Tag Archives: google

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What Is the Best Heatmap Tool and How to Use It to Get Better Results

heatmap-tool

A heatmap tool allows you to unlock the secrets behind your website users’ behavior. You’ve heard your friends and associates talking about using a heatmap tool to improve their website conversions and sales. Maybe you’ve even done a little research on the subject. But why exactly do you need a heatmap tool? And what does it do? You have questions. I have answers. Here’s the thing: User behavior reports like heatmaps give you information about your target audience that you can’t get anywhere else. Therein lies the value. Without heatmaps, you’re in the dark. So how do you see the…

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What Is the Best Heatmap Tool and How to Use It to Get Better Results

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Logging Activity With The Web Beacon API




Logging Activity With The Web Beacon API

Drew McLellan



The Beacon API is a JavaScript-based Web API for sending small amounts of data from the browser to the web server without waiting for a response. In this article, we’ll look at what that can be useful for, what makes it different from familiar techniques like XMLHTTPRequest (‘Ajax’), and how you can get started using it.

If you know why you want to use Beacon already, feel free to jump directly to the Getting Started section.

What Is The Beacon API For?

The Beacon API is used for sending small amounts of data to a server without waiting for a response. That last part is critical and is the key to why Beacon is so useful — our code never even gets to see a response, even if the server sends one. Beacons are specifically for sending data and then forgetting about it. We don’t expect a response and we don’t get a response.

Think of it like a postcard sent home when on vacation. You put a small amount of data on it (a bit of “Wish you were here” and “The weather’s been lovely”), put it in the mailbox, and you don’t expect a response. No one sends a return postcard saying “Yes, I do wish I was there actually, thank you very much!”

For modern websites and applications, there’s a number of use cases that fall very neatly into this pattern of send-and-forget.

Tracking Stats And Analytics Data

The first use case that comes to mind for most people is analytics. Big solutions like Google Analytics might give a good overview of things like page visits, but what if we wanted something more customized? We could write some JavaScript to track what’s happening in a page (maybe how a user interacts with a component, how far they’ve scrolled to, or which articles have been displayed before they follow a CTA) but we then need to send that data to the server when the user leaves the page. Beacon is perfect for this, as we’re just logging the data and don’t need a response.

There’s no reason we couldn’t also cover the sort of mundane tasks often handled by Google Analytics, reporting on the user themselves and the capability of their device and browser. If the user has a logged in session, you could even tie those stats back to a known individual. Whatever data you gather, you can send it back to the server with Beacon.

Debugging And Logging

Another useful application for this behavior is logging information from your JavaScript code. Imagine you have a complex interactive component on your page that works perfectly for all your tests, but occasionally fails in production. You know it’s failing, but you can’t see the error in order to begin debugging it. If you can detect a failure in the code itself, you could then gather up diagnostics and use Beacon to send it all back for logging.

In fact, any logging task can usefully be performed using Beacon, be that creating save-points in a game, collecting information on feature use, or recording results from a multivariate test. If it’s something that happens in the browser that you want the server to know about, then Beacon is likely a contender.

Can’t We Already Do This?

I know what you’re thinking. None of this is new, is it? We’ve been able to communicate from the browser to the server using XMLHTTPRequest for more than a decade. More recently we also have the Fetch API which does much the same thing with a more modern promise-based interface. Given that, why do we need the Beacon API at all?

The key here is that because we don’t get a response, the browser can queue up the request and send it without blocking execution of any other code. As far as the browser is concerned, it doesn’t matter if our code is still running or not, or where the script execution has got to, as there’s nothing to return it can just background the sending of the HTTP request until it’s convenient to send it.

That might mean waiting until CPU load is lower, or until the network is free, or even just sending it right away if it can. The important thing is that the browser queues the beacon and returns control immediately. It does not hold things up while the beacon sends.

To understand why this is a big deal, we need to look at how and when these sorts of requests are issued from our code. Take our example of an analytics logging script. Our code may be timing how long the users spend on a page, so it becomes critical that the data is sent back to the server at the last possible moment. When the user goes to leave a page, we want to stop timing and send the data back home.

Typically, you’d use either the unload or beforeunload event to execute the logging. These are fired when the user does something like following a link on the page to navigate away. The trouble here is that code running on one of the unload events can block execution and delay the unloading of the page. If unloading of the page is delayed, then the loading next page is also delayed, and so the experience feels really sluggish.

Keep in mind how slow HTTP requests can be. If you’re thinking about performance, typically one of the main factors you try to cut down on is extra HTTP requests because going out to the network and getting a response can be super slow. The very last thing you want to do is put that slowness between the activation of a link and the start of the request for the next page.

Beacon gets around this by queuing the request without blocking, returning control immediately back to your script. The browser then takes care of sending that request in the background without blocking. This makes everything much faster, which makes users happier and lets us all keep our jobs.

Getting Started

So we understand what Beacon is, and why we might use it, so let’s get started with some code. The basics couldn’t be simpler:

let result = navigator.sendBeacon(url, data);

The result is boolean, true if the browser accepted and queued the request, and false if there was a problem in doing so.

Using navigator.sendBeacon()

navigator.sendBeacon takes two parameters. The first is the URL to make the request to. The request is performed as an HTTP POST, sending any data provided in the second parameter.

The data parameter can be in one of several formats, all if which are taken directly from the Fetch API. This can be a Blob, a BufferSource, FormData or URLSearchParams — basically any of the body types used when making a request with Fetch.

I like using FormData for basic key-value data as it’s uncomplicated and easy to read back.

// URL to send the data to
let url = '/api/my-endpoint';
    
// Create a new FormData and add a key/value pair
let data = new FormData();
data.append('hello', 'world');
    
let result = navigator.sendBeacon(url, data);
    
if (result)  
  console.log('Successfully queued!');
 else 
  console.log('Failure.');

Browser Support

Support in browsers for Beacon is very good, with the only notable exceptions being Internet Explorer (works in Edge) and Opera Mini. For most uses, that should be fine, but it’s worth testing for support before trying to use navigator.sendBeacon.

That’s easy to do:

if (navigator.sendBeacon) 
  // Beacon code
 else 
  // No Beacon. Maybe fall back to XHR?

If Beacon isn’t available and your request is important, you could fall back to a blocking method such as XHR. Depending on your audience and purpose, you might equally choose to not bother.

