Whether you're a Millennial, a Generation Z, or just someone who spends a lot of time online, in this day and age we now expect to be able to get what we want almost instantly. Need somewhere to eat? Google it. Need new headphones? Amazon it. Need to get hold of someone? Facebook them

The internet has given us all the expectation that instant gratification can be had at the push of a button, but how impulsive are we when it comes to parting with our money? How has the online search game changed the way we shop?

Well, although it is much easier now to shop online than it is to elbow your way through in-store January sales, many will still choose to research a product before buying. This will vary between shoppers; some will choose to look at a product in a shop and find it cheaper online, and others will do some online research before going into stores. Either way, online research and instore/online shopping now come in hand in hand and that's something to keep in mind when creating your online marketing campaign.

Here are some of the ways search effects the buying process and what you can do to capture this traffic: 

Online Inspiration

People want, but they don't always know what they want. It's human nature; we get an idea but we want to know what everyone else is doing before making a final decision. So to start the research process we turn to a search engine; "cool room inspiration", "Secret Santa ideas", "hair inspiration", sound familiar?

With so many options to browse through its no wonder that people look online for ideas when they at a loss as to where to start.

Pinterest has built its empire on people's desire to be inspired. Losing the need for any written information, this visual platform gives us everything we need to get inspired all in one place. Social media is a great way to capture customers in their research stage. For visual inspiration, Pinterest and Instagram are great. To extend your reach and try to inspire those who didn't know they wanted to be inspired, Facebook and Twitter are very helpful too. Use hashtags to appear on relevant searches and capture this attention.

For more product specific searches, such as "flooring inspiration" a blog is a fantastic way to inspire and inform at the same time. Blogs are a vital way of not only inspiring customers but also for getting them to the products you actually sell, which is often where social media can fall short. 

Relevant, well-ranking blogs don't only attract organic website traffic, they can also give the customer examples of options they can get from you. Although they still may not be ready to make an actual purchase, your brand will be in their mind when they do.

Research and Rethink 

We want answers and we want them now, and luckily it's actually as easy as that. Of course, the internet is full of bias and misguided articles, but we still seem to trust a lot of what Google tells us. For instance, let's look at two of the biggest searches from the Christmas period:

"Which is better, Android or Apple smartphones?"

"Should I get an Xbox or a PlayStation?"

So following my initial search of "which is better, Android or Apple smartphones", Google gives me three relevant, recent articles. However, none of which give me my answer in the visible description, I could click but with my need for instant gratification my eye quickly goes to the "People also ask" snippet which gives me an instant answer: 

The top result in the snippet box actually seems a lot more bias, with a leading question of "Is an iPhone better than an Android". It seems like the same question I asked originally, but before i've even read the description it gives me the impression that Apple has the edge, later confirmed by the description, so I don't even need to read the full article. Despite this being an older article than the top result, it answers my question quicker. 

Without even searching for my next question, Google anticipates that I'm also needing advice regarding my Xbox/PS4 dilemma, another 2016 article lets me know that PlayStation comes out on top. So there we go, I'm getting an iPhone and a PlayStation 4 for Christmas (lucky me, right?). 

Of course, it's not as simple as that, many people will do further research before parting with the money particularly for these pricey items. Which is exactly why blogs are still so important for capturing organic traffic for those who do want more information.

However, it does highlight how important Google featured snippets have become, which is why we have previously written a blog about how to capture a snippet. With any of these products, a large part of it is personal preference, but for those with no opinion formed already, search research may be the thing that swings them either way. 

It's important to find out what your target audience is trying to research and create useful content that answers their questions, remain informative and interesting to get your opinion across - and do it quickly.  

Browse before you buy

In a way, search does also make the selling process far more competitive than when people shop in person. Although you may be able to find a product a couple of quid cheaper somewhere else, half the battle is won by the time you're in the store. Often, it's easier to be slightly unaware that a product is available for a couple pounds cheaper in a different store than to physically go store to store checking, and having to go back to find wherever the cheapest one was. 

But that's easy to do online so can make all the difference. It takes seconds to whip out your mobile phone and find out where to find the cheapest deal can be found. Amazon even makes a point of pointing out to you that you can find it cheaper somewhere else, which is great for me as a consumer as I look for that new PlayStation 4 of mine: 

Now I can see the cheapest option, the reputation of the seller and the delivery cost. If I'm quick I can pay a bit extra and get it tomorrow - instant gratification indeed.

Clearly, this puts pressure on ecommerce websites who now need to stand out in an over-saturated online market. Be sure to compare your prices and deals with your competitors, ask yourself: How much am I charging for my product/service? Is it still a good deal after delivery? Does my website make the product/service stand out from my competitors?

We recently did a blog on how to make your ecommerce website stand out, which you may find helpful. You can find it by clicking here

In Conclusion

The way we research online before means that creating relevant content is more important than ever to not only attract traffic to your website but to inform potential customers that what you're selling is worth buying, whether they buy from you instore or online.

Inspiring them to aspire to have your product/service is the first step, then its time to explain why you're the best place to make that purchase. Keep an eye on your competitors, the quality of your website and products, and what your customers need from you in order to make the most of search

If you want any advice on your online marketing, from website design to SEO we can help. Contact us today to get help from our friendly specialists.

Search Intent

Since it was launched all the way back in 1997, Google Search has grown increasingly sophisticated and intelligent. Where once it simply looked at your search term and gave you a list of web pages containing that term, the search engine's algorithm can now understand and interpret queries on an almost-human level.

This acute understanding of search intent is visible in the highly-tailored results that Google now delivers whenever a search is performed. Here's just one example:

  • The search term 'swimming pool' usually indicates an intent to go swimming, and so Google responds to this query with a list of local pools and leisure centres.

  • However, if you type 'swimming cap' into Google, the results page is dominated by shopping results. This is because the algorithm has deduced from your search term that you're looking to buy something.

