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A Dangerous Change To Google’s Content Targeting Options

By John Woods  |  February 2, 2023

It’s not unusual for Google to tweak things in Google Ads in ways that can impact campaign performance. For instance there was a change to keyword match types two years ago: https://sharpahead.com/blog/google-ads-adieu-broad-match-modifier/. Usually these changes have only modest implications for running campaigns. 

But yesterday we learned about a Google Ads change that is a bit of a shocker. It won’t affect every advertiser by any means, but if the changes are relevant for your campaigns then the impacts could be horrendous. Here’s the core part of the announcement: 

“Also, to help you reach more potential customers, your ads will now show on content that matches any of the topics, placements, or display and video keywords you target. For example, an ad targeting a topic and a placement will be eligible for impressions which match either. 
 
Currently, your ads can only show on content that simultaneously matches all of the topics, placements, and display and video keywords you target.” 

In summary: Google are changing some display ad targeting from “AND logic” to “OR logic”. So previously we could target display ads to pages that are on specific websites AND that relate to specific topics. Now that “AND” will change to “OR”. The changes will be applied automatically to running campaigns and there’s no way to avoid this. 

This might not seem all that dramatic. But here’s an analogy: 

Suppose you’re a business that makes chutney. You have a regular order with a supplier for green tomatoes. Things go well for several years with your green tomatoes turning up each day. Then one day you receive a shipment with: 

  • A few green tomatoes – way fewer than your normal order 
  • Loads of red and yellow tomatoes 
  • Loads of cabbages, cucumbers, peas and broccoli  

I think you’d be unhappy! You call the supplier. “What’s the problem?” they say. “You asked for green tomatoes. Everything we’ve sent you is either a tomato, or green. Or even both!” 

The same problem applies to display campaigns that are impacted by this change – instead of reaching the exact intended audience, they will go to much broader audiences that are largely irrelevant to the advertiser’s original strategy. 

Let’s look at a realistic B2B PPC example: suppose I want to show an ad for a B2B technology-related product. I might decide I want to focus my budget on dailymail.co.uk – because I think their readership is a good fit for my target demographic – but obviously the whole readership of the Daily Mail is far too broad for me to target. So I can choose to combine a second criterion and show the ad on pages that relate to technology industry news. With Google’s current setup – which has been in place for many years! – those targeting options combine to give this result: 

So there are around 5,000 impressions available for ads on dailymail.co.uk on pages that relate to the technology industry. That’s a very affordable, niche target that I can go after with a budget of perhaps only a few pounds a week. 

With Google’s change the number of impressions goes up dramatically: 

So instead of 5,000 available impressions there are now 1.8M+370K=2.2 MILLION impressions! The audience is nearly 500x larger. 

That might sound exciting but in fact it’s a disaster for this campaign. I wanted to reach Daily Mail readers who read content about the technology industry. Instead I’m now reaching ALL Daily Mail readers, and ALL pages (on the whole internet!) that carry content about the technology industry. The original strategy behind my campaign has been destroyed. In the worst case – the campaign might spend 500x more and deliver the same return. So the campaign ROI could be 500x worse! 

Budget/spend implications: 

Depending on budget settings, there’s a risk that some display campaigns may suddenly start spending dramatically more money. And this extra spend will mostly be wasted as the additional impressions will be outside of the original targeting intent of the campaign. 

What we think: 

This is an unfortunate change by Google for two reasons. Firstly, it takes away a strategy that has been really valuable for niche B2B marketers who want to make some use of Google’s Display Network. The GDN is substantially less useful for B2B marketing as a result of this change. 

But secondly it sets a worrying precedent. If Google feels entitled to implement automatic changes that totally undermine the original intent behind a campaign setup, and that may dramatically damage the ROI from running campaigns, that undermines trust and confidence in the Google Ads platform. 

I think this change is poorly thought out, and I  hope  Google will reverse it, or at least implement it in a “safer” way. But for now we have to take Google at their word and assume the change is going ahead. 

What you need to do: 

If you run Display campaigns on Google Ads, you need to immediately review whether any of your existing campaigns will be impacted by this change. The change may go live as soon as 1st March 2023, so you only have a few weeks. If you don’t take action you risk seeing your Google Display spend rising dramatically for little or no return. 

For Sharp Ahead retained clients: 

We will be proactively reviewing the impact of this change on all Google Ads accounts where we are currently engaged for PPC management. At a minimum, we will arrange to pause any campaigns where we are concerned about the negative impact. 

