Daily Search Forum Recap: June 24, 2019

Here is a recap of what happened in the search forums today, through the eyes of the Search Engine Roundtable and other search forums on the web.

Search Engine Roundtable Stories:

  • Images In Featured Snippets & Google Search Console Rankings Can Confuse You
    Do you ever notice that your rankings in Google Search Console shows you rank for a particular keyword phrase in position one but you can’t figure out why. Sometimes it is related to regional rankings and you need to use the filters to narrow it down, but other times it can be related to featured snippets.
  • Google My Business Team Backlog & Experiencing Delays Of 2-3 Weeks
    Google My Business has told one local SEO via Twitter direct message that the team is delayed 2-3 weeks. They wrote “please be aware that the team is currently experiencing a backlog and responses may be delayed for up to 2-3 weeks.”
  • Google To Webmaster: Start Over & Make A New Web Site
    Every now and then you hear advice from Google to a webmaster where they simply give them the hard news that they need to start over. Google’s John Mueller did that on Sunday when he told one webmaster that he needs to start over.
  • Google Search Console Coverage Report Suffering 10-Day Delay
    Yet again, Google Search Console is having reporting issues. This time the coverage report is now experiencing a 10-day delay. Normally this report is about two to three days behind schedule – which is normal. But 10-days is not a normal delay.
  • Google Tests Knowledge Panels Without Attribution
    Google is testing displaying knowledge panels in the search results that do not show any attribution. When I test this, I get Google attributing Wikipedia for the content but in a test that @Venkatramani spotted, it shows a similar knowledge panel but has no link or attribution to Wikipedia for the content or images.
  • Google Cloud On Mount Everest Base Camp
    Here is a photo I found on Twitter from Robert Enslin, President of Google Cloud sales, who brought the Google Cloud flag up to Mount Everest. He posted a message about joining his team at Google.

Other Great Search Forum Threads:

Search Engine Land Stories:

Other Great Search Stories:

Analytics

Industry & Business

Links & Promotion Building

Local & Maps

Mobile & Voice

SEO

PPC

Conversion optimization is an operating system (not a tactic)

I know it sounds banal, but I’d like to revisit the question: “What is conversion rate optimization.”

If you search Google, the answer seems obvious enough. The first result, from Moz, defines it as, “the systematic process of increasing the percentage of website visitors who take a desired action — be that filling out a form, becoming customers, or otherwise.”

That seems right to me.

Then why do so many articles, courses, lectures and talks focus on conversion rate optimization tactics?

These articles – some of which include hundreds of tips and tactics – include advice like “use high-quality images” and “offer free shipping.”

These are assuredly good pieces of advice.

One would assume high–quality images would perform better than low-quality images (subjectiveness aside), and I’m sure customers delight in not having to pay for free shipping (though operationally, this adds some complexity).

Any single tactic or tip on this list is not in itself conversion optimization (or growth or growth hacking or experimentation or whatever word you’re using for the practice of evidence-based decision making).

For the sake of this article, I’m going to say conversion optimization and growth, by and large, are pretty much the same thing.

Growth usually encompasses product and marketing, whereas conversion optimization usually just looks at the website experience, though that seems to be a pretty minor distinguishment in the grand scheme of things. Both of these things encourage experimentation, data-driven decision making, and fast learning and iteration.

And people have a ton of “growth hacking tips” and tactics:

However, without context none of this is helpful. Would the aspiring growth hacker or conversion optimizer just run down each list and implement each thing? Test each thing individually?

CRO tactics vs. strategy (and operating systems)

The first learning from these searches is that people misunderstand tactics and strategies and use the words interchangeably.

Strategy is the “overarching plan or set of goals.” Tactics “are the specific actions or steps you undertake to accomplish your strategy.”

For instance, if it were my strategy to appear as a growth thought leader (whatever that means), one tactic in my toolbelt may be writing articles like this. Another may be doing webinars hosted on my personal website. Another might be doing local meetups.

