Tag Archives: MOBILE

Google brings AMP to email: What does this mean for email marketing?

Have you ever counted the number of premature obituaries you’ve read for email? The platform has taken some flak in recent years, but as a method for communicating with consumers it’s stronger and more effective than ever.

That view was reinforced earlier this month with Google’s announcement that it would bring the ‘Accelerated Mobile Pages’ open source project to the platform.

The move signaled the internet giant’s plan to redevelop its Gmail service and turn email into a ‘dynamic, up-to-date and actionable’ service, in line with its long-held desire to make the internet faster. In short, it wants to make it more interactive and more efficient.

Right now, most organizations consider an open rate of above 25% and a click-through rate (CTR) of more than 5% impressive, and Google wants to improve that by radically altering the make-up of each individual email.

The Silicon Valley giant has recognized the impressive longevity and adaptability of email. Despite the abundance of browsing data being collected online every day, it remains one of the most pervasive and effective forms of direct marketing; according to the Direct Marketing Association in the US, the median email marketing ROI (122%) is four times higher than any other channel.

So, Google has tasked its creative minds with revamping and progressing its email platform, with this the immediate result.

What will this mean in the short term?

Your favorite brands will now be able to integrate new interactive tools into email, such as the ability to browse websites, RSVP to events and complete forms without you leaving the platform.

Initially available as a ‘preview’ version to developers, the company plans to roll out support for the service to Gmail later in 2018. The service will continue to evolve, and in the future we’re likely to see entire transactions taking place within the body of an email.

Relatively mundane consumer tasks such as booking flights, writing reviews, ordering new clothes and browsing the wider web will all take place through one interface, removing the need for consumers to waste time navigating individual sites or search engines and creating a unified experience.

What’s driving this move?

There appear to be three main drivers on Google’s part: improved UX, more access to consumer data, and an increased scope to sell digital advertising. By providing a more streamlined service which facilitates commercial transactions online, Google will have greater scope to expand its offering to advertisers.

This will be based on the detailed insights gained from witnessing millions of consumer transactions within its Gmail platform, with this data used to build a more comprehensive digital persona for each individual user.

What are the benefits for consumers?

Google will undoubtedly be a beneficiary, but the company promises that consumers will benefit most from the change. Central to this is the promise of an improved experience of ecommerce when navigating the web. This will happen through a more direct relationship between consumers and their favorite brands, and fewer laborious administrative stages to complete a transaction or make an appointment.

By integrating live data into the platform, emails will be able to demonstrate a brand’s inventory in real time – so no more outdated discount offers, or appointments showing as available which have already been filled.

The move will also help refresh the occasionally cumbersome format of certain marketing communications. Email newsletters for example will be given a new dimension, giving consumers far more succinct and actionable content, while landing pages with extensive web capture forms will be phased out as brands collect further information on email and other sources.

How will Google’s position be strengthened?

As with any format change, it will take some time for AMP to be fully integrated into Gmail, so don’t expect any radical changes any time soon. Once integrated, it will also take time for brands to get on board and realize the ROI they will get from their spend. Moreover, as the change will be limited to Gmail only, we’re unlikely to see the entire format of email revolutionized overnight.

Nonetheless, it will be fascinating to see how Google’s competitors respond to the introduction of the AMP format. Many are keen to prevent the company’s hold over the web from growing, and will no doubt push forward with alternative propositions to AMP.

Facebook’s ‘Instant Articles’ service, for example, has long been viewed as an alternative platform for ‘snackable’ content, and was launched as long ago as the spring of 2015 – a year prior to the launch of the AMP.

Email’s enduring success has traditionally been ascribed to its simple format, so it’ll also be fascinating to see what kind of response there is from consumers.

Historically, they prefer communications which are less invasive and don’t interrupt their day to day activity, as can be the case with other direct marketing platforms. Many also prefer to retain their freedom of choice when it comes to purchasing, rather than follow a recommendation from a dispassionate algorithm. But the opportunity is there for marketers to rise to raise the bar when it comes to driving email engagement.

What does this mean for marketers?

From a practical perspective, AMP is likely to see a change in the performance metrics used by marketers when reviewing the success of any given campaign. CTRs in particular may be replaced by an alternative measure, given consumers will no longer need to exit an email to complete a transaction.

From a more long-term, strategic perspective, Google needs to put personalization at the heart of this change to make it successful. If the content offered in each email isn’t highly personalized to each individual user – based on the extensive raft of data Google already possesses – then consumers will turn away from the platform in favor of a more holistic marketing experience.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) will undertake a large part of this work. Indeed, AI marketing tools are already widely available and have been deployed by some of the world’s biggest brands to help deliver personalization in their email marketing campaigns.

To date, these technologies have largely been deployed to help with execution, but in future, expect to see AI take care of every aspect of an email, right down to the send time, design, subject line and body of text, including bespoke offers for each individual recipient.

It will be particularly crucial when it comes to creativity, which has been absent from email for many years due to the predominance of the ‘static’ HTML format. Marketers have struggled to create engaging content within the platform previously, as emails have had to rely on basic content – straightforward written copy and primitive designs/imagery – to ensure they reach target recipients.

With AMP, however, technology is finally catching up with the promise of marketing. Email marketers will need to get their creative juices flowing and use the change to embrace more engaging content strategies, as more simplistic email formats with limited scope for interaction will no longer entice customers.

The email platform continues to evolve, adapt and reinvent itself, despite premature predictions of its demise, and it looks set to form an integral part of direct marketing strategies for the foreseeable future.

Remember what I said about premature obituaries? Well, to reinvent the age-old proverb: email is dead. Long live email.

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How Progressive Web Apps could rule mobile ecommerce in 2018

Championed by Google since 2015, Progressive Web Apps (PWA) are set to explode as an option for brands to increase traffic and conversions on mobile.

According to a recent study, a 100-millisecond delay can cost a site 7% of its conversion rate, and Google frequently reiterates that when it comes to capturing consumer attention, every second counts.

Looking after your customers with great user experience is also rewarded with a ranking boost, with Google announcing in that from July this year page speed will officially be a mobile ranking signal.

Discussion of adopting PWAs are still in their infancy among some sectors and brands, perhaps because the technology is still relatively young and PWA capability issues persist.

For instance, only now is progress being made with Apple now adapting its web browser engine to handle key features of PWA. As these barriers begin to dissipate, the reluctance from web developers will also diminish – paving the way for PWAs to become a key platform for retailers to build fast, mobile-optimized websites in 2018.

What are Progressive Web Apps?

In the context of the mobile ecosystem, a Progressive Web App is described as a website that offers the near identical experience of a native app but within a standard browser.

This technology can apply to a range of devices from mobile right up to the desktop version. No app store is required to access a PWA site.

The significant advantage of PWAs over native mobile apps is that they do not require any different technologies or in-depth understanding of adapting your code to run on either iOS (Apple) or Android phones. Developers can get by with HTML5, CSS and JavaScript build for PWA.

They offer the pop-up notifications directly to the user, implement home screen icons for easy access and sites can operate in full-screen mode. All this is bundled in with speedier page delivery.

What’s so cool about PWA?

As we’ve established, mobile speed is very important for Google, so much so that the search engine has offered any fast site a rank boost both for desktop and now mobile SERPs.

Its site ethos is to deliver fast, integrated, reliable and engaging experiences for mobile devices. Progressive web apps can cater for all these factors in many ways, while the framework and caching makes PWA code light and efficiently stored. Push notification and ‘Add to Home Screen’ functionality also keep users coming back.

Here are the key areas where Progressive Web Apps can give your e-commerce site a significant advantage.

Speed

The rate at which a site responds is key and PWAs make speedy responses possible, largely thanks to the Service Worker. The caching ability allows the browser to store repetitive elements of the layout that are in the template and inject it into the browser when required, speeding up download times significantly and saving the all-important seconds that will make any e-commerce site more user-friendly.

Keep file pages less than 1mb and make sure that first interaction with the page happens in less than five seconds. Enable HTTP/2 to allow multiple retrieval of assets and compression to quicken the site further.

Responsiveness

User experience is at the heart of Progressive Web Apps so they are to be built with a responsive layout. With responsive sites, the layout can accommodate screens regardless of size.

So no matter what device you are looking at, the experience will be tailored correctly. The PWA app manifest file allows developers to control full screen view, enhancing the experience further.

