Why do I need the best SEO tools when I can promote my business through social media platforms? How does SEO help my business? Doesn’t paid advertising get better results? Isn’t SEO dead? If you are still asking these questions, it means that you have pretty much written off SEO. And if that is the case, you’re making a big mistake. Ranking at the top of search engine results is what adds to the credibility of your business, and greatly increases visibility for your brand. Paid ads or PPC may drive more revenue for your brand, but you need to…
Design has a large impact on content visibility — so does SEO. However, there are some key SEO concepts that experts in the field struggle to communicate clearly to designers. This can create friction and the impression that most well-designed websites are very poorly optimized for SEO.
Here is an overview of what we will be covering in this article:
Design mobile first for Google,
Structure content for organic visibility,
Focus on user intent (not keywords),
Send the right signals with internal linking,
A crash course on image SEO,
Penalties for pop-ups,
Say it like you mean it: voice search and assistants.
Design Mobile First For Google
This year, Google plans on indexing websites mobile first:
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.
So, How Does This Affect Websites In Terms Of Design?
Well, it means that your website should be responsive. Responsive design isn’t about making elements fit on various screens. It is about usability. This requires shifting your thinking towards designing a consistent, high-quality experience across multiple devices.
Here are a few things that users care about when it comes to a website:
Flexible texts and images. People should be able to view images and read texts. No one likes looking at pixels hoping they morph into something readable or into an image.
Defined breakpoints for design changes (you can do that via CSS media queries).
Being able to use your website on all devices. This can mean being able to use your website in portrait or landscape mode without losing half of the features or having buttons that do not work.
A fluid site grid that aims to maintain proportions.
We won’t go into details about how to create a remarkable responsive website as this is not the main topic. However, if you want to take a deep dive into this fascinating subject, may I recommend a Smashing Book 5?
Do you need a concrete visual to help you understand why you must think about the mobile side of things from the get-go? Stéphanie Walter provided a great visual to get the point across:
Crafting Content For Smaller Screens
Your content should be as responsive as your design. The first step to making content responsive for your users is to understand user behavior and preferences.
Content should be so riveting that users scroll to read more of it;
Stop thinking in terms of text. Animated gifs, videos, infographics are all very useful types of content that are very mobile-friendly;
Keep your headlines short enticing. You need to convince visitors to click on an article, and a wall of text won’t achieve that;
Different devices can sometimes mean different expectations or different user needs. Your content should reflect that.
SEO tip regarding responsive design:
Google offers a mobile-friendly testing tool. Careful though: This tool helps you meet Google’s design standards, but it doesn’t mean that your website is perfectly optimized for a mobile experience.
Test how the Google bot sees your website with the “Fetch and render” feature in Google Search Console. You can test desktop and mobile formats to see how a human user and Google bot will see your site.
Content Structure For Organic Visibility
SEO experts think of page organization in terms that are accessible for a search engine bot. This means that we look at a page design to quickly establish what is an H1, H2, and an H3 tag. Content organization should be meaningful. This means that it should act as a path that the bot can follow. If all of this sounds familiar to you, it may be due to the fact that content hierarchy is also used to improve accessibility. There are some slight differences between how SEO and accessibility use H tags:
SEO focuses on H1 through H3 tags whereas accessibility makes use of all H tags (H1 through H6).
SEO experts recommend using a single H1 tag per page whereas accessibility handles multiple H1 tags per page. Although Google has said in the past that it accepts multiple H1 tags on a page, years of experience have shown that a single H1 tag is better to help you rank.
SEO experts investigate content structure by displaying the headings on a page. You do the same type of check quickly by using the Web Developer Toolbar extension (available on Chrome and Firefox) by Chris Pederick. If you go into the information section and click on “View Document Outline,” a tab with the content hierarchy will open in your browser.
Bonus:If the content structure of your pages is easy to understand and geared towards common user queries, then Google may show it in “position zero” (a result that shows a content snippet above the first results).
You can see how this can help you increase your overall visibility in search engine result pages below:
SEO Tip To Get Content Hierarchy Right
Content hierarchy should not include sidebars, headers or footer. Why? Because if we are talking about a chocolate recipe and the first thing you present to the robot is content from your sidebar touting a signup form for your newsletter, it’s falling short of user expectations (hint: unless a newsletter signup promises a slice of chocolate cake for dinner, you are about to have very disappointed users).
If we go back to the Canva page, you can see that “related articles” and other H tags should not be part of the content hierarchy of this page as they do not reflect the content of this specific page. Although HTML5 standards recommend using H tags for sidebars, headers, and footers, it’s not very compatible with SEO.
Content Quantity Shifts: Long Form Content Is On The Rise
Creating flagship content is important to rank in Google. In copywriting terms, this type of content is often part of a cornerstone page. It can take the shape of a tutorial, an FAQ page, but cornerstone content is the foundation to a well-ranked website. As such, it is a prized asset for inbound marketing to attract visits, backlinks and position a brand in a niche.