  • Now type in 'swimming rules' and notice how most of the results are information-based. There's a featured snippet, along with a 'People also ask' section that answers a variety of swimming-related questions. All of this indicates that Google interpreted your query as an attempt to learn about swimming.

Three very similar searches, three very different sets of results.

Swimming search results

This example demonstrates just how much Google (and its competitors - you'll get similar results if you try the same experiment on Bing or Yahoo) can now read into our search queries. Superficially, the phrases 'swimming pool' and 'swimming cap' are very much alike, but modern search engine algorithms have a very strong grasp of what different words mean and - more importantly - what we mean when we use those words.

How was this achieved?

Google and the other search engines didn't get this clever overnight. Their current level of sophistication is the result of years of testing and fine-tuning and gradual improvement.

In Google's case, a technology called RankBrain is largely to thank for the algorithm's advanced understanding of search intent. RankBrain is an artificial intelligence system that learns as people search; when you google a phrase that RankBrain hasn't seen before, it makes an educated guess based on the meanings and common usages of the words you entered, then serves up results accordingly.

Here's what this process might look like in action:

  • You want to go and see the new family movie Penelope and the Magic Pencil at the cinema.

  • You go to google.co.uk and type in 'penelope magic pencil screenings'.

  • Google's algorithm doesn't immediately understand what you mean, but RankBrain knows that the word 'screenings' is semantically related to movies and cinemas.

  • Armed with this insight, Google now looks for cinema-related results that contain the words 'penelope', 'magic' and/or 'pencil'.

  • The best results are served to you via the Google results page. If Google can see your current location, the results are probably sourced from cinemas in your local area.

(In reality, of course, Google's all-knowing algorithm would already be aware of the Magic Pencil film and would thus have a far better clue as to what you were after. This is just a hypothetical example that shows how RankBrain can infer meaning from what looks at first glance like a string of random, unrelated words.)

So what does this mean for my website?

As Google has become more and more sophisticated, website owners who rely on organic Google traffic have had to become more and more sophisticated in their tactics. Ranking on the first page of Google results is no longer as simple as picking a popular keyphrase and using that phrase a certain number of times within your page copy; even if your page has a tonne of great links from high-authority websites, this won't necessarily guarantee you a high organic ranking in the current search climate. Google now prioritise search intent above all else, which means that webmasters and SEOs must do the same.

In order to get the very best results, search intent should be kept in mind throughout the entire website optimisation process, starting with keyword selection. Let's say you're setting up a new online sports equipment store - you're trying to decide what kind of searches you want to show up for, so the first thing you do is visit Keyword Planner and type in 'sporting goods' to see what gets the most searches.

When you order the resulting list of keywords by number of searches, it looks something like this:

  • sprinter (12,100 searches per month)
  • sporting (9,900 searches per month)
  • sports clothing (8,100 searches per month)

Lots and lots of people enter the words 'sprinter' and 'sporting' into Google every month, but trying to capture that traffic with a sporting goods website would be virtually pointless because the vast majority of those people won't be looking to buy sports equipment. Instead of picking the most popular term you can find that's vaguely related to sports, it's far better to pick a term that reflects the intent of your target audience.

Here's another example. According to Keyword Planner, 1.5 million people google the word 'tennis' every month, whereas the term 'buy tennis shoes' only gets a few thousand searches in an entire year. However, the 'buy tennis shoes' people are a far better match, intent-wise, for your ecommerce website than the people who simply type in 'tennis' - they could be looking for player rankings, or match reports, or information on the sport itself, whereas you wouldn't type in 'buy tennis shoes' if you weren't at least thinking of buying some tennis shoes.

If you're not sure whether the keywords you've chosen are a good fit for your website, google them! The results that pop up should give you a pretty good idea of what people mean when they use each term. For instance, most of the results for 'best football boots' are informative articles and lists, suggesting that Google sees this as a learn term rather than a buy term.

Best Football Boots

This keyword might be worth targeting with an informative, well-written blog post, but your shop page probably isn't a good fit.

By contrast, the results for 'cheap football boots' are all online stores where you can buy football boots, indicating that this term is a better match for your store's footwear department.

Cheap Football Boots

Creating intent-optimised pages

So you've chosen a good set of keywords that are highly relevant to your website and what it has to offer. The next challenge is actually ranking for those keywords (i.e. appearing among the top results when somebody types one of those keywords into Google). To do this, you'll need to create content that meets the needs of your target audience.

What that doesn't mean is writing a thousand words about your chosen topic. As we explained earlier, it's not enough to just repeat your keywords over and over again and hope that Google will take the hint. You need to properly assess the intent behind each term you're targeting, then craft a high-quality web page that satisfies that intent.

We've already seen several examples of what that looks like in practice. You want to be the #1 result for 'best football boots'? You need to research the latest products and write a thorough article that lists the best boots and explains what makes them so great. More interested in showing up for 'cheap football boots'? In that case, you need to make sure you've got a secure, smooth-functioning ecommerce website that makes it easy for people to buy boots online, and at genuinely low prices.

Again, if you're not sure what kind of content you need to create for the keyphrase you're targeting, head to Google and see what already ranks on page 1. This will tell you what Google considers a good, relevant result for that query.

Do I still have to worry about writing keyword-rich copy?

This debate has been raging for quite a while now. Back in the day, targeting a particular keyphrase meant including that phrase in your website copy as many times as you possibly could. Known as keyword stuffing, this practice is best avoided in 2017 because the Google algorithm now penalises websites that do it.

With that in mind, it's best to take a more cautious approach these days: use your keyphrase frequently, but NOT to the point of sounding 'unnatural'. The litmus test is to read your content aloud - as long as it sounds like something a human might actually say, you're probably safe. Here's an example...

  • OK: Looking for cheap football boots? You've come to the right place! Here's at Charlie's, we've got a huge range of brand-name football boots at bargain prices. Our boots may be cheap, but they're certainly not lacking in quality - check out all these 5-star reviews from our previous customers!

