Tag Archives: MOBILE

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How video impacts mobile web performance and UX, part 3: detecting and remedying issues

Video has become an important tool in the marketers’ tool box. Video storytelling is a useful and increasingly popular way to engage customers.

But if your video doesn’t work properly or cripples your website or app performance it will become a major frustration to customers, marketers and techies alike.

In the previous two parts of this column on data and download speed and autoplay and audio we learned:

  • Video dominates mobile data traffic
  • When implemented correctly, mobile video should not impact the speed that pages load on a mobile device
  • Mobile users start to become impatient after waiting just two seconds for a video to load; by 10 seconds a fifth will have given up.

This column will explore how to detect, avoid and remedy issues with videos to give your viewers the best possible experience with your video content and keep them engaged and watching your videos.

Jump to:

How to detect problems with video
How to avoid problems with video
How to remedy problems with video

How to detect problems with video

Detecting issues with video, audio or any other web or app issue a) can be straightforward; b) should be everyone’s responsibility, from the CEO down; and c) helps to keep agencies, techies and marketers on their toes.

1. Use it

Blatantly obvious – but when was the last time you checked out your site and videos from a bus, train or bar? Incentivize employees to use the site/app (during beta testing and routinely after goes live) and report issues and suggest improvements.

Check for:

  • How quickly did the site/page load? (Count the seconds)
  • How long did you have to wait for the video to start?
  • How good is the quality?
  • Does it stall / (re) buffer during playback?
  • Was it worth watching/watching to the end?
  • How do you feel about these conclusions?

2. User test it

Recruit customers and monitor their behavior and reactions as they use your web site, using different devices, networks and locations. Score against the above checklist. If this cannot be conducted in person use a remote service such as UserTesting.com.

User testing should occur at each stage of the development process. For more on why user testing is so crucial, see my previous column for our sister site ClickZ on Why user testing should be at the forefront of mobile development.

3. Test it

There are different types of testing, including:

  • Page performance – tools such as WebPageTest (free) show how/if the video is impacting how fast the page loads. It shouldn’t. The image below shows the WebPageTest results for how quickly Sam Dutton’s mobile video explainer on YouTube loads on a mobile device. The page took 6.6 seconds to load 809kB.
  • A/B testing – tests alternative experiences with different groups of web (or app) visitors. For example, test hosting the video on the homepage versus on a dedicated page.
  • Video testing tools – AT&T’s Video Optimizer (formerly known as Application Resource Optimizer) is a free-to-download tool used by developers (requires technical knowledge) to detect issues such as delays with start-up and the frequency and duration of stalls and optimum segment size.

4. Monitor it

  • Web analytics tools, such as Google Analytics, track visitor engagement with video – e.g. number of views, who viewed, how long, and with the webpage itself, including dwell time and bounce rate. See this introduction to using GA to assess video engagement.
  • Heat map tools, such as Clicktale and Crazyegg provide a visual representation of how users interact, or attempt to interact, with webpages and video.

How to avoid problems with video

Following best practices while creating/producing the video or coding the page, website or app that will host it should help avoid many of the common issues – videos that won’t play, are slow to play, or have broken playback.

Industry guidelines on mobile video are thin on the ground, considering the increasing popularity of the format. What guidance is available tends to be a bit techie and thus a turn off for non-techies.

The following recommendations have been compiled with the help of:

1. Make it worth it

There are many costs involved with video/audio:

  • For the producer: the cost of production and distribution; impact on web performance
  • For the network: the impact of network congestion
  • For the viewer, in terms of data consumption, battery life and time it takes to consume.

This makes it imperative that the video is meeting a known user need, contains quality content, is the right length, optimized in terms of bitrate, segments and compression.

2. Be aware: video is greedy; HD greedier; 4K much greedier

When it comes to bandwidth, standard video is greedy, requiring 0.5 Megabits per second (Mbps); high definition (HD) is five times as greedy as SD; and 4K is 30 times as greedy.

Cisco’s Usha Andra explains:

“Mobile video and multimedia applications have higher bandwidth and lower latency requirements than non-video applications. The requirements can range from a low of 0.5Mbps for standard definition (SD) to 2.5Mbps for high definition (HD) and over 15Mbps for 4K/ultra-high definition (UHD) downloads and much higher for virtual reality (VR). Latency requirements can range from 100 milliseconds (ms) to 15ms for UHD VR video applications.”

3. Know the limitations of mobile networks in your target markets

Even among developed telecoms markets, the capability of mobile networks varies considerably. Check the Cisco GCI Global Cloud Readiness Tool for an averages of each country.

The stats suggest that download speeds in the US and UK are 40% lower than Norway and South Korea, and 25% lower than Canada:

  • South Korea – download: 31.0Mbps; upload: 14.3Mbps; latency: 68ms
  • Norway – download: 29.1Mbps; upload: 11.6Mbps; latency: 40ms
  • Canada – download: 24.2Mbps; upload: 9.0Mbps; latency: 51ms
  • UK – download: 18.2Mbps; upload: 8.0Mbps; latency: 55ms
  • US – download: 17.1Mbps; upload: 10.0Mbps; latency: 88ms.

Usha Andra adds:

“Please note that these are average speeds and latencies, which means many users experience higher or lower speeds compared to the average speeds. When the speeds and latencies are lower than what an application warrants, the end user experiences delay in video, garbled audio, etc.”

4. Home page or own page?

Few of the most popular sites, including those that have a strong video focus – YouTube, Vimeo, BBC and CNN – host videos on the homepage or category pages. These sites promote their videos on the homepage as image links (often with play button icon overlaid) and text links, which when clicked or tapped go to a page dedicated to that video.

Why? Keeping video off the homepage keeps it leaner and faster to load on mobile devices. See the Twitch example below.

5. Avoid autoplay

Forcing mobile web visitors to view video whether they want to or not, is:

  • Frustrating for the customer (especially when it happens in a quiet environment)
  • Prone to using up the customer’s bandwidth and battery life unnecessarily
  • Liable to slow down how quickly the page loads
  • Contrary to accessibility best practice (as it can interfere with the screen readers used by visually impaired people)
  • A common technique for artificially inflating video view stats.

There is a (vaguely plausible) argument that sites such as YouTube are an exception to the no autoplay rule. As the visitor is clicking through to the video on a dedicated page it is implicit that they intend to watch.

Consider Twitch, the surprisingly popular site where fans watch gamers playing video games live, captured in the image below. On the desktop homepage, Twitch.tv has a live game on autoplay, while on m.Twitch.tv, there are no videos hosted on the homepage.

Comparing the download size and page speed of Twitch homepage when downloaded to a mobile and desktop device on HTTP Archive (April 15 2017) delivers dramatic results:

  • Mobile homepage (with no video) took 5.8 seconds to load 354kB of data over 24 requests
  • Desktop homepage took 19.9 seconds to load 16,255kB of data over 275 requests. Of that, 11,827kB is video content.

How video impacts mobile web performance and UX, part 3: detecting and remedying issues

6. Viewer experience (VX) and choice

Make sure the video and host page is intuitive. Let the viewer take control. Make it easy to:

  • Choose video quality – low quality, HD or 4K
  • Select and exit full-screen view
  • Change device orientation change
  • View and operate. Ensure the video fits the device screen and that buttons are intuitive
  • Allow playback when the device is offline.

7. Make the video accessible

To make video/audio accessible for:

  • Visually impaired people, provide a written transcript of the audio.
  • People with hearing impairments, provide subtitles.

For more advice on making mobile content accessible to a wide audience, the BBC Mobile Accessibility Guidelines are an excellent resource.

8. Minimize video start-up delay

The delay to start-up is caused by two essential processes:

  1. The authentication process (including digital rights management).
  2. The downloading of the video. Video files are subdivided into segments. A sufficient number of segments need to be downloaded to the buffer (temporary store on the client device), before the video starts to play.

A delay is inevitable, but the video should be optimized to ensure delays are kept to a minimum.

As can be seen from the 2016 data from Conviva study below, videos tend to take longer to start on mobile devices, both on WIFI and Cellular, than Tablet or Desktop. It’s no coincidence that mobile has the highest proportion of exits per attempt.How video impacts mobile web performance and UX, part 3: detecting and remedying issues

9. Keep the user informed

While the authentication, downloading and (re) buffering occurs, tell the user what is happening and/or distract them. Watching a spinning wheel icon can be frustrating.

10. Minimize video stalls

Stalls occur when too few video segments stored in the buffer to allow playback to continue. The video will not continue until sufficient segments have been downloaded (called re-buffering).

The key is to find balance between slow start and stalling, says AT&T’s Doug Sillars:

“The 2 biggest metrics for video are:

  1. Startup delay (how long from click to stream).
  2. Stalls (video stops, maybe a spinner).

These are (of course) interrelated.  If you startup too quickly – there will not be enough video stored locally on the device… and you might get a stall.  Or you can take too much data at the start (long startup delay), but have no stalls later.

