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At 40 degrees in the shade, Germany’s favourite pastime – watching television – is suddenly becoming irrelevant. A shame, because just as the summer heatwave is setting in, the relationship between TV devices and search engines is being newly configured. Find out why this is, and why special consideration should be given to voice-based search technology when it comes to younger and older target groups, in July’s edition of SEO News.

TV and search engines – two very different siblings on a bonding session

As we swelter our way through the summer of 2019, the global economy is beginning to look distinctly overcast, with world export champion Germany particularly badly hit. These developments force many companies to review their spending on marketing and advertising. Digital advertising channels provide the advantage (at least in theory) of permitting a direct comparison between costs and benefit, with the price of a conversion or ROI and ROAS with respect to budget allocated being generally straightforward to plan and calculate. This is less easy in the case of TV campaigns, however, which have an extensive reach that cannot be assessed with the same precision.

That’s why it’s in the interest of the advertising industry to start paying closer attention to the interplay between the two channels, in order to explore possible synergetic effects.  Although the question of how TV/display devices and search engines impact on one another is by no means a new one, the interesting thing is that both organic and paid searches are increasingly coming to be seen as the link between a sometimes diffuse TV impact and a company’s actual turnover.

Calls-to-action as a tool for generating higher demand

As New York trade journal Digiday reports, increasing numbers of American companies are beginning to examine their attribution models in order to establish how their TV presence is reflected in organic search requests and in the performance of their paid search campaigns. An increase in search requests for brand terms in particular can be stimulated not only by increased investment in TV and display device campaigns, but also by direct cues to search such as “Just Google XYZ”, or “Search for XYZ”, which can significantly increase search volumes via conventional media channels, the report reveals.

Although this creative approach has been in use for some years in the USA and the UK, in Germany it remains the exception rather than the rule. The setup enables analytics data from searches to be harnessed to optimize cross-media campaign planning throughout the customer journey. The approaches that enable conventional high-reach campaigns to stimulate awareness can be measured in the form of changes in search volumes, and the cost of paid search conversions used in turn to deliver the TV campaign’s ROI/ROAS. Sustained SEO work also enables newly-gained organic search volumes to be directed to landing pages with high conversion rates in a targeted way. This makes it possible to ensure an optimal user experience all the way from couch to conversion. As agency Mediaplus has established in a joint study with SevenOne Media and Google, similar advertising effects can also be achieved with the help of Google’s video search engine YouTube. This is why it’s high time that the long-standing competition between marketing siblings TV and search engines was ended, so that tight budgets can be used more effectively and efficiently in times of economic difficulty. After all, family needs to stick together.

Who’s talking to Alexa?

Even in an industry as latently hypereuphoric as ours, the tense hype about the possibilities and blessings of voice search technology has finally given way to a sober realism. We’ve pointed out here many times in the past that voice search is little more than an extension of the human-machine interface for search engines, and that its substantive developments in terms of new forms of interaction would most likely be unable to satisfy the high expectations surrounding them. As is now being reported, the expert prediction that by 2020 around 50% of all search requests will be made using voice technology was simply the result of an incorrect interpretation of data from the People’s Republic of China.

Voice search user numbers are also growing independently of this minor market research fail, of course. This is primarily due to the likewise inflationary market launch of dialogue-capable devices. US marketing agency Path conducted a global survey to investigate how the new technology is being used by different target groups on different platforms. The study delivered multifaceted results: Around 70% of participants reported using voice search on a weekly basis. A quarter use the technology as often as three times a day. When the respondents are divided into age groups, it’s striking that users at the lower (13-18 years) and upper (65+ years) ends of the spectrum in particular report using voice technology on a regular basis.

A glance at the used search systems reveals that the oldest user group communicates most often (approximately 57% of all group respondents) with Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa. Around 28% of respondents in the youngest target group aged between 18 and 22 likewise prefer the Echo/Alexa family produced by the technology giant from Seattle. This suggests that the best way to reach these especially solvent and tech-savvy groups is to employ a combination of conventional voice-based SEO with structured data and product data automation, like Amazon SEO. Such a combination is something that many agencies on the German market have yet to offer.

