Google Snack Pack: What’s Changes & Does it Matter?

Google made a major change to the way they are displaying their local search results. The most notable change is that the local results are showing up in a 3-pack, rather than the previous 7, hence their name: Google Snack Pack.

Snack Pack By Google

The changes were made on August 6, 2015 and happened across all countries and industries. This post will cover:

  • what the changes are
  • how they might be effecting your business
  • and strategies you can implement to get to the top of the results

What were the changes?

Showing only 3 local business results instead of 7.

google snack pack pho example

This is the most glaring of all the changes. With only 3 businesses being listed, the competition at the top of the local results is going to be more cut throat than ever. The difference in click through rates between #3 and #4 are going to be staggering.

What about those who were ranking 4-7?

As Jennifer Slegg wrote on her awesome post on Moz, Google doesn’t make changes to their results without testing. “For Google to make this change, it is very likely those results weren’t clicked on nearly as much the top three.”

This means that maybe the gap between the #3 and #4 spot was already large enough and this was only providing the user a better experience.

Removing addresses and phone from the 3-pack search results.

At first I thought that removing the address and phone was a step backwards for usability. If proximity was my main concern in the search, I would want to know exactly where the business is and have the ability to call them right away. Right?

google snack pack pho exampleBut while removing those from the SERP, it also added other crucial bits. The information that is now being shown includes:

  • company name
  • rating average
  • # of reviews
  • Category
  • Distance from your current location
  • Short description

Ratings filtering

You can now filter the results by their rating. If you weren’t concerned with your 3 star rating before, you should be now. When customers are filtering their search, then are rarely looking for that 1-3 star tattoo removal company.

Make sure your business is has positive rankings. If you don’t have any reviews this could be a problem as well. If you’re in a competitive industry, you need to have a certain amount of reviews before you will even be shown.

Lower role with Google+

Google+ My business no longer has a direct link on the SERP, but this doesn’t mean it still isn’t important for you to have a My Business account. It is still where Google is pulling the bulk of their information from. It just means that it is no longer being shown as a “Google+ Page” link on the results page.

Your My Business info will still be shown, just in a different way…

Clicks open differently

google snack pack pho example expanded

When you click on the Snack Pack result, you are no longer taken directly to the website. Instead it slides open more information in shown to the left, including the maps location.

Here you will find the phone number and address that were missing on the main results page. You’ll also find review excerpts as well as more local ranking results.

This means that even if you aren’t in the top 3, you have a chance of being found.

But who would want to take that chance? Here are some tips to get in the Snack Pack.

How to get in the top 3

Back to local organic basics.

Is your site optimized for its physical location? Not sure? Then you might want to review a few areas on your site. Let’s follow the example used at the top of the page and say your local keyword is “Pho Vancouver”, but in any case your local keyword should be something along the lines of “Keyword + Location”. You need to make sure that this key word is in these places:

  1. The beginning of your title tag
  2. The H1 of your home page
  3. And in the first 100 words of your homepage’s content

There are other strategies you can use, but if you take care of these three you should have your basics covered.

Citations

Citations have always been an important ranking factor in determining search results. Citations are different mentions online of your business’s name, address, and phone (NAP). The more citations you have online, the more legit your company will seem to have on its location claim.

It’s important to make sure that all of your citations are using the name formatting. Google and other search engines do take not of this. For example “300-602 West Hastings Street” is not the same as “Unit #300 602 W Hastings St”.

Get your citations in order by using a service like White Spark. They can build your citations out for you much faster than you could ever do on your own, and for a good price. I’ve been using this service for a number of my clients and it has produced results in terms of local rankings. If you are serious about competing in the top 3, I would start here.

Ratings

As mentioned earlier, your ratings mater. Both the quality of your rankings as well as the amount of rankings you have. If your competitors have a 4.5/5 average with 20+ reviews, you need to have comparable numbers.

Getting your customers to provide you with Google+ or Yelp reviews can be like pulling teeth, even if you aren’t a dentist! White Spark also provides a great free service on how to ask and show your customers how to give you reviews that will help you rank.

Protip: don’t send them a link directly to your Google+ or Yelp page. Google and Yelp take note of these links and won’t allow these reviews to show up in their rankings.

Links

Links always matter for Google. They are essentially votes from other websites in favor of your website being important. These links, of course, need to be relevant. In terms of local search, these links should also come from local sources.

These could include:

  • Local directories
  • Local charities you are involved with
  • Or any other events your company is associated with

PPC?

Ben Wood wrote in his post for Hallam Internet that AdWords would be a good solution for companies who have been snubbed in the snack pack.