In the olden days, 400-word pages were considered to be “long form” content to rank in Google. Today, long-form content that is 1000, 2000 or even 3000 words long outranks short form content very often. This means that you need to start planning and designing to make long-form content engaging and scrollable. Design interactions should be aesthetically pleasing and create a consistent experience even for mammoth content like cornerstone pages. Long form content is a great way to create an immersive and engaging experience.
A great example of the power of long-form content tied-in with user search intent is the article about intrusive interstitials on Smashing. Most users will call interstitials “pop-ups” because that is how many of us think of these things. In this case, in Google.com, the article ranks right after the official Google guidelines (and it makes sense that Google should be number 1 on their own branded query) but Smashing magazine is shown as a “position 0” snippet of text on the query “Google pop up guidelines” in Google.com.. Search Engine Land, a high-quality SEO blog that is a pillar of the community is ranking after Smashing (which happens to be more of a design blog than an SEO one).
Of course, these results are ever-changing thanks to machine learning, location data, language and a slew of other ranking factors. However, it is a nice indicator that user intent and long-form content are a great way to get accrued visibility from your target audience.
Search engines have evolved in leaps and bounds these past few years. Google’s aim has always been to have their bot mimic human behavior to help evaluate websites. This meant that Search engine optimization has moved beyond “keywords” and seeks to understand the intent behind the search query a user types in Google.
For example, if you work to optimize content for an Android banking application and do a keyword research, you will see that oftentimes the words “free iPad” come up in North America. This doesn’t make sense until you realize that most banks used to run promotions that would offer free iPads for every new account opened. In light of this, we know that using “free iPad” as a keyword for an Android application used by a bank that is not running this type of promotion is not a good idea.
User intent matters unless you want to rank on terms that will bring you unqualified traffic. Does this mean that keyword research is now useless? Of course not! It just means that the way we approach keyword research is now infused with a UX-friendly approach.
Researching User Intent
User experience is critical for SEO. We also focus on user intent. The search queries a user makes give us valuable insights as to how people think about content, products, and services. Researching user intent can help uncover the hopes, problems, and desires of your users. Google approaches user intent by focusing on micro-moments. Micro-moments can be defined as intent profiles that seek information through search results. Here are the four big micro-moments:
I want to know. Users want information or inspiration at this stage. The queries are quite often conversational — it starts with a problem. Since users don’t know the solution or sometimes the words to describe their interest, queries will always be a bit vaguer.
I want to go. Location, location, location! Queries that signal a local intent are gaining ground. We don’t want any type of restaurant; the one that matters is the one that’s closest to us/the best in our area. Well, this can be seen in queries that include “near me” or a specific city or neighborhood. Localization is important to humans.
I want to do. People also search for things that they want to do. This is where tutorials are key. Advertising promises fast weight loss, but a savvy entrepreneur should tell you HOW you can lose weight in detail.
I want to buy. Customers showcase intent to buy quite clearly online. They want “deals” or “reviews” to make their decision.
Uncovering User Intent
Your UX or design strategy should reflect these various stages of user intent. Little tweaks in the words you make can make a big difference. So how does one go about uncovering user intent? We recommend you install Google Search Console to gain insights as to how users find you. This free tool helps you discover some of the keywords users search for to find your content. Let’s look at two tools that can help you uncover or validate user intent. Best of all, they are free!
Google Trends is a great way to validate if something’s popularity is on the rise, waning or steady. It provides data locally and allows you to compare two queries to see which one is more popular. This tool is free and easily accessible (compared to the Keyword Planner tool in AdWords that requires an account and more hassle).
Answer The Public
Answer The Public is a great way to quickly see what people are looking for on Google. Better yet, you can do so by language and get a wonderful sunburst visual for your efforts! It’s not as precise as some of the tools SEO experts use but keep in mind that we’re not asking designers and UX experts to become search engine optimization gurus! Note: this tool won’t provide you stats or local data (it won’t give you data just for England for example). No need for a tutorial here, just head on over and try it out!
Bonus Tool: Serpstat “Search Questions”
Full disclosure, I use other premium tools as part of my own SEO toolkit. Serpstat is a premium content marketing toolkit, but it’s actually affordable and allows you to dig much deeper into user intent. It helps provide me with information I never expected to find. Case in point, a few months ago, I got to learn that quite a few people in North America were confused about why bathtubs would let light shine through. The answer was easy to me; most bathtubs are made of fiberglass (not metal like in the olden days). It turns out, not everyone is clear on that and some customers needed to be reassured on this point.
If you head on to the “content marketing” section, you can access “Questions.” You can input a keyword and see how it is used in various queries. You can export the results.
This tool will also help you spy on the competition’s content marketing efforts, determine what queries your website ranks on in various countries and what your top SEO pages are.
Internal Linking: Because We All Have Our Favorite Pages
The links you have on your website are signaling to search engines bots which pages you find more valuable over others in your website. It’s one of the central concerns for SEOs looking to optimize contents on a site. A well-thought-out internal linking structure provide SEO and UX benefits:
Internal linking helps organize content based on different categories than the regular navigation;
It provides more ways for users to interact with your website;
It shows search engine bots which pages are important from your perspective;
It provides a clear label for each link and provides context.