It is a case in point that brand managers and consumers – but also marketing and advertising managers – all have their sights on the same goal: to come into contact with one another at the right time, in the right place and with the right message. The problem is that they all take widely different approaches and that companies rarely carry out real-time evaluations of the data necessary for this.

Consumers looking for specific products or services expect treatment to be as personalised as possible – and, of course, for this to be available at all times, on all available devices and all possible channels. The proverbial “customer journey” has not been following a straight path for some time now. After all, there are endless possibilities for customers to strike up contact with the various companies. They can approach the brands directly or do so indirectly, for example via performance marketing channels such as price comparisons or social media platforms. The upshot of this is that the labyrinthine customer journey throws up more and more purchase process-related data. Marketers, on the other hand, want to understand and reach digital customers but naturally always have their own ROI in the back of their minds. Accordingly, they pursue a strategy that makes the most of their marketing budget. To do so, however, they must first find their way through the data jungle. And the ever-growing volume of data is making it more and more difficult for them to find the right information at the right time.

The golden growth years are over

For the most part, the vast bulk of the constantly collected data ends up gathering dust in a virtual drawer somewhere. Particularly in marketing, endless amounts of user data are collected with a view to tailoring a personal marketing campaign geared as closely as possible towards each individual shop or website visitor. At present, however, many marketing departments are still failing to apply any coherent strategy to this data and only analyse and contextualise it on rare occasions. Which in turn means that the data rarely points the way to clear optimisation measures and follow-ups. Before you start amassing data without any clear plan in mind, you should ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do I really need a constant supply of new data to run successful marketing campaigns?
  • At what point should I start collecting data and at what point should I stop again?
  • How can data be used in decision-making?
  • And what data is actually needed to manage campaigns successfully?

To begin with, the somewhat sobering answer to all these questions is that data collection will never stop. It is more a question of making better use of the (available) data. Which means that marketers should realise that the golden years of online retailing are over and that they need to come up with a decent data strategy. When it first emerged, the online market was able to chalk up rapid growth. In most cases, however, this was generated automatically given that a new market was effectively created, with consumer behaviour shifting online. These days, online sales are still on the rise, but growth is nothing like it was in the early days. This is because users are already online and the market is becoming increasingly saturated. And now everyone is vying for a slice of the pie! Accordingly, online players who want to remain at the head of the pack need to have more than creative campaigns in their box of tricks. After all, market saturation essentially means that all market participants currently have the same starting position. Which, above all, means that a clever data strategy can give players a significant competitive edge.

Data collection will never stop. It is more a question of making better use of the (available) data.

Sharing data across departments

And the good news? The first step towards a successful data strategy can be taken with an initial inventory of available data. Existing customer data is particularly valuable because it provides important information about purchase behaviour, frequency of visits and/or shopping, and the contents of customers’ shopping carts.

For companies, data that already exists forms the basis for targeting consumers with individualised advertising at a later stage. Here, it is important to compare existing data with other departments and to identify any overlaps. Regrettably, it is often the case that a company’s left hand doesn’t know what its right hand is up to. More often than not, this gives rise to data silos that will smother any usefulness the data might have had. Which means that it is all the more essential for all departments – from IT to sales and marketing – to communicate with one another and to pool their data in a common SSOT (“Single Source Of Truth”) solution. For this to work, the importance of the data must be communicated clearly across all departments. Ideally, each company should have its own data manager acting as an interface between the individual departments. This manager must have a clear idea of who constitutes the target group for marketing and sales and, with this in mind, collect, prepare and condense the right data accordingly.

The data manager is also in charge of determining the right format for storing data so that it is available via the SSOT afterwards. Product silos frequently end up being created, particularly in the case of large retailers and corporate groups. The data manager must ensure that data is linked in such a way that it can be used to create campaigns for different products.

Changing focus: meeting needs rather than making sales

A very important structural change in the market is the shift of focus from transaction perspective to customer lifetime perspective, i.e. that the customer now takes centre stage instead of the purchase transaction. Accordingly, it is increasingly important to find out how much individual customers are worth when they can be targeted directly. Consumers looking for specific products or services expect personalised communication complete with relevant offers. Well-informed customers research extensively and shop around, thereby leaving more and more data trails relating to the purchase process. Apart from the transaction focus, which only gears the data evaluation and direct communication towards the purchase itself, the customer lifetime perspective takes into account the customer’s long-term value. It aims to leave behind a satisfied customer who will come back again, who will recommend a service to others – and who might come back and purchase a product after deciding against it three or four months previously.