“Even before this update, paid adverts dominated the majority of space above the fold within Google’s search results. However, for those businesses who used to rely on being found in Google’s seven pack of local results, Google AdWords can be used to ensure they still appear above the fold on the first page of results for their target keywords.”

This might be a good short term band aid, but isn’t a permanent. Organic results are going to provide you a better ROI in the long term. If you decide that AdWords is going to give you results immediately, I would still recommend that you invest some of your marketing budget into SEO.

Study Notes for the AdWords Display Exam

As I needed to renew my AdWords certification I was going over the Google Refresher videos and I thought that I should my notes online. If you are taking the test for the first time, or the 5th, it will be useful to keep this page open on a tab. If you haven’t already checked out my post on passing the AdWords exams, I would keep that open on another tab as well.

Hope this helps!

What is The Google Display Network (GDN)

  • #1 ad network
  • Reach 89% of the internet users in the world
  • Expansive number of diverse websites

 

Google Display Advertising = Non-text ads that use image, flash, video or other technologies, and appear alongside publisher content. (Can also show text ads)

GDN Increases your reach

  • Unique targeting options let you increase your reach, even if you already advertise elsewhere
  • Inventory cones from AdSense & DoubleClick Ad Exchange

 

Targeting

 

Targeting Method Examples
Keywords Pages that contextually match the theme of your keywords
Placements You pick the sites, apps, and locations for your ads
Audiences Show ads to people who interacted with your site in past through remarketing or to people interested in certain topics through interest targeting
Topics Pages that match your selected topics, like music or agriculture.

 

Keyword Contextual Targeting

  • The theme of keywords in an ad group is used to match ads to the theme of a page in the GDN.
  • Use negative keywords if your keywords are potentially ambiguous.

Placements

Placements can include entire websites, specific parts of websites, apps, game sites, video sites

Automatic Placements Managed Placements Negative Placements
Google picks relevant placements based on your keywords and other targeting methods Pick your own placementsSet different bids for each site

Group placements with similar themes in ad groups

Exclude placements that don’t drive the desired results while still letting automatic placements find new sites 

 

Separate Search and Display Campaigns

The best practice is to set up separate campaigns for display rather than run them out of your search campaigns

Different settings may be more effective on different networks or for different campaigns types

Allocation different budgets more effectively

 

Reach and Frequency

Metrics in Reports

  • Reach – how many users have seen your ads
  • Frequency – how many users have seen your ad several times
  • Controls Targeting – frequency capping – limit the number of times the same user is shown your ad

 

Site category Exclusions

  • Some categories you can exclude – below the fold
  • Use the Placement Performance Report to find ideas for site categories to exclude

 

Display Planner Helps with Targeting

  • Generate Keyword ideas for contextual targeting
  • Generate Placement ideas for placement targeting

 

Targeting Tips

  • When adding new placements, set the bids at the ad group level until you get enough data to make decisions for individual placements
  • Waite 2-3 weeks to accrue some data before making optimizations

 

Ranking

When CPM and CPC compete

What happens when two advertisers are competing on GDN and one is bidding CPM and the other CPC

CPM = CPC x CTR x 1000

Advertiser Bid Type CTR CPM Equivalent
Judy Max CPC=$1.00 5% $50
Rob Max CPM=$10 N/A $10

 

A single CPM ad can beat multiple CPC ads if its CPM is higher than the combined CPM of the competing ads.

What is Quality Score for Display?

Estimate of how well Google expects an ad to perform on a placement, based on performance on this placement and similar placements.

QS = Relevancy + CTR + Landing Page

 

Impact on Quality Score

CPC Ads CPM Ads
Determines eligibility for an ad to participate in the auctionsHelps to determine the rank of the ad

Helps to determine the actual cost of a click

QS is not a factor

 

Bidding

CPC: Cost per click

Conversion Optimizer

  • Targets a CPA
  • Advertisers still pay a CPC

CPM: Cost per thousand impressions

  • Great for branding
  • Only available for display

 

Goal KPIs Best Type of Bid
Increase site traffic Clicks, ctr CPC
Increase Sales or Drive ROI Conversions, Conversion Rate Conversion Optimizer
Raise Brand Awareness Impressions, enegagement, reach and frequency CPM

 

Ad Types

Text Ads

Easy to create and biggest reach

Best Practice: Always create a text ad, even when you have other ad formats to increase your reach

 

Image, Video, and Rich Media Ads.

  • Can only appear on Google Display Network and not on Google Search
  • Create your own or use the Ad Gallery (aka Display Ad Builder)

 

Ad Gallery

  • Save time with prebuilt templates and build ads at scale
  • Review all selected ad sizes and make edits for those sizes where the text and images don’t fit.