There is a magic “Goldilocks” point in the middle – not too hot, not too cold – that balances the two factors.” 

11. Optimize bitrate, compression and segment size

Optimize bitrate, compression and segment size for the device and network connection.

  • Re-buffering typically occurs where the video is played at a speed, measured in bitrates (bits per second), that is too fast for the download speed (bitrate) of the network connection, so the buffer is emptied quicker than it is being filled.
  • Digital videos are divided into files, called segments, of 2 to 10 seconds, which are downloaded to the buffer and then played in order. Segments of optimum size for the connection will download, buffer and play faster.
  • A Codec (coder/decoder) is a tool for compressing and decompressing audio and video files. There are a number of different compression formats, e.g. MPEG-4, each with pros and cons. Different video quality and the client device/connection will influence choice of format.

12. Use adaptive bitrates.

Adaptive bitrate streaming creates and stores digital video at a number of different quality/speeds/bitrates. The video player on the client device requests the most appropriate of these based on a) network speed, b) device capability, and c) capacity of the buffer.

There are two types of adaptive streaming, DASH and HLS, because one industry standard that worked on all devices would be just too easy (find out more here).

13. Use a content delivery network (CDN)

A content delivery network speeds up how quickly web media, including video loads and plays on a mobile device by reducing the that the video has to travel between the original web server – e.g. your webserver in California, USA and a viewer in Timbuktu in Mali – by replicating and storing the video on servers around the world.

According to BuiltWith, 53.8% of the top 10k websites use CDNs.

Akamai Edge, which was one of the original CDNs, founded in 1999, remains one of the most popular. According to BuiltWith, Akamai is used by 11.4% of the top 10,000 sites, followed by Amazon CloudFront at 4% and MaxCDN at 1.3%.

How video impacts mobile web performance and UX, part 3: detecting and remedying issues

14. Host or embed?

Hosting websites on a third party network, and embedding the file, removes several headaches, including video compression, adaptive bitrates and engaging a CDN. This helps to explain why 15.2% of top 10k websites embed YouTube videos and 3.6% Vimeo, according to BuiltWith.

How to remedy problems with video / audio

1. Page weight or load speed issues.

Regularly check the key pages using a testing tool such as WebPageTest (this is the tool used by HTTP Archive).

If this highlights issues of excessive page weight, slow download speed, and it appears that video is a contributing factor (rather than oversized images or inefficient use of JavaScript), the options are:

  • Kill autoplay
  • Ensure the video is not preventing the page loading correctly
  • Move the video to a dedicated page (with a prominent picture and text link)
  • Use A/B testing to verify if this solves the issue.

2. Video fails or is slow to start or stalls during play

If the video performance is an issue, here are some troubleshooting tips to try:

  • Try loading the video to a dedicated video service such as Vimeo or YouTube. Compare the performance of the video on the third-party site, embedded on your site and with the self-hosted version to highlight if problems lie with the video, as opposed to the website, webserver or CDN (or lack of CDN)
  • Test the video with a tool such as AT&T’s Video Optimizer (requires development skills) to detect issues with video segmentation, compression, buffering etc. and fix them
  • Have the video re-edited to make it more concise; and optimized to improve bitrate and compression
  • Use or replace the CDN.

If video performs better on some devices and over different connections e.g. PC on cable versus smartphone on 3G:

  • Prepare a number of versions of the video in different formats, with different quality, bitrates and compression to suit the most common scenarios of device and network type
  • Use device detection to discover the client device, its capabilities and the type of connection to serve the most appropriate version of the video
  • Use adaptive bitrates.

Resources (and sources)

These resources are aimed at developers, but are useful for all (if you ignore the techie bits):

 

This is Part 3 of a series looking at how video impacts mobile web performance and UX. Read the previous installments:

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Google I/O: What’s going on with Progressive Web Apps?

At Google’s developer jamboree, Google I/O, last week the search giant paraded a host of big name case studies and compelling stats to herald its success with two initiatives to make the mobile web better and faster: Progressive Web Apps (PWA) and Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP).

Progressive Web Apps are a Google innovation designed to combine the best features of mobile apps and the mobile web: speed, app-like interaction, offline usage, and no need to download anything.

Google spotlighted this relatively new web product at last year’s Google I/O, where the Washington Post showed off a newly-built Progressive Web App to enhance its mobile experience.

Whether companies believe in or plan to adopt Progressive Web Apps, the initiative (along with AMP) has done a fantastic job of highlighting a) the importance of making websites and apps lean and mean so they perform better on mobile and b) how ridiculously bloated, slow and inefficient websites and apps have become.

PWA and AMP are not the only answers to mobile bloat, but being led and backed by Google, they bring the potential for 1) broad adoption, 2) lots of resources, and 3) favorable treatment from Android, Chrome and Google Search.

What’s so great about Progressive Web Apps?

PWAs bring native app-like functions and features to websites. They should (depending on the quality of the build) work on all smart devices, adapting the performance to the ability of the device, browser and connection.

The key features that get people excited about PWAs are:

  • The ability to send push notifications
  • Option to save to the device (home screen and – now – app launcher), so it loads even faster next time
  • Ability to work offline (when there is no internet connection)
  • Make payments. One of the most significant PWA announcements at Google I/O was that PWAs can now integrate with native/web payment apps, to allow one tap payment with the users preferred provider, including Android Pay, Samsung Pay, Alipay and PayPal
  • Closer integration with device functions and native apps.

The margin of what native apps can do compared with a web-based app (N.B. PWAs do not have a monopoly over mobile web apps) is disappearing rapidly.

The last year has seen a remarkable 215 new APIs, allowing web apps to access even more of the native phone features and apps, announced Rahul Roy-Chowdhury, VP, product management at Google, in his Mobile Web State of Union keynote.

He pointed out that you could even build a web-based virtual reality (VR) app (if you wanted to), citing Within and Sketchfab, which showcase creations from developers around the world.

Who ate all the pies?

But the most compelling thing about Progressive Web Apps is their download size, compared with iOS apps and Android apps. Check out the size comparisons in the image below for two case studies featured at Google I/O: Twitter Lite and Ola Cabs (the biggest cab service in India, delivering 1 million rides per day).

  • Size of Twitter’s Android app 23MB+; iOS app 100MB+; Twitter Lite PWA 0.6MB.
  • Size of OLA Cabs Android app 60MB; iOS app 100MB; PWA 0.2MB.

Why does size matter? Performance on the web is all about speed. The smaller the size the quicker the download. Think SUV versus Grand Prix motorbike in rush hour traffic.

Interestingly, Twitter markets the PWA as Twitter Lite particularly targeted at people in tier two markets where connections may be inferior, data more expensive and smartphones less advanced; while Ola Cabs markets the PWA at second or third tier cites where there are similar issues with connections and smartphones.

This (cleverly) helps to position the PWA as non-competitive to their native apps.

Which companies have launched Progressive Web Apps?

A growing number of big name brands (see image below) have launched PWAs. These include:

  • Travel companies: Expedia, Trivago, Tui, AirFrance, Wego
  • Publishers: Forbes, Infobae, Washington Post, FT, Guardian, Independent, Weather Company
  • E-commerce companies: Fandango, Rakuten, Alibaba, Lancôme, Flipkart
  • Formerly native app-only companies: Lyft, Ola Cabs.

Google I/O: What’s going on with Progressive Web Apps?

At I/O, Google trumpeted the achievements of a number of companies, inviting several to share their experiences with the audiences – only the good stuff, clearly.

1. Faster speeds; higher engagement

m.Forbes.com has seen user engagement double since launch of its PWA in March (according to Google).

For the inside track see this Forbes article. The publisher claims its pages load in 0.8 seconds on a mobile device. The publisher was aiming for a Snapchat or Instagram-like experience with streams of related content along with app-like features such as gesture-based navigation.

In this video case study, embedded below, created for I/O, Forbes claims to have achieved a 43% increase in sessions per user and 20% increase in ad viewability.

The Ola Cabs PWA takes 1-3 seconds to load on the first visit – depending on the network, “including low 3G” Dipika Kapadia, head of consumer web products at Ola, told I/O attendees. On subsequent visits it takes less than a second as it only needs to download the real-time information, including cab availability.

Ola achieves this partly due to its size: the app is just 0.5MB of which only 0.2MB is application data. As it downloads it prioritizes essential information, while other assets download in the background.

2. Consumers readily download PWAs to their home screens

When mobile visitors are using the mobile app, they receive a prompt to save it to the home screen, so it loads faster next time. It does this by caching all the static parts of the site, so next time it only needs to fetch what has changed.

Twitter Lite, as Patrick Traughber, product manager atTwitter, told the Google I/O crowd, sees 1 million daily visits from the homepage icon.

Since launch of the Progressive Web App, in April 2017, Twitter has seen a 65% increase in pages per session and 75% increase in tweets.

3. Notifications

The ability to send notifications to mobile users to encourage them back to the app, used to be one of the big advantages of native apps over mobile web. No longer.