An Example: Logging Time On A Page

To see this in practice, let’s create a basic system to time how long a user stays on a page. When the page loads we’ll note the time, and when the user leaves the page we’ll send the start time and current time to the server.

As we only care about time spent (not the actual time of day) we can use performance.now() to get a basic timestamp as the page loads:

let startTime = performance.now();

If we wrap up our logging into a function, we can call it when the page unloads.

let logVisit = function() 
  // Test that we have support
  if (!navigator.sendBeacon) return true;
      
  // URL to send the data to, e.g.
  let url = '/api/log-visit';
      
  // Data to send
  let data = new FormData();
  data.append('start', startTime);
  data.append('end', performance.now());
  data.append('url', document.URL);
      
  // Let's go!
  navigator.sendBeacon(url, data);
;

Finally, we need to call this function when the user leaves the page. My first instinct was to use the unload event, but Safari on a Mac seems to block the request with a security warning, so beforeunload works just fine for us here.

window.addEventListener('beforeunload', logVisit);

When the page unloads (or, just before it does) our logVisit() function will be called and provided the browser supports the Beacon API our beacon will be sent.

(Note that if there is no Beacon support, we return true and pretend it all worked great. Returning false would cancel the event and stop the page unloading. That would be unfortunate.)

Considerations When Tracking

As so many of the potential uses for Beacon revolve around tracking of activity, I think it would be remiss not to mention the social and legal responsibilities we have as developers when logging and tracking activity that could be tied back to users.

GDPR

We may think of the recent European GDPR laws as they related to email, but of course, the legislation relates to storing any type of personal data. If you know who your users are and can identify their sessions, then you should check what activity you are logging and how it relates to your stated policies.

Often we don’t need to track as much data as our instincts as developers tell us we should. It can be better to deliberately not store information that would identify a user, and then you reduce your likelihood of getting things wrong.

DNT: Do Not Track

In addition to legal requirements, most browsers have a setting to enable the user to express a desire not to be tracked. Do Not Track sends an HTTP header with the request that looks like this:

DNT: 1

If you’re logging data that can track a specific user and the user sends a positive DNT header, then it would be best to follow the user’s wishes and anonymize that data or not track it at all.

In PHP, for example, you can very easily test for this header like so:

if (!empty($_SERVER['HTTP_DNT']))  
  // User does not wish to be tracked ... 

In Conclusion

The Beacon API is a really useful way to send data from a page back to the server, particularly in a logging context. Browser support is very broad, and it enables you to seamlessly log data without negatively impacting the user’s browsing experience and the performance of your site. The non-blocking nature of the requests means that the performance is much faster than alternatives such as XHR and Fetch.

If you’d like to read more about the Beacon API, the following sites are worth a look.

Smashing Editorial
(ra, il)


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Logging Activity With The Web Beacon API

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How to Reduce Bounce Rate Today: 12 Advanced Techniques

how-reduce-bounce-rate

Have you ever walked into a store, turned around, and walked right back out? You bounced. Maybe you didn’t like the look of the store itself, or perhaps you realized the store didn’t sell the type of merchandise you needed. Whatever the case, you took one look and got out of dodge. The same thing happens on your website, and it’s not a good thing. Learning how to reduce bounce rate makes your site “stickier.” It’s more inviting. Visitors want to hang around for a while — and maybe even buy something or convert on one of your offers. A…

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How to Reduce Bounce Rate Today: 12 Advanced Techniques

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Linkbuilding: The Citizen’s Field Guide




Linkbuilding: The Citizen’s Field Guide

Myriam Jessier & Stéphanie Walter



Before buying followers on Instagram was a common practice, before Russian trolls made fake news an Olympic sport, we had linkbuilding. Today, we still have linkbuilding, its just that you haven’t noticed it — or have you?

Welcome, to the Twilight Zone, dear folks. You are about to go through a linkbuilding crash course. This will help you preserve your website, detect potential problems in content or consider why you keep receiving strange emails from strangers wanting to get their links all over your content.

Rod Sterling in the Twilight Zone TV series.
Rod Sterling in the Twilight Zone TV series.

Note: If you are a website owner, a marketer, a blogger, a social media specialist or a regular user of the internet (and everything else in between)…you should take the time to read this!

What Is Linkbuilding?

Links are basically a popularity contest. Linkbuilding is the process of gaining links to your online content in order to boost your visibility in search engines.

Through links, search engines can analyze popularity but also other vital metrics such as authority, spam, trust. Google uses links to establish which websites are popular with users, are trusted by users or are seen as spam by users.

Key Signals That Influence The Value Of a Link

You have the stock exchange, and then you have the link exchange. All links are not created equal. Some of you may get flooded with spammy requests while others are reading this article wondering why they’ve never heard of linkbuilding. Some websites are more valuable and thus more targeted than others by linkbuilding attempts. Here are some key metrics that help establish the value of a link:

Global Popularity

The more popular a website is, the more a link from that site will have value. Wikipedia or Huffington Post have a lot of websites pointing to them which is a signal for search engines that these websites are probably important or at least very popular. Here is an example of linkbuilders trying to sell links on well-known publications that may not be aware their platform is used to peddle paid links.


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Topical Or Local Popularity

Links that are topic-specific and highly related to your subject matter are worth more than links from general or off-topic sites. A link from a dog training business pointing to an SEO training website (like the one I run) will have less value than if Smashing Magazine (a website recognized for its topical authority on the web) will. Which means that placing a link on “SEO training website” would have been an amazing opportunity for me.

Placement In The Page

If a link is “editorially placed”, meaning that it looks like something the author placed in the content naturally, then Google will give it more credibility. If the link is something someone with a shady profile shared in the comments, the impact won’t be the same. The position of a link within a page is important. Most linkbuilders will always negotiate for a link at the beginning or in the middle of your main content. Links in footers and sidebars do not have the same value.1

1The Skinny On Black Hat Link Building,” Link Building For SEO: The Definitive Guide (2018 Update), Backlinko

Types Of Links Matter

A text link tends to have more weight than an image link. Furthermore, most people forget to provide an ALT attribute for their images, which means that Google will have a hard time getting context regarding the link placed on the image. Links can also be placed in iframes.