 

Create Compelling Ads

  • Have a compelling CTA to set correct expectations with users of what they can do when they click
  • Use a landing page that directly relates to what your ad promotes
  • Use colors that complement your brand
  • Include a visible display URL

 

Ad Policies

  • Don’t make an ad look like its interactive when it isn’t
  • Request a new review by creating a new ad or editing disapproved ad   (Google will re-review ads automatically)
  • Get metrics not available elsewhere (mouseover rate)
  • If your ads never change, users may stop noticing them
  • Find out with the Reach and Frequency reports
  • Enhance ads with additional information
  • Ad extensions available for GDN
  • Location extensions
  • Call extensions
  • You can edit ad extensions without losing historical stats

Ad Gallery Benefits

Why Ad Performance May Decline

Ad Extensions

 

GDN Tools

Display Campaign Optimizer

  • Helps manage bids and find New Placements
  • Set your target CPA and the display campaign optimizer automatically finds the best placements at the right prices to help you boost conversions.
  • Review conversions for ads, keywords, placements
  • Search funnels

Conversion Tracking

o   View through conversions

o   Assisted conversions

 

Analytics Columns in Reports

See 4 metrics in AdWords

  • Bounce Rate
  • Pages/ visit
  • Avg visit duration
  • % new visits

 

Placement Performance Report

  • See performance on sites and URLs where your ads appeared
  • Conversions
  • The exact URL where the ad appeared
  • Get ideas for site category exclusions

 

Ad Scheduling

Adjust bids for different times of the week.

 

AdWords for Video

What is AdWords for Video

  • Place video ads on Youtube and the Google Display Network
  • Part of the TrueView family of ads

o   Pay only when the user decides to view the video

o   CPV: cost-per-view

  • Note: if you want to show display ads on YouTube, you can add Youtube.com as a Managed Placement
  • The worlds #2 largetst search engine in the world
  • Different search behaviours than on Google Search, making this an ideal addition to search campaigns
  • People search for emotions, celeberties, quotes, actions
  • Target demographically and engage users with sound and motion
  • “Watch” pages have the most ad impressions

YouTube Overview

YouTube True View

With True View ads, you only pay for interested users

  • In-search or in-display: pay when the user chooses to watch your video
  • In stream: when users watches 30 seconds or to the end for shorter videos
  • Bought on a reservation basis
  • Priced on a CPD basis – fixed daily cost
  • Bought through an account rep (not in AdWords)
  • Buy impressions at a fixed cost that varies by placements and country
  • Great for branding campaigns
  • Priced as CPM or CPC
  • Management and reporting done by Google reps
  • On schedule Indicator (OSI) – The percent likelihood the campaign will deliver all impressions booked.

YouTube Home Page Masthead

Reservations

Video Tool

User the video tools to target specific categories of videos.

Best Practices

Have compelling opening image for Click-to-play ads

  • Use eye catching image
  • Inspire the user to act with a strong call to action
  • Use a non-commercial feels
  • Use comments and tags as ideas

Keywords

Traffic may fluctuate as user behavior changes

Block Analytics Spam on WordPress Sites

block referral spam in google analytics using wp ban wordpress plugin

My Last (Hopefully) Post on Analytics Spam

Google Analytics has always been a great tool for online marketers to find out what is happening on their websites. You could log in and then see a clear picture of where the traffic was coming form, what people were doing on your site, and which of your marketing efforts were working.

Then referral spam arrived on our dashboards.

Referral sites like semalt.com, ilovevitaly.com, and buttons-for-website.com showed traffic pouring in with a bounce rate of %100, spending no time on your site, visiting no pages. This skewed the rest of your data that you relied on to tell you what was working on your site.

I have written posts on how to block spam site’s using Analytics filters, and have a page with a list of domains that you should be blocking. Now I have found an easier way to block referral spam using the plugin WP Ban.

Step 1. Download, install and Activate WP Ban.

WP Ban Referral URL Plugin

WP Ban allows users to block traffic from accessing their site by IP, IP Range, host name, user agent and referrer url from visiting your WordPress’s blog. It will display a custom ban message when the banned IP, IP range, host name, user agent or referrer url tries to visit you blog. You can also exclude certain IPs from being banned. There will be statistics recorded on how many times they attempt to visit your blog. It allows wildcard matching too.

For these purposes we only need to block referrer urls from the site.

Step 2. Add referral spam domains to the referrer URL list.