Here’s a quick primer in internal linking:
The homepage tends to be the most authoritative page on a website. As such, it’s a great page to point to other pages you want to give an SEO boost to.
All pages within one link of the home page will often be interpreted by search engine bots as being important.
Stop using generic keyword anchors across your website. It could come across as spammy. “Read more” and “click here” provide very little context for users and bots alike.
Leverage navigation bars, menus, footers and breadcrumb links to provide ample visibility for your key pages.
CTA text should also be clear and very descriptive to encourage conversions.
Favor links in a piece of content: it’s highly contextual and has more weight than a generic anchor text or a footer or sidebar link that can be found across the website.
According to Google’s John Mueller: a link’s position in a page is irrelevant. However, SEOs tend to prefer links higher on a page.
It’s easier for search engines to “evaluate” links in text content vs. image anchors because oftentimes images do not come with clear, contextual ALT attributes.
Is there a perfect linking structure at the website level and the page level? The answer is no. A website can have a different linking structure in place depending on its nature (blog, e-commerce, publication, B2B website, etc.) and the information architecture choices made (the information architecture can lead to a pyramid type structure, or something resembling a nest, a cocoon, etc.).
Image SEO is a crucial part of SEO different types of websites. Blogs and e-commerce websites rely heavily on visual items to attract traffic to their website. Social discovery of content and shoppable media increase visits.
We won’t go into details regarding how to optimize your ALT attributes and file names as other articles do a fine job of it. However, let’s take a look at some of the main image formats we tend to use on the web (and that Google is able to crawl without any issues):
JPEG Best for photographs or designs with people, places or things.
PNG Best for images with transparent backgrounds.
GIF Best for animated GIFs, otherwise, use the JPG format.
The Lighter The Better: A Few Tips On Image Compression
Google prefers lighter images. The lighter, the better. However, you may have a hidden problem dragging you down: your CMS. You may upload one image, but your CMS could be creating many more. For example, WordPress will often create 3 to 5 variations of each image in different sizes. This means that images can quickly impact your performance. The best way to deal with this is to compress your images.
Don’t Trust Google Page Speed (A Quick Compression Algorithm Primer)
Not sure if images are dragging your performance down? Take a page from your website, put it through the online optimizer and see what the results are! If you plan on using Google Page Speed Insights, you need to consider the fact that this tool uses one specific algorithm to analyze your images. Sometimes, your images are perfectly optimized with another algorithm that’s not detected by Google’s tool. This can lead to a false positive result telling you to optimize images that are already optimized.
Tools You Can Use
If you want to get started with image compression, you can go about three ways:
Start compressing images in photo editing tools (most of them have an “export for the web” type of feature).
Install a plugin or module that is compatible with your CMS to do the work for you. Shortpixel is a good one to use for WordPress. It is freemium so you can optimize for free up to a certain point and then upgrade if you need to compress more images. The best thing about it is that it keeps a backup just in case you want to revert your changes. You can use a service like EWWWW or Short Pixel.
Use an API or a script to compress images for you. Kraken.io offers a solid API to get the job done. You can use a service like Image Optim or Kraken.
Lossy vs. Lossless Image Compression
Image compression comes in two flavors: lossy and lossless. There is no magic wand for optimizing images. It depends on the algorithm you use to optimize each image.
Lossy doesn’t mean bad when it comes to images. JPEGS and GIFS are lossy image formats that we use all the time online. Unlike code, you can remove data from images without corrupting the entire file. Our eyes can put up with some data loss because we are sensitive to different colors in different ways. Oftentimes, a 50% compression applied to an image will decrease its file size by 90%. Going beyond that is not worth the image degradation risks as it would become noticeable to your visitors. When it comes to lossy image compression, it’s about finding a compromise between quality and size.
Lossless image compression focuses on removing metadata from JPEG and PNG files. This means that you will have to look into other ways to optimize your load time as images will always be heavier than those optimized with a lossy compression.
Banners With Text In It
Ever open Pinterest? You will see a wall of images with text in it. The reality for many of us in SEO is that Google bot can’t read all about how to “Crack chicken noodle soup” or what Disney couple you are most like. Google can read image file names and image ALT text. So it’s crucial to think about this when designing marketing banners that include text. Always make sure your image file name and image ALT attribute are optimized to give Google a clue as to what is written on the image. If possible, favor image content with a text overlay available in the code. That way, Google will be able to read it!
Here is a quick checklist to help you optimize your image ALT attributes:
ALT attributes shouldn’t be too long: aim for 12 words or less.
ALT attributes should describe the image itself, not the content it is surrounded by (if your picture is of a palm tree, do not title it “the top 10 beaches to visit”).
ALT attributes should be in the proper language. Here is a concrete example: if a page is written in French, do not provide an English ALT attribute for the image in it.
ALT attributes can be written like regular sentences. No need to separate the words by dashes, you can use spaces.
ALT attributes should be descriptive in a human-friendly way. They are not made to contain a series of keywords separated by commas!
Google Lens is available on Android phones and rolling out to iOS. It is a nifty little addition because it can interpret many images the way a human would. It can read text embedded in images, can recognize landmarks, books, movies and scan barcodes (which most humans can’t do!).
