Tag Archives: SERP

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Written by Caroline Cox on May 17 , 2022

Get the 411 on how Google Search Console can help better your brand’s SEO & more.

Here, you’ll find:

  • What Google Search Console (GSC) is
  • How it can help boost your search rankings
  • Ways to identify and fix issues GSC reveals
  • A breakdown of helpful GSC reports

Google is the one search engine to rule them all. As such, search engine optimization (SEO) is essential to help improve your site’s performance and visibility. 

While numerous SEO tools exist online, Google Search Console is one of the most beneficial when used to its full potential. 

Unsurprisingly, Google says anyone who has a website should be using GSC. Diving into basic and advanced GSC tactics can offer helpful insight into your SEO efforts. 

Whether you’re unfamiliar with GSC or just want to make sure you’re taking full advantage, we’ve broken down all the details. Here’s how to properly use Google Search Console to improve your marketing plan.

google search console dashboard

Linking your Google Analytics account with your Search Console account allows you to get valuable keyword data back that is not provided by GA. (Image: Google)

What is Google Search Console?

As Google explains, GSC is a free service you can use to monitor, maintain, and troubleshoot your site’s presence in Google search results. 

Some marketers and website owners only use GSC for checking vanity metrics. However, it can be leveraged for so much more. 

Google Search Console features a handful of reports for tracking your site’s metrics:

  • Performance – shows data about how your site performs in search results, such as its average position and clickthrough rate (CTR)
  • Index Coverage – tells you which of your pages have been indexed, and highlights any site indexing problems
  • Page Experience – a Core Web Vitals report that folds in other page experience-related metrics as well to show how “healthy” your URLs are in terms of security and impressions (this includes a desktop page experience report as of early 2022)
  • Enhancement – this report will reveal errors that may be preventing your pages from appearing on the search engine results page (SERP)
  • Insights – launched in summer 2021, Google designed this report for content publishers and creators to help them better understand their audiences

In May 2022, Google announced it would also be releasing a new video page indexing report in the near future.

How to use Google Search Console to improve SEO

New to Google Search Console? Follow these steps to add your site to GSC and begin taking control of your SEO. 

Setting up your GSC account correctly will provide the most accurate information, metrics, and reports about your business’s Google search performance.

Plus, it’ll allow you to make an informed decision for your next marketing move. 

Add and verify your site

After you log in to Google Search Console, click “Add Property.” From there, copy and paste the URL for your homepage into the “Domain” or “URL prefix” field. 

Google Search Console property type

Use one of these five ways to verify your site: 

  • Upload an HTML file to your site 
  • Add a special CNAME or TXT Record to your domain settings
  • Add a small snippet of HTML code to the <head> section of your homepage’s code
  • Use a Google Analytics code: If you have “Edit” permission in Google Analytics, you can copy the GA tracking code used on your site
  • Use a Google Tag Manager code: If you have “View, Edit, and Manage” container-level permissions in Google Tag Manager, you can use the container snippet code associated with your site

Choosing the “URL prefix” option above tells GSC whether you prefer www or non-www domain versions of your site. This prevents Google from splitting the page views, backlinks, and engagements between the two. 

It also gives you a hyper targeted view of just that preferred domain versus all versions including secure (http) and non secure (https). 

Pro tip: If you want to track a subdomain, you have to set up a separate property for tracking altogether.

Link GSC with Google Analytics

Linking your Google Analytics account with your Search Console account allows you to get valuable keyword data that isn’t provided by GA. (If you use GA4, you can now link GSC to this.)

Double-check for security issues

In your GSC, click on “Security issues.” In most cases, there won’t be any security problems found on your site, but it never hurts to check. These issues could affect your site’s SEO if any are detected. 

Add a sitemap

If you don’t already have one, you’ll first need to create a sitemap. This is “a file where you provide information about the pages, videos, and other files on your site, and the relationships between them,” as Google explains. 

Once you have one, submit it to Google using the Search Console to paste your sitemap URL. 

woman searching with binoculars outside

Google Search Console is regularly rolling out new updates and new features. (Image: Rawpixel)

Google Search Console best practices

Once you add your site to Google Search Console, you want to ensure you’re getting the most out of it. Follow these advanced tips to fully optimize your SEO strategy. 

  • Find and fix indexing problems by using the Index Coverage Report: This report shows you which pages from your site are indexed by Google. It also makes you aware of any technical issues that are preventing pages from indexing.
  • Use the URL Inspection Tool to get Google to review and index your new web content fast: Letting Google know you have new content ready to review and index is one of many ways to start getting your page to perform.
  • Increase your site’s CTR and find opportunity keywords: The Performance Report also provides valuable information for keyword research and increasing your rankings. 
  • Find pages that need internal link love: Using the Links reporting metric in GSC, you can easily identify which pages could use additional internal links added. 

Newest Google Search Console features

Google Search Console is regularly rolling out new updates and new features. A few of the most recent ones include:

  • Translated results filter: In May 2022, GSC added a “translated results” appearance filter option within Performance reports. This allows users to see how “​​searchers who get translated results interact with your content in Google Search,” according to Search Engine Land.
  • A new interface design: In late 2021, Google Search Console ruled out an updated design with goals of improving accessibility and UX.
  • Google News Performance Report: This report allows you to see impressions, clicks, and CTR from news.google.com and the Google News app. 
  • Associations Page: This enhanced page shows the connection between a Search Console property and one from another Google service, including GA, Google Ads, YouTube, Play Console, Actions Console, and the Chrome Web Store.  
  • Enhanced Discover Report: GSC users can see important metrics about how people encounter Discover content when using Chrome on Android or iOS, in addition to their website’s performance in Discover on the Google app. 
  • Revamped filtering and comparison on Performance Reports: Users can now use regular expression (regex) filters and the ability to compare multiple metrics side-by-side. 

