BrightLocal launches ‘Local RankFlux’ Google local algorithm tracking tool

BrightLocal launches ‘Local RankFlux’ Google local algorithm tracking tool

BrightLocal has launched a new free tool called “Local RankFlux,” designed to alert marketers to changes in local search rankings across multiple industries.

Exclusively focused on the Google local algorithm, it offers tracking for 26 verticals. The ranking fluctuations of individual industries can then be compared to the overall sample.

Tracking over 14,000 keywords. Local RankFlux tracks roughly 560 keywords per industry vertical in 20 cities, according to BrightLocal’s blog post. It “plots the ranking position of each business in the top 20 search results and compares that ranking to the previous day’s position to determine the daily change.” 

Source: BrightLocal

Changes in higher SERP positions (e.g., 1 – 2) are weighted more heavily and are treated as more significant than changes in lower rankings (e.g., 19 – 20) in its scoring. “Local RankFlux then multiplies the change in position between today’s and yesterday’s rankings by the weighting to create a total daily fluctuation. This total is then converted into an average based on the number of keywords that returned meaningful results^ and a score produced for All Industries and for each individual industry.”

Scores above 6 suggest an update. BrightLocal explains that scores between 0 – 3 indicate nothing meaningful has happened – given that there are regular, even daily fluctuations going on. Scores of more than 3 but less than 6 indicate a minor change in the algorithm, according to BrightLocal, while scores of 6 to 10 suggest a local algorithm update. The spike in the chart below (industry average of 6.1) on August 8 suggests a meaningful change in the algorithm.

Local RankFlux score: legal category vs industry average

Source: BrightLocal

In early August Google made a core algorithm update. But the last time there was a significant local impact was in August of last year (and possibly in June, 2019 after another core update). In August 2018, SterlingSky’s Joy Hawkins detailed the ways in which her small business customers were impacted by that 2018 core algorithm update.

Why we should care. This free tool will be a useful way for local SEOs to reality check against broader industry benchmarks, to confirm whether there was indeed a local algorithm update. Informally, a number of local SEOs praised the tool based on early exposure.

Take a look and provide feedback on whether it aligns with your observations and experiences. And be sure not to miss SMX East’s fullday track on local SEO and location-based marketing for brands.


About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes about the connections between digital and offline commerce. He previously held leadership roles at LSA, The Kelsey Group and TechTV. Follow him Twitter or find him on LinkedIn.

Dit artikel is vertaald van Search Engine Land

A script to create a Google Ads Experiments dashboard

A script to create a Google Ads Experiments dashboard

Despite the constant addition of new automations to Google Ads, there’s still a lot for humans to do. For example, deciding the best combination of settings and automations that is likely to drive results for a particular campaign. What options work best may differ from vertical to vertical, and even account to account. That is why experimentation and testing is such a critical part of a PPC rockstar’s repertoire: from testing different bid strategies, to testing new ad formats like RSAs, to testing new ways to structure an account.

Sadly, testing at scale can be a bit of a pain due to the lack of an experiment dashboard in Google Ads. That’s why I’m sharing a free Google Ads script that generates an experiment dashboard and makes it easier for advertisers to stay on top of the experiments they’re doing.

Why we need an Experiment Dashboard

I wrote this script for a few reasons:

  1. There is no place in Google Ads to see all experiments across My Client Center. You can only see experiments for one account at a time as illustrated in the screenshot below.
  2. The experiment page shows only the most basic details. It doesn’t indicate winners and losers, or even show a comparison of metrics between the control and experiment. The only way to get that data is by clicking on each experiment to see its results and that seems like a waste of time.

Screenshot from Google Ads shows the limited data that is shown on an individual account’s Experiment page.

PPC rockstars are great at testing

I made the point in my book that testing is a key skill that sets a great PPC expert apart from a mediocre one. There are a few elements to being an expert tester and a PPC rockstar:

  1. Be smart about what you test. Know from experience what is a likely experiment to drive results and test that. Don’t waste money on ridiculous tests that are unlikely to drive significant positive outcomes.
  2. Know how to test rapidly. When experiments take too long to reach a conclusion, they are bottlenecking the account’s ability to improve. Two fairly common scenarios for when tests take too long come to mind: (1) when the base campaign doesn’t have enough volume and splitting the traffic will result in too little data over the course of a reasonable test period which will make identifying a winner take too long, or (2) there is lots of data but the control and experiment remain statistically tied and the experiment is allowed to continue to run past the time when a winner could have been identified if there were one.

