Tag Archives: Search Engine Watch

How does Bing’s voice search compare to Google’s?

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Google remains the dominant player in search marketing, but the industry is changing very rapidly and the old certainties may erode. Does voice search provide a platform for Microsoft to compete?

A study earlier this year revealed that Microsoft’s speech recognition technology demonstrated only a 5.1 percent word error rate in Switchboard, a conversational speech recognition task. This shows impressive development and shows that Microsoft is more than competitive in this domain, but it is only part of the picture.

Speech recognition and voice recognition are significantly different. The former extracts words and comprehends what is said; the latter also understand who said it. We could frame this as content and context.

Context will be the defining factor in who becomes the dominant player in voice search, with an increasing amount of internet-enabled devices providing the opportunity for a seamless, conversational experience.

No doubt, search is at the very heart of this battle.

Bing has positioned itself as simply a more effective search engine, with campaigns like Bing It On aimed at showing users the quality of its results compared to those of Google.

bing-it-on-1347020038

Occasionally we see stories of impressive user growth for Bing, but never quite enough to suggest a significant threat to Google’s totemic stature. Latest estimates from Smart Insights put Google’s global share of the search market at 77%, with Bing on about 8%.

The signs so far suggest that Google will remain the dominant search player in the West, but the sands are shifting and it is increasingly difficult to predict where the industry will go. With a newly-announced partnership with Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft is clearly not going to give up the fight.

So, if search is the glue that holds this together, what is Microsoft’s strategy to compete with Google? We know Microsoft’s speech recognition technology is effective, but how do its voice search capabilities stack up?

Microsoft voice search: the key details

Microsoft’s digital assistant, Cortana, is embedded into Windows-enabled devices and into Microsoft’s Edge internet browser. That provides access to over half a billion users, once we factor in Microsoft’s Xbox gaming consoles.

Cortana has a multitude of uses. It helps users navigate the Windows interface and can respond to a multitude of wider queries, powered by Microsoft’s Bing search engine, for example.

Of course, mobile is a core focus and therefore Cortana is available via a range of Microsoft mobile hardware and software.

Like other digital assistants, Cortana is always ready to answer queries on a Windows device. It now prompts users to test its broadening functionalities by pushing notifications like “Ask me to remind you to buy eggs next time you’re at the supermarket” or “Would you like to know which song is playing?”

It can be a bit creepy and intrusive, but for the most part users will only really notice Cortana when they need to use it. The list of prompts is quite formulaic and Cortana simply searches a query on Bing when it can’t understand what the user wants.

Cortana voice commands

All of this functionality is at its best when a user is logged in across a range of Microsoft devices, however. The same is true of any digital assistant, but the the respective cases of Apple and Google this is simply more likely to occur.

This means that Cortana misses out on vital context, not through any technological shortcoming, but rather through the lack of mass adoption of Microsoft’s hardware.

On the software front, Microsoft fares better. There are now over 100 million monthly users of Cortana via Windows 10, and the latest edition of the Edge browser continues to bring voice search to the fore.

This is still not quite enough to make a significant dent in Google’s lead, however. One of the most searched-for technology-based phrases on Bing is [google], after all.

Microsoft’s voice search strategy

The challenge for Microsoft has always been to gain enough of the valuable mobile software market to compete with Apple and Google.

Where Apple controls a very profitable section of both the hardware and software ecosystems, Google has historically focused on its Android OS as a Trojan horse to ensure continued use of its products on a wide range of devices.

With Google Home, the Google Pixel smartphone, and Google’s soon-to-be-completed purchase of Taiwanese smartphone company HTC, the focus has shifted to hardware as the Internet of Things comes of age.

Microsoft’s Invoke smart speaker ensures it has a seat at the table, but it is the partnership with Amazon’s highly successful Echo speakers that should increase usage numbers for Cortana.

Invoke

Microsoft has always fared well in the enterprise market (albeit under increasing competition from Apple and Google here, too), but the personal smartphone market has been harder to break.

Further integrations with popular platforms such as Spotify, to go along with Microsoft’s ownership of Skype, could start to position Cortana as an appealing alternative to the walled garden approach of Apple.

How does Microsoft voice search differ from Google voice search?

Although both function in similar ways, there are some core areas of differentiation:

  • Speech recognition: Cortana does this fantastically well and, although Google Assistant is still very accurate, small margins do matter in this arena. Although only a sample size of one, I can also attest that Cortana comprehends my Irish brogue much more accurately than Google Assistant.
  • Business task management: Cortana can be a huge timesaver with commands like “Pull up the latest version of my task tracker.” With full access to the Windows OS, it can locate documents quite easily and reduce time spent on laborious document searching.
  • Context: When a user is logged in across Windows products, Cortana can serve accurate contextual results. See below for an example of the same phrase searched by voice on a Windows laptop using Cortana and Google:

Cortana-Leeds

The differences are slight, but telling. Cortana knows that I am currently in Spain (I am using a Windows laptop), and therefore provides the kick-off in my local time. Google is not privy to this information and serves the result in Eastern Time, as my account is based in the US.

When results default to Bing, it all gets a little hairier.

I follow up by asking who will be in the starting lineup and receive a bizarre result about the USA soccer team, a news story about a Leeds starting lineup from three years ago, and some news about the Leeds music festival.