This gives rise to completely new approaches and questions that marketers must ask themselves:

  • What does the customer think?
  • What really interests them?

Right now, however, the most important question is:

  • How can I be sure of reaching the customer via all channels?

After all, customers move from channel to channel, sometimes going online to find out about a new product, other times approaching a sales assistant at the POS or calling up data on their smartphone or desktop PC.

Marketing managers must be able to bring together all this data from the various contact points and assign them to a specific customer. After all, brand managers and consumers – but also marketing and advertising managers – all have their sights on the same goal: to come into contact with one another at the right time, in the right place and with the right message. The company should be aiming to communicate suitable content to the customer on a regular basis, thus forging a lasting bond with the brand or the company. Without this bond, long-term objectives are not possible, and the company is left with its hastily set short-term goals.

The labyrinthine customer journey throws up more and more purchase process-related data that often remains unanalysed. (Source: Tradedoubler)

BI solutions call for fast marketing decisions

To provide customers with individualised offers, it is essential to be able to harmonise the available data. Its inherent value must be determined and analysed. Given the mountains of data that cannot possibly be dealt with manually, suitable business intelligence (BI) solutions are virtually a necessity for companies and their marketing infrastructure. After all, it is not just a question of automating marketing processes but of interpreting the data correctly. Because if marketing management only includes pieces of the big picture, some decisions have to be made based on “gut feeling” instead. In this case, marketing decision-makers run the risk of making wrong decisions. Or, worse still, they are snowed under with data and can’t make any decisions at all.

What marketing managers need is a tool that allows them to process large amounts of data and to visualise the information needed for business decisions – in the form of easily grasped graphics and diagrams. (Source: Tradedoubler)

As far as the infrastructure is concerned, it is also important to have a central data repository, i.e. customer and campaign data linked and summarised in the SSOT. In this way, the data from all marketing activities – be it search engine optimisation, affiliate marketing, display marketing or social media – all comes together centrally. Ideally, the marketing team would be shown the evaluated data in real time via the corresponding BI solution and would determine optimisation potential based on this. Remembering, of course, to bear in mind the customer journey at all times. This is the only way for the shift towards customer lifetime value to work. Today, we can already see the trend for forward-looking companies to bundle extensive expertise internally, to be highly specialised and for their work to be data-driven and/or IT-supported to a great extent.

The customer journey must always be kept in mind. Only then can the shift towards the customer lifetime value (CLV) work.

From big data to smart data

It is fair to say that companies today have unmanageable quantities of data at their disposal. Only with the help of suitable software is it still possible for them to track online user behaviour completely over a wide cross-section of channels and end devices. This renders the data analysable, giving marketers insight into the extent to which individual platforms, channels, business models and publishers have influenced the purchase decision. Only with the aid of this information can they optimise all digital marketing measures and personalised advertising at the right time, at the right place, for the right person and on a suitable device. The message in a nutshell: successful decisions in online marketing are not possible without smart data.

Successful decisions in online marketing are not possible without smart data.

Five steps to better decisions

These five steps allow online marketing managers to keep track of their data:

1. Break open your internal departmental and channel silos! It is all too often the case that marketing managers seek out direct success in their own silo rather than focusing on the customer. Instead of this, you should embrace the customer’s cross-channel user journey.

2. If you want to go one step further, set up a dedicated BI team for analysing and classifying the data. For the best possible results, this should consist of a healthy mixture of people from marketing, IT, data management and sales.

3. The data strategy needs to be based on and geared towards a clear objective. For the BI team, that means only requesting data that serves a clearly defined purpose. A structured approach geared towards a specific objective avoids data simply being collected for its own sake.

4. The number of different software solutions in use should be kept to an absolute minimum. The more individual solutions are used, the greater the data chaos.

5. Make sure that you choose a business intelligence tool that offers uniform reporting and systematic analyses. This is the key to a successful data strategy – only in this way will the data be readable, analysable and capable of helping you make the right decision.