Slow testing applied to Quality Score

When I worked at Google, one of the worst updates to the relevance system that I can remember was when we decided to give advertisers the ability to prove Google’s assessment of their keyword quality was wrong. I was on the team at the time so I had my share of the blame.

Before the change, keywords deemed irrelevant were simply disabled automatically and advertisers had no recourse. So to restore some control, it was decided that every advertiser would get a small allowance to test low relevance keywords. The idea was that rather than quickly disabling keywords, we’d let advertisers experiment with a few keywords the quality system was not fond of so that there’d be clear evidence whether the human or the machine was right.

The problem was that the system automatically picked which keywords to test from each advertiser’s account. Rather than prioritizing high volume keywords that could quickly be tested to conclusion, the system prioritized what it believed to be more relevant terms. But those tended to have lower volume and hence required a longer time to accrue enough data to come to a conclusive result. High volume keywords that could have been tested quickly simply got stuck in a queue behind keywords that took weeks to test and that made for unhappy advertisers.

In 2005, the concept of ‘in trial’ keywords was scrapped and modern Quality Score was introduced.

What the Experiment Dashboard script does

So testing is important, and doing it well is even more important. But when you have to stay on top of lots of tests, possibly across many accounts – like if you’re an agency – it can be a huge time waster because there is no one place to go and see all results. That is why I created this script.

The script fetches all the experiments across an MCC account or for an individual account (be sure to grab the appropriate version at the end of this post depending on whether you are placing it in an MCC or an individual account).

The script figures out the dates for each experiment – keeping in mind that each experiment may have run for a different time frame – and gets the key metrics like conversions, costs, etc. It also gets the traffic split between the control and experiment so that it can calculate the difference in observed performance as if the traffic had been split evenly.

Finally, it adds the data to a Google Sheet. One line per experiment, including the performance metrics. With this spreadsheet-based dashboard, advertisers can monitor performance across a multitude of experiments from a single view.

How to create an experiment in Google

Now that we have a better way to monitor experiments, let’s briefly cover the mechanics of how to create experiments in Google Ads.

Advertisers start by creating a draft campaign based on an existing campaign. Once the draft has been set up with everything the advertiser wants to test, it can be promoted to an experiment. When creating the experiment, the draft is allocated a percentage of traffic (the traffic split) and a start and end date. It then becomes an experiment and the base campaign becomes the control.

Future changes to the base campaign – the control – will not be applied to the experiment. Hence if you want meaningful results about the experiment, you need to be careful about what you change in the control or make changes to both the control and experiment at the same time.

Keep in mind you can and should make changes in the control. For example, when testing manual versus automated bidding, you should manage bids as you intend to in the control. But you shouldn’t add new keywords because that changes a factor unrelated to what you’re trying to measure as part of the experiment.

Once the experiment has ended, the advertiser can decide whether to discard or promote it and replace the control. If promoted, whatever is in the experiment gets moved to the original campaign and that then runs again on 100% of traffic until a new experiment is started.

Google provides the results of an experiment only by clicking into the experiment details.

Screenshot from Google Ads showing the difference in performance between the experiment and control.

Conclusion

Improving PPC accounts requires careful testing of the many new options that are constantly announced by Google. Accounts get better when winning experiments are merged into the account. And PPC rockstars get better by building knowledge of what works well, and when, and applying these findings to start higher quality experiments on future accounts.

I will be at SMX East on Nov. 13 to lead a session called “Awesome Tests, Profitable Results,” where I will share more details about this script as well as the methodology and results of my own experiments. I hope you’ll give the script a try and join me in New York for SMX.  