WP Ban Referral URL Spam

Be sure to add all of the referral spam site’s that I have run into as well as any other sites you are dealing with on your site.

Using Sprout Social to Schedule Posts with Images

Using

I initially just started using Sprout Social for it great reporting for my multiple clients at work. It was an added bonus when I found out how easy it is to schedule twitter posts on there.

Not only does it automatically shorten your links for you, but you can also easily drag and drop photos right into the browser window.

The best image size to use for twitter posts is 1024×512 pixels. This will ensure that your image won’t be cut off so your followers will see the whole message. Tweets with images have significantly higher click through rates and number of shares.

When posting content you can also schedule it to be posted a number of times in the future. This is so important to do for twitter since most of your posts won’t be seen. In your followers busy twitter feed.

Posting Sprout Social

Are you using sprout social for anything else? I would love to hear more useful tricks.

Blocking Referral Spam: Tomorrow my blog traffic is going to take a hit.

Tomorrow my blog traffic is going to take a hit. Why you ask?

  • Am I switching domains?
  • Am I going to stop promoting my posts on social media?
  • Will I password protect everything?

My traffic is going to take a hit because I am going to block multiple referral spam bots from my analytics.

Referral Spam in Analytics

You can spot out referral spam easily in your analytics because it has:

  • A high amount of sessions
  • 0% new traffic
  • Almost 100% bounce rate
  • And it is most likely a website you have never heard of and has nothing to do with your content.

I’m not sure why spammers are taking this approach, but it’s annoying as hell and really skews my google analytics data. I don’t so much mind it on my blog, since it makes it look like people are actually visiting, but when I am doing reports for my clients, it really fogs what actually has happened on their site.

My clients are real businesses and when they find out their website is getting traffic from “semalt.com” or “kambasoft.com” they always ask about it and it ends up being a huge waste of my time and theirs. It also wastes my time when I have to keep on searching for new referral spammers and block them in the admin section.

If you want to learn how to block referral spam, check out my previous post “Referral Spam: What are Semalt & Kambasoft & How Can I Get Rid of Them?”.

I am also going to keep a page updated on my site with all of the referral sites that I’m aware of. If you know of any that aren’t there leave a note in the comments and I will add them.

I will miss seeing my inflated stats showing a high number of sessions/day, but I will appreciate the increased engagement stats, such as pages/session and average session duration (assuming that actual people will spend more time on my site than the bots).

If you want to prove me wrong and have my traffic increase, share this post with your friends.

Thanks!

Why Do I Have So Much Direct Traffic?

For the longest time I assumed that most of direct traffic was from people who were either directly typing a domain into a browser or had a website bookmarked.

Over the last few years I had noticed that the proportion of direct traffic continued to rise on a number of site’s that I was monitoring. This seemed very odd to me so I investigated what other causes were resulting in direct traffic being reported in Google Analytics.

Common Blog Style Issues You’ll Run Into

This post isn’t as focused on SEO, like many that I have done in the past, but it will be useful to anybody who is creating online content.

As my management team reminds me all the time, I am not a fantastic writer. As I was researching the best answers to common issues that I am constantly running into, I thought I would document them in this blog post so I can reference myself in the future, and it will help anybody else who might be dealing with the same issues.

If you know of any other topics that I have missed, let me know in the comments.

How to Punctuate Bullet Points in Blog Posts?

Using bullet points is great for writing for the web because it:

  • Makes it easy for readers to skim.
  • Creates useful whitespace on the page.
  • Keeps your copy shorter.
  • Groups related items together.

When I began writing lists online like a madman, I was sure on how to properly punctuate the bullet points. Do they begin capitalized? Do they have periods at the end?

I did what any online student would do and googled “do you put periods in bullet points” and found a very useful article on businesswritingblog.com. They suggest:

  • Use a period (full stop) after every bullet point that is a sentence (as these bullets do).
  • Use a period after every bullet point that completes the introductory stem.
  • Use no punctuation after bullets that are not sentences and do not complete the stem.
  • Use all sentences or all fragments, not a mixture.

What Words Do You Capitalize in a Title?

This was another point of confusion for me since everybody seemed to be styling their content differently. I decided to follow the Associated Press style, which recommends capitalizing the first word, last word and all nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives subordinating conjunctions, and a few conjunctions.

Here are a short lists of words to not capitalize:

  • a
  • an
  • and
  • at
  • but
  • by
  • for
  • in
  • nor
  • of
  • on
  • or
  • so
  • the
  • to
  • up
  • yet

This is not the only way to do it, but if you choose to style a different way, make sure that you are consistent. Here is a useful article outlining different styles by Grammar Girl.