The future of search engine marketing is fully automated and has already begun. As you read this, artificial intelligence is managing millions of AdWords campaigns on Google. Contradiction can still help to put the power of algorithms in their place, but there is no stopping the trend.

The traditional keyword has long been redundant as a sole targeting parameter. In the past two years, the level of partial automation has risen constantly. Responsive ads and smart bidding are already a reality and they hint at the direction that search engine marketing will take in future.

Platforms like “Google 360” and the “Adobe Marketing Suite” show the way: it is clear that both systems are consistently broadening and enhancing the options for integrating and linking external data sources. Google and Adobe are already very close to achieving the aim of comprehensive access to the customer journey.

SEA campaigns are becoming more individual

The range of automation solutions on offer is a major factor in driving demand for these options. Furthermore, the complexity of today’s digital campaigns is always on the rise. Google and Adobe enable campaigns to be enriched with increasing amounts of profile data from a wide variety of sources. Traditional SEA campaigns therefore make increasing use of profile-based, individualised management. Every profile has a scaleable number of matches with relevant search terms – and the total of these matches will replace a more or less extensive keyword set.

At the same time, management of modern SEA campaigns will exceed what is humanly possible and will only succeed if artificial intelligence helps to process the large quantities of data needed for the targeted management of ads. In an ideal scenario, machine learning will help to steer the correct path between campaign aims, competition and search relevance.

Ultimately, the user decides between success and failure

While management of profile data is automated as much as possible, the quality and relevance of campaign content comes from the digital offering of the companies running the adverts. Whether it is a website or a data feed – companies like Google do not mind where the content comes from. Rather, the deciding factor is whether the data is relevant and current, responds to demand among the target audiences and is technically accessible to the marketing platforms. Optimisation of its digital offering makes the ultimate difference between a company and its competitors when it comes to search engine marketing, as its success or failure is still dependent on the user at the end of the day.

For agencies, this means that the SEA manager of the future will have to bring additional skills to the table. Process automation and increased data management in modern search engine advertising require strong division of labour and specialisation within the team. From programming and optimisation to quality assurance, previously separate functions from search engine optimisation (SEO), analytics, consultancy and traditional SEA will need to interact.

In the age of automated search engine marketing, interdisciplinary teams of specialists will need to ensure that agencies and customers do not blindly deliver a technological black box and that they keep the most important levers for economic success in their own hands.

The best way forward is always together. This key phrase characterizes not only the message of the Easter holiday, but also the SEO news for the month of April.

Why IT security is so relevant for SEO performance

Search machine optimisers are happy to label themselves as their customers’ caretaker. After all, SEOs stick their noses into almost all areas of the organisation and operation of digital assets such as websites or apps. Conscientious SEOs are not only required as strategic analysts, but also as nagging quibblers who are at some point confronted with security issues in addition to structural, content-related, and technical problems. Marketing staff are not responsible for IT security, of course, but a lack of awareness of online security is certainly capable of negatively influencing performance in search engines. Today’s basic SEO knowledge base should include the fact that the use of secured client-server connections by means of the HTTPS protocol of search engines has now become an essential quality factor. At least as important as these formal security components, however, is the monitoring of automated bot traffic on one’s own servers, for instance. The multitude of bots has perfectly legitimate purposes when it comes to website crawling. The best example of this is domain indexing for a search engine. According to a current study from the US bot specialist Distil Networks, however, around 19 percent of all active bots have darker motives. These include copying copyrighted content, looking for potential vulnerabilities on a given server, or even the distribution of malware. In total and over time, these generally unproblematic bot attacks can cause throttling of the loading speed or even completely prevent the delivery of websites.

Both have immediate negative affects on visibility within search engines. In addition to automated attacks, the topic of hacking in particular also takes the limelight. The term hacking refers to the act of changing content on a website through illegitimate intrusions from the outside. According to information from an analysis from the world’s largest domain handler, Go Daddy, around 73 percent of all hacked websites are taken over and changed for purely SEO reasons. In most cases, sites with relatively high authority are hacked in a specific topic area in order to deter potential visitors or to set up illegitimate links. The gravest consequences of such a hack would not only be the potential damage caused via search engines, such as a loss in incoming traffic and visibility, but also direct harm to website visitors due to fraudulent acquisition of their personal data (phishing) or direct infection with malware via infected downloads.

