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Digital Spring Clean - 3 Quick Tips

Spruce up your digital marketing and stay top of mind with your customers

By Jennifer Esty  |  March 24, 2021

This past weekend marked the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere, so we thought we’d give you a few quick tips for your digital spring clean.

1. Tidy up your SERP (search engine results page)

Sharp Ahead Google Search Results

This is a key part of the experience for your prospects, customers and other important stakeholders interacting with your business and if you haven’t Googled your brand name in a while, now is as good a time as any.

Here’s how to check your SERP the right way. 

First, use an incognito window so you’re not biasing what you see based on previous search behaviour. Then check for these signals:

  • Are you in the top position (P1)?
  • Is anyone running an ad on your brand name?
  • Is your Google My Business / Knowledge Panel listing up to date with accurate contact details (phone, website, opening hours etc.)?
  • How are your reviews looking? Are there any that you could respond to? These are people in close contact with your business and they deserve your attention.

What if things are looking a bit dusty?

This is your shop window – if it looks unloved, you’ll be losing out to other businesses. Run a brand ad. It might seem wasteful to bid on your own brand names, but for most B2B companies, those searches are relatively low volume but very high value. Plus, those ads will keep the competitors out of your P1 spot, enable you to curate and quickly update your SERP and align it with your current campaigns and brand messaging.

Pro tip: for most B2B companies, applying a few negative keywords, for example around jobs and careers, can keep costs down and focus the campaigns on your key prospects.

2. Refresh your website (inside and out)

Sharp Ahead Header Contact Info

44% of B2B marketers say the main reason they abandon websites is that there’s no contact info immediately visible*. Unless you are selling something that can be purchased on your website, your prospects will need to speak to someone in your sales team at some point.

Make it easy for visitors to choose you with a quick look at the following:

  • Make your phone number clearly visible – Make it easy for visitors by clearly displaying your phone number or at least an email address in the header of your site. Or go one better and enable live chat on your site like 11 out of the 50 fastest growing B2B companies**!
  • Does your copyright notice still say 2020?? It’s March already and I’m still finding websites without an updated copyright notice footer. With the upheaval of the last year, if your website doesn’t have signs of recent activity, prospects could be forgiven for thinking you might not be around anymore. Update that copyright, refresh your COVID-19 message, and make sure you have a recent blog or news story prominently displayed. These are all important signals to your customers that you’re open for business and ready to help them.
  • Get the LinkedIn insight tag, the new Google Analytics 4 (GA4) tag and Google Tag Manager (GTM) in place – These tags each have a role to play in best practice digital marketing and if you’re not using them, you’re missing out on key insights, future analytics and easy tag management. These are all ways to learn more about your customers and how to delight them on your next interaction.

3. Welcome new visitors (and then look after them)

We're Open Sign

You’ve done the hard work by getting someone who doesn’t know you to choose your website. Whether the onsite experience is perfect or not, you now have a chance to be remembered and convince your prospects that your business is the right choice for them.

One of the easiest ways to be remembered is with remarketing campaigns: even if you’re not using paid search or social for lead generation, you should run remarketing ads. 

Consideration cycles for high end B2B products and services usually take months, or longer, and remarketing is the most efficient way to keep in touch with those decision makers during that time. Remind them of your brand, tell them something they might not know about your business and show them why you’re the right choice. 

Pro tip: Don’t wait a year to refresh the creative and mix it up with different ad formats.

What next? - The BIG clean!

If you're looking to go a bit deeper, here are three things that are vital to digital marketing success in the coming year.

Say goodbye to Broad Match Modifier

We discussed this in a blog article back in February but if you haven’t had time to sort out your match types, you could be wasting valuable media spend. In short, Google is combining two existing match types, phrase match and broad match modifier. This means that with nuanced search terms that are standard fare for B2B search marketers, it would be very easy to bring in a lot of irrelevant clicks and quickly reduce the ROI on your campaigns. Read our top tips for sorting this out as soon as possible!

Core Web Vitals

This was another new development from Google that we flagged back in 2020 but the deadline is approaching faster than most digital marketers would like. If your site doesn’t meet Google’s criteria, or you don’t have a plan in place to make sure it will, you’ll need to think now about making a reasonable investment in speeding up your site—or risk losing valuable search rankings to better prepared competitors. If this is the first you’ve heard of CWV, read our previous blog article and then get yourself over to Google Tools for measure them!

Mystery Shopping

And last on our list of big cleans, a plea to B2B marketers everywhere. Check that your customer and prospect contact channels work. Does someone answer your phone during business hours? How quickly do you respond to lead enquiries? Is your online chat staffed consistently? I know what you’re thinking, this is ridiculous of course the answer is yes. But when was the last time you checked? Do some mystery shopping and find out for yourself. In the high end B2B market, one missed phone call or a few days’ delay on replying to a form fill, could be the difference between a successful or failed campaign.