  • NOT OK: Welcome to Charlie's cheap football boots store, the best place to buy cheap football boots online! We have a huge range of cheap football boots to choose from - order your cheap football boots now, or read our reviews to see what other customers think of our cheap football boots!

Nowadays, most SEO authorities agree that keyword density is nowhere near as important as tailoring your content to search intent. In other words, identify the need that you're trying to meet, then write copy that's suited to that need. Somebody who wants to buy a toaster is going to be more interested in your prices, your website layout, and the security of your online checkout system than in how many times you've written the word 'toaster'.

However, while this principle - 'make web pages for users, not search engines' - sounds reasonable enough in theory, it's a bit muddier than that in practice. While search engines are incredibly intelligent, they're still nowhere near as intuitive as actual human beings, and Google do still rely on keyword matching to some extent. Remember our Penelope and the Magic Pencil example from earlier? Your cinema won't show up for a term like that unless you've got the name of the film somewhere on your page, just as your sports store probably won't rank for 'cheap football boots' unless you've used the word 'football' in your copy at least once or twice.

Put your keywords in the right places.

The main difference between SEO in 2007 and SEO in 2017 is that, when it comes to keyword insertion, quantity doesn't really matter. Don't worry about keyword density or anything like that - instead, focus on making sure that your keywords are present in the places that count.

In rough order of importance, these are:

  • Page title tag. This should be a succinct summary (approx. 40-60 characters) of what your page is about. You definitely need to include your primary keyword here if you're going to have a shot at ranking.

  • URL. We're not suggesting that your domain name ought to be www.yourkeyword.com (in fact, Google have penalised unnaturally keyword-rich domain names in the past), but it's a good idea to look to your keyword list when choosing URLs for your internal pages. This isn't essential, and you definitely shouldn't create spammy-looking URLs just for the sake of getting your keywords in, but it makes it easier for search engines if your football boots page is actually called /football-boots rather than /store/category/footwear/46.

  • H1 heading. As long as it makes sense from the user's point of view, you should try to include your main keyphrase in your page's main (h1) heading. Some people will tell you that your h1 and your title tag have to be different from one another, but Google won't mind if they're identical; indeed, this might make more sense from a user perspective, since the heading on the page will match the heading of the Google result they clicked on.

  • Alt tags. Every image on your website should have an alt tag (a piece of HTML that tells search engine bots - who can't see pictures like we can - what an image depicts). If the images on your page are relevant to that page's content, it should be relatively easy to include your keyphrase in at least one alt tag. Consider using synonyms and variations of your keyphrase so that you're not using the same tag for every image - for example, if you've already got an image tagged 'football boots', you could use 'soccer boots' or 'nike football boots' for the other images on that page.

  • Meta description. The meta description (usually) serves as the little snippet of text underneath your link in the Google results page. This should be around 150 characters in length, and while it doesn't seem to have much of an impact on ranking, it's worth including your primary keyword(s) here too if it's reasonable to do so. However, the main aim of your meta description is to give readers a reason to click through to your website - so make sure it's enticing!

As far as the actual body text of your page is concerned, you shouldn't really have to think about whether or not to include your keywords: it's difficult to write even a few sentences about football boots without using the term 'football boots'. Bear in mind also that RankBrain assesses meaning and relevance based on the semantic relationships between different words and phrases, so a page that mentions 'football boots' over and over again probably won't rank as well as a page that uses lots of different football- and boot-related terms (goal, pitch, striker, tackle, kick, grip, studs, and so forth).

Summing up

Here's a basic plan to follow when trying to optimise a website for search intent:

  • Identify keywords that are relevant to your website and express clear intent to do/buy/learn whatever it is you're offering.

  • Use Google to see what sort of content currently ranks for those keywords. In-depth articles? Online shops? Local business listings?

  • Create content that meets the needs expressed by the keywords you're targeting.

  • Be sure to use your keywords in the right places (title tag, h1 heading, et cetera) while still focusing on helping the user and meeting their needs.

Of course, this is just the first step - links, reviews, blog posts, social shares, and lots of other things are often necessary to make it onto the first page. However, if you follow this plan, you'll have a strong chance of eventually achieving high rankings and capturing lots of high-quality traffic that actually converts.

If you need help driving organic traffic to your website, get in touch with Designer Websites - our SEO experts can help you to select the right keywords, create the right content, and reach the right people.

With billions of daily website views coming from traffic on search engine results pages, SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is vital to any digital marketing plan. Across the globe, businesses desperately strive to achieve the top spots on Google's SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) in order to generate the most traffic to their business. However, in order to achieve these positions, it is much more complicated than simply having a fast website or just targeting keywords. With the most popular search engines constantly tweaking and altering algorithms, businesses are constantly kept on their toes in an efforts to master SEO.

There is no quick fix to achieving and maintaining a space on the front page of SERPs (no matter what some dodgy SEO companies may tell you!). It takes a combination of techniques to fully optimise your website. Ultimately your website should be very easy and quick to use, it should contain valuable unique content, it should be hosted professionally, it should properly handle errors, redirects, sitemaps, indexing bots, etc. In fact the list of boxes that your website should now tick is very long indeed, and most of these elements are very technical and will need properly qualified and experienced people to implement them. 

SEO now comes hand-in-hand with user experience optimisation, and Google will no longer accept cheap tricks to get to the top of the results page. Instead, Google explains that"Search engine optimization is about putting your site's best foot forward when it comes to visibility in search engines, but your ultimate consumers are your users, not search engines.With that in mind, when considering how to SEO, below are some things to consider.

Keyword Analysis

Although we’ve already mentioned it’s not the only way to help rankings, it remains a very important part of SEO. It involves researching what people are searching on Google when they’re looking for a service like the one your business provides. Then you can target this traffic by having the keywords appear in all the right sections of your website (such as the title tag, Meta tags, page headings, etc) and ads. 