Leeds line-up

Google does a better job of this, but both lack the immediacy that integration with a social media feed would provide:
Google Leeds

This same pattern plays out across a wide range of travel, weather, and commercial queries. When Cortana can pull an immediate answer, it does so very capably; when it resorts to providing a list of search results from Bing, the quality varies. Google therefore represents a much more consistent, reliable option.

The new partnership with Amazon may open a range of avenues for Microsoft to reach a wider audience, which will only help to refine these recommendations. For the moment, Google’s superior search experience remains its trump card in the battle for digital assistant supremacy.

In summary

A graphic comparing the voice search capabilities of Microsoft and Google, respectively. Under the Microsoft section, the pros are listed as: speech recognition, ecommerce offering via Amazon, and Skype integration. The cons are listed as: voice recognition, lack of third-party integrations, and Bing search results. The devices which support Microsoft voice search are listed as: Microsoft devices, Windows 10 and Microsoft Edge. Under the Google section, the pros are listed as: context recognition, linked to all Google products, and Google search. The cons are listed as: speech recognition is flawed, shopping offering is a work in progress. The devices which support Google voice search are listed as: Android devices, Google Chrome and Chromebooks.

Image created by Clark Boyd

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Common PPC keyword mistakes (Understanding broad match vs. phrase match vs. exact match)

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Google AdWords offers three major keyword match types – broad match, phrase match, and exact match.

It’s safe to say that if not you don’t know how to use each correctly, you could be wasting your PPC budget.

Choosing the right keyword match types can help you target your ads better so you get higher-quality traffic to your site. Match types are simple to understand, so it’s important to take time to learn about them before you do anything else with your PPC campaigns.

What are match types for PPC advertising?

The first question is easy: What does match type mean? In short, the match type you choose for each keyword specifies which searches Google can show your ad. Your match type determines whether a wide audience will see your ads or whether your ads will only show for a few highly targeted searchers.

Your first step is to create a keyword to track by navigating to the “keywords” tab and clicking the red “+Keywords” button, as shown below:

After clicking the red button you will be taken to a page where you can add multiple keywords, as shown below:

Once you save that keyword, you can select the keyword to change the match type. Consider the specific differences below:

Broad match

Of all the keyword match types, broad match casts the widest net. When you choose broad match for a keyword Google will show your ad to people who type in all kinds of variations of your keyword, as well as the keyword itself.

For example, let’s say your keyword is ceramic pots. If you set this keyword to broad match, your ad won’t just show up for people who type ceramic pots into the search bar. Google will also show it to people looking for blue ceramic pots, ceramic cooking pots, and cooking pot ceramic. Your ad can even show up when people type in synonyms of your keyword, like pottery cookware.

Simply click in the keyword to change the match type:

Broad match is the default match type for keywords, so if you haven’t adjusted your keywords’ match type, they’re currently set to broad match. You don’t need to use any special symbols to set a keyword to broad match, although you do need to use symbols for other match types – more on that in a minute.

It’s a good idea to use broad match keywords when you want to reach the widest audience possible. Depending on what you’re trying to achieve, though, this strength could become a weakness. The impressions you get from broad match keywords aren’t very targeted, and that could mean you’re paying for clicks from people who weren’t interested in your offer to begin with.

Modified broad match

You can get around some of the downsides of broad match keywords by using a modified broad match type instead. This lets you specify which words must be in a search query for your ad to show.

If you do this, your keyword still falls under the broad match umbrella, but you have a little more control over who sees your ads. Modified broad match is a powerful tool for keeping your keywords flexible while cutting down on irrelevant traffic.

To modify a broad match keyword, place a + sign directly in front of any word that must be in a query for your ad to display. For instance, to re-use our example above, you could modify your keyword by changing it to +ceramic pots.

This tells Google not to show your ad unless “ceramic” is somewhere in the query. For instance, your ad could show up for ceramic bakeware and stockpot ceramic, but not for pottery cookware.

You can also insert a “+” before more than one word in your keyword. If you wanted your ad to show only for queries that included both the words “ceramic” and “pots,” you could modify your keyword to +ceramic +pots.

Phrase match

Phrase match lets you specify an exact phrase that must be in a searcher’s query for your ad to appear. It lets you hone in on your intended audience more than the broad match type, but isn’t as restrictive as exact match.

To set a keyword to phrase match, put quotation marks around it. This lets Google know to only show your ad to people who used your exact keyword (or close variations of it) somewhere in their query. If your phrase match keyword is “ceramic pots”, your ad can show up for the searches “heavy-duty ceramic pots” and “ceramic pot with lid” but not “ceramic cooking pots.”

Exact match

When you use an exact match keyword, your ad will show up for people who type in that exact keyword (or close variations of it) and nothing else. This match type will limit your impressions the most, so use it with caution. The impressions you do get, however, will be highly targeted, so they’ll be more valuable than the impressions you’d get from a broad match keyword.

Set a keyword to exact match by putting it in square brackets – for example, [ceramic pots]. Only people who type ceramic pots or close variations of it into the search bar will see your ad. There’s no way to turn off close variation matching in Google, so your ad will still show for people who search for ceramic pot or another very similar term.