Offline functionality

The Service Worker and cache api are key for Progressive Web Apps. The Service Worker is essentially a program that work predominantly behind the scenes retrieving and storing site components in the browser cache.

For example, when you are travelling on underground transport where offline functionality is most needed, the wifi connection could be working intermittently or the networks could be poor.

PWA can bridge the gap between offline and online by at least offering a basic navigation in the interim.

The only issue with Service Workers is that not all current browsers support them. Safari and Explorer are developing beta versions that work with this technology. Browsers are slowly catching up but tracking technology compatibility can be monitored by using the caniuse site.

User retention

We all know that native apps serve users’ notifications directly to screen. The great thing is that Progressive Web Apps also offer the same inbuilt functionality of push notifications that alert users of current site developments.

This is invaluable for e-commerce sites to alert users of updates, particularly when new products come into stock, or to alert them to sales and discounts. The ‘Add to Home Screen’ function allows users to place a shortcut icon on their home screens for easier access. Again, the app manifest file is used declare these capabilities.

How Progressive Web Apps could rule mobile ecommerce in 2018

Search engine ready

Unlike native apps, there’s no need to indicate your deep linking URL by editing the source code of a PWA – instead, individual PWA URLs can be indexed by search engines. This takes away a lot of the headache that normally surrounds optimizing your apps for search.

Who’s using PWA right now?

Early PWA adoption has to a few high profile publishers, namely Forbes, Washington Post and Financial Times.

AliExpress is an ecommerce site that allows users to order from mainly Chinese companies very similar to eBay. A typical market version of the PWA site is found here.

The Aliexpress PWA site managed to capture some impressive metrics upon release, including a 104% increase in new users and 82% usage increase among iOS users. This statistic reveals that despite Service Workers not yet being supported by Safari right now, there are twice as many pages being visited per user on multiple browsers. Time spent on the site in a session increased by 74%.

Ele.me is a food ordering company in China that reduced loading times on average by 6.35% across all their pages. Users managed to experience the site with time to consistently interactive dropping to 4.93 seconds on a 3G network on the first load.

Finally, George.com (ASDA) recently launched its PWA site. According to Google, this site accelerated average speeds by 3.8x and saw a fantastic 31% increase in conversion in return.

What about AMP?

There are various pros and cons of both technologies. Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) are quicker on the first load. This can be demonstrated by load times to interactivity where PWA can load in less than ten seconds, while AMP provides an initial load speed of fewer than two seconds.

AMP requires validated web components to function, but PWA only needs HTML5, JS and CSS to get running.

AMP’s advantage over PWA is that they don’t require Service Worker in the initial load while benefiting from cached pages from the get-go. It is possible to combine PWA with AMP to improve the user experience further.

One such component is ‘<amp-install-service-worker>’. Landing page content can be served as an AMP page while the Service Worker is triggered by the use of an iframe, accessing and caching PWA related assets behind the scenes.

This means that AMP pages can switch quickly to PWA pages in a seamless manner without having to wait too long for subsequent PWA to load. Imagine a scenario where a user can enter the site quickly via an AMP page, downloading content at super-quick speed and then switching to PWA pages with all their benefits!

In summary, it’s possible to offer a high-speed mobile experience using both AMP and PWA. The AMP landing page is effectively a quick entry point page and used to initiate service worker caching for following pages that are in PWA format.

To ensure that the user experience remains consistent, the look and feel of both AMP and PWA pages should be identical to create a seamless, uninterrupted transfer between technologies. 

Are there any issues for ecommerce?

PWA are predominantly Single Page apps which, in turn, could be problematic for Google and search engines crawling your pages. There’s a good reason that single page apps are used in PWA, since they are lightweight and allow service workers to inject content in a handy template based format.

There could be a need to pre-render pages server side in order to get crawled. The overall recommendation when developing PWAs is to do so iteratively, slowly building newer features and testing at different build stages. This will maintain a site development strategy of progressively enhancing for inclusive user experience.

There is an assortment of Google tools that can highlight issues upon build. Make use Google’s Fetch and Render tool, and the Lighthouse audit that is now part of Chrome’s Developer Inspect tool can analyse a PWA give a score out of 100.

It can provide readings on time to first meaning paint, for instance, and show potential blockers in the loading of DOM structure. The tool is powerful in reducing overheads and code bloat.

How Progressive Web Apps could rule mobile ecommerce in 2018

Fetch and Render will indicate any issues where Google would struggle to see elements on the page. Google makes it easier to develop PWA sites with this build checklist.

Do not block JavaScript and CSS from any engine crawl activity since they need to understand how the page looks in a browser. Provide clean URLs, without using the hash symbol, and adequately canonical tag PWA pages back to the relevant desktop page where there could be duplication.

Should e-retailers be worried about security and privacy? Service worker programs only work under secure conditions so your site must be working with https encryption.

A specific API called Payment Request API is supposed to make it easier for a mobile site to collect secure credit card and payment information. The API facilitates autofill and one tap checkouts. It has recently been developed by Google and is subject to changes.

What the future holds for PWAs

Google is actively pushing PWA and AMP in 2018. The search engine is speaking with many partners at the moment, and one such development is PWA integration into e-commerce platforms, such as Magento.

It’s realistic to say that the technology currently meets the criteria for the ever expectant and demanding mobile user crowd. Mobile users want to see content quickly or at times offline and PWA offer opportunities to engage and re-engage users.

In a recent study, US users spent 5 hours a day on mobile devices but only 5% of that time accounted for mobile shopping apps. It is said that mobile apps have been falling out of favour for some time, with users favouring mobile web or becoming disheartened by the mobile app experience from retailers.

With the greater impact of PWA, one can imagine how convenient it is for a user not having to switch between app and browser when conducting product research. It will certainly be interesting to see what the future of the Progressive Web App looks like!

The mobile marketing checklist you need for 2018

In today’s interconnected and technology-dependent world, businesses can no longer afford to stay away from mobile.

With roughly three-quarters of Americans owning a smartphone, and mobile conversions being up 64% compared to desktops, businesses have no choice but to adjust their digital marketing campaigns to the new reality of mobile-driven marketing.

An efficiently launched and well-run mobile marketing campaign can become pivotal in impacting SERPs, traffic, user engagement, and conversions. It is definitely one of a few crucial areas, along with voice search, AI, and machine learning, that every SEO professional needs to pay attention to in 2018.

In this article, I will explain why mobile marketing is a big deal, and also provide a checklist of general tips and guidelines that digital marketers and SEOs can use in their mobile marketing campaigns in 2018.

Mobile marketing trends

Smartphones and tablets have become an integral part of our lives, and most businesses are following the trend of integrating them into their marketing campaigns. According to the 2017 Salesforce State of Marketing Report, 68% of marketing leaders use mobile campaign management tools as part of their marketing technology arsenal, while a further 20% plan to do so over the next two years.

This is incredibly important when you consider that:

  1. 83% of all traffic in the US will be mobile by 2018 (Zenith);
  2. 50% of US customers will conduct all their online activities on a mobile device by 2018 (Garner);
  3. By 2019, nearly 72% of digital ad spending in the US will be allocated for mobile platforms (eMarketer);
  4. The number of mobile app downloads will reach 352.9 billion by 2021 (Statista);
  5. By 2021, over $1 trillion will be spent worldwide to adapt websites and applications to the realities of the mobile-first world (Biznessapps).

However, figures alone do not make the case for mobile marketing. Smartphones and tablets fit in perfectly with the latest developments in artificial intelligence (AI), virtual digital assistants (VDAs), the rise of mobile payments, augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR).

According to Tractica, by 2020 virtual digital assistants will be installed on more than 3.3 billion devices (primarily, on smartphones and tablets). By 2021, VR/AR market worldwide will grow to $215 billion (versus only $11.4billion in 2017) to generate over $67 billion in revenue.

With more than 31% of Americans projected to use proximity mobile payments in 2019, the total value of in-store mobile payments is expected to reach $503 billion by 2020.

Clearly, customers are not going to abandon their smartphones any time soon. In fact, with the gradual adoption of so-called progressive web apps (PWAs), imminent improvements in mobile UI/UX and accelerated page-load time, they will rely even more on their mobile devices.

As Neil Patel cleverly puts it: “Mobile isn’t just the way of the future. It’s the way of the now.” Thus, mobile marketing needs to become a marketer’s top priority in 2018.