Things to avoid when using Google Search Console

While there are many benefits of using Google Search Console, the data and options can be overwhelming. Avoid making these three mistakes, and you’ll become a pro at this helpful SEO tool in no time. 

1. Assigning the wrong permissions

There are three GSC role types: Owner, User, and Associate. Give careful consideration about who should have which permission level:

  • Owners have full control over their properties
  • Full users can see most data and take some actions
  • Associate is used for associating your GA property with a GSC account 
  • Restricted users can only view data

2. Setting and forgetting it

After signing up for GSC, it’ll be most beneficial if you can continually monitor your property for accuracy and issues. Using the reports created with GSC, you can track top-performing pages and those that could use improvement.

3. Ignoring crawl errors

Not addressing crawl errors can damage your site’s rankings and overall usability. Moz goes more in-depth about fixing common crawl errors that can pop up on your GSC. 

Pro tip: You can choose to receive email alerts when an unusual event or error occurs with your site. 

The takeaway

We’re going to have to agree with the powers that be at Google: You should be using Google Search Console for your website. 

As a free, easy-to-use tool, the service can help everyone from digital newbies to marketing pros boost their business in Google search results. 

Understanding how to properly set up your site on Google Search Console and leverage all of its features will help you take your SEO plan to the next level. 

This article has been updated and was originally published in May 2021.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Caroline Cox on May 2 , 2022

Search engine algorithms change almost constantly. But your digital marketing plans don’t have to.

Here, you’ll find:

  • How search engine algorithms work
  • Why updates are nearly impossible to predict
  • Ways to prepare for search engine algorithm changes
  • Why content marketing still reigns supreme

In a way, the search engine algorithm is like rocket science: we know it’s important, but most of us aren’t exactly sure how it works. 

Every year, Google rolls out numerous updates (often with little-to-no warning) that manage to change the playing field for marketers in big and small ways.

But even for pros who have been working in paid search for years, understanding the search engine algorithm can be tricky. Knowing the basics allows you to react to new changes quickly or prepare your campaign for them in advance. 

When you figure out how these algorithms can affect your marketing tactics, you can take steps to prevent them from derailing your plans.

What is a search engine algorithm?

A search engine algorithm is a collection of formulas that determines the quality and relevance of a particular ad or web page to the user’s query. 

Google reportedly changes its algorithm hundreds of times each year. The good news: only major changes (or updates) have the power to affect SEM campaigns significantly.

One of the biggest mistakes marketers make is focusing all their efforts on frantically adjusting the campaign to these formulas instead of looking at the bigger picture.

search engine algorithms blog - puzzle

Google uses more than 200 ranking factors when determining which results to serve and in what order. (Image: Unsplash)

How do search engine algorithms work?

Search engines make the user experience a top priority. Google managed to become the most popular search engine on the planet by creating complex algorithms that improve the search process using sophisticated tactics that serve users the information they seek.

An algorithm works with all kinds of details for context, from obvious clues like the perceived content quality to the spam history of the website owner.

Overall, Google uses more than 200 ranking factors when determining which results to serve and in what order. 

However, no matter how well you adjust to them, each new update has the power to push your efforts to square one. While updates may be mostly focused on organic search, they can have not-so-clear (but oh-so-painful) implications for paid search as well. 

For example, your ads could stop showing up as a response to a big part of your target audience’s queries simply because the landing page they lead to isn’t specific enough.

Types of search engine algorithm updates

Not all updates are created equal. 

It’s nearly impossible to monitor all the updates Google comes up with and still have time to focus on your marketing strategy. 

  • Major updates: These updates are infrequent and often address a specific search algorithm issue. For example, the recent Core Web Vitals update deals with problems related to user experience on web pages. Search engines usually release them once or twice a year.
  • Broad-core updates: Updates in this category focus on targeting low-quality pages. Usually, they adjust the importance of several ranking factors. For example, they may decide that page loading speed is now more important than the total number of backlinks. These updates usually occur once every 4-5 months.
  • Small updates: These updates don’t usually create major visible changes to your site’s performance and analytics. They’re often minor tweaks that improve the searcher’s experience and don’t affect rankings of high-quality websites. Minor updates can be implemented daily or weekly.

Basically, major and broad-core updates are worth your attention. However, only a few of them are strong enough to make a significant impact on your rankings.

BERT update

In 2019, Google rolled out a major algorithm update dubbed BERT. This update’s aim was to improve the search engine’s translation of natural, conversational language queries to improve its understanding of context. 

This forced marketers to pay more attention to user intent than before. Pre-BERT, if you needed to focus on separate keywords in the search phrase, full phrases became much more important after the update.

For example, the query “cooking your own vegetables” shouldn’t simply give a list of tips for cooking veggies. It should also provide tips for cooking vegetables you grew and harvested on your own. In turn, paid ads had to become much more specific targeting the intent of the audience to stay relevant to search queries.

With each new Google update, search engine algorithms are working to become more useful to the searcher. Unfortunately for digital marketers, predicting specific changes is nearly impossible. 

By understanding the overall intent to improve the searcher’s experience, it’s possible to adjust your SEM strategy so it doesn’t suffer as new updates take effect.

MUM update

In May 2021, Google announced its Multitask Unified Model update, or MUM. This AI is designed to analyze content similar to the way a human does. Google calls MUM a powerful evolution of the BERT algorithm.  

MUM’s goal is to process complex search queries that can’t be satisfied with a short snippet. To get answers to these query types, a user needs to do an average of eight searches.

To address this problem, MUM works to predict these searches, and provide answers on the first search engine results page (SERP).