Anchor Text

You know what would be an even better anchor than “SEO training website” for me? I would love to also push a local signal on top of a topical one with “SEO training in Montreal” Why is that better than placing a link on a random word like “platypus”? Well, because one of the strongest signals used by search engines is anchor text. What is anchor text? Anchor Text is the visible, clickable text in a hyperlink. For most of us, it’s the blue text that’s underlined, like the ones you see below. As you can see, Smashing Magazine has made it a mission to explain why links should never say “Click Here”.


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Trust Score

The internet is made up of a lot of spam. In order to stay relevant to users, search engines use systems that analyze link profiles and provide a trust score. Earning links from websites with a high Trust metric can boost your own scoring metric and impact your organic visibility. That’s why most SEO experts will favor non-profit organizations, universities or government websites. Those websites benefit from great Trust Score normally. I call the trust factor a trust score because each SEO tool has its own nomenclature (TrustRank, TrustFlow, etc.). This is the Trust Score of Smashing Magazine:


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So of course, you can imagine that this makes Smashing Magazine a very desirable website to have a link on. This leads to hilarious situations like this comical email by a link builder trying to buy a link from me:


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Link Neighborhood

The notion of a “link neighborhood” means that if a website is spammy and links to another website, Google will be suspicious that the other website is spammy as well. This is important because sometimes, websites are targeted by negative SEO attacks. One of the quickest ways to sabotage a competitor’s organic visibility is to have a lot of spammy websites pointing to its website. This is where the notion of link neighborhood becomes incredibly important.

Freshness And Pertinence

Link signals tend to decay over time. That’s why it’s important to keep earning new links over time. This helps establish the pertinence of a website. But you have to be careful: If you keep earning links from hype websites that aren’t necessarily trustworthy, your website could be seen as pertinent but not trustworthy. It’s a fine balance between authority and pertinence.

Social Sharing

Search engines treat socially shared links differently than any other type of link. The SEO community is still debating how strong of a signal social links are.

The Importance Of A Link

Getting a link from a website that is considered a reputable and expert source of information is a highly valuable asset. Let’s use this article to do some good and give a link to someone in Web that deserves it. Meet Nicolas Steenhout, a great accessibility consultant in Montreal doing great work. Bonjour Monsieur! I hope this link helps give your work more visibility!

Common Linkbuilding Tactics

Here is a quick recap of what happens to some of us on a daily basis:

  • We receive some type of communication trying to get us to put things on our websites for strange reasons we don’t understand.
  • Someone requests or demands, depending on how combative their writing style is, that we guest blog for free on platforms that we do not know, trust or like.
  • We get folks peddling SEO services. They use scare tactics to push you to pay them for their services.
  • Websites get hacked for links…or worse.

Here are some of common linkbuilding tactics you should be aware of:

  • Broken linkbuilding
    If you notice a broken link in a quality website, you can email the owner and say what page the link is on and what could be a solid resource to replace the current webpage that’s no longer available. Of course, the replacement you offer just so happens to be from your own website that you want to rank in search engines.
  • Comment spam linkbuilding
    There is a reason why strange spammy comments keep trying to peddle certain products or websites – it’s called linkbuilding.
  • Negative SEO
    If you can’t be first because you are the best, then buy a bunch of links to make your competitors go down in Google. That’s basically what negative SEO is. Here is a real life case of negative SEO if you want to see how this can happen to any type of website owner, not just big startups or famous people.
  • Sponsored content linkbuilding
    I have had many bloggers complain to me because they had been duped by agencies “buying” a sponsored article for a year on their blog. They discovered later on that what the company actually bought was a link that they could control.
  • Hacking websites
    Oftentimes, websites will get hacked for SEO purposes. Because if you can’t rank honestly, then parasite good websites to rank no matter what! That’s the philosophy of some ruthless search engine optimization specialists. If you gain access to a website, you can place any link where you want, for as long as you want. As a website owner, it’s important that you secure your website and make sure nothing strange is going on in your content. Want to see what a hacked website can look like? I recently had a case where a very legitimate website in the IT sector was hacked to host and promote a discount NBA jersey store. This is the what the website looks like:


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    However, what they were not aware of was that the website had been hacked. Upon analyzing their incoming links, it was clear that this IT focused website was known for “cheap NBA jerseys” and “wholesale NBA jerseys” than anything else. I wondered why, and found a lot of pages were receiving links:


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    The wonderful developer team cleaned up the damage and made sure to patch any security breach they found. However, this specific hacker thrives in websites that have been hacked and are full of malware such as this one:


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  • Link outreach
    If you get bombarded with emails asking you to review a product or add a link in your blog article, chances are that you have been targeted during a link outreach campaign. You can always decline or simply not answer this unsolicited email. On the flipside of the coin, if you get offers to place your links in some highly regarded publications, know that this is an offer the person is making you to place your links on certain website.
  • Guest blogging
    If someone asks you to create an article on their platform, the often want free quality content with your notoriety to promote it in order to garner links. If on the other hand, someone offers you free content for your website, chances are that it is for linkbuilding purposes.
  • PBN
    A Private Blog Network is a network of websites with great SEO metrics used to build links to a main website in order to help it rank higher in search engines. It means that someone usually ranks multiple websites high in Google in order to use them to place links that will boost the visibility of a chosen site. Google does not appreciate PBN efforts or link exchange efforts and routinely penalizes networks of websites.
  • Creating awesome content
    There are many linkbuilding tactics that push for the creation of tools, content or other types of media that is so good, so useful and so relevant that they will naturally garner links from other website owners. We won’t detail them here but they usually work well because they provide something useful that deserves to be shared with others!

The Hidden Survival Guide To Linkbuilding

Read this part if you are a website owner, a UX, a customer, a visitor, a blogger, my friend Igor (hi Igor, please read this!) or anyone else using search engines regularly to find information. Let’s get started by giving you access to the official Google guidelines on the matter. Website guidelines vary from search engine to search engine. You can check each search engine’s guidelines but oftentimes, the broader concepts of what qualifies as a good website in terms of SEO are the same.

The Ugly Truth: Not All Linkbuilding Is Bad

Google clearly disagrees with paying for links or selling links. However, keep this in mind: not all linkbuilding efforts are bad. Earlier in this article, I gave a shout out to a friend of mine because I know that it will help give his website some visibility in search engines. Offering a link is a way to show your support for a product, an article, a tool, a website, a person. It is a vote of confidence in their favor. If you go out of your way to do it, technically, that counts as linkbuilding. Linkbuilding is also a way to make money. Some website owners may leverage linkbuilding to earn money despite legal regulations and Google’s guidelines.