Notifying users about recent activity is very important to Twitter, said Traughber. And Twitter is taking full advantage of this capability, sending 10 million push notifications each day.

For the inside track on Twitter’s PWA, see this article.

4. Winning back customers that have deleted your native app

App-only companies face the challenge that users only download and retain a limited number of apps on their smartphone and will uninstall those that aren’t used as regularly as others, thus once deleted, it’s over.

Thus it is an eye-opener that 20% of Ola PWA bookings come from users who have previously uninstalled the native app.

See Google’s case study on Ola’s PWA.

5. PWAs appeal to iOS users

Compared with other mobile browsers such as Chrome, Edge, Opera and Samsung, the default browser on Apple devices, Safari, can be slower when it comes to adopting advancements in mobile web. This means Safari users won’t experience some of the more advanced features of PWAs, yet.

Despite this, brands are seeing improved mobile engagement after launching a PWA. Lancôme Paris has seen session length improve by 53% among iOS users, according to this case study of the Lancôme PWA, cited at Google I/O.

6. Conversions

According to Wego’s video case study, embedded below, created for I/O, the Singapore-based travel service has combined both PWA and AMP to achieve a load time for new users is 1.6 seconds and 1 second for returning customers. This has helped to increase site visits by 26%, reduce bounce rates by 20% and increase conversions by 95%, since launch.

If you need more impressive stats to make the case for a web app, visit Cloud Four’s new PWA Stats.


For more articles on mobile web performance see:

How video impacts mobile web performance and UX, part 1: data and download speed
How video impacts mobile web performance and UX, part 2: autoplay and audio
How to fix your bloated mobile website: fewer, better, smaller images
Optimizing images for mobile: right format, right size, right place, right device
How JavaScript impacts how fast your page loads on a mobile device

Andy Favell is Search Engine Watch’s columnist on mobile. He is a London-based freelance mobile/digital consultant, journalist and web editor. Contact him via LinkedIn or Twitter at Andy_Favell.

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How video impacts mobile web performance and UX, part 2: autoplay and audio

Mobile video is a major up-and-coming trend in content, with brands everywhere converging on the new and lucrative mobile video market.

Mark Zuckerberg said on a recent shareholder conference call that he sees video as “a megatrend on the same order as mobile” – which makes mobile video, the intersection between the two, the ultimate sweet spot of engaging content to draw in new consumer eyeballs.

But sadly, there are still some technical hurdles to overcome before the mobile video experience is as smooth as companies would like it to be. In our previous installment we looked at how video can be a massive mobile data hog, and why it shouldn’t (but still does) have an impact on download speed.

In this part we’ll look at the contentious subject of autoplaying videos and their impact on mobile webpage performance, as well as how audio can delay page speed, and what kind of conditions make for a poor viewer experience (VX).

Our third and final part will consider some solutions that webmasters can enact to counter the issues with mobile video.

Video autoplay and page performance

Comparing the data on HTTP Archive for average content for the top 100 most popular sites (according to Alexa) with the top 1 million (shown above) reveals some interesting stats.

On average, video content is just 17kB (rather than 128kB) which is 2.1% of total page size, which, is a (comparatively) slender 828kB.

There are three reasons why this might be:

  1. Top sites avoid using video. (Considering these include video specialist like YouTube, BBC and CNN, this is the least likely of the three reasons).
  2. Top sites avoid using video on the (mobile) homepage. (The homepage of YouTube, for example, is made up of image links to videos, rather than videos themselves. Each video has its own webpage).
  3. Top sites use video more efficiently (as Dutton suggests).

Querying this apparent anomaly of video usage between all sites and the top 100 with the web performance experts at HTTP Archive, we received the following answer from Rick Viscomi, a leader of the HTTP Archive project and Developer Advocate at Google:

“I think the answer is: efficiency. To be more specific, I think it comes down to autoplay. HTTP Archive just visits a page and records the page load without clicking around. Autoplay videos would be captured on those visits, while click-to-play would not.

“Autoplaying is wasteful for everyone involved because a page visit does not always demonstrate intent to watch. One notable exception is YouTube, where visiting a watch page is definitely intent to watch. Keep in mind that only home pages are crawled by HTTP Archive. So my theory is the top sites choose not to autoplay in order to keep bounce rates low and conversions high.”

Notably, autoplay video and audio is also frowned on from an accessibility perspective. See these BBC guidelines for example. The reason for this is that people with visual impairments rely on screen readers to read aloud a webpage. Clearly if audio or video media starts to play (including advertisements) it will interfere with the screen reader and will make tricky for the user to find out how to make it stop.

The impact of audio on page performance

One of the most useful features of HTTP Archive or WebPageTest (from where it is captured) is the filmstrip which shows how a website loads on a mobile device second by second.

The loading process for New York Times mobile site on May 1, 2017 is captured by HTTP Archive in the image below. The audio story The Daily is at the top of the mobile page, above the fold, allowing us to see clearly how audio may delay page speed.

The audio does not finish loading until 22 seconds, when the play button finally appears and the site is visibly complete.

How video impacts mobile web performance and UX, part 2: autoplay and audio

Poor viewer experience (VX)

Assuming there is no autoplay, a correctly coded website should not require the video to be downloaded until the user requests it by clicking on the play button.

However as soon as the mobile user clicks on that play button, the level of expectation changes…

There are three potential VX problems with video:

  1. The video is too slow to start.
  2. It fails to start.
  3. It stalls during play back – this is due to (re) buffering or a dropping connection, typically shown by the spinning wheel.
  4. Poor video quality – or quality that is less an optimal for the connection.

Research by Conviva and nScreenMedia (November 2016) illustrates the difference in VX quality when a viewer is indoors (WIFI) or outdoors (cellular) failures for videos to start increases from 1.5% to 2.9% and buffering issues rises from 7.9% to 14.3% of views.

This has a noticeable impact on user satisfaction out of home 11.8% exit before the video starts versus 9.0% in home.How video impacts mobile web performance and UX, part 2: autoplay and audio

Research carried out by University of Massachusetts and Akamai, of 6.7 million video viewers, in 2012, also shows a growing intolerance to slow, stalling video.

Ramesh Sitaraman, Professor of Computer Science, UMass, Amherst tells ClickZ:

“Mobile users are impatient and abandon videos that do not start up quickly. However, they are more patient than users who have high-speed Internet access (say, Fiber), since their expectations of speed are lower in comparison.

“Mobile users start to abandon a video after waiting for about 2 seconds. By the 10 second mark, if the video has not started, roughly a fifth have abandoned.”

And on stalling:

“We don’t have data split out just for mobile. But, we studied a cross-section of users that included mobile. Overall, people watch videos for a shorter period of time when the video stalls than they would have otherwise.

“Roughly, a 1% increase in stalls leads to 5% decrease in the minutes watched.”

 

This is Part 2 of a series looking at how video impacts mobile web performance and UX. Read the previous installment: How video impacts mobile web performance and UX, part 1: data and download speed.

Or read on to the next part: How video impacts mobile web performance and UX, part 3: detecting and remedying issues.

How marketers can position their company to grow with Generation Z

Generation Z, the current 13-17-year-olds, have been mobile since middle school.

Compared to millennials, who were mobile pioneers, Gen Z teens are mobile natives, according to Think with Google. This group is one of the only groups affected by advertising on the basis of whether the product is “cool” or not.

Getting their first phone is a major milestone for Gen Z-ers, and video rules their viewing habits – with a total of more than three hours a day spent watching online videos. They are mobile shoppers, and it is very important for them to stay connected via texting and messaging apps.

So what does this mean for marketers preparing for growth? Well, a lot of it is obvious, but getting there is the tough part.

Gen Z marketing: A few statistics according to Think with Google

  • Gen Z represents more than a quarter of the U.S. population (26 percent) with an annual purchasing power of $44 billion.
  • Getting a phone is no. 3 in importance for teens, behind graduating school and getting a license, and teens say they connect with people more via text than face-to-face interaction.
  • 38 percent preferred to interact via text versus just 15 percent in person.
  • Teens even text those they are in the same room as – three in 10 teens say they text people they are spending time with in person.
  • More than 50 percent of teens said their social media followers are important to them, giving them social currency. This is important to note for advertising to teens. Their peers influence gen Z-ers – if their friends are talking about a product, they endorse it more than others.
  • Teens are on screens a majority of the time, which isn’t surprising since most teens had a smartphone by age 12. Compare that to current 18 to 24-year-olds, who had their first smartphone at age 16, and 25 to 34-year-olds at the age of 20.

How Gen Z spends its time

As for apps and platforms, Gen Z uses Snapchat and Instagram the most. Facebook is still consumed daily, but that’s what it is used for – consuming, not sharing. Snapchat is seen as a fun way to interact with friends and peers without their thoughts being shared or permanent.

Connecting offline, teens find sports teams as the best way to connect in the real world, or IRL (in real life). Game consoles and television also play a big role in a teen’s day-to-day life.

Gen Z teens are switching from texting to mobile messaging apps and spend most of their time using those messaging apps, watching videos online and social networking.