Mobile marketing checklist for 2018

1. Ensure your sites and apps are mobile-friendly

Business owners, digital marketers and SEO professionals need to make sure that their websites and applications work seamlessly across any mobile device. By this I mean that they should be mobile-friendly, which specifically includes:

Responsive design and excellent load time

All pages have to be responsive and load in less than five (preferably three) seconds. Based on Google’s mobile page speed study, as page load time slows from one second to seven seconds, the bounce rate gradually increases by 113%.

Impeccable UX/UI

With bounce rates on mobile 40% higher than on desktops, it is clear that users no longer tolerate non-optimized, poorly navigable pages: unclickable buttons and tabs, disproportionate images that do not fit the page, and unreadable content that requires zooming can all be a death knell for your site.

Great mobile search optimization

Your areas of interest here are: (a) Images — compress heavy images; (b) Animations — remove Flash; (c) Pop-ups — get rid of intrusive pop-ups; (d) Titles and meta descriptions — make them shorter, to optimize for lesser screen space.

On top of that, implement structured data markup to help search engines trigger “rich snippets” for related mobile searches, and enhance your mobile technical SEO.

With smartphone users growing year-by-year, it comes as no surprise that making your sites and apps mobile-friendly is crucial. Otherwise, you risk losing a considerable chunk of traffic and customers.

2. Optimize and personalize content for mobile devices

Content provides the bedrock for any website: it attracts, converts, and delights customers. Content, therefore, must not only deliver an enormous amount of value, but it must also be easy to consume. In the mobile-first world, this means two things:

  1. Optimization of content pages that are slow to load and hard to navigate. Update your mobile design and implement Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP).
  2. Optimization of mobile content for voice search. According to ComScore, 50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020. Use more natural, long-tail keywords, implement Schema.org markup, and create an FAQ page.

However, high-quality, easily navigable content may not be enough.

What users crave is specialized and personalized content: emails, instant app messages, and SMS. All of these elements have amazing open rates (e.g. open rate for SMS is 98%), and, if delivered during so-called micro-moments, they can dramatically increase conversions and ROI.

Note: AI-powered chatbots are also becoming essential to instant messaging apps. They can bolster a company’s credibility through a combination of user behavior analysis and machine-to-human interactions, giving you a head start in delivering personalized content.

3.   Prioritize local optimization

With more than 40% of mobile searches having local intent and over 85% of user engagement with brands being local, local search optimization for mobile devices should not be underestimated. Here are several tips to consider:

  • Use shorter keywords for organic searches; optimize for longer, more natural keywords for voice searches
  • Consider shortening the content of your info pages to 300-500 words (e.g. about us, product & service pages, contact us, etc.)
  • Include local keywords in title tags, page titles, Alt texts, and content
  • Add your company name, address, and phone number to header, footer, and sidebar
  • Prioritize user experience over bot experience (better UX, faster load time, highly-specialized and visually optimized content)

If your business is not showing up for local searches on mobile, you have a problem. Do your SEO homework, and make sure to claim and optimize your Google My Business listing.

4.   Adjust your PPC & SMM campaigns for mobile

Since few organic results fit in on a smartphone’s screen, investing resources in developing a paid search strategy makes perfect sense. Consider doing the following:

  • Create a compelling, mobile-focused ad copy. Include not only keywords, CTAs, and specifics of your products and services, but also add phrases like “purchase from your smartphone,” “order from your mobile,” “easy mobile leasing,” etc.
  • Use mobile ad extensions. Specifically, you should try sitelinks, call extensions, click-to-call ads, and local extensions (e.g. location, affiliate location).
  • Set up promoted pins. This puts your logo on the Google Map, which naturally increases the visibility and accessibility of your website in search.
  • Optimize your spending and bidding strategies. In the case of automated bid strategies, rely on Google’s Smart Bidding tool. Should you choose to go the manual route, bid your ads to top-performing search results and make sure to adjust them to target your marketing goals.

For your SMM (social media marketing) strategy, follow these trends:

  • Invest in video. By 2019, nearly 80% of all mobile traffic will be video traffic (TubularInsights).
  • Run livestreams and live videos. According to Facebook, live videos are three times more popular than regular videos. In total, there are more than 32 billion views per day on Facebook.
  • Use micro-moments to their full potential. According to Google’s user behavior research, the average person’s micro-moments are heavily dominated with mobile. Ninety-six percent of customers reach for their smartphones when they need to find something online, or simply want to distract themselves. Here is where your SMM campaign needs to grab their attention.

Conclusion

In the mobile-first world, if your site is not optimized (aka convenient) to mobile users, you will undoubtedly lose a significant chunk of your market share to competitors. Mobile marketing is a big deal nowadays (and will become even more important in near future), and can easily make or break your business.

Set a high bar for your mobile marketing and be specific about enhancing and polishing every part of it — from mobile SEO and content to paid marketing, social media and usability. Every little bit helps, and makes your site more mobile- and hence, user-friendly, which will not go unnoticed by the Google gods.

What does Google’s “Speed Update” mean for mobile?

Yesterday, Google announced a major upcoming change to its mobile ranking algorithm.

In a short blog post entitled ‘Using page speed in mobile search ranking’, it explained that starting in July 2018, page speed will officially be a ranking factor for mobile searches.

The catchily-named “Speed Update” (a feat of inventive naming on a par with “Assistant”) is set to only affect “pages that deliver the slowest experience to users” and, in Google’s words, will only impact a “small percentage of queries”.

However, given that Google processes around 3.5 billion search queries per day (per Internet Live Stats), a “small percentage” can still amount to a lot of websites.

So for any website owners and SEOs who might be concerned about how this affects them, let’s examine what we know about the update so far, and what it means for mobile SEO.

Speed as a ranking factor: coming to a mobile update near you

Google has used page speed as a ranking factor on desktop since April 2010, but although having a fast mobile site has always stood companies in good stead for ranking well in search, it hasn’t been an official ranking factor in Google’s algorithm until now.

However, this announcement is far from coming out of left field. As far back as June 2016, Google webmaster trends analyst Gary Illyes confirmed that the next mobile algorithm update from Google would use page speed as a ranking factor.

Google has also frequently emphasized the importance of speed in mobile user experience in its advice to webmasters, and Google initiatives like Accelerated Mobile Pages and Progressive Web Apps have aimed to furnish site owners with the tools to make their websites fast and streamlined on mobile.

The “Speed Update” announcement doesn’t give all that much new information about how website owners should improve their sites in order to rank well on Google, but here’s what we do know:

  • Speed Update will mainly impact the websites which deliver the “slowest experience” to users, although Google hasn’t given a benchmark by which webmasters can judge whether or not their site falls into this category.
  • It applies regardless of the technology used to build the page – so it would still apply to, say, AMP websites. If an AMP website for some reason delivers a slow experience, this would impact on its ranking.
  • Content relevance still trumps speed. In Google’s words, “The intent of the search query is still a very strong signal, so a slow page may still rank highly if it has great, relevant content.”
  • Google wants developers to “think broadly about how performance affects a user’s experience of their page and to consider a variety of user experience metrics.” This means user experience matters as well as speed – we’ll come back to that in a bit.
  • There is no tool or notification that will tell webmasters whether their site is being affected by the update, but Google recommends using Chrome User Experience Report, Lighthouse or PageSpeed Insights to evaluate a page’s performance.

Spotlight on mobile user experience

As highlighted earlier, the language used by Google in its blog post indicates that the search engine is looking at not just speed, but overall mobile user experience with this update.

Google went so far as to spell this out in a Q&A with Search Engine Land, saying that, “The intent of the signal is to improve the user experience on search.”

In other words, site owners who want to score highly here need to pay attention to more than just page load time. This is underscored by Google’s recommendation of the Chrome User Experience Report as a tool to evaluate webpage performance in light of the update.

A lot of improvements to mobile page speed also improve the wider user experience on mobile – for example, videos and audio set to autoplay are annoying and inaccessible to users, and also slow the page down by loading unnecessary content – meaning that site owners can kill two birds with one stone.

Other steps that site owners can take to improve mobile UX include disabling annoying full-page pop-ups and interstitials (which Google is liable to penalize anyway) and implementing a slimmed-down, task-based design that allows users to quickly navigate to the functionality they need.