When adjusting your SEM strategy for MUM, it’s wise to focus on:

  • A high-quality internal linking system
  • Leveraging structured data
  • Working to predict complex queries as part of the buyer’s journey so you can provide answers
  • Creating multi-tiered content and splitting it into snippet-friendly fragments

Pro tip: If you’re focused on user experience (as you should be), then these updates shouldn’t have a major negative impact. However, if you do see your rankings take a dive, here’s how to deal.

person's hand holding a solved rubic's cube

Search engine algorithms are a complex system for helping users find the best answer to their queries. (Image: Unsplash)

How to prevent the negative effects of algorithm updates

Search engine updates can be as unpredictable as the weather. The only thing you can know for sure is that they will happen. 

When they do, many websites and ads may see a drop in rankings, even if the change is temporary. Luckily, there are ways to stay prepared and ready when updates do arise. 

1. Focus on landing page quality

Even when updates roll around, it’s hard to understand immediately how they’ll affect the connection between paid and organic search.

 But one thing is always clear: High-quality content on landing pages is likely to affect your conversion rate positively, regardless of algorithm changes.

Just a few years ago, landing pages weren’t as important for paid search because they didn’t play a big role in the ad-clicking process. Today, with Google’s focus aimed at search relevancy and accuracy, landing page quality is an integral factor, particularly when determining things like your Quality Score.

Search engines pay close attention to the landing page quality and relevance to keywords, and that isn’t likely to change. Now, Google even tracks how often a user returns to the search page after visiting the landing page in an attempt to understand whether they were satisfied with the search result.

To stay ahead of the updates, it’s imperative to maintain the quality and relevance of both landing and linked pages.

2. Don’t rely solely on keywords

The overall tendency of Google algorithm updates is to move away from a hyper-focus on keywords to more long-tail phrases and nuance. Of course, keywords are still an integral part of SEM. But building your strategy solely around them can prevent you from seeing the big picture or creating a well-rounded program.

Rather than only focusing on your keyword, you also want to take intent and relevance into account. Look into how you can best answer the questions your audience is asking. Paying attention to when, how, and what they ask can help you design relevant ad and landing page content while satisfying changing search engine algorithms.  

It can help to focus on the buyer’s journey instead of only on single keywords that users type when starting the search.

For example, Google has a different view of relevance with the roll-out of MUM. Now, it evaluates how your content or landing page fits into the context of the subject. This includes relevant backlinks, internal linking for content clusters, and proper Schema markup.

3. Look for update warnings

In some cases, search engines will offer some advanced notice about an upcoming algorithm update. Back in April 2020, Google announced a 2021 algorithm change that would introduce Core Web Vitals as ranking factors.

This gave marketers more than a year to get familiar with these new factors and adjust accordingly. Since Google isn’t always forthcoming about update details, it’s wise to take notice when they are.

4. Keep calm and tweak your content

When search engines change their algorithms, it can cause chaos for marketers. It’s often a mad dash to adjust strategies and make quick changes to curb significant ranking changes or irregular reports. But sometimes these actions can hurt your campaign even further.

Remember, all you can do is implement relevant improvements and follow the latest guidelines. If you’re using Google Analytics, making note of when an algorithm update took place can explain any out-of-the-ordinary results when you pull reports or debrief clients.

5. React carefully

If you discover a recent search engine algorithm update hurt your rankings, try not to panic or start making frantic adjustments.

Rather, the best results will come from taking the time to study what the new update is targeting so you can review how your website doesn’t meet these requirements. 

Most likely, you only need to make a few simple tweaks to get back in the game.

Pro tip: If another company’s site starts outranking you after an algorithm update, you can run a competitor analysis to figure out why that might be.

The takeaway

Search engine algorithms are a complex system for helping users find the best answer to their queries. To improve user experience, search engines change their algorithms regularly. But studying how algorithms tick isn’t as important as understanding what your target audience wants.

By improving the quality and relevance of landing page content while exploring questions your audience asks, you can work to minimize your dependence on algorithm changes and control, to some degree, how drastically they affect your initiatives.

This article has been updated and was originally published in November 2020.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Sam Yadegar on Dec 1 , 2021

What is CTR? Is it a ranking factor? How can you improve yours? Let’s explore.

Here, you’ll find:

  • How to define “clickthrough rate” (CTR)
  • Why you need to analyze your CTR
  • How CTR factors into rankings
  • Expert tips for improving your rate

In digital marketing, it’s all about the click.

Sure, impressions are great and social media follows are awesome, but getting that elusive click on your ad or hyperlink is what starts your target audience member on the buyer’s journey.

So it’s no surprise that clickthrough rate is a metric marketers keep a close eye on. In fact, many of them view CTR as an indication of success or failure. 

In reality, the click-through rate is a significant piece of data that can help analyze your marketing efforts and make timely adjustments as needed.

While the ideal CTR may be different for any given website, improving it is a common marketing goal. Let’s take a closer look at what CTR is all about and how to leverage it in your marketing campaign.

person clicking a mouse

CTR demonstrates how relevant your ads and content are to the audience you’re trying to reach. (Image via Pexels)

What is CTR?

The click-through rate or CTR is the rate of people who go from viewing a link to your website to clicking it. 

CTR can be measured for links that appear on:

  • Pay-per-click or PPC ads
  • The search engine results page (SERP)
  • Social media ads and posts
  • Marketing emails
  • Other pages on your website

The formula is simple:

Number of clicks/number of impressions (views) x 100 = CTR

For example, let’s say 1,000 people viewed your ad and five people clicked on it. 5/1,000 x 100 = 0.5. That means your CTR is 0.5%.

PPC CTR can differ from organic search CTR or social media CTR — and so can your goals for improving them.

Why is CTR important?