Of course, the technology is so recent that we cannot expect it to be perfect. Some things need to be improved such as interpreting scribbled notes. Google Lens represents a potential bridge between the offline world and the online design experience we craft. AI technology and big data are leveraged to provide meaningful context to images. In the future, taking a picture of a storefront could be contextualized with information like the name of the store, reviews, and ratings for example. Or you could finally figure out the name of a dish that you are eating (I personally tested this and Google figured out I was eating a donburi).
Here is my prediction for the long term: Google Lens will mean less stock photography in websites and more unique images to help brands. Imagine taking a picture of a pair of shoes and knowing exactly where to buy them online because Google Lens identified the brand and model along with a link to let you buy them in a few clicks?
Google has put into place new design penalties that influence a website’s mobile ranking on its results pages. If you want to know more about it, you can read an in-depth article on the topic. Bottom line: avoid unsolicited interstitials on mobile landing pages that are indexed in Google.
SEOs do have guidelines, but we do not have the visual creativity to provide tasteful solutions to comply with Google’s standards.
Essentially, marketers have long relied on interstitials as promotional tools to help them engage and convert visitors. An interstitial can be defined as something that blocks out the website’s main content. If your pop-ups cover the main content shown on a mobile screen, if it appears without user interaction, chances are that they may trigger an algorithmic penalty.
As a gentle reminder, this is what would be considered an intrusive interstitial by Google if it were to appear on mobile:
Tips How To Avoid A Penalty
No slide ins;
No interstitials that take up more than 20% of the screen;
Replace them with non intrusive ribbons at the top or bottom of your pages;
Or opt for inline optin boxes that are in the middle or at the end of your pages.
Here’s a solution that may be a bit over the top (with technically two banners on one screen) but that still stays within official guidelines:
Some People May Never See Your Design
More and more, people are turning to vocal search when looking for information on the web. Over 55% of teens and 41% of adults use voice search. The surprising thing is that this pervasive phenomenon is very recent: most people started in the last year or so.
Users request information from search engines in a conversational manner — keywords be damned! This adds a layer of complexity to designing a website: tailoring an experience for users who may not ever enjoy the visual aspect of a website. For example, Google Home can “read” out loud recipes or provide information straight from position 0 snippets when a request is made. This is a new spin on an old concept. If I were to ask Google Home to give me the definition of web accessibility, it would probably read the following thing out loud to me from Wikipedia:
This is an extension of accessibility after all. This time around though, it means that a majority of users will come to rely on accessibility to reach informative content.
Designing for voice search means prioritizing your design to be heard instead of seen. For those interested in extending the design all the way to the code should look into the impact rich snippets have on how your data is structured and given visibility in search engine results pages.
Design And UX Impact SEO
Here is a quick cheat sheet for this article. It contains concrete things you can do to improve your SEO with UX and design:
Google will start ranking websites based on their mobile experience. Review the usability of your mobile version to ensure you’re ready for the coming changes in Google.
Check the content organization of your pages. H1, H2, and H3 tags should help create a path through the content that the bot can follow.
Keyword strategy takes a UX approach to get to the core of users’ search intents to craft optimized content that ranks well.
Internal linking matters: the links you have on your website are signaling to search engines bots which pages you find more valuable over others on your website.
Give images more visibility: optimize file names, ALT attributes and think about how the bot “reads” your images.
Mobile penalties now include pop-ups, banners and other types of interstitials. If you want to keep ranking well in Google mobile search results, avoid unsolicited interstitials on your landing pages.
With the rise of assistants like Google Home and Alexa, designing for voice search could become a reality soon. This will mean prioritizing your design to be heard instead of seen.
Keyword cannibalization is what happens when you have multiple pages on your website that all target the same keyword. When more than one page is designed to rank for one particular keyword, you end up competing with yourself. As a result, each page ends up with diminished authority, a lower click-through rate and even lower conversion rates than you’d achieve from having just one target page. Cannibalizing Your Content To put it simply, keyword cannibalization is the act of splitting clickthrough-rate (CTR), links and conversions between two pages that should either be merged together or should be targeting different keywords….
We’re looking for developers to join us in our office in central Bristol, developing websites, tools and apps for huge audiences. Our clients include Google, YouTube and Tate. We are proud to be a part of the AKQA network.
This role will see you working as part of a friendly, expert team. The workload will sometimes be hectic, but the atmosphere is cheerful and proactive. We want to put you in a position to write and deploy the best code that you can.
But sometimes you hit a ceiling with the keywords you’re bidding on, and there’s literally no more Search Network traffic out there (since your impression shares are all around 98%).
You immediately think of using the AdWords Display Network, simply because you know there’s more traffic, cheaper clicks and much more potential ROI just waiting to be grabbed.
Actually, don’t do that. It won’t get you conversions. Image source.
As you may already know, the AdWords Display Network (also known as the Google Display Network/GDN) is the biggest digital ad network in the world. It allows you to advertise on publisher properties like websites, mobile apps, Gmail, YouTube and more.