Negative match

Negative match isn’t a keyword match type in the same way as the ones above. Rather, it lets you specify words you don’t want your ad to show for. If you know your ad won’t be relevant if a certain word is in a search query, set that word as a negative match. Google won’t show your ads to any of those searchers.

For instance, if ceramic pot is your keyword and you’re selling cooking pots, you might want to set “vase” as a negative match. Otherwise, people looking for ceramic vases might stumble upon your site and then leave right away, which only wastes your advertising dollars.

Set a word as a negative keyword by including a “-” in front of it, like this: -vase. Below shows you how to navigate to the negative keyword tab. You simply click the red button once again, and here you have a choice if you want these negative keywords to be for one campaign or your entire ad group, as you can see below:

What counts as a close variation?

We’ve mentioned a couple of times that Google automatically lumps very similar terms in with your keyword. At this point, you might be wondering what a close variation actually is. According to Google’s page on keyword matching options, close variations include all of the following:

  • Common misspellings
  • Singular versions of plural words, and vice versa
  • Acronyms
  • Abbreviations
  • Stemmings, or words that all have the same root – e.g. cook, cooking, and cooked
  • Accents

How can you make sure you’re choosing the right match type?

Now that you know what all the match types do, how should you plan your keyword strategy? Google recommends starting out with broad match keywords and then narrowing them down as appropriate. Keep an eye on your search terms report, which tells you which queries people typed in to see your ad.

If you notice that your ad is showing up for a lot of unrelated or irrelevant queries, try adding negative keywords to weed some of them out, or use more restrictive match types for your keywords.

You can find your search terms report using a variety of tools. AgencyAnalytics is one such tool that allows you to also click the keywords tab (shown below) for all of your keyword data to help create a full picture:

It’s also a good idea to vary your keyword match types. Don’t use all broad match keywords, or your ad will display for too many people who aren’t interested. Likewise, if you only use exact match, your ads might not show up often enough to get you good results.

Mix it up based on what makes sense for each keyword, and aim for a good balance between reaching a wide audience and showing your ads to the right people.

The takeaway

You can choose great PPC keywords, but if you don’t deploy them well, they won’t get you the results you want. Choosing your keyword match types is an important way to determine which searchers see your ads, and this ultimately impacts your sales.

Monitor your search terms report to see how your match types are performing, and adjust them as needed, and you just might notice a big difference in your traffic and sales.

What’s your strategy for using keyword match types? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!


Amanda DiSilvestro is a freelance digital marketing writer and editor living in San Diego, CA. You can connect with Amanda on 
Twitter and LinkedIn, or check out her writing services at amandadisilvestro.com.

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How to create a kickass link-building strategy for local SEO

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Link-building is a tried and tested SEO tactic, and although there are a number of dubious ways to go about it, at base developing a strong link-building strategy is a smart and very necessary way to get your site ranked above your competitors.

This is particularly true of local SEO, where a few savvy tactics for building links and relationships with other local businesses can give you a huge visibility boost in local search.

According to the 2017 Local Search Ranking Factors, inbound links are the most important ranking signal.

But if you’ve run through all the usual methods of getting inbound links, what can you do to give your site – or your client’s site – a leg up in search?

At Brighton SEO last Friday, master of local SEO Greg Grifford shared some “righteous” tips for a kickass link-building strategy, in his signature flurry of slides and movie references – this time to 80s movies.

How link-building differs in local SEO

With local small businesses, said Gifford, you have to think about links in something other than pure numbers. Which is not to say that quantity doesn’t help – but it’s about the number of different sites which link to you, not the sheer number of links you have full stop.

With local SEO, all local links are relevant if they’re in the same geographical area as you. Even those crappy little church or youth group websites with a site design from the 1990s? Yes, especially those – in the world of local SEO, local relevance supersedes quality. While a link from a low-quality, low-authority website is a bad idea in all other contexts, local SEO is the one time that you can get away with it; in fact, these websites are your secret weapon.

Gifford also explained that local links are hard to reverse-engineer. If your competitors don’t understand local, they won’t see the value of these links – and even if they do, good relationships will allow you to score links that your competitors might not be able to get.

“It’s all about real-world relationships,” he said.

And once you have these relationships in place, you can get a ton of local links for less time and effort than it would take you to get a single link from a site with high domain authority.

So how should you go about building local relationships to get links? Gifford explained that there are five main ways to gain local links back to your business:

  1. Get local sponsorships
  2. Donate time or volunteer
  3. Get involved in your local community
  4. Share truly useful information
  5. Be creative in the hopes of scoring a random mention

Practical ways to get local links

These five basic ways of getting local links encompass dozens of different methods that you can use to build relationships and improve your standing in local search.

Here is just a sample of the huge list of ideas that Gifford ran through in his presentation:

Local meetups

Go to meetup.com and scout around for local meetups. A lot of local meetups don’t have a permanent location, which gives you an opportunity to offer your business as a permanent meeting venue. Or you can sponsor the event, make a small investment to buy food and drink for its members, and get a killer local link in return.

Local directories

Find local directories that are relevant to the business you’re working with. Gifford emphasized that these should not be huge, generic directories with names like “xyzdirectory.com”, but genuine local listings where you can provide useful information.

Local review sites

These are easier to get onto than bigger review websites, and with huge amounts of hyperlocal relevance.

