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Web Search & Marketing Newsletter – May 2018

Welcome to the latest issue of our monthly newsletter which focuses on news, tips and advice for effective website marketing, with particular attention on Google and best practice search engine marketing techniques, plus current trends in the market.

This month we look at the use of automated bid strategies in Google AdWords and whether it can be an effective approach. We also report on the roll-out of Google’s ‘mobile-first’ indexing and the implications for SEO, plus the use of autocomplete in the search box, to help searches quickly find the information they are looking for.

You can read more below, or you can also browse through previous editions of the newsletter by month. You can also follow us on Twitter for the latest developments during the month, or follow our Facebook page or Google+ page for updates.

On to this month’s edition…

How Good Is AdWords Automated Bidding?

Over the past 8 months or so, Google had been pushing the benefits of their automated bidding systems in AdWords, confident that their machine learning tools are now advanced enough to provide advertisers with better results. In turn, this should give marketers more time to focus on their campaign strategy while the system provides the best volume of traffic at the ideal cost. But how good are the systems and should you be using it?

There are a range of automated bidding options available to AdWords advertisers, from the default ‘maximise clicks’ to ones that can maintain your ads in selected positions, or more importantly target your best conversions, through enhanced CPC (which is an addition to manual bidding) to maximise conversions to target CPA. These automated bid management systems will all use the various signals available to provide the best results determined by the advertisers input criteria. But how well do they work?

The answer is mixed. The conversion focused systems do increase conversions and lower the cost per conversion in most cases, but this tends to be done through an increased focus on brand name activity and less on more generic terms, which means that impressions and clicks can be reduced and coverage of the target market is lower. Of course the system will target the better converting keywords which can also be brand related, which is fine for some advertisers, but others who may want to grow their market may not see the best results.

The other main issue is that automated bidding puts all the control into Google’s system so that bid level control at keyword level is lost. Therefore some of the priority keywords that an advertiser wants to rank high may be too low, and therefore to achieve a higher ranking the overall bid settings may need to be changed which then impacts all keywords. In addition, it’s harder to know which keywords may be below first page bid when using automated bidding and although impression shares can often be improved, this may not be true for some terms that are core for the advertiser’s strategy.

The other main consideration is that conversions, or more likely conversion cost, needs to be the primary metric for most advertisers, and so an automated bid system used on this metric could be used, but is dependent on historical conversion data. Therefore the campaign needs to have a good history of conversions (at least 100 in a month is recommended) and these would all ideally need to be conversions of a similar value. As Google’s system ‘learns’ the bid data for an automated system, it can mean that results can deteriorate for several weeks before you start to see the benefits of the system, even if it does work well.

So the best advice is to test. If you have enough conversions over the past month or so, run a split test with an experiment in AdWords so that you compare manual v automated bidding as a 50/50 split (or 70/30, whichever feels more comfortable) and see how the metrics perform over the next month. You can then decide whether to increase the % of the test allocation or switch the whole campaign to auto bidding, or back to manual, depending on the results and what works best for your campaign.

If you’d like to know more, or to discuss automated bidding for your AdWords campaigns, please get in touch.


Google Confirms ‘Mobile-First’ Indexing

At the end of March, the Google Webmaster blog posted an article confirming the long expected roll-out of their mobile-first indexing for search. This comes after a reported 18 months of “careful experimentation and testing” so that Google is now starting to use the mobile version of a web page for the primary indexing and ranking in the search results, to help mobile users who are now the primary form of web searchers.

Up until now the process of Google crawling, indexing, and ranking web pages in their system has typically been driven by the desktop version of a page’s content, which may cause issues for mobile searchers when that version is significantly different from the mobile version.

Google says they are notifying websites that are migrating to mobile-first indexing via their Search Console account and site owners will expect to see a significantly increased crawl rate from the Smartphone Googlebot. Additionally, Google will show the mobile version of pages in Search results and Google cached pages.

The impact of this for web marketers will hopefully be limited, but older sites that have not yet moved to mobile version, or have separate mobile versions of the site, could see a change in ranking positions. There is also some question about how this change may impact the link popularity of sites if the mobile version has a different link structure to the desktop version.