CTR demonstrates how relevant your ads and content are to the audience you’re trying to reach. It can help you understand how effectively your campaign content will perform. 

However, a high CTR doesn’t paint the whole picture.

If users are clicking your ads, coming to your website, and bouncing immediately, you may need to beef up your landing pages or adjust metadata.

On the other hand, a low CTR may illuminate a flaw in your campaign. A low rate could be due to:

  • Poor choice of keywords (and negative keywords)
  • Incomplete or sub-par meta descriptions
  • Irrelevant landing pages
  • Unrealistic CTR goals

Generally, a higher CTR means lower cost per click (CPC) and a better return on investment (ROI) to boot.

If you want to analyze your ad’s or content’s relevance as a whole, the best way is to view CTR together with other metrics such as bounce rate and conversion rate.  

Pro tip: Don’t be spooked by a high bounce rate — here’s why that’s not always a bad thing.

two young men doing calculations

While Google has stated that CTR isn’t an official ranking factor, some SEO experts remain skeptical. (Image via Unsplash)

What is a good CTR?

The fact is, there’s no such thing as a universally “good” clickthrough rate. Obviously, you want most of the (qualified) people viewing your ad or content to click through. But what qualifies as “good CTR” isn’t one size fits all.

Benchmarks depend on a handful of factors, including:

  • Industry – the average CTR for one industry may be higher than for another, such as the entertainment industry vs. home improvement
  • Ad network – the average CTR for Google Search Network is usually higher than CTR for Google Display Network
  • Marketing channel CTR for email marketing links can be higher than the rate for PPC

You can start by determining your own CTR, then setting goals to increase it. To get a better understanding of what you should aim for, you can check out the average CTRs by industry.

Is CTR a ranking factor?

Since Google isn’t forthcoming about its ranking factors, marketers argue about CTR being one of them. There isn’t a clear answer yet. 

Some marketing experts conducted experiments to figure out whether CTR is a ranking factor and came to different conclusions. And while Google has stated that CTR isn’t an official ranking factor, some SEO experts remain skeptical. 

It makes sense: seeing as how CTR is an out-of-context piece of data, Google isn’t likely to use it too heavily when it comes to ranking websites.

But while CTR doesn’t seem to be a direct ranking factor, it’s still a metric worth monitoring. It allows you to evaluate the relevance of your content and provide a better understanding of the target audience, which in turn helps you climb higher on the SERPs.

How to improve your CTR

Even if it’s not a direct ranking factor, a low CTR could hurt your paid search, social media, email marketing, and SEO efforts. Here are a few expert tips on how to improve it.

  • Review your meta descriptions: A poorly written meta description can prevent searchers from clicking the link, even if your website is on the first page of the SERP. Make sure it’s descriptive, accurate, and eye-catching.
  • Aim for the featured snippet: Optimize your content to appear in the featured snippet. Websites featured in this snippet get an average of 8.6% CTR. If you manage to make it into the snippet and kick your website up to the first spots on the SERPs, your click-through rate could reach 29%.
  • Focus on long-tail keywords: If you use too many broad keywords, your ads could be irrelevant to a large amount of searchers. Try to enhance your keyword game with long-tail keywords — and take advantage of negative keywords.
  • Revisit your ad: A low CTR could signal that your ad’s messaging is too vague or the CTA isn’t compelling. Don’t hesitate to A/B test your ad content, format, and design — a simple photo swap could spike your CTR.
  • Localize your content: If you’re a local business, proper localization is integral to your CTR. Implement local SEO and make sure your Google Business Profile is complete and accurate.
  • Adjust audience targeting: Is it time to revisit your audience targeting? You may find out that you aren’t segmenting your leads properly and trying to appeal to the wrong audience.

While it’s important to monitor your CTR to see how well you’re moving toward your goals, try not to overanalyze. In many cases, a low CTR with a high conversion rate simply means you’re effectively targeting a specific segment of your audience.

Looking for more ways to improve your click-through rate? We’re here to help.

The takeaway

It’s clear that click-through rate is an important metric that can help you analyze and optimize your marketing strategy. 

While an ideal clickthrough rate doesn’t exist, you can set CTR goals for your business based on industry benchmarks and previous campaign metrics.

Clickthrough rate may not be a direct ranking factor, but improving it can usually help achieve higher spots on the SERPs, increase conversions, and decrease your CPC.

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Caroline Cox on Nov 19 , 2021

Is a competitor showing up for your company name on the SERP? Here’s what to do.

Here, you’ll find:

  • What happens when a competitor uses your name in a Google ad
  • Advice for dealing with competitors using your company name
  • What to know about competitors bidding on your brand name
  • Expert insights into bidding on other business names

Seeing your competitor’s name on the search engine results page (SERP) is never a great feeling. 

But an even worse feeling? When a rival brand shows up after someone searches for your brand’s name.

So, are companies allowed to use another company’s name in their paid search ads? What about as keywords for bidding? We answer these questions and more below.

Can a competitor use my brand name in their ad?

The rules around company names and trademarks can be confusing. Let’s break it down. 

The basic answer is: yes. In the late 2000s, Google lifted its restrictions that prevented brands from bidding on a competitor’s branded keyword.

That means brands can use your brand name in their Google ads, as long as the name isn’t trademarked and the way they’re using it can’t be deemed “deceptive.” (Deception tactics include things like the company impersonating your brand.)

If your company’s name is trademarked, that may be a different story. Often, bigger companies trademark their names. If this is the case, then they’re the exclusive owners. Per Google guidelines, no other brands can use that name in their ad copy. 

An exception to this rule is if the company using it is a legitimate reseller, such as Zappos creating an ad for Nike sneakers. 

