Science, You’re Doing it Wrong, Google’s Questionnaire

Chances are, you haven’t seen Google’s very unscientific questionnaire, but it’s out there in the wild, potentially affecting your site’s SEO. Here’s the little questionnaire that has infrequently and seemingly randomly appeared on SERPs:

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We’ve all seen a lot of Google SERP updates from the local/knowledge graph carousel, answers to even being able to play Atari breakout in image searches. But, IMHO, this is the weirdest thing I have ever seen in the Google SERPs.

I saw this for the first time here on Opening Day 2015 (Reds, World Series Champs…heard it here first). The actual date is April 6, but apparently Google has been running its mini questionnaire test since 2012.

At first thought, this seems simple enough, rate how satisfied you are with these results. But there’s very little information out there on this, and now I’m left with a rather uneasy SEO feeling. (FWIW, right now my only uneasy feeling should be about the strength of Joey Votto’s left knee.)

Ultimately, this little questionnaire leaves me with 4 huge concerns that appear to be unaddressed at this point. In 2012, a Google spokesperson confirmed that this is in fact a Google-sponsored survey and left this ambiguous quote:

“As you know, we always ask for user feedback in a range of forms — from live experiments to inviting people in to our UX labs — in order to improve our products. This is one of our experiments — one of many signals we take into consideration to make search better.”

Does the questionnaire affect SEO: Yes, Google’s entire search algorithm has one purpose: give users the search results they want. But, can people really be trusted to determine precisely what they want in a quick survey? Obviously internet users have a tremendous impact on search results, constantly “voting” for a page’s authority with links, social shares, time on page, etc.

But, have internet-users ever really voted on the entire results page at once? Google considers hundreds of factors in its organic rankings…creating very detailed processes for assigning value to each factor – all in what SEOs can assume to be a very thorough and scientific process. But, how scientific is a questionnaire with smiley and sad faces? Not very. And how much weight will be given to this?

How often does this questionnaire show up: I first saw it on a query about 3-4 hours ago and have been searching for it since then and haven’t seen it. My concern with this is the negative SEO perspective. Could spammers continuously search for phrases for competitor’s pages and keep giving them negative reviews to potentially hurt their rankings? This feels unlikely being that this questionnaire still feels rather unimportant but a little confirmation would be nice.

Is this a visual test: Google has always been experimenting with different search results looks and feels, including the local carousel (or knowledge graph carousel), blended results with images, maps, different formats for AdWords, answer boxes and more. Is Google simply testing different formats to discover the preferred visual SERP?

If I had to make a bold guess, I’d put my money on this theory. It feels reasonable to assume Google wants the most user-friendly format for its SERPs and this is a quick way to get customer feedback.

Specific queries: Is Google testing research-based queries against transaction-based queries to make sure it captured the searcher’s intent? Or is Google targeting very specific queries, such as direct searches like “UPS website” or broader queries like “Stores that ship packages?” Is it local, national, both?

As of now, we have no idea how Google plans to use this questionnaire. And most SEO circles are not really discussing this questionnaire. But, I’m concerned about it, so I’ll continue to update as information becomes available.

For marketers, is simplicity the new creative?

The role of simplicity is an absolutely intriguing topic to me, and it’s been kicking around mostly in digital marketing circles.

To give the short answer to the question above: yes and no. Simplicity has always been the best creative, as we can all still hear Madison Avenue Creative Directors shouting JUST KEEP IT SIMPLE. But now, as attention spans continue to dwindle and channels continue to emerge, simplicity is more important than it’s ever been. In fact, goldfish actually have longer attention spans than people do.

GOLDFISH…really, guys? But, we can capitalize on that need for simplicity. Here’s how.

Forward-thinking writers with courage to radically simplify: This is a trend that really hasn’t expanded beyond a select few savvy writers. As a copywriter myself, there’s always a strong reluctance to write a simple headline. We’re paid to explore and be profound, not simple, right? But, sometimes simplicity just flat out works better. And it can even be more challenging to make something simple than intricate.

The best example I have on this is an iPad application (that a sales force would use for customer meetings) I worked on with a UX team and a more progressive creative director. Essentially, this product had 3 key features we needed to communicate. So, we made each headline the simple 2-word benefit. The benefits this created were significant mainly because we asked all the right questions to land on this strategy.

Q: How do sales people hold the iPad?
A: Differently. Some hold in the middle, some hold on one side, etc. So, a headline across the whole page would likely be blocked out at the top by some and a 2-line headline would be blocked out by others. However, a short 2-word headline would be visible for most holders.

