Candour

Episode 111: Bing video extensions and improving your technical SEO audits

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What's in this episode?

In this episode, you will hear Mark Williams-Cook talking about:

Critical Wordpress update: There's a huge new vulnerability in Wordpress that your need to patch

Bing video extensions: New extensions for Microsoft Ads PPC

Improving SEO audits: Brendan Bennett talks about how to improve your technical SEO audits

Show notes

Microsoft Ad - video extensions

https://help.ads.microsoft.com/#apex/ads/en/60098/1

Wordpress critical update

https://www.searchenginejournal.com/critical-wordpress-vulnerability/406932/#close

Transcription

MC: Welcome to Episode 111of the Search with Candour podcast, recorded on Friday the 14th of May, 2021. My name is Mark Williams-Cook and today I’ve got a couple of things on this episode for you around Microsoft ads and their new video extensions. So we'll be talking a little bit about PPC. There is a WordPress critical update. I rarely mention these things, but this one's a biggie, so I'll cover that first. And communication on technical audits, bit of a curve ball for you. One of my colleagues, the rather brilliant SEO, Brendan Bennett did a talk for Authoritas the other week on technical SEO, where he spoke about improving technical audits and communicating them. So I've got a little bit of a clip from that show I want to share with you because I think it's really, really interesting.

Before I kick off as usual, a word about our lovely sponsors, Sitebulb. For those that haven't heard of it, where have you been? Maybe you're new to SEO, but Sitebulb is an incredibly popular, and for good reason, SEO auditing tool. It's desktop-based. It runs on Windows and Mac and it's something I've personally used and we've used at the agency for absolutely ages now. They've got a special deal set up for Search with Candour podcast listeners, which means, instead of going to sightbulb.com, if you go to sitebulb.com/swc, so SWC for Search with Candour, you'll get an extended 60 day free trial of their software. And this is a free trial, that means you don't have to put in any credit card or bank details. So there's no strings attached. So really no excuse not to go and try it. If you haven't heard of Sightbulb before, I would point you towards Search with Candour Episode 68, which I'll link to in our show notes, you can find the show notes at search.withcandour.co.uk.

And that's something we recorded last summer with one of the founders of Sitebulb, Patrick Hathaway. And it gives you a really nice overview of how Sightbulb was founded and details about the kind of software and what they're looking to achieve. But you've got nothing to lose, give that free trial a go, sitebulb.com/swc.

Software stuff and content management things aren't something I usually cover on this podcast, but I do like to be helpful. And I know a lot of you will be running sites on WordPress. And I hope of course that all of you that are running sites on WordPress have someone specifically responsible for keeping them updated and patched. Because WordPress as a kind of core CMS itself, I think is pretty secure like any software, if you keep it up to date, if you do let updates lapse and vulnerabilities like the one I'm about to talk about come out and are in the public, it means that you suddenly become a very easy target to people scanning the web. So I actually picked this up through Search Engine Journal and it's that WordPress 5.7.2 patches a critical vulnerability.

So WordPress has released an update now to patch an object injection vulnerability. So why is this important? Why should you care about this? So the owasp.org website has a definition of what PHP Object Injection vulnerabilities are in case that means nothing to you. So their definition is, PHP Object Injection is an application level vulnerability that could allow an attacker to perform different kinds of malicious attacks, such as code injection, SQL injection, path traversal and application denial of service, depending on the context. The vulnerability occurs when user supplied input is not properly sanitised before being passed to the unserialised PHP function. Since PHP allows object serialisation, attackers could pass ad hoc serialised strings to a vulnerable unserialised court resulting in arbitrary PHP object injection into the application scope. Basically that's pretty bad. The things they're listing here of people being able to inject code onto the site or SQL injection is obviously actually giving people essentially direct access to query your database, path traversal, then finding their way around your server, all very, very bad things to kind of objectively give you some insight to that.

There is a very useful one to 10 scale called the Common Vulnerability Scoring System, CVSS, which tries to rate all of these vulnerabilities in terms of their severity and their likelihood of being exploited in the wild. And this WordPress vulnerability is rated at 9.8 out of 10, which is kind of all everything on fire, very hot. You need to absolutely update as soon as possible. So I know a bunch of you will be running WordPress sites. So if you had missed that, it's very, very much worth checking that you are updated to the latest version of WordPress to protect yourself from this.

Back onto search related stuff. We're going to talk a little bit about PPC. And again, we have some kind of Microsoft/Bing related news, which is always a joy for me because we don't always have to talk about Google. And that this week is about video extensions, which is a new feature that's being rolled out on Microsoft ads through search ads. So that's ads appearing on the Bing search engine. So I will link again to this post on the show notes at search.withcandour.co.uk. And I'll just give you the kind of key highlights from this post.

So what are video extensions? Video extensions are an interactive way to demonstrate products, services, and brand messages. They can showcase special deals, emotions, ambiance, culture, and action, combined with other extensions, video extensions create a richer experience that stands out more than just images and words. And so how these video extensions are going to appear.