Advertising to Generation Z

Sixty-eight percent of teens make purchases online. They also react more positively to ads aimed at them, with teens their age doing things they do. Gen Z doesn’t go to a store unless they know the brick and mortar store has what they want. For most teens, the top three aspects that make something cool are:

  1. If friends are talking about it
  2. If they see an ad about it
  3. If it’s something personalized to them

In order to reach Gen Z teens, companies need to be mobile friendly, personalize their message to teens, use photos, reach them through social media and be philanthropic.

Teens are on their phones more than they are not, so it is correct to assume if they are your target audience, you want to market your brand on mobile. This is the perfect start to implementing other things we’ve learned about Gen Z. Smartphones are No. 1 for use, followed by tablets, laptops, TVs and gaming consoles.

Gen Z-ers spend most of their time watching videos, listening to music and messaging on their mobile devices. Not surprisingly, targeting Gen Z’s video usage, music and social networking apps is the best way to get through to them.

Use advertising with imagery

So, we’ve found the way to get to Gen Z-ers; now let’s talk about how to implement it.

Teens react positively to advertising they can connect with personally – imagery of teens like them doing things they do will get their attention. (However, beware of cheesy stock images which looked too staged, as these will appear inauthentic and could have the exact opposite effect).

Teens want things that are cool or make them unique – how is your brand going to do that?

Not all social media is created equal

Knowing how teens use each social media channel is important. Facebook is more for consumption than sharing – so don’t rely on teens using Facebook to boast about your product, but you can reach them via targeted ads as they scroll. Snapchat is most popular among this age group.

Gen Z likes the idea of sharing their day and ideas via a disappearing photo or video – it’s short-lived, not permanent, and they like that. With social networks being a common ground for haunting any person with mistakes and leading to easy bullying, it’s easy to see why an app that provides communication that doesn’t stick around is popular these days. Snapchat ads and the “Discovery” section for brands are a great place to find your target teen audience.

Instagram’s rates for shopping and targeting audiences are increasing. The app has seen growth in reported conversions for sponsored ads and even those brands which are followed organically. Instagram is another forum to easily target the Gen Z population – again, use photos they can relate to featuring kids their age.

Be philanthropic

Teens also find companies using their brand to make a difference as important. If companies have a good online profile and if their friends are talking about it, the “cool” factor for teens will increase.

Teens want the brands they associate with to make them feel good – companies with great philanthropic efforts are important to Gen Z-ers.

The takeaway

Gen Z has been mobile since a very young age and understands the online platform more than any other generation. They want things fast and easy—shopping from the comfort of their home rather than visiting brick and mortar stores—truly making them the most mobile generation.

How are you planning to scale your business to accommodate Gen Z? Is this something you are already preparing for in your overall marketing strategy? Let us know your thoughts and your experiences in the comment section below.

Amanda DiSilvestro is a writer for NoRiskSEO, a full service SEO agency, and a contributor to SEW. You can connect with Amanda on Twitter and LinkedIn

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How video impacts mobile web performance and UX, part 1: data and download speed

Mobile video is great. When it works.

Implemented correctly, video or audio *should not* impact the speed that pages load on a mobile device and when the play button is pressed, it needs to start quickly and work well.

Video content is top of the agenda for many brands. It is proving a great way to engage customers and visitors, but when viewed on mobile devices, particularly those on cellular connection, video (and to a lesser extent audio) should come with a health warning.

Users are increasingly impatient with slow-to-load and stalling video and will start to abandon a video after waiting just two seconds, research from UMass and Akamai shows.

This column, the first of three parts, will take a close look at how and why video affects page performance. In the second part, we’ll look at the impact of video autoplay and audio on page performance, as well as what makes a poor viewer experience (VX).

Finally, we’ll explore how to detect, avoid and remedy issues to prevent users tuning out.

Video is a massive mobile data hog

The provision and consumption of video on mobile devices via web and apps is growing rapidly. Mobile video is already 60% of total mobile data traffic worldwide and is expected to be 78% by 2021 according to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index (VNI).

All other elements will grow over the next five years, but their proportion of overall traffic will be less. Audio will be 5% compared with 8% today and mobile web will be 14% compared with 30% of traffic today.

Video – and audio – used wrongly or inefficiently will impact mobile user experience (UX) – or should we say: “viewer experience” (VX) or “listener experience” (LX) – massively, but not necessarily in the same way as oversized images and poor or inefficient use of JavaScript.

Images and JavaScript, as seen in previous columns, are the biggest causes of slow loading mobile web pages. As discussed below, video can still contribute to page size and therefore contribute to page load delays, particularly (it seems) where autoplay is used, as we will discuss below.

But the biggest impact on VX comes after page load when the video is slow, or fails, to start or stalls.

The two charts below are from HTTP Archive, which twice monthly records the page size and download speed of the homepages of the top 1 million sites to desktop and mobile devices, using the excellent WebPageTest.

The first chart shows the breakdown of content types by bytes – images, JavaScript, video, stylesheets, HTML and fonts – as an average of all homepages recorded on April 15, 2017.

Video is 128kB or 5.5% of the total bytes loaded (2312 kB or 2.3MB). This might appear small, until you realize that 97% of pages monitored by HTTP Archive have no video content (we examine this surprising stat below).

Pages that do have video content will therefore show a higher proportion of video content.

The second chart (captured April 15, 2017) shows the content breakdown for the homepage of the US digital agency Huge. Here video content is 727kB or 14.5% of the total bytes. The total weight of the page is 5MB, which is a homepage worthy of the company name, and, when measured, took 25.8 seconds to load on a mobile device, according to HTTP Archive.

To be fair, many agencies (digital, media, advertising et al) have surprisingly slow loading, heavy weight sites (considering the importance of digital to their businesses), though Huge is exceptionally large. A trimmer example is Young and Rubicam. On the same date the Y&R homepage took three seconds to load 783kB on a mobile device (on other dates it took nine seconds) according to HTTP Archive.

How video impacts mobile web performance and UX, part 1: data and download speed

Video shouldn’t affect page load size or download speed

Implemented correctly, video (or audio) should not impact the size of the webpage or the speed that pages load on a mobile device, according to the experts.

Even when video is present on the page, to render the page, the browser only needs to load the video container, teaser image, start button etc. it doesn’t need to download the entire video (as the visitor may not want to watch it at all). Thus video and audio ought not to be a significant proportion of content recorded by HTTP Archive / WebPageTest – as we will see when we look at the most popular sites.

Sam Dutton is a Developer Advocate at Google who provides educational materials and workshops for techies in mobile video. He explains:

“Video is not a big issue for page loading, since in general video shouldn’t be part of the cost of loading a web page.

“HTTP Archive measures the bytes to load a web page, not the total bytes crossing the internet. When you load most web pages, you don’t load a video (but you do load images, HTML, CSS and JavaScript).

“Top sites are less likely than less popular sites to require video for page load since (hopefully) the top sites realize the detrimental effects on page weight and (therefore) bounce rates, etc.”

 

This is Part 1 of a series looking at how video impacts mobile web performance and UX. Read the next installment: How video impacts mobile web performance and UX, part 2: autoplay and audio.

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Top tips on voice search: Artificial Intelligence, location and SEO

By 2020 it is projected there will be nearly 21 billion internet-connected devices, or “things” in the world.

The explosive ubiquity of this mobile-connected technology has led people to depend on these devices more regularly, with 94 percent of smartphone users claiming that they carry their phones with them frequently and 82 percent reporting that they never, or rarely, turn their phones off.

These numbers fall in line with a trend that is longer-standing, with Morgan Stanley reporting as early as 2011 that 91 percent of mobile users have some kind of mobile device within arm’s reach 100 percent of the time.

Corresponding with this increase in mobile device usage is the rise of what is called “voice search,” as well as the increasing prevalence of devices that contain “personal assistant” software like Alexa and Siri. People have become increasingly accustomed to the idea of speaking directly with computer devices and accessing information on the internet wherever and whenever they might need it.

Naturally, like mobile usage in general, these emergent technologies have begun to influence search, and the impact will likely become even more apparent as usage grows.

Much in the way mobile devices have disrupted search by bringing on-the-go, local queries and results into the equation, voice search is introducing new methods of query and different results-experiences for users. Now, when a person activates voice search, particularly on personal assistant devices, most personal assistant technology will only deliver what is considered the best answer, essentially reducing the SERP to one result.

That means that brands either occupy the first position, or, as far as voice search is concerned, they do not receive any attention at all.

Of course, the single-result SERP isn’t uniformly true for voice search. For voice-activated technologies connected to visual displays like smartphones and laptops, there is a greater possibility for more results. Even so, brands still need to remain focused on appearing in the top results.

When someone uses voice search because they are on-the-go or they need an immediate answer, they don’t intend to scroll through pages. Rather, they’re looking for Google rich answers, such as a Quick Answer (which provides a high-quality, immediate answer to a query), Rich Card (information-rich content previews), or other top-featured results.

