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PPC 2020 in review: COVID leaves its mark on e-commerce and paid search

Platforms pivoted to accommodate advertising during a crisis and automation continued to be at the heart of paid search changes.

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

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Google algorithms vs Google penalties, explained by an ex-Googler

This former Google quality analyst explains the difference between Google’s algorithms, manual actions, quality and penalties.

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

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Brand reputation and the impact of Google SERP selections

How Google treats company navigational brand searches and the impact they can have on consumer perceptions.

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

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Will COVID vaccine rollout bring back in-person conferences?

With hope for immunity on the horizon, please take our survey to help us understand how this changes your outlook for 2021.

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

Reblogged 1 year ago from

How to Schedule a Post on Facebook: A Step-by-Step Guide

While platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and even TikTok have gained significant user ground over the past few years, one social channel is still the market leader: Facebook.

Recently, the Pew Research Center revealed that nearly 70% of all U.S. adults use Facebook, while 74% log on daily. Worldwide, Facebook has more than 2.7 billion users.

And, today, regularly posting timely and relevant content on Facebook is key to reaching its big and broad audiences. 

Why? Trends, content, and discussion on any social media channel move much faster than they do on older platforms, like television or radio.

While content is vital to winning over audiences, quickly and consistently creating new social posts can overwhelm even tech-savvy social media managers.

While creating content manually comes with the advantage of right-now relevance, it also requires site owners to constantly track trends and interactions on Facebook, then craft relevant posts to leverage current conditions.

But what happens if site owners aren’t online? What if users halfway around the world are just waking up and looking for content while social managers are still asleep. Scheduled posts can help.

There’s a solution for many of the problems above: Scheduled Facebook posts. 

Facebook’s post scheduling tool lets you to launch pre-created content on your Facebook Business page on a predetermined date and time. By scheduling a few posts in advance each week, you and your team can keep normal work hours while even free yourselves up for brainstorming new social media strategies. 

While it’s still critical to create manual posts that speak to specific events or emerging market conditions, scheduled posts can help streamline your social efforts at scale.

Not sure how to schedule an engaging Facebook post? We’ll walk you through how to to do this, as well as how to solve common scheduling issues below.

We’ll start with the steps for scheduling a standard post. If you’re interested in learning how to schedule a share of another page’s post, click here to go to that section.

Step 1: Log into your Facebook Business page.

The first step in making a scheduled Facebook post is making sure you’re logged into your business page. Currently, personal pages don’t offer the same range of publishing tools.

Step 2: Click on “Publishing Tools.”

In the left menu of your business Facebook page, click on “Publishing Tools.” This will bring up a list of all published posts, as well as options to see your scheduled posts, drafts, and expiring posts.

Step 3: Create a compelling post.

Select “Create Post” at the top of your post. Write your post in the provided text box and add any images or links — you’ll get a real-time preview of the post as you create it to help identify any potential issues. 

Click Create Post or view older posts in publishing options pafe

As you draft your post copy, don’t over-complicate your scheduled posts. Design them the same way as on-demand posts — be engaging, personable, and relevant. 

Step 4: Set a publish time. 

When you’re satisfied with your new post, select “Schedule” in the drop down menu under News Feed. This will open a box that allows you to pick an exact date and time.

Click schedule post in drop down menu.

Step 5: Consider putting spend behind your content.

Worth noting? You can also increase the reach of your Facebook post by paying the social media site to advertise it for a specific length of time. Select the “Boost” option next to “Publish” to select your budget, target audience, and desired post duration.

To learn more about how to promote Facebook content and run ads, click here. 

Step 6: Track and adjust your schedule.

The Publishing Options menu lets you keep track of what you’ve already posted and when new posts will be published. Check it regularly to make sure scheduled posts still make sense.

For example, if you’ve suddenly run into production or supply issues, you might want to unschedule posts about big sales on lower-stock items.

Step 7: Consider cross-promotional scheduling.

It’s also worth noting that scheduled posts don’t automatically trigger any other notifications — such as Tweets. If you want Facebook posts to go out in tandem with other social media posts, ensure you know your publish dates so you can boost the impact of cross-platform promotions.

Additionally, you can also use helpful tools like HubSpot’s Social Media Software to schedule posts across multiple platforms, like Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. 

Step 8: Embrace scheduling tools.

While you can create and manage all scheduled posts manually, this can get very complicated very quickly as the impact of your Facebook page expands. 

As mentioned above, it’s worth considering social media management tools like HubSpot or Oktopost to help streamline scheduling while you focus on the creation of more compelling, on-demand content.

Step 9: Don’t over-schedule.

It might be easy to think you can schedule all of your posts for weeks at a time, and then not deal with social media for days. But, that’s far from the truth. 

If you’re making multiple scheduled posts per day, customer interest can quickly dry up as your page starts to look more like a sales vehicle than a social platform. While it’s worth calling out the debut of new products or big business changes, don’t over-schedule yourself.

Step 10: Compare your scheduled content to the competition.

Want to schedule posts ahead of time, but worried about inauthentic or robotic copy? Look at what your best competition is doing. 

Check out the frequency and content of their posts and use that knowledge to improve your social efforts. 

The goal of analyzing your competition isn’t to create carbon copies, but rather take a cue from their scheduling to make the best use of social platform potential.

Interested in scheduling a post that shows Facebook content already shared by a brand partner or company you’re working with? Learn how to schedule shared posts below. 

1. Go to the post you want to share and click the three dots.

This will show you all of the settings related to a post. Please note that some posts, such as those on personal Facebook accounts might have different settings options and might not be shareable.

2. Click “Copy link.”

HubSpot Post with copy link drop down

3. Go to Post Publishing Tools.

As noted above, hit the “Create post” CTA to open a post creation page. 

4. Go to Settings to access the older version of the tool.

Here’s where things get tricky. When we tried sharing a post with Facebook’s new tool, the previews looked a bit glitchy. For the best preview options and to ensure the post will look normal, click the settings icon on the lower left to access the tool’s older version while it still exists. 

click classic tool to access the older version of facebook's post creation tool

5. Insert the link into the post text box.

You should instantly see the business’ post appear below the text box. If you’d like to share a caption about that post, you can also include it as this HubSpot blogger did below:

Screen Shot 2020-12-08 at 1.12.49 PM

6. In the drop-down menu under News Feed, select “Schedule.”

This will allow you to schedule a post similarly to how you schedule your own. 

toggle to schedule in news feed drop down

Why Can’t I Schedule a Post on Facebook?

Running into problems scheduling your post on Facebook? There are several common culprits.

First, check to make sure you’re logged into the right account. If you’re logged into a personal rather than business page — or if you’re not a page administrator — you won’t be able to schedule posts. 

Next, make sure you’re looking in the right place. Until recently, the post scheduling feature moved from the “Create Post” box on Facebook Business pages to the “Publishing Options” page. 

If you try to create a scheduled post from your front page, you won’t see the scheduling button, but you should see an information box that directs you to the Publishing Options page. 

an information box directs Facebook business page users to schedule posts from the Publishing Tools dashboard.

What can’t be scheduled on Facebook?

Unfortunately, you can’t schedule everything you publish on Facebook. 

While posts with links, photos, and videos can be scheduled, photo albums, polls, or events can’t be set to launch automatically. You also can’t schedule Facebook Stories

Creating an Effective Facebook Schedule

Scheduling Facebook posts is a great way to boost your business impact and drive user engagement. 

Remember to keep content simple and relevant, don’t over-schedule, cross-promote posts where possible, and leverage best-in-class tools to streamline scheduling at scale.

Reblogged 1 year ago from

Google confirms passage indexing is not yet live

We expected this to roll out in 2020 but that seems unlikely now.