We work with intelligent marketing managers to make budgets go further and cut your cost per lead. 

If you have any questions on your own digital spring clean, get in touch for a free 30-minute B2B consult. 

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Google confirms timing for bringing page experience to Google Search

By Jennifer Esty  |  November 11, 2020

On Tuesday Google confirmed that page experience signals in ranking will roll out in May 2021.

The news follows the May 2020 announcement of a new set of standards for measuring “page experience”. That is, whether a particular web page delivers its content in a way that gives a positive experience for the user.

The new signals will combine Core Web Vitals with existing search signals, including: mobile-friendliness, safe-browsing, HTTPS-security, and intrusive interstitial guidelines.

What does this mean for you as a website owner?

If you have started already, you need to ensure that your site, and landing pages, meet the new standards or risk seeing your search engine results penalised for poor performance (and higher performing competitors given a boost).

Fortunately Google has put in place clear guidelines for how they will measure page experience. And they have provided a suite of tools to help site owners identify and fix issues.

Search Console: use the report for Core Web Vitals for an overview of how your site is doing and a details into any issues.

Page Speed Insights: get your CWV score and suggestions on where to make improvements (also helpful for ongoing testing as you make changes to your site)

For the full suite of Google tools, visit Google’s Tools to measure Core Web Vitals.

For more detailed information, check out our previous blog post on the announcement back in May.

If you’d like help understanding the impact of page experience on your B2B digital marketing strategy, or with any other aspect of B2B digital marketing, contact us today for a no-obligation consultation.

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Google Analytics 4: what you need to know today

By John Woods  |  November 5, 2020

In October, Google announced the introduction of Google Analytics 4, their first major change to Analytics in almost 10 years. The move formalises the beta version of Google Analytics App plus Web with a new interface and machine learning.

Here’s what you need to know:

The first thing you’ll notice when entering Google Analytics 4 is a sleek and modern interface. The redesign makes it easier to use and more accessible than its predecessor, Universal Analytics.

Behind the design, GA4 introduces a major expansion to the machine learning capabilities in Google’s analytics offering. While it is still too early to fully understand GA4’s potential, it’s an exciting addition.
GA4 also sees a complete re-haul of the data collection architecture.

With more apps, web apps, ecommerce stores, and complex websites circling the Google-sphere, GA4 looks to plug the hole in Google’s offering by collecting data on the complex user journeys in apps and highly interactive websites with minimal set up.

The clunky Goal Tracking in Universal Analytics has been removed to make way for simple-to-set-up Event and Conversion tracking. This allows user behaviour such as logging in or browsing products to be recognised easily.

But there is a catch.

GA4 is so fundamentally different to Universal Analytics that it requires adding a new tag to your website. And with it, a fresh start on Analytics.

Google has made finding the new tag super easy, but when you add it to your website, your GA4 dashboard will be blank. You’ll need to start afresh collecting data from the moment you set up the new tag.

Thankfully, adding the GA4 tag to your website doesn’t stop Universal Analytics from working – the two run in tandem. But with GA4 eventually looking to replace Universal Analytics entirely, and with no clear way to migrate data (yet), we recommend adding the GA4 tag soon so you can build up historic data when the change does come.

We don’t currently know when Google will start decommissioning Universal Analytics, but with historical data being a pivotal factor in how useful analytics is, you’ll need to prepare.

What to do next:
  • Add the GA4 Tag to your website
  • Recreate your remarketing audiences in GA4 so they can start to build up
  • Add event and conversion tracking
  • Set up Google Tag Manager (not required but best practice)

In the meantime, we’ll keep an eye out for more information on GA4 and the future of Analytics. Please follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter to stay in the know!

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Google is bringing a big dose of science to web user experience…and it matters to anyone with a website

By John Woods  |  June 9, 2020

Google has announced a new set of standards for measuring “page experience” – that is, whether a particular web page delivers its content in a way that gives a positive experience for the user. These new standards provide a specific, pass or fail benchmark for three aspects of page experience that Google’s research has identified as particularly impactful for users.

Many websites currently fail to meet these new standards. Google is allowing a period of time before enforcement, but site owners are now on notice: they will need to improve their websites to meet these new page experience benchmarks, or face penalties to their SEO rankings.

In this article I’ll give an overview of the new standards, discuss their implications for B2B digital marketers, and highlight some immediate next steps you should be taking to ensure you are not left behind as Google rolls out its implementation of these standards.