SEO Copy Writing

In the not too distant past, website optimisation experts were often guilty of filling up pages with keyword-rich copy, but these days it's absolutely vital to make your content more user-friendly and readable, but this doesn't mean you forget keywords altogether, it just means you need to work harder to include appropriate keywords, whilst making the content engaging. Copywriting is a balancing act between targeting keywords and providing interesting and useful content for the user. No one wants to visit a website that’s full of useless information, and Google will penalise you for cutting corners. Instead of flooding your copy with keywords, it’s key to maintain readability and an appropriate keyword density.

Coding

To ensure your website can be easily indexed by search engine bots, and that it will run at an optimum speed, it’s important to get your coding correct. You want code-light pages that load very quickly, you need to use the latest compression algorithms, you need to utilise the latest coding standards and include important meta information, rich cards, schema tags, etc. If you want to rank highly across different browsers, your coding has to up-to-date, it has to be responsive to ensure it works on any device, and is cross browser compatible. Avoid template type solutions, or systems where the coding structures are likely to be old and out-dated.

Optimised Website Hosting 

Providing super fast and reliable website hosting is absolutely essential to a well-optimised website, otherwise, all of your other SEO efforts will have been in vain. Correct error handling procedures and redirecting is also really important. You either need a dedicated web server or at least a host who has a very high end dedicated server and holds fewer than 50 websites on it themselves. The speed of the server is significantly more important than it's location, so make sure that the response times are very good. 

Link Outreach/Building

Not to be confused with dodgy link-building of the past – a technique that led to a steady stream of dodgy links spamming the internet (through directories, etc), which is now often branded a black-hat technique. Trying to acquire links synthetically can earn you a Google penalty, which can get you removed from SERPs. However, there is still value in worthy links that are achieved by content creation specialists liaising with site owners. Google still uses inbound links as a part of their algorithm, but now they are more interested in the value of these links rather than the quantity you've amassed. Make sure you avoid any dodgy link building tricks, just focus on networking effectively, and making sure your content is interesting and easy to link to. Ideally, generate content that naturally generates links and shares from real users.

Social Media

With the majority of people checking their social media before they’ve even got out of bed, it’s now more important than ever to make sure your business is within the social matrix. Although there is still some debate about how valuable (if at all) social media is, it's good for brand awareness and potential back links.  By having a well-oiled social marketing plan, you can potentially improve your rankings on the search engine results, so it's worth doing! 

Mobile Friendly Websites

Another development that highlights how SEO is constantly evolving to fit in with the daily lives of users. Search engines such as google value the way your website translates onto other devices such as mobile phones and tablets.

 

When considering how to optimise a website the above is simply a brief introduction, and is by no means a comprehensive list of techniques. Website optimisation is actually a varied and a constantly evolving process, which requires the expert knowledge of SEO practitioners. Here at Designer Websites, the wealth of experience we have developed over the past decade ensures we understand the technical aspects of website optimisation better than anyone else.

Click here to learn more about our SEO services or request a free quote for our SEO services here today. 

Featured Snippets

Google's featured snippets have been around for a little while now, and they're appearing in SERPs more often than ever before. For site owners, they represent a significant organic exposure opportunity; however, many people right now are unaware of the value of ranking as a featured snippet and unsure of how to do so.

In today's blog, we're going to show you how you can obtain a featured snippet for your site - before that, though, let's take a quick look at what exactly a featured snippet is.

What are featured snippets?

When you type a query into Google, a featured snippet is the short answer (or summary of an answer) that sometimes appears at the top of the results page. A snippet's content is extracted directly from the source website, and each snippet includes the page title and URL of the web page it's drawn from.

What are featured snippets?

Why should I care about featured snippets?

Because they will get your website seen and drive lots more traffic to their source pages! Featured snippets tend to appear above all other organic results, meaning that even if your website isn't rank #1 for a specific keyword, you can still show up ahead of your competitors by securing a featured snippet ranking for that search term.

In addition to ranking as a featured snippet, a particular URL can also still appear within the standard organic results. This means that a single URL can rank twice on the first page, in two separate positions, for the same query. (Take another look at the Obama example above - see how Wikipedia appears as both the featured snippet source AND the #1 organic result?)

Because Google is extracting the important part of your content and displaying it right there in the SERP, you might expect your click-through rate to drop when your content is used for a featured snippet. However, featured snippets have actually been shown to boost CTR, even when the source URL already held the #1 organic position.

How to gain a featured snippet

Now that you know how valuable a featured snippet can be for your website, you're probably wondering how to get your pages ranking in this way. Featured snippets come in a whole range of different styles, and your content must provide the right answer in the right format to be able to rank as a snippet for that particular query. Snippets occur in a number of different forms, including:
  • Text
  • Lists
  • Tables
The first thing you'll need to do is perform some keyword research and identify some questions that are a) commonly typed into Google, and b) relevant to your website. These questions can be implicit or explicit, but they need to be too complex for Google to answer using simple public-domain data from their Knowledge Graph. For example, Googling 'how old is Theresa May' won't produce a featured snippet because Google can answer that one by itself; however, Googling 'who is Theresa May' forces Google to pull a more in-depth answer from a third-party source, resulting in a featured snippet.

Featured Snippets Example
You may want to look for queries that already have a featured snippet in the SERP; if the current snippet is poorly-written or doesn't really answer the question properly, its spot should be fairly easy to steal. If a question is not currently showing a featured snippet result, this may be a sign that Google does not consider a featured snippet necessary for that query.

Once you know which queries you wish to feature as a snippet for, it's time to re-format your content in order to optimise it for...um, snipping. The format and language of your content is very important - when trying to achieve a featured snippet, you need to make sure that you use phrases and terms a little more strategically than you might in other pieces of writing. This is because Google is far more literal with these types of queries than usual; for example, if you were to Google 'how to make scrambled eggs', you will likely be shown an article whose title closely mirrors that specific query, and not something like 'scrambled eggs for dummies'.