Pro tip: Bing also allows competitors to bid on your brand name. Their policy states that “as an advertiser, you are responsible for ensuring that your keywords and ad content, including trademarks and logos, do not infringe or violate the intellectual property rights of others.”

competitor brand name bidding on the SERP

An example of what it looks like when one brand bids on another’s name. (via Google)

What are the rules about competitors bidding on my brand name?

Competitors can buy your brand name as a keyword, even if it’s trademarked. By using your brand name as a keyword, their ad could potentially show up on the SERP when someone is searching for your specific company. 

Unfortunately, you can’t do much of anything about the competitor using your brand name or trademarks as a keyword. 

However, there are things you can do to remain competitive. For starters, ensure you’re bidding on your own brand name. This way, competitors aren’t stealing any extra traffic that should be going to you. This also allows you to take up more real estate in the SERPs if you’re showing a paid ad and appearing in the organic results. 

If a competitor is bidding on your brand name and you aren’t? Then their ad will show above your organic result, which isn’t what you want. You can also bid on their brand name — more on that below.

Pro tip: If you have an existing amicable relationship with a competitor, consider contacting them for a truce and agree to not bid on each other’s terms. There’s no guarantee they’ll agree, but if you’re worried about your budget, it’s worth a shot!

See the Playbook our experts used to increase conversion volume by over 40% for clients like Microsoft, Honda and Verizon.

Why would a competitor bid on my company’s brand name?

The main reason companies bid on another’s brand name is to try to steal traffic away from the competition. They want to target those who are looking for a product or service like theirs. 

This is especially the case in areas where the product or service is not as well known, so people aren’t searching for the services as much. This leaves few options for keywords, so brands bid on their competitors. 

brand name bidding

Before you get heated, it’s important to realize that they might not actually be bidding on your brand. (Image via Rawpixel)

How do I choose which competitor brand names to bid on, if any?

If you’re going to try bidding on a competitor’s name, we advise making sure you’re picking the right competitors to bid on (or that your agency has picked the right ones, if you’re not doing your own marketing). 

There’s not much point in bidding on brands that aren’t stealing business away from you, such as big-name brands with significantly more offerings. 

You’ll also want to tailor the ad copy to differentiate your brand from that particular competitor. One way to do this is by highlighting your unique selling propositions. For instance, if that particular competitor brand has a similar but more expensive product or service, highlight your brand as being the more affordable option.

Have more questions about paid search or Google Ads? You’ve come to the right place.

What if I think a competitor is bending or breaking the rules around using my brand name?

Before you get heated, it’s important to realize that they might not actually be bidding on your brand. If your brand is “Sunrise Senior Living,” for example, the company could simply be bidding on “senior living.” That’s what will match in Google’s algorithm — not necessarily the “Sunrise” part. 

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot you can do unless they’re using your trademarked term in their ad copy. If they are, you can submit a trademark complaint to Google

Aside from deciding to bid on their brand in return, another way to fight back would be to conduct keyword research (using tools like SpyFu or SEMrush) on what other keywords they’re using for search marketing efforts. 

In extreme cases, you could consider sending the company a cease and desist letter, though this will likely come at a cost and not guarantee the outcome you want.

semrush pricing SERP

just because a competitor is bidding on certain keywords, that doesn’t mean they’re the “right” keywords. (Image via Google)

Should I bid on my competitor’s brand name?

There’s no hard-and-fast answer to this. However, experience tells us that bidding on a competitor’s brand name shouldn’t be a top priority in your paid search strategy. 

If you have other keywords that are working well, it’s a better use of your ad spend to allocate your marketing budget toward those. 

If you have an excess budget, then you could try bidding on their brand as a keyword. We don’t suggest using another brand in your ad copy.

How can I use competitors bidding on my brand to my advantage?

If your products or services are similar enough, this could give you ideas for things to try on your own search marketing efforts. 

It’s also worth noting that, just because a competitor is bidding on certain keywords, that doesn’t mean they’re the “right” keywords. If a keyword doesn’t seem right to bid on for your business, don’t do it! (And maybe even add them to your campaign as negative keywords.) 

Consider reviewing their ad copy or strategy and taking inventory of what you uncover. How does yours compare? This is a great time to reflect on your own advertising efforts. 

Are you taking full advantage of Google’s ad offerings like ad extensions and sitelink extensions (if appropriate)? Ask yourself: If you were a consumer, would you click on your ad?

Pro tip: If you decide to bid on competitor terms, avoid using dynamic keyword insertion. This is a feature that involves the searched keyword auto-populating as an ad’s headline. This will cause your competitor’s name to show up in your ad. It could be deemed deceptive, even if it’s unintentional.

The takeaway

We find that, in general, bidding on your competitor’s brand is typically not a great idea. You could also get lower quality scores for those keywords. 

That’s because Google can see you’re not the brand whose name you’re bidding on. Plus, it’ll likely cost you more to bid on those branded keywords because the brand isn’t your own.

In the long run, it’ll be better for your marketing plan to focus on your unique products or services, make sure user experience is top-notch, and use ads to highlight your selling propositions that make you stand out.

This article has been updated and was originally published in December 2020.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Sam Yadegar on Oct 14 , 2021

While undeniably dominant and powerful, Google isn’t the only game in town. 

Here, you’ll find:

  • Reasons to explore non-Google search engines
  • A rundown of the top non-Google engines
  • Info about the leading international search engines
  • The latest search engine stats

Google is so popular that it’s officially a verb in the dictionary. That’s an achievement few other brands can boast.

But it’s still worth noting that plenty of other big names in tech — from Microsoft to Yahoo — have search engines of their own. These alternative search platforms could very well have users that aren’t on Google. Thus, they’re worth a look.

Ignoring other search engines could hurt your SEM campaign by leaving out a substantial part of your target audience.