The script

Grab this code if you want a single account dashboard and will copy the code into an end-account:

Grab this code if you want an MCC experiment dashboard and will copy the code into the scripts section of an MCC account:

Instructions:

Towards the beginning of the script are lines that start with:

var spreadsheetUrl = "https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Pkhl2QE...7LRzgXXJczCxr19aSGVUkMVkSZhiYMg/edit#gid=0";

And…

var sheetName = "Sheet1";

Be sure to add a link to your own Google Spreadsheet and add the name of the sheet (tab) where you want the dashboard to populate.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Frederick (“Fred”) Vallaeys was one of the first 500 employees at Google where he spent 10 years building AdWords and teaching advertisers how to get the most out of it as the Google AdWords Evangelist. Today he is the Cofounder of Optmyzr, an AdWords tool company focused on unique data insights, One-Click Optimizations™, advanced reporting to make account management more efficient, and Enhanced Scripts™ for AdWords. He stays up-to-speed with best practices through his work with SalesX, a search marketing agency focused on turning clicks into revenue. He is a frequent guest speaker at events where he inspires organizations to be more innovative and become better online marketers. His latest book, Digital Marketing in an AI World, was published in May 2019.

Dit artikel is vertaald van Search Engine Land

Google now gives more preference to original reporting in search

Google now gives more preference to original reporting in search

Over the past few months, Google has been rolling out algorithmic updates to its rankings algorithms to give more preferences to stories that were the original source. Original reporting will not only rank better in Google Search but soon will also rank better in Google News, including Google Discover. In addition to original reporting ranking better, the stories will stay at the top of the news cluster for a longer period of time, Richard Gingras, the Vice President of Google News told us.

What changed. Google said it has “made ranking updates” to “better recognize and surface original reporting more prominently in Search and ensure it stays there longer.” So original reporting will not just show up higher in the search results but show up for a longer period of time for the relevant query in Google search. “This means readers interested in the latest news can find the story that started it all, and publishers can benefit from having their original reporting more widely seen,” Richard Gingras said.

When did this change happen. Richard told us this change has happened over the past few months. It is a work-in-progress and Google said it is still not perfect, but Google is continuing to focus on ensuring original reporting shows up more prominently and longer in search.

Google told us this roll out happened already in Google search and will soon follow for Google News and Google Discover. In addition. this is a global rollout to all regions.

Why talk about this now? Google is now talking about this change because of two reasons. The first is that the company has recently updated its search quality raters guidelines and added specific items around original reporting. The second is Google is now happy with how the new algorithms are working around original reporting being prioritized in search. So while this has been rolled out for the past few months, Google is now ready to share this information.

What’s the quality raters guidelines have to do with it. The truth is, very little outside of the fact that they were updated. Search quality raters do not directly influence the Google search results. “They [the quality raters] do not influence the ranking of individual articles,” Google said. The reason the raters guidelines were updates was because now that the ranking algorithms are giving more weight to original reporting, Google wants the raters to be able to judge how well the algorithm is doing with this goal. So this update to the quality raters guidelines equips the quality raters with the tools to rate the success of the new algorithmic efforts.

What does the quality raters guidelines say? Well, we documented much of it over here but specific to the original reporting, there are two sections.

In section 5.1 of the guidelines, Google instructs its raters to use the highest rating, “very high quality,” for original news reporting “that provides information that would not otherwise have been known had the article not revealed it. Original, in-depth, and investigative reporting requires a high degree of skill, time, and effort.”

In addition to recognizing individual instances of original reporting at the page level, Google has also asked the raters to consider the publisher’s overall reputation for original reporting. That update in section 2.6.1 reads: “Many other kinds of websites have reputations as well. For example, you might find that a newspaper (with an associated website) has won journalistic awards. Prestigious awards, such as the Pulitzer Prize award, or a history of high quality original reporting are strong evidence of positive reputation.”

Not just Google News. This change is not just specific to Google News rankings. Google Search often shows fresh, news related content depending on the query and if that query deserves fresh news articles because there is a news trend on it. So this not just impacts the Google News results, but also Google Search and of course, Google Discover. Google Discover is a feed of topics that Google thinks you will be interested in seeing, without specific searching for it.

Richard Gingras explained that Google Search and Google News are more and more using the same algorithms and concepts for rankings. So while the search quality raters guidelines were originally specific to just web search, it has now been updated more and more to also rate the more news related search results.