Google’s new Rich Cards

Over the past few years, we have seen the transformative impact of mobile on search and consumer behavior, including the shift towards the mobile-first algorithm. Voice search is the next major trend that brands will need to focus on to ensure they remain competitive.

The more we understand about voice search and personal assistant devices, the easier it will be to optimize for them and ensure that your brand is represented across devices.

The role of personal assistants

As devices with artificially intelligent personal assistance software have become increasingly mainstream, so too has the use of voice search.

According to Google’s Gary Illyes, the number of voice queries in 2015 doubled from the number in 2014. Developers are now beginning to understand there are particular types of search queries people are more fond of using voice for, rather than text. For example “when is my meeting?” Users are 30 times more likely to use voice for these types of queries, rather than text.

These personal assistants, which have been put forth by several different brands, have empowered customers to remain even more connected to the internet at all times, even when engaging in hands-on activities like cooking or driving. Customers can ask about the cook time for chicken, for example, while in the middle of preparing the meat without having to remove themselves from their original task.

Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends Report looked at the reasons why customers use voice search, as well as which device settings are the most popular. The report indicated that the usefulness of voice search when a user’s hands or vision were otherwise occupied was the top reason that people enjoyed the technology, followed by a desire for faster results and difficulty typing on certain devices.

Where do users access voice search? It turns out that, more often than not, consumers are opting to use voice-activated devices is at home, followed by the car and on-the-go.

These personal assistants, along with voice search in general, are creating an increasingly connected world where customers expect search to be ever-present and capable of addressing their needs immediately.

Top tips on voice search: Artificial Intelligence, location and SEO

How Artificial Intelligence powers voice search

Artificial intelligence powers personal assistance capabilities for mobile users. AI helps voice search and the associated algorithms to better understand and account for user intent. This intelligence, using semantics, search history, user proclivities and other factors, is able to process and understand the likely context of queries and provide results accordingly.

Natural language triggers, such as “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” “why,” and “how,” for example, make it easier for AI to understand the user’s place on the customer journey and the likely goal of the search. Voice-activated devices can then direct users to where they most likely want to be on the web.

AI is essentially able to sift through voice search queries and identify the most important information, as well as the understand the intent regardless of an array of speech errors. For example, a query that changes direction mid-sentence, such as “How was the… what was the score to the White Sox game last night?” will be correctly answered. This enhances the conversational capabilities of the voice search, understanding the reason behind a query even if it is not asked in a precise way.

Voice search in practice

Voice search makes it even easier for customers to ask hyperlocal queries, which is significant in the context of a mobile-rich environment. Consider how users execute search queries differently when speaking to mobile devices rather than exploring the web via a desktop computer.

Voice searches tend to contain slightly different words, such as “close” or “nearby”, which are not commonly used on desktop computers. Why? Because people tend to use mobile devices to access personal assistance software, and mobile devices are most often employed to find businesses or other locations while on-the-go. The aforementioned language triggers, “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” and “why,” are also common, setting the context for the query and what the user likely wants to find.

These queries are also most likely to contain longtail keywords, conversational phrasing, and complete sentences. All of these factors impact how brands should optimize their content to maximize its appearance in voice search.

Voice searches have also become increasingly complex. For example, users might ask, “Find a French restaurant near me” and then follow up with, “Call the first one.” The voice search algorithm is able to interpret the second query as related to the first and act appropriately. The ability of the voice search algorithm to understand the related context of these queries enhances user experiences and maintains the conversational tone.

Voice search and local search: How the SEO marketer can succeed

Knowing that voice search is an emergent technology that will impact marketing at large is one thing. Understanding how to take advantage of that fact is another. For that reason, marketers should develop an array of best practices to ensure success in the wake of this incoming trend. Here are some tips to get you started:

Tip 1. Use keyword and intent analysis to better understand the context of the queries. For marketers to be able to accurately create and optimize content for voice search, they need to know the replies that users expect when they make a particular voice search query. Then, tailor the content to meet the needs of the users.

Remember to consider synonyms and alternate means of phrasing the same query, such as “How do I get to the store?” versus “Give me directions to the store.”

Tip 2. Incorporate important location keywords into the content that could impact voice search. For example, Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, or Golden Gate Park might all be landmarks that people use to find a suitable restaurant in San Francisco. Incorporating these terms into your content will boost your hyperlocal presence and make it easier for you to rank for voice search.

Top tips on voice search: Artificial Intelligence, location and SEO

Tip 3. Use markup to ensure that your content is ready to be displayed by Google rich results. Rich answer boxes, such as Google Quick Answers and the Local Three Pack, play a big role in providing rapid answers to user queries on-the-go. Making sure that all your content is marked up with schema will help ensure that your content is prepared to be displayed in any rich boxes that become available.

Tip 4. Make sure that each physical business location has its own site and that each site is individually optimized. This means you need to do more than just translate keywords to other languages or optimize all sites for the same terms. You need to optimize each site for the context and desires of their specific targeted audience.

Learn what interests customers in that particular area through targeted keyword and intent research and make sure that each site is ready to compete within its own local sector.

Tip 5. Since a large part of succeeding with voice search is having a strong local presence, paid search and organic search teams can work together to maximize the brand’s presence. Research valuable keywords for the organization, intent, and how the brand ranks.

Identifying the opportunities where having a paid ad would be the most beneficial and where organic search will be able to establish the brand can help organizations maximize their resources.

Tip 6. Do not neglect your apps. Remember that apps dominate a significant portion of the mobile experience. In fact, an estimated 90 percent of mobile minutes are spent on apps. Your data from your research about local search and natural language voice search will help you construct your app to maximize the user experience.

Use deep linking within your app to ensure that customers who engage with you through voice search are able to find the content that originally interested them.

Top tips on voice search: Artificial Intelligence, location and SEO

Source: Smart Insights

Voice search continues to become a dominant force in the world of digital marketing. Businesses need to be prepared to respond and keep their brands recognizable as people become more accustomed to immediate answers wherever they might be.

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Mobile-First Indexing: Everything we know, and how it could affect you

For the past five to six months the search industry has been buzzing with talk around the biggest change to Google search results for quite some time – the mobile-first index.

In the midst of this noise, it is very easy to get lost with what you actually need to know about the update.

This post will give you a quick overview of what the update entails, as well as the main things to check for on your site to prevent a loss in traffic.

What is the Mobile-First Index?

The mobile-first index is a change in the way Google is going to index content.

Currently, Google looks at the desktop version of a site and then bases how it will rank the mobile site according to that information. Once this update rolls out, the opposite of that will happen. Google will begin looking at your mobile site and from that, will rank the desktop site.

When will it be released?

While we are still waiting for an official release date, we do know the update is in the pipeline and being tested.

Whenever Google gives us further news on when the update will be released, they repeat the message that it is still ‘months’ away. From their comments, we can assume the release is going to be in the second half of 2017.

Why is this happening?

Nearly two years ago Google announced more searches occur on mobile than desktop.

As mobile is now the predominant way for people to search on Google, it makes sense for them to ensure the experience on this device is as good as it can be.

In lots of situations, sites provide a worse or thinned down user experience on the mobile device, that is not as good as the desktop site. This happens more on mobile sites where separate URLs are used or where dynamic serving is being used.

What to check on your site

Content

Look at the mobile version of your site. Is the content from the desktop version visible/accessible? You should be providing a consistent experience for users no matter the device they access the site on.

One of the things to consider is the actual content on the site. If you are currently removing or hiding content on your mobile site, think of ways in which you can have this content on both. You ideally want content to be accessible regardless of how the site is accessed.

Make sure you also consider the best way to move this content over to the mobile site. You do not want to sacrifice your user experience just to meet this requirement.

For example, do not put a content block with 300 words of content at the top of an ecommerce category page, pushing all your products way down the page. Consider moving the content lower down the page or partially hiding it with a ‘read more’ button or in an accordion. (I’m not a big advocate of read more buttons, but do whatever works best for your site!)

Along with the actual content on the page, ensure your headings (H1s) and titles are not missing and are set as you want them to be.

Page speed

The speed of your site is an essential thing to consider to help improve usability, especially on mobile. Google already considers page speed when ranking a page, and this will be just as important when the mobile-first index is fully live.

Personally, I feel it would make more sense if this ranking factor was taken into consideration more when the mobile-first index is live. Accessing a site can be a painful experience on a mobile device when not connected to Wi-Fi, and it would make sense for Google to prioritize this usability factor more.

To check whether you need to action anything with this issue, test your site in Google’s PageSpeed Insights Tool. Alternatively, use my site speed tool of choice, GTmetrix. If any problems are shown, fix them!

If your site is not loading in around three seconds, I recommend looking into the reasons behind this and seeing why your site is slow. GTmetrix has a great Waterfall feature that is incredibly useful when trying to see which requests are slowing down your site.

Internal linking/site structure

A well-known issue with sites that use either dynamic serving or separate URLs for their mobile site is that the internal linking is vastly different to the desktop site. This can cause some user experience issues for readers as they struggle to find content that can be easily discovered on the desktop version of the site.

