Open the cookies

Put a bag of cookies in the break room and it might sit for days.

Open the bag and leave it out, and within an hour, all the cookies will be gone.

We are happy to take a tiny slice off the thing that’s being shared, but we hesitate to open the bag.

The same is true with all of the initiatives in our culture. Design, movements and ideas are all trapped, waiting to be opened, and then the rest of us will happily pile on.

Open the bag.


“I’m sorry” takes guts

I recently saw two men arguing about who got to use the urinal next.

As a result, neither got what he wanted, and neither could honestly say that his day got better.

The need to win every interaction, the inability to apologize, the short-term over the long-term–this isn’t a sign of strength, it’s a symptom of immaturity and weakness that almost always leads to suboptimal results.

If apologizing engages the network and makes it more likely that we can stay in sync, it pays for itself many times over.


All Pipes Leak. Haven’t we Learned, yet?

Last week Mark Zuckerberg made the news yet, again and again, we learn something new about his vision for his company and how fiercely he’s willing to protect it.

Why does everything have to be “leaked” nowadays?

If you haven’t heard by now, Mr. Zuckerberg was caught on leaked audio files discussing his plans if Elizabeth Warren were to be elected President of the United States. It should come as no surprise that Zuckerberg is willing to fight it out when it comes to his company and future visions, but what about those audio files, is that really fair?

Why does it seem like we only get the true visions and feelings from unauthorized personal recordings? If you run a company and you’re talking to employees or the board, should you say things that you’re going to have to defend? There’s a lot to unpack there. We can’t be shocked when these things happen anymore, they’re frequent enough that these recordings have to be a thought or in the least planned on. 

When you’re a high profile individual, whether an owner, a brand president, an agent, a billionaire, you have to be thinking that you’re always being recorded. It’s shitty, but it’s really the only way I can see how to be prepared. A quick internet search for “leaked audio” will show you just how common this tends to be. Hell, Google Trends even shows a nice little graph over the past five years, I’ll spare you the look, it’s up over that time. Don’t even get me started with the leaks coming out of Washington, either, ugh.

Quit acting surprised, you’re on camera now.

You have to be prepared, start thinking about it more and more. If you’re ever in a situation and you find yourself saying something that maybe later you’d phrase a little differently, take the time and think it all the way through. Sure, this sounds like obvious advice, but it’s important to remember.

It really shouldn’t matter if you’re the newest hire or oldest manager saying something inappropriate, unethical, misleading, or downright mean isn’t going to be tolerated or accepted in most cases. Now, we’ve all got that friend that’s the habitual line stepper so we shouldn’t pretend we’re perfect all the time either, or so easily offended.

Bottom line: Don’t be a dummy and say something you’ll regret later.

The post All Pipes Leak. Haven’t we Learned, yet? appeared first on The Future Buzz.


Better than it needs to be

Every element of the organization has a spec, a minimum required performance. Accounting has standards, so does the department that measures the air quality.

Everything beyond spec is marketing.

That’s an interesting definition, but I think it’s true: All the money, effort and time that an organization puts into making anything better than it has to be is a marketing expense.

Because the extra is there to help change minds, to spread the word, to earn trust and loyalty.

The head of marketing is the person in charge of what’s extra. Because if you want to grow, nothing is actually extra. It’s simply an investment.


How to Effectively Use Q&As after Keynote Speeches

The keynote speaker at your event just delivered a fabulous talk. Attendees offer sustained applause and perhaps a standing ovation. As an event planner, you’re thrilled! But now what? Should the keynote speaker have a Q&A session? Or not?


6 A/B Tests for PPC You Have to Try

One of the most vital aspects of successful PPC management is to always be testing. If you’re not actively testing new things in the account, such as ad copy or demographic targeting, your account is stagnant, and you’re not improving as much as you could.

What is A/B Testing for PPC?

Before we get into different things to test, we should quickly define what A/B testing is in relation to PPC.

A/B testing is a method of testing that takes two variables and compares their performance. For example, if you were trying to decide between options for ad copy, an A/B test would allow you to compare the performance of two different ads in an ad group. You could then select the ad copy that generated more conversions.

Now that we know what A/B tests are, here are six A/B testing ideas for your PPC account.

1. Responsive Search Ads

The first A/B testing idea is using Responsive Search Ads. Responsive search ads are Google’s newest search ad format that allows you to add multiple headlines and descriptions to a single ad. Google then automatically tests different combinations of ad copy and slowly begins to favor the highest performing combinations. In addition to testing ad copy, testing responsive search ads is a great way to create and test more relevant ads in your account.