Event sponsorships

Similar to sponsoring a local meetup, a relatively small investment can get you a great link in return. Event sponsorships will normally include your logo, but make sure that they also link back to your site.

Local blogs & newspapers

Local bloggers are hungry to find information to put on their blogs; you can donate time and information to them, and get a killer blog post and link out of the equation. The same is true of local newspapers, who are often stretched for content for their digital editions and might appreciate a tip or feature opportunity about a locally relevant business.

Local charities

Local charities are another way to get involved with the community and give back to it – plus, it’s great for your image. By the same token, you also can donate to local food banks or shelters, and be listed as a donor or sponsor on their website.

Local business associations

Much like local directories, it’s very easy to get listed by a local business association, such as a local bar dealer’s association – make sure there’s a link.

Local schools

These are great if you’re on the Board of Directors, or if your child or your client’s child is at that school. Again, getting involved in a local school is a good way to give back to the community at the same time as raising your local profile and improving your local links (both the SEO and the relationship kind).

Ethnic business directories

If you’re a member of a particular ethnic community who runs a local business, you can list your business on an ethnic business directory, which is great for grabbing the attention – and custom – of everyone in that community.

Of course, it goes without saying that you should only do this if it genuinely does apply to your business.

Gifford’s presentation contained even more ingenious ideas for local links than I’ve listed here, including local guides, art festivals and calendar pages; you can find the full list on his Slideshare of the presentation.

Gifford advises creating a spreadsheet with all your link opportunities, including what it will cost or the time it will take you. Make sure you have all of the relevant contact details, so that when it comes time to get the link, you can just go and get it. Then present that to your client, or if you’re not working on behalf of a client, to whichever individual whose buy-in you need in order to pursue a link-building strategy.

In fact, Gifford has even put together a pre-made spreadsheet ready for you to fill in, and you can download it here: http://bit.ly/badass-link-worksheet

Decide what links to go after, and go and get them; then, after three months, wipe the spreadsheet and repeat the process.

Some important points to bear in mind

So, now you’re all set to go out and gather a cornucopia of local links, all pointing right at your business, right? Well, here are a few points to bear in mind first.

A lot of times, the people you approach won’t know what SEO is, or even what digital is. So be careful about how you go about asking for a link; don’t mention links or SEO right off the bat. Instead, focus on the value that will be added for their customers. “This is not about the link; this is about the value that you can provide,” said Gifford.

Once again, for the people at the back: it’s about building up long-term, valuable relationships which provide benefit to you and to the local community. When it comes to local SEO, these relationships and the links that you can get will be worth more than any links from big, hefty high-domain-authority (but locally irrelevant) websites.

Or in Gifford’s words: “Forget about the big PR link shit. Go really hard after small, local links.”

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5 tips to create a data-driven content marketing strategy

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Content marketing has become the secret weapon in a successful marketing strategy, with brands using different types of content to add value and grab their audience’s attention.

It has become more important than ever to market with intent, using content and SEO to raise awareness, engage and convert.

Conversion, in particular, is one of the biggest challenges for content marketing, but according to Curata, 74% of companies believe that their content marketing strategy helps them increase the quality and quantity of their leads.

The rise of IoT and our constant connectivity to the online world through smartphones, wearables and social media have brought a wealth of new data. This serves as a great opportunity for marketers to understand what a modern consumer wants and how to include these findings in a content marketing strategy.

Content marketing cannot be successful without data, as marketers risk guessing, rather than actually knowing, the habits of their target audience.

A data-driven content marketing strategy can be more efficient, helping marketers save time and money by focusing on the right content that will bring them closer to their goals.

Here are five ways that data can improve a content marketing strategy.

Understanding your target audience

One of the main reasons to invest in a data-driven content marketing strategy is to gain the best possible understanding of the target audience.

A solid content marketing strategy can bring the audience closer to the brand. This can only happen through a framework that takes into consideration the audience’s habits, preferences, and needs.

An analysis of the available data can help marketers draft more relevant personas, which helps in tailoring content to the target audience.

Data can provide useful answers to questions such as:

  • the customers’ reaction to the existing content
  • their favorite types of content
  • their preferred methods of communications
  • the channels they are using
  • their browsing habits

This should be the start of an effective content marketing strategy, setting up the groundwork for a data-driven approach that relies on insights, rather than assumptions about the target audience.

Content discovery

The process of coming up with content ideas can be challenging, especially in small teams. A closer look at the available data can help marketers create content that fits their goals.

Data can be part of the content discovery process in the following ways:

Keyword research

Keyword research is not only useful in SEO, but it can also offer useful content suggestions, tailored to the target audience and their search habits. For example, keyword analysis can help marketers come up with new content ideas, going beyond the most popular terms and targeting topics that can still be successful, without being predictable.

Content performance

An analysis of the existing content’s performance can offer useful insights, from the most popular posts to the audience’s browsing habits. This data can help marketers create more effective content, adjusting if needed the length of it, the formatting, the visual assets, or even the user experience if there seems to be a high bounce rate.

Competitor analysis

Another useful aspect that can help in the process of content discovery is to monitor what your competitors are writing about. It might be a good idea to monitor your competitors’ most popular topics, the types of content they are using, the ideas they are expanding into, or even the creative aspect of their content marketing strategy. This can give you a good indication of their most successful aspects, while you can also explore the areas that you could cover.