If You See Something, Say Something!

You can signal bad links and anything strange going on that may be related to a hack, malware or even paid links to Google. You can report bad links very easily. If you want to review the entire list of what constitutes a bad practices in Google’s eyes, you can head on over to this official documentation.

Make It Clear If You Accept Or Refuse Linkbuilding Offers

If you are a blogger, make sure you are aware of your rights and responsibilities when it comes to linkbuilding efforts. Make sure to update your key pages to reflect your linkbuilding policy. This could be done in the about page, the services page if you offer services or the contact page.

Take the time to specify if you accept of refuse commercial or affiliate links in the content of a guest blog post for example. This will also help avoid nasty linkbuilding surprises in the future.

Nofollow: You Can Have Sponsored Content And Still Respect The Guidelines!

So what do you do if you realize that someone is using your website to place a link? Well, if this is something that was done legally, you can fix the situation by placing an attribute on your link that will signal to search engine bots not to follow the link. A nofollow link is a way to make sure that links from sponsored posts are not going against Google’s guidelines. This type of link cancels the linkbuilding benefits as Google gives them no love because the nofollow tag in the code signals “do not take this link into account.” Website owners and administrators should know how to make a link into a nofollow link as it can be done quickly and easily.

This is what a nofollow link looks like in the code:




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So, what do you do if you are asked for a link in exchange for a review?

This is the most common way most bloggers are approached in order to get links placed on their websites. Here are some guidelines for bloggers that receive free products in exchange for reviews.

If you think your website is hacked for links, you must first secure your website and do a security audit. The second step would entail cleaning up the links and the third step includes submitting a disavow file to Google that signals any shady domains that may be pointing to you because of hacker activity.

Red Flag #1 : You Start Seeing Your Organic Traffic Go Down

If you haven’t changed anything and you see your organic traffic go down, make sure it’s not a link issue. You could have suffered an attack. We recommend you use the Google Search Console tool available to all website owners and administrators. You must validate that you own the website and then, you will be able to receive an alert if Google detects something is very wrong with your website. Careful, if something is wrong with your website, it could mean a penalty and cause a substantial organic traffic drop. To know more about the types of penalties and alerts Google Search Console provides, you can read an article on this topic or check the official documentation.

Red Flag #2: Downloading A Premium Theme Or Plugin For Free

This is a very underhanded technique to obtain links. Some individuals will pay for a premium theme or plugin or software and offer it for free on torrent websites or forums where free or hacked versions of premium products are made available. When someone downloads the theme and uses it on a website, the doctored version of theme is used to place links in the website. Oftentimes, the owners never notice that their website is hosting parasite links.

Red Flag #3: You Start Getting Strange Feedback About Your Website Or See Strange Content Appear

If your readers, customers, visitors or even Google Search Console start telling you about strange content or links showing up on your website, this means that it’s time for an SEO audit and a security audit to assess the damage done to your website. Something tells me that Schneiters Gold did not plan on ever offering the BEST Online Viagra OFFERS…




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Red Flag #4: You Get A Google Search Console Warning

If you get an email from the Google Search Console team telling you about some spam issues or other problems that cause you to break their guidelines, you should investigate immediately the source of the problem and fix the issue fast or you could risk a penalty.

Red Flag #5: The Link Looks Like It Could Be A Hidden Affiliate Link Or A Redirect

Always check the links before placing them. Click the links and see where they lead. You could be provided a link that looks like a high-quality content but instead, it points to a spammy page.

Make sure to ask if a link is an affiliate link. Affiliate links are links that contain information that helps track a sale back to the person who promoted the product. These affiliate partners get a cut each sale that is attributed to them. Companies like Amazon and Forever21 among others have affiliate programs. You do not want someone promoting a product purely for money and you do not want to lose the trust of search engines and human visitors.

Advice For Linkbuilders, Growth Hackers And Anyone Looking to Gain More Visibility In Search Engines

Vet a website before getting in touch

Go ahead, click on the link and check out the website before you do anything else. Otherwise, you will end up contacting your competitors, unrelated blogs, spammy websites, etc.

Read the advertising page

Most websites have a page, it can be the contact, advertise or about page, that lists the specs and guidelines to collaborate with the websites. Respect what’s written on there! Do not bother folks that clearly said they do not want to be contacted for links. No, you are not the one that will make them change their minds. Yes, we’re sure.

Avoid metric blindness

My very good friend Igor, proud owner of Igor.io, gets contacted all the time by linkbuilding companies. Why? Because their website was once upon a time (before they removed their incredible archive of technical articles) had incredible metrics. For reference, Igor has a fully responsive, accessible website and it looks like this:


igor.io


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But Igor’s weblog’s metrics look like this (and they looked even more enticing to SEOs the last time I checked):




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This meant that a lot of companies wanted to contact the owner of a website that had more than 1000 high-quality websites referring to it. But if they had bothered to check out Igor’s website, they would have seen that nothing was on there. Back in the days, this website just read: igor’s weblog and the archive was hidden in the code. You had to know where to look for it… or you would find it very easily if you happened to be a bot. That’s why the metrics were the so high: only a bot and those in the know would discover and share Igor’s content.

Know who you are talking to

I get emails telling me to ask my boss if the company can place a link on my website. Now, quick reminder, if you go on myriamjessier.com and contact me, the person with an email that contains the words myriam + jessier, chances are that you are talking to the owner herself, right? Which leads me to another point: write my name correctly please and do not address me as sir, or dear, or dear sir. This is a common issue that Stéphanie Walter has as half of the Internet doesn’t seem to know how to spell her name.




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Not knowing or ignoring legal guidelines and Google’s guidelines

If you do not disclose why you are asking for a link and that there could be a risk to a website selling you a link, then you are not being transparent.

Bonus Tip

Don’t reach out to experts who do what you do for a living. I receive linkbuilding offers (buying and selling) from other search engine optimization “specialists” all the time. If you found me on the web and are offering to sell me links because my website isn’t visible enough, then maybe, just maybe, my SEO efforts are working no?