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

Reblogged 1 year ago from

Four website usability elements that improve your search rankings

30-second summary:

  • Website usability refers to how easy or intuitive a website is for visitors to interact with, and usability lies at the heart of delivering a compelling user experience (UX).
  • Incorporating relevant keywords and building backlinks to your website is still crucial, but Google’s algorithm is continually evolving to reward websites that render top-notch UX.
  • In this post, we’ll discuss four core elements you must optimize to gratify both human visitors and search engine crawlers so as to attain top rankings and stay there.

There was a time when usability — how easy-to-use and functional your website is — was seen as a separate concern from SEO.

Usability was often regarded as something that improves visitor engagement and conversions on your website and was not associated directly with SEO — the process used to improve your search engine rankings and organic traffic.

While the former part of the previous statement is still true, Google’s ranking algorithm has changed significantly in the last few years — with an increasingly stronger focus on determining the level of user experience of websites and delivering the most user-friendly results at the top.

Make no mistake — all the mainstream SEO tactics such as guest blogging, link building, and keyword optimization are very much applicable today — and you need to continue working on these as you’ve been doing since you first started optimizing your website for search engines.

But if you wish to reach the very top of the SERPs and stay there in 2021 and beyond, you must shift your focus toward optimizing the various usability elements on your website, such as the ones discussed below.

1. Site speed

Site speed has been a pivotal ranking factor for more than a decade. So, if your pages take too long to load — anything more than three seconds — not only will your visitors bounce away out of frustration but your rankings on Google will also floor.

In other words, ensuring optimal page load speed is critical for both usability and rankings. There’s a lot you can do in this regard, such as:

  • Keep your code clean, minify CSS and JS
  • Use browser caching
  • Improve server response time by using a CDN and fast hosting
  • Optimize bulky image files with image compression tools
  • Minimize page redirects

Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights to evaluate your current site speed. The tool will provide you with a list of recommendations that you can then work on to improve your speed. For instance, you may have bulky images that need to be compressed or too many unnecessary redirects.

Essentially, PageSpeed Insights helps you pinpoint where your site is lacking and tells you exactly what you need to do to satisfy the need for speed.

Knowing that even a one-second delay in mobile load times can impact mobile conversions by up to 20%, site speed is a super important usability element that you must get absolutely right.

Talking about mobile…

2. Mobile-friendliness

Today, mobile devices (excluding tablets) account for more than half of the global website traffic, 50.81% to be precise.

Unsurprisingly, due to Google’s mobile-first indexing, the mobile — not the desktop — version of your website is the benchmark for how Google indexes and ranks your site. Simply put, your mobile usability can effectively make or break your website’s rankings on Google.

Here’s how you can improve your site’s mobile-friendliness:

  • Optimize your content’s layout for one-handed use: 75% of users touch the screen only with one thumb, and 10% of users hold their phone in one hand and tap with a finger of the other hand. So, put primary interactions front and center (easy-to-reach areas of the screen), and less crucial ones at the edges. This makes it easy to use your website and constitutes a better mobile experience.
  • Get rid of the navigation bar: A navbar can take up a lot of space that could otherwise be used for displaying other important content. Instead of keeping it as is, incorporate a hamburger menu, which turns your space-hungry navbar into an expandable menu.
  • Minimize the amount of typing required: Good mobile usability means minimal touch-screen typing. Minimize the number of form fields on the mobile version of your site, enable autofill wherever possible, and provide the option to connect existing accounts (such as Facebook or Google) rather than asking to sign up from scratch.
  • Disable popups: Popups on mobile devices can be extremely annoying and seriously hurt the user experience. Google may also penalize you for popups or similar “intrusive interstitials” that make the content less accessible, so disable them right away.

Furthermore, avoid common mobile usability mistakes, such as:

  • Unplayable video content due to Flash
  • Font size too small
  • Touch elements too close to each other

You can check how mobile-friendly your website is with Google’s mobile-friendly test.

3. Content quality

As you’d expect, the quality of the content on your website is strongly linked to the usability of your website. Poor quality content doesn’t inspire visitors to take action or engage with your offerings, and consequently, won’t help your website rank well.

To create high-quality content, you first need to understand your target persona — get to know your audience, their desires, questions, and pain points. Analyze the search phrases that bring people to your site and understand what your visitors are looking for in order to create content that’s relevant and aligns with their intent.

Make sure to get the following pointers right.


Proper content layout is vital for a better user experience. For that, you can use different font sizes, bullets and numbered lists, and an F-shaped pattern as shown below.

Also, be consistent with your layout throughout your website to avoid user confusion.

layout and how it helps website usability and search rankings


Use subheadings — H2, H3,…, H6 — to create a logical content hierarchy on all pages. This aids readability and scannability by breaking up your content, which makes for better usability.

Also, make sure to have a unique H1 title tag for each page that is inviting for search engine users to click on.


All your content should be in-depth, answering all the questions on the topic so the visitor doesn’t feel the need to refer to other sources and is satisfied with their search experience.

That being said, don’t add fluff to increase the word count — visitors will easily recognize if you do and this will lead to a poor user experience.


Link to reputable and authoritative websites to improve your site’s credibility in the eyes of Google and visitors. Back up your claims with recent statistics and facts from reliable sources.

Have a logical internal linking structure to guide visitors to relevant pages from your content.

Also, broken links (“404 not found”) also harm usability and rankings, so find and fix them immediately.


Publishing long-form articles and text-based content is obviously crucial to rank high on Google.

But what if your target audience prefers more visual content, such as vlogs or infographics? For optimal usability, create content in the format that your audience prefers.

4. Site navigation

Regardless of what your website is about, its navigation structure plays a key role in its usability.

For example, if your website is a blog. How are your blog posts organized? Can visitors search for a specific post? How many clicks does it take to reach from point A to point B? Or, if it’s a web app, does it have easy onboarding for seamless digital adoption by users?

Keep these questions in mind to improve your site’s navigation.

Use menu bars, recognizable icons, and clickable links to aid navigation. For instance, if the text on your homepage is clickable and brings visitors to a particular landing page, it needs to be evident. Make it descriptive, change its color, underline it, or turn that text into a button.

Intuitive navigation means your visitors don’t have to think when browsing your site. They are less likely to get frustrated and easily find what they need — all of which means great usability and thus, rankings.

Wrapping up

Better website usability translates to better rankings, plain and simple.

With each update, Google’s ranking algorithm is having an increasing focus on rewarding websites that contribute to “delightful” web experiences for its users — on fast, intuitive, and engaging experiences across all devices.

So, don’t just fixate on incorporating keywords and building backlinks in the hopes of better search rankings. While doing that is important, prioritize the various usability elements outlined above too in order to ensure you stay on top of the SERPs in the long run.

Hazel Raoult is a freelance marketing writer and works with PRmention. She has 6+ years of experience in writing about business, entrepreneurship, marketing, and all things SaaS. Hazel loves to split her time between writing, editing, and hanging out with her family.

The post Four website usability elements that improve your search rankings appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

Reblogged 1 year ago from

How C-suite derives business value from social media: Q&A with Hootsuite’s VP of Corporate Marketing, Henk Campher

30-second summary:

  • The pandemic drove people inside their homes and onto social media like never before.
  • Hootsuite has closely been monitoring the changing behaviors of consumers online since the beginning of 2020.
  • We caught up with Henk Campher, VP of Corporate Marketing and Head of Social Impact at Hootsuite, to help you derive a cream level perspective for your digital strategies.
  • Know how CMOs can find value in SMM efforts, conduct market analysis, and run social media campaigns that actually succeed in the eyes of top management.