Introducing Core Web Vitals

Google is calling the new standards “Core Web Vitals”. You’ll start to see them appear in various Google tools and reports. For example, here’s how they show up in Google Search Console:

A tablet showing a core web vitals report

There are three separate measures in Core Web Vitals:

• Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): a measure of how long the page takes to display, when first loaded

• First Input Delay (FID): measures how quickly the page becomes interactive

• Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): measures what Google calls “visual stability”, in other words how much the page elements flicker and move around during the initial loading process.

Each of these measures has its own specific benchmarks on a traffic light system. For example the LCP needs to be below 2.5s to score as “good”. Between 2.5s and 4.0s LCP means “needs improvement”. And LCP above 4.0s means “poor”.

I’ll drill into these three measurements in a future article. For now, it’s enough to say that they measure separate and largely independent aspects of user experience: so for example a page that scores very highly on LCP could still score badly on FID or CLS. So each measure will need individual attention.

Why Core Web Vitals matter

Page experience has been important for SEO for a long time. Google and other search engines naturally want to feature pages that will provide a positive experience for users. But to date the exact impact of page experience on SEO rankings has been hard to understand.

This is great news for all of us when we use the web: by providing an explicit incentive to avoid poor page experience, Google is helping to encourage higher standards for user experience across the web.

It is also good news for site owners: with Core Web Vitals, Google is making the impact of page experience on SEO much more transparent. A website owner can use the Core Web Vitals benchmarks as a reliable guide to whether their page experience is good enough to avoid SEO penalties, and can target specific improvements if they are needed.

But there is some bad news for site owners: the Core Web Vitals benchmarks are pretty demanding! It is likely that many websites will need to make significant technical changes to meet the new benchmarks and avoid SEO penalties. This is especially true for niche B2B websites which have often been designed and implemented with relatively little concern for page experience.

Although Google haven’t said so explicitly, I predict that page experience will become a much more significant ranking factor for SEO as Google rolls out these standards. So B2B marketers who pay attention to Core Web Vitals and who take action to ensure their websites meet the new benchmarks will be rewarded with higher levels of organic search traffic. And those who do not take action are likely to see their organic traffic decline.

Google’s announcements so far only relate Core Web Vitals to organic search. But I would not be surprised to see Core Web Vitals quickly becoming a factor in quality score for paid search (PPC/SEM). Google Ads already has a component of quality score for “landing page experience”, so it would be entirely logical for Google to take Core Web Vitals into account in the future. If that happens, Core Web Vitals scores will have a direct bearing on PPC costs: because a higher quality score reduces the amount paid for each click, and vice versa.

There’s time, but the clock is ticking

Google acknowledges that website owners will need time to improve their page experience. Their announcement says that the new measures will not be incorporated into SEO rankings until 2021 at the earliest, and that there will be a minimum of 6 months’ notice of the specific date.

Google has introduced similar policies in the past designed to encourage improvements in user experience. In particular, Google encouraged site owners to move from non-secure http: to secure https: connections, and pushed for mobile-friendly page design. Both of these were introduced gently with a small SEO impact at first, increasing over time. I predict we will see the same with Core Web Vitals: a small penalty for sites that don’t meet the benchmarks at first,  but rising to a much more substantial penalty over time – to the point where, like https and mobile-friendliness, it will become inconceivable to attempt any meaningful SEO strategy on a site that does not meet the Core Web Vitals benchmarks.

What to do now – find out where you stand

You can see how your web pages score against the Core Web Vitals benchmarks right away. Check your website with Google’s free Pagespeed Insights tool. You’ll see your current scores highlighted with a blue icon, like this example:

A breakdown of site performance on a tablet

Some things to consider when using this tool:

• Each page will have its own scores. You should check more than one page: important pages like the homepage and the “contact us” page, for example, and any pages that you have built specifically to bring in organic traffic.

• Pagespeed Insights ranks mobile and desktop versions of your page separately. Make sure to look at both. Many B2B sites are built primarily for desktop, a great set of Core Web Vitals on desktop won’t help you much if you fail every measure on mobile.

• The report shows both “Field Data” and “Lab Data” – concentrate on Field Data if it is available. If your page has small numbers of visitors (like many niche B2B pages) there may not be enough data for the “Field Data” report to show. In that case you can use the “Lab Data” report as a backup.

What to do next – plan to pass the benchmarks

You may be lucky enough to find that all of your important pages already pass the Core Web Vitals benchmarks. If so, congratulations! You should still remain vigilant, especially if you plan any technical or design changes to your pages, but it’s unlikely you will need to do any major work.