However, Google says that mobile-first indexing is about how they gather and index content, not about how that content is ranked. Therefore content gathered by mobile-first indexing has no ranking advantage over mobile content that’s not yet gathered this way, or desktop content.

Having said that, Google wants to encourage webmasters to make their content mobile-friendly to help the growing mobile market, and since 2015, the measure of sites being ‘mobile friendly’ can help this type of content perform better for those who are searching on mobile devices. Similarly, it has been announced that from July 2018, content that is slow-loading may perform less well for both desktop and mobile searchers.

So, Google wants to make it clear that:

  • being indexed this way has no ranking advantage and operates independently from their mobile-friendly assessment
  • having mobile-friendly content is still helpful for those looking at ways to perform better in mobile search results
  • having fast-loading content is still helpful for those looking at ways to perform better for mobile and desktop users
  • and as always, ranking uses many factors and therefore mobile-friendly content is just one signal used to determine the most relevant content to show.

If you would like more information about this change, please get in touch.


Google Autocomplete – How it Works

In our continuing series about Google autocomplete, we take a look at when, where and how it works in Search. Autocomplete is available most anywhere you find a Google search box, including the Google home page, the Google app for iOS and Android, the quick search box from within Android and the “Omnibox” address bar within Chrome. Just begin typing and the predictions appear, varying from one Searcher to another because the list may include any related past searches.

If a past search is appearing on a desktop, the word “Remove” appears next to a prediction. Click on that word if you want to delete the past search. (It’s possible to delete all your past searches in bulk, or by particular dates or those matching particular terms using My Activity in your Google Account).

For example, typing “london w” brings up predictions such as “london weather” making it easy to finish entering the search on these topics without typing all the letters. Autocomplete is especially useful for using on mobile devices, making it easy to complete a search on a small screen where typing can be hard. Typically up to 10 predictions are seen on desktops and up to 5 on mobiles.

Google call these “predictions” rather than “suggestions,” for a good reason. Autocomplete is designed to help complete a search people were intending to do, not to suggest new types of searches to be performed. Those predictions are determined by looking at the real searches that happen on Google and showing common and trending ones relevant to the characters that are entered and also related to the Searcher’s location and previous searches.

Interestingly, Google has been in legal trouble over the feature. Courts in Japan have ruled on autocomplete. They also lost cases in France and in Italy and an Irish hotel has sued Google over predictions. So they remove some from autocomplete, such as piracy related terms and adult terms, but when it comes to reputation management, Google prefers to let the algorithm do its work.

These are removed:

  • Sexually explicit predictions that are not related to medical, scientific, or sex education topics
  • Hateful predictions against groups and individuals on the basis of race, religion or several other demographics
  • Violent predictions
  • Dangerous and harmful activity in predictions

The guiding principle is that autocomplete should not shock users with unexpected or unwanted predictions. Google’s systems are designed to automatically catch inappropriate predictions and not show them, but they can still get shown. They strive to quickly remove those however, as in one case in Tokyo in 2013, a search on a particular man’s name provided suggestions that the man committed criminal acts. Google was ordered to pay the man $3,100 in defamation damages for the mental anguish the search suggestion caused him.

Google’s defence has been that their autocomplete predictions are automatically generated based on what people are searching for and the content which already exists on the Internet, maintaining a position of neutrality. That’s a fair point, as when there are sufficient searches and content created about a subject which Google’s algorithm sees fit to display as a recommended search result, then, is it the search engine’s fault for honestly displaying what people are saying online?

In relation to this, Google states “even if the context behind a prediction is good, even if a prediction is infrequent, it’s still an issue if the prediction is inappropriate. It’s our job to reduce these as much as possible”.

To better deal with inappropriate predictions, they launched a feedback tool last year and have been using the data since to make improvements to their systems and their removal policy has recently been expanded for criteria applying to hate and violence. If an inapproriate prediction is spotted, it can be reported by using the “Report inappropriate predictions” link Google launched last year, which appears below the search box on desktops.

If you want to know more about how Google’s working to reduce inappropriate predictions and how using autocomplete can help your business, contact us now.

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