforward, some required you to have a decent technical acumen. Thus ad extensions could be considered to be of two types - manual and automated extensions.

Types of Ad Extensions

Some ad extensions can be controlled by the advertiser, while some are automated by Google. Manual extensions include sitelink extensions, location extensions, apps, reviews, call outs and call extensions. Automated extensions include seller ratings, consumer ratings, social extensions, and previous visits. Some of these extensions are at campaign level, while some can be controlled at ad group level. Let's try to briefly understand each of them.

Sitelink extensions

Sitelinks are perhaps the most used ad extensions. This mimics the organic search result feature in which internal web page URLs are shown in the search result itself. Sitelinks can be controlled at campaign level and ad group level. By using sitelink extensions, an ad can show more than one URL along with headline text as below -

Call extensions

As you might have guessed, these allow your contact phone number to be included along with an option to call on the spot (like the skype call in functionality that it provides). If you are a business with an advertising goal of improving calls/enquiries, call extensions are one way to go. The benefit of this extension is that if the user is seeing the mobile ad, an automatic click to call feature is enabled. If the ad is shown in desktop, a 'Call Now' is enabled.

Location extensions

This extension allows a map pin to be shown in the ad. Again, a relevant extension for local business and mobile ads. The real benefit of using location is extension is that the address shown in the ad is usually the geographically closest one to the searcher. We can set multiple business locations at campaign level and the ad will show the address and phone number for the location that is closest to the customer. Another usage of local extensions is to show the ad in Google Maps. In order for a business to use location extensions in AdWords, it need to have a Google My Business account set up; in the case of adCenter, it’s a direct wizard.

Review Extensions

Review extensions help you to embed a customer testimonial from a reputed third-party site to your ad. Thus this extension provide yet another opportunity to showcase your credibility for an associated search query. This extension allows to either embed the exact quote of paraphrased quote of the satisfied customer.

Call out Extensions

Call out extensions help you to highlight you value propositions. In effect, this helps to increase ad content by another line. However its limited by 25 characters and whether it get shown or not depends on Google's editorial policies. We can use callouts along with other ad extensions like sitelinks. Also there is an option to add callouts at account, campaign or ad group.

App Extensions

Similar to Call extensions, these allow a marketer to link ads with apps; thus providing a better chance of a searcher downloading the app. Thus an ad using app extension increases the probability of either visiting the company's website or downloading the app from Google Play/iTunes. This ad extension is very handy in the case of mobile apps since AdWords detect the mobile OS from which a user is seeing the ad and automatically points to the appropriate app URL.

Automated Extensions

Recently there was news that AdWords may be testing out yet another ad extension. It looks like Google is testing our automatically showing some links in ads based on titles of web pages. This brings to discussion the next set of ad extensions - automated extensions. These are ad extensions automatically shown in ads without a requirement from advertisers. These can be considered signals of authority/credibility of websites. Automated extensions include the following -

(source - Google)

There are two types of ratings extensions - Consumer ratings and Seller ratings. Both of these are relatively new ad extensions added by Google. Consumer ratings provide a value for the website in a 1-10 relative rating scale. The rating is pulled from Google's Consumer Survey application. Google Consumer Survey product is Google's answer to doing online marketing research. Consumer ratings are available only in a selected set of countries. On the other hand seller ratings are pulled based on a collection of third-party review sites. We need not do any set-up specifically for seller ratings. The set of sources from where Google aggregates the rating is provided here. There are few other criteria like page views in order for your ad to start showing the seller ratings.

Previous Visits
Similar to the concept of re-marketing, this ad extension shows in the ad content whether, when and how many times you have previously visited the website for which the ad is shown.

Social Extensions
Social extension essentially shows a gist of your Google + follower-ship. Again, showing Google + details is guaranteed only if you have set-up the business profile, have a vibrant page and so on.

Dynamic Sitelinks
In a way this is an expansion of sitelinks. Based on the search query, AdWords try to map web pages on your site and show that in the ad content. Here the relationship that Google looks for is how relevant and popular are certain pages in the site with respect to the search query for which the ad is shown. We need not create additional links, AdWords directly picks up the links. The added benefit of this extensions is that you will not be charged if an user clicks on the dynamically generated sitelink in the ad!

Are you utilizing ad extensions to improve your PPC ROI....?

Friday, February 19, 2016

Book Review Google Semantic Search by David Amerland

Semantic Search - Search Engine Optimization Techniques That Get Your Company More Traffic, Increase Brand Impact, and Amplify Your Online Presence written by David Amerland is a book about web/search 3.0. In 200 pages,   the author provides a good overview of the new search norm for the marketing professional. Written in a slightly theoretical style, the books provides the nitty gritties of semantic search,  it's components and how it all span out from search engine optimization perspective.