Similar difficulties are caused when Google crawls the mobile site. If your internal linking/information architecture on the mobile site does not closely replicate the desktop, this can cause internal link equity to be poorly distributed throughout the site, which will cause a drop in rankings.

Structured data

In a lot of cases, structured data is removed from the mobile version of the site. Unfortunately, you are going to have to move all your structured data over to the mobile site, as Google will begin looking towards that for structured data.

Use Google’s structured data testing tool on your mobile and desktop site to see if the structured data is the same across both devices.

Which sites are currently at risk?

Firebox

While the Firebox site is responsive, currently it hides content on category pages with no way to access it once you visit the mobile device. This goes against what Google is recommending. Here is an example:

Mobile-First Indexing: Everything we know, and how it could affect you

Mobile-First Indexing: Everything we know, and how it could affect you

New Look

The New Look website suffers from similar issues to Firebox, except this time they are also removing internal linking along with content. See examples below:

Mobile-First Indexing: Everything we know, and how it could affect you

Mobile-First Indexing: Everything we know, and how it could affect you

They not only remove content from the actual main body of the page, the internal linking from the main navigation has also been reduced on mobile so it only links to the parent categories.

This is causing a large number of pages to be an increased number of clicks from the home page, which is less than ideal. See below:

Mobile-First Indexing: Everything we know, and how it could affect you

Mobile-First Indexing: Everything we know, and how it could affect you

There are plenty of further examples across multiple sites. Unfortunately, as Google noted in their original blog post on the mobile index, sites tend to provide vastly different content on the mobile version of their site.

While I believe that adjusting elements and the prominence of them for mobile users is something that makes sense, such as promoting search further and hiding elements in dropdowns/accordions, you need to ensure the experience is at least consistent. Avoid removing core parts of the page such as internal links and content.

A prediction for the future

Given what Google has already announced regarding the mobile index update, it is evident the main issue they are trying to tackle is poor usability of the mobile site.

Over the past year, there have been multiple updates that target sites that are ad-heavy, with low-quality content. These updates include the core/Phantom updates as well as the recently released mobile interstitial update in January.

Considering the smaller screen space on mobile, I imagine Google is only going to get more aggressive in penalizing ad heavy sites with intrusive interstitials.

I expect that future core updates will be harsher on sites that ruin the mobile experience of the site with ads. If this is something that you do, update your sites so ads are less intrusive. It’s bad for your brand, users and traffic. There is a way to implement ads without ruining your site.

To summarize

The mobile index is going to be a significant change in the way Google ranks sites. To ensure you are not negatively impacted, make sure that your user experience is similar across both the mobile and desktop site.

If you do not have a responsive site, make sure you check to see if you have any of the above issues. It may also be a good time to consider creating a responsive site to benefit from reduced maintenance.

Any questions, feel free to comment below or tweet me at @SamUnderwoodUK.

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“Ubiquitous and seamless”: The future of voice search

These are interesting times for voice search, both in terms of its adoption among consumers and its technological development.

We have moved beyond seeing voice search as a futuristic concept with rather limited and stilted realization, to viewing it as an increasingly integral part of our interactions with home and handheld devices.

However, voice search brings with it a lengthy list of questions for technology providers, consumers, and marketers alike.

If we are indeed at something of a crossroads for this technology, it seems a good time to address these questions, giving particular thought to how the landscape will change over the next few years.

These questions include, but are certainly not limited to:

  • What types of queries are best suited to voice search?
  • What do people use voice search for?
  • How will voice search be monetized?
  • How will voice search performance be tracked?
  • Is voice search really the end-game for Google, Amazon, et al? Or is it rather a means to an end?

Unfortunately, neither Siri, Alexa, nor Google Now were of much assistance when I posed them these questions, so we will endeavor to answer them the old-fashioned way.

Let’s start with a quick recap of where we are today.

Voice search: Some background

Voice search allows users to speak directly to a search engine via their mobile or desktop device. The search engine then looks for data that responds to the user’s query based on the voice command.

Voice search providers understand a user’s intent not just through what question is being asked, but also through geo-information, browsing history and past behavior, with the goal of instantly answering that query.

At its apotheosis, this technology should be able to alert us of – and resolve – queries and issues before we even become consciously aware of them. Push notifications from Google Now on Android devices provide a glimpse of just how effective this could be.

Voice search has actually been around for well over a decade, but until recently it has been subordinate to its text-based counterpart, hindered by hilarious but damaging bloopers.

Verbal communication, of course, predates written language and, as such, it feels more natural for us to hold a spoken conversation.

However, when it comes to searching for and retrieving information online, we have experienced this development in reverse, starting with written language and progressing to verbal communication.

As a result, marketers have often been left with the unenviable task of inferring user intent from the simple phrases typed into search engines.

“Ubiquitous and seamless”: The future of voice search

This has come with benefits, too. One of the real defining elements of search marketing has always been the predictability of search queries and volumes.

We set budgets aside based on these numbers, we forecast performance taking these numbers as facts, so it will affect us if search trends are imbued with the inherent fluidity and transience of speech patterns.

That said, it has taken the collective might of Google, Amazon, Baidu, Microsoft and Facebook to get us to a point where voice search is now a viable (and sometimes preferable) way of requesting information, and there is still some way to go before the technology is perfected.

“Ubiquitous and seamless”: The future of voice search

There are many reasons for this staggered roadmap.

First of all, the task of taking meaningful spoken units (morphemes) from a person, converting them to text units (graphemes) on a computer, and finding the corresponding information to answer the original query, is an incredibly complex one.

As such, the list of possible voice commands for a search engine still looks something like this:

“Ubiquitous and seamless”: The future of voice search

We shouldn’t expect such formulaic constructions to remain as the standard, however.

Industry developments like Google’s Hummingbird algorithm have moved us closer to true conversational search than we have ever been before. Voice search therefore seems, logically, to be the area that will develop in tandem with advances in conversational search.

And for us search marketers, developments like the addition of voice queries within Search Analytics mean we can soon report with at least a modicum of accuracy on our campaigns.

So, as natural language processing improves, the anthropomorphic monikers given to digital assistants like Alexa and Siri will make a lot more sense. They will engage us in conversation, even ask us questions, and understand the true intent behind our phrases.

We are already seeing this with Google Assistant. This technology has the ability to ask questions to the user to better understand their intent and perform actions as a result, for example to book train tickets.

“Ubiquitous and seamless”: The future of voice search

This is a fascinating and impressive development that has implications far beyond just search marketing. When combined with Google’s integration of apps into its search index, we can gain a clearer view into just how significant voice search could be in shaping user behavior.

It also moves us a few steps closer to query-less search, where a device knows what we want before we even think to ask the question.

It must be said, nonetheless, that Google is far from monopolizing this territory – Amazon, Apple, Baidu and Microsoft are all investing heavily and there is an ongoing land-grab for what will be very fertile territory.

“Ubiquitous and seamless”: The future of voice search

Why is voice search so important?

We know that voice recognition, natural language processing, and voice search are of strategic importance to the world’s biggest tech companies, and a recent quote from Google reveals exactly why:

“Our goal in Speech Technology Research is twofold: to make speaking to devices around you (home, in car), devices you wear (watch), devices with you (phone, tablet) ubiquitous and seamless.”

To be both ubiquitous and seamless means being driven by a unified software solution.

Digital assistants, powered majoritively by the technology that underpins voice search, can be the software that joins the dots between all of those hardware touchpoints, from home to car to work.

As Jason Tabeling wrote last week, this is a growing hardware market and the onus is on securing as much of this market as possible.

Amazon and Google won’t always want to invest so heavily in the hardware business, however.

“Ubiquitous and seamless”: The future of voice search

It would be far more sustainable to have other hardware makers incorporate Amazon and Google’s software into their devices, increasing the reach of their respective virtual assistants much more cost-effectively.

For now, winning the hardware race is a sensible Trojan horse strategy to ensure that either Google or Amazon gains a foothold in that essential software market.

Who is using voice search?

Predominantly younger generations, although this trend is even more deeply entrenched in China than in the West, due to the complexity of typing Chinese phrases and a willingness to engage with new technologies. As such, Baidu has seen significant growth in the usage of its voice search platform.

Google voice search and Google Assistant are increasing their recognition accuracy levels significantly, however, which has previously been one of the important barriers to widespread uptake.

In fact, the difference between 95% and 99% accuracy is where use goes from occasional to frequent.

These margins may seem relatively inconsequential, but when it comes to speech they are the difference between natural language and very stilted communication. It is this 4-point increase in accuracy that has seen voice search go from gimmick to everyday staple for so many users.

“Ubiquitous and seamless”: The future of voice search

Certain types of queries and searches are likely to require more than just one instant answer, as they require a visual element; for example, planning a trip, or deciding which winter coat to buy.

It is imperative that businesses do not over-optimize for voice search without thinking this through, as voice search does not yet lend itself so readily to these more complex answers.