Above all, a mobile website should enable users to efficiently accomplish what they came there to do, without being bogged down by unnecessary bells and whistles. If you achieve this, you should be able to stay on the right side of the Speed Update algorithm both in terms of page performance and in terms of mobile experience.

Here are some more guides we’ve published that will help you get to grips with mobile SEO, site speed and UX ahead of the July update:

Mobile SEO

Mobile site speed

Mobile UX

CES 2018: Google ramps up Assistant with smart displays, native podcasts, recipes and news

Amazon Echo and its voice assistant, Alexa, might be the current market leaders in voice-activated smart technology, but recent announcements from the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show have shown that Google fully intends to challenge Amazon for that crown.

The past few days have seen some big developments – and a couple of even bigger teasers – for the future of Google’s smart assistant, the imaginatively-named Assistant.

On Tuesday, the first day of CES 2018, Google published a post to its official blog announcing partnerships with more than a dozen electronics companies to produce Google Assistant smart speakers – some with a very significant upgrade.

The blog post also highlighted the breadth and depth of “Actions”, the name given to built-in apps and integrations for the Google Assistant. At the same time, Search Console users began receiving notifications that their podcast, recipe and news content was eligible to be included in a new “Actions directory”, which is being rolled out over the next few days.

This appears to be part of an increased focus on what can be accomplished with Assistant, shifting its emphasis from finding information (Google’s long-time speciality) to carrying out tasks.

There’s a lot of news to unpack, so let’s look at what exactly these developments involve, and what they mean for SEOs and the wider industry.

SEOs using structured data are first to the Google Assistant party

While a comparatively smaller development than the flashy revelations of major electronics partnerships and smart displays, Google’s introduction of native support for podcasts, recipes and news to the Assistant is nevertheless big news for SEOs.

I owe a hat tip to Aaron Bradley of SEO Skeptic, whose post to the Semantic Search Marketing Google+ group first tipped me off to this development. In turn, he was tipped off by SEO consultant Dan Shure, who tweeted about a Google Search Console alert he’d received inviting him to “improve discovery” of his podcast in the Google Assistant:

Google is gradually rolling out a browsable directory of Actions for the Google Assistant, allowing users to more easily discover what the Assistant is capable of.

Podcasts, recipes and news will be the first wave of content added to this directory – though only content published with AMP, or marked up with structured data such as Schema.org, will be getting the nod.

This means that webmasters and SEOs who have been marking up their content with structured data are already ahead of the curve in making that content available via voice – while those who haven’t must hop on the structured data (or AMP) bandwagon if they want to be eligible.

Structured data has long been touted by its fans as a great way to get search engines to better surface content from your site, particularly in the form of things like rich snippets or Quick Answers. But it can be time-consuming to add and maintain, and the immediate benefit isn’t always so obvious.

This new use case, however, shows that there is a huge potential advantage to “future-proofing” your website by adding structured data markup. If Google continues to make Assistant a primary focus going forward, then this could be the key to content optimization and discovery in a voice-driven world.

Hey, Google – look what I can do!

As discussed, Google is clearly keen to shift the focus of its voice capabilities away from information discovery towards actions.

To this end, it’s heavily promoting “Hey, Google” as the slogan for the Google Assistant, placing it in huge letters on top of its CES installation, and creating a #HeyGoogle Twitter hashtag (complete with a unique Assistant emoji) to accompany their Assistant-related updates.

But wait, you might be thinking – isn’t “OK Google” the wake phrase for the Assistant?

Yes, Google has been a bit unclear on this point, but it seems that “Hey, Google” has been an alternative wake phrase for the Assistant for a while now. In late 2016, the website Android Police reported that the Google Home responds to both “OK Google” and “Hey, Google”, but Google voice search (e.g. on mobile) responds only to “OK Google” – making it possible to differentiate if you have multiple devices within earshot.

Now, as Google moves its focus away from search and towards actions, “OK Google” is out and “Hey, Google” is in.

Compare the messaging in Google’s tweet above with this video which introduced Google Assistant in late 2016:

While both videos show what can be done with the Assistant, the 2016 video emphasizes “finding” things, linking the Google Assistant directly and visually with the Google search bar, and positioning it as “your own personal Google” – like a search engine for your life.

By contrast, Google’s new messaging focuses on the many things the Google Assistant is capable of, emphasizing the availability of “over a million Actions”.

We in the industry have known for a while that Actions were the Google Home’s answer to Amazon Echo’s Skills, but this is their big debut to consumers, with Google writing that “Since the Assistant can do so many things, we’re introducing a new way to talk about them. We’re calling them Actions.”

This is not to say that Google has abandoned searching via Assistant, however; it made sure to develop powerful natural language search capabilities as its first order of business, with CEO Sundar Pichai demonstrating their potential at Google I/O in 2016. But now, Google is getting serious about challenging rivals Amazon, Microsoft and Apple for dominance of the smart assistant and smart device arena.

If Google continues to make either structured data markup or AMP a prerequisite for content being discoverable with Assistant, then this will mean SEOs must invest in either one or the other if they want to be competitive in this space.

Smart displays: coming soon to Google Assistant

Finally, we have the very exciting news that Google has partnered with a range of electronics manufacturers including iHome, LG, Lenovo and Sony, to produce Assistant-powered smart speakers – some of which will include a screen.

Google has put out the following video to showcase what a screen-enabled Assistant will be able to do:

This is Google’s response to the Echo Show, Amazon’s new smart speaker with an inbuilt touchscreen, which was released in the US in June 2017.

Crucially for Google, it will be able to make use of its YouTube ownership to one-up Amazon, after withdrawing YouTube support on the Echo Show and the Fire TV late last year. Google’s smart display speakers will also offer video conferencing via Google’s video calling app, Duo.

Conclusion

In short, the key takeaways from the last few days are that Google is going all-in on its bid to be Amazon’s main competitor in the smart speaker space. What this means for marketers and SEOs in the long run mostly remains to be seen, however.

In the short term, it will be interesting to see how marketers with podcasts, recipes, and news get on with Google’s new Assistant Directory. Google is keen to get their opinions as well, with John Mueller tweeting that he would “love to hear any feedback on the process”.

Have you had any Search Console notifications about content being included in the new Assistant Directory? Will you be investing in structured data or AMP, if you haven’t already, in order to be eligible for Google Assistant? Leave a comment with your thoughts on the latest developments.

Mobile-first indexing in 2018: 3 things SEO professionals should do right now

As an SEO expert or agency, you’ve spent years attempting to navigate the murky waters of helping your clients find customers online using algorithms, link building hacks, on-page and off-page technique.

And when you thought you were finally making good progress, BOOM! Paradigm shift and the game changes.

The mobile revolution happens.

Google announces its interest in improving user experience and making search results more useful by making its index mobile-first.

According to the Google Webmasters Blog: 

To make our results more useful, we’ve begun experiments to make our index mobile-first. Although our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps, our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results. Of course, while our index will be built from mobile documents, we’re going to continue to build a great search experience for all users, whether they come from mobile or desktop devices.

What this big paragraph means is pretty simple:

Henceforth, Google will use the mobile version of your site to rank it on Google (for both mobile and desktop search).

That means if you have a site optimized for mobile, you’ll rank well on both mobile and desktop. But, if your site doesn’t perform well on mobile, it will tank your rankings on both mobile and desktop.

While a definite timeline for the roll-out of the mobile-first index has not been fixed, a lot has been said about its implementation happening early this year. At SMX Advanced last June, Google’s Gary Illyes pinpointed 2018 as the likely deployment year for the mobile-first index.

And seeing as 2018 is now upon us, there is a need to prepare for the upcoming update (if you have yet to do so). Here are three things you need to do immediately to prepare for a mobile-first index and help your site, or your clients’ sites, weather the storm.

1. Responsive design

This is one of the most important things you would need to do to rank well on the mobile-first index. Responsive websites that change based on the needs of the users and the device that they’re viewing it on are mandatory.

Responsive sites not only offer an optimized browsing experience, they are also offering a two-for-one value. They rank well on both mobile and desktop because the design changes to fit the size of the user’s screen.