Screenshot of a fake responsive search ad preview in GoogleScreenshot of a fake responsive search ad preview in Google

2. Dynamic Keyword Insertion

Another ad feature to A/B test is dynamic keyword insertion. Dynamic keyword insertion is an ad feature that makes your headline match what the user is searching for.

For example, if you were a cake mix company using dynamic keyword insertion, someone could search “Chocolate Cake Mix” and your ad would appear saying “Chocolate Cake Mix,” while someone searching “Double Chocolate Cake Mix” would see an ad saying “Double Chocolate Cake Mix.”Google simply takes the search query that people are using and inserts it into your ad, making dynamic keyword insertion much more personal and unique in a way that standard test ads simply cannot.

3. Seasonal Ad Copy

One small way that you can get more personal with your ads is to create and test seasonal ad copy. Creating ads that are season-specific (such as fall back-to-school or winter holiday ads) gives them a little bit more personalization and relevance that generic ads simply do not have. For example, instead of this:

Screenshot of google results demonstrating a generic, non-seasonal fake ad for school suppliesScreenshot of google results demonstrating a generic, non-seasonal fake ad for school supplies

Try something like this:

Screenshot of google results demonstrating a customized, seasonal fake ad for school supplies referencing the falliesScreenshot of google results demonstrating a customized, seasonal fake ad for school supplies referencing the fallies

4. Ad Messaging (Pricing vs. Quality/Quantity)

In the vast majority of PPC ads, you’re going to have some sort of selling point for your product or service, whether it be price, quality, or some other value proposition. Another good A/B test for your ads is to test these different selling points to see which ones lead to the most conversions.

Say you’re running a school that offers nursing assistant certification in three months. You could test ad messaging that emphasizes how fast the course is, how cheap the course is, or the starting salary of the job you’d get upon certification. All three are great selling points, so it’s important to test and see which one resonates with consumers the most.

5. Landing Page

One of the easiest A/B tests you can perform is what landing page your ad links to. You want to link to the most relevant possible landing page to the keywords you’re bidding on, but if there’s more than one option, you should test them side-by-side to see which performs better.

Let’s say you’re an online retailer selling baking ingredients and tools. If you’re running an ad group for “Chocolate Cake Mix,” you should have it link to a page that sells the chocolate cake mix. But if there isn’t just a single page showing all chocolate cake mixes, it would be a good idea to test landing pages to find the highest converting landing page.

6. Time (Ad Scheduling)

This test requires running an experiment in Google Ads (read more about experiments here), but it is worth the effort. Creating an ad schedule is important because there are likely many points in a week where your ads are getting little to no conversions. In accounts where ROI is a key metric, these hours could make or break your success rate. By testing one campaign with an open schedule and one with a more refined schedule, you can accurately see how showing your ads at specific times affects performance.

The Wrap Up

There are many ways to test in a PPC account, including much more than the few examples I talked about here. Any of these tests can help you learn more about the account and its performance, but the main takeaway I want you to have is that it doesn’t matter what you test, just be testing something. Time spent not testing new things is time wasted. So get out there and write some new ads, try a new landing page, or try some new ad scheduling out. Happy testing!

The post 6 A/B Tests for PPC You Have to Try appeared first on Portent.


Words Must Mean Something, Before they can Stand for it

I found evidence of a strong desire for humanity in how we communicate in business the same night I published my conversation with Stephen Denny. In a world where everything runs on algorithms, technology is also stripping us of our identity. Go to any restaurant and everyone – mother, father, children – is on the phone. No eye to eye contact, no conversation. Re-humanization of relationships in general will take some thinking. The stories I heard last night are additional data points. The Consult General of Italy in Philadelphia, Pier Forlano, kicked off the conversation on the challenges and opportunities…


Initiative

The only way to get initiative is to take it. It’s never given.

And some people hesitate to take it, perhaps because they’re worried that we’ll somehow run out.

We’re not going to run out. It’s a self-renewing resource.

From an early age, most of us were taught to avoid it. Do your homework. Take out the trash. Wait to get picked. Wait to get called on. Become popular. Fit in. Maybe stand out, but just a little bit. Failure is far worse than not trying.

The alternative is to take some initiative. On behalf of those you seek to serve.

Go ahead, there’s plenty to go around.


Projects vs tasks

Your job might be a series of tasks. Tasks are work where money is traded for time and effort. You put in a fixed amount of time, expending effort along the way, and you get paid. In the end, tasks are completed and it’s up to the boss to weave those tasks together into something useful.

The person at the front desk of a hotel is probably doing a task. So is the lineman working on a high power line. The easier a job is to get, the more likely it involves doing tasks.

The alternative is projects.

The way a project gets done is up to you. Your goal is to create an extraordinary outcome, not to perform the tasks. The work done is simply a means to an end. If you can figure out how to do less work or different work and still create project magic, that’s exactly what you should do.