The graph below shows the different ways in which teens and adults have reported using voice search:

“Ubiquitous and seamless”: The future of voice search

This generational gap is telling, as it strongly suggests that voice search will become more prevalent over time; not just because of the improved technology at consumers’ disposal, but also because of an increased number of people who have grown up with voice search and are accustomed to using it.

It is still noteworthy that so much of this increased usage relates to informational queries, nonetheless. The $37 billion per year search industry is predicated on the notion of choice, mainly within commercial queries.

There may be one true answer to ‘What time is it?’, but ‘What should I buy to wear to the party on Saturday?’ opens itself up to any number of possibilities.

Monetizing this new landscape

The biggest challenge facing voice search providers as they try to monetize the increasing demand is that the interface simply doesn’t lend itself to advertising.

We saw this very recently with the Beauty and the Beast ‘ad’ controversy, which was seen as invasive, primarily because if there is only one answer to a question, users are unwilling to accept an advertisement in place of a response.

That issue aside, other questions remain unanswered. If users do start to conduct commercial queries and the response is multifaceted, the traditional SERP seems a much more fitting format than a single-answer interface.

The question of how to monetize voice search has been raised repeatedly at Google’s quarterly earning meetings, so we can surmise that they will find a solution.

We can expect Google to continue experimenting with ad formats for however long it takes to devise the right formula, while hopefully keeping its huge user base content along the way.

“Ubiquitous and seamless”: The future of voice search

Is augmented reality the answer?

One prediction is that Google and Amazon will use the advent of augmented reality to provide multiple options in response to a voice-based query.

This would be in keeping with the nature of this more futuristic interaction, as it would feel disjointed to speak to a digital assistant and simply see four PPC ads on a phone screen as the response.

By creating an augmented reality-based search results page, search engines can sell advertising space and keep users satisfied.

We have seen signs that this could be tested soon, with Amazon said to be exploring the possibility of opening augmented reality homeware stores.

The irony of Amazon, they slayer of so many traditional stores, now taking a seemingly retrograde step by opening stores of its own, will not be lost on most in the industry.

These will be much more than just traditional brick-and-mortar presences for the online giant, however, and will be more in line with its forays into grocery shopping.

“Ubiquitous and seamless”: The future of voice search

Now if we bring voice search and the Alexa digital assistant back into the frame, this all starts to fit together rather nicely.

Voice search suddenly becomes a vehicle to showcase and provide a wide range of products and services, from timely reminders about appointments, to contextual ad placements in response to commercial queries.

The more data is fed into this machine, the more accurate it becomes and – should privacy concerns be allayed or bludgeoned into submission – the happier the consumer will be with the results.

In summary

Voice search is not, on its own, the future of the search industry.

One real, if slightly lofty, ambition is to arrive at query-less search, requiring neither a text nor a voice prompt for a digital assistant to spring into action.

Another, more tangible and realistic goal, will be to use voice search to unify the varied touchpoints that make up the average consumer’s day. Though tangible and realistic in technological terms, this goal will remain tantalizingly out of reach if consumers use a variety of hardware providers and data is not shared across platforms, of course.

“Ubiquitous and seamless”: The future of voice search

Making all of this a “ubiquitous and seamless” experience will be hard for consumers to resist and will make it even harder for them to move to another provider and start the process over again. This will be the bargaining chip used to persuade consumers to stay loyal with Apple or Google products from home to car to work.

Key points and predictions

  • Search will adopt a more natural, conversational approach.
  • We will be able to report on voice queries through SQR reports and Search Analytics, with digital assistants sharing their data.
  • Long-tail keyword terms will become the focus of content strategy, as voice queries tend to be longer and more detailed.
  • Content will provide direct answers to questions – but the focus will be on accuracy, rather than just brevity.
  • The importance of being the one, correct answer to an informational query will grow.
  • Optimized videos will see a rise in the search results, as this medium fits well with the voice search results interface.
  • Google will experiment with new ways to monetize its Home product, albeit in subtler ways than the Beauty and the Beast faux-pas.
  • Amazon, in particular, will use augmented reality to tie together its offline stores with its e-commerce experience.
  • Google may experiment with augmented reality to provide a voice search interface that allows for paid ads.

We will see the continued rise of query-less search, where digital assistants answer our questions pre-emptively. Think Google Next, rather than Google Now.

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How to capitalize on Facebook mobile traffic – even with a poor mobile experience

We all know that Facebook is a viable source of huge amounts of mobile traffic with relatively cheap CPCs (cost per click).

It’s too good an opportunity to ignore in today’s digital landscape – even if your mobile landing-page experience isn’t up to snuff. Maybe you’ve got a completely new mobile experience in the works, but you don’t want to pass up a few months of good traffic while development and launch is underway.

So how do you continue to scale and drive incremental conversions? You use Facebook mobile ads as an “interest indicator”.

What this means is that you’ll want to still create ad sets targeting your audience on mobile. However, the purpose of these ad sets is to have clear-cut creative and copy so users know what your service/product is and, if interested, click on your ad to get on your site.

It is crucial that our ads are as transparent as possible in what our product/service is about, so we essentially pre-qualify the user. The following is a good example:

Now with these being mobile ads, they may not convert as well due to your less-than-optimal mobile experience, but you now know the exact users who are interested in your offering.

The next thing to do here is create a remarketing ad set on the desktop News Feed and serve your ads to users who have specifically clicked on your ad via mobile. So how do you set this up?

  1. When building out your mobile ad sets to prospect for mobile users, add an extra parameter to your URL. For example: device=mobile. This will help in identifying users coming in from your mobile ads.
  2. In the Facebook audience section, create a Facebook remarketing audience based off of the URL parameter:
    How to capitalize on Facebook mobile traffic – even with a poor mobile experience
  3. Next, create your ad sets remarketing to that mobile-specific remarketing list and select the desktop News Feed to ensure that you are only pulling them into your site via desktop.

Let’s use an ecommerce scenario as an example.

Users love to browse around on their mobile devices, but actual transactions are clunky for multiple reasons – shopping experiences are poor, there’s a lot of information to enter on a mobile device, people on mobile devices are in public places and squeamish about typing credit card info, etc.

The goal shouldn’t be to get them to convert; it should be to get them to come back on a desktop device, where they’re much more likely to buy.

In this scenario, we’d retarget users with Facebook’s dynamic product ads, which feature products someone has viewed on your site. Create a separate ad set to leverage Dynamic product ads on the Desktop News Feed that exclusively targets users who have come through on your mobile acquisition campaigns.

How to capitalize on Facebook mobile traffic – even with a poor mobile experience

In short, even if your mobile experience is sub-par, you can bring mobile users into your funnel and convert them on desktop. (Note that this is a good tactic even if you DO have a good mobile experience.)

Don’t let weeks or months of mobile opportunity slip past; get ahead of your developers, use the customer journey to your advantage, and keep the conversions coming.

Site speed tactics in a mobile-first world: Why ecommerce brands need to step up their site speed game

A study of 700 top ecommerce brands found that the majority are underperforming when it comes to optimizing their sites for speed. Find out how you can avoid the same mistakes.

Web users are not patient. The speed of your site can make a massive difference to whether people will visit your site, whether they’ll stay on it, and whether they will come back. Not to mention whether they’ll make a purchase.

A massive 79% of shoppers who have been disappointed by a site’s performance say that they’re less likely to use the site again. But what constitutes ‘disappointed’?

We’re only human after all

Kissmetrics research on customer reactions to site speed has resounded across the industry, but it’s not something that should be forgotten:

“If an e-commerce site is making $100,000 per day, a 1 second page delay could potentially cost you $2.5 million in lost sales every year.”

That’s a 7% reduction in your conversion rate, and 52% of customers say site speed is a big factor in their site loyalty. A one second delay is bad – a two second delay is worse. 47% of consumers expect web pages to load within two seconds.

But based on the same research, a faster full-site load leads to a 34% lower bounce rate, and an improvement by just one second results in a 27% conversion rate increase.

It’s because site speed is such a vital part of building a successful ecommerce site that my team at Kaizen and I conducted a study into 700 top UK ecommerce sites, analyzing various aspects of their site speed performance.

What we found is that the biggest brands have some of the poorest optimization, with outdated web protocols, unresponsive pages, and bloated page size.

The average web page size is now 2.3MB (that’s the size of the shareware version of the classic game Doom), so we wanted to see whether the ecommerce industry is any better – since their businesses are directly dependent on their website performance.

Surprisingly, we have found that the web page size of the top UK ecommerce sites is 30% larger on average than standard websites – at 2.98 MB.

Average webpage size according to HTTPArchive

However, the web page size isn’t the only factor impacting the site speed. Even larger sites load and render quickly if they’re smart about how they deliver.

My team and I picked the top 700 UK ecommerce sites, based on their estimated monthly traffic with data kindly supplied by SimilarWeb. For each, we analysed them using Google’s PageSpeed Insights API, checked their page size and loading time on Pingdom, and verified their HTTP protocol using https://http2.pro/.