Monitoring latest trends

It’s extremely useful to monitor the latest trends that are relevant in your content’s context. A closer look at Google Trends, Facebook, and Twitter’s trending topics, or even the latest headlines can help you get inspired on new content topics. Moreover, an analysis of the latest trends, the audience’s response, and their metrics in terms of virality can offer a useful perspective on the content that people prefer to share.

Content delivery

It’s essential for marketers to deliver content to their audience via their preferred format and channels. This requires an analysis of several key areas:

  • length of content
  • type of content (blog, video, image, presentation, podcast, etc)
  • formatting
  • desktop vs mobile
  • relevance
  • value
  • quantity over quality

SEO optimisation can be improved with the analysis of your data

There are many questions that need to be answered when drafting a content marketing strategy, but luckily the use of data can provide the answers to all these questions.

A closer look at Google Analytics or other similar platforms can offer useful insights.

These increase the chances for the content to become part of the customer journey, by helping prospects move along the funnel, from awareness to an actual purchase.

Moreover, another interesting trend is the rise of real-time data that can help marketers become more responsive to their content. Social networks are usually the most useful platforms to serve real-time content during an event or an important announcement. In that case, data can offer the right direction for the content, from the sentiment to the actual performance of the campaign.

Analyzing distribution

An effective content marketing strategy needs to equally focus on the creation and the distribution of the content.

A focus on data can help marketers decide on the channels they should use for the promotion of their content. This depends on the target audience and campaign goals, and data can tell whether the focus should be on:

  • earned media (PR, mentions)
  • paid media (social and search advertising)
  • owned media (site, blog, social content)
  • shared media (referrals, word of mouth, influencers)

Content distribution becomes more challenging with the abundance of the available channels and the new opportunities for promotion. Not all of them are effective though for every type of content. That’s how data can become extremely useful to analyse the existing results, but also how the new content can explore new paths for promotion.

Image: Smart Insights

Measuring success

According to CMI’s report, the most popular tool that marketers use for content marketing is their analytics platform (79%). This indicates the need to measure the content’s performance while justifying the KPI of their content marketing strategy.

The focus on analytics tools doesn’t necessarily mean that all marketers are still able to tell whether their content marketing strategy is successful. In fact, according to Curata, only 30% of leading marketers are confident enough that their content marketing has an impact at the bottom of the sales funnel.

As more data become available, marketers can take advantage of all the insights to understand their content’s performance and how it brings them closer to KPIs.

Image: Beth Kanter

The most useful metrics to track your content performance include:

  • blog visits
  • time on page
  • bounce rate
  • number of comments
  • number of shares
  • number of mentions
  • inbound links
  • press coverage
  • number of generated leads
  • number of conversions

The need to pay attention to these when measuring a content marketing strategy brings out the importance for modern marketers to blend their creative with their analytical side. As we gain the capacity to collect and analyze increasing quantities of data, marketing is becoming increasingly analytical – but creativity is still crucial, and is what sets humans apart from bots in the marketing industry.

Overview

Many marketers are eager to dive into data in order to create a successful content marketing strategy. The more data we process, the better the insights we can glean about our target audience.

A data-driven content marketing strategy starts with an analysis of the existing data, but it’s also important to proceed with actionable steps.

The most effective marketing strategies translate data into their customers’ needs, creating successful content that speaks to their needs, but also your company’s goals.

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What is SEM?

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If you are coming to this article as a novice, I know what you are thinking. “Not another damned 3 letter acronym! Don’t we have enough?”

Well, apparently not, and unfortunately there isn’t all that much we can do to stop the ever growing database of aforementioned acronyms.

We must therefore get accustomed to not only knowing what they stand for (Search Engine Marketing, in case you were wondering) but also what they actually mean.

The first one is pretty easy. You now know what SEM means in its most basic form – “search engine marketing”. However, the issue is that even those in the SEM industry will disagree on what the component parts of search engine marketing are or what the main focus of SEM is.

At Search Engine Watch we have covered this topic back in 2014, but much has changed since then. We’re going to take a slightly different tack with this one. Instead of looking at what major organisations and websites define as SEM we’re going to look at what could possibly be encompassed by the term SEM.

So let’s dive straight in.

The main consensus

As per the original article on this topic, if you had to pick one overall consensus it would be that the major factor in SEM has traditionally been paid search. For the sake of argument let’s refer to paid search as Google Adwords. This is somewhat linked to the more traditional pay to play advertising association with the word ‘marketing’, and therefore AdWords gets the nod in front of SEO.

However, over the years SEO has made up significant ground in terms of its visibility in the marketing world (and to clients). As such, whilst some may say that SEO comes in a close second as part of the SEM umbrella, there are many that would say that SEO is now a legitimate stand alone practice. In the second scenario this would mean that SEM is somewhat dominated by its association with Google Adwords.

Our opinion? SEM has far stronger links to paid search than paid and organic together, but that’s just us.

The broad approach

It could quite rightly be argued that SEM encompasses anything that improves a website’s visibility via search engines. On the face of it, Adwords and SEO would be the dominant pair here.

However, as our relationship with Google becomes ever more entrenched and complex (both as users and marketers) the list of potential factors that could be included in SEM expands. Let’s look at some of the major ones below:

Adwords and SEO

I think you guys get the point on this one. The Federer vs Nadal of the SEM conundrum.

