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Monthly Archives: January 2017

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SearchCap: Google new AdWords interface, ads by AdWords & IF functions

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By Barry Schwartz

Below is what happened in search today, as reported on Search Engine Land and from other places across the web.

From Search Engine Land:

Recent Headlines From Marketing Land, Our Sister Site Dedicated To Internet Marketing:

Search News From Around The Web:

Link Building



SEM / Paid Search

Search Marketing

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New AdWords interface alpha is rolling out to more advertisers

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By Ginny Marvin

Google has been slowly building out the new AdWords interface, first introduced last March. More accounts have been granted alpha access, and on Tuesday, Google’s head of search ads, Jerry Dischler, said it is rolling out to even more AdWords accounts in the next few months.

When you first get access, you may be taken right to the new interface, or you may see a notification in the top right corner or at the bottom of the screen like the one below.

Don’t worry about clicking it and never being able to get back to the land you know. You can toggle back and forth between the new and old interfaces, which you’ll want to do because functionality like being able to download data is still not available. A guided tour will launch the first time the new UI loads in an account.

Last fall, I wrote about some of the handy, time-saving visualizations in the new interface, which you might find helpful if you’re just getting access, or want to see what’s coming.

Google continues to add more features to the new UI, so even if you don’t find yourself working in it extensively at first, it’s worth continuing to check out and get used to the navigation. Here’s a look at an Overview screen today.


Google says accounts are selected based on a number of factors such as the features used.

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Google launches Ads Added by AdWords pilot: what we know so far

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By Ginny Marvin

Automation is nothing new in AdWords, but this month, Google launched a pilot this month that adds new text ads to advertisers’ accounts. Dubbed Ads Added by AdWords, the program started on January 26.

Not surprisingly, this news has set off alarm bells among paid search managers that worry about Google usurping control over the ad creation and testing process. Here is what we know so far about this test.

The initial set of advertisers were notified of the pilot on January 12. For those that chose to participate, ads were added to ad groups two weeks later, on January 26, at which time a second wave of advertisers were notified about the pilot. Currently 2,000 accounts have been selected for the test. Each has a two-week opt-out window via a form. If you do not receive an email, you haven’t been selected for the pilot.

What accounts were considered for this program? Google looked at campaigns with ad rotation settings of either “Optimize for clicks” or “Optimize for conversions” that have ad groups with few ads in them.

If you’ve opted out of automated extensions or are in a vertical with privacy sensitivities such as pharma, your account was not selected for this program.

How are the ads generated? We’re told that, for the test, the ads were generated by people (as opposed to auto-generated) based on the existing ads in the account and the landing page content. The ads went through review by the product team, among others, for quality assurance. The sales teams were also involved in creative review and account selection for the pilot.

From the Help Center page on this new program, we also know that any ads generated for the pilot will be labeled “Added by AdWords”. In the example below (yes, all of the ads are terrible, but try to look past that for now), Google has added two test ads in an ad group that had just one ad. Notice that the headlines, description and paths are all being tested.

Google says on that Help Center page, “We believe that adding more ads to the affected ad groups can improve these ad groups’ performance by 5 to 15%.” The new ads are set to run indefinitely, and Google recommends pilot participants not pause the ads. Theoretically, if they perform worse (based on conversion or click-through rates), the ads will be shown less. But, certainly review the ads if you’re participating in the test, as Google also advises.

This program obviously raises more questions about advertiser control and the role of machine learning in ad creation. If Google deems the pilot successful and roles Ads Added by AdWords out more broadly, it’s hard to see how the current ad creation and vetting process can scale without automation. One can assume that the machines will be learning from this pilot.

The post Google launches Ads Added by AdWords pilot: what we know so far appeared first on Search Engine Land.



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How to go above and beyond with your content

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By Julie Joyce

We’re creating a lot of content these days. It’s everywhere. Everyone is writing; everyone has a blog. I’m truly waiting for the day when my mom asks me how she can start a blog to impart her wisdom about how to behave properly in a restaurant.

With the nonstop stream of content being created, it sometimes seems like not everyone is really thinking about how to make their content stand out. I remember that a few years ago, a friend asked me why I hadn’t written a piece about some SEO topic that everyone else was writing about. I explained that I didn’t think I had anything to add to what was out there. If everyone else is saying it, why would you? Wouldn’t you rather say something else, or something better?