How does Google determine original reporting. Google won’t specifically say, you can take hints from what is in the quality raters guidelines but Google warned that these guidelines are not going to reveal how the algorithm works. You can imagine that Google is not just looking at the first page and earliest timestamp of a page for a specific topic. But Google is probably looking for news sources that are more well-known for original reporting.

We did ask if this can benefit less-known publishers and Richard explained that this is beyond just looking at worldwide news sources versus local and smaller news sources. Google can’t specifically tell us how its algorithms determine the original source and it is also something the company works on improving on an ongoing basis.

Why we care. If you are a publisher and you produce news content, it might not just be enough to do “value add” type of reporting. You may need to work harder to be the original news source of the topic to get real traction and traffic from Google. At the same time, this has rolled out over the past few months and if you saw any significant traffic changes from Google, this may be one of many reasons why.


About The Author

Barry Schwartz is Search Engine Land’s News Editor and owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on SEM topics.

Dit artikel is vertaald van Search Engine Land

An Agency Workflow for Google My Business Dead Ends

An Agency Workflow for Google My Business Dead Ends

There are times when your digital marketing agency will find itself serving a local business with a need for which Google has made no apparent provisions. Unavailable categories for unusual businesses come instantly to mind, but scenarios can be more complex than this.

Client workflows can bog down as you worry over what to do, fearful of making a wrong move that could get a client’s listing suspended or adversely affect its rankings or traffic. If your agency has many employees, an entry-level SEO could be silently stuck on an issue, or even doing the wrong thing because they don’t know how or where to ask the right questions.

The best solution I know of consists of a combination of:

  • Client contracts that are radically honest about the nature of Google
  • Client management that sets correct expectations about the nature of Google
  • A documented process for seeking clarity when unusual client scenarios arise
  • Agency openness to experimentation, failure, and on-going learning
  • Regular monitoring for new Google developments and changes
  • A bit of grit

Let’s put the fear of often-murky, sometimes-unwieldy Google on the back burner for a few minutes and create a proactive process your team can use when hitting what feels like procedural dead end on the highways and byways of local search.

The apartment office conundrum

As a real-world example of a GMB dead end, a few months ago, I was asked a question about on-site offices for apartment complexes. The details:

  • Google doesn’t permit the creation of listings for rental properties but does allow such properties to be listed if they have an on-site office, as many apartment complexes do.
  • Google’s clearest category for this model is “apartment complex”, but the brand in question was told by Google (at the time) that if they chose that category, they couldn’t display their hours of operation.
  • This led the brand I was advising to wonder if they should use “apartment rental agency” as their category because it does display hours. They didn’t want to inconvenience the public by having them arrive at a closed office after hours, but at the same time, they didn’t want to misrepresent their category.

Now that’s a conundrum!

When I was asked to provide some guidance to this brand, I went through my own process of trying to get at the heart of the matter. In this post, I’m going to document this process for your agency as fully as I can to ensure that everyone on your team has a clear workflow when puzzling local SEO scenarios arise.

I hope you’ll share this article with everyone remotely involved in marketing your clients, and that it will prevent costly missteps, save time, move work forward, and support success.

Step 1: Radical honesty sets the stage right

Whether you’re writing a client contract, holding a client onboarding meeting, or having an internal brand discussion about local search marketing, setting correct expectations is the best defense against future disappointments and disputes. Company leadership must task itself with letting all parties know:

  1. Google has a near-monopoly on search. As such, they can do almost anything they feel will profit them. This means that they can alter SERPs, change guidelines, roll out penalties and filters, monetize whatever they like, and fail to provide adequate support to the public that makes up and interacts with the medium of their product. There is no guarantee any SEO can offer about rankings, traffic, or conversions. Things can change overnight. That’s just how it is.
  2. While Google’s monopoly enables them to be whimsical, brands and agencies do not have the same leeway if they wish to avoid negative outcomes. There are known practices which Google has confirmed as contrary to their vision of search (buying links, building listings for non-existent locations, etc.). Client and agency agree not to knowingly violate Google’s guidelines. These guidelines include:

Don’t accept work under any other conditions than that all parties understand Google’s power, unpredictability, and documented guidelines. Don’t work with clients, agencies, software providers, or others that violate guidelines. These basic rules set the stage for both client and agency success.