Roger Federer playing in the US Open 2012, crouching down low to hit the ball with his racket.

Image by Christian Mesiano, available via CC BY-SA 2.0

Local search

Yes, this should be an element of any comprehensive SEO campaign, but many would argue that this will more and more become its own discipline. When Google Maps are displayed for a search query, they take a dominant position in the results page.

Further to this, since 2014 mobile search has continued on its stratospheric trajectory and with the Google Maps app on smartphones everywhere, it is a significant channel through which visibility on search engines can be increased.

Google Shopping

Here come the trolls: “Google Shopping is pay per click and is therefore included under PPC”. Riddle me this, troll, why do you think we were specific about Paid Search referring to Adwords – and if they were so similar, why are they managed via different platforms?

The recent record EU fine for Google’s actions surrounding Google Shopping may have dented their ego but it does not stop Google Shopping from being a popular source of product browsing and subsequent purchase. A well-managed Google Merchant Centre account can be a fruitful form of SEM, used by blue chips and independent retailers alike.

PR or link building

Seriously? Yes, seriously. Search engines are sources of information and not all searchers are super specific. A prime example of this is someone searching for ‘Wine Bars in London’. Whilst you may expect Google to return the likes of Humble Grape or Gordon’s Wine Bar in the results, you will actually find that the main results are dominated by lists.

Google understands that the searcher is looking for options. What better way to give value to the user than by returning curated lists of wine bars from the likes of Time Out or Design My Night?

If this is the case (which it is), in a slightly roundabout way and not directly increasing visibility on the search results, exposure on these types of sites via a PR campaign will still influence your visibility via search engines.

The focus is still on Adwords

Indeed. Google Adwords is the star player of SEM and will continue to be so for more than just 2017. Hopefully the above has demonstrated that there are a number of factors that could legitimately fall under the term SEM; we haven’t even looked at image search, the news feed, or the Knowledge Graph.

In the end, we would argue that the term SEM is falling out of favor. People have realised that the digital ecosystem is more complex than it was and practices such as Google Adwords or SEO are stand-alone services.

Ultimately, clarity is key. If you want to talk about Adwords, refer to it as Adwords. If you want to talk about SEO, say SEO.

For those providing a service that could be incorporated under the SEM umbrella, or are actively using the term during talks with prospective clients or with existing clients and insist on using SEM as a term, it is advisable that you look to define exactly what your definition of SEM is. In fact, if we looked honestly at ourselves as an industry, we have a tendency to throw about acronyms and terminology that can be mighty confusing to those instructing agencies!

Be aware of what you might deem as an ‘assumed level of knowledge’; clients will appreciate clarity, and you can evade any easily avoidable misunderstandings!

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Should I move my WordPress website to HTTPS?

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Whether you’re a website owner or a website visitor, everyone wants a fast loading website which can carry out sensitive exchanges of information securely.

In 2014, Google announced that it was beginning to use HTTPS as a ranking signal, signalling an increased emphasis on secure connections from the world’s biggest search engine.

Then, last month, the news came that Google’s Chrome browser will begin displaying a “Not Secure” warning message for unencrypted webpages. This message will be displayed in the address bar of websites not running the HTTPS protocol. Imagine a situation where your visitors withdraw from your website after seeing this warning message.

Google does check whether your site uses HTTP or HTTPS protocol. It might not be a crucial factor if you are not very serious about your website. However, if you are an online business, this is not something to overlook – website visitors demand secure connections to the websites they are interacting with.

If you aren’t too familiar with the technicalities of SEO, working with HTTPS might seem a bit intimidating. However, it isn’t as complex as it seems to be. Also, the good thing is that you do not have to understand the behind-the-scenes work when it comes to implementing HTTPS.

So, is HTTPS important?

Yes, HTTPS is undoubtedly essential, and many websites have already made the shift.

At the time that HTTPS was announced as a ranking signal, it was only a “light” one and affected less than 1% of global searches. But Google warned that this could strengthen over time, and we have already seen with Mobilegeddon how Google can shake things up once it decides to put emphasis on a particular element of the web.

For a website that have a HTTPS protocol, the search bar in the browser will display a lock symbol, and on Google Chrome, the word “secure”. However, if it isn’t on HTTPS, you won’t see the symbol and users may consequently be more wary about what data they enter – especially if soon, they start to receive a warning about the site’s security.

Exhibit A: Search Engine Watch

Benefits of shifting to HTTPS

Makes your site secure

This is the most obvious benefit of shifting to HTTPS. When you are enforcing HTTPS on your site, you are guaranteeing that the information passed between the client and the server can neither be stolen nor intercepted. It is basically a kind of proof that the client’s data wouldn’t be messed with in any form.

This is great for sites that need the customers to log in and accept payments through credit or debit cards.

Encryption

Okay, so if someone even does manage to intercept it, the data would be completely worthless to them. In case you are wondering why, it is because they obviously wouldn’t have the key to decrypt it. As website owners, you would have the key to do so.

Authentication

You must have heard of middleman attacks. However, with HTTPS, it is close to impossible for anyone to trick your customers and make them think that they are providing their personal information to you, when in reality they are providing this to a scammer. This is where an SSL certificate comes into light.