For example, around Halloween I was searching for lists of the scariest movies ever made. I kept finding great lists full of movies I’d never even heard of, but one big thing was missing: none that I found showed you where you could stream the films or rent/buy them.

All these articles had some unique perspectives to them, too. Some listed the trailers for the films. Some were filled with recommendations from famous actors and directors. However, for me, as a big fan of streaming services, I was quite disappointed to not see any that told me where to find them and linked to those sources. This definitely stood out as something that I’d have added myself.

Let’s take a look at this article from GQ: “The 7 Best Scary Movies You Can Watch on Netflix.”

devil2 Netflix

It’s even about Netflix, but instead of giving you a link to the movie on that site, they show you the trailers. I mean I’m certainly capable of searching for a movie on Netflix (in fact, I’m pretty close to an expert on it) but as a link builder all I think is, “This is a wasted chance to link.” You see the section about the movie “Creep?” Wouldn’t it be nice if they’d linked to it on Netflix?

Here’s another example, from Thrillist, where the author could have linked out more: “15 Terrifying Movies That Prey On Your Phobias

So they do tell you where to get the film, but they don’t link to it! Why not? And in the “Honorable Mentions” sections, they list other films but leave it up to you to go search for them. If I had a horror movie site, and someone approached me with an alternative piece that linked to where to find these films, I’d favor that over this one any day.

We can do better

The beauty of a tool like BuzzSumo or Ahrefs Content Explorer is that you can easily see what content is performing well on what platforms. If you see several articles getting a lot of traction on Twitter, and you have a very similar piece in the works, look at what they don’t have and add it to your own.

Notice how this POPSUGAR article on the best national parks links to the parks mentioned, as it should. You get great photos, too.


Now, take a look at this article on dog-friendly national parks. It gives great info, but I think they could do more.


This article has over 3700 shares, according to BuzzSumo.

To give you an example of how someone could use this idea and go above and beyond, here’s a great content opportunity for a site that sells dog collars to do a nice blog post on that same topic, linking to the parks themselves. Maybe they ask for visitors to send in photos of their dogs in these parks, wearing the collars they sell. That would be a nice way to get some great social shares, wouldn’t it?

Let’s go forward with that more specific niche and find one more example of something that could be made better.

Consider this article: “Which National Parks Are Dog-Friendly?” Again, wouldn’t this one be better if the article linked out to the parks it lists?

They do include some nice info, though. They provide a list of free admission dates for the year (the article was from 2016, so it’s for that year), and they have summarized the pet policies for each park, which is pretty nice. They don’t have a photo of each park, though, and since a national park is such a visual experience, all I’m thinking is, “Why not?”

ruff parks

It has 212 total shares according to BuzzSumo, but I think it would have had more if it had contained outbound links and more photos.

Now, even if you’re not trying to create new content, you could surely look at all of this and see that other articles about dog-friendly national parks did contain links and photos, and you could thus update your piece and re-socialize it. Maybe you could add videos of drone footage of the parks or give tips on the best times to visit each one. What about linking to camping options or other accommodations for each park?

For one thing, if you have content that doesn’t stand out for having all it could have, you’re opening yourself up to potentially losing that link to someone else. It’s like broken link building, really. “We noticed you have a link to X piece, but our Y piece actually gives more information — so would you think about replacing the old link with ours?”

I recently received an email asking me if I’d consider updating an old article where I linked to a tool review. The person reaching out said that on her blog, they had recently reviewed this tool and wondered if I could change my link to their review instead, as it was much more comprehensive and reviewed several new features. If I weren’t such a lazy person, I might be tempted.

So, what can you add to make your content better?

And last, but not least… outbound links! Don’t ever be afraid to link out if it helps your audience.

The post How to go above and beyond with your content appeared first on Search Engine Land.



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How machine learning impacts the need for quality content

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By Eric Enge

Back in August, I posited the concept of a two-factor ranking model for SEO. The idea was to greatly simplify SEO for most publishers and to remind them that the finer points of SEO don’t matter if you don’t get the basics right. This concept leads to a basic ranking model that looks like this:

ranking score

To look at it a little differently, here is a way of assessing the importance of content quality:

chances of ranking

The reason that machine learning is important to this picture is that search engines are investing heavily in improving their understanding of language. Hummingbird was the first algorithm publicly announced by Google that focused largely on addressing an understanding of natural language, and RankBrain was the next such algorithm.