As usual, if you have any concerns or need help with this or any other aspect of PPC management for B2B marketing, please get in touch! 

Practical Tips For B2B SEO Using Google’s E‑E‑A‑T Guidelines

By Rachael Clark  | 

Table of Contents

First things first, what is the original E-A-T?

E-A-T is the summation of Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines which provides an eye-watering 168 page document to help “webmasters understand what Google looks for in a page.”

Whilst Google state that E-A-T is not a direct ranking factor, there are practical applications of these guidelines that are direct ranking factors.

Confused yet?

Let’s take a step back and look at what E-A-T stands for.

  • Expertise : Having a high level of knowledge or skill in a particular field or topic. This could be in the form of qualification or education. E.g. a WordPress web developer is more qualified to discuss setting up a new WordPress website than someone who has read a few blogs on the topic! There is also space for ‘everyday expertise’ such as a blogger who reviews restaurants, without necessarily having expert credentials
  • Authority: This centres around your reputation in a given field. Are you a go-to source on a particular subject matter? Do you have strong reviews (third party as well as customer quotes)? Are you recommended by other experts in the fields? Do you have lots of content on the subject matter?
  • Trustworthiness: This focuses on legitimacy, transparency and accuracy and is particularly key for YMYL content where the wrong information could be very damaging if inaccurate. However, this is still highly relevant for all webmasters. For example: adding in authors for articles and blog content or citing and linking to external sources when referencing quotes, stats etc.

This ultimately boils down to Google’s ambition to further elevate the quality of the SERPs, with high quality, original content written with credibility.

This seems pretty all-encompassing, so why the extra E?

E = Experience

This extra E stands for Experience which, granted, seems very similar to Expertise but there is quite a distinct difference.

  • E for Experience. Google defines this as content that can demonstrate “that it was produced with some degree of experience, such as with actual use of a product, having actually visited a place or communicating what a person experienced”

In short – Google wants to see that the content is written by individuals who have ‘first-hand experience’ of the topic.

Why Optimise for E-E-A-T?

If E-E-A-T isn’t a direct ranking factor, then why optimise content to meet these guidelines?

The key is how you translate the guidelines into things Google can measure. Google’s Danny Sullivan helps explain:

How can B2B marketers create great E-E-A-T content?

Quite often the guidelines from Google are very B2C focused so we’ve compiled some tips to help B2B marketers elevate content to E-E-A-T standards:

Experience:
  • Mention your years of experience: g. Helping leading companies transform their XXX for the past 20 years
  • Link to Case Studies: Cite and link to examples of work with customers that highlight your expertise. Where possible, add links to case studies using anchor text that is relevant to the page you’re linking to as this will provide other SEO benefits for your site
  • Embed “How to” or “Explanatory” videos: Adding a video into your content that provides more information about the topic (or solution/service) can not only show your experience but also help keep visitors engaged with your content.
    • Top Tip: To also help your page SEO, make sure to add the keyword/phrase you want that page to rank for into the Title and Description of your video! Plus, if you use YouTube embed, this helps your overall video view count and therefore your VSEO – a win win!

Expertise:
  • Select authors carefully: Assign articles and blogs to individuals within your organisation with higher levels of expertise in that subject matter
  • Create author bios: Create individual author pages which all blogs/articles to an author page which details more about their background and expertise in that field. Consider adding links in the bio to other sources highlighting their expertise (e.g. if they’re a member of an independent body or even links to their LinkedIn profile)
  • Don’t regurgitate: Showcase your expertise by adding your own opinion on the topic at hand. Ideally this should be backed up with evidence such as research, polls and/or citing credible third party sources
  • Structure your content based on search intent: Think about the audience of your content and the intent behind a search that might bring them to your content. Where relevant, create digestible sections that directly respond to this intent. This structure will also form the basis of your H2s, H3s and ‘table of contents’ at the top of longer form content – all fantastic ways to boost your rankings
  • Link to related content on your site: Internal links let Google know that you have more to say on the topic, or related topic. This also provides an improved UX, making it easier for the visitor to flow between highly relevant content on your site
  • Link to external sites: This signals to Google that you have researched the subject matter and are supporting your content by linking to trustworthy resources
  • Collaborate: The content doesn’t always have to come from you! Consider bringing in other industry experts to work with you on a rounded piece of content

This article from the Innovation Centre Knowledge Gateway in Essex perfectly highlights how they’ve selected the right individual, the Innovation Director, to talk on the subject of Scale Ups.