Exploring non-Google search engines can offer a slew of advantages like improving your marketing efforts, widening your company’s reach, and providing valuable insight into your campaign. 

Here’s a closer look at what other search engines have to offer.

person looking at google homepage on laptop

Experimenting with additional search engines may bring you surprising results. (Image via Unsplash)

Why you should care about non-Google search engines

While Google is the bona fide leader in search with more than 86% of the market share, it’s hardly alone on the market. 

Consumers take advantage of other search engines for a number of reasons, from research and comparative shopping to the type of results they get and how they’re tracked.

Besides extending the reach of your marketing campaign, it’s wise to optimize for other search engines for these reasons:

  • While currently dominant, Google’s market share is steadily declining. Back in 2010, it was about 91%.
  • Google isn’t always the most popular search engine for visual and product searches.
  • Many companies ignore non-Google search engines, making the competition less intense.
  • Paid advertising is often less expensive on non-Google search engines.

Sure, Google should still probably get the majority of your attention for marketing purposes. But experimenting with additional search engines may bring you surprising results.

bing homepage

1. Bing

When it comes to market share, Bing is the proud owner of the second spot.

  • The number of monthly visitors on Bing is over 1 billion.
  • The largest age group on Bing is 45-54 years old.
  • 55% of Microsoft Network users (which includes Bing) have graduated college.
  • 42% of Bing users have a household income in the top 25%.
  • 87% of Bing users come from Internet Explorer, a browser with significant market share (more than Firefox and Opera and a little less than Safari). 

When it comes to paid advertising, Bing Ads have their own unique advantages.

When you use them, you’re putting your ads out on the Microsoft Network (Bing, Yahoo, and AOL). Plus, the cost per click (CPC) on Bing is significantly lower than on Google.

duckduckgo homepage

2. DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo is popular among users who are concerned about privacy. It positions itself as a search engine that doesn’t track or personalize search results. 

Between 2019 and 2021, the market share of this U.S. engine went from about 1.3% to 2.5%.

Today, about 80 million people use DuckDuckGo, with a daily average of about 97 million searches. While the reach of DuckDuckGo is narrower than that of Google or Bing, the number of users is growing steadily. 

Pro tip: The paid advertising on DuckDuckGo is done through Bing Ads. 

yandex homepage

3. Yandex

If a part of your target audience is located in Russia, you want to pay special attention to Yandex. In this country, Yandex is the leading search engine with almost 60% of the market share.  

  • Yandex dominates among non-urban dwelling users while urban users take advantage of both Google and Yandex.
  • Yandex Display ads reach 47% of the Russian internet users.

When using Yandex for advertising, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with Russian web privacy laws. (General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, isn’t active in Russia.)

While the global market share of Yandex is just 0.35%, it’s one of the top 4 search engines in the world.

baidu homepage

4. Baidu

Marketers who work with the Chinese audience may want to pay special attention to Baidu. 

Since Google is banned in mainland China, Baidu is the best alternative, with about 75% of the market share. The second place belongs to Sogou (which boasts around 14% of the market share).

Advertising on Baidu can be tricky since Chinese laws are strict about advertising. To start using Baidu Ads, you need to provide a significant amount of paperwork.

When advertising on this search engine, you also have to work with a local manager who makes sure that you aren’t marketing anything that can be considered “sensitive,” according to Chinese laws.

Struggling to get your brand on the search engine results page? We can help.

ecosia homepage

5. Ecosia

No matter your target audience, there’s likely a significant portion that cares about sustainability. For brands looking to connect with an environmentally conscious audience, take some time to dig into Ecosia. 

This search engine promises users to spend the money it earns through advertising on planting trees.

  • Ecosia reports that it has more than 15 million active users.
  • Ecosia’s global market share is 0.11%.
  • This search engine is especially popular among German and French users in particular.

With environmental concerns growing steadily, Ecosia’s popularity is likely to grow as well. And since advertising on this search engine is less expensive than on Google, it may make sense to spend some of your marketing budget there.

Ecosia’s search results and ads are powered by Microsoft Bing. However, the search engine says that it enhances ads with its own algorithms.

swisscows homepage

6. Swisscows

Just like DuckDuckGo, Swisscows focuses on user privacy. Since launching in 2014, it claims not to store any data, positioning itself as a private alternative to Google. It also claims to be “family-friendly” by not surfacing results that could be deemed explicit.

The majority of traffic to Swisscows comes from searchers in Switzerland. However, more than 22% of its visitors come from the United States.

The search engine gets about 9 million users monthly. Swisscows works with Microsoft Bing for advertising.

The takeaway

There’s no denying Google’s power when it comes to online search. 

However, as more alternative engines grow in popularity for any number of reasons, there’s plenty of value in at least knowing what else is out there — particularly when your competitors could be doing the same thing.

By focusing your attention on other search engines, you’re also widening your reach and potentially increasing your marketing ROI.

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

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Written by Sam Yadegar on Aug 30 , 2021

Google’s MUM update is a huge technological leap forward. But what tangible changes will we see, and what will it mean for marketers?

Here you’ll find:

  • An explanation of this new Google technology
  • The changes you can expect to see
  • How marketers will be affected by MUM
  • How to keep your site compatible

These days, when you type an inquiry into Google, chances are high that it’ll understand what you’re looking for and serve up the proper results. But as far as the search engine has come, it’s still not perfect.

That means queries still sometimes get misinterpreted, leading to unrelated results on the search engine results page, or SERP. Maybe you wanted facts about the song “Hotel California” but got results for the best hotels to stay at in California instead.

Thanks to Google’s new MUM update, these instances of the search engine not understanding search intent may continue to become even more rare. However, that’s not the only thing that will change, and marketers should know what to expect. 