I believe that these investments are focused on goals such as these:

  1. Better understanding user intent
  2. Better evaluating content quality

We also know that Google (and other engines) are interested in leveraging user satisfaction/user engagement data as well. Though it’s less clear exactly what signals they will key in on, it seems likely that this is another place for machine learning to play a role.

Today, I’m going to explore the state of the state as it relates to content quality, and how I think machine learning is likely to drive the evolution of that.

Content quality improvement case studies

A large number of the sites that we see continue to under-invest in adding content to their pages. This is very common with e-commerce sites. Too many of them create their pages, add the products and product descriptions, and then think they are done. This is a mistake.

For example, adding unique user reviews specific to the products on the page is very effective. At Stone Temple, we worked on one site where adding user reviews led to a traffic increase of 45 percent on the pages included in the test.

We also did a test where we took existing text on category pages that had originally been crafted as “SEO text” and replaced it. The so-called SEO text was not written with users in mind and hence added little value to the page. We replaced the SEO text with a true mini-guide specific to the categories on which the content resided. We saw a gain of 68 percent to the traffic on those pages. We also had some control pages for which we made no changes, and traffic to those dropped 11 percent, so the net gain was just shy of 80 percent:

impact of new content

Note that our text was handcrafted and tuned with an explicit goal of adding value to the tested pages. So this wasn’t cheap or easy to implement, but it was still quite cost-effective, given that we did this on major category pages for the site.

These two examples show us that investing in improving content quality can offer significant benefits. Now let’s explore how machine learning may make this even more important.

Impact of machine learning

Let’s start by looking at our major ranking factors and see how machine learning might change them.

Content quality

Showing high-quality content in search results will remain critical to the search engines. Machine learning algorithms like RankBrain have improved their ability to understand human language. One example of this is the query that Gary Illyes shared with me: “can you get 100% score on Super Mario without walkthrough.”

Prior to RankBrain, the word “without” was ignored by the Google algorithm, causing it to return examples of walkthroughs, when what the user wanted was to be able to get a result telling them how to do it without a walkthrough. RankBrain was largely focused on long-tail search queries and represented a good step forward in understanding user intent for such queries.

But Google has a long way to go. For example, consider the following query:

why are down comforters the best

In this query, Google appears unclear on how the word “best” is being used. The query is not about the best down comforters, but instead is about why down comforters are better than other types of comforters.

Let’s take a look at another example:


See how the article identifies that the coldest day in US history occurred in Alaska, but then doesn’t actually provide the detailed answer in the Featured Snippet? The interesting thing here is that the article Google pulled the answer from actually does tell you both the date and the temperature of the coldest day in the US — Google just missed it.

These things are not that complicated, when you look at them one at a time, for Google to fix. The current limitations arise because of the complexity of language and the scale of machine learning required to fix it. The approach to fixing it requires building larger and larger sets of examples like the two I shared above, then using them to help train better machine learning-derived algorithms.

RankBrain was one major step forward for Google, but the work is ongoing. The company is making massive investments in taking their understanding of language forward in dramatic ways. The following excerpt, from USA Today, starts with a quote from Google’s senior program manager, Linne Ha, who runs the Pygmalion team of linguists at the company:

“We’re coming up with rules and exceptions to train the computer,” Ha says. “Why do we say ‘the president of the United States?’ And why do we not say ‘the president of the France?’ There are all sorts of inconsistencies within our language and within every language. For humans it seems obvious and natural, but for machines it’s actually quite difficult.”

The Pygmalion team at Google is the one that is focused on improving Google’s understanding of natural language. Some of the things that will improve at the same time are their understanding of:

  1. what pages on the web best match the user’s intent as implied by the query.
  2. how comprehensive a page is in addressing the user’s needs.

As they do that, their capabilities for measuring the quality of content and how well it addresses the user intent will grow, and this will therefore become a larger and larger ranking factor over time.

User engagement/satisfaction

As already noted, we know that search engines use various methods for measuring user engagement. They’ve already publicly revealed that they use CTR as a quality control factor, and many believe that they use it as a direct ranking factor. Regardless, it’s reasonable to expect that search engines will continue to seek out more useful ways to have user signals play a bigger role in search ranking.