You also need to make sure that the format of your answer matches the format of the snippet you wish to rank for. There's no point writing a regular ol' paragraph of text if the featured snippet you're trying to replace is a table of information or a bullet-point list of ingredients. It doesn't really matter where on the page your answer appears as long as your content is structured correctly and you're providing a clear and concise answer to the query that Google can easily lift out and display in the SERPs.

Here's an example. Let's say you want a featured snippet for the query 'what is the difference between a cake and a biscuit' - you can write an in-depth, thousand-word exposé on the exact distinction between cakes and biscuits, but you won't achieve your goal unless you also provide Google with a concise, easily-snippable answer like this:

"There are many ways to tell a cake from a biscuit, but the most important difference is that cakes get harder as they go stale, whereas biscuits become softer."

Once you've written the page that will hopefully rank as a featured snippet, read through it and try to identify the key sentence(s) that Google will be able to provide as a quick answer. If that portion of the article doesn't exist, you won't get the snippet. Don't forget to check the existing snippet for the keyphrase you've got your eye on - if the current snippet is a table or bullet-point list, you probably won't be able to usurp its throne with plain text.

You'll also want to use keywords judiciously throughout the rest of the page - for instance, including the phrase 'what is the difference between a cake and a biscuit' in your page title tag and H1 heading will greatly improve your chances of getting that featured snippet (and indeed of ranking for that term at all).

How to keep your featured snippets

You've been working hard and you've finally gained a featured snippet - well done! Now you can relax and take it easy, right? Wrong - the battle is still on! The websites below yours will probably attempt to steal that coveted spot from you, so how can you stay on top of the heap and ensure that your featured snippet keeps showing up?

The answer is that you need to get people actually engaging with your snippet. The organic ranking and format of your content aren't the only factors to think about; engagement and click-through rates also play a role in snippet selection. By ensuring that users are engaging with your snippet - that is, reading it and clicking through to your actual website for more information - you should be able to hang on to your featured spot indefinitely.

Need help driving organic traffic to your website? Get in touch with the Designer Websites team today - our SEO experts will be more than happy to assist you!
Google Instant

Why does Google suggest 'why doesn't Voldemort have a nose' when you start typing 'why doesn't...' into Google?

You-know-who's noselessness has long been a hot topic among Harry Potter fans, and even today - nearly 10 years after the last book in the series came out - many people still wonder how the Dark Lord came to look the way he does. Plenty of theories have been tossed around, one of our favourites being that Voldemort's nose was smashed in by the bewitched snowballs that Fred and George Weasley threw at the back of Professor Quirrell's head (actually Lord Voldemort's face, concealed for most of Book 1 by a turban).

Still, with no concrete answer ever provided in-universe or by author J.K. Rowling, the question of why Voldemort has no nose remains a hot topic around the world. But why does it appear when you simply type the words 'why doesn't' into Google?


This happens because Google is trying to predict what you're searching for so that it can offer you suggestions related to your query before you've even finished entering it. The second you begin typing something into the search bar, Google starts displaying results - even as you're still typing. This feature is called Google Instant.

What is Google Instant?

Google Instant is a well-known Google feature that was introduced back in 2010. It is a feature that predicts what you're searching for and provides you with results as you're typing your query. It uses Google's autocomplete technology to show predicted search terms that are relevant to your query as you type it; it also begins to display search results in the SERP (Search Engine Results Page). As you continue to complete your query, both the predicted queries and search results will change, becoming more relevant to whatever you've typed into the search box. 

The suggestions that Google provide are influenced by three factors:
  1. Query volume (lots of other people Googled this query)

  2. Searcher's location (this query is relevant to your current location - e.g. you started typing 'takeaway pizza', Google noticed that you're located in Brighton, so it suggested 'takeaway pizza Brighton')

  3. Keyword/phrase mentions (this query - or part of it - is getting a lot of mentions across the web right now)
The suggestions that Google provides are all terms that other people have searched for. For example, if you type in the word 'offers', Google will suggest the following based on the kind of 'offers' that other people commonly search for:


The popularity of a query is a massive factor in deciding what suggestions Google provides. In the example above, the user typed in 'offers' and Google guessed that they might be looking for offers on toys, perfume, or liquor. Why? Because lots of other Google users have started typing 'offers' and then followed it with 'on perfume', 'on toys', or 'on spirits'. This happens frequently enough that Google is now confident that it can save users a few keystrokes by offering these suggestions.

(Note that Google Instant suggestions are based on the number of unique verifiable accounts and independent users who search for a specific query, not the number of times that query was used. We'd love it if 'Designer Websites' appeared as a suggestion every time somebody typed 'designer' into Google, but we can't make that happen just by Googling our own name hundreds of times - we'd need lots of separate individuals to do it for The Big G to take any notice.)

It's important to remember that not everyone will see the same suggestions as you. As mentioned above, your geographic location can have a big impact on what Google Instant shows you. 


When we start typing 'hotels...' into Google, it suggests terms like 'hotels in Cardiff' and 'hotels in Tenby' (see screenshot above). This happens because Google has identified that our office is in South Wales, and people in our location often search for accommodation in these places. However, if you're using Google in, say, Scotland, you might get suggestions like 'hotels in Glasgow' or 'hotels in Pitlochry' instead.

In summary, Google Instant makes suggestions that it thinks are relevant to you based on what you've already typed in, what queries are popular right now, and - sometimes - where you are.

How can I use Google Instant to get more traffic?

Google Instant doesn't just benefit consumers - it can also be a somewhat useful tool for SEO professionals. The feature is very handy for keyword research purposes as it can give you good idea what people are commonly searching for. Just type in your keyword and see what Google suggests - these suggestions are likely to be commonly-Googled queries that are worth targeting on your website!