For my role at HubSpot, I could carve out a strategy to appear at every possible organic location for bottom funnel search results. Tactically, this could mean writing listicles like our “best help desk software” article. It could also mean getting more customer reviews to lift our prominence on review sites that already appear near the top of Google for these terms.

Now, I think that CRO or growth should neither be looked at as a strategy nor as a tactic. It should be viewed as an operating system.

An operating system, removed slightly from its technical origins, defines the rules, functions, heuristics and mannerisms that control a system. In short, it’s a code (both implicit and explicit) that defines how decisions are made.

What this means practically is that a conversion optimizer or growth hacker should look much less like a vigilante ninja, complete with both a broad and simultaneously specialized skill set, who can come in and optimize a landing page or fix a referral loop.

Instead, the practice should look much more like building and maintaining infrastructure.

This is an idea inspired in part by Ed Fry (from this blog post and from several conversations). In his article, he distinguishes marketing (those who write the copy, launch the campaigns, define the brand) from growth (the scientific method, which has come a long way in marketing due to technological enablement like front-end testing tools).

He writes:

“Our observation is growth enables marketing, product, sales and other teams across the organization. It sits at an operational role, supporting multiple teams across the company, and rolls up to Operations or the CEO. This is not about managing marketing activities that have to happen every day. Growth is far more concerned about moving levers behind the sales & marketing activity instead of the functional practices of campaigns, brand, and so on.”

This is where I think CRO (or growth) thrives, particularly as a company expands in size and sophistication.

No matter how you cut it, the process usually looks something like this:

We collect data and information, put it through our proprietary growth or CRO process (made up of a unique blend of technology, processes and humans), and our output is better decisions and experiences for our users.

But why should that live within the purview of one person or even one team? What if we could enable everyone in the company to make better decisions, systematically?

Where does CRO fit into the company structure?

CRO teams tend to be either centralized or decentralized (or in growth parlance, independent or function-led).

Image Source

In a centralized model, everything flows through that team, resulting in a more structured and predictable system, but can perhaps become bottlenecked if other teams want to join in. Here’s an article about the relative pros and cons of each model.

Image source

There’s a third model as well that I see more often now, particularly in large organizations with sophisticated experimentation programs: the center of excellence model.

Ronny Kohavi talked about this in an HBR article and explains it like this:

“A center of excellence focuses mostly on the design, execution, and analysis of controlled experiments. It significantly lowers the time and resources those tasks require by building a companywide experimentation platform and related tools. It can also spread best testing practices throughout the organization by hosting classes, labs, and conferences.”

In other words, if we move to a center of excellence model, CRO or growth teams can focus on building up three components of company infrastructure:

  • Technical ability (tools)
  • Education and best practices
  • Attitudes/beliefs (culture)

CRO should support technical enablement and tooling

First and foremost, to build a company where everyone can run experiments and make better decisions, it’s important to give people the tools and technology needed to do that. I think that falls under three areas:

  • Data
  • Experimentation capabilities
  • Knowledge sharing

To make better decisions, we need better data. A growth or CRO team can help implement, orchestrate and access the data each team needs to make better decisions.

Of course, there are a million tools on the market, ranging from the free and ubiquitous (Google Analytics) to the enterprise (Adobe Analytics) to the custom setups loved in technical organizations.

There’s no right choice for every organization, but it’s an important decision to discuss.

The second point is to decide on an experimentation framework or platform. Again, there are tons of tools available, ranging from free (Google Optimize) to enterprise to custom built.

How you set this up should have a lot to do with your organization’s technical capabilities, culture and functional needs. Echoing the above, there’s no easy answer here – but here’s a really interesting paper on how Microsoft has built their experimentation platform.

Finally, knowledge sharing is probably the most underrated. Assuming you have several teams running trustworthy experiments, delivering better experiences and getting results – the next logical piece in the puzzle is to allow archiving and communicating these results.