From learning banana bread recipes to connecting with loved ones, hunting jobs, and now shopping holiday gifts, the pandemic drove people inside their homes and onto social media like never before. 2020 has shown us how people have resorted to Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and LinkedIn. While Hootsuite has closely been monitoring the changing behaviors of consumers online, we caught up with Henk Campher, VP of Corporate Marketing and Head of Social Impact at Hootsuite, to help you derive a cream level perspective for your digital strategies.

Q. Paid ads have their own cons like reduced page reach, how do you maintain an upward graph for organic page reach and boost relationships, engagement, and direct sales?

Henk Campher: Never take a one-size-fits-all approach to social media marketing, especially with organic content. To reach a large audience, organic posts need to be optimized. To do this, you need to understand the platform and audience you are optimizing for. Start by focusing on the platforms that make the most sense for your business. For example, if you’re a B2B company, you may find the most value on LinkedIn or Twitter whereas a B2C company may gravitate towards Snapchat, Instagram, or TikTok to reach a younger crowd. 

If you want organic content to perform well on social media, create engaging and personalized content that is fitting for the platform you are using. Give people a reason to follow and engage with your social posts. To better understand what content resonates with your audience, start by using social listening tools—at Hootsuite, we integrate directly with Brandwatch so our customers can navigate social intelligence capabilities directly from their dashboard.

Case study:

Securian Financial, a Hootsuite financial services customer, was able to leverage social listening to determine that their key demographics shifted away from complaining about quarantine to sharing positive content around being connected. What arose was Life Balance Remix, a UGC campaign encouraging people to share content that highlighted their “new normal” and garnered thousands of participants with over 2.5 million campaign impressions across Twitter and Instagram. 

Beyond creating the right content for the right platform, it’s essential to connect with people. Show your audience the human side of your brand. You can do this by lifting up your employees on social media and sharing their stories or connecting with the wider community through an employee advocacy tool, like Hootsuite’s Amplify tool. If you want to boost engagement on posts, ask your audience relevant and interesting questions. This is also a great opportunity to learn about what interests them. If you focus on value and creating the right content, you’ll be able to successfully develop relationships with your audience, boost engagement, and drive sales.

Q. What are the top social media metrics that can help CMOs see direct value in marketers’ social media marketing efforts?

Henk Campher: For both B2C and B2B brands, the key to successful social measurement is to keep your metrics simple. Trust classic cross-platform metrics like return-on-ad spend and lifetime value, as these measures also tie directly to your organization’s business goals. Once you choose the content you think will resonate with your audience, test your ideas to identify which posts generate the most engagement, shares, and impressions, and do this for each social platform. Continue to test, learn, and optimize. But when it comes to measuring your efforts on social, it is important to keep your business objectives in mind and develop KPIs that match the overall goals and expectations of your organization. Metrics such as impressions and reach should be analyzed consciously.

If your goal is to build brand awareness, focus on overall engagement and how long visitors are staying on your website. This will help evaluate if your content isn’t just “content-for-content-sake” but is actually resonating with your audience and driving conversions. 

Q. What are the typical touchpoints/aspects marketers must include in their social media campaigns to reflect value for the brand and meet CMO expectations?

Henk Campher: One of the most important aspects of a social media campaign is social listening. A robust social listening tool allows you access to real-time insights into consumer sentiment, shifting trends, and competitive intelligence. These insights are key to helping a brand better understand how consumers feel about a campaign and what they want from your brand.  

The best social media campaigns also have specific goals in mind and are purpose-driven. You must understand the customer segment you’re trying to reach through a specific campaign. To achieve this, create profiles or personas for your core constituencies that integrate data and insights from marketing channels (including social) and CRM. Understanding how, where, and when to engage with your constituents requires a clear picture of their motivations and their needs.

Another important aspect is social data integration. Our ‘Social Transformation Report uncovered that only 10% of marketers feel they have mature practices around integrating social data into enterprise systems like Adobe, Microsoft, Marketo, or Salesforce. However, according to our ‘2021 Social Trends Report, 85% of organizations that integrate social data into their other systems have the confidence to accurately quantify the ROI of social media. While data integration is a complex process, a much more accessible entry point that can help marketers better connect social engagement to customer identity and measurable ROI is integrating paid and organic social media activity.  We found that mature organizations with completely integrated paid and organic social strategies are 32% more confident in quantifying the ROI of social media. 

Q. How important is it for any brand to have involvement in social matters and social investments?

Henk Campher: The most successful brands this year didn’t put themselves front and center of the conversation—they decided to listen instead. After taking the time to listen, brands must find creative and empathetic ways of adding value to the conversation instead of trying to lead it. Brands should stay true to their identities and their audience by asking:

  • “What is my role?”
  • “What conversations make sense for me to weigh in on and why?”
  • “How can social media contribute to my business objectives?”

Having a voice in important conversations is powerful for a brand. However, if a brand is posting about topics that don’t align with the brand’s personality and identity, customers will notice. As a wealth of different conversations are taking place across social media at all times, it’s important to create a blueprint for how to comment on a conversation, if at all. 

Q. What methods can CMOs implement to use social media like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn for effective market analysis?

Henk Campher: There are various tried-and-true methods CMOs can implement when using social media platforms for market analysis. Before you begin your analysis, always have a clear goal in mind. It’s important to look at what exactly you want to analyze whether it’s your brand, product, or competitors. Doing a quantitative content analysis by assessing the engagement rate of your social posts can give companies an idea of if a message or product is resonating with your followers. Social listening is another incredibly powerful tool for analysis. Through social listening, you can zero in on how people are talking about your brand.  It’s also important to not be shy. Be empowered as a brand to implement tactics like polls and surveys on social to get in touch with customers and glean informative insights into how your audience is thinking about your brand. 

Q. How would you push an online event that involves employee referral on social media for a maximum turnaround?

Henk Campher: Develop an effective social media strategy in advance and provide your employees with the right resources and tools to promote the event. You can do this by crafting the content and social platform guidelines in advance so it is easy for employees to spread the word on social media. At Hootsuite our Amplify tool allows brands to extend their social reach and increase employee engagement. Using platforms that are suited for employee advocacy will garner the most successful results. 

Q. What are your expert tips on the most effective ways to run a social media campaign, especially during the holiday season 2020?

Henk Campher: The holidays are a great opportunity for brands to increase engagement and drive sales on social media. Here are my four tips to create an effective social media campaign and stand out from the competition: 

  1. Tweak your social media posting schedule to accommodate changing workdays or times. B2B businesses often have higher engagement rates during the day, as employees are leaving early and working less in the evening. B2C companies generally have a better reach when it’s not during typical work hours. 
  2. Continue to curate content over the holidays, even if there might be a downturn of activity on social channels across the board. If you go quiet on social, your customers will notice. 
  3. Maintain community engagement as relationships, connections and engagement are key to any successful social media campaign. Always respond to customer issues or comments promptly.
  4. The holidays are a great time to showcase the ‘human’ side of your business. Take advantage of platforms like Instagram to showcase the company, employees, and interact with the community at large. 

Q. What are the most common mistakes you see brands making in their social media pushes?

Henk Campher: The most common mistake brands make is thinking of social media merely as a broadcast medium. With nearly three billion people on Facebook every month, more than one million on Instagram, and hundreds of millions more on Twitter, Pinterest, TikTok, and Snapchat, it’s tempting to think that way. While social media started with organic posts and later turned to paid social advertising, brands should never lose sight of social media’s core value: establishing and maintaining relationships. Take the time to invest in relationship building, as this helps brands build strong bonds with their audiences and boost customer loyalty, which ultimately benefits their business. Rather than pump out promotional content, take the time to establish your brand’s personality, and connect with customers by taking on an empathetic “human-first” approach.