For instance, if you own a furniture store that sells dining tables, you could start typing 'dining tables' into Google for a couple of quick keyword ideas:


This tells you that quite a few people search for 'dining table with bench' and 'dining table and 4 chairs'. Now that you know this, you can target these long-tail keyword phrases on appropriate pages within your site; for example, if you sell a dining table that comes with benches, you could tailor this product page's copy to rank for the corresponding search term. Alternatively, if you sell several table/bench combo products, you could write a blog post that features all of them and targets the search term 'dining table with bench'. Ranking for a keyword like this should give your organic traffic levels a great little boost!

We hope this blog has given you a better understanding of Google Instant. If you want your brand to appear more prominently in Google's search results, the SEO experts here at Designer Websites can help - get in touch today!
Google SERP

Google's SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) have changed a lot in recent years. Once upon a time, you could type just about anything into Google and you'd only ever get ten blue links on the results page:

Ten Blue Links SERP
Pictured: a dying breed.

Nowadays, it's very rare to see a SERP that's exclusively populated by blue links. The modern Google SERP is a far more colourful place to be, often incorporating some combination of the following:
  • AdWords ads
  • Shopping ads
  • Featured snippets (also known as 'answer boxes')
  • Image results
  • Video results
  • Map results (for local businesses)
  • News stories
For example, take a look at the results you get if you perform a search for 'wedding ideas' - there are some standard organic text results (the blue links) but they share the SERP with AdWords ads, a row of images, and even some recent tweets from Wedding Ideas magazine!

Wedding Ideas Results

This is all part of Google's ongoing effort to give every searcher exactly what they're looking for as quickly as possible. Hence, if you type in 'how much does a Kodiak bear weight', the answer (1,500 pounds) will appear right at the top of your SERP, and if you Google 'Kristen Stewart' or 'Brad Pitt', you'll be greeted by a smorgasbord of different media - including photos, news stories, movie posters, quotations, and biographical titbits - that Google has collected from various corners of the Internet in the hope that one of these things will be what you were after.

What does this mean for website owners?

Google's increasingly diverse results pages are something of a mixed blessing for webmasters. On the plus side, there are now numerous different ways to appear on the first page of Google results for certain juicy keywords: even if your site doesn't rank among the top 10 traditional text results, you may still be able to achieve some level of visibility as an image/video result or a dot on the map in certain locations.

On the other hand, many websites that previously received a lot of hits from organic Google searches have seen a noticeable decrease in traffic since the SERPs started getting smarter. Securing the #1 slot in the blue link list no longer means that you will necessary appear at the very top of the SERP - your link may be pushed down the page by adverts, featured snippets, and/or image results if Google decides that these things will result in a higher level of user satisfaction.

This issue is exacerbated in the ever-expanding world of mobile search, where SERP real estate is scarcest of all. For example, B&Q's website www.diy.com occupies the #1 organic slot for the term 'garden decking' at time of writing, but because Google prioritises its own Shopping and AdWords results, you have to scroll quite a long way down before you even come to that supposedly 'top' result:

Decking SERP

This iPhone user searched for 'garden decking' using the Google app, and only reached the top organic result after scrolling past a row of Google Shopping ads and 3 AdWords results.

The lesson here is that, for many search terms, a high organic ranking is no longer the be-all and end-all when it comes to driving lots of traffic. If you want to maximise your website's search engine visibility, you need to be seen in all the other parts of the SERP too.

Not sure how to do that? Don't worry - the SEO experts from Designer Websites are here to provide you with your very own AAA pass. Read on to find out how to get your website showing up in four different parts of the modern Google SERP:

Introduction: Your Music Shop

Now, the SEO/SEM tips we're about to dish up can be applied to a broad variety of different businesses, but for the purposes of this blog post we're going to need a single, versatile example.

So, for the next few minutes, please imagine you own a shop that sells musical instruments. Your bricks-and-mortar store is located in Birmingham, but you also sell instruments online and ship them to customers all over the country. You take online orders through an ecommerce website that ranks well for terms like 'buy musical instruments', but it's recently become clear that your visually appealing, user-friendly website isn't getting anywhere near as much traffic as it ought to be getting.

And that's why you're reading this article - because you're trying to find a way to boost your music shop's visibility in the Google SERPs.

1. Google AdWords

As noted above, your website ranks reasonably well for the term 'buy musical instruments', but you're concerned that a lot of potential customers are ignoring your link in favour of the AdWords listings that appear at the top of the Google results for that query.

Musical Instrument ads

Google selfishly gives its own ads pole position in the results for this search term, so if you want to appear at the very top of the 'buy musical instruments' SERP, you'll need to set up an AdWords account and pay for some ads of your own.

Google AdWords operates on a 'pay per click' (PPC) basis, which means that you will be charged a certain amount of money every time somebody clicks your ad. The exact cost of each click will depend on how much you bid for each keyword - the more you bid, the higher up the page your ad will appear when somebody searches for that word or phrase.

Cost per click is also dependent on your page's quality score: when you create an advert, Google will look at your landing page and give it a mark out of 10 based on how well it 'answers' the query you're targeting. If you get a low quality score, Google will be reluctant to show your ad to users, and you'll have to pay more for each click as a result.

The key to running a successful AdWords campaign is finding the right keywords. You need to identify popular search terms that your customers frequently type into Google, but you ideally want to steer clear of ultra-competitive keywords with a high cost per click (since you'll have to pay a lot of money to consistently appear in a prominent position for these terms).

2. Product Listing Ads (Google Shopping)

AdWords ads aren't the only sponsored results that Google likes to display above the organic listings. Let's imagine you've got a lot of Yamaha keyboards in your music shop that you'd like to sell - how do you show up at the top of the SERP for the term 'Yamaha keyboards'?

Keyboard Shopping Results

Those links with images above them are called product listing ads. They tend to show up when the user searches for a specific product or type of product - think of them as Google's way of saying, 'It looks like you want to buy something...and we reckon we've got just the thing right here!'