Good for your site’s SEO

You definitely want your site to rank higher in the search engine results and HTTPS would contribute todoing that. With your site ranking higher, you would have more customers, an increased traffic and an improvement in your overall revenue. It’s not just us saying that – Google said so itself!

Now that you know all of its benefits, let’s look into the steps that you need to follow.

Getting an SSL certificate

SSL is the protocol that HTTPS uses and is something that you need to install. The SSL certificate would have your company name, domain name, address, country, state and your city. Several details including the expiry date of the certificate would also be mentioned here. Now, there are three different kinds of certificates that you can choose from.

Organization Validation and Domain Validation are the kind of certificates that you can get if you have an e-commerce site or a site that collects personal information from users. The third type, Extended Validation Certificates, are for testifying the legal terms of a HTTPS website.

You can purchase these certificates from a lot of websites. The prices differ, so compare them and then make a purchase. Once you have purchased one, get it installed.

Create your site’s URL map and redirect

The ‘S’ in HTTPS makes a huge difference in the URL. HTTP or HTTPS before your domain name are entirely different URLs. This implies that you would have to create copies of each and every page on your site and then redirect them. This redirection would be from your old HTTP page to the new HTTPS page.

It might all sound pretty complicated, but it isn’t in reality. Your URL map can just be a simple spreadsheet. When shifting from WordPress, all of the 301 (permanent) redirects can simply be added to the .htaccess file.

Work on getting at least one page working on the front end

You also have to work on getting your front end on HTTPS. If you’re not confident with the technical side of things, this can seem a little complicated. Therefore it is best to begin with just one page.

If you are an ecommerce site, you can begin with the page that accepts payments. This is the page where customers are sharing their personal banking details and therefore it has to be secure. There are several plugins available that can help you with this, such as WP Force SSL. With such plugins, you can easily force pages to be SSL.

Update internal links, images and other links

There will be several internal links throughout your site and these might redirect to your old HTTP page. If you have been using relative links, you have been lucky. However, if not, you would have to find each of the links and then correct it with the new URL. You would also need to correct links to other resources like stylesheets, images and scripts.

Also, if you use a content delivery network (CDN), you would need to make sure that the CDN supports HTTPS too. These days most CDNs support HTTPS, but not all of them. So, make sure that you check that too.

Re-add your site to Google Search Console

After you have made all the necessary changes, get Google crawling on it as soon as possible. If you don’t do it, your traffic would be affected negatively. But why is re-adding required? Well, it’s because a HTTPS site is considered a completely different and new site.

After that, submit your new sitemap in your new listing and above that, re-submit the old sitemap as Google will notice the 301 redirects and make the necessary updates.

Once you have carried out all of the steps, you may or may not notice a slight positive change in the search rankings. Whatever you do, make sure that the first step of installing an SSL certificate has been done correctly. Alternatively, you can also use plugins like Really Simple SSL, Easy HTTPS Redirection etc. to accomplish the task.

At the end of the day, the decision of switching to HTTPS is solely yours. If you just have a blog with an email newsletter that people can subscribe to, you might not need to make the switch. However, if you are an online business, switching to HTTPS would be a wise decision.

If you see some issues, keep researching and fixing them. Even if you’re not a technical person, it’s easier than you think.

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10 tips to make your Magento online store more secure

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An estimated 240,000 ecommerce stores use Magento for their online operations, which accounts for nearly 30% of the ecommerce platform market.

Unfortunately, this not only makes clear that Magento is a worthwhile program, it makes clear something else: It’s a focus area for cyber criminals across the globe. Add to this the fact that it’s an ecommerce platform, and it’s clear how critical security for any Magento e-store would be.

Magento keeps on releasing security patches to keep client websites secure; however, the responsibility of doing everything possible to secure your Magento store also rests with you, the customer.

There are several customizations, security settings, and additional best practices that you need to be aware of in order to make your Magento based e-store secure. This piece will run through 10 tips that can help you make your ecommerce store more secure than before.

From very technical suggestions to secure your admin access, to general security practices that will keep your store secure, below covers it all.

The obvious: Make sure you have a strong password policy in place

The biggest sin that most Magento e-store administrators and owners are guilty of is having a routine, weak, and easy to crack password. It’s expected, though, considering your entire focus is on getting things off the ground when you set Magento up initially. However, in the absence of any automated password policies via Magento, you need to implement your own. Below are best practices to remember:

  • Your password must be 10 or more characters long
  • The password must include at least one symbol, one number, and one capital alphabet
  • Don’t include your company name, or any dictionary word in your password
  • Change the password every 90 days, or sooner

This can also be improved with secure two-step authentication. This helps you cover your bases if you ever give your password to another employee who may need administrator privileges at one point in time.

The not-so obvious: Modify the admin path

Chances are you have never bothered with the admin/default path. However the default path, unfortunately, makes it a lot easier for cyber criminals to crack your login credentials using brute force techniques. By changing the default admin path, you add another layer of protection to keep your store’s login credential secure. Here are ways you can change the default admin path.

1. Go to admin backend. Here, go to System, and then Config. In the options, click on Admin, and then Admin Base URL. Select the option to ‘Use Custom Admin Path’, and click on Yes.

2. The other method involves manipulating some code in your Magento store’s local.xml file. You can access the local.xml file by going to the following path: app/etc/local.xml.