How is your brand making the most of social media marketing this holiday season? Are there challenges you’re facing with regards to creating value from a board room perspective? Feel free to share your thoughts on our interview, drop a comment!

The post How C-suite derives business value from social media: Q&A with Hootsuite’s VP of Corporate Marketing, Henk Campher appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

Reblogged 1 year ago from

Avoiding False Conversions in Google Analytics

Posted by R0bin_L0rd


The first half of this post is a quick rundown of some of the standard ways in which your conversions could be going awry.

The second half of this post — everything after “How to filter conversions with Tag Manager” is an advanced way of intelligently filtering conversions using Tag Manager and cookies.

If you’re confident you’ve already covered your bases, feel free just to skip to the advanced section, I just feel it’s important to go through some of the basic stuff before diving into more complex solutions.

Avoiding false conversions

Aside from failing to record important data, one of the best ways to screw up your analytics is to record the wrong thing and lump it in with all the times you’ve recorded the right thing.

For example: if you’re counting conversions when you shouldn’t be, that can screw up automated ad bidding, how much you value individual channels, or even how well you think your business is doing. For this post, we’ll be referring to this issue as “false conversions”.

There are a huge number of ways you can track conversions in Google Analytics, and a huge number of ways to screw it up. This post is going to focus on some of the main ways you can mess up conversions when you’re basing them on users completing a form and then landing on a thank-you page.

We’ll cover:

  • Some useful tools
  • Things to check — how might users be accidentally converting?
  • How to protect destination-based goals from false conversions
  • An ideal event-based goal approach
  • How to protect event-based goals from false conversions

Useful tools

The tools below will help you with some of the checks in this post.

Chrome DevTools

F12 will open Chrome DevTools (you may need to press the “function” key depending on your keyboard). You can test JavaScript in “Console”, and view active cookies in “Application”.

Google Tag Manager preview

Google Tag Manager has a new preview which will show you what happens on a series of pages over time.

Adswerve dataLayer Inspector

This plugin summarizes dataLayer information in Chrome Console.

Analytics Tracking Monitor plugin

I’ve found this plugin really useful for checking what information is being sent to GA. One nice feature is being able to block hits from actually being sent to GA while recording what would be sent.

Tag Assistant

The Chrome Tag Assistant plugin will show you what Tag Manager tags are present on the page. If you click to record the session, it’ll also give you a breakdown of everything that’s happened on each page. That said — I don’t tend to rely on the recordings as much if I have Tag Manager access, because a lot of the useful information is covered between the new GTM preview and the tracking monitor plugin.

Tag Mapper

I created a free Tag Mapper tool to make it easier to see what impact Tag Manager changes might have. If you’re planning on changing something in your GTM account, you can see what else might be impacted. Likewise, if you’ve noticed that something is broken, it can help you find the root cause.

Things to check

It can be tempting to leap straight to a catch-all solution, but if you’re recording conversions when you shouldn’t be, that could be because your website visitors are doing things they shouldn’t be.

Let’s start with a quick rundown of checks you should do to make sure you’re not making the numbers look right by just ignoring problems on your site.

1. Are you only recording conversions on thank-you pages?

To check if you’re recording conversions on pages you shouldn’t be (like, every page on your site or something) have a quick look at the Reverse Goal Path report in Google Analytics:

Conversions > Goals > Reverse Goal Path.

The first column on the left should show you where your goal conversions are taking place, unless you’re doing something unusual. If you’re seeing a bunch of pages in that column which you don’t expect, that’s a sign you need to change your criteria for conversions.

One thing to bear in mind here: if you’re recording conversions based on events rather than pageviews, and you’re seeing the wrong page appearing in that left-hand column, make sure your conversion event only ever fires after your pageview.

2. Are you linking to conversion pages in other ways besides form completions?

If you’re using any goals based on a user loading a specific page (like a thank-you page), and you know you’re only recording conversions on thank-you pages, another way you could be screwing things up is accidentally linking to those thank-you pages. If a user can click on the wrong link and end up on a conversion page, you need to fix that.

One way to check for this is using a tool like Screaming Frog to crawl the site and just see if your conversion pages appear. If they appear at all, you know that’s probably a problem. To find out how to fix the problem, you can select the offending pages and check the “Inlinks” panel, which will give you a list of where you’re linking to them.

3. Are users landing directly on thank-you pages?

A quick way to check if users are landing on your thank-you pages is to use segments. If you create a segment where the landing page is your thank-you page, you can get an idea of how often Google Analytics thinks users are landing on your conversion page.

Below, you can see a screenshot of the segment interface. I’ve set it to include any session where the first interaction was a user landing on a thank-you landing page. As you can see, that was the case for 339 sessions on this site:

Once you see how often users are landing on your thank-you pages, you can pinpoint the sources which are bringing those users to the site.

Below, I’ve applied a “lands on thank-you page” segment to the Source/Medium report, and it looks like we’re getting a bunch of direct sessions, but also some CPC sessions, and organic sessions elsewhere, too:

An important thing to bear in mind here is that this is based on what Google Analytics thinks is happening. It doesn’t necessarily mean users are landing on these pages directly from adverts. In fact, in this example, we know this isn’t always the case, and sometimes it’s a symptom of our tracking code being broken or confused in another way. Even so, it gives us some things to investigate.

For example:

  • Do we have adverts or other activity pointing straight to conversion pages?
  • Are our conversion pages indexed in Google?
  • Do we have a page in the middle of our conversion flow that isn’t being tracked?
  • Is our tracking code broken, or are users doing things on-site which would confuse GA?

3.1 Do you have adverts or other activity pointing straight to conversion pages?

I won’t be able to walk you through all of this, but all advertising platforms should allow you to check active landing pages. It’s also important to make sure that you don’t have any affiliates linking directly to conversion pages — either accidentally or maliciously — as you could be paying them a lot more than they deserve.

It may be harder to check non-paid links, like social media activity. That said, it’s worth spending the time checking. If you find you’re linking to these conversion pages by accident, you can work with relevant teams to put policies in place for that in future.

3.2 Are your conversion pages indexed in Google?

Google can be a frequent cause of conversion page issues. It’s a ravenous crawler. It’ll follow links inside and outside of your site, and if there’s a machine-crawlable link to your thank-you page, it’ll probably find it.

A quick way to check if Google has saved your thank-you pages (and might be sending users straight to them) is to search for the pages in Google.

Using “site:” filters Google results to just pages on your site. Using “inurl:” filters results to just pages that contain a specific string.

Below is an example of a check we did for one of our clients. We found that they had a lot of “thank-you” pages in the index (over 600). Some of those pages were fine, but it highlighted a number of conversion pages for us to deal with:

3.3 Is your tracking code broken, or are users doing things on-site which would confuse GA?

We don’t have time to go through all the things that could go wrong here. Some things to check are:

  • Are you missing tracking code on some pages? Perhaps you’re failing to record the user before they land on the thank-you page.
  • Do you have different versions of Google Analytics on different pages? This can, again, cause confused or split sessions.
  • Are you including UTM parameters on any internal links? Any website crawler should help you find this.
  • Do you have the wrong timezone set in GA? Sessions can’t cross “midnight” — if they do, GA will split them into two separate sessions.
  • Are you including important information on the thank-you page that could cause users to bookmark the page, or try to come back to it later? One solution here is to include pretty much nothing visitor-specific on the thank-you page, and assure them that you’ll email them details. It’s worth testing this to make sure it doesn’t hurt visitor confidence.
  • Do you have any forms, that take more than half an hour to fill out, and don’t record interactions in the meantime? You can avoid this by splitting the form into different pages and tracking when visitors fill out a form field or when they hit errors. Entirely aside from what we’re looking at in this post, but all of these things should help you make your forms more user-friendly.