From this, we found the following data, and used it to determine which websites are best optimised for speed:

  • PageSpeed Insights Desktop Score (not considering third party data)
  • PageSpeed Insights Mobile Score (not considering third party data)
  • HTTP/2
  • Web page size
  • Loading Time
  • Loading Time per MB

Desktop vs mobile

Mobile connections are usually slower than desktop to begin with, so further delays are felt even more keenly. This, together with the fact that Google’s latest mobile update now factors site speed into mobile page ranking, makes it a high value consideration to ensure mobile pages are sufficiently optimized.

This becomes even more of a consideration when you factor in how much of ecommerce traffic is now mobile – for example Vodafone, the third top-scoring website in our recent research, receives only 20% of their traffic from desktop, with 80% coming from mobile devices.

Make your site work for you

Your site speed isn’t simply a dial you can turn up in your page settings; there are a number of factors which contribute to it. here’s what they are, and how you can start making your site one of the fastest out there.

Protocol power

HTTP/1.1 isn’t SPDY enough

Network protocols are the rules and standards that govern the end points in a telecommunication connection – how data is transmitted over the web. Common examples include IP – Internet Protocol – and HTTP – Hypertext Transfer Protocol.

The HTTP/1.1 protocol is decades old and doesn’t make full use of newer technologies. Its main downside is it doesn’t allow you to download files in parallel. For each file (or request), the server needs a separate connection.

HTTP/1.1 enables only one request per connection, while browsers now support a maximum of 6 connections per domain. This means that the number of files which can be downloaded and rendered simultaneously is limited – and that costs time.

Since the time of HTTP/1.1, Google has developed a newer version of the protocol, SPDY (“Speedy”), which allows simultaneous connections to be opened, and means it can serve multiple parts of the website (JavaScript, HTML, images, etc.) in parallel.

But SPDY isn’t the latest protocol developed by Google. Working closely with W3C (World Wide Web Consortium), they’ve developed the new HTTP/2 protocol. HTTP/2 has roughly the same characteristics as SPDY, but is also binary, and allows the server to ‘push’ information to the requester, with better HPACK compression.

Despite the clear advantages of the HTTP/2 protocol, only a few websites have made use of it. Our recent research discovered that only 7.87% of the top 700 ecommerce sites use the technology – compared to 11.3% of sites overall. Some examples of websites using HTTP/2 are https://www.vans.co.uk/, https://www.paperchase.co.uk/ or https://www.expedia.co.uk/.

According to Cloudflare.com, when they implemented HTTP/2, they saw customers’ average page load time nearly halved – from 9.07 seconds for HTTP/1.X falling to 4.27 seconds for HTTP/2. That’s a significant improvement in a key area of website efficiency.

However, HTTP/2 doesn’t solve everything, and in some cases the results can be disappointing. In our research, many websites achieved only very small speed gains in their loading times when served over HTTP/2 instead of HTTP/1.1.

Switching to HTTP/2 isn’t enough by itself – many websites fail to optimize for the change and lose out on the maximum speed gains.

Old-school techniques, such as domain sharding or sprites, can be counter-productive. And using huge CSS or JavaScript files where less than 10% of the rules and code is relevant to pages likely to be visited is a waste of both your user’s time and your server’s time.

Site speed tactics in a mobile-first world: Why ecommerce brands need to step up their site speed game

Screenshot from Dareboost comparison analysis of Oliver Bonas’ loading performance

Even our own measurements showed that the average loading time per 1 MB for websites supporting HTTP/2 was 1.74s, compared to 1.44s for websites not supporting HTTP/2.

A nice example of a successful HTTP/2 optimisation is Paperchase, who saved a full second of time necessary to load their website, as is shown here:

Site speed tactics in a mobile-first world: Why ecommerce brands need to step up their site speed game

Screenshot from Dareboost comparison analysis of Paperchase loading performance

How To Tackle Protocols – HTTP/2 and you

If you want to be at the forefront of network protocols – and at the top of the list of faster sites – get an HTTP/2 protocol in place.

While HTTP/2 only requires the server to support the new protocol (many now do, though Microsoft’s IIS has no plans yet), the browsers need a TLS connection. This means every connection over HTTP/2 will be safe and secure, adding an extra layer of security to the internet.

For more information on how you can get started with HTTP/2, have a look at the Kaizen in-depth article here.

It’s all about size

The smaller, the better

If you’re trying to get speed up, you need to keep size down. The less there is to move from the Internet to the user, the less time it takes.

As I mentioned earlier in this article, the ecommerce sites looked at in our study were bigger on average than other webpages out there – 30% bigger, at 2.98 MB, compared to a global standard of 2.3MB.

Format, compress, minify

One of the biggest issues on plus-sized websites is pictures. Unless they’re compressed and resized to suitable formats, they can be over-large and slow page speed to a crawl.

The solution to that problem explains itself – compress and resize – but less obvious fixes can be found in using the appropriate file type. The .png format makes files smaller if they’re in block coloring and simple – like infographics, illustrations and icons.

But for photographs, with a wide number of colors and much finer details, .png can compromise the quality of the image. You might consider using .jpg files instead, or .WebP, an open source image type format from Google, which supports both lossy and lossless compression.

Using correctly sized, unscaled images manually can be quite a daunting task for web developers. PageSpeed modules from Google can come in handy, automating many of the tasks necessary for site speed optimization.

You can also minify the source codes. CSS and JavaScript resources could be minified using tools like http://javascript-minifier.com/ and http://cssminifier.com/ – and should save kilobytes otherwise spent on whitespace.

The HTML should be also as compact as possible. We recommend stripping out all the unnecessary whitespace and empty lines.

Time to go mobile

Not very responsive

Most retailers in the study had mobile-optimized sites, but 24% of them served their mobile users a separate mobile site – usually on a separate sub domain. While this approach improves UX, it can be inconvenient for two reasons:

1)    Google handles subdomains as separate domains.

2)    Depending on how the redirects based on viewport are set up, in the new, mobile-first index world, this can mean that the Googlebot (visiting with smartphone user agent) will have troubles reaching the desktop version of the site.

A safer solution can be to use a responsive site that delivers the same HTML code to all devices, but adapts to the size and shape of the device used. We found that this had representation on only 76% of the sites.

Alarmingly, mobile sites themselves were largely poorly-optimized for mobile; the average mobile site scored 53.9/100 for speed, as opposed to the average desktop score of 59.4/100.

Hewlett Packard had a massive difference of 29 points between their desktop score (at 77/100) and their mobile (48/100), while the worst offenders were Carat London, who scored zero for both mobile and desktop score.

Here is the list of the top 10 websites based on Google’s Page Speed Insights:

URL Desktop Score Mobile Score Total PageSpeed Score
http://www.tmlewin.co.uk/ 97 95 192
http://www.ikea.com 95 88 183
http://www.vodafone.co.uk 83 99 182
http://www.findmeagift.co.uk/ 92 85 177
http://www.wynsors.com/ 89 88 177
http://www.sofasworld.co.uk/ 90 86 176
http://www.americangolf.co.uk/ 80 95 175
http://www.mulberry.com/ 88 86 174
http://www.worldstores.co.uk/ 89 85 174
https://forbiddenplanet.com/ 90 84 174

Mobile management

Much of the mobile optimization requires coding and/or web development skills, but worry not – Google have created a guide to delivering a mobile page in under a second.

AMP it up

AMP – Accelerated Mobile Pages – is Google’s initiative for producing more efficient webpages for mobile. It’s a work-in-progress, but every day brings new developments and more support, customization and stability.

AMP pages have a number of benefits for all sites, including being preferred by Google in search rankings, and being faster to load. For ecommerce it’s a technology to implement ASAP, or at least keep an eye on.

While AMP debuted for publishing sites, recent updates have brought ecommerce sites into the fold, and eBay in particular have been quick on the uptake, now serving over eight million pages through the AMP system. Google is also working with eBay on things like A/B testing and smart buttons.

“With items like these in place, AMP for ecommerce will soon start surfacing,” says Senthil Padmanabhan, the principal engineer of eBay.

Customization on ecommerce AMP pages is currently low, but it’s an ideal technology for the industry, allowing customers quicker transitions between products – improving conversion rates and making the website easy to use.

During testing on the websites in our study, AMP was found to have a 71% faster load speed for blog posts, and a reduced page size from 2.3MB to 632kB.

Onwards and upwards

Site speed isn’t a problem that’s going to go away. As time goes by, the technology improves – AMP and HTTP/2 are just the latest steps on the road to real-time loading. 5G is on the horizon, and customers are only going to become less patient with slow-loading pages.

As a result, it’s increasingly necessary to keep an eye on your site analytics and your customer behavior. A speed improvement of just one second can improve your conversion rate by 27% – and a delay of one second can cost you millions a year.

Make sure you’re on top of bringing your ecommerce business and site into the modern era with the tips I’ve listed here.