There is a type of machine learning called “reinforcement learning” that may come into play here. What if you could try different sets of search results, see how they perform, and then use that as input to directly refine and improve the search results in an automated way? In other words, could you simply collect user engagement signals and use them to dynamically try different types of search results for queries, and then keep tweaking them until you find the best set of results?

But it turns out that this is a very hard problem to solve. Jeff Dean, who many consider one of the leaders of the machine learning efforts at Google, had this to say about measuring user engagement in a recent interview he did with Fortune:

An example of a messier reinforcement learning problem is perhaps trying to use it in what search results should I show. There’s a much broader set of search results I can show in response to different queries, and the reward signal is a little noisy. Like if a user looks at a search result and likes it or doesn’t like it, that’s not that obvious.

Nonetheless, I expect that this is a continuing area of investment by Google. And, if you think about it, user engagement and satisfaction has an important interaction with content quality. In fact, it helps us think about what content quality really represents: web pages that meet the needs of a significant portion of the people who land on them. This means several things:

  1. The product/service/information they are looking for is present on the page.
  2. They can find it with relative ease on the page.
  3. Supporting products/services/information they want can also be easily found on the page.
  4. The page/website gives them confidence that you’re a reputable source to interact with.
  5. The overall design offers an engaging experience.

As Google’s machine learning capabilities advance, they will get better at measuring the page quality itself, or various types of user engagement signals that show what users think about the page quality. This means that you will need to invest in creating pages that fit the criteria laid out in the five points above. If you do, it will give you an edge in your digital marketing strategies — and if you don’t, you’ll end up suffering a a result.


There are huge changes in the wind, and they’re going to dramatically impact your approach to digital marketing. Your basic priorities won’t change, as you’ll still need to:

  1. create high-quality content.
  2. measure and continuously improve user satisfaction with your site.
  3. establish authority with links.

The big question is, are you really doing enough of these things today? In my experience, most companies under-invest in the continuous improvement of content quality and improving user satisfaction. It’s time to start putting more focus on these things. As Google and other search engines get better at determining content quality, the winners and losers in the search results will begin to shift in dramatic ways.

Google’s focus is on providing better and better results, as this leads to more market share for them and thus higher levels of revenue. Best to get on board the content quality train now — before it leaves the station and leaves you behind!

The post How machine learning impacts the need for quality content appeared first on Search Engine Land.



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AdWords IF functions roll out for ad customization as Standard Text Ads sunset

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By Ginny Marvin

First, a moment of silence for the Standard Text Ad format that held on for 15+ years. Today marks the end. And with that, Google is rolling out AdWords IF functions globally to give advertisers the ability to customize their ads in much the same way ad customizers allow, but without the feed.

With IF functions,text ads can be tailored based on whether users are on mobile and/or a member of an audience list. For example, Frederick Vallaeys wrote in his column about using the IF function for mobile last fall when the feature was first announced as a way for advertisers who were running mobile preferred Standard Text Ads to continue customizing ads for mobile users.

In the example below from Google, an If function is used to customize the description offer based on whether a user is in the advertiser’s “Cart Abanodoners” retargeting list. If they on the list, users will see a “15% off” promotion; if not, they’ll get a “10% off” offer.


Broken down, the syntax for IF functions is:

  1. Start with “{=IF”
  2. Add an open “(” after IF
  3. Follow with the targeting of “device=mobile” or “audience IN”
    1. If you’re using audience targeting, put the list you want to target inside parentheses. If you are targeting multiple audience lists, separate them with a comma.
  4. Put a comma after the targeting
  5. Add the text to insert when targeting criteria is met
  6. Close “)”
  7. Follow with a colon “:”
  8. After the colon, add the default text that will be used when the targeting criteria is not met
  9. End with the closing curly bracket “}”

Put together it looks like this:

{=IF(device=mobile or audience IN(audiencelist1,audiencelist2), Custom Text): Default Text}

A few more things to note

If you’re creating ads in the web UI, the IF function option will become available when you enter a curly bracket “{“. However, for now at least, it defaults to the mobile targeting syntax: {=IF(device=mobile,insert text):default text}. You’ll have to change it for audience targeting, and be sure to use the exact list name.