But it is much more likely you will find that your pages fail at least some of the benchmarks. This is especially true for B2B websites, where page performance and user experience are typically not given high priority in the design and implementation stages. In that case you’ll need to plan and budget for technical or design changes, or brace yourself for an eventual SEO penalty and consequent loss of organic traffic – and perhaps other negative implications too.

For some B2B website implementations it may be impractical to meet the Core Web Vitals benchmarks even with very large amounts of work. If your site is one of those, it may be time to consider a redesign or a complete replatform – with compliance with Core Web Vitals benchmarks an explicit goal for the project.

If you’d like help understanding the impact of Core Web Vitals on your B2B digital marketing strategy, or with any other aspect of B2B digital marketing, contact us today for a no-obligation consultation.

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Using Google Optimize to implement a COVID-19 notice in a sticky header

By John Woods  |  May 7, 2020

There is no “business as usual” at the moment. Even if your business is operating normally, you can’t assume that your clients, prospects and other stakeholders will realise that. So it’s important to proactively communicate how your business is responding to COVID-19. A simple, but effective way to do this on your website is with a site-wide sticky header – like the one we are using on the Sharp Ahead website.

We like this approach because it is conspicuous and clear while being minimally disruptive of the user experience. It has essentially no impact on the rest of the page, just taking up a few vertical pixels and pushing the normal content a little further down.

If you are lucky, your website’s content management system may already have support for a sticky header. But if it doesn’t, Google have provided a simple way to implement a COVID-19 notice using Google Optimize. This can be done with the free version of Google Optimize, so there’s no technology cost, and the steps are simple enough that you should be able to implement this in an hour or so.

Here’s a walkthrough of the steps needed to implement a COVID-19 sticky header, using Google Optimize:

1) If you already have Google Optimize set up and working on your website, you can skip ahead to step 5. Otherwise, start by signing up for a Google Optimize account at https://marketingplatform.google.com/intl/en_uk/about/optimize/.


2) Follow the prompts in Google Optimize to create a new account, and a new container within that account. You will end up with a container ID that will look something like OPT-ABCDEFG.

3) Advance warning, this is the only tricky part – proceed with coffee. You will need to install the Google Optimize snippet in your website, and it needs to be added to every page. Ideally it should be included in the HTML <HEAD> section of the page, but that isn’t essential for this particular usage. You may need help from your web developers to do this. If you have Google Tag Manager, you can use that to install Google Optimize much more easily. (If you don’t have Google Tag Manager – why not? It’s a key productivity tool for digital marketing teams!)

4) For the next bit, it is much easier to work within the Chrome browser. So switch your browser if need be, and then install the Chrome extension for Google Optimize (https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/google-optimize/bhdplaindhdkiflmbfbciehdccfhegci).

5) In your Google Optimize container, select “Create an experience”. Give your experience a name, provide the URL of your homepage and choose Google’s built-in “COVID-19 banner” experience type:

 

Screen grab implementing COVID-19 banner in sticky header via Google Optimize

6) If everything is set up correctly, you’ll see a preview of your homepage with Google’s default banner in place, like this:

Screen grab changing header text via Google Optimize

7) That default banner is a good start but most likely you will want to change the content and appearance somewhat. Use the on-screen editor controls to change the banner’s text and colours to get it the way you want it. The Optimize editor is powerful but takes a bit of getting used to. The live preview at least means you can see the impact of your changes right away.  You might need a bit of trial and error – if you get lost, you can always shut down the editor screen without saving and start again! Here’s an example of how to change the background colour of the bar to “COVID-19 Red”:

Screen grab setting header properties

8) Once you have the banner reading and looking exactly how you want it, hit the Save button in the top right of the editor screen and then click Done:

Screen Grab of Google Optimize Covid-19 Banner

9) If all is well, you’ll see the Optimize details screen with your banner experience showing as “Draft. Some setup steps must still be completed.”:

Screen grab implementing COVID-19 banner in sticky header via Google Optimize

10) You can leave most of these settings unchanged. In the “Measurement” section, click on the “Link to Analytics” button and follow the prompts to set up that connection.

11) You should now see the status change to “Draft. Ready to start.”:

Google Optimize Screen Grab

12) Hit the “Start” button to put your banner live!

Google Optimize does a pretty good job of laying out and sizing the banner for various devices, but it’s a good idea to test the end result on both a computer and a phone to make sure you are happy with it.

When things change

Google Optimize doesn’t allow an Experience to be edited after it has been put live. So if you need to change your banner, log back into Google Optimize and make a copy of the Experience. Make your edits to the copy, then stop the original banner and start the new copy.

Speak to an expert

If you are concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on your paid media strategies, or on any other aspect of your B2B digital marketing, speak to an expert at Sharp Ahead today. We offer a free 30-minute remote consultation.