Unfortunately, the guys at Google won't list your products out of the goodness of their hearts - you have to pay to appear in those shopping slots. Google Shopping operates on a PPC basis, just like Google AdWords, although product listing ads are arguably a little easier to manage than AdWords campaigns because you don't have to worry about finding the right keywords to target.

Here's a quick introduction to Google Shopping ads courtesy of the search engine giant itself:


3. Local Results (Google Maps)

Since you sell your musical instruments in a bricks-and-mortar shop as well as through an ecommerce website, you'll definitely want to be appearing in the Google Maps results for certain terms. For example, if somebody Googles 'music shop Birmingham', that probably indicates that they're looking to walk into a local shop and buy something in person, so you should absolutely be aiming to rank among the top results for that search term.

But once again, you'll have to jump through a couple of hoops to make that happen.

Google Map Results

The good news is that Google's local results are not sponsored listings, so this part won't cost you money like the AdWords campaigns and the product listing ads did. All you have to do is go to Google My Business and enter your shop's details - you will probably have to verify the business either by taking a phone call or entering a code that Google sends to your address on a postcard.

Once that's done, you can customise your listing with photographs, add an enticing description of your music shop, and display your opening hours for everyone to see. You will also be able to collect reviews from Google users who have visited your store and want to tell other potential visitors about their experience.

4. Featured Snippets (The Answer Box)

Google seems to be displaying featured answers for more and more queries with each passing day. They're designed to provide digestible answers to question-type searches, and they look like this:

Google Answers
These snippets are great for the sites they're culled from - being featured in Google's answer box means that your link gets pushed right to the top of the organic results and given an extra wallop of visual emphasis that really helps you to stand out.

In order to rank as a featured snippet, you'll first need to identify a frequently-asked question that's relevant to your business and to your specialist knowledge. Here are some examples that could drive some good traffic to your hypothetical music shop's website:
  • why do guitars go out of tune
  • easiest instrument to learn
  • how to stop drumsticks breaking
All of these are examples of search terms for which Google might reasonably serve up a featured answer. And if you want that answer to come from your website, all you have to do is write one!

This is a really good use for a company blog - answering popular questions that are specifically related to your niche or industry. Simply pick a question and make that the title of your blog post; aim to provide a short, simplified answer in the first paragraph of your blog (the idea being that Google will use this excerpt for their featured snippet), then use a few more paragraphs to explore the question in more detail.


We hope you found this blog post useful and that you enjoyed reading it. Remember, the Designer Websites team can help with all your search engine marketing needs - get in touch today to discuss your requirements with us!
With 85% of mobile search results now meeting Google's mobile-friendly criteria, the search giant has found a new battle to fight...

Intrusive Pop-Ups

Don't you hate it when you're reading an article on your smartphone and you're ambushed by an unexpected pop-up that takes up the entire screen? Well, it looks like the people at Google agree with you, because they've pledged to punish sites that use this technique by diminishing their mobile search rankings. This blog post (published last week on the Google Webmaster Central Blog) makes the following promise:

"To improve the mobile search experience, after January 10, 2017, pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as highly."

The announcement feels like the start of a new chapter in Google's ongoing endeavour to give users the best possible online experience. You may remember 'Mobilegeddon', that day in April 2015 when Google changed its mobile search algorithm to favour pages with a mobile-friendly design; some time before that, in November 2014, they introduced the 'Mobile-friendly' label, which sat alongside mobile-friendly websites in the SERPs and helped users to identify at a glance which results would function well on their smartphones.

Example of Mobile Friendly Label
Image from Search Engine Land

Interestingly, Google has now retired the 'Mobile-friendly' label, stating that "85% of all pages in the mobile search results now meet this criteria and show the mobile-friendly label". Since the majority of mobile results are now mobile-friendly (probably thanks in part to the 'Mobilegeddon' algorithm change), the 'Mobile-friendly' labels were starting to make things look cluttered, so Google has gotten rid of them. In doing so, the Big G has effectively declared this particular battle won: most of the pages listed in the search engine's mobile results are now mobile-friendly (i.e. you can read and use them on a smartphone without having to zoom in), so it's time to pack up and move on to the next fight.

And the next fight for Google is against pop-ups, or "intrusive interstitials" as the new blog post calls them. Pop-up windows tend to be pretty annoying no matter what device you're using, but they're particularly problematic for mobile users, especially when they fill the whole screen and effectively blockade the user from accessing the desired content. Even so, a lot of websites - including some of the largest, most well-respected media outlets around - use irritating interstitials for all kinds of different purposes, including:
  • Encouraging people to sign up to a mailing list
  • Telling users to install an app
  • Advertising
If your website uses pop-ups for any of these purposes, you may want to revise your strategy before the 10th of January, 2017. From that date onwards, Google will be penalising sites that use intrusive interstitials, meaning that your pages may stop showing in Google search results on mobile devices - and with mobile's share of total internet use increasing all the time, that's a loss that you probably don't want to suffer!

What kind of pop-ups will trigger a penalty?

Interstitials are used in many different ways throughout the Internet. Fortunately, Google has given us a pretty solid idea of which ones they're out to get and which ones will be allowed to slip through this new penalty's net. Here are a few examples...

Scenario #1: Sign Up Now!

Let's say you have a website featuring a variety of articles about all the latest movies and TV shows. When somebody reads one of your pieces, they can view everything above the fold without interruption, but as soon as they scroll down, surprise! A pop-up window appears containing a message like this:

SIGN UP NOW!
Join our mailing list and you'll never miss the latest news and insights from our team of talented writers.

Enter your email here...

Don't worry, we'll never send you any spam and you can unsubscribe at any time.

The frustrated user now has to tap on the little 'x' in the corner of your sign-up form in order to carry on reading. It's highly likely that sites using this sort of tactic will be penalised under Google's new rules, so if you're currently using pop-up forms like the example above, you should strongly consider changing tack before the 10th of January.