Q: How close are sales reps to customers during meetings?
A: Far away. Some are 3-4 feet, others are showing to an entire room and some even project the iPad app to 100+ people. So, the bigger the headlines, the more likely they will be read.

Q: How much time do sales people have with customers?
A: Usually, seconds. And most sales people aren’t tech-savvy, so the small 2-word headlines helped sales people tell a quicker story and avoided the fumbling around/shuffling through screens.

The same headline on landing pages: We can hear some of the writers gasp… “I can’t use the same headline twice.” But, the smart ones know that you absolutely should. In fact, if you can use the exact same headline on ads, social posts, emails, etc. and landing pages, you can create an even simpler experience.

For example, if you’re running a PPC campaign targeting table tennis players and you’re racquet creates more spin (let’s just call this product The Spino Paddle), you might make your ad headline: “Max Spin Ping-Pong Paddle.” It’s relevant, so a user clicks on it. Then, this person is directed to a specific landing.

Now, if that landing page has a headline that reads “Spino Paddle Used by 85% of Pros” the user might think that he/she is at the wrong page and quickly leave. But, if your headline reads “Max Spin Ping-Pong Paddle” the user can be sure he/she is at the right place. Why? Because it creates a simpler experience. Bonus points: using the same keywords that you’re targeting on your landing page may even boost your quality score.

This effect is termed “conversion coupling,” and it helps people be sure they made a good click. Check out more from Oli Gardner on conversion coupling on moz.com.

Simplifying User Experiences: UX has been the industry darling for the past few years, and with very good reason. If you could boil this entire focus down to one key strategy, it would be simplicity.

UX (and most digital marketing) pros study heat maps, button colors, design options, copy, adding/removing elements, user flows all to make experiences as simple and seamless as possible. The ideal end goal is to create an experience that is absolutely automatic and requires the least amount of thinking as possible.

If users have to try to think about where to go, within seconds they’ll be gone. Talk to UXs, and they’ll tell you that the #1 reason why people quickly leave a site is because they were frustrated that they couldn’t find what they wanted.

That then begs the question, is simplicity THE MOST IMPORTANT THING?

Why Google+ tastes like crow

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About 2 years ago, I made a simple bet with my wife. We still argue about the exact terms, but they (essentially) were: “I (me) bet you a fancy dinner that Google+ will be the most important social network for marketers in 2 years.”

I was wrong. I will eat crow.

Fancy, deeply broiled, lightly marinated, sautéed to perfection crow…but crow nonetheless. I knew it was a fool’s bet from the beginning. But, I wanted to prove a point – a point I adamantly believed in: Google+ was legit. I even wrote about how Google+ would dominate search and social. My thinking was simple: Google had more resources than any other social network had at its start, possibly even more than all of them combined. And it had a brand name. However, I actually argued that would hurt its popularity.

G+ targeted marketers right from the start, trying to entice the trendsetters to start a trickle down effect. Being the search giant, they created an SEO oasis. Many SEOs thought G+ would finally commercialize the blended search results that we all wanted…and possibly even release a few cool updates.

Guilty confession: I actually wrote this post about 5 months ago and was waiting…NAY…hoping G+ might pull a 360. Instead, things got even worse, as the Google suddenly dropped authorship markup. THAT WAS MY FIRST ARGUMENT AS TO WHY G+ WOULD BE COOL AND AN ENTIRE PARAGRAPH.

Okay…my second argument was that G+ links are follow links. To confirm, I tapped a few buttons on my G+ profile. “View page source” + command “f” search rel=”follow” and found 0 results. Then, rel=”nofollow” found 37 results.

Defrosting the crow…

Google did introduce the “local carousel” or what some are calling the “knowledge graph carousel.” +1s and Google+ reviews seem to be some of the leading ranking factors, according to Search Engine Journal. Then, there were reports that +1s were one of the most strongly correlated factors with search rankings. This argument, may actually still hold water today.

Still not enough, Google then introduced +Post Ads which allows brands to turn their G+ posts into display ads across a huge range of websites. People can follow your brand, notch a +1 or join a hangout right from your ad. (Frankly, I’ve never used or even discussed this feature professionally.)

Then…then…the G+ lead Vic Gundotra stepped down.

[Listen closely to hear my wife gloating. A very cute gloat, might I add.]

So why didn’t it work: It’s like going to the rich kid’s house growing up. Sure, s/he has the coolest toys, the latest video games, and an in-ground pool – all right there. It’s a dream, but you just don’t want to go there. Why? Because none of your friends are there. You’d rather play with an empty box in a musty 1-car garage with your best friend.