Once you have all of those checked off, you can start to look at ways to improve the way you filter your conversion data.

How to protect destination-based goals from false conversions

If you have your goal type set to “Destination” in Google Analytics, that means that any time GA records a pageview for a specific page, it’ll count as a conversion.

You can make your destination goals require users to have visited other pages first by using a funnel. If you edit the goal and switch “Funnel” on, you can specify the steps leading up to the goal. This means you can make sure that you don’t record goal conversions when users land directly on your thank-you pages.

You can also use it to separate out different kinds of goal conversions. For example, if you use the same thank-you page for multiple forms, you could have one goal where the funnel involves traveling through one form page, and another goal which involves traveling through another.

This will work if you:

  • Have a smaller (and fairly static) number of different goals.
  • There is a small (and fairly static) number of ways users can legitimately complete each goal.

However, funnel steps don’t allow things like regex, so they aren’t very flexible. Also, you can only use funnels with destination-type goals. So, funnels won’t help if:

  • Your goals are event-based.
  • You have lots of ways users could reach a goal.
  • You have multiple teams managing the site, and it doesn’t make sense to keep track of all the ways users could reach a goal.

You should be aware that if you have a problem like internal UTMs or sessions timing out, these form funnels can mean you stop recording some conversions you should be. Seriously, make sure those problems are fixed.

The ideal approach: event-based goals

The ideal approach involves using event-based conversions rather than destination-based ones. You work with your developers so that as the users complete the form you tell GA that an event has occurred, rather than GA having to wait for a thank-you page pageview. GA then records each instance of that event as a Goal conversion.

Below is the criteria for one event-based goal conversion, if you haven’t seen them before and are struggling to picture how they’re set up. It records a conversion for this goal any time GA receives an event of the category “thank_you_page”:

The reason this is ideal is, you’ll only record a conversion when the user actually does what you want them to do. Most conversion goals based on pageviews are just us trying to guess what the user has done. That’s why you run into problems with destination-based goals, like users landing directly on your thank-you page without completing the form you wanted them to complete.

You might think it’s a bit strange to leave this “ideal” solution until so late in the post, but I’m doing so because this is often not the simplest solution. It can require the most work on the developer side, and you could be using something built into your CMS that your dev team has to edit, or even worse, you could be working with an external form solution that they have to hack their way into.

I’m bringing this solution up at this point because if you don’t already have this in place, you’ll need to convince someone to do it. Their first question may be “have you considered other options?” When you have that conversation, you can say:

  • We’ve made sure we’re only recording conversions on the right pages.
  • We’ve made sure users aren’t getting to those pages in ways we can prevent.
  • We’ve made sure there aren’t other issues with how we’re tracking the site.
  • Our conversion data is being polluted in a way we can’t prevent because we have to rely on thank-you pageviews.
  • We can’t filter out those conversions using Google Analytics.
  • The best way to make sure our data is accurate is to use events, and the most accurate events to use are ones that only occur when the user does exactly what we want them to.
  • If you can help me I’ll be your best friend.

An alternative to Google Analytics funnels

It could turn out that the events-based solution above is impossible. Life has its frustrations, we soldier on.

An alternative is to switch to event-based conversions anyway and use Tag Manager to handle it all yourself. Using Tag Manager and cookies, you can create a more flexible version of GA’s funnel to only send conversion events when users land on a thank-you page having visited a qualifying page. How does that work? In short:

  1. When a user visits one of your qualifying pages, you put a cookie in their browser.
  2. When the user loads a thank-you page, you check for the cookie, and, if it exists, you send a conversion event to Google Analytics. If it doesn’t, you don’t.
  3. Then you clear the cookie.

That means you won’t record the following false conversions:

  • Users landing direct on thank-you pages.
  • Users accidentally clicking to thank-you pages when they haven’t visited the relevant form.
  • Users leaving the thank-you tab open, or bookmarking it, and clicking back to it later after their GA session expires.

The section below gets into some specific Tag Manager terminology (the most confusing being that a “Custom Event” and a “Google Analytics Event” are two different things entirely).

Some terminology to know

I’ve color coded Tag Manager terminology in blue and all Google Analytics terminology in orange, but if you find yourself getting lost, you might want to read around a bit or talk to a knowledgeable colleague or consultant.

Event: Something we send to Google Analytics to record a specific action.

Custom event: Something that happens on the web page, which we can use as part of the criteria for a Tag Manager trigger.

Trigger: A set of conditions we lay out in Tag Manager. When these conditions are all fulfilled at the same time, the trigger fires and usually activates a tag.

Tag: Something in Tag Manager that does something. This sounds vague because it could be almost anything from sending an event to Google Analytics to completely rewriting the page.

Variable: A piece of information in Tag Manager that we can easily reference in triggers, tags, or other variables.

Data layer: Structured information on the page which makes it easier to pass information to Tag manager.

How to filter conversions with Tag Manager

1. Make sure Google Tag Manager is installed on your site

It’ll need to be on every page. Google has shared a Tag Manager quick-start guide if you need further guidance.

If you’re switching from standard GA code to Tag Manager, make sure you don’t include both GA and Tag Manager, or you’ll double-count.

2. Tell Tag Manager every time a thank-you page is loaded

We’ll assume your thank-you pages are all the same type of page, so you can reasonably say to your dev team, “please make this change to all of our thank you pages”. Ask them to add something like the script below.

Example script

   “event”: “conversion”


If you need to test this process before getting the devs involved, you can try adding the code yourself by pasting it into the console using Chrome DevTools.

When the page loads, that script will add information to the data layer. Tag Manager will detect the change, and you can use it as one of the conditions for a trigger. In this case, Tag Manager would detect a Custom Event called conversion as this data is added. We’ll come back to that.

3. Tell Tag Manager every time a qualifying page is loaded

We’ll also assume there are some similarities between your qualifying pages. For one thing, they’ll probably all have a form on them. You can coordinate with your dev team to automatically add/activate a script any time one of those forms is added.

Example script

 “event”: “qualifying”

In this case, you’d see a Custom Event called qualifying. Again, you can test this by pasting directly into Console.

4. Whenever a user lands on a qualifying page, set a cookie

You’ll use your “qualifyingCustom Event as the criteria for a trigger. Below is a screenshot of the trigger setup:

Then you’ll create a tag which will be activated by that trigger. The tag will add some content to the page, in this case adding JavaScript (even though the tag type specifies HTML). The JavaScript will run as soon as it’s added and set a cookie for the user, that way you can pass information from one page to another.

Example script

// Get time 30 minutes from now (this is because the default GA session timeout
// is half an hour and we want our cookie timeout to match)
var dt = new Date();
dt.setHours( dt.getHours() + 0.5 );

// Set a cookie called ‘qualified’ with the value being ‘true’ which expires in 30 minutes
document.cookie = “qualified=true; path=/; expires=”+dt;

5. Get the cookie value

Use a Tag Manager variable to make sure you’re detecting the value of the cookie, which will give you the current value of your “qualified” cookie each time you check.

6. Determine whether you should filter the conversion

In step two, you created a dataLayer event that will occur on all of your final conversion pages.

Now you create a trigger which fires on your “conversion” event.

Then create a tag which is activated by that trigger, and creates another Custom Event.

Below is the custom HTML to add. It checks if your qualifying cookie is set to “true”, which shows the user has already visited a qualifying page this session. If it is true, you create another Custom Event called “create_filtered_conversion”. If it’s false, you don’t. Either way, delete the cookie by setting its expiry time to be far in the past.