They've got an example of a SERP from Bing in their release post. And you've got your usual SERP listing with the title, the URL, the meta-description, a couple of site links, and you've got on the right hand side, and this is of a desktop view, a tiny little thumbnail image with a video play icon. So that's actually being added directly into the desktop SERP. And when a user clicks on that thumbnail image, the video will play in a full screen overlay above the display text and action text. So this means viewers can watch the video and then click on the call to action button or the text in your ad. On mobile the video plays in the frame with the display text. The thumbnail image provides an opportunity to engage viewers and generate views. "Video extensions," this is what Microsoft says, "operate best when they compliment your ad with unique content, rather than repeating what users can already read in the text."

And it's quite interesting here, because they go on to list some best practices with these video extensions. And one of them interests me here, which says, "We don't recommend using action, image, or call extensions with campaign/ads groups associated with video extensions, because the video competes with them for space." So that's due to this video basically opening up and covering all of those other extensions. So they've obviously had quite a play around with trying to just kind of crowbar in videos into both mobile and desktop search results. And that's obviously a really difficult thing to do when space is of a premium and you're trying to show people a selection of well, in this case, it's actually ads and obviously different search results that are relevant to them. So they literally just overlay these other extensions.

And what do we know in terms of costing? The cost of a click to play a video is the same as the cost of a click to your website. So that really surprised me actually, because as anyone will know that's done video advertising at least, the kind of call to actions, you generally get a much lower response on click through on those call to actions, right? So, I understand this is different. So if you run ads for instance on YouTube, you pay on a true view basis, that normally works out to be a couple of pence for someone to view most of your video. And admittedly, they're rarely from a search engine event, meaning starting at Google, they normally display ads in YouTube. They're like pre-roll stuff like that. So what's interesting to me here is that it's a video view, but it is triggered by a search event. So those search events are normally why you have that high cost per click on search ads because you know someone has searched for this. They're kind of ready to go. You've got them at the right time, and then you're pushing them through to your site, your proposition, your products, whatever it is.

I found it interesting that they're charging the same for the video play, because you've got that person, you've got them on the search, but then you're not actually sending them to your site. You're just paying to get them to watch a video. So I'm really interested to see how that balances out in terms of end cost per acquisition. What's the kind of campaign efficiency of doing that? There is a big note at the start of this announcement from Microsoft saying, "Not everyone has this feature yet. If you don't, don't worry, it's coming soon." And it says that it serves in search networks in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, and India. So really looking forward to seeing people trialing these, the results that they get out the back. But that's something that's now live or will be very shortly on Microsoft ads.

As I mentioned in the intro, I'm going to tail off this show with a cut from Brendan's talk on technical SEO audits from Authoritas. So if you're doing audits, either internally or specially if you're doing them as an agency, Brendan has got some really good tips about how to improve that process and especially improve that communication and the actual actions that end up coming from your audit, because as anyone that's worked in SEO knows, audits themselves are worth very little, unless you actually go into action what's in those reports And like I'm sure many other SEOs I've done audits before and I know full well that I've presented them and we've talked about them and then they've gone and sat on a shelf somewhere or sat on a hard drive and gathered dust or got fragmented, but nothing's actually been done. So a really interesting snippet I'm going to give you now, and this is Brendan Bennett from Candour on technical SEO and audits.

BB: Right, so as mentioned, I'm going to talk about technical audits, specifically what I might call a cookie cutter approach, or a one size fits all method of going about technical audits. And this was inspired by an audit that a client of mine received not too long ago from a government department for international trade, no less which basically amounted to five or six printouts of automatic reports from different auditing tools. We standard required a lot of assistance for that client to suss out and get to the bottom of which recommendations were actually the most useful or relevant to them. And made me think that, although what I've got to say is probably not news or even remotely mind blowing for a lot of you experts out there, there could still be some value in explaining how or why to avoid going about this overly templated approach to doing audits.

My perspective basically being that, if you've given or received an audit that can be produced at the click of a button, that's probably below the standard of what we should all be aiming for together. So my first tip is for SEOs and the business side of things really, which has to do with having a little bit more intimacy with each other, which after a year of social distancing, I'm pretty sure we all want more of. What I really mean here is a greater understanding or sharing of information between the business or website owner and the site auditor; it's really about knowing what's most important, what the objectives of the business as well as the website are, what are their major focus areas? What major projects have they undertaken or are undertaking? Because it's easy to say that you want to rank in Google, but there's a question of which queries you want to rank for, what types of pages, in what context, what your competitors, what's the search landscape like? These are all relevant questions to be asking.

Knowing the teams are also about knowing the size of the organisation, the receiver of the audit, their development capabilities and resources. How knowledgeable or savvy are they with SEO or technical issues? I'd also say that there's huge value in exploring the website in some depth before we even begin the auditing process. Something I'd like to see more of potentially is business owners, site owners, and SEOs actually sitting together and exploring a website to understand how it's structured, what makes it tick. Certainly when I'm doing an audit that's one thing that I do is click around and get a picture of how the website works while my tools are collecting the data or crawling the site. So there's fewer surprises for you when you're actually looking into each issue. I'd also definitely say that you should get comfortable and try to share access to Google Analytics and Search Console data as much as you can before the audit starts. Search Console in particular, I think, is increasingly invaluable for how it shows you how Google perceives and crawls and indexes the pages on your website.