Before I talk about some of the steps involved in turning a static website into a responsive one, let’s go over the basics of a responsive design which includes:

  • Fluid site grid with proportionate instead of fixed measures
  • Flexible texts and images
  • Implementing design changes to ensure usability for non-desktop devices
  • Using CSS media queries to define breakpoints for design changes

I’ll give some standard tips on how to turn a static website into a responsive masterpiece, but please note that while the principles stay the same, your theme might be built differently, so consider these only as broad strokes. You might have to do some custom work for your own site.

  • Define default zoom
  • Set fluid element widths and heights
  • Resize website images to make sure our images are automatically scaled according to screen size
  • Implement breakpoints that are more design (than device) specific
  • Create a mobile menu
  • Adapt font sizes and style

Now because responsive design is not about making things fit on a screen, it’s also about keeping your site usable. As a last step, it’s a good idea to test your site in terms of usability on different devices and also test in multiple browsers to make sure your content renders properly.

2: Invest in a mobile-optimized website builder

Think of it as investing in accessibility for your customers. Unless you live under a rock, it is common knowledge that digital screens are getting smaller and more mobile.

Isn’t it then wise to ensure your full website is enjoyed irrespective of the gadget being used? Ensuring your clients’ customers get the best experience is all you’re here for as an SEO practitioner.

A mobile optimized website builder makes your website responsive to mobile gadgets: i.e., it detects what your visitor is using (a smartphone or a tablet) and automatically adjusts the layout of your website to fit the size of the gadget being used.

Unsure of where to begin your search for a website builder? Consider using a Google Preferred website builder – website builders which adhere to Google’s best practices for creating lightning-fast web experiences. Specifically, I want to highlight one noteworthy option if you want to prioritize speed: Duda, which bills itself as the only Google Preferred builder fully optimized for PageSpeed.

Having a well-designed and responsive website isn’t the only goal of mobile optimization. Speed is also crucial – even on mobile, visitors expect pixel-perfect images coupled with split-second rendering time.

A fast website encourages more sessions online, more customer conversions, lower bounce rate, and higher engagement. Usefully, Duda’s widget builder also allows web developers to add elements that are not native to its platform.

Don’t be caught waiting till the algorithm updates to start making big moves. If your website isn’t optimized for mobile, take that step today.

3: Mobile-optimized content

Mobile devices follow you everywhere, which has made them a first-class cure for boredom. But it takes more than a responsive design to make your website mobile-ready.

To ensure your content is as responsive and mobile-friendly as the rest of your optimized website, you have to understand user behavior and preferences as well as available solutions.

Although most mobile users have a short attention span, if you serve valuable content, no matter the length, your visitors will consume it voraciously as long as your content is engaging.

Articles, movies, TV shows will be read and watched on mobile. Follow the following tips to ensure your content is optimized for mobile:

  • Take advantage of mobile applications to encourage engagement beyond your website. An interesting article or an amazing deal on an item will probably go far if your visitors share it on Facebook or Twitter. Use it!
  • Develop high-quality content that tells stories. As long as your content is great, mobile users are willing to spend long sessions on your website. How many times have you opened a link and spent longer time than you intended to on a website? Great content will do that to you.
  • There are various forms of contents; GIF, infographics, Meme’s, articles, high-quality images, videos, use them all. Your business/website caters to visitors of various interests, to avoid ostracizing any of them, ensure that you cover every angle.
  • Shorter headlines get users reading faster. Yes, a strong headline is important but you must also remember that you have only about 5 seconds to convince your visitor to keep reading. Do you really want to waste it on an overly long headline? Keep it strong and short.

Lastly, regardless of the amount of work you have put into your content, feedback is key. You need to know which of your content your visitors engage with the most. Stay on top of it all.

How to get mobile SEO for voice search right

Voice search and mobile usage are both on the rise and look set to shape the SEO industry for some time to come. Nonetheless, 62% of marketers have no specific plans for voice search in 2018.

How can marketers take action today to tap into two of the most important trends in the industry?

As mobile usage continues to grow, more and more users are comfortable with speaking to their devices rather than typing their queries.

Of equal importance are the advances in speech recognition technology that have allowed the likes of Google, Amazon, and Apple to offer a satisfying voice search experience.

There is plentiful context to make marketers aware of these emerging trends, with both mobile and voice search set to shape the future of the industry:

  • Voice-enabled personal assistants are installed by default on all smartphones
  • Google has revealed that more than 20% of searches on an Android device are voice searches
  • The Amazon Alexa app recently topped the app store charts. The Google Home app occupied second position
  • The Amazon Echo was once again the best-selling item on Amazon this holiday season
  • Speech recognition accuracy is now north of 95% for all of the major technology providers
  • Google’s mobile-first index is rolling out and will soon be applied to all sites
  • comScore predicts that 50% of all searches will be by voice in 2020.

Though the two are not perfectly aligned, there is a clear correlation between the growth of voice search and the ongoing rise of mobile.

As the Internet of Things takes off, voice will be one of the most important unifying factors across all hardware. Whether at home, in the car, or at work, there will always be a voice-enabled device close to hand.

And yet, a recent study by BrightEdge reported that 62% of marketers are unlikely to implement a specific strategy for voice search over the next 12 months.

This is not due to a lack of awareness of the trend, but rather a lack of direction when it comes to preparing for its implications.

In a clear indication of how significant the shift to voice-based searches will be, Google recently released a new set of Search Quality Rating Guidelines for the Google Assistant.

Though specific to the Google Assistant, we can safely assume that the same rules and objectives underpin the functioning of other digital assistants too.

As such, this document can prove both illuminating and instructive as we look to move beyond the hype that voice search brings and arrive at some tips to direct our mobile SEO efforts.

The findings in Google’s official guidelines for voice search evaluation, along with the best practices we already have for mobile SEO, can help us create a hybrid set of tips to improve any site’s chances of ranking in this new landscape.

This begins with some technical considerations, then moves on to a more nuanced understanding of how consumers are using voice to interact with their devices. Finally, we must create the right content to fit our target contexts, and find a way to measure our progress.

Technical SEO for mobile devices

As with so many aspects of SEO, crawlability is the foundation upon which a mobile SEO strategy for voice search must be built.

Put simply, if a search engine cannot access and understand your content, your chances of appearing in search results are slim. This has always been important, but it takes on a new level of significance when viewed through the lens of voice search.

Often, voice search removes the traditional search engine results page (SERP) and instead aims to provide one answer in response to a query. This is a search engine’s first port of call; it is only when one answer cannot conclusively answer the query that a more traditional list of results will be displayed.

Fortunately, there are some guidelines we can follow to increase the likelihood of our content ranking via voice search:

  • Schema markup: By adding schema markup, we can help to add structure to our website’s data. For example, we can alert search engines to elements that relate to events, prices, and people – among many others. When a search engine is trying to locate a response to a voice search, this extra information can prove invaluable.
  • XML sitemaps: Having a clearly structure sitemap that can be navigated easily both by people and by search engines will increase the likelihood that your information can be sourced quickly in response to a query.
  • Site structure: The structure of a website should mirror the journeys that users typically take when considering and making a purchase. For example, faceted navigation on an ecommerce site should aim to match common query strings.
  • Carry out a mobile SEO audit: Before embarking on any of the more innovative aspects of voice search, conduct a full mobile SEO site audit to ensure that you are in a solid position.
  • It is also worth reviewing the basics of mobile SEO to keep in mind the distinctions that set it apart from traditional SEO.

Understanding context 

All language is contextual. The exact same query, at surface level, can in fact mean many different things based on how, when, where, and by whom it is said.

This is not a new discovery, but it is only recently that search engines have been able to understand the context of a query.

In part, this has been due to more sophisticated algorithms like Google’s Hummingbird update, which brought the concept of semantic search to life.

However, the biggest source of contextual information is the smartphone. Our phones are constantly sending and receiving data, all of which can be processed to comprehend our past, present, and even our future behaviors.

Now, when a user searches for a term like [canon cameras], a search engine can use smartphone data to understand the implied intent of the query:

cameras

This implicit intent, now known to a search engine, can help to shape and personalize the results that the user sees.

There are other effects of this deeper understanding.

Varied queries can ultimately express the same underlying intent. For example:

sunny

The expression of the response may differ, but all variations are ultimately answering the same question. The user wants to know what the weather will be like tomorrow.