(To be honest, this isn't a great way to encourage people to join your mailing list anyway, as it disrupts their experience of your site and possibly sours them on your brand as a whole. You'll make your users happier - and probably get more sign-ups in the long run - if you take a different route, e.g. placing a call to action at the end of each article rather than covering up the article itself.)

Scenario #2: Try the App!

Let's now imagine that your film and TV website has a mobile app that makes it easier for smartphone users to navigate and consume your content. You know that your website, while mobile-friendly, isn't as good as your app when it comes to giving smartphone users a good online experience, and so whenever a mobile user arrives on your main site, you show them this pop-up:

BROWSING ON YOUR SMARTPHONE? RIGHT THIS WAY!
Our app makes it easy to keep up with everything we post.

Download from the App Store >
Download from Google Play >

You might think that you're doing your readers a favour here by directing them to a more user-friendly platform, but in reality, most people will just be annoyed that you've put a great big pop-up in the way of the article they wanted to read. Sites that do this probably will be penalised in Google's mobile rankings unless they cut it out by the 10th of January.

Bear in mind that Google's goal is to satisfy each query as quickly and as smoothly as possible. If they send someone to your website, it's because the algorithm thinks you have the information or the content that person wanted; if you put up barriers between the users and that content, there's a good chance that Google - eager to achieve total user satisfaction - will send people somewhere else instead.

Scenario #3: How Old Are You?

Finally, let's look at an example of an interstitial that most likely won't result in a penalty come January 2017.

Imagine you own an ecommerce website that sells wines and spirits online. Because alcoholic drinks are an age-restricted product, you are required by law to ask each user to verify their age before admitting them to your website's content. One easy way to do this? A non-dismissable pop-up that appears as soon as someone lands on your site for the first time and prompts them to enter their date of birth.

PLEASE ENTER YOUR DATE OF BIRTH

DD MM YYYY
Click to select country...

To view this website, you must be over the legal drinking age in the country where you live.

Since this interstitial is in place to fulfil a legal requirement, your website should be spared when Google cracks down on intrusive interstitials in January. Another example of a legally mandated pop-up would be a notice explaining that your website uses cookies.

Google are also saying that they'll let you off if your pop-ups "use a reasonable amount of screen space". This suggests that site owners will still be able to get away with using pop-up banners as long as they don't cover too much of the content being viewed. An example would be a small banner that appears at the top or bottom of the screen prompting users to click a link or download an app.

Download the Google app
In fact, Google use this approach themselves!

Worried that your rankings will be affected by the forthcoming Google penalty? Anxious to remove the pop-ups from your website before they cause any problems? Get in touch with Designer Websites today - call 01446 339050 or click here to request a quote for a new, Google-friendly website design.
Alternatives to Google

Has any company ever dominated its market quite as thoroughly as Google? With roughly 40,000 search queries processed every second, Google is by far the biggest player in the search engine game; you probably use Google more often than you use your toothbrush. The company's utter dominance is such that the word 'Google' itself has long doubled as a verb meaning 'perform an online search' - it's very much the Hoover of search engines.

Still, if Google's tax avoidance and career-ending April Fool's Day jokes have left a sour taste in your mouth, there are alternatives. Here are a few non-Google search engines that may be worth investigating:

Bing (www.bing.com)

Bing was launched in 2009, but despite Microsoft's best efforts, it has never come close to threatening Google's position as the internet's go-to search engine. Bing has always been the Pepsi to Google's Coca-Cola, and many of the people who do use it simply do so because they don't know how to change their browser's default search provider.

Why you might prefer it to Google: Some people argue that Bing actually gives better results than Google. Granted, a lot of those people work for Bing, but we'd encourage you to at least give Microsoft's engine a try - depending on what you search for, you may well be pleasantly surprised.

DuckDuckGo (duckduckgo.com)

DuckDuckGo has been active since 2008, but the search engine's user base has shot up over the past year or so, largely due to the public's increasing interest in web services that preserve their privacy.

Why you might prefer it to Google: DuckDuckGo is all about user privacy. Whereas Google uses things like your location and your search history to deliver personalised results, DDG doesn't track you or collect any personal information whatsoever. The downside? Since DDG serves every user exactly the same results for each query, the search engine isn't very good at handling searches like hair salon near me (remember, DDG doesn't collect info on your current location). You can, however, work around this by supplying your location in the search term itself, e.g. hair salon in shoreditch.

Blackle (www.blackle.com)

Blackle is powered by Google Custom Search, so it's not a unique search engine in its own right like Bing and DuckDuckGo. However, it does have one advantage over the Google you're used to...

Why you might prefer it to Google: Blackle's all-black design is actually more energy-efficient than Google's homepage, which of course is predominantly white. Blackle's About Us page suggests that, if everyone used their site instead of Google, it could save as much as 750 megawatt hours every year (that's enough energy to power a vacuum cleaner for 85 years straight!) A secondary benefit: by setting Blackle as your homepage, you're providing yourself with a regular reminder to save energy whenever and wherever you can.

Common Search (about.commonsearch.org)

At time of writing, the Common Search search engine only exists in the form of a UI demo. However, the idea behind Common Search is well worth talking about: as their mission statement points out, one of humanity's most important resources (the internet) is currently in the hands of "profit-seeking companies", but Common Search's nonprofit search engine will eventually provide web users with an alternative. They aim to be "open, transparent and independent...just like an arbiter should be".

Why you might prefer it to Google: Since Common Search won't be run for profit, there will be no adverts (unless they have "exhausted all the other ways to be financially sustainable") and the organisation's decisions hopefully won't be influenced by the possibility of financial gain.

If you're a business owner looking to climb the Google (or Bing, or DuckDuckGo) rankings for your industry's top keywords, our Search Engine Optimisation specialists can help. Contact us now to request a quotation.