My point being here is that, this is going to feed the brain of the audit that is going to be, it's going to provide a framework from the offset so that the audit is as relevant and useful as it can be. So my second tip is more for the auditors and the SEOs, which is that you really must validate the issues that are flagged up in order to effectively prioritise the recommendations you're going to make. So in this I would say that you shouldn't follow too much of a template. Don't rely too heavily on checklists, or even rely heavily on the tools you're using to provide accurate information. Not all high-impact issues that are going to be flagged by SEMrush or Sitebulb or whatever tool are actually going to be the most important thing for the business that you're working with. It could be highlighting a subset of URLs for example, which are just not super relevant to your search strategy, or super important to fix.

So I would say that, even if you're 100% confident with the developers that you're handing your order over to, that's no excuse to delegate all of the investigation to them. Especially if you're a junior SEO, like I would have been a couple of years ago, a technical audit is a great opportunity to delve deeper into the website and figure out how technical issues arise, what makes the websites tick, and then you can rely less on tools and rely more on instinct.

Another reason that it's important to validate, of course, this will be obvious to most SEOs is that different sites require different approaches. Even sites within the same sector doing similar things can have vastly different priorities in terms of what you recommend. So, if you're working in an e-commerce site, for example, faceted navigation, page speed, these things, potentially rise up the rankings in terms of importance.

If you're looking at alt text, for example, alternative definitions for your images, that can be more or less important depending on the types of products that you're selling, whether image search is a key consideration in your traffic acquisition, or whether accessibility in your sector is a major consideration for your users. So something that I've been doing a lot, increasing with all my technical audits is prioritising on a few different measurements at the scale, for example, which URLs are affected, how important are those URLs by impact, as in the things that you think are going to make the most measurable, immediate impact on the bottom line, the key objectives of the business that you're working with. And also by ease of implementation or difficulty, whether this is a thing that two people with a CMS can solve in an afternoon, or that it's an issue that requires a significant amount of planning and development resources to solve. So my point here is really that the more intimate your understanding, the more your priorities are going to be in the right order for the client or the website at hand.

My final point here is around tailoring, which is really more to do with the presentation of any documentation that you're going to give alongside this audit. So knowing the team, knowing the website, you're going to have a clear idea at this point who's going to be reading, who's going to be implementing, or even selling the recommendations of the audit within the organisation. And this will give you a guide as to how you want to present it, how many different types of formats you want to present in? And you've got sheets, spreadsheets, of course, Word documents, slideshows. Each of these can be more or less useful. You could want a combination of the three, depending on who you're working with, and it should be matched to that understanding that we've discussed. What are the capabilities of the team that you're working with?

I think as SEOs we sometimes get a reputation for being box tickers, I've definitely encountered this. I think that's because with technical audits sometimes you're tempted to just give a list of every single issue that you've discovered. And sometimes, actually less is more, that might not be necessary. It could be that you want to present mainly the five or six sort of mission critical issues, things that are really going to be the most essential to the business immediately and sometimes more detail is needed. Sometimes less detail is needed, depending on where you are in the process of this audit and getting it through the organisation. Ultimately, this is all about getting an audit in such a shape, because ultimately it's about getting the buy-in and getting those actions completed.

I think if done correctly, if framed correctly, and we do some of these things that I've talked about, there's going to be a really explicit link in the audit materials between the findings, recommendations that you're making, and the base applications of doing or not doing certain actions. So in summary, what I've talked about will be up on the slide in terms of intimacy and understanding and so on. My point being not necessarily that I'm perfect at this, I don't think I've ever seen a perfect SEO or technical audit necessarily, but improving the way that we communicate and work together just as marketers, in general as businesses and SEOs working together, we can always do more to improve the way we do things.

MC: Loads of brilliant points from Brendan there, especially about always looking to improve. So I've done hundreds of SEO audits over the years, and it's important not just to look at what you're auditing, what tools you're using, but that communication to the client to get that job done, to track the changes, to validate them. And actually then ongoing after those changes have been made monitoring so you're not making the same mistakes are really important to get value out the other end. So definitely something you can constantly improve on. So I hope you enjoyed that talk from Brendan. I absolutely loved watching him do it live. And that's the end of this episode. So of course we will be back in one week's time again, which will be Monday the 24th of May. Hope you're enjoying the podcast.

Thank you, I've had a couple of really nice messages over the last couple of weeks. Some really nice feedback on the podcast, I really appreciate that. It makes me feel like it's worth carrying on every week. If you do enjoy it, share it with a friend, leave us a review. It is really appreciated, makes my day. And apart from that, hope you all have a lovely week.

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