Conclusion

We hope that you learned a few things about linkbuilding. Here is a quick recap:

  • There’s money in the banana stand and in linkbuilding.
  • Not all links are equal, key metrics are : authority, freshness, placement, relevancy.
  • People will go to extremes to get links so if a “great deal” is offered to you, look for the hidden link in there!
  • Secure your website to avoid SEO problems. If you make it hard work for hackers, they will often give up and move on to an easier prey.
  • If you want to help someone out, make sure you give them a link with a good anchor! It really helps!
Smashing Editorial
(ra, yk, il)


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Linkbuilding: The Citizen’s Field Guide

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So You Want to Persuade Users? Make Things Simple!




So You Want to Persuade Users? Make Things Simple!

Lyndon Cerejo



(This article is kindly sponsored by Adobe.) The persuasive design toolbox is filled with powerful tools based on psychology. These tools range from Cialdini’s set of six principles of persuasion to ten times that number of Persuasive Patterns. Presented with all these methods, it can be tempting to use all of them to cover all possible bases, using a shotgun approach, hoping that one will resonate with your target users.

However, applying persuasion principles and patterns in a haphazard manner just ends up being persuasive design clutter. Like user experience design, designing for everyone is designing for no one. Randomly thrown together persuasive techniques will also make users feel manipulated, not in control, making them abandon the site or experience. The key to persuading your users is to keep it simple: using focused persuasive techniques and tactics that will work for your users.

Persuasion Funnel

AIDA is an acronym used in marketing and advertising to describe the stages that a customer goes through in the purchase process. The stages of Attention, Interest, Desire and Action, generically follow a series of cognitive (thinking) and affective (feeling) stages culminating in a behavioral (doing e.g. purchase or trial) stage. This should sound familiar since this is what we do through design, especially persuasive design.

When it comes to persuasive design, users go through a few stages between Awareness and Action, and the design should guide them from one stage to the next. I don’t have a clever acronym for it (yet), but the stages the design has to take the users through are:

  • Awareness
  • Relevant
  • Credible
  • Usable
  • Desirable
  • Persuasive
  • Action



(Large preview)

When users are contemplating an action (like booking a hotel room), they have to be aware of your site, app, or experience. Once they begin their journey on your site, they quickly evaluate the experience and either proceed to the next step or leave and go elsewhere. With fewer users continuing to subsequent stages, the number of users at each stage begins to resemble the shape of a funnel as shown above.

Let’s peek inside what could be going on in hypothetical users’ minds as they go through the experience of booking a hotel room for New Year’s Eve in Times Square, and some of the reasons they may drop off in each stage.

Awareness

“Hmmm… Where do I start? Hotel chains promise the lowest rate if we book directly with them, but I won’t be able to see other hotel options around Times Square. Hotel… Maybe I should try an online travel agency like Trivago (looks like the Trivago guy / Trivago girl advertising works!) to find a wider range of hotels. I’m going to also quickly Google it to see if there are other options.”

Users have to be aware of your site, app or experience to use it — Duh!

Relevant

“I found HotelTonight on Google. It looks like a great way to get rooms last minute, but not this far in advance — it’s not relevant to me.”

If your experience is not relevant to the task they are trying to accomplish, users will leave and try elsewhere. If your products or services are relevant, but not findable by the user, work on your navigation, search, and content layout to ensure your products and services are visible. Everything does not have to be one click away, but if the user gets the scent of information, or cues that make them think they are on the right path, they will follow the trail to that information.

Credible

“This design looks like it hasn’t been updated since the [GeoCities era](http://www.arngren.net/).

— Warning bells go off in head —

I’m out of here.”

Users are aware of many of the risks available online and look for trust indicators including a known brand and domain, secure site, professional design, real-world contact information and third-party certificates or badges. Incorporate these elements to create a comfort level for the user.

Usable

“I can’t figure out where things are in the navigation, and the search results had hundreds of unhelpful results. The homepage has nice big images, but that meant I had to scroll before I could see any real content.”

Usability is surprisingly still an issue with many sites. Follow User Experience best practices during design, and test with users to validate that the design is usable.

Desirable

“This reminds me of Craigslist — it is usable, but the design does not make me want to stay and use it. I’ll try that other hotel website that provides an immersive, interactive experience as I search for hotels.”

As much as we like to believe it, users’ decisions are not always rational, and very often driven by emotion, and we can address that through design. Usability is about making it work well; this is about making it beautiful as well.

In his book Emotional Design, Don Norman explains: “Attractive things do work better — their attractiveness produces positive emotions, causing mental processes to be more creative, more tolerant of minor difficulties.” Don talks about the three different aspects of design: visceral, behavioral, and reflective. Visceral design is about appearance, behavioral about the pleasure and effectiveness of use, and reflective design involves the rationalization and intellectualization of a product.

Persuasive

“Oh, Wow! That’s a long list of hotels, with plenty of availability for New Year’s Eve. There’s no real reason to book now. I’ll just come back to book after Thanksgiving…”

The user was interested, able, and willing, but the design did not motivate him to take intended action. Use relevant persuasion techniques that apply to your user to move them toward the desired action.


Examples of persuasive methods while shopping on Travelocity for a hotel room for New Year’s Eve.


Examples of persuasive methods while shopping on Travelocity for a hotel room for New Year’s Eve. (Large preview)

Action

“Oh, Wow! 65% of hotels are already booked in this area for New Year’s Eve. I better make a reservation now. . This looks like a nice hotel, and it also offers free cancellation – I’m reserving it now!”

The user who made it to this stage was interested, able, and willing, and the design nudged him to take intended action of making a reservation before leaving the site.

Persuasion is not about applying all available principles and patterns to your designs, but systematically identifying how you can address users’ barriers and motivators during each step of the journey, and guiding your users through the funnel to take the desired action.

The KISS Approach

Most of us are familiar with the acronym KISS: “Keep It Simple, Stupid,” a principle advocating simplicity as a key goal in design by avoiding unnecessary complexity. Let’s borrow that acronym for a 4-step approach to persuasive design.

Know The Right Behavior To Target

The first step is knowing the behavior you would like to target, and identifying the simplest action that can lead to that behavior change. Take the example of term life insurance companies who, to put it very bluntly, stand to benefit if their policyholders are healthy and don’t die while the policy is active. While those companies have a long-term ambitious goal of helping their policyholders lead healthy lives (mutually beneficial), that could be broken down into a simpler target behavior of walking 10,000 steps daily. This behavior is simple to understand, achieve, measure, and contributes to the long-term goal of healthier policyholders.