IF functions can be used anywhere in an Expanded Text Ad except for the final URL. They are only eligible to run on the Search Network.

And last but not least, with the default text provided with IF functions, advertisers don’t have to have an ad that doesn’t use customizers ad in their ad groups.

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The PPC industry would not exist under Trump’s immigration policy

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By Frederick Vallaeys

President Donald Trump’s executive order barring people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States, even if they have a valid visa or green card, is not the way to “make America great again.” In fact, the online marketing industry as we know it would not exist had this order been in effect in Google’s early days.

Let me explain.

One of the most successful companies to come out of the US in the past two decades is Google, founded by Sergey Brin, a Russian and Larry Page, an American. While they had a great search engine, there was no business model. According to John Battelle in “The Search,” Google was months away from shutting down in 1999, when it was spending $500,000 per month with only $20 million in the bank and no significant revenues of any kind.

Employee #9, Salar Kamangar, born in Tehran, Iran, is credited with figuring out how to start making money by selling relevant ads on Google.* Employee #11, Omid Kordestani, also born in Tehran, figured out how to scale that business.

How much did it scale? In 2016, Google parent Alphabet Inc. and Apple went back and forth for holding the honors of being the world’s most valuable company based on market cap. On January 26, 2017, Google, the part of the business including ads, reported Q4 2016 revenues of $25.8 billion with profits of $7.8 billion. It is estimated that about 90 percent of Alphabet’s revenue comes from ads.

Had it not been for two Iranian immigrants and all the profits Google makes from selling ads, Google might no longer exist today. When I worked there from 2002–2012, I found ads tremendously exciting, but I also knew that my work helped fund all the things that make our lives more convenient and that we could not imagine being without, like Maps, Search, Gmail, Apps, and soon, self-driving cars.

And the benefits haven’t been limited to making life more convenient or giving all of us in the online marketing industry our careers and livelihoods. It’s benefited companies of all sizes everywhere. Across the US, Google’s search and advertising tools helped 1.4 million businesses drive $165 billion in economic activity in 2015.

And that is why I will argue that President Trump’s latest executive order is misguided.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this post are my personal ones.

*The pay-per-click advertising model was invented by Bill Gross of Idealab. Salar’s unique twist was to make ad relevance part of the ranking algorithm. Online ads at the time were on the decline because users hated how irrelevant and interruptive they were. By making them relevant, users started to click on ads to connect with companies that could help them, a true win-win.

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Majestic successfully prints the internet in 3-D in outer space

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By Barry Schwartz

As you may remember, Majestic, an SEO toolset company, set off on a voyage last year to print the internet in 3-D in outer space. Well, we are glad to report that the mission has been a success.

After 18 months, the “Majestic Landscape,” which is a 3-D data visualization sculpture that depicts the internet graph, was printed on a 3-D printer designed to work in zero gravity on the International Space Station.

Matthew Napoli, the VP of In-Space Operations for Made In Space, Inc. said, “The print looks really good. It was exciting to be able to print those complex digital features in microgravity and see the great results.”

Dixon Jones from Majestic said, “The #MajesticInSpace Project has been about expanding ideas, expanding knowledge leadership and about believing that data can be more than just numbers on an [E]xcel spreadsheet. I think that it also inspires people within our industry to say we are doing more [and] there is more that we can do in the world to advance humankind.”

Here is a photo:


Here is a video from Majestic on this mission:

Here is a GIF of it floating in the space station:


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Google mobile-friendly testing tool now has API access

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By Barry Schwartz

Google has released a new API for the mobile-friendly testing tool named the mobile-friendly test API.

The API is a simple and quick tool that you can use to build your own tools to see what pages are mobile-friendly or not.

Google’s John Mueller said “the API method runs all tests, and returns the same information – including a list of the blocked URLs – as the manual test.” “The documentation includes simple samples to help get you started quickly,” he added.”

The API test outputs include these three statuses:

  • MOBILE_FRIENDLY_TEST_RESULT_UNSPECIFIED Internal error when running this test. Please try running the test again.
  • MOBILE_FRIENDLY The page is mobile friendly.
  • NOT_MOBILE_FRIENDLY The page is not mobile friendly.

You can access the API at

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