Authority:
  • Build up related content: If you have 1 or 2 pages on a particular topic and your competitor has 20, then chances are, they’ll rank more highly than you if one of their pages is similar to one of yours. To gain authority, you need to build a bank of content related to your field of expertise that are also shaped around your target keywords and phrases
  • Integrate third-party verified reviews: Adding in third party trusted reviews from sources such as Trustpilot or Capterra, provides an immediate source of both authority and trustworthiness for visitors
  • Cite key partnerships: If your work with other trusted organisations, then integrate this within your content. Adding external links for these organisations will also provide an SEO boost.
  • Build backlinks for key content: Backlinks to a site is a key measure of your overall authority. Links that direct to pages deeper in your site (not just the homepage), gives that content even higher authority. Look at the top 1-3 websites ranking top for the keyword/phrase you want to rank for and identify the types of sites they are receiving links from to help inform your own backlink strategy.

Barbour ABI cites government and independent organisations which help builds both authority and trust with the visitor.

Trustworthiness:

Arguably the E-E-A portions work together to build trust amongst your visitors. However, we have pulled out a few additional tips to help bolster this further:

  • Check references: If citing third-party statistics, make sure these are accurate
  • Highlight awards won: What better way to show that you’re a trusted organisation than highlighting that your products, solutions or services have been awarded an award in you field?
  • Keep content up-to-date: If you have ‘evergreen’ content on your site, then make sure it’s updated to ensure accuracy
    • Top Tip: If updating a ‘trends’ blog that is relevant YoY, make those changes and then update the year on the blog and its related Title and Meta Description to include this
  • Show your contact details: In B2B, a phone number and email address displayed prominently in the header and footer as well as the Contact Page shows that you’re a real company, with real people
  • Refresh your Google Business Profile: When users search for your brand, the content of your Google Business Profile may well be the first thing they see. Make sure this is up-to-date and making the most of the enhanced features it offers (e.g. products/services)

E-E-A-T helps beyond SEO!

We’ve talked here about E-E-A-T because of its relevance to SEO. But Google isn’t your only stakeholder! It’s worth remembering that almost all of the E-E-A-T factors are also relevant for engaging and converting your website visitors. For example, third party reviews will help prospective customers decide whether your product or service meets their needs, and including contact details on your page will help them to get in touch when they are ready for a conversation with sales. So both of those things will increase conversions from your website visitors.

In general, following the E-E-A-T guidelines will make your content more persuasive and more engaging for your human readership, as well as more attractive to Google – with all of the marketing benefits that flow from that.

Want to have these helpful tips at your fingertips? We’ve curated the checklists above into a downloadable E-E-A-T checklist that you keep on file for whenever you’ve got new content to create. We hope you find it useful! 
If you’d like to continue the conversation or find out more about SEO and B2B copywriting services we offer at Sharp Ahead, please do get in touch – we’d love to hear from you!

How To Give Your Agency A Good Design Brief

By Jennifer Esty  |  January 16, 2023

Do your marketing design tasks go over budget, or require a lot of revision cycles, or just fail to achieve the outcome you hoped for? There’s every chance a better design brief could help…

With this in mind, we’ve put together a few points on how to give your agency a good design brief in order to reduce confusion and increase the chances you’ll achieve your design objectives, from concept right through to delivery.

  • Provide Your Brand Guidelines

Providing your brand guidelines is a crucial part of providing a good design brief. Your guidelines should demonstrate how you use your branding across various media, print, ads & web (etc). If you’re using a custom font, or a font that is not available to download via typekit (or an equivalent), make sure to share your font files with your designer so they have everything they need to ensure they meet your brand guidelines.

  •  Keep Things Consistent:

If you’re briefing a piece of design work for a new advert/design, make sure you present any other ads that you have running, or the latest version of your ad that needs updating. This will help to avoid the design going in a different direction and ensure brand consistency.

  • Provide Design Inspiration

Make sure to include designs from other brands that you like and provide commentary on why you like them. Including a range of different design inspirations will help your designer start on the right track and will also help make it clear which elements of each design you do and don’t like. 

It’s also hugely helpful to provide examples of stock photography alongside the designs. What kind of style and feel do you like? Are the images with or without people? Corporate or more laid back? 

It’s often worth investing in an image library or creating bespoke illustrations so that you can avoid using time on searching for the right images and instead use that time refining other areas of the design. 

If you’re designing for web, it’s also a good idea to provide information around what sort of layout you might like and to even provide examples of any motion design, such as parallax scrolling or animated details, that might help bring your site to life. 