One such insurance company is offering new policyholders the latest Apple Watch for a low initial down payment ($25). The ongoing monthly payments can be waived each month that the policyholder leads an active lifestyle and exercises regularly (e.g. walks about 10,000 steps a day). About half the people who participated have achieved monthly goals, despite potential privacy implications.


John Hancock Term Life Insurance Apple Watch offer targets walking about 10,000 steps a day.


John Hancock Term Life Insurance Apple Watch offer targets walking about 10,000 steps a day. (Large preview)

Identify Barriers And Motivators

User research for persuasive design digs below the surface thinking level to the feeling level, and moves beyond the rational to the emotional level, as shown below. Getting to know your users at a deeper level will help you use psychology to focus your design to get users to engage in the target behavior identified above. User interviews that focus on users’ feelings and emotions are used to uncover barriers and motivators they consciously or subconsciously face while trying to achieve the target behavior. This helps us identify which blocks we need to weaken, and which motivators we should strengthen, through persuasive design techniques and tactics.


Tip of the iceberg user research diagram


(Large preview)

Simplify The Experience

Simplify the design experience of the first stages of the funnel, as users go through the mental verifications of relevancy, credibility, and usability of the experience. This includes making it easy for the user to find what they are looking for, credibility indicators like professional design, contact information, and third-party certificates or badges, as well as addressing usability issues. As Steve Krug put it very succinctly: “Don’t Make Me Think”.

Select Appropriate Triggers

Users who have made it this far in the process are interested in something you have to offer. As a designer, you have to nudge them to take the desired action. A good starting point is Robert Cialdini’s, six key principles of persuasion:

  1. Reciprocity
    People are obliged to give something back in exchange for receiving something.
  2. Scarcity
    People want more of those things they can have less of.
  3. Authority
    People follow the lead of credible, knowledgeable experts.
  4. Consistency
    People like to be consistent with the things they have previously said or done.
  5. Liking
    People prefer to say yes to those that they like.
  6. Consensus (Social Proof)
    Especially when they are uncertain, people will look to the actions and behaviors of others to determine their own.

These principles can be applied through dozens of different persuasive design patterns and methods, some of which have been previously published on Smashing Magazine (patterns, triggers), or in the books listed in the resources at the end. As you may notice, many persuasive patterns are related to UI patterns, because part of persuasion is reducing friction and simplifying what the user needs to do at any given point in time. For example, the persuasive pattern of Limited Choice can be realized through UI Pattern of Progressive Disclosure.

Given that there are dozens of patterns and methods (depending on where you look), it is important to selectively use methods that will resonate with your users. Applying all design patterns in the hope of some working will result in persuasion clutter and overwhelm the user, possibly driving them away from your site.

Examining Persuasion

Let’s take a closer look at the earlier example of the term life insurance through the eyes of someone who is motivated (shopping for life insurance) and has the ability (to pay monthly life insurance cost). Like me, let’s assume that this user was made aware of this through a sponsored post on Facebook. During the stages of awareness and relevance, there are a few persuasive triggers as shown below that make the user click “Learn More”.


facebook


(Large preview)

Clicking the “Learn More” button takes the user to a landing page that we will examine in sections for a persuasive flow:




(Large preview)

The user’s primary motivation in shopping for term life insurance is: “Protect Family,” and a big barrier is “High Cost.”

  1. Reputable Name (Credibility)
    Even if you’ve not heard of this company, John Hancock is a famous person and the term used as a synonym in the United States for one’s signature. The company reinforces it’s longevity later on the page.
  2. Toll-free Number (Credibility)
    Established and legitimate organization.
  3. Message Framing
    Live healthy, is also reinforced by the image of a family enjoying outdoors.
    “This life insurance product will help me live longer, lead a happy life like them, and protect my family in case something happens, and won’t cost much.”

  4. People Like Me & Association
    This family looks like mine (or the family next door) — I can see myself in this wide-open field (visceral and reflective triggers).
  5. Extrinsic Reward
    An Apple watch for $25 — that’s a bonus here!
  6. Visual Cueing
    The person in focus (stereotypical breadwinner) has his gaze directly focused at the form below, leading the user to the next step.
  7. Foot In The Door
    This quote won’t cost anything — zip, nada.
  8. Computer As A Social Actor
    The information takes a conversational tone and format, not the usual form in rows and columns. The information seems reasonable to generate a quote.
  9. Commitment & Consistency
    By filling this quick, easy, and free form, chances are that the user will act consistently and proceed when it comes to the next step (application), unless there’s another barrier (price, benefits, etc.)



    (Large preview)

  10. Control
    The user has a choice of devices.
  11. Extrinsic Rewards
    More rewards to be earned.
  12. Control
    The user controls how much they pay (the more active, the less you’ll pay). Also, in case the user does is not active, the cost is framed as just $13 (for a month).
  13. Credibility
    The company reinforces longevity and protector of America.
  14. Authority
    Licensed Coverage Coach (not just a sales agent).
  15. Flow
    One way to keep users in the flow and not get distracted is by disabling the social media links (which could raise the question: why display them?).

That took longer to dissect and read than it does in real life, where most of this is processed consciously and subconsciously in a few seconds, often with a glance or two.

Apart from the methods establishing credibility, the persuasive methods are used to strengthen the primary motivator of “Protect Family” (get insurance, extrinsic reward will help me live longer for my family), and weaken the barrier of “High Cost” (low monthly cost, additional savings, no ongoing watch payments). Note how they work together and don’t conflict or clutter the experience.

Conclusion

Persuasion is all around us, in our everyday lives. As designers, we can use ethical persuasive design methods to get users to take some action. With plenty of persuasive methods available, we have to be selective about what we use. We can use the KISS approach to keep it simple:

  • Know the right behavior to target
  • Identify barriers and motivators
  • Simplify the experience
  • Select appropriate triggers

KISS also reminds us to Keep It Simple & Straightforward, by selecting a simple target behavior, simplifying the experience for the user, and by applying persuasive techniques that will lead to the target behavior without overwhelming the user.

