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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.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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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.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Sam Yadegar on May 5 , 2021

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 via 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 three main 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
  • Rich result status – shows which rich results Google could or couldn’t read from your site, along with any errors encountered related to rich results

There’s also a Core Web Vitals report that will be even more helpful moving forward. This is because of the upcoming Core Web Vitals update Google announced would happen this spring, though it’s now been postponed to August 2021.

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. Furthermore, it will 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
  • Upload a small snippet of HTML code to the <head> section of your homepage’s code
  • Use Google Analytics code: If you have “Edit” permission in Google Analytics, you can copy the GA tracking code used on your site
  • Use 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

Pro tip: 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). 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 is not provided by GA.

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 continually receiving updates and new features. (Image via 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 continually receiving updates and new features. For 2021, these include:

  • Google News Performance Report: This new report allows you to see impressions, clicks, and CTR from news.google.com and the Google News app. 
  • Associations Page: This new and 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 now 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. 
  • Page Experience: The Page Experience report provides a summary of the user experience of visitors to your site. Google evaluates page experience metrics for individual URLs on your site. It will also use them as a ranking signal for a URL in Google Search results on mobile devices.

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. 

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 Dec 14 , 2020

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

Here, you’ll find:

  • What happens when you see a competitor using your name in a Google ad
  • Advice for dealing with competitors using your name
  • What to know about competitors bidding on your brand name
  • Expert insights on trying this tactic yourself

Seeing your competitor’s brand name on the search engine results page (SERP) is never a great feeling. But an even worse feeling? When they’re showing after someone searches for your company’s name.

So, are companies allowed to use other company’s names in their paid search ads? What about as keywords for bidding? Lisa McElwain, an SEM manager here at HawkSEM, helps 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. 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. 

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, you could 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!

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 should I do if I think a competitor is bending or breaking the rules around leveraging my brand?

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.

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 Nov 4 , 2020

The algorithm changes 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 heads-up) 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 paid advertising tactics, you can take steps to prevent them from derailing your plans.

search engine algorithms blog - puzzle

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

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. These days, Google reportedly changes its algorithms thousands of times each year. However, only major changes (or updates) affect SEM campaigns in a visible manner.

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.

The overall search engine strategy

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.

BERT update

In 2019, Google rolled out a major updated dubbed BERT. The aim of this update 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. But by knowing 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.

Need more help deciphering the search engine results page? You’re in the right place.

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 couple of years ago, landing pages weren’t as important for paid search because they didn’t play any role in the immediate ad-clicking process. Today, with Google’s focus aimed at search relevancy and accuracy, landing page quality is an integral factor when determining 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.

hawksem blog - search engine algorithms

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

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.  

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 almost a year to get familiar with these factors and adjust to the upcoming changes to make sure rankings don’t suffer. And 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. 

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.

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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