Let’s go over this pending update, including what it is, what it does, and how your marketing efforts like search engine optimization (SEO) may be affected.  

What is the Google MUM update?

Google has been working on a new update to implement an artificial intelligence-based machine learning model that they call “Multitask Unified Model,” or MUM.

It’s such a huge advancement in search, AI, and machine learning technologies that it’s reportedly one thousand times more powerful than their previous BERT update released just two years prior. 

The goal is to make it easier for users to find answers to complex questions that can’t be resolved with Google’s standard couple-sentence summary snippet.

woman sitting outside with a laptop

MUM will allow Google to process your query, identify the full search intent, and source answers to each step of the problem. (Image via Pexels)

How will MUM affect Google Search?

According to the search engine itself, users currently need an average of eight search queries to accurately address complex, multi-step problems. MUM is meant to tackle them faster, easier, and more naturally. 

Responses will more closely resemble the answer a seasoned expert would give that addresses the intent of the question rather than just the individual words used. It does this by implementing a few key changes.

Fewer questions, better answers

Google’s new MUM model uses advanced language processing technology called a T5 text-to-text framework along with other state-of-the-art machine learning methods to better comprehend language. This allows it to understand complex questions more fully and provide nuanced, multi-step answers.  

They use the following scenario as an example:  

“You’ve hiked Mt. Adams. Now you want to hike Mt. Fuji next fall, and you want to know what to do differently to prepare.”

While this would typically require multiple searches for each difference (e.g., weather, elevation, difficulty, gear, etc.) MUM will allow Google to process your query, identify the full search intent, and source answers to each step of the problem. 

This way, they’ll be able to provide a comprehensive and useful response that includes all the info you’ll need.

A global source of information

It stands to reason that the most accurate and specific information about Mt. Fuji would likely be written in Japanese. However, Google traditionally only provides results written in the language used to perform the search. 

As you can imagine, this severely limits the results.  

MUM, on the other hand, can understand 75 different languages, allowing it to respond to a query in one language using information written in another. This basically gives you access to 75 times as much information as before.

Thinking outside the text box

Another big MUM advancement: being able to understand information presented in different forms. This includes images, videos, and audio. 

If you ask a question that was recently addressed in a podcast or YouTube video, you’d usually be out of luck. With MUM’s new capabilities, it can better understand the audio and provide that information in its response.  

Answering questions instead of matching keywords

As marketers are well aware, search relies on keywords to identify the most relevant results to a query. 

But just because a result contains the same keywords, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee it’s relevant to the question asked (as the scenario at the beginning of this article illustrates).

A better understanding of language and meaning allows Google to identify answers that genuinely match the searcher’s intent, even if none of the keywords used are present in the results. 

It will present information with a meaning that answers the question, not just ones containing the same phrases. It could even present subtopics for deeper research.  

robot and human hands reaching for each other

Google presenting information from sites in 75 different languages and translating them for users means we’ll all have more competition than ever before. (Image via Pexels)

What does the Google MUM update mean for marketers?

The answer to this question is complex. The nature of machine learning or AI technology means that it will, by definition, evolve over time. 

However, it’s possible that Google’s ability to aggregate information from multiple sources and provide a response will mean less traffic. If Google answers the query fully on the SERP, there’s less incentive to click, though users may still visit the page for context.

Many have speculated that this could eliminate the need for SEO altogether. But John Mueller, Google’s senior webmaster trends analyst, doesn’t see this as a realistic possibility. He believes that SEO will evolve, as it has for years, but it will always be needed. 

Marketers will likely adapt just fine, as we always have.  

Here’s what we know for sure: Google presenting information from sites in 75 different languages and translating them for users means we’ll all have more competition than ever before. On the plus side, it also means a wider potential audience.

Pro tip: The MUM update means you’ll be able to use non-text media like videos more often without a penalty. Once the changes take effect, you can slowly start implementing more types of media that have been traditionally barred from SEO benefits.  

Keeping your site compatible

There’s good news: You don’t need to do anything different right now to account for MUM.

As long as you create content with the intent of providing users the best information and most accurate answers possible, your materials are already optimized for the way MUM works. For now, especially since the rollout will be lengthy and could take years, nothing will change.   

The takeaway

This is yet another new and exciting shift in the world of search. It can also be scary, as the unknown often is. 

But you should take comfort in a few things. First, if you were optimizing correctly for the old system, your work is already done. Also, your reach and the kinds of content that can be useful for attracting organic traffic are about to grow significantly.

With an AI that understands your content as well as a human and without a need for keywords, there are fewer tricks others can use to gain favor. That means we’re all on a level playing field. 

As always, it’s best practice to create the most high-quality content you can. Beyond that, all our fates are in the hands of a higher power now — a thousand times higher, to be exact.

This is a complex topic. If you’d like help making sure your site is as optimized as possible before the changes take effect, let’s talk!

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

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[DISPLAY_ULTIMATE_SOCIAL_ICONS]
Written by Caroline Cox on Jul 26 , 2021

By optimizing your messaging to appear in search engine results page (SERP) features, you can whip past the competition and grow brand awareness while you’re at it.

Here, you’ll find:

  • What SERP features are
  • The benefits of appearing in SERP features
  • The most useful SERP elements
  • How to optimize your site for feature placement

Bringing your website to the top of organic search results is tricky. Following top-notch SEO tactics gives you a strong foundation, but there’s more you can do — like priming your site and its content for a SERP feature.

What are SERP features?

Google designed SERP features to enhance the user’s search experience. When someone enters a query, these elements allow them to get an answer as quickly as possible (without the extra clicking) by pulling out and highlighting what the algorithm considers a relevant answer.

While some research shows that placement on certain SERP features can potentially reduce clicks, they’re still worth striving for. These placements show searchers that Google sees your site as an authority, and it puts your content above your competitors’.