Further Reading

This article is part of the UX design series sponsored by Adobe. Adobe XD tool is made for a fast and fluid UX design process, as it lets you go from idea to prototype faster. Design, prototype, and share — all in one app. You can check out more inspiring projects created with Adobe XD on Behance, and also sign up for the Adobe experience design newsletter to stay updated and informed on the latest trends and insights for UX/UI design.

Smashing Editorial
(yk, il)


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So You Want to Persuade Users? Make Things Simple!

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Google Marketing Live: An Advertiser’s Take on the Highlights

Updates from the Google Marketing Live keynote

For advertisers, the Google Marketing keynote is a hotly anticipated annual event where we get to hear about all of the new features coming up in Google’s suite of marketing tools. It’s also a great indicator of what’s top of mind for Google, and what betas you can expect to roll out (or bug your Google rep to let you into early).

Yesterday’s presentation kicked off with consumer trends, then covered improvements and launches across a range of Google ad platforms. Throughout the event we heard data control and privacy come up often, reminding us that privacy is still a major theme of 2018. And while professional paid media managers may have found the keynote a bit of a bore, there were some decent things to get excited about too.

If you don’t have an hour to watch the full recording, read on for our key highlights (or skim ‘em, if that’s more your thing).

AdWords is no more

Whoah whoah, don’t panic. The ad platform that you know and love (and rely on for your business) is still intact. In fact, if you follow PPC news or read the Google Ads blog, you probably already heard about the shift from Google AdWords to Google Ads that’s coming at the end of this month. Like the old Google Ads interface, you’ve probably already forgotten about ‘AdWords’, right?

the new Google Ads rebrand takes effect July 24th

What’s actually changed?
Here’s a breakdown of what this rebrand means, and what terms to use so you sound smart in front of your boss and clients:

  • AdWords will become Google Ads.
  • DoubleClick and Google Analytics 360 will now be combined into Google Marketing Platform.
  • DoubleClick Search is now Search Ads 360.
  • The rebrand becomes official July 24th, 2018.

Page speed is critical (and more visibility means more control)

We recently shared that we’re close to launching a beta program for Accelerated Mobile Pages at Unbounce, and that page speed is a top priority for us as a leading landing page builder—so naturally we were nodding along yesterday morning as Anthony Chavez, Product Management Director at Google Ads, explained the impact that page speed can have on conversion rates.

Chavez opened his speed segment by reminding us that:

“even the best ads may not perform if your landing pages aren’t up to par, especially on mobile.”

Chavez admitted that landing page speed is often a lower priority for advertisers, who are focused on optimizing keywords, bids, and ad copy. When that’s not enough, “one of the best ways to get better performance on mobile is to improve the speed of your landing pages,” says Chavez. And we couldn’t agree more.

This is why we were giddy when he announced that Mobile Speed Score is now available in Google Ads. Mobile Speed Score is a new score telling you how fast your ad’s resulting landing pages are. This score is on a ten-point scale (ten being the fastest) and includes secret-sauce factors visible to Google—like the relationship between your mobile landing page speed and conversion rates. Plus, it’s updated daily, so you won’t have to wait weeks to figure out if your speed optimizations are working for you.

New from the Google Marketing Keynote: Landing page speed score

Since it’s a column built into your Google Ads account, you’ll be able to sort and filter the landing pages that could use some love. You can find this new column in the Landing Pages tab of your Google Ads account:

Access your landing page speed score in a new column

Chavez went on to suggest using AMP landing pages as a “powerful and easy way to supercharge your site speed,” something we can definitely agree with. By using AMP landing pages together with Mobile Speed Score, you’ll be leaps and bounds ahead of your competition.

Want to get even further ahead of your competition? Sign up for early access to Unbounce’s AMP beta program right here.

Search ads are going responsive

For a while now Google has been integrating machine learning and automation into its ad platform, and it looks like the future is no different. Much like last year’s launch of Smart Display campaigns, Google dedicated quite a bit of time to explaining Responsive Search Ads. However, this may not come as news to you as the Responsive Search Ads beta has been available to many advertisers for months already.

Similar to how Smart Display campaigns combine images with text on the fly, Responsive Search Ads combine headlines and descriptions from variations you’ve inputted to create an ad that’s deemed “most relevant to the searcher.” Ideally this means your ads will be more catered to each user and query, instead of serving up a rotation of generic ads.

This is a step forward in more personalized search results, but also means less control for advertisers, and makes it complicated to test ad copy. One big benefit, however, is that these ads can show up to 90% more copy than Expanded Text Ads, meaning you take over more real estate on the SERP. If this is the future of search ads, SEOs should be worried.

Your ad could show up to three 30-character headlines (vs. just one) and two 90-character description lines (compared to one 80-character description line). And PPC-er’s seem to be on board with this extra space, with the reaction mostly positive, if not a little hesitant:

Not seeing Responsive Search Ads as an option in your account? The beta is still rolling out to English-language advertisers and will be rolling out to more advertisers and languages throughout 2018.

Also, if you still prefer man over machine, you can continue to use Expanded Text Ads in your campaigns.

Even more assorted product updates & improvements

Better cross-device tracking

Tracking users across devices has always been a pain for paid advertisers, but this has been improving over the years. Google reaffirmed its commitment to solving this pain by announcing cross-device reporting and remarketing in Google Analytics (to what sounded like the largest applause of the keynote).

Google Shopping updates

If you’ve ever launched Product Listing Ads (PLAs) on Google Shopping, you know that it can be a whole other beast. Starting this year, Google will be rolling out Automated Feeds which create a feed by crawling your website (no more troubleshooting feeds). Keeping with the theme, Google also talked about the recently launched Smart Shopping campaigns that automatically optimize around a goal.

These changes will make PLAs a lot more accessible to advertisers, but oppositely could increase competition for those of us already advertising on Google Shopping. In fact, Smart Campaigns will soon be integrated with Shopify, meaning Shopify merchants will be able to manage their Smart Shopping campaigns without leaving the platform. This reduces barriers for the 600,000+ Shopify users that may have been previously intimidated by the Google Merchant Center.

Updates to YouTube

On the video side of things, Google announced that later this year they will be bringing a new option to TrueView for Reach ads. In addition to a call to action button, the new Form Ads will allow you to collect leads through a form directly on the ad. Because we didn’t see any examples of how these would look in the wild, I’ll say it sounds like this feature won’t be released very soon. For now though, I can guess it will be something similar to Facebook’s Lead Ads, maybe even more simple.