That’s how Google+ is. They had all the features, but they just couldn’t attract your friends. You might use it, for work purposes or for pure curiosity. But, it just doesn’t have your friends. With 540 million users Google + is actually the third largest social network (in terms of users). It actually has about twice as many users as Twitter. But most marketers (myself included) are very skeptical about Google+’s data on its users. And, most of us are even more skeptical about the network as a whole.

Nobody Puts CTA in the Corner

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Social is sexy. Showing up on the first page of Google is sexy. Showing your client all the blog followers and site visits you’ve accrued is sexy.

Optimizing the 2 words on your button is not sexy…even when you start talking about the ooohs and aaahs of color change. And what about when you talk about call to action (CTA) location…or even 1st person tense? Nope, still not sexy.

Why not?

The minor differences between color, number of words and verb selection can dramatically increase your conversion rates. Don’t believe me, check out copyblogger’s 6 Proven Ways to Boost Conversion Rates of Your Call-to-Action Buttons. It really is a very in-depth and insightful read, emphasizing how the nuances in CTAs translated into improved conversion rates. If you have the time, I encourage you to read every word. But, here’s what I’ve seen work, mixed in with some great insights from copyblogger.

Avoid the generics: When creating your buttons, conventional wisdom says make them clear and concise. Tell your customer exactly what you want them to do and use common language. That’s why we see a lot of learn more, buy now, more info buttons. These may work, but challenge yourself (and your copy team) to explore different options.

Instead of more info, consider make me smarter or get brain juice. Instead of buy now, consider start the happy. If you’re concerned about losing clarity, you can try buttons with subheads that explain your more-interesting copy.

Blink test: Load your page with your eyes closed, then blink a couple times to get a very brief view of your website. What do you see? If it’s your CTA(s), you’re probably off to a good start. If you can’t see anything discernible, consider making your CTAs more noticeable. Make sure your desired course of action is the most prominent feature on each of your pages.

A/B Tests: This goes without saying, but run tests on all your buttons frequently. Go ahead and audit your site, challenging your copy and UX teams to develop better buttons/CTAs for every page. Run A/B tests to filter out the winners and the losers. Then, circle back 6 months from now and restart this process. Continuously test and improve your buttons. It’s an ongoing process.

Limit options: Your homepage is not a dump of all your content, products, information, etc. It’s a streamlined approach to encourage customers to pursue your content or offerings at a deeper level, filtering customers as appropriate. You’ll give customers information overload with too many buttons, CTAs, content, images, videos…and yourself a higher bounce rate.

This is where the copyblogger article gets very interesting. It cited the popular Jam Experiment in which researcher, Sheena Iyengar, set up 2 jam sample booths at a grocery store. One booth had 24 jam samples; the other had 6. The 24-Jam booth had many more visitors, but more patrons purchased Jams from the 6-Jam booth.

Iyengar completed another study, similar to the jam experiment. She asked participants to choose a chocolate from a box of 30 and other participants to choose a chocolate from a box of only 6. The participants who selected from the box of 6 were much happier with their choice. See the Chocolate experiment.

Incredible.

This can relate to your site. When you give people fewer choices (fewer links, buttons, CTAs), they feel more satisfied with their decision. They may feel like they’ve had a more complete experience.

Consider first person tense: Hats off to copyblogger for this tip. The smart folks suggest making your button complete this sentence. I want to ______________.

Copyblogger cited an example that tested the difference between Start your free 30 day trial and Start my free 30 day trial. One word difference, but the my option saw a 90% increase in click-through rates.

Amazing.

This is a tactic you rarely see, but Amazon has adapted this approach. And if Amazon is considering this tactic, it might at the very least be worth the “B” in your A/B test.

Remove the tedium: Buttons like register to learn more or sign up for info just sound tedious. Nobody wants to register or sign up…we want to explore and engage. Write buttons that capture that message. Consider buttons similar to:

I want more business
-Sign me up for inside tips

Short, sweet, daily tips
-Sign me up.

Find what works for you: These are some thought starters for creating better CTAs. But ultimately, you need to find your own groove withy your customers.

Simple Ecommerce Strategy to Improve Conversions

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Today’s tip is an ecommerce strategy to convert customers at a higher rate. Digital marketers are always looking for new ways to streamline the typical 3-step conversion process that forces customers to login/register, enter credit card information, and then shipping information. So, if you can, remove the most tedious step of all (entering the credit card information), and you may see fewer site exits.