This is helpful, as it allows us to see that we don’t need to answer every single possible query that is out there. Many guides on voice SEO suggest creating FAQ pages as a way to grow traffic, but this seems a stop-gap solution when we can do better. SEO needs to move away from creating “SEO pages” on websites that serve no real purpose other than to attract organic search clicks.

Thus far, our industry has focused mainly on what has been said by searchers. We pull a list of keywords with search volumes, difficulty scores and so on, and we map those to our pages. Where a page does not exist for a group of keywords, we create one.

A further level of nuance can be added by segmenting the keywords by purchase stage: informational, navigational or transactional, for example. These can also be categorized as ‘Know’, ‘Go’, and ‘Do’ moments.

That is useful, but it is overly simplistic. What we often end up with is a comforting illusion; a spreadsheet that smooths over the rough edges to provide a digestible view of what people search for, cell by cell.

Reality does not fit so readily into neat compartments.

In a presentation given last year, Tom Anthony of Distilled mapped out what the new ecosystem looks like, based on the huge amount of data a smartphone both sends and receives:

tom_anthony

Even this is a reduction, but it does at least provide insight into the broader picture.

What this means is that when working on a mobile SEO strategy, we should identify the contexts in which our content could rank.

These contexts can be strung together to create a map of the typical user journey.

This can be informed by demographic data, as there are telling differences between the generations. In particular, we should note that younger generations are more comfortable with voice search and use it in very different situations to their older counterparts.

voice_search_today

Stone Temple Consulting produced an excellent, in-depth study that goes further still to segment this data by income. In the chart below, all figures are in US Dollars:

voice search seo incomeSource: Stone Temple Consulting

What we find through this report is that there are notable variations at every level of analysis. By location, gender, device, income level, and age, we find that people use voice search differently.

Marketers would do well to perform research of their own to pinpoint the right contexts for their business to target, through qualitative research and quantitative analysis.

Creating the right content at the right time

Once we have plotted out the potential contexts in which we could communicate with our audience, we need to create the content that will hopefully help us rank via voice search.

Though this is a nascent field, there are already some useful studies that can guide us in this process.

Voice queries tend to be longer, due to their closer relationship to natural speech patterns. This provides a significant amount of data for us to analyze, compared with the shorter queries we have grown accustomed to.

Where once he had to infer a consumer’s intent based on feedback signals (click-through rate, bounce rate, conversion rate), we can now start this process much earlier.

We should also bear in mind the anticipated input-output relationship between the consumer and the device. For example, a spoken query that prompts a spoken response will need to be fed by content that is clear, concise, and conclusive.

Google’s Research Blog offers the following areas for assessment when it comes to this kind of voice search:

  • Information Satisfaction: the content of the answer should meet the information needs of the user.
  • Length: when a displayed answer is too long, users can quickly scan it visually and locate the relevant information. For voice answers, that is not possible. It is much more important to ensure that we provide a helpful amount of information, hopefully not too much or too little. Some of our previous work is currently in use for identifying the most relevant fragments of answers.
  • Formulation: it is much easier to understand a badly formulated written answer than an ungrammatical spoken answer, so more care has to be placed in ensuring grammatical correctness.
  • Elocution: spoken answers must have proper pronunciation and prosody. Improvements in text-to-speech generation, such as WaveNet and Tacotron 2, are quickly reducing the gap with human performance.

This insight should flow directly into the site experience. If we know which task our consumer is trying to complete, we can make this process and seamless and as painless as possible.

There are some points that apply to any site aiming to create content for voice search:

  • Remember that a voice search is only the start of the user journey. If your mobile site experience does not match the user’s intent, they will complete the journey elsewhere. Use a user-agent switcher or a site like http://mobiletest.me/ to see how your mobile experience matches up.
  • Create content that responds to the most common conversational queries. Provide clear information that can easily be picked up by a search engine as it tries to provide one, true answer for each voice query. Tools like Answer the Public are useful for this task, but try to assimilate this information naturally into your content rather than creating a host of FAQ pages.
  • Map this content to a logical site hierarchy that is crawlable for search engines and useful for consumers.

Local SEO

Given that voice searches on a mobile device are frequently completed on the go, it should not be surprising that users often want help with navigation.

Interestingly, the growth in the number of ‘near me’ searches has slowed as people have come to expect Google to understand this implied intent.

Google uses its own Maps product to respond to these queries, so we can optimize our own Maps listings to help search engines and people to navigate better. There are a few tips to keep in mind when working on a voice search strategy for local SEO:

  • Ensure that names, addresses and phone numbers are accurate across all locations.
  • Consider using a specialist platform to manage your local listings and monitor your local search performance. There is a growing range of mobile SEO tools that can help with these tasks.
  • Make it easy for consumers to act on their intentions. This means adding in clear calls to action and directions to further information.

What’s next for search?

It is important to understand Google’s vision for the future of search.

The technology has improved dramatically, but it is still some distance from fulfilling the ambitions of Google and Amazon. When this technology reaches its potential, there may be no need for a query at all, as the digital assistant will be able to pre-empt our actions.

For now, marketers need to assist the assistants in the manner outlined above.

In essence, technology is enabling behaviors that have their basis in pre-existing states of intent. The industry is growing in complexity, but simultaneously it is developing into a more realistic representation of how people want to search.

Through better understanding of both people and technology, marketers can create a voice search strategy that will stand the test of time.

Smart shopping season checklists: Mobile and desktop, content and SEO

Constantly changing consumer behaviors and the demand for more personalized, meaningful experiences have retailers facing huge challenges this year.

Competition in the SERPs is stiff, but winning the click is still no guarantee that the consumer is invested in your shopping experience.

More than half of retailers (source: Soasta.com) have a bounce rate greater than 40%, and just one second in increased page load time can have a 50% impact on your mobile bounce rate. Today’s consumer has zero patience for a poor online experience and will pull the trigger instantly if your brand can’t deliver.

The holidays provide plenty of opportunities to create more personalized content and provide smart content and intelligent experiences both in-store and online. How can you best get in position this holiday season to not only be found, but to engage and delight consumers all the way through, from search to checkout?

Below, I share some tips to help marketers in the coming weeks to get their SEO and content in shape for the holidays (and beyond).

Smart holiday shopping

The holiday shopping season provides a great opportunity for marketers to get smarter about the way they develop and promote content. As SEO and content marketing disciplines converge, the need for smart content has become mission critical. Smart content is discoverable, optimized from the point of creation, and ready to be activated across channels and devices, making it both profitable and measurable.

New research (disclosure – carried out by my company, BrightEdge) shows that ecommerce behavior changes dramatically on major shopping days Black Friday and Cyber Monday. On these days, conversion spikes. Interestingly, online conversion rates increase across desktop, tablet and mobile increase from Thanksgiving to Black Friday and into Cyber Monday. Going into the holiday season, it is good to know that:

  • On Black Friday and Cyber Monday, conversion is double what it normally is
  • Cyber Monday conversion is higher than Black Friday conversion by 10%
  • Desktop takes 67% of overall conversions during the holiday season, with desktop traffic converting at a significantly higher rate than mobile visits.

When it comes down to making that final decision, consumers still like to see what they’re buying, and all of the information surrounding it, on a larger screen.

It is important to note though that our data suggests an earlier holiday shopping season, too, and that consumers were making their big purchase on Thanksgiving and then using discounts to buy things they would have purchased already but with big discounts. Hence the higher conversion rates for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Read the full report (ungated) for more findings from our research.

As you get ready for the holiday shopping season, make sure that you:

  • Create content that meets your customers’ needs at various points in their journey
  • Develop SMART content and engage audiences with plenty of content about upcoming deals and specials, holiday wish list must-haves and similar content published on your website or blog
  • Ensure that your mobile configuration is correct
  • Add images, icons, buttons and specific (seasonal offerings) calls-to-action as part of the experience
  • Set up your mobile analytics so it reports key metrics separately from desktop data
  • Maintain rank for your high value keywords by creating helpful, consultative evergreen content
  • Double-check your SEO strategy to make sure your content is optimized for organic discovery. Start with these 5 aspects of technical SEO you can’t neglect
  • Ensure that optimize desktop, mobile and tablet strategies and connect them along the buyers journey – from discover and engagement through to final purchase.

Maximize your organic presence throughout the holiday season

Schema markup helps you structure your on-page data in a way that it can be better understood by search engines. As we all know, Google’s #1 goal is to provide searchers the best answers to their needs. Schema helps you show Google all of the ways in which your site content is the best answer for relevant queries.