Example script

// When we are about to fire a conversion – check if we should.
// If we should – create an event that will trigger the conversion
// otherwise, don’t. Either way – clear the cookie

// Get variables
var isQualified = {{Variable – qualified cookie}}

// Check if the conversion is qualified
if (isQualified === “true”){
  // If the user has a qualifying cookie
  “event”: “conversion_confirmed”,
} else {
  // Do nothing if we have determined the conversion shouldn’t fire

// Set cookie expiry in the past to clear it
document.cookie = “qualified=false; path=/; expires=Thu, 01 Jan 1970 00:00:00”;

7. Send event to GA

First you create a trigger which is waiting for that “conversion_confirmedevent.

Then you create a tag, activated by the trigger above, which sends the relevant event to GA. The specifics of the event sent to GA can be whatever you want, you just need to make sure they match the criteria of your goal in GA.

8. Don’t switch off your old conversions straight away

One nice thing about this is you can run it alongside your existing conversion tracking to see how often conversions are being filtered out. Keep your old conversion setup running for a while (how long depends on how often you get conversions).

Watch the two numbers and check if you’re filtering out loads of conversions. This check will help you spot mistakes in either the old setup or the new one.

Let me know what you think

Google Analytics will never be a perfect record of everything on your website, but these checks and processes should help you weed out some of the ways it can mislead you.

What do you think? What GA improvements do you think people have been missing? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @robinlord8. <strong style="color:orange" event

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Reblogged 1 year ago from

The Local SEO Stats &amp; Practical Tactics of Google&rsquo;s Top-Ranked Grocery Stores

Posted by MiriamEllis

Grocery stores belong at the center of the 2021 local SEO industry conversation.

Other than medical facilities, no enterprise stands out more clearly on the map as essential to daily life in the US, and few verticals have had to adapt more rapidly in mid-flight than our neighborhood food stores in the COVID-19 era. From independent grocers to major supermarket chains, there are heroes in every aisle keeping the nation fed. Any data that supports the strong continuance of these businesses is well worth sharing.

In this article, I’ll provide results from 900 data points I pulled while analyzing the top local-pack-ranked grocery store in each of the 50 US capital cities. I’ll also summarize the practical tactics I’ve learned from listening to grocers and their marketers, highlighting how they’re adapting and succeeding in unprecedented times.

It’s my hope that both in-house and agency grocery marketers will discover important takeaways in my analysis to ensure a successful 2021 for each vital store.


I manually queried Google for “grocery store”, modified with the city name of each of the 50 US capital cities. I was not physically located in any of the cities where I searched, which should exclude the influence of user-to-business proximity. In a spreadsheet, I manually recorded 18 characteristics for each of the winning grocery stores, and then drew my statistics from this data.

The GMB characteristics of top-ranked grocery stores

Review these statististics to assess how a grocery store you’re marketing measures up.

Location within city limits

100% of the grocery stores ranking #1 had a physical location within the city limits of the specified search phrase city. No shop, however strong, was getting the number one spot in the local pack if it wasn’t within the city.

Takeaway: Having a location within city limits correlates with a good chance of ranking for searches that contain that city’s name.

Keywords in business title

Only 6% of the top-ranked businesses had business titles that matched any part of my search phrases. This was good to see, given Google’s known (and unfortunate) rewarding of brands that stuff keywords into their business titles in violation of Google’s guidelines. I saw only one business that had extraneous keywords in its title.

Takeaway: You don’t need to spam Google with keywords in your business title to rank as a top grocery store.

Brand diversity

No one brand is winning the top spot across the country. Results were extremely diverse, and made up of a vibrant mix of independent grocers and large chains. Some brands were winning out in more than one state, however. Safeway won five local packs, Whole Foods won four, and Hy-Vee and Hannaford each won three. Beyond this, brands were very varied.

Takeaway: Any brand, large or small, can compete for premium local visibility. No one brand has a monopoly on rankings.

Page Authority of GMB landing page

Page Authority (PA) is a 100-point score developed by Moz that predicts how well a specific website page will rank within search engine results. PA is believed to exert a strong influence on local pack rankings.

Examining the PA of the website landing page linked to from each grocery store’s Google My Business listing, I found that the average PA was 40. The highest PA was 58 and the lowest was 26. Five of the top-ranked supermarkets had no website link at all, amazingly, and this must be a source of mystery and frustration for lower-ranked grocery stores in these cities with GMB listings that do link to their websites.

Takeaway: An average PA of 40 is not prohibitively high. Using Moz Pro to measure competitive PA and actively seeking relevant local links for each location of a grocery brand can help you beat out sleepier competitors. When low PA or even a missing website link are still being rewarded with a high ranking for a competitor of the brand you’re marketing, it’s time to conduct a local business audit to discover which other local search ranking factors might be at play.

Primary GMB category

82% of top-ranked grocery stores use “grocery store” as their primary category. The remainder of brands had chosen a few other categories, like “supermarket” or “organic food store”. The primary category chosen for the GMB listing is believed to have the most impact on which terms the business ranks for in Google’s local packs.

Takeaway: “Grocery store” has a much higher estimated monthly search volume than any other keyword phrase I investigated, such as “supermarket” or “food store”. Grocers wishing to rank for this top term are best off choosing “grocery store” as their primary GMB category.


The average rating of top-ranked grocery stores is 4.2 stars. The highest rated market had 4.7 stars, and the lowest had 3.6. Star ratings are believed to influence local rank.

Takeaway: No top-ranked grocery store had a perfect 5-star rating. Don’t be overly concerned about the occasional negative review, but do aim for customer satisfaction that yields ratings in the 4-star range, cumulatively.

Review count

Grocery stores receive a massive number of reviews, and review counts are believed to influence rank. Overall, the 50 grocery stores I analyzed had received a total of 62,415 reviews, indicating just how common usage of Google as a dominant consumer review platform has become.

The average review count per store location is 1,248. The count for the most-reviewed grocery store in my data set is 3,632. The fewest reviews a top-ranked store received is 227. Bear in mind that the reviews each store location needs to achieve maximum visibility will be predicated on their unique geographic market and level of competition.

Takeaway: The fact that the overwhelming majority of reviews I saw are unmanaged (have no brand responses) leads me to believe that professional review acquisition campaigns aren’t likely the force driving the high number of total reviews in the grocery industry. Rather, I’d suggest that Americans are self-motivated to review the places they shop for food. Nevertheless, if a brand you’re marketing is being outranked by a competitor with more consumer sentiment, launching a formal review acquisition program is a smart bet for impacting rank and improving customer service for a store location.

Review recency

The recency of your reviews signals to Google and consumers whether your business is a place of bustling activity or a bit on the quiet side. It’s long been theorized that review recency might have some impact on rank as a user behavior signal. In my data set, 52% of top-ranked stores had been reviewed within the last day. 46% had received a review within the last week. Only 2% had seen more than a week go by without receiving a new review.

Takeaway: Multiple consumer surveys have found that customers tend to be most interested in your most recent reviews when making a decision about where to shop. If a grocery store location you’re marketing hasn’t been reviewed in weeks or months (or years!), it’s definitely a signal to begin actively asking customers for feedback.

Always remember that your customers are your grocery store’s best sales force. They freely convince one another to shop with your company by dint of what they say about your brand in reviews. A steady stream of recent, positive sentiment is priceless sales copy for your market.

Owner responses to reviews in 2020

Making use of Google’s owner response function on the reviews a grocery store receives is absolutely basic to providing good customer service. However, in my data set, 60% of top-ranked grocery stores had not responded to a single review in 2020, and of the 40% that had responded to some reviews, not one brand had responded to all of their reviews.