It seems like such a simple idea, but the difference can be significant. The other day, I was ordering a pizza online at pizza hut, sitting on the couch somewhat dreading the idea of getting up to grab the wallet, remove the credit card, enter the number, verify the expiration date, etc, etc., – all as the Digiorno slowly started sounding better and better. Then, the site simply gave me the option to pay in-store when I picked it up. Such a simple little tweak in the ordering process made it easier for me to complete the transaction.

Remove unnecessary elements on conversion pages: A lot of webmasters include the social icons, email signups, blog alerts, RSS feeds, etc. on every page. These icons are great for generating leads and maintaining touch points with consumers. But, they serve no purpose on your conversion pages.

When a consumer is taking a deeper look at one of your products, they’re close to purchasing. Why would you distract them with an email newsletter? You may just be giving them an exit page. So, remove unnecessary items and make these pages all about purchasing that product. Make your “purchase” button the most recognizable asset on the page. Use large photos and text. However, you may want to keep your social icons on these pages to encourage your users to promote your pages and gain social shares. This can be especially important as social signals are becoming more strongly correlated with higher rankings.

Guest blogging with your white hat

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Guest posting is quickly becoming the latest SEO spam tactic (when not done correctly). It’s now on Matt Cutts’ (head of Google’s web spam team) radar, in every blog and essentially on every SEO/content marketer’s mind.

But, guest posting is not dead, spamming your fellow content creators so you can squeeze out a couple more links is dead – assuming it was ever alive. Some believe Google has been focusing on spam guest-blogging tactics for some time. But, what really set this off was when a spammer emailed Matt Cutts himself, soliciting a guest-blog/follow link opportunity on Cutts’ blog.

For those of you who aren’t as close to the SEO world as others – trying to spam Matt Cutts is far worse than just poking the bear. It’s tantamount to stealing the Queen’s crown and Instagramming YOLO pictures with it.

Cutts stated directly that if you’re guest blogging just to gain links, you should stop because this will quickly be recognized as a spam tactic. But, if you’re actually taking the time to add unique and quality content, you will continue to add value and boost your site. Here are some white hat tactics to help you further promote your content and SEO efforts with guest blogging.

Employ lead-nurturing strategies: In recent years, content marketers have implemented very sophisticated lead-nurturing platforms with improved software and more personalized content. Why not use these similar strategies with guest-blogging opportunities? Connect with fellow bloggers over content, include polls on your site, start valuable discussions on social sites to build relationships with reputable content creators in your industry. Then, look for ways to add value to their site. Perhaps through partnering to create content together. This way, you can stay on the white hat side of guest blogging and continue to amplify your content and earn links.

Encourage guest blogging on your site: It’s always easier to find guest bloggers for your site, and many SEOs ignore this practice. But, you can actually gain a link and even bring authority to your site – not to mention great content. Use your established relationships with content creators in your industry and invite select writers to guest post on your site.

Look for the right blogger, one who has established author authority (has a high PageRank) on Google +. Just like any other page, Google+ pages can actually carry PageRank. In fact, simply having an authoritative author tag an article on your site could actually increase your site’s PageRank. It’s vaguely similar to having a high PageRank site link to you. However, this author must have authority in the same industry.

How to check PageRank on G+.

This blogger will likely promote the article on his/her site, possibly giving you a link. So, in the end, you may get a link and a potential boost from an authoritative author on your site.

Low-quality sites: More times than not, where your guest blogging will determine if you’re spamming. If you mass email hundreds of webmasters on seedy sites, soliciting links/guest blog opportunities, you will be labeled as spam. In fact, these are the exact practices that Google will be cracking down on. However, if you target a few high quality sites, establish relationships and post original guest content, you will continue to enjoy the benefits of content amplification and authoritative backlinks.

More conservative web masters: Another aspect to consider is if guest blogging is even worth it. Major content sites like Huffington Post and New York Times may tighten restrictions on which authors they allow to guest blog. This will make securing quality guest blogging opportunities links even more difficult. At this point, you might just want to reallocate more efforts to creating great content for your site.

Why guest blog at all: Also, keep in mind if you create awesome content that gets shared and linked to, why would you want all those signals on someone else’s site? You’d want those links on your site.

New look for blog

New look for blog

Thanks for following and sharing the blog so far. But now, I’m amping it up a bit, bringing in a more-imagery based direction with shorter, more frequent posts. You’re busy, I’m busy – so I’m giving quick one line marketing tips, facts and opinions all in tight shots.

I hope you enjoy and keep following.