Step 2: Confirm that the problem really exists

When a business believes it is encountering an unusual local search marketing problem, the first task of the agency staffer is to vet the issue. The truth is, clients sometimes perceive problems that don’t really exist. In my case of the apartment complex, I took the following steps.

  1. I confirmed the problem. I observed the lacking display of hours of operation on GMB listings using the “apartment complex” category.
  2. I called half-a-dozen nearby apartment complex offices and asked if they were open either by appointment only, or 24/7. None of them were. At least in my corner of the world, apartment complex offices have set, daily business hours, just like retail, opening in the AM and closing in the PM each day.
  3. I did a number of Google searches for “apartment rental agency” and all of the results Google brought up were for companies that manage rentals city-wide — not rentals of units within a single complex.

So, I was now convinced that the business was right: they were encountering a real dead end. If they categorized themselves as an “apartment complex”, their missing hours could inconvenience customers. If they chose the “apartment rental agency” designation to get hours to display, they could end up fielding needless calls from people looking for city-wide rental listings. The category would also fail to be strictly accurate.

As an agency worker, be sure you’ve taken common-sense steps to confirm that a client’s problem is, indeed, real before you move on to next steps.

Step 3: Search for a similar scenario

As a considerate agency SEO, avoid wasting the time of project leads, managers, or company leadership by first seeing if the Internet holds a ready answer to your puzzle. Even if a problem seems unusual, there’s a good chance that somebody else has already encountered it, and may even have documented it. Before you declare a challenge to be a total dead-end, search the following resources in the following order:

  1. Do a direct search in Google with the most explicit language you can (e.g. “GMB listing showing wrong photo”, “GMB description for wrong business”, “GMB owner responses not showing”). Click on anything that looks like it might contain an answer, look at the date on the entry, and see what you can learn. Document what you see.
  2. Go to the Google My Business Help Community forum and search with a variety of phrases for your issue. Again, note the dates of responses for the currency of advice. Be aware that not all contributors are experts. Looks for thread responses from people labeled Gold Product Expert; these members have earned special recognition for the amount and quality of what they contribute to the forum. Some of these experts are widely-recognized, world-class local SEOs. Document what you learn, even if means noting down “No solution found”.
  3. Often, a peculiar local search issue may be the result of a Google change, update, or bug. Check the MozCast to see if the SERPs are undergoing turbulent weather and Sterling Sky’s Timeline of Local SEO Changes. If the dates of a surfaced issue correspond with something appearing on these platforms, you may have found your answer. Document what you learn.
  4. Check trusted blogs to see if industry experts have written about your issue. The nice thing about blogs is that, if they accept comments, you can often get a direct response from the author if something they’ve penned needs further clarification. For a big list of resources, see: Follow the Local SEO Leaders: A Guide to Our Industry’s Best Publications. Document what you learn.

If none of these tactics yields a solution, move on to the next step.

Step 4: Speak up for support

If you’ve not yet arrived at an answer, it’s time to reach out. Take these steps, in this order:

1) Each agency has a different hierarchy. Now is the time to reach out to the appropriate expert at your business, whether that’s your manager or a senior-level local search expert. Clearly explain the issue and share your documentation of what you’ve learned/failed to learn. See if they can provide an answer.

2) If leadership doesn’t know how to solve the issue, request permission to take it directly to Google in private. You have a variety of options for doing so, including:

In the case of the apartment complex, I chose to reach out via Twitter. Responses can take a couple of days, but I wasn’t in a hurry. They replied:

As I had suspected, Google was treating apartment complexes like hotels. Not very satisfactory since the business models are quite different, but at least it was an answer I could document. I’d hit something of a dead-end, but it was interesting to consider Google’s advice about using the description field to list hours of operation. Not a great solution, but at least I would have something to offer the client, right from the horse’s mouth.