Compared to the AdWords Search Network, the Display Network also houses the largest viewership of any online platform. YouTube itself has a monthly viewership equivalent to 10 Super Bowls – so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that display advertising is said to capture 34% of all online ad spend and about 10% of all marketing budgets.
But with new channels come different strategies.
What you’re doing on the AdWords Search Network will not perform the same way on the Display Network.
If the Display Network is uncharted territory for you, here’s how you need to adjust your current PPC strategy to get the results you want.
Different user behavior calls for a different strategy
The biggest difference between the AdWords Search Network and Display Network can be seen in the sweet visual I had my designer custom-make below.
In the “Chuck Norris” action cycle above, you can see how the power of keyword intent in the Search Network can put people really close to taking action (AKA converting), but the Display Network typically has visitors who are a few steps behind.
This is because people who are on the Display Network aren’t actively searching for what you offer. As Erin Sagin puts it, they’re rarely in “shopping mode.”
Instead, Display Network visitors are most likely in the research phase when your display ads are hitting them. They’re on forums, blog posts, or watching that YouTube vid trying to gather enough information to make a decision. They don’t know what they need yet, so your job is create awareness.
If you’re selling more of an “emergency” service like being a locksmith or roadside assistance, then you’ll have a hard time using the Display Network to your advantage.
This is simply because ads on the Display Network are not triggered from a search engine like text ads on the Search Network are. The Search Network works as a demand harvester (your ads are grabbing the intent), while the Display Network works as a demand generator (your ads are creating awareness).
So how do you change your strategy from the Search Network to also make the AdWords Display Network a money making machine?
Create trust and deliver value
As I mentioned, your Display Network ads could be interrupting someone who’s reading the news, reading a blog or watching a video.
Because of that, the level of commitment it takes for someone to stop what they’re doing, click your ad, then call you or fill out your landing page form is high and much more unlikely compared to the Search Network. In other words, you can’t expect to have the same campaign conversion rates on the Display Network as you do on the Search Network.
If you’re offering “Free Quotes” on the search network because people are actively searching for someone who can relieve their problem, it might actually be better for you to lead with valuable educational material (i.e. your content) on the Display Network.
A perfect example of this is my crush of an email marketing company, Emma.
Emma uses the AdWords Search Network to drive sign ups, but they use the Display Network to give you great, fun and actionable value. Here’s what some of their Display Ads look like (click on them to go to the accompanying landing page):
I reached out to Cynthia Price (the Director of Marketing at Emma) and she gave me this golden nugget about how they use the AdWords Display Network:
We get that someone seeing a display ad isn’t necessarily interested in learning more about our product just yet. It’s all about brand awareness, and more importantly for us, trust-building.
So we offer content that we think will be valuable and helpful to our audience’s marketing efforts. It starts our brand relationship off on the right foot, helps them understand the strength of our expertise and paves the way for us to nurture or retarget them in the future.
You already know that content marketing’s core foundation is about adding true value.
Your display ads should be no different.
On the Display Network, your first goal is to establish trust by giving value, and then nurture the visitors down the road to become paying customers.
Revisit your targeting options
Once you have a great piece of content that delivers value and educates your audience, it’s time to figure out how to target it to people who actually want it.
To illustrate how each one works, let’s pretend you’re a dog walker. Your name is Lori and you live in Huntington Beach, CA. You’ve been advertising on the AdWords search network and this is your landing page:
What are your best targeting options?
Placement targeting allows you to advertise directly on certain publisher sites. This means you could have your ad show up on Forbes or CNN if you’d like.
Best practice advice: Make sure the website or page’s audience is relevant to what you’re offering. Don’t shotgun approach all of CNN – sniper shot individual placements within CNN if you can.
Contextual/Keyword targeting allows you to give Google your keywords and have it automatically find relevant placements for your ads.
Best practice advice: Mix this with placement targeting to be even more laser focused with your targeting.
Topic targeting allows you to go more broad than regular placement targeting.
For this, you could target the topic of Pets & Animals directly and cast a wider net, with the possibility of your ads showing up on FerretLovers.com (yes, that’s a real site).
Best practice advice: See what Topic targeting gives you, then exclude unwanted placements from your campaign once things are running and data is coming in.
Interest targeting is kind of similar to topic targeting, but instead of judging the context of websites, interest targeting tracks behaviors of web users. This targeting method can be even more vague than topic targeting.
Best practice advice: Every industry is different, so always test things out and see the performance. Be quick to pause and exclude irrelevant placements once data comes in.
Combining targeting methods
This is where you’ll have a lot of fun and potentially get better results.
You’re not locked into using just one targeting method with the AdWords Display Network. In fact, Alistair Dent over at Search Engine Watch and many others highly recommend never going with just one targeting option, but combining multiple together.
You can target certain placements with the addition of contextual/keyword targeting to tell Google that you only want your ads to show when a visitor is on CNN and reading an article about dog walking.
Or you can target different interests with contextual/keyword targeting as well.
Create multiple ad groups, each with their own targeting specifications, and see how they perform against each other. Once you’ve hit your stride and conversions are coming in, pause the other ad groups that aren’t working, and make variations of the ad group targetings that are working for you, so that you can squeeze more out of your PPC dollars.