Schema can help you win extra visibility in the SERPs, too, with expanded results and extra features like Google’s Quick Answers box. It can help you add compelling content like ratings and other rich information that convince searchers to convert to site visitors. At the very least, check these off your list in your pre-holidays marketing prep:

  • Optimize key pages for Quick Answers and mark up accordingly
  • Mark up events you’re hosting in-store and online for inclusion in the Google Events SERP feature
  • Use structured data markup to define business attributes including your NAP (name, address, phone), business type, hours, latitude and longitude, and more
  • Make sure your product pages are marked up so reviews show in the SERPs. This is critical, as 61% of customers read online reviews before making a purchase decision, and 63% of shoppers are more likely to buy if there are product reviews (iPerceptions)
  • Put the most important ecommerce attributes to work for you. Add pricing and availability to your rich snippets, to help consumers make a decision quickly and avoid in-store or online store disappointment after the click
  • Check for common schema errors like typos or incorrect capitalization, and use Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool to make sure you’ve implemented your markup correctly.

Supplement your SEO strategy and deliver a relevant holiday shopping experience

Your PPC and SEO budgets shouldn’t be pitted against one another during holiday season, each fighting it out for their share of the pie. Organic search drives 51 percent of all visits to B2B and B2C websites, and it is important to use PPC to support your SEO efforts; to fill in the gaps in organic coverage and further your conversion opportunities for specific time sensitive promotions.

Ad extensions can give your ads greater functionality and more visibility, while targeting options like dayparting and device targeting reduce waste and get you in front of your ideal audiences when it matters most. And remember, when it comes to site visits, desktop dominates on Cyber Monday, mobile on Black Friday, and tablets on Thanksgiving Day.

These insights can help you tailor your ads and bids to the most receptive audiences on each major shopping day this season. How else can you improve your PPC game in time for the holidays?

  • Accelerate conversions and sales with targeted campaigns aligned with your content strategy or featured products
  • Focus your organic search efforts on aligning with consumer intent, and use PPC to tap into queries that indicate imminent purchase behavior
  • Take advantage of the second holiday shopping rush by advertising post-holiday sales over the holiday week, when many people are off work and traveling
  • Use social PPC (Facebook and Twitter Ads) to get your ads in front of super granular, targeted audiences in the moments that matter most
  • Make best use of each of the Bing Ads and Google AdWords features available to you, including targeting options and various ad formats that can help you stand out in the SERPs
  • Deliver an optimal experience after the click by following through on the promise of ads with a seamless shopping experience.

Optimize for experience to improve conversion

Your number one priority in conversion optimization this holiday season has to be mapping your content to the customer journey, then aligning this to the days that matter most for revenue. It’s not all about Black Friday vs. Cyber Monday; Thanksgiving Day might actually be your best day for revenue generation.

Run through this checklist in the holidays lead-up to turn more of your lookers into buyers:

  • Test and analyze your shopping cart and checkout experience via a mobile device
  • Use your category pages to guide users, who are often undecided about the exact product they’ll purchase, towards your product pages and ultimately, a decision
  • Address user uncertainty on-page by answering frequently asked questions where it actually matters: on category and product pages. Consumers won’t go digging for information on shipping, return policies, etc.
  • Provide social proof by way of embedded reviews on product pages. Consumers want to see what types of experiences others are having with your brand and products before they’ll commit to purchase
  • Examine conversion rates by page speed, and optimize for a more efficient shopping experience. Load only your best converting image on page load and use interaction triggers to add other items as needed.

The holiday shopping season provides great opportunities to create more personalized content and provide intelligent experiences both at the store and online.

To maximize performance, marketers need to focus on understanding and creating smart content and shopping experiences to attract, engage and convert customers at the right time and on the right device.

4 common mistakes that tank responsive mobile conversion

About a decade ago, almost everyone who accessed the internet used a desktop computer. Just two screen sizes accounted for 77% of all web usage in 2006.

This pattern has completely shifted. Research by mobify.com found that today, ten screen sizes – different laptops, tablets, smartphones, monitors, netbooks and web-enabled TVs – account for 77% of web usage.

Interestingly, none of the screen sizes have over 20% of market share each. Today, when designing a website, marketers must plan for all kinds of mediums accessing the web grid, from smart TVs to heavy-weight iMacs down to the cheapest Android device out there.

The solution for a digitalized planet where smartphone and tablet users expect rich and intuitive web experiences as found on desktops will be responsive mobile design.

But responsive mobile design isn’t a magic bullet. It might solve the screen-size layout problem, but there are other intrinsic problems with the responsive approach that a lot of marketers skim over.

Below are some common mistakes that could affect your responsive mobile conversion.

Mistake #1: Bloated images

Images pose a leading responsive conversion problem. Because a responsive website makes use of a single markup across devices, it’s important to ensure that only large, attractive images are served to Retina iPad displays, whilst old smartphones acquire lesser low-resolution images that will load fast.

For image-rich websites, their woes begin with mobile page speed due to size of high-res images rendered to the wrong device. In addition, the cost of the wasted bandwidth used in sending weighty images to the wrong devices is basically throwing away money.

Paul Gian, marketer at Beyond4C’s recommends the following ways for optimizing images for all screen sizes and resolutions:

  • Running images through Imagemagick (back-end process) for an optimal size.
  • Using Lossy Compression to completely reduce the image size while maintaining depth.
  • Rendering images through multiple servers, Amazon Cloudfront CDN preferably.

With these hacks, Beyond4C’s saw a 135% increase in mobile conversion as the hacks guarantee that you can constantly send the right images to the right devices.

Mistake #2: Slow page load time

Web pages with slow loading times have a major problem because mobile users are very irritated with slow web pages. The typical U.S. retail mobile site loads in 6.9 seconds in July 2016.

But, according to the Akamai study, “40% will abandon a web page if it takes more than three seconds to load”. And “64% of shoppers who are dissatisfied with their site visit will go somewhere else to shop next time.”

Web visitors have a tendency to get aggravated if they have to wait too long to see your web content. In his book Usability Engineering, Jakob Nielsen says people can handle up to 10 seconds of load time before they leave, but even a few seconds’ delay is enough to create an unpleasant user experience.

A number of the world’s largest companies understand that site performance and placing importance on their users’ time can be a competitive advantage in the market. It’s a big part of Google’s philosophy.

And Facebook’s design team has this to say:

“We value our user’s time more than our own. We recognize faster experiences are more efficient and feel more effortless. As such, site performance is something our users should never notice. Our site should move as fast as we do.”

Mistake #3: Long forms

Nobody enjoys having to fill out long forms on desktop sites; however, this becomes even more loathsome when you have to type several details with your thumbs on mobile.

Avoid the use of long, tiresome forms that make users type a lot. Long forms do not only frustrate your users, but also hurt your conversion rates when you use them for any kind of transaction. Take for instance Expedia, who lost $12 million dollars in revenue because they were making use of an unnecessary form field that confused their users.

By reducing their form fields from four to three, HubSpot improved their conversion rates by 50%. When it comes to forms, shorter is always better, particularly on mobile.

Mistake #4: Ignoring mobile user intent

Another common mistake that hurts responsive mobile conversion is the assumption that responsive design will fix all problems. Though a responsive design takes care of many mobile UX issues, it doesn’t necessarily take user goals into consideration.

According to smartinsights.com, there’s a 270% gap between desktop and mobile conversion rates, because people get mobile websites all wrong.

On desktop computers, long titles and many words have an effect that is sometimes totally opposite to mobile devices. More text on mobile devices will hide the page and push away the user from accessing their goal, which is most of the time the call to action.

Aside the menu bar, always focus on helping your visitors to navigate your web page easily, especially the call to action buttons. When designing your site, have mobile device users in mind and make their journey through your website much simpler, targeting your conversion rate.

Conclusion

Mobile media usage is growing faster than desktop, TV, radio, and print. More people are using mobile devices to access the internet more than ever before, so, it is of the essence to design mobile sites that are simple and pleasant to use. Sites that are difficult to navigate infuriates mobile users, making them leave your sites and locate other sites.

If you don’t make your website truly mobile-friendly, your visitors won’t complete your forms, will abandon their shopping cart, leave your site, and transact business with your competitors. This of course, would go a long way to adversely affecting your conversion rate.