All of this information helps the designer form a full picture of what exactly you’re hoping to achieve with your design.

  • Say What You DON’T Like! 

Telling your designer what you don’t like is just as important as specifying what you do like. When putting together examples of good design, make sure to include examples of the sort of design you don’t want to see so that your designer can make sure they don’t take a direction you’re not happy with. 

  • Specify Where Your Designs Will Be Shared 

It’s important to tell the agency who will be using the design files as well where they will be used. For example, will they be used only by internal resources who just have access to platforms such as Canva, or will they be shared with other agencies who have in-house design teams? This will help your designer understand what file types to provide when packaging up your design and whether there are any dimensions, aspect ratios or resolutions to be mindful of.

To conclude, there really is no such thing as too much context and providing as much information as possible will give your designer the best chance at creating a design you feel truly happy with. 

Want to have these helpful tips at your fingertips? We’ve created a free checklist that you can download and keep on file for whenever you’ve got a design brief to deliver. We hope you find it useful! 
If you’d like to continue the conversation or find out more about the design services we offer at Sharp Ahead, please do get in touch – we’d love to hear from you! 

Three Clever Ways to Optimise Your LinkedIn Audiences

By Jennifer Esty  |  December 12, 2022

For those of you who spend time in LinkedIn’s advertising platform, Campaign Manager, you will have noticed a newish notification advising you that “For consistent optimal campaign delivery and engagement, we suggest a minimum target audience size of 50,000”.

Which is all very well if there are actually at least 50,000 individuals who might ever be involved in the consideration of purchasing your products or services.

But for many niche B2B organisations, their prospective customer base is likely to be much, much smaller than 50,000.

So, if you’re looking for ways to maximise your advertising spend on the most targeted group of prospects possible, here are three clever ways to optimise those LinkedIn audiences!

1. Exclusions

Who you exclude from your audiences can be just as important as who you include. There are a few limitations here, for example if your targeting includes job seniority or functionality you can’t exclude job titles, and vice versa.

But there are some very clever uses of them, including:

  • Exclusion lists (think existing customers, competitors, prospects you have sunsetted, etc)
  • Audience traits: people looking for jobs aren’t usually in the marketing for high value products or services in their current role, so go ahead and exclude Job Seekers from your campaigns. It can often reduce the size of the audience by 5% or more.
  • Pesky business development folks: LI is a great tool for prospecting and is used cleverly by business development teams everywhere. You can reduce wastage on folks who are more likely to click on your ads as a way to try to sell to you by excluding them or their related services (including recruitment agencies and <blush> marketing agencies). Unless, of course, they are your target audience!
  • Use Segment breakdowns. As your building your audience, LinkedIn provides Segment breakdowns, which include key demographic information about your audience, including Job function, Seniority, Company size and Interests. For example, you might find that you have a high percentage of Entry level folks in your Audience—individuals unlikely to have budget responsibility. You can then exclude any groups that you would have otherwise targeted unintentionally.

Pro Tip: If you are adding exclusions, in most cases you will want to “OR” rather than “AND” them. For example exclude someone if they are in a list of known competitors OR if they are entry-level employees.

 

 2. Member Skills and Member Interests

LinkedIn leverages users’ self-reported skills from their profile to provide a reasonably robust dataset for us to choose from. Think about which skills your target audience is likely to have, including specific technologies they might be using, to help focus in on the most qualified prospects. A note that not every skill you might want will be available for targeting so use the search functionality.

Interests are based on content that the LinkedIn member has viewed and therefore are a reasonable indication of whether that individual might be actively in the market for your products or services. The list of Interests isn’t sometimes as exhaustive as you might want it to be so use the search functionality and spend time exploring the options.

Pro Tip: leverage any persona, keyword, or market research you have to hand which might spark some ideas about related skills or interests.

3. Avoid Audience Expansion

Audience Expansion is a tricky little button that is ticked by default when you set up a new campaign. Essentially it allows LinkedIn to show people outside of your target audience your ads, on the basis they have similar attributes (e.g., job titles, companies, or skills).

Given all the trouble you have probably just gone through to create a super targeted campaign, we do not advise letting LinkedIn decide to show them to anyone it fancies. Instead, experience with Lookalike audiences to see how good LinkedIn really is at interpreting your audience criteria. You can then make a thoughtful choice about whether to also show your ads to an expanded group of prospects.

And of course if you need any help with your LinkedIn strategy, or other B2B digital marketing challenges, please get in touch with us, we would love to help!