Wow! Quite a bit of info huh?
Now that you clearly know why your Display Network strategy has to be different from your Search Network strategy, what do you have to lose? Get started now. Try different targeting combinations, and never forget to offer true value.
What have you found to be the best driver of conversions on the AdWords Display Network? How different are your strategies compared to the ones we talked about?
The text (or characters) inside a website hyperlink. Anchor text can help inform search engines of a webpage’s subject matter. It’s a fairly simple thing to explain, however, anchor text is a controversial topic in SEO (search engine optimization). Let’s touch on that bit. The Old “Click Here” Lesson Up until very recently, if you typed the words “click here” into Google, one of the top results would be a result for Adobe Acrobat. Why? Because for the past 15-20 years, people have been publishing the anchor text: “Click Here To Download Adobe Acrobat” and making that anchor text a…
A recent update to Google AdWords is changing the way performance marketers understand their landing pages’ Quality Scores. Image via Shutterstock.
While Quality Score is a critical factor in your ad performance, it’s always been a bit of a mystery wrapped in an enigma. Marketers have never been able to natively view changes to Quality Score components in AdWords directly. That is — even though expected click through rate, ad relevance and landing page experience scores are the elements contributing to your Quality Score, you haven’t been able to see these individual scores at scale (or for given timeframes) within your AdWords account, or export them into Excel.
Which is why, up until now, some especially savvy marketers have had to improvise workarounds, using third-party scripts to take daily snapshots of Quality Score to have some semblance of historical record — and a better-informed idea as to changes in performance.
Fortunately, an AdWords reporting improvement has brought new visibility into Quality Score components that could help you diagnose some real wins with your ads and corresponding landing pages.
What’s different now?
As you may have already noticed, there are now seven new columns added to your menu of Quality Score metrics including three optional status columns:
This is not new data per se (it’s been around in a different, less accessible form), but as of this month you can now see everything in one spot and understand when certain changes to Quality Score have occurred.
So how can you take advantage?
There are two main ways you can use this AdWords improvement to your advantage as a performance marketer:
1. Now you can see whether your landing page changes are positively influencing Quality Score
Now, after you make changes to a landing page — you can use AdWords’ newest reporting improvement to see if you have affected the landing page experience portion of your Quality Score over time.
This gives you a chance to prove certain things are true about the performance of your landing pages, whereas before you may have had to use gut instinct about whether a given change to a landing page was affecting overall Quality Score (or whether it was a change to the ad, for example).
As Blaize Bolton, Team Strategist at Performance Marketing Agency Thrive Digital told me:
As agency marketers, we don’t like to assume things based on the nature of our jobs. We can now pinpoint changes to Quality Score to a certain day, which is actual proof of improvement. To show this to a client is a big deal.
Overall, if your CPC drops, now you can better understand whether it may be because of changes made to a landing page.
2. You can identify which keywords can benefit most from an updated landing page
Prior to this AdWords update, ad relevancy, expected click through rate and landing page relevancy data existed, but you had to mouse over each keyword to get this data to pop up on a keyword-by-keyword basis. Because you couldn’t analyze the data at scale, you couldn’t prioritize your biggest opportunities for improvement.
However, now that you can export this data historically (for dates later than January 22, 2016), you can do a deep dive into your campaigns and identify where a better, more relevant landing page could really help.
You can now pull every keyword in your AdWords account — broken out by campaign — and identify any underperforming landing pages.
Now, an Excel deep dive into your AdWords campaigns can help you reveal landing page weaknesses.
Specifically, here’s what Thrive Digital’s Managing Director Ross McGowan recommends:
You can break down which of your landing pages are above average, or those that require tweaking. For example, you might index your campaigns by the status AdWords provides, assigning anything “Above Average” as 3, “Average” as 2 and “Below Average” as 1. You can then find a weighted average for each campaign or ad group and make a call on what to focus on from there.
What should you do when you notice a low landing page experience score?
As Google states, landing page experience score is an indication of how useful the search engine believes your landing page is to those who click on your ad. They recommend to, “make sure your landing page is clear and useful… and that it is related to your keyword and what customers are searching for.”
In short, it’s very important that your landing pages are highly relevant to your ad. Sending traffic to generic pages on your website may not cut it. Moreover, once you are noticing low landing page engagement scores, it’s time to try optimizing these pages with some quick wins.
In the words of Thrive’s Ross McGowan:
Figure out what a user wants, and do everything you can to tailor the on-page experience to them. Whether that be [using] Dynamic Text Replacement, A/B testing elements to get the best user experience, or spending less time on technical issues and more on writing great content.
Finally, for more on AdWords’ latest improvements, AdAlysis founder Brad Geddes has written a great article on Search Engine Land. His company had enough data on hand to attempt a reverse-engineer of the formula for Quality Score to get a sense of how changes to one of the QS components would impact overall score. His recommendation is much the same as Ross’, in that, if a landing page’s score is particularly low, your best bet is to focus on increasing user’s interaction with the page.