Takeaway: While ignoring reviews appears to have had no negative impact on grocery stores’ ability to achieve top local pack rankings, I can’t emphasize enough what a waste of opportunity is happening in this vertical.

Every review is a customer starting a conversation with a brand, whether their goal is to thank the business or to complain in hopes of receiving help. Ignoring the majority of conversations customers are starting must be extremely deleterious to consumer satisfaction and reputation. 2020 was a year like no other, and grocers have had their hands full adapting and surviving, but going forward, supermarkets that allocate resources to responding to every review will have an incredible customer experience edge over less-engaged competitors.

Place topics

Google excerpts common topics from the body of each store’s reviews and puts them at the top of the review display. 40% of top-ranked grocery stores have “produce” as their most-mentioned place topic, and it was also present for many, many other stores even if it wasn’t their #1 topic. 6% have “organic” and another 6% have “to go” as the most-talked about element, but beyond this, place topics are greatly varied. This area of Google’s interface is sprinkled with terms like “clean”, “cashier”, “deals”, “sales”, and many other words.

Takeaway: I’m not yet convinced of the usefulness or ultimate staying power of this aspect of Google’s review displays. However, it provides very shorthand sentiment analysis for grocers and marketers wanting an at-a-glance idea of what customers are saying in reviews for a brand and its competitors. You need to drill down into the text of the reviews, though, to see whether frequent mentions of something like “clean” are from customers saying a business is or isn’t clean. Place topics just aren’t terribly sophisticated sentiment analysis, at this point.

My data set reveals that Americans are putting premium focus on produce, so one takeaway here is that the quality of your produce department drives consumers to leave reviews. A great produce department could lead to a great rating and great consumer-created content about your market. A disappointing produce section could create the reverse. I also found the prevalence of “organic” place topics revealing, given stats I had seen on the 10X growth in purchases of organic produce between January and March of 2020. There is a clear demand trend here for healthy food that should be informing inventory.

Price attributes

Google places a 1-4 point “$” attribute on many listings as an evaluation of costliness. It’s believed these designations stem, in part, from attribute questions Google asks users, but the overall data set is incomplete. In my sampling, Google only had a price attribute for 42% of the top-ranked grocery stores. Of that number, 76% were marked with the moderate “$$” price attribute.

Takeaway: As I found in my previous piece on The Google Characteristics of America’s Top-Ranked Eateries, neither Google nor consumers tend to consider either the cheapest or most expensive food options to be the most relevant. Concepts of thrift and spendiness differ greatly across the US, but it’s good to know that a modest price evaluation tends to correlate with top local rankings. That seems to be in-step with the current economic picture. The grocery brands you’re marketing don’t need to be the cheapest or the most expensive; the ideal would be delivering good value for a reasonable price.

Google Posts usage before and during COVID-19

Google Posts are a form of microblogging that enables brands to post fresh content to their Google Business Profiles. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 24% of grocers were publishing Google Posts, but in 2020, only 16% were actively making any use of this feature.

Takeaway: Google offered special COVID-19 post capabilities to businesses in 2020, but top-ranked grocery stores largely ignored this opportunity. Pre-pandemic usage was very meager, with only about a quarter of grocers using Google Posts to boost engagement. The 8% falloff in 2020 may paint a picture of a vertical too preoccupied with other, more urgent priorities to give this feature a try.

Use of Google posts is not believed to impact ranking, and neglect of this feature clearly didn’t hold any of the subjects back from achieving top rankings, but if a brand you’re marketing can allocate resources to this type of publishing, it’s worth trying. Moz Local can help you publish Google Posts to your listings, and increase the opportunities for consumers to engage with your profiles.

Google Questions & Answers

Google Q&A is a Google Business Profile function that lets a company publish and answer its FAQs, as well as letting the public ask and answer questions. Cumulatively, the fifty grocery stores in my survey have received 1,145 questions. The highest number of questions for a single location is 192, and the lowest is two.

Just 14% of grocers have responded to any of the questions their stores have received, and in no case had a grocery store responded to all of its questions.

Takeaway: The majority of the questions I saw were leads — customers asking if a market had this or that product, or offered a particular service or amenity. Sadly, public answers, often left by Google’s Local Guides, were often flippant and barren of information to help the customer making the query. While Q&A is not believed to have any impact on rankings, ignoring customers is not consistent with goals of providing excellent customer service.

Moreover, ignoring leads has a monetary context. One source estimates that the average American grocery trip bill is $60. This means that the total number of questions in my survey, if answered, could bring in $68,700 for that pool of stores. However, in my household, the average grocery bill is about $150 per trip, which could make answering this many questions in California worth something like $171,750, if the shops have the goods and services the customers are seeking. My numbers are just estimates, but one thing I know is that few brands can afford to leave money on the table.

I would highly recommend that grocery stores make the time to populate Google Q&A with their top FAQs, including whether the business offers delivery, curbside service, and requires mask-wearing. Beyond this, using a product like Moz Local will let you know each time a new question comes in at any of your locations, so that you can be sure no potential customer is being ignored and that all leads are the subject of careful stewardship.

The COVID-19 adaptations top-ranked grocery stores have made

Beyond analyzing the GMB listing elements in my data set, I phoned each of the grocery stores to ask them a few questions to understand how they have adapted fulfillment and policies in response to the pandemic.

I could have relied on the Google attributes depicting curbside and delivery service, but I’m glad I made the calls, because I found discrepancies in use of these attributes and actual services provided. In some cases, stores with these amenities had not been tagged with these attributes yet, and in others, the attributes that were displayed were wrong.

These are my findings:

Home grocery delivery

62% of the stores in my survey set are now offering home grocery delivery. I was surprised that this number wasn’t higher, given consumer demand for the safest ways to keep their households supplied, coupled with the clear need to keep grocery workers as safe as possible.

Of this number, only 12% of grocery stores I spoke with have managed to create an in-house delivery service. 31 of the 50 brands in my data set were having to go with the costly option of third-party last-mile fulfillment. Of this number, 29% are using Instacart, 26% are using Doordash, 8% are using Amazon Prime, 4% are using Peapod and Shipt, and 2% are using Grubhub. Three brands were partnering with more than one third-party service, and two were offering both third-party and in-house delivery options.

Finally, I saw multiple instances of Google allowing third-party fulfillment companies to advertise on the Google Business Profiles of grocery stores. Grocery store staff who told me they had no delivery service are almost certainly unaware of this practice. I find this scenario to be one of the least-acceptable in Google’s local playbook, particularly because they place the burden on business owners to try to get such advertising removed from their listings.

A business working hard to develop an in-house delivery team doesn’t deserve to have Doordash or Instacart or Grubhub parked on their listing, eating away at profits. Be sure you’re checking the Google Business Profiles of any grocery stores you’re marketing and seeking removal of any third-party links you don’t want.

Google Trends recorded the massive spike in searches related to grocery delivery that occurred in spring of 2020 as Americans sought strategies for keeping their households supplied while staying safely at home. When you couple this with the tragic reporting UFCW has been offering on the COVID-19 mortality of grocery workers, increasing delivery options is essential.

Keeping the majority of the public at home and limiting face-to-face contact for grocery store staff has made home delivery a vital COVID-19 adaptation that must expand beyond the 62% adoption rate I saw in my study.

Curbside service

For brands that are still struggling to develop a workable delivery program, curbside pickup has been a welcome option. 64% of the stores in my study are offering curbside service now — a number just slightly higher than the home delivery figure. I saw that in multiple cases, brands that weren’t yet set up to do delivery were at least able to create this fulfillment alternative, but we’d need to see this figure at 100% to ensure no one has to walk into a grocery store and risk infection.