Strong together

The consequences of insufficient IT security for marketing and searching can be so severe that this creates a great commonality between the two areas. Neither effective search engine optimization nor comprehensive IT security can be outsourced; they must be the result of shared responsibility and teamwork. Those who continue to compartmentalise their thinking and organisation will not really be successful in either area.

New technologies, devices, and content formats are challenging search engine experts around the world at an ever-increasing rate—but now help is coming from an unexpected source. What little helper can we expect to see in future strategic development and day-to-day business? Find out more in our March edition of SEO News.

Fraggles are back

The fraggles are loose, and they’re slowly taking over the Google world of tomorrow. Just to clear up any confusion right from the start: we’re not talking about the radish-loving, 65-cm tall (source: Wikipedia), cave-dwelling humanoids from the 80s TV show of the same name.

Like their namesakes, the fraggles our search engine optimisers have been working with for some time now are small and dynamic. Here, though, the word refers to content fragments identified by Google that can be scattered, either isolated or in innumerable combinations, throughout the ever-growing landscape of platforms, devices, and technologies.

Cindy Krum, a Denver, Colorado-based mobile marketing expert, was the first to use fraggles in this context. She says fraggles is intended as a portmanteau of “fragment” and “handle”, and describes them as Google’s response to dramatic changes in user behaviour and to the technological structural framework of websites, Progressive Web Apps (PWAs), personalised web services, and data feeds.

What these digital assets have in common is that most of their content is assigned to a single URL. One driving force behind this trend is the process of adapting to the needs of the mobile age; another is the development of server-based technologies like Javascript or Ajax, which are capable of generating individualised content dynamically.

Google, Bing, etc. adjusting their indexing

As a result, Krum says, the fixed allocation of content to URLs is being supplanted; search machines are increasingly indexing mere fragments of content from individual websites, feeds, or apps. Rather than indexing entire websites page by page, she explains, Google, Bing and friends now face the challenge of fishing the most relevant content fragments from the massive ocean of conventional HTML, dynamic Javascript, and endless streams of XML. Krum believes that Google’s Mobile First Index, which has been online for over a year, is simply a huge dragnet for fraggles of all types.

Indeed, looking at how the major providers’ search results have developed over the past two years, the fragment theory makes sense. Both Google and Microsoft are continuously experimenting with new content presentation modes and formats, especially on mobile devices: everything from integrated map and rating displays on local search results, to comprehensive reports on people, places, and brands through Knowledge Graphs, to concrete answers to FAQs through Features Snippet.

Search engines: the universal assistants of the future

Moreover, search engines are adapting their results more and more precisely to users’ search intentions and usage contexts. This development is sure to continue through the dawning age of voice assistants. Virtually calling a computer-generated Google Assistant while at the hairdresser’s is just the first of many coming high points in terms of search engines differentiating themselves as ever-present, universal information and assistance systems.

Relevance and consumability are inextricably linked in systems like these. Whether on the phone, watching television, or driving, modern users have neither the desire nor the ability to look through a page of search hits for the answer they need—much less scroll through a website. The real advantage of the fraggle concept lies in the immediacy and flexibility of small fragments of information, delivered to countless combinations of usage situations and device preferences.

Fraggles highlight Google’s growing emphasis on the customer journey

Fraggles also fit seamlessly into Google’s new strategic alignment of search results to user journeys. To celebrate the 20-year anniversary of its search engine, Google announced its intention to stop viewing search activities as a series of individual queries, but rather to use context and history information to try and pinpoint the user’s exact intentions and position within the customer journey. This, combined with artificial intelligence, means that search results are now meant to be seen not as a results-based service, but as a conversation. Fragments can be incorporated into this scenario as well, whether as product information, concrete purchase offers, or special queries during the post-purchase phase.

What does this all mean for SEOs? First and foremost, it means they will need to continue developing their own approaches to voice and visual search queries. Markups for structured data and voice responses (Google Speakable) need to be part of their standard repertoire, as do keyword analyses organised by intentions along the customer journey.