Do I Include Periods in Titles?

Headlines and titles are meant to lead your reader into the next sentence. By adding in a full stop period, the reader’s eyes will halt at the headline and won’t naturally flow to the next paragraph.

The headings in this post all end with a question mark, which will hopefully lead the reader to go on to read more.

Everything You Need to Know About Panda 4.1

You know what nobody says after a Google algorithm update? “I can’t find that great, well written piece of content online anymore!” Google Got You Down- That’s because great content usually provides a lot of value to its readers, which will be shared socially and naturally build a well-balanced profile. These factors are fantastic for SEO and will protect your rankings from slipping due to any Panda or Penguin updates.

What is a Google Panda Algorithm?

Panda was an update to the Google algorithm that was meant to help better determine what content is actually relevant and useful to someone’s search query. It does that by determining if

  • The content is too thin. Does this page add any value to the person who is reading it? Are there only a few sentences on the site? If this is the case for the bulk of pages on your site, you might be affected by Panda.
  • The content is duplicate. Is the writing on your site the same as somebody else’s. Google will find that out. Is the content on that page the same as another page on your site, but you have changed a few keywords? Google will figure that out too!
  • The content sucks. Are you posting something just because? Did you put any effort to this post? Does it solve anybody’s problems? If you have thousands of low quality blog posts on your site, but they are all low quality, this will not look good in Google’s eyes.

What’s a Penguin Algorithm?

The penguin update focusses on sites that have tried to fool Google by adding a lot of backlinks from low quality sites. In the past Google has always put a lot of emphasis on the amount of backlinks your site has. Having another link point to your site was like a vote of confidence that you are relevant. But what black hat search engine marketers did was generate 100s of links for their clients from low quality site’s in to increase a page’s ranking for certain keywords. What the penguin update did was put more emphasis on links from high quality pages than just the amount of total links.

What is new with Panda 4.1?

Not much has changed with the latest update to Panda. Yes more sites will be hit by this update that weren’t hit last time, but that doesn’t mean that anything has changed. Google is just getting better at answering those same questions that are listed above. Russ Jones has a great post on this: Panda 4.1: The Devil Is in the Aggregate

What Should I Do to My Site to Be in Accordance with Panda 4.1?

Josh Bachynski has an excellent video on last week’s White Board Friday outlining the dos and donts for panda 4.1. Dos and Donts of Pands 4.1 Here is a quick summary.

Dos

  • Ensure task completion. Make sure that users are able to do what they are intended to do on that page. If Google sees that the page has a high exit rate, or a high bounce rate, they will take this as a signal that the page is irrelevant.
  • Have various offsite references. Get multiple links. Different types of links, preferably from quality sources. Reviews, directories, social, PR links …
  • Reputable business info. Have your business info on each page. A normal spot for this would be in the footer. Information to include would be your name, address and phone. This proves that your site is legit. Of course if you are just a blogger, you don’t need to include your personal information.
  • Cite your sources. If you are taking your information from somebody else. Like how I am doing RIGHT NOW, give credit where credit is due.

Donts

  • Don’t repeat your keywords. Don’t repeat your content either. As mentioned in the Panda overview earlier, this is a red flag to Google.
  • Don’t make SEO content. Don’t make pages just for SEO. Only make content when you think it will be useful for your readers, visitors, or customers.
  • Don’t forget your tie. What Josh means here is to make sure you don’t have any errors on the site. This could include broken links, spelling errors, or anything else that would make your site look like it was coded by cowboys.
  • Don’t interfere usage with ads. Don’t have ads in the middle of the page, or in the way of the user’s experience.

Hopefully you have read this article out of pure interest, and not because you were affected by Panda. If you were hit, I hope this article gave you the tools you need to fix your old content or to create new content in the future that will be Panda 4.2 proof. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments.

3 Google Display Networks Advertising Tips You Didn’t Know

The Google Display Network (GDN): or “The Other AdWords Network”

Many AdWords practitioners know enough about the GDN, or are turned off by it after their first attempt because they just aren’t getting the same results as they are from search campaigns.

If they knew more about these tricks, they might give it a second chance. They definitely would be getting better results.

Facebook Ads Not Adding Up?

The Problem: Facebook Clicks are Matching Analytic Sessions

Google Ads not matching Google Analytics

I recently noticed a concerning trend across a number of my clients: The amount of visits that they were receiving from Facebook in Google Analytics was only 30-50% of the clicks that they were paying for from Facebook. The differences were glaring and far more than the usual plus/minus ten percent you often get from AdWords or other ads, mostly, to the well-documented fact that clicks are not visits.