Mask policy

When I asked grocery store staff if their location required all employees and shoppers to wear masks, 83% said yes and 17% said no. This was the most important question in my survey, given the state of the pandemic in the United States, and I want to share what I learned beyond the numbers.

  • In the cities/states where grocery store workers reported no masking requirements, they invariably told me they “lacked the authority to enforce mask-wearing”. Lack of government policy has left the people in these communities helpless to protect themselves.
  • Reviews sometimes told a different story for the 83% of grocery stores where employees told me masks are required. Despite a stated mask-requirement policy, reviewers report instances of encountering unmasked staff and patrons at some locations and express distress over this, sometimes stating they won’t return to these venues. This means that the actual enforcement of PPE-wearing is actually less than 83%.
  • On a purely human level, I sensed that my question about masking made some employees anxious, as if they feared a negative response from me when they told me that masks were required. I can only imagine the experiences some of these staff members have had trying to cope with customers refusing to protect themselves and others from contagion. The exchanges I had with staff further cemented my understanding of the need for clear, national policy to reduce and, hopefully, eliminate COVID-19 so that everyone in our local communities is safeguarded.

My friend and colleague Mike Blumenthal has done the best job in the local SEO industry documenting consumer demand for masking as evinced in reviews, and also, how to get political rant reviews from anti-maskers removed from your GMB listings, should the store you’re marketing receive them. Out of my deep concern for grocery store workers and communities, it’s my strong hope that national leadership will result in 100% participation in grocery industry masking requirements in 2021.

Full contactless fulfillment

0% of the grocery store brands in my study have switched to contactless-only fulfillment, but this methodology may become essential in overcoming the public health emergency. When grocery stores can operate as warehouses where food is stored for curbside pickup and delivery, instead of any in-store shopping, workers and customers can substantially reduce contact.

When the COVID-19 pandemic first emerged in America, markets like Oneota Community Food Coop in Decorah, Iowa switched to pick-up-only for a time, and may need to do so again. Meanwhile, my neighbor is receiving her complete grocery delivery every week from Imperfect Foods, which launched in San Francisco in 2015 and has experienced phenomenal expansion in the past few years on its mission to deliver economical foods in a convenient manner. This comes on the heels of the meal kit delivery bubble, encompassing Blue Apron, HelloFresh, Purple Carrot, and many other options. Even convenience stores like 7-11 are making a strong effort to go contactless.

In April of 2020, 40 million Americans placed online grocery orders. Rapid adaptation is absolutely possible, and until COVID-19 can be placed in the country’s rearview mirror, a national effort may be essential to recast grocery brands as curators of food delivery rather than places to shop in person. Local search marketers should fully participate in grocery store client ideation on how to shape public perception that supports safety for all.

Satisfaction, reputation, and rankings

Delivery, curbside service, and strict masking policies may not seem to have a direct connection to local search rankings, but in the larger scheme of things, they do. Customers reward businesses they love with positive reviews. When a customer is extremely satisfied with how a business like a grocery store takes care of them, studies show this motivates them to award reviews as a thank-you.

The more you demonstrate to customers and communities that the grocery store you’re marketing cares for them, the more you’ll grow your corpus of positive reviews with high star ratings. This, then, will support the local pack ranking goals you’re hoping to meet for maximum online visibility. And your reputation will have become the sort that generates high conversions. 79% of shoppers say contactless pickup is very important to them — whatever you can do to deliver satisfaction to the consumer majority is a very smart move.

What I’ve learned about agility from grocers and their marketers

“There shouldn’t be a brand between you and your customer. You shouldn’t be introducing them to somebody else and nobody should own your information.” — Brian Moyer, CEO, Freshop

It’s not overstating the case to say that the grocery industry is undergoing a revolution. Annual online grocery sales in the US increased from $1.2 billion in August of 2019 to $7.2 billion in June of 2020.

As a local SEO, I can’t think of another industry I can learn more from about adaptation, ingenuity, and resilience. I’ve been following food industry news, and was especially engaged by a webinar I tuned into hosted by digital grocery software provider, Freshop. I’ll summarize seven key takeaways here:

1) If you can develop an in-house delivery program, do it, because it’s the only way to maintain ownership of the full customer experience with your brand. It also makes financial sense in the long run, as I covered previously here in my column on Third Party vs. In-house delivery: A Guide to Informed Choice. In the Freshop webinar, Brian Moyer reminded attendees that Blockbuster once had the opportunity to buy Netflix, but passed on the chance. Now is the time for grocery stores to protect themselves from giving their trade away to the Instacarts and Doordashes on the scene.

2) Whatever software you use to digitize your grocery inventory, it should be strong on POS integration, inventory management, and analytics. I was impressed with the short demo I saw of Freshop’s analytics dashboard coverage of pick times and slot fulfillment for delivery management, profitability across time, tracking of both non-transactional and transactional behaviors, and integration of Google Analytics for measuring conversion rates.

3) Take a page from meal kit services and offer them yourself. Create breakfast kits, supper kits, dessert kits, holiday meal kits, etc. Make it easy for customers to think in terms of meals and get everything they need in a couple of clicks.

4) Consider leveraging digital ads on your grocery store website from brands you already carry. This can create an additional revenue stream.

5) Create online shoppable circulars. Remember that I saw “deals” and “sales” showing up as GMB place topics? Many customers who used to take cues from print circulars can learn to transfer this habit to clickable digital circulars.

6) Carefully evaluate the community support options of the digital shopping software you choose. Most grocery stores aren’t direct competitors and can help one another out. A great example I saw was how one grocer shared the letter he wrote to apply for taking SNAP payments. He was happy to let other grocers copy this form letter to use for their own applications.

7) Celebrate the fact that online commerce has removed historic barriers to customers locating store inventory in a complex floor plan. With a search box, any customer can find any product in any aisle. As difficult as things are right now, this is one silver lining of genuine value to grocers and their marketers.

Summing up

The dominant characteristics of Google’s top ranked grocery stores in the 50 US capitals are:

  • Being located in the city specified in the search
  • Accomplishing GMB landing page PA in the 40 range
  • Not relying on spamming GMB business titles
  • Using “grocery store” as their primary category
  • Winning a 4+ star rating
  • Being heavily reviewed and having received a review in the last week
  • Receiving leads in the form of Q&A
  • Offering delivery and curbside shopping options
  • Requiring masks

The key areas of GMB opportunity that are not yet being utilized by this group to protect dominant visibility are:

  • Customer service in the form of review responses
  • Lead management in the form of answers to Q&A
  • PR in the form of Google Posts

The grocery industry is undergoing a period of significant challenge and opportunity encompassing:

  • The challenge of digitizing inventory
  • The challenge of managing the full consumer experience with delivery and curbside service to avoid being cut out by third parties and to greatly increase safety
  • The opportunity of selling to customers in new ways by fulfilling new needs
  • The opportunity of building permanent loyalty by creating memorable experiences of care and satisfaction during the pandemic that will inform post-pandemic relationships

I want to close with a thank-you note to my favorite, great-hearted neighborhood grocer — a family-owned country store in a rural area. You found me ice during a power shutoff in the midst of a fire, you found me bath tissue during the shortage, and locally-distilled hand sanitizer to keep my family safe. You set up curbside pickup to protect me, and when my car was out of service, your family offered to bring groceries to my home, even though you don’t yet have the staff for a full delivery service.

My grateful loyalty is yours.

As a local search marketer, I may look at data, I may share numbers, but really what I’m thinking about is people. People feeding the nation, deserved of every protection and safeguard ingenuity can devise to get us through these hard times together. If you’re running or marketing a grocery store and have local SEO questions, please ask them in the comments and I’ll do my best to provide helpful answers to support your success. Thank you for all that you’re doing!

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