They also kept YouTube on the machine learning bandwagon, announcing Maximize Lift Bidding. They describe this as a bidding strategy to help you “reach people who are more likely to consider your brand after exposure to an ad.” Google added a bit more context to this feature—currently in beta—on its blog, saying, “it automatically adjusts bids at auction time to maximize the impact your video ads have on brand perception throughout the consumer journey.”

We’ll have to wait until it rolls out officially later this year to learn even more.

Machine learning for small business

If you run a small business, Google used a small slice of the keynote to remind you that you’re still an important customer. They announced the upcoming launch of something called Smart Campaigns, and—you guessed it—it involves machine learning. Google Ads is a sophisticated platform, but can still be intimidating for a small business, or a non-marketer.

Using information scanned from the company’s website and their Google My Business listing, the Smart Display campaign automatically generates ads on both search and display. The goal is to get small business owners up and running with ads as quickly as possible and to help them overcome the learning curve that can come with online advertising (or the cost of hiring an agency). After launch, the campaigns automatically optimize themselves.

Going further, the campaigns automatically generate quick and simple landing pages for small businesses, for when you’re running without a website. While these landing pages include super basic information like your location and phone number, you don’t get any control over brand messaging or even the images that get selected.

As a paid advertiser by trade myself, I’m wary of handing this much control over my ads to Google’s machine learning, but that doesn’t mean this can’t work for a small business customer. The audience for Smart Campaigns is an advertiser starting from scratch (as in, no website-from-scratch) so there would be no historical performance to compare to.

What all these updates mean

While not everything was technically fresh news at this year’s Google Marketing Live, we still had some interesting key takeaways.

What stood out the most to us at Unbounce was the critical need for fast landing pages, especially on mobile. Undeniably though, the strong thread throughout the keynote was the shift toward machine learning.

My prediction is that—over the coming months and years—Google will shift to more and more “Smart” features and campaigns until eventually machine learning becomes so intertwined that we drop the “Smart.” I’m not quite ready to give Google the wheel on all of my ad copy, bids, and optimization just yet, but I’m curious to see the data and hear the results as we move into this new era of online advertising.

Excerpt from:

Google Marketing Live: An Advertiser’s Take on the Highlights

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Better Collaboration By Bringing Designers Into The Code Review Process




Better Collaboration By Bringing Designers Into The Code Review Process

Ida Aalen



Smooth collaboration between developers and designers is something everyone aspires to, but it’s notoriously difficult. But with today’s advanced web, it’s difficult — if not impossible — to build a truly great product without collaborating across disciplines. Because of the range of technologies required to build a product, the product can only truly succeed when all disciplines — developers and designers, content creators, and user experience strategists — are deeply involved from the early stages of the project. When this happens, all ends of what it takes to build a product come naturally together into a unified whole, and a thus great product.

Because of this, no one is really promoting waterfall processes anymore. Nevertheless, involving other people early on, especially people from other disciplines, can feel scary. In the worst case scenario, it leads to “design by committee.”

Moreover, both designers and content strategists often have backgrounds in fields in which a sole creative genius is still the ideal. Having someone else proof your work can feel like a threat to your creativity.

So how can you involve people early on so that you’re avoiding the waterfall, but also making sure that you’re not setting yourself up for design by committee? I found my answer when learning about code reviews.

The Aha! Moment

In July 2017, I founded Confrere together with two developers, and we quickly hired our first engineer (I’m not a developer myself, I’m more of a UX or content designer). Our collaboration was running surprisingly smoothly, so much so that at our retrospectives, the recurring theme was that we all felt that we were “doing it right.”


Three people are smiling and sitting next to each other around a computer. From left to right, they are Dag-Inge (CTO), Ida (CPO) and Ingvild (Sr. Engineer).


Dag-Inge (CTO), myself (CPO) and Ingvild (Sr. Engineer). (Large preview)

I sat down with my colleagues to try to pinpoint what exactly it was that we were “doing right” so that we could try to preserve that feeling even as our company grew and our team expanded. We came to the realization that we all appreciated that the whole team was involved early on and that we were being honest and clear in our feedback to each other. Our CTO Dag-Inge added: “It works because we’re doing it as peers. You’re not being berated and just getting a list of faults”.

The word “peer” is what gave me the aha moment. I realized that those of us working within UX, design, and content have a lot to learn from developers when it comes to collaboration.

Peer reviewing in the form of code reviews is essential to how software gets built. To me, code reviews offer inspiration for improving collaboration within our own fields, but also a model for collaborating across fields and disciplines.

If you’re already familiar with code reviews, feel free to skip the next section.

What Is A Code Review?

A code review can be done in various ways. Today, the most typical form of code review happens in the way of so-called pull requests (using a technology called git). As illustrated below, the pull requests let other people on the team know that a developer has completed code that they wish to merge with the main code base. It also allows the team to review the code: they give feedback on the code before it gets merged, in case it needs improvement.

Pull requests have clearly defined roles: there is an author and a reviewer(s).


Ingvild and Dag-Inge is setting next to each other and smiling. An arrow indicated that Ingvild has sent code to Dag-Inge.


Ingvild (the author) requests a review from Dag-Inge (the reviewer). (Large preview)

As an example, let’s say our senior engineer Ingvild has made a change to Confrere’s sign-up flow. Before it is merged into the main code base and gets shipped, she (the author) creates a pull request to request a review from our CTO Dag-Inge (the reviewer). He won’t make any changes to her code, only add his comments.


Ingvild and Dag-Inge is setting next to each other. An arrow indicates that Dag-Inge has sent comments on code back to Ingvild.


Dag-Inge comments on Ingvild’s code. (Large preview)

It’s up to Ingvild how she wants to act on the feedback she received in the review. She’ll update her pull request with the changes she sees fit.


Ingvild and Dag-Inge are sitting next to each other. An arrow indicates that Ingvild is sending back her code to Dag-Inge, having looked through the code he commented on.


Ingvild updates her code with the changes she sees fit in light of Dag-Inge’s comments. (Large preview)

When the reviewer(s) approve the pull request, Ingvild can then merge her changes with the main code base.


Ingvild and Dag-Inge are sitting next to each other. A thumbs-up is displayed on the code review Dag-Inge has sent to