The Power of 5 Second User Testing and how we've used it to de-risk a Brand Refresh

By John Woods  |  November 22, 2022
So, what is 5 Second User Testing?
It’s a user research technique where participants see an image for a short time period (typically, but not always, 5 seconds!) and are then asked some questions about their impressions.
 
OK, but what can it be used for?

It can be used to add value and reduce risk in a whole range of marketing projects by providing insight into the effectiveness of the visual design, headline copy and information architecture of a piece of content. 

Sounds good…so why do you like it so much?

These are the key advantages of 5 second user testing:

  • It’s flexible: you can test your own live content, or content that is still under development, or even a competitor’s content.
  • It’s cost effective: you can run a basic test for a few hundred pounds. (More complex tests cost more, but it’s still a very low-cost solution compared to most user research methodologies.)
  • It’s quick: it’s possible to complete a test within a day.
  • It works: even when testing complex B2B propositions, time and again we get great insights from 5 second testing that help to improve marketing performance.
  • It engages stakeholders: the results from the tests are easily digestible and thought-provoking even for non-specialist stakeholders.
Hmmm, 5 seconds doesn’t sound very long…

It’s plenty of time! We’re looking to test the immediate visual impact of the content. We are looking to find out whether it gives a strong and effective first impression, and to find out if there are any sources of confusion that need to be eliminated from the design.

The first impression isn’t the whole story about marketing effectiveness but it’s a crucial component. For example in search marketing, if your landing page doesn’t immediately create a positive impression for the visitor, they won’t hang around to read the detail – they’ll hit the back button and move on to a competitor’s listing.

OK, I’m interested, does it work for B2B?

Yes! Perhaps surprisingly well. We’ve used 5 second user testing with great success across a diverse range of B2B marketing projects. We’ve a detailed B2B case study example below.

But do you need to recruit a specialist panel?

Many forms of market research are difficult for B2B because of the need to work with specialist research participants – people who are expert in the subject matter under test. But for 5 second user testing the panel members don’t need to be experts in the subject matter.

We’re not concerned about how a person responds to the complex details of the content under test, just their first impressions – and these are usually much the same whether they have subject matter expertise or not.

There are often cultural elements to how people process visuals, so ideally we use a test panel that is broadly representative of the target audience in terms of geographic location, age and education level. But we don’t need to be more specific than that for most tests – which makes test setup and execution much faster and easier.

You mentioned an example?

Here goes!

We’re in the process of refreshing our branding at Sharp Ahead. We like our current branding but we don’t feel it quite represents the agency we are today, especially with our last couple of years of growth. So we’ve developed a refreshed brand concept which we all absolutely love, and we’re keen to roll it out.

But with any project like this it is easy to get too close to the work and too attached to a creative concept. We are not our own target audience! So we wanted to reduce the risk of our rebrand by testing the new branding against the old.

We chose to test one of our most important PPC landing pages – a page that allows a prospective new client to sign up for a free initial consultation with one of our directors.

Here’s the current version of the page with the original branding:

And here’s the new design – note that this is currently just a flat design, not a live web page. (One of the advantages of this test method is that we can test an early design like this.)

We tested the two versions with separate panels – this is important, we don’t want to “educate” a participant about the first version of a design and then have the same participant give a distorted impression of the second version.

The results gave us a lot of confidence in the new branding. For example the new branding scores 23% better on an index of “professionalism” – a big improvement that aligns with where we are looking to take the brand.

The change in the page design was also intended to simplify the visuals so that they were less distracting – allowing the reader to focus on the CTA and other key elements of the page. Our test gave us some confidence that we’ve achieved that. Here’s the word cloud showing what people recalled the most strongly about the original page:

Note how “funnel” and “book” and “image” stand out there, at the expense of “consultation”. This word cloud suggests that the visuals are distracting from the primary CTA, not enhancing it.

Here’s the corresponding word cloud for the new design:

This is a much better result! The panelists have seen and recalled the offer of a free consultation, and the fact that we’re a b2b marketing specialist. So we can have a lot of confidence that the new design has achieved its objectives.

So, there we have it, a perfect example to illustrate the benefits of running 5 second user testing to provide insight that can help your brand evolve positively. 

OK, I’m convinced! Can you help me put this technique to use?
We often use 5 second user tests as part of a larger project (e.g. website design or paid media campaign setup) in order to reduce risk and improve results. But we’re also happy to run standalone tests for clients. If you think 5 second user testing could help you, please get in touch.

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