The type of feature a user sees on their results page depends on the type of query they entered. If the question is “Who is Shakespeare?”, they’ll see a Knowledge Graph. For the “best dentist in LA” query, they’ll see a Local Pack (we’ll break down what these features are below). After all, a search engine’s key goal is to give the user an accurate answer as quickly as possible.

Luckily, you can work to optimize your website in ways that’ll make it more likely to appear in one of these SERP features. Let’s dive in.

serp feature - shakespeare

A Featured Snippet result in response to an inquiry about Shakespeare. (via Google)

 

1. Featured Snippets

A Featured Snippet is a box that appears on top of all the other search results. It showcases what Google’s algorithm deems the most helpful answer to the user’s query, along with the link to the website that provides it.

Here are some ways you can set up your site for Featured Snippets:

  • Beef up your content marketing efforts (almost all Featured Snippets are extracted from content that ranks in the top 10 positions).
  • Use SEMrush to study your competition and learn what they’ve done to obtain snippet space.
  • Enter the query your audience might use into Google and see what the current Featured Snippet is. If your competition is already hogging the space, go to the “People also ask” section and optimize your content for those queries.
  • Rewrite your content to answer two or more questions instead of just one. This can get your website into Featured Snippets for related queries.
  • Keep your content short and sweet. Use bullet points and a short paragraph structure for easy readability.
serp - CSUN

The Knowledge Graph results for CSUN. (via Google)

2. Knowledge Graphs

The Knowledge Graph is an information box that appears on the top right side of the search results. It generally features an extensive answer to a specific question. Google uses its algorithm to pull the information from its database of reliable sources.

Here are some ways you can set up your site for Knowledge Graphs:

  • Use Schema Markup (a type of structured data) to ensure your website can be crawled properly (Google uses only well-structured websites for its database).
  • Create a Wikipedia and Wikidata page for your brand — Google often uses it for the information to feature in the Knowledge Graph.
  • Work on your backlink strategy to garner links from authority websites. 
  • Optimize your website for local search.
  • Try to get your social media accounts verified.
  • Verify and optimize your Google My Business profile.
serp - vegetarian restaurants in atlanta

Local Teaser Pack results for a search about vegetarian restaurants in Atlanta — the Teaser Pack is similar to Local Packs but without directions or hyperlinks to the website. (via Google)

Pro tip: In 2020, a Google rep confirmed that if a web page listing is included in a Featured Snippet position, the listing will no longer be repeated in the search results. 

3. Local Packs

Queries that specify a certain location often trigger the appearance of a Local Pack box. It features local results along with business information, maps, and reviews. 

This SERP feature is for local companies and establishments. The box features three top locations, called a Local Teaser Pack. The rest is hidden under the “View all” button.

Here are some ways you can set up your site for Local Packs:

  • Boost your on-page SEO efforts and work on mobile-friendliness.
  • Create a high-quality contact page with a clickable phone number and email address as well as a map.
  • Add Schema Markup.
  • Use client testimonials on your website.
  • Optimize and verify your Google My Business page.
  • Create profiles on major review sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Foursquare.
  • Make sure your contact information is consistent throughout all of your online platforms.
  • Get as many reviews on different websites as possible (these are also featured in the Local Packs). According to 2020 findings from Search Engine Land, GMB and reviews are the variables that have grown the most in their perceived impact.
HawkSEM SERP features 101 - 1

The “People also ask” results section regarding a search about scrambled eggs. (via Google)

4. Related Questions or “People also ask”

The Related Questions section usually appears under the Featured Snippet or Top Result in an accordion-style dropdown. However, they can emerge in other parts of the search page as well, under the header “People also ask.”

Different keywords can trigger the same related questions, helping you rank even higher. Meanwhile, all the related questions can sometimes feature the same page as the answer, boosting your clickthrough rate (CTR).

Here are some ways you can set up your site for Related Questions:

  • Extract People Also Ask (PAA) questions using ScreamingFrog’s Web Scraper Tool.
  • Check what PAA results appear in response to your competition’s branded queries.
  • Add these questions to your content and address them.
  • In your content, copy the format of the results, which currently appear in the related question sections.
  • Create on-page FAQ sections.
serp - how to grow sunflowers

Video Snippets as results for a query about planting a sunflower. (via Google)

Wondering how to make the most out of SERP features for your brand? You’ve come to the right place.

5. Video Snippets

Featured videos can appear in place of Featured Snippets with the goal of providing the best answer to the user’s question. Usually, they emerge in response to “how-to” queries. These Video Snippets can start running automatically and stop at a point where Google believes the question is answered.

Here are some ways you can set up your site for Video Snippets:

  • Use the main keyword in your video title.
  • Add a video description that contains the keyword.
  • Include a video transcription.
  • Optimize your video content to get as close to the top as possible (Google generally uses high-ranked clips for the featured section).
HawkSEM: SERP features - ads

Google Ads in search results about internet companies. (via Google)

6. Google Ads (top and bottom)

These paid search ads usually appear at the top and/or bottom of the SERP, above or below the organic results. They’re distinguished from the rest of the results by an “Ad” label.

Such ads usually dominate the first positions of Google Search. To occupy those coveted top spots, you can start by building a high-quality Google Ads campaign. You can also pay to place Product Listing Ads so your products (with links, descriptions, and/or prices) appear in the “zero” ranking spots, which are above the top organic listing.

The takeaway

SERP features are an integral part of working toward high rankings and top-notch conversions. Think about them as a big cherry on top of your SEM campaign. 

While it’s possible to appear in the SERP elements without making a concerted effort, the above tips can help you speed the process to see the results you want more quickly.

This post has been updated and was originally published in May 2020.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

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