In your case, be advised that not all Google reps have the same level of product training. Hopefully, you will receive some direct guidance on the issue if you describe it well and can document Google’s response and act on it. If not, keep moving.

3) If Google doesn’t respond, responds inexpertly, or doesn’t solve your problem, go back to your senior-level person. Explain what happened and request advice on how to proceed.

4) If the senior staffer still isn’t certain, request permission to publicly discuss the issue (and the client). Head to supportive fora. If you’re a Moz Pro customer, feel free to post your scenario in the Moz Q&A forum. If you’re not yet a customer, head to the Local Search Forum, which is free. Share a summary of the challenge, your failure to find a solution, and ask the community what they would do, given that you appear to be at a dead end. Document the advice you receive, and evaluate it based on the expertise of respondents.

Step 5: Make a strategic decision

At this point in your workflow, you’ve now:

  • Confirmed the issue
  • Searched for documented solutions
  • Looked to leadership for support
  • Looked to Google for support
  • Looked to the local SEO industry for support

I’m hoping you’ve arrived at a strategy for your client’s scenario by now, but if not, you have 3 things left to do.

  1. Take your entire documentation back to your team/company leader. Ask them to work with you on an approved response to the client.
  2. Take that response to the client, with a full explanation of any limitations you encountered and a description of what actions your agency wants to take. Book time for a thorough discussion. If what you are doing is experimental, be totally transparent about this with the client.
  3. If the client agrees to the strategy, enact it.

In the case of the apartment complex, there were several options I could have brought to the client. One thing I did recommend is that they do an internal assessment of how great the risk really was of the public being inconvenienced by absent hours.

How many people did they estimate would stop by after 5 PM in a given month and find the office closed? Would that be 1 person a month? 20 people? Did the convenience of these people outweigh risks of incorrectly categorizing the complex as an “apartment rental agency”? How many erroneous phone calls or walk-ins might that lead to? How big of a pain would that be?

Determining these things would help the client decide whether to just go with Google’s advice of keeping the accurate category and using the description to publish hours, or, to take some risks by miscategorizing the business. I was in favor of the former, but be sure your client has input in the final decision.

And that brings us to the final step — one your agency must be sure you don’t overlook.

Step 6: Monitor from here on out

In many instances, you’ll find a solution that should be all set to go, with no future worries. But, where you run into dead-end scenarios like the apartment complex case and are having to cobble together a workaround to move forward, do these two things:

  1. Monitor outcomes of your implementation over the coming months. Traffic drops, ranking drops, or other sudden changes require a re-evaluation of the strategy you selected. *This is why it is so critical to document everything and to be transparent with the client about Google’s unpredictability and the limitations of local SEOs.
  2. Monitor Google for changes. Today’s dead end could be tomorrow’s open road.

This second point is particularly applicable to the apartment complex I was advising. About a month after I’d first looked at their issue, Google made a major change. All of a sudden, they began showing hours for the “apartment complex” category!

If I’d stopped paying attention to the issue, I’d never have noticed this game-changing alteration. When I did see hours appearing on these listings, I confirmed the development with apartment marketing expert Diogo Ordacowski:

Moral: be sure you are continuing to keep tabs on any particularly aggravating dead ends in case solutions emerge in future. It’s a happy day when you can tell a client their worries are over. What a great proof of the engagement level of your agency’s staff!

When it comes to Google, grit matters

Image Credit: The Other Dan

“What if I do something wrong?”

It’s totally okay if that question occurs to you sometimes when marketing local businesses. There’s a lot on the line — it’s true! The livelihoods of your clients are a sacred trust. The credibility that your agency is building matters.

But, fear not. Unless you flagrantly break guidelines, a dose of grit can take you far when dealing with a product like Google My Business which is, itself, an experiment. Sometimes, you just have to make a decision about how to move forward. If you make a mistake, chances are good you can correct it. When a dead end with no clear egress forces you to test out solutions, you’re just doing your job.

So, be transparent and communicative, be methodical and thorough in your research, and be a bit bold. Remember, your clients don’t just count on you to churn out rote work. In Google’s increasingly walled garden, the agency which can see over the wall tops when necessity calls is bringing extra value.

Vertaald van MOZ

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