If you were looking for a more in depth technical overview of how semantic Web or search works; you will be disappointed.  I feel this book is written  for a marketer in charge of various digital media, including SEO.

The book is roughly written in three parts - first one dealing with an introduction on how search engines are transforming from a query engine to knowledge engine. 
The second part deals with how content marketing is driving new search marketing and how various channels such as social media get interlinked in building trust. The last part briefly discuss about how search is becoming more and more invisible and challenges in building an ideal knowledge engine.

The book revolves around three pillars - trust, reputation and authority. Five learning from reading the book are --

  1. How the search engine is changing from a mere keyword based link result showing tool to an universal search providing instant answers
  2. Why trust, reputation and authority are the key factors in getting your business web entities in search results; and how to build them
  3. How various marketing channels like content, social media and other Web assets are interlinked
  4. A checklist from all angles to build the right SEO strategies for semantic search
  5. A brief overview of Google specific algorithms and components like TrustRank, Knowledge graph etc.

Two places I felt the book fell short are

  1. Providing the technical depth either for an engineer or a marketer. The only technical knowledge on semantic search from this book is that it's components include a Resource Description Framework (RDF), Uniform Resource Indicator  (URI) and an Ontology module
  2. Few checklists are at a very high level demanding the reader to noodle through  a lot of other resources to get it implemented. This writing style creates a doubt on whether the book is written for an executive,  rather than an SEO professional 

Overall a good book, but I felt most of the topics are already covered in depth from various industry practitioners. Also keep in mind that some of the topics discussed  may appear outdated, requiring refinement or irrelevant anymore because of the nature of industry. For example, the importance of Google + or rel=author tag.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Understanding App Indexing

We have been discussing about search engine algorithms. Last year, a major update from Google was related to its focus on mobile friendliness. But before understanding about that update, we need to quickly understand a foundation stone to mobile friendliness - app indexing.  We will discuss about the algorithm update in detail in a later post. Google App indexing helps in highlighting mobile apps in search results. Indexing app content is not new; Google had been doing this from 2013. Essentially, app indexing helps in driving a user from search results to app content. So let's assume, you do a search in your mobile for  'Obama On gun control'; the following search results pop up. Clicking the news articles from BBC will take you directly to the app; provided, you have already installed BBC app in your mobile. This results in following benefits for the business

  • Increased organic traffic to app
  • Enhanced usage of app and possible revenue capture
  • Potential to even get your app's logo shown in search results
  • Potential increase in more app installations (since the search result will show the app icon with an 'INSTALL' even if not installed in the mobile)

So put it simply, Google can index content in your mobile app, just like it does the webpages. You may wonder, if it is just applicable to engaging only those having your mobile app installed; but Google had confirmed they use app indexing as a ranking signal for all Android based searches, regardless of whether the app is installed or not. Before discussing further, let's understand a bit about deep links.

What are deep links?

A deep link is nothing but an hyperlink linking to a specific page within a website which is searchable or indexable by search engines. When it comes to deep links in a mobile app, it consists of using a uniform resource identifier (URI) that points to a specific location within the app instead of simply launching the app home screen. While in the case of web pages, URLs are standard HTTP/HTTPS; in mobile apps, URI varies depending on the which mobile OS the app is installed. For example, in android it is intents; in the case of iOS, it is openUrl.

How to implement app indexing?

Google gives a fairly decent documentation on how to enable app indexing at Google AppIndexing Guides. Basically it involves making your app support HTTP URLs (aka deep links using Intents, openUrls etc.). However to gain maximum benefit out of the search results, the app development also needs to use app indexing API in the case of Android apps or app indexing SDK in the case of iOS. This is fairly a complex technical requirement and would need the app developer's help. The good news is Google has a good documentation on implementing it as well as a testing it. Finally you would need to verify your website-appconnection.

Is App indexing unique to Google?

Increased focus on mobile is not just by Google; in fact Bing and Facebook also have similar efforts underway. Both of them uses an opensource framework called App Links (Visit App Links for more info). The interesting thing about app links is that it claims to be truly cross platform compatible. App Links are lot more simple; handling of deep links are through simple HTML metadata. A good documentation for app links is also available.

With Google, Apple, Bing and Facebook having its own norms and guidelines to show app data in search engines, it's a nightmare for mobile developers and marketers!...what do you think….?