The challenge is in owning the project. To say, “I’m going to engage with this customer in a way that changes them from frustrated to loyal,” as opposed to saying, “I’m going to move this paper from here to there.”

Claim the project before you start the work.


How to Compete for Featured Snippets in Google

Optimizing for featured snippets might seem mysterious, but capturing them is not much different than the on-page SEO we’ve been doing for years. I would say featured snippets are a microcosm of classic “10 blue links” SEO. Everything we’re doing to optimize for a featured snippet is the same as a whole page, just smaller.

The way I like to frame the topic is beginning with the text. In classic SEO, we’re focusing on a single page; here we’re focusing on a single paragraph. Instead of trying to get into the first 10 results, we want to occupy a single position. And just like page titles and meta descriptions, there are character (or pixel width) limits we need to be aware of. The “content is king” rule also applies here. Our snippet text needs to be high quality and beneficial to users to have any hope of sticking.

There is even an analog to the second page of results for featured snippets. Later in this post, I’ll show you a trick to see which other snippets you’re competing against.

What is a Featured Snippet?

Featured snippets are short pieces of text Google extracts from pages to concisely answer queries directly in its search results. Google displays featured snippets at the top of its Organic results or in the People Also Ask feature. They come in a few formats, including paragraph, list, and table. They are also used as search results for voice queries.

Featured snippets are sometimes known as “answer boxes,” but many SEOs reserve that label for Knowledge Graph features that also occupy the space before the classic 10 blue links, or “position zero.” The key difference is that Google itself generates the content for answer boxes and featured snippets are content scraped from other websites.

Featured Snippet Formats

There are three main formats for a featured snippet: paragraph, list, and table.

The paragraph snippet is an excerpt of text from your page. Usually one to three consecutive sentences of text, but sometimes Google will stitch two excerpts from the page together. Google likes to use these for answering “What is?” intent or giving a brief description of an entity.

Screenshot of an example of a paragraph snippet search result in Google for Natural Language ProcessingScreenshot of an example of a paragraph snippet search result in Google for Natural Language Processing

List snippets are normally taken from bullet points or numbered lists in content, but I’ve seen rare instances of Google using the section headings on a page for a list snippet. You’ll see list snippets for “How to” and “Types of” intents.

Screenshot of an example of a list snippet search result in Google for instructions to season a cast-iron skilletScreenshot of an example of a list snippet search result in Google for instructions to season a cast-iron skillet

Table snippets are taken from tabular data on a page. I’ve only ever seen Google extract content from <table> tags. This can present a problem for some websites, because HTML tables can be tricky to fit into responsively designed pages; they just don’t work out of the box for mobile devices.

Screenshot of an example of a table snippet search result in Google showing a tire size chartScreenshot of an example of a table snippet search result in Google showing a tire size chart

Eligibility

Your content must rank on the first page of Google’s search results to be eligible for a featured snippet. SEMrush and Ahrefs have done research in the past to see where the source pages of featured snippets rank, and over 99% of the time pages in the first 10 blue links are the source. However, your page doesn’t need to be the first result to be featured. Those studies found that the first result occupied the featured snippet for the query only 27-31% of the time.

User Satisfaction and Split Testing

Featured snippets are volatile. Google is frequently split testing featured snippets to see which answer users prefer. The metrics Google could be looking at are how long users are reading the snippet, how often they click on the source page of the snippet, how often users have a successful search session after seeing your snippet, or any combination of other user satisfaction signals.

This means you can’t fake it. If you want your content to be in the featured snippet position, you must have the best answer to the query.

If you’re curious to see which other candidates you’re competing against, you can use a search operator trick to see what is “next in line.” Use the keyword exclusion operator, which is just a hyphen “-” to remove the featured snippet source domain from a query. This is a handy trick to get a better idea of how many pages you’re competing against for the featured snippet.

To test this trick, let’s look at who has the featured snippet for “why is the sky blue?”

Screenshot of Google search results for the query "why is the sky blue?" showing that NASA has the featured snippetScreenshot of Google search results for the query "why is the sky blue?" showing that NASA has the featured snippet

We see that NASA currently has the snippet, but who might have it if NASA didn’t have this content? Let’s add “-nasa.gov” to the query to see who else is competing:

Screenshot of Google search results for the query "why is the sky blue?" excluding nasa.gov showing that a physicist at UC Riverside is also being considered for the featured snippetScreenshot of Google search results for the query "why is the sky blue?" excluding nasa.gov showing that a physicist at UC Riverside is also being considered for the featured snippet

An explanation from a physicist at U.C. Riverside is also being considered. Is there anyone else? Here’s what we get when we add “-ucr.edu” to the query:

Screenshot of Google search results for the query "why is the sky blue?" excluding nasa.gov and ucr.edu showing that the site Live Science is also being considered for the featured snippetScreenshot of Google search results for the query "why is the sky blue?" excluding nasa.gov and ucr.edu showing that the site Live Science is also being considered for the featured snippet

You can continue this process to see more snippets, until you run out of competitors or you reach the 32 word limit for queries like I did:

Screenshot of Google search results for the query "why is the sky blue?" with the message “khanacademy (and any subsequent words) was ignored because we limit queries to 32 words” Screenshot of Google search results for the query "why is the sky blue?" with the message “khanacademy (and any subsequent words) was ignored because we limit queries to 32 words”

Writing Style

The best way to write content for a featured snippet is to answer the query simply and directly. Use the active voice. Don’t beat around the bush; we’re not trying to pad out a five-page essay.

Writing this way helps with readability, which will result in better usability metrics when Google evaluates the performance of your snippet. It will also help you stay under the displayable text limit.

Snippet Length Matters

Just like the page description part of a classic search result snippet, Google gives a limited amount of space to work with. There has only been a little research into the maximum amount of characters or pixels Google displays. I like this recommendation from SEMrush to use around 40 to 50 words, or around 300 characters, for paragraph snippets.

Unlike classic search result snippets, going over the display limit with your text won’t cause Google to cut off the end of a paragraph snippet. With internal testing, we’ve seen Google sometimes declines to use the text as a candidate if it’s too long. We’ve also seen success with cutting down the character count until our intended snippet text is the same length or shorter than the competitor we’re trying to displace. Fitting inside of Google’s displayable space is pretty important to being considered.

In an ideal world, we would have a featured snippet preview tool very much like the SERP snippet preview tools we have for classic snippets. I haven’t been able to find any yet. Until such a tool exists, the best practice is to look at the character counts of your competitors’ snippets and try to come in with about the same number of characters or fewer.

Another thing to keep in mind is that display limits for list snippets work differently. Google will often truncate line items in a list if they’re too long. This isn’t necessarily a problem, though. If your list has too many items to display in the snippet box, they will give you a call out link for additional items and more links to your site in the SERP are always nice to have:

Screenshot of Google search results showing a list snippet with a "more items" link back to your siteScreenshot of Google search results showing a list snippet with a "more items" link back to your site

How to Get Started

If you’re new to competing for featured snippets, follow these steps to grab some low-hanging fruit. I’m starting with Ahrefs for ranking data, but most rank tracking tools should have a similar report.

  1. Retrieve your website’s rankings. Filter the results to only show the keywords with featured snippets, then export.
    Screenshot showing how to filter for featured snippets in AhrefsScreenshot showing how to filter for featured snippets in Ahrefs
  2. Filter the exported spreadsheet in Excel to only show keywords where you’re in the first 10 results. If you don’t have any, then you need to go back to basics and get some first page rankings.
  3. Look through the spreadsheet to find keywords where your high-converting landing pages don’t have the featured snippet. Pick the page you want to start with.
  4. Go to the SERP for each of the keywords and examine the featured snippet. What are the featured snippets talking about? Are the existing featured snippets even relevant? Irrelevant snippets are easier to displace.
  5. Identify the content gap. Does your page talk about the same things as your competitors’ featured snippets? Is there an existing content section you can adjust or add a snippet candidate to?
  6. Write your snippet candidate. Write a 40-50 word answer to your target queries and make it the first few sentences of a relevant content section. Use a relevant section header. Use the active voice and directly answer the query. Check the character count against your competitors and try to be around the same or under.
  7. Ask Google to index the updated page. After publishing the updated content, go into Google Search Console and submit it to the index with the URL Inspection tool. This is a fast way to get Google to see the change.
  8. Wait and see. Sometimes your content will grab the featured snippet the next day. It could also take a while for Google to get around to testing your candidate.
  9. Try again. If you aren’t seeing your snippet after a month or two, repeat the process. Try focusing on a different aspect of the query in your answer.

Play Until You Win

The most convenient part of competing for featured snippets is that you can keep making attempts until you succeed. Google is frequently testing out snippet candidates to see which one produces the best user experience. If Google tests out your most recent snippet but doesn’t choose it as the primary, you can always try again. So long as your page is ranking in the top 10 base results, you have unlimited attempts.

Your competitors also have unlimited attempts at capturing the snippet. This is the most frustrating part. Featured snippets shift and fluctuate just like any other search feature, so you may not be able to hang on to them forever. You will need to monitor your traffic and rankings to detect when you’re losing a top position. If you do, you’ll need to start the competition process over again.

The post How to Compete for Featured Snippets in Google appeared first on Portent.