Link juice is a non-technical SEO term used to reference the SEO value of a hyperlink to a particular website or webpage. According to Google, a multitude of quality hyperlinks (or just “links”) are one of the most important factors for gaining top rankings in the Google search engine. The term “link juice” is SEO industry jargon. It’s often talked about in relation to link building efforts such as guest posting, blogger outreach, linkbait and broken link building. How Does Link Juice Work? Link juice, link authority, and backlink authority are all different words that mean essentially the same thing….
There was a time when simply launching an A/B test was a big deal.
I remember my first test. It was a lead gen form. I completely redesigned it. I learned nothing. And it felt like I was on top of the world.
Today, things are different, especially if you’re a major e-commerce company doing high-volume conversion optimization in a team setting. The demands have shifted; the expectations are far greater. New tools are being created to solve new problems.
So what does it take to own enterprise e-commerce CRO in 2016 compared to before?
Make money during A/B tests
While “always be testing” is a great mantra, I have to ask, “is you ‘always be banking?’”
Most of us have been running tests that inform us first, and make money later. For example, you might run a test where you’ve got a clear winner, but it’s one of 5 other variations, so you’re only benefiting from it 20% of the time during the length of the experiment.
Furthermore, you may have 4 variations that are underperforming versus your Control, so you could even be losing money while you test. Imagine spending an entire year testing in that manner. You’d rarely be fully benefiting from your positive test results!
Of course, as part of a controlled experiment and in order to generate valid insights, it’s important to distribute traffic evenly and fairly between all variations (across multiple days of the week, etc).
But there also comes a time to be opportunistic.
Enter the multi-arm bandit (MAB) approach. MAB is an automated testing mechanism that diverts more traffic to better performing variations. Thresholds can be set to control how much better a variation has to perform before it is favored by the mechanism.
Hold your horses: MAB sounds amazing, but it is not the solution to all of your problems. It’s best reserved for times when the potential revenue gains outweigh the potential insights to be gained or the test has little long-term value.
Say, for example, you’re running a pre-Labor Day promotion and you’ve got a site-wide banner. This banner’s only going to be around for 5-10 days before you switch to the next holiday. So really, you just want to make the most of the opportunity and not think about it again until next year.
A bandit algorithm applied to an A/B test of your banner will help you find the best performer during the period of the experiment, and help generate the most revenue during the testing period.
While you may not be able to infer too many insights from the experiment, you should be able to generate more revenue than had you either not tested at all or gone with a traditional, even split test.
BEFORE: Test, analyze results, decide, implement, make money later.
TODAY: Test and make money while you’re at it.
When to do it: Best used in cases where what you learn is not that useful for the future.
When not to do it: Not necessarily the most useful for long-term testing programs.
Track long-term revenue gains
If you’ve been testing over the course of many months and years, accurately tracking and reporting your cumulative gains can become a serious challenge.
You’re most likely testing across different zones of your website – homepage, category page, product detail page, site-wide, checkout, etc. Multiply those zones by the number of viewport ranges you’re specifically testing on.
What do you do, sum up each individual increase and project out over the course of a year? Do you create an equation to calculate the combined effect of all of your tests? Do you avoid trying to report at all?
There isn’t one good solution, but rather a few options that all have their strengths and weaknesses:
The first, and easiest, is using a formula to determine combined results. You’ll want a strong mathematician to help you with this one. Personally, I always have a lingering doubt that none of what is being reported is accurate, even using conservative estimations. And as time goes on, things only get less accurate.
The second is to periodically re-test your original Control from the moment at which you started testing. Say, every 6 months, test your best performing variation against the Control you had 6 months prior. If you’ve been testing across the funnel, test the entire funnel in one experiment.
Yes, it will be difficult. Yes, your developers will hate you. And yes, you will be able to prove the value of your work in a very confident manner.
It’s best to run these sorts of tests with a duplicate of each variation (2 “old” Controls vs 2 best performers) just to add an extra layer of certainty when you look at your results. It goes without saying that you should run these experiments for as long as reasonably possible.
Another option is to always be testing your “original” Control vs your most recent best performer in a side experiment. Take 10% of your total traffic and segment it to a constantly running experiment that pits the original control version of your site against your latest best performer.
It’s an experiment running in the background, not affected by what you are currently testing. It should serve as a constant benchmark to calculate the total effect of all your tests, combined.
Technically, this will be a challenge. You’ll be asking a lot of your developers and your analytics people, and at one point, you may ask yourself if it’s all worth it. But in the end, you will have some awesome reports to show, demonstrating the ridiculous revenue you’ve generated through CRO.
BEFORE: Individual test gains, cumulated.
TODAY: Taking into consideration interaction effects, re-running Control vs combined new variations OR using a model to predict combined effect of tests.
When to do it: When you want to better estimate the combined effect of multiple testing wins.
When not to do it: When your tests are highly seasonal and can’t be combined OR when it becomes impossible from a technical perspective (hence the importance of doing so in a reasonable time frame—don’t wait 2 years to do it).
Track and distribute cumulative insights
If you do this right, you will learn a ton about your customers and how to increase your revenue in the future. Ideally, you should have a goody-bag of insights to look through whenever you’re in need of inspiration.