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The 5 best tools to develop a mobile-first SEO strategy

Search marketers rely on tools to make sense of what is a very complex, fluid environment. With the increasing importance of mobile, the list of tools grows even longer. Which platforms should search marketers use to devise a mobile-first SEO strategy?

While we await the launch of Google’s mobile-first index, search marketers are aiming to capitalize on the growing quantity of searches made on smartphones.

We spent a long time anticipating the ‘mobile era’, but for many businesses it has been a reality for some time now.

The numbers certainly tell their own story. Mobile searches now outnumber desktop queries, and mobile advertising spend is projected to exceed $100 billion worldwide this year.

(Source: Statista)

Of course, this means that the ranking signals for mobile are different to those used for desktop results. That stands to reason; smartphones are used for different purposes and they provide Google with different data sets to calculate its rankings.

Mobile websites often differ from their desktop counterparts too, so marketers need to be sure that their online presence is prepared for a mobile-first world.

Recently, we wrote that there are three areas that really matter for mobile SEO performance:

  • Context: How many people search for your products online? When and where do they tend to search?
  • Speed/accessibility: How quickly does your mobile site load? Are there differences in the internal linking structures of your mobile and desktop sites?
  • User engagement signals: How well does your site render on a mobile device? Are you tracking the right metrics for mobile performance?

These are complex questions, but there some tools that can help us arrive at quantitative answers. The list below highlights 5 of the best tools to shape and measure your mobile SEO strategy.

SimilarWeb

For on-the-spot digital consumer research, SimilarWeb is a fantastic place to start. SEO does not exist in isolation, so it is very helpful to have an overview of how consumers are discovering a website across all channels and devices before we zoom in.

SimilarWeb uses proprietary, anonymized data from its own customers along with clickstream data to understand how people access sites, how long they stay, and where they go next.

The 5 best tools to develop a mobile-first SEO strategy

This ecosystem incorporates apps too, which are of prime importance as we consider a mobile-first strategy. The mobile web is merging with the app world, with Google pushing both progressive web apps and Android Instant Apps.

SimilarWeb is excellent for competitor research too, making it a great all-rounder for any digital marketer as they start plotting a mobile strategy.

How SimilarWeb can help shape your mobile-first SEO strategy:

  • Consumer insights across all channels, devices and territories
  • Helpful for mobile SEO keyword research
  • Includes app analysis alongside mobile web statistics
  • In-depth competitor analysis reveals other sites’ strengths and weaknesses

SEMrush

SEMrush packs in an impressive amount of features for both organic and paid search. Most importantly for the scope of this analysis, it contains a host of mobile-specific SEO charts and graphs that provide insight into any website’s performance.

By identifying the frequency with which a website shows up within their index of search results, SEMrush provides an overview of the mobile rankings and traffic a brand receives. This serves as a useful barometer of current performance, and the competitor analysis features provide further reference points.

The 5 best tools to develop a mobile-first SEO strategy

The new Sensor feature (in BETA) monitors search results page fluctuations across devices, in a welcome development that reflects the constant flux of ranking positions in 2017.

Too many rankings platforms provide a static position on a weekly basis and, while it would be impossible to measure the true volatility of rankings, this new feature from SEMrush is at least a step in the right direction.

Users can set this up to monitor specific keywords for both mobile and desktop, and it will provide a daily update on the differences noted across the relevant results sets. The 5 best tools to develop a mobile-first SEO strategySEMrush’s focus on both organic and PPC provides a more holistic overview of search results pages, too. This combination of functionalities puts it just ahead of its competitors, which include BrightEdge, SearchMetrics, and SEO Monitor, for mobile SEO research.

How SEMrush can help shape your mobile-first SEO strategy:

  • Identify target keyword groups
  • Track keyword performance over time
  • Analyze competitors
  • Monitor SERP volatility
  • Overview of both paid and organic search performance

Google Mobile Site Tests

Google’s mobile-friendly test tool was launched with the aim of helping site owners get their house in order for the mobile age.

Users can enter a URL into the test, which will then tell them if their site is fit for purpose when rendered on a smartphone:

The 5 best tools to develop a mobile-first SEO strategy

The mobile-friendly test creates a list of the issues found in loading the page, which can be assessed and addressed with the web development team.

Site owners have had plenty of warning and plenty of time to align themselves with Google’s mobile-friendly guidelines, so the next priority is speed. This has been no secret, with initiatives like Accelerated Mobile Pages making it abundantly clear where site owners should be placing their focus.

Google provides another essential resource to support marketers’ efforts with its site speed test, which has improved quite significantly this year. What had previously been quite a rudimentary tool that returned vague platitudes about “Compressing images” is now a much more sophisticated and thorough analytical tool.

The 5 best tools to develop a mobile-first SEO strategy

Tests are performed using a simulated 3G connection to mimic the majority of global smartphone traffic today and Google even estimates how much traffic a site is losing due to slow loading times.

The free report can be emailed to a user (it usually arrives within an hour), with plenty of actionable details to help improve performance.

Given the paucity of great mobile-specific web tools out there, it really is an essential guide for search marketers aiming to get their site in line for the mobile-first index.

How Google’s Mobile Site Tests can help shape your mobile-first SEO strategy:

  • Quick snapshot of any mobile site issues
  • The estimate of lost traffic is great for demonstrating to senior leaders how important mobile SEO is
  • Option to download a detailed, free report
  • Clear, actionable tips to improve site speed
  • New competitor analysis shows how you fare against the industry standard

Screaming Frog

Screaming Frog is a technical SEO analysis tool that will quickly crawl and analyze a website across a range of important factors. For a snapshot of site-wide adherence to Google best practices, it remains a central part of any SEO’s toolkit.

From a mobile perspective, these technical factors are of great significance. Many sites are rendered slightly differently depending on the user agent, so marketers need to be aware of what these differences are for their URLs. As we move to a mobile-first index, those differences could affect vital ranking positions.

The 5 best tools to develop a mobile-first SEO strategy

In particular, elements including internal links, multimedia assets, and structured data may differ when rendered on mobile versus desktop.

Screaming Frog provides some valuable insight into these factors, along with standard SEO considerations like meta descriptions and title tags.

For enterprise-level businesses, Botify and DeepCrawl are great paid solutions for ongoing technical SEO. However, for smaller sites or one-off spot audits, Screaming Frog remains the go-to tool.

How Screaming Frog can help shape your mobile-first SEO strategy:

  • A quick and effective way to analyze technical SEO performance
  • Can help identify areas that are holding back site performance
  • Some visualizations of issues such as overly long meta descriptions
  • Very useful for a site-wide look at mobile SEO elements

Google Analytics; Google Search Console

I am cheating a little bit here to squeeze these two into the list, but they are complementary and pretty important for any mobile-first SEO strategy.

Google Analytics allows users to filter their data by device and by channel, making it very easy to isolate mobile SEO performance data. This can be compared to desktop and to other channels to see how SEO fares. Given the growing impact of user engagement signals on SEO rankings, marketers should really be focused on ensuring their content is meeting user demand. The metrics in Google Analytics provide the ideal starting point for this assessment.

It is possible that sub-par mobile SEO performance is related to lower rankings on mobile devices, which is where Search Console can start to prove its worth.

Google Search Console provides some good insight into mobile search volumes (found in the Impressions column), along with the ranking positions for each query.

Search Console is far from the full package for SEO, but we should expect Google to add more and more new features as the industry changes. In particular, I would anticipate the release of more mobile- and voice-specific filters to reflect the changing landscape.

The 5 best tools to develop a mobile-first SEO strategy

The Page Analytics Chrome extension is the perfect complement to these, allowing users to analyze user interactions at a page level while browsing their own site. As we continue to see the convergence of UX, CRO and SEO, these considerations should be foremost for anyone aiming to create a mobile-first strategy.

And to add one more Google tool in and complete the set, Data Studio is a user-friendly way to create mobile-specific performance dashboards using metrics from a range of analytics platforms. Once a mobile strategy has been devised and implemented, these Google tools will allow SEOs to monitor the impact closely.

How GA and GSC can help shape your mobile-first SEO strategy:

  • Accurate reflection of session-level interactions with a mobile site
  • Insight into mobile search volumes and ranking positions
  • Clear comparison with performance on other channels and devices
  • Great way to track performance for core business metrics.