December 19

The Weekly Briefing: The Paid Search Landscape is Changing

VP of Search Marketing Reed Langton-Yanowitz discussed a changing paid search landscape…

Before the year started, it was already clear that mobile SEM was set to gain importance throughout 2016 — but the actual numbers may surprise even those who predicted the shift. The industry has witnessed 20% year over year growth in the third quarter for search ad spending, propelled by a massive 134% gain for paid mobile ads. This data comes from Merkle’s Q3 Digital Marketing Report, which covers SEM statistics and developments throughout the year. The news is a reminder to search marketers that they cannot ignore mobile search ads if they want to get the most out of their PPC strategy.

Along with gains in mobile search ad spending came a slight decline in desktop ad spending. In a year where mobile search traffic has finally overtaken its desktop counterpart, it makes sense that the focus is moving towards phones. Similarly, organic search visits fell 5% total in Q3, although they increased by 9% on mobile devices. It’s likely that Google’s increasing reliance on paid ads is cannibalizing its organic traffic. Display ads continued to play a big part in Google’s paid ad strategy, as the Google Display Network accounted for 8% of the company’s total ad purchases. As agencies begin to see the value of remarketing, geo-targeting and images in general, we expect that share to rise.

SEM Manager Tory Vang discussed a new class of SEO tactics: gray hat…

Any respectable SEO professional should instinctually shudder when they hear the words “black hat tactics.” If you’re not aware of the practice, it’s a shady attempt to trick Google into ranking a website higher than it should. Typically, black hat tactics exploit a loophole in the search algorithm to achieve better ranking results. Google is well aware of these practices and has improved its ability to detect and penalize sites that implement suspicious SEO strategies. That hasn’t stopped some people from continuing their attempts to game the system. While black hat tactics aren’t the right way to approach SEO, Tory explained that there may some lessons to be learned from the dark side of the industry.

The world is not simply black and white, and it appears that neither is SEO. A new class of sketchy SEOs have brought rise to the world of “gray hat tactics,” tactics which adjust blatant black hat schemes and make them appear a bit more acceptable – so as not to be penalized by Google as quickly. These types of tactics may seem enticing to SEOs and companies alike, promising results quicker than tried and true white hat SEO. But beware, these are still shifty at best, and will likely be next on Google’s chopping block.

Search Marketing Associate Young Lee talked about a study that analyzed 1 million high-ranking pages for trends…

It’s the age-old question in the SEO world: what makes a site rise to the top? The fact that this question is difficult to answer is the reason SEO agencies exist. It’s our job to make sense of industry trends, consumer behavior and ambiguous tweets from Google search executives. Of course, a massive study of 1 million web pages that land on Google’s front page doesn’t hurt either. SEO expert Matthew Barby recently compiled the data, and Young told us about some of the search signals that seemed to matter most.

It was clear that the top two search results consistently had the lion’s share of backlinks, 38% of those on the first page to be exact. In general, the higher a page ranked in search results, the stronger its backlink profile was.

There has been plenty of uncertainty regarding the SEO importance of switching to HTTPS, but pages that used this secure web protocol tended to fare better on results pages than those with only HTTP.

First impressions matter, at least to Google. The best performing pages tended to have a target keyword right in the URL. Additionally, top-ranking URLs averaged around 59 characters in length. When it comes to page titles, short and sweet is usually the way to go — it seems that the ideal word count for page titles is around eight, so keep those titles concise!

Although these are the types of signals that appear to benefit websites in this study, they are by no means a definitive list. A well-rounded SEO strategy that incorporates a variety of search signals is still important. We will continue to monitor search-marketing developments, as nothing stays the same for too long in this industry.