So, how do you track insights over time and revalidate them in subsequent experiments? Also, does Jenny in branding know about your latest insights into the importance of your product imagery? How do you get her on board and keep her up to date on a consistent basis?
Both of these challenges deserve attention.
The simplest “system” for tracking insights is via spreadsheet, with columns that codify insights by type, device, and any other useful criteria for browsing and grouping. This proves unscalable when you’re testing at high velocity. That’s where a custom platform comes into play that does the job of tracking and sharing insights.
For example, the team at The Next Web created in internal tool for tracking tests, insights, then easily sharing ideas via Slack. There are other publicly available options, most of which integrate with Optimizely or VWO.
BEFORE: Excel sheets, Powerpoint presentations, word of mouth, or nothing at all.
TODAY: A shared and tagged database of insights that link back to the experiments that generated them and is updated on the fly. Tools such as Experiment Engine, Effective Experiments, Iridion and Liftmap are all solving some part of this puzzle.
When to do it: When you’re learning a lot of valuable things, but having trouble tracking or sharing what you learn. (BTW, if you’re not having this problem, you might be doing something wrong.)
When not to do it: When the future is of little importance.
Code implementation-ready variations
High velocity testing doesn’t just mean quickly getting tests out the door; it means being able to implement winners immediately and move on. To make this possible, your test code has to be ready to implement, meaning:
Code should be modularized. Your scripts should be modularized into sections functionality and design changes.
BEFORE: Messy jQuery.
TODAY: Modularized experiment code, separated css that aligns with classnames.
When to do it: When you wish to make the implementation process as painless as possible.
When not to do it: When you just don’t care.
Create FOOC-free variations
If your test variations “flicker” or “flash” as they load, you’re experiencing Flash of Original Content or FOOC. It will affect your results if it goes untreated. Some of the best ways to prevent it are as follows:
Place your code snippets as high as possible on the page.
Improve site load time in general (regardless of your testing tool).
Briefly hide the body or div element being tested.
Some people think of A/B testing as a way to improve the look of their website, while others use it to test the fundamentals of their business. Take advantage of the tools at your disposal to get to the heart of what makes your business tick.
For example, we tested reducing the product range of one of our clients and discovered that they could save millions on manufacturing and marketing without losing revenue. What are the big lingering questions you could answer through A/B testing?
BEFORE: Most of us tested button colors at one point or another.
TODAY: Business decisions are being validated through A/B tests.
When to do it: When business decisions can be tested online, in a controlled manner.
When not to do it: When most factors cannot be controlled for online, during the length of an A/B test.
Use data science to test predictions, not ideas
It is highly likely that you are underutilizing the customer analytics that are available to you. Most of us don’t have the team in place or the time to dig through the data constantly. But this could be costing you dearly in missed opportunities.
If you have access to a data scientist, even on a project-basis, you can uncover insights that will vastly improve the quality of your A/B test hypotheses.
TODAY: Predictive analytics can uncover data-driven test hypotheses.
When to do it: When you’ve got lots of well-organized analytics data.
When not to do it: When you prefer the spaghetti method.
Optimize for volume of tests
There was a time when “always be testing” was enough. These days, it’s about “always be testing in 100 different places at once.” This creates new challenges:
How do you test in multiple parts of the same funnel synchronously without concern for cross pollination?
How do you organize your human resources in a way to get all the work done?
This is the art of being a conversion optimization project manager: knowing how to juggle speed vs value of insights and considering resource availability. At WiderFunnel, we do a few things that help make sure we go as fast as possible without sacrificing insights:
We stagger “difficult” experiments with “easy” ones so that production can be completed on “difficult” ones while “easy” ones are running.
We integrate with testing tool APIs to quickly generate coding templates, meaning our development doesn’t need to do any manual work before starting to code variations.
We use detailed briefs to keep everyone on the same page and reduce gaps in communication.
We schedule experiments based on “insight flow” so that earlier experiments help inform subsequent ones.
We use algorithms to control for cross-pollination so that multiple tests within the same funnel can be run while being able to segment any cross-pollinated visitors.
BEFORE: Running one experiment at a time.
TODAY: Running experiments across devices, segments, and funnels.
When to do it: When you’ve got the traffic, conversions and the team to make it happen.
When not to do it: When there aren’t enough conversions to go around for all of your tests.
Don’t get stuck in the optimization ways of the past. The industry is moving quickly, and the only way to stay ahead of your competitors (who are also testing) is to always be improving your conversion optimization program.
Bring your testing strategies into the modern era by mastering the 8 tactics outlined above. You’re an optimizer, after all―it’s only fitting that you optimize your optimization.
Do you agree with this list? Are there other aspects of modern-era CRO not listed here? Share your thoughts in the comments!
When Google announced the launch of its new mobile ranking system, dubbed Mobilegeddon by the press, everybody agreed that the impact would be devastating on those businesses that didn’t have a mobile web presence. At that time, we conducted a study of the top 10,000 sites from Alexa and showed that four out of ten sites would be affected by Google’s update.
Eight months into the apocalyptic event, we repeated the study because we wanted to measure and understand the real proportions of such an important development.