Open the file, and look for the following code.

<admin>

<routers>

<adminhtml>

<args>

<frontName><![CDTA[admin] ]</frontName>

</args>

</routers>

</admin>

Here, you need to replace [admin] with the new path. Once done, save the file, and refresh the cache and you’re done!

Keep a strong watch and control on admin users

For all admin users who have admin privilege roles assigned to their IDs, you need to devise a mechanism to view their activity logs, and must remove their privileges if you detect anything unusual. This can be done within Magento from this path:

System > Permission > User and Roles

Make sure that you only provide admin privileges to a user only when absolutely necessary, and only for a necessary period of time.

Encrypt critical pages

You just can’t afford to send any sensitive information, such as your credentials, over unencrypted connections considering how common it has become for hackers to steal information over unsecure connections. The solution to this grave problem – secure URLs. Magento provides you a setting to help here.

Go to System, then Configuration, and Web. Here, select the Secure tab, and specify a Yes for the options to ‘Use Secure URLs in Frontend’ and ‘Use Secure URLs in Admin’.

Finally, remember that it’s mandatory to have secure URLs for processing financial transactions. Magento lets you add SSL for your web store, so make sure you make use of it.

Ask yourself: Am I using the most secure, upgraded, and patched Magento version?

Remember, it’s your responsibility as well as requirement to deliver 100% secure shopping experiences on your e-store. The kind of brand tarnishing that a customer data leakage brings can break your business’ back. To make sure you don’t leave any security gaps, it’s important that you always upgrade to the latest Magento version whenever such upgrades are rolled out. In addition, between version upgrades, Magento keeps on pushing out security patches when needed. It’s critical that you install these security upgrades as soon as they’re available because they’re precisely offered to combat the latest security threats.

Path: System -> Magento Connect -> Magento Connect Manager

Of course, you will get notifications when there is a critical security patch on offer, or when there’s a version upgrade. You can also check on Magento’s website for word on any planned upgrades and security patches.

Ensuring security of server environment

Secure server environment is critical for the wholesome security of your Magento website. However, it’s one of the often ignored aspects of security for Magento websites. For starters, talk to your web hosting provider and understand the kind of security protocols in place. No unnecessary software should be running on the server. Then, make sure that only secure protocols are in use for communications (protocols such as HTTPS, SFTP, and SSH).

The ports in the server must not be opened all at once because of the high attack surface it creates. Magento comes with .htaccess files that help in system file protection when Apache web server is in use. However, if you’re using a web server such as Nginx, ensure that directories and files are protected.

Here’s an experiment – try to access this address: http://ift.tt/2flp1V3.

If it’s accessible, your site is at risk and you need to change the server settings. Access to cron.php file should be very restricted; remember to use the system cron scheduler to execute the command, always.

Use a reliable mechanism of running scans for your Magento website

Imagine a situation where a 3rd party plugin causes a security risk in your Magento website, and the server scanner is not even able to detect it! To avoid such problems, it’s important to run routine scans on your Magento website. Online scanning services such as MageReport and ForeGenix scan your Magento website completely and send a list of the potential issues, apart from the scan report, to your email id. Below is a screenshot of how a typical MageReport scan report looks like:

Use reliable security extensions for Magento

There are just too many security risks for all kinds of websites, let along Magento e-stores. Thankfully, Magento offers some time tested and proven effective extensions that can take care of all kind of security issues. Explore the most highly rated extensions for functions such as blocking security threats, scanning for vulnerabilities, blocking malicious codes, log activities, enforce strong password policies, and implement firewalls. Some of the reliable Magento security extensions worth checking are:

  • ET IP Security: Offers IP based access limitations for website access.
  • MegaSecure: Scans your Magento store for vulnerabilities
  • Spam Killer: Integrated with Akismet to deliver world class spam comment removal
  • Mega Firewall: Blacklist security violators, implement NinjaFirewall’s security rules, and block all kind of web attacks.

Note: Always run every extension through antivirus checks. Magento extensions could easily infect malware into your website, especially if you’re not sure of the source or the reliability of the developers. To avoid such as mess, make sure that you run each extension through your operating system antivirus before installing it.

More importantly, always choose an extension after reading its reviews, and making a smart judgment based on the reputation and previous record of the developing agency. Make sure you choose extensions made by developers who seem committed to their work, because a few years down the line, you wouldn’t want to be stuck with an important extension that is not supported or upgraded anymore.

Prepare backup

To make sure that your website remains up even when a security breach happens, take regular backups and store them on the cloud, as well as in the form of an offline copy, so that you can quickly take your website back to a known good state from the very recent past whenever needed. You can easily find reliable Magento extensions for this.

The takeaway

Your Magento store deserves all your attention, not only from a business development and management perspective, but also a security perspective. In the highly volatile and uncertain cyber security environment of today, the responsibility of your Magento website’s security rests completely on your shoulders. Trust these 10 practices discussed above to secure the most critical aspects of your e-store.

Is there anything you would add to the list? Have you had a personal experience with your Magento store? Let us know your thoughts and your story in the comment section below.

 

Amanda DiSilvestro is a writer for NoRiskSEO, a full service SEO agency, and a contributor to SEW. You can connect with Amanda on Twitter and LinkedIn, or check out her services at amandadisilvestro.com.

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