Education, training and best practices

The second component of infrastructure is education. If you’re going to democratize experiments, then you’ll want to make sure everyone knows how to run them.

Personally, I love the Airbnb model – they send employees through Data University to train everyone in the fundamentals.

Image Source

I realize this is a heavy up-front and top-down effort, so it doesn’t need to be as robust right off the bat. Your team could simply act as an internal consultancy, holding office hours and supporting interested teams when they run experiments. Normally it takes a small ramp up period before the team or the analyst/marketer is off and running by themselves.

At the very least, documenting how to set up and analyze experiments is something that should be done. Having a resource center, or at the very least a checklist or list of guidelines like I’ve tried to put together in this article, helps people feel more comfortable running their own tests properly.

Empowering a culture of experimentation

Finally, the last component of infrastructure is the subtle and the emotional. CRO and growth teams should be cheerleaders for evidence-based decision making, experimentation and the judicious use of data in campaigns.

I’ve written a lot about building a culture of experimentation in the past and can’t say there’s any one tip or tactic or magic bullet to do it.

Often, the best way is to have a powerful and influential evangelist at the top leading the way.

Sometimes it’s built up through the bottom through consistently showing results and disseminating them through the company via Wiki posts, newsletters, and weekly experiment readouts.

This may be the most important job of the CRO or growth team, as it builds a sort of “flywheel” effect. The more excited others are about growth and experimentation, the more they’re willing to learn and improve their own skill sets, and the more evangelists you’ll have for the program – a perpetual motion device of data-driven decision making that will surely help you edge out past the competition in the long run.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Alex Birkett works on growth and user acquisition at HubSpot. He’s based in Austin, Texas, but is nomadic roughly half the time. He writes at alexbirkett.com.

UK’s Johnson admits needing EU support in event of no-deal Brexit

Boris Johnson, the favourite to replace British Prime Minister Theresa May, has acknowledged that London would need cooperation from the European Union to cushion potential shocks in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Johnson has repeatedly insisted Britain should leave the bloc on the current deadline of October 31, even if it means walking away with no deal.

But avoiding disruption to borders and business would require the EU’s support.

“It’s not just up to us, it’s up to the other side as well. There’s an element of course, a very important element, of mutuality and cooperation in this,” he told the BBC in an interview aired on Monday.

“The way to get our friends and partners to understand how serious we are is finally, I’m afraid, to abandon the defeatism and negativity… and to prepare confidently and seriously for a (World Trade Organisation) or no-deal outcome.”

Without a Brexit deal between London and Brussels, the UK will default to “third country” status with the EU, with trade relations run on World Trade Organisation rules.

Hot favourite Johnson faces foreign minister Jeremy Hunt in a run-off vote to decide who will become the next British leader and take on the task of piloting the country’s departure from the EU.

The former foreign minister and one-time London mayor has been accused of not having a detailed plan to take Britain out of the European Union.

Johnson said May’s current EU withdrawal agreement is “dead” after being rejected three times by the British parliament.

However, he believes there would be enough time to negotiate a new agreement with the EU ahead of the deadline and hoped the bloc would be willing to grant an “implementation period”.

If he were to win, he said his government would not impose controls or hard borders between EU member Ireland and British-ruled Northern Ireland — an issue that has become one of the main sticking points in EU negotiations.

Johnson has also come under growing pressure following a scandal over an argument with his girlfriend that led to a police visit to their home last week.

“I’ve made it a rule over many, many years… I do not talk about stuff involving my family, my loved ones,” adding that it would be “simply unfair” to “drag them into things”, he told the BBC.

Johnson, 55, was involved in a loud altercation early Friday at the home of his 31-year-old girlfriend Carrie Symonds, an incident that has since dominated press headlines.

Photographs emerged Monday of the couple smiling and holding hands at an undisclosed countryside location said to have been taken on Sunday.

Google Search Console’s Testing Tools Gain Two New Features via @MattGSouthern

Google is rolling out two new features for the rich results, AMP, and URL testing tools in Search Console.

These tools check for the correct implementation of code and structured data markup

Now, users will be able to fix errors and run experiments even faster. The tools will now be able to:

  • Search within the markup
  • Copy specific sections of code for tweaking

When you test a URL and find a  structured data error, for example, you can now find the exact piece of code containing the error.

From there you can copy it, tweak it, paste it back in, and re-test it.

An example is shown in the GIF shared by Google below:

Google Maps Fake Business Problem Gets Big Media Coverage

You and I and the whole local SEO community know how bad the Google Maps business listing spam issues are. We’ve been covering it forever. We know Google is trying to make efforts to improve things but the spammers are always one or two steps ahead of them.

Well, now this problem has made its way to the big media with the Wall Street Journal writing Millions of Business Listings on Google Maps Are Fake – and Google Profits. “Google Maps is filled with false business addresses created by firms pretending to be nearby,” they wrote. And then it goes through everything you and I know that these spammers are doing. They make the story very personal and real.

The local SEO community is happy for the coverage, hoping it leads to bigger and more significant efforts from Google:

Google did respond explaining How we fight fake business profiles on Google Maps – again, all stuff you know.

In any event – we will see if this larger more widespread media coverage will make a difference in how Google tackles this big problem…

Forum discussion at Twitter.

Compare 14 top marketing automation platforms

Marketing automation platforms form the backbone of marketing operations, increasingly serving as sophisticated marketing orchestration platforms. A range of platforms is available to marketers depending on their firm’s size, budget and level of digital marketing sophistication.

The more basic functions of marketing automation have become somewhat commoditized, so platform vendors mostly look to differentiate their platforms based on the ability to scale, as well as usability, ease of implementation and customer experience.

MarTech Today’s “B2B Marketing Automation Platforms: A Marketer’s Guide” examines the market for B2B marketing automation platforms and the considerations involved in implementing this software in your business.

This 48-page report includes profiles of 14 leading B2B marketing automation vendors, capabilities comparisons and recommended steps for evaluating and purchasing. If you are a marketer looking to adopt a marketing automation software platform, you need to read this report. Visit Digital Marketing Depot to download your copy.


About The Author

Digital Marketing Depot is a resource center for digital marketing strategies and tactics. We feature hosted white papers and E-Books, original research, and webcasts on digital marketing topics — from advertising to analytics, SEO and PPC campaign management tools to social media management software, e-commerce to e-mail marketing, and much more about internet marketing. Digital Marketing Depot is a division of Third Door Media, publisher of Search Engine Land and Marketing Land, and producer of the conference series Search Marketing Expo and MarTech. Visit us at http://digitalmarketingdepot.com.

‘No more survivors’ in Cambodia building collapse as toll hits 24

The retrieval of bodies from a building collapse in Cambodia continued Monday, as the death toll rose to 24 with no further survivors expected to be found under the debris of the seven-storey Chinese-owned construction site.

Workers clawed back the rubble overnight as a grim-faced Cambodian premier Hun Sen visited the scene of the collapse in Sihanoukville, a beach town undergoing a Chinese investment bonanza.

The night was punctuated by grim processions of bodies on stretchers being carried to waiting ambulances.

On Monday morning, an AFP reporter saw a partially buried body, covered by a mosquito net to keep off flies in the searing heat, as the debris began to yield after 48 hours of excavation by hand, pneumatic drills and diggers.

“We don’t expect any more survivors,” a soldier who has manned the scene throughout told AFP, requesting anonymity.

Preah Sihanouk provincial officials put the death toll at 24, with a similar number injured.

Distraught relatives at a local hospital said around a dozen people were believed to be entombed in the concertinaed floors of the building, which collapsed before dawn on Saturday as dozens of workers slept.

“I lost my husband and my nephew,” Khim Pov, 47, crying and hugging her daughter, told AFP while her son — who was able to crawl out from the debris — received treatment.

“I don’t have any hope my husband has survived. The bodies being pulled out have been flattened.”

Other survivors said they woke to a loud bang and managed to escape as the building folded in, leaving dozens of workers stranded on upper floors.

– Billion dollar town –

The once quiet fishing village of Sihanoukville has seen a Chinese construction boom driven by tourists to its dozens of casinos in recent years, with questions raised about the speed of development in a nation notorious for lax safety standards.

Three Chinese nationals and a Cambodian landowner have been held for questioning over the building collapse, which Hun Sen blamed on “carelessness” by the construction company.

The Chinese embassy in Cambodia, a strategically important country with ports and borders to other Mekong countries, expressed their condolences and backed a “thorough investigation” of the role of the three Chinese nationals and the cause of the accident.

There are an estimated 200,000 construction workers in Cambodia, most unskilled, reliant on day wages and not protected by union rules, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Beijing is pouring investment into Cambodia as part of its behemoth Belt and Road initiative, a sweeping trillion-dollar infrastructure programme across Asia, Africa and Europe.

Around $1 billion was invested in the Preah Sihanouk province between 2016 and 2018 alone, and there are around 50 Chinese-owned casinos and dozens of hotel complexes under construction in Sihanoukville.

WordPress Plugin SEO by RankMath Security Update via @martinibuster

SEO By RankMath, a popular SEO plugin recently fixed several vulnerabilities. One of the issues fixed allowed a subscriber to reset the plugin settings. Web publishers are encouraged to update their plugin.

Description of SEO By RankMath Vulnerability Fix

The WordPress Vulnerability Database (WPVULNDB) announced the vulnerability in SEO by RankMath in a post.

According to WPVULNDB:

“Allows any authenticated user (with a role as low as subscriber) to reset Settings of the plugin.”

There was also a separate Cross Site Scripting issue that was fixed.

A Cross Site Scripting vulnerability is a relatively common problem that allows an attacker to exploit an interactive part of a site (like a form) and submit code that can (among many things) obtain cookie information as well as upload data or scripts to the site.

RankMath Strengthens Security

The above security issues were fixed in version 1.0.27 of the plugin on June 21, 2019. On June 23rd, RankMath issued another update (1.0.27.2) that further strengthened security.

According to the SEO by RankMath changelog:

“Improved sanitization throughout the plugin”

Sanitization means an extra layer of coding that will stop an unexpected input from breaking a script and allowing an exploit.

For example, if a script expects data with no spaces in it, an input with spaces could in this example break the script. Sanitization is an extra step in the code that anticipates a malevolent input and will close that space to prevent the exploit from happening.

RankMath Responsibly Notifies Users

A changelog is a record of what an update changes and fixes. For every update, a WordPress plugin developer publishes a changelog that a user can read.

It’s important to note that RankMath did the right thing and notified users through their changelog that this update contained a security fix.

Many plugin publishers do not alert users that an update contains a security fix.

Perhaps plugin developers fear harming their brand by acknowledging the existence of a vulnerability. Thus they sneak the fix unannounced, without mentioning it in their changelog.

It may be that some plugin developers hope nobody notices that the plugin contained a vulnerability.  In my opinion that is irresponsible. It causes a user to be unaware of the urgency of updating a plugin.

RankMath approached this security update in an honorable and transparent manner. Their changelog accurately notes the security update. That’s a sign of a trusted developer.

Of course, all plugins should be updated as soon as an update is available. Security updates should always be applied right away.

Search Buzz Video Recap: Google Algorithm Shift, Google vs Genius Lyrics, Google Search Console, Maps, YouTube & More

This week in search I covered a possible Google algorithm and ranking update on June 19th. Google said the core update and Panda update are not the same thing. Google was accused by Genius as stealing their lyrics, Google said they will investigate but they license the content from third-parties and now labels it as such. Google Search Console removed the preferred domain setting. Google is testing the new evergreen GoogleBot in the mobile-friendly test, URL inspection tool and other tools. Moz said the Google diversity update really didn’t do much to diversify the search results. Google does show hidden content as featured snippets. Google said there is no fixed time to snapshot rendered content. Google posted a poll asking if you would want a filter to see which links are nofollowed for your internal link report. Google said disallowed URLs do not impact your crawl budget. An SEO poll shows that too many SEOs are still focused on desktop analysis vs mobile. Google Search Console image search performance data is missing from June 5th through 7th. Google can show emojis, links and unicode in rich results for FAQ markup. Google is testing a lot of new interfaces, I summarized a bunch of them. Google My Business launched new features yesterday around short names, cover photos, logos and more. Local SEOs are complaining that Google My Business suspension reinstatements are taking too long. Google Duplex is now working on mobile, I posted some screen shots. Google is testing hotel search boxes without a local identifier. Google is testing showing Google Posts that are related to your searches. Google Maps fake business listing problem is getting some big attention now. Google is testing a new ad carousel that is named people also considered. Google’s Webmaster YouTube channel broke 300,000 subscribers! That was this week in search at the Search Engine Roundtable.

Make sure to subscribe to our video feed or subscribe directly on iTunes to be notified of these updates and download the video in the background. Here is the YouTube version of the feed:

For the original iTunes version, click here.

Search Topics of Discussion:

Please do subscribe via iTunes or on your favorite RSS reader. Don’t forget to comment below with the right answer and good luck!

Why Meeker sees e-commerce, digital ad revenues slowing down

New data from famed internet analyst Mary Meeker suggests online advertising and e-commerce growth may be slowing, but that doesn’t make these channels any less important for marketers to maximize.

Online Advertising

Although digital ad spend increased 1% over last year, the revenues are slowing down – dropping by 9% between the end of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, according to the report.

Mary Meeker Internet Trends Report | Source: Company public releases & Morgan Stanley estimates

Google still reigns supreme in terms of ad platform revenue, with Facebook following behind it. However, platforms like Amazon, Twitter, Snap and Pinterest are gaining share, showing an average ad revenue growth rate of 2.6% over the last three years (compared to Google’s 1.4% increase and Facebook’s 1.9% increase).

Programmatic ad buying has seen a 42% increase from 2012, which Meeker says is having a negative impact on ad inventory pricing across the board.

But despite the relative slowdown, Meeker pointed to key factors that will continue propelling ad share forward, including improved targeting capabilities, better creative and machine learning technology.

E-Commerce

Although e-commerce sales now account for 15% of all retail purchases, Meeker reported that the growth rate is slowing down when stacked against previous years. E-commerce as a whole saw revenue growth barely inching up year-over-year, with the first quarter of 2019 showing a 12.4% growth rate – as opposed to the 12.1% growth rate of last year.

Mary Meeker Internet Trends Report | Source: St. Louis Federal Reserve FRED database.

Even with the slowdown, e-commerce revenues still exceed brick-and-mortar revenues, which grew only 2% in the first quarter.

Direct -to-consumer brands are capitalizing on rich consumer data with deeper personalization, resulting in more innovative strategies and a higher consumer satisfaction than ever before. But even so, the cost of customer acquisition is climbing to unsustainable levels.

Still crucial, despite slowing down

Despite flattening trends in ad spend and revenue growth, make no mistake: e-commerce (and digital advertising, by extension) will still remain a crucial factor in the marketing mix for online brands. In our connected digital ecosystem, new technologies, innovative media, and the rise in global internet adoption means more fragmentation across the consumer spectrum, which ultimately amounts to less concentrated growth.

Audiences and business goals vary from brand to brand, but e-commerce marketers and advertisers should still be looking at long-term strategies through the lens of the online trends as a whole.


About The Author

Taylor Peterson is Third Door Media’s Deputy Editor, managing industry-leading coverage that informs and inspires marketers. Based in New York, Taylor brings marketing expertise grounded in creative production and agency advertising for global brands. Taylor’s editorial focus blends digital marketing and creative strategy with topics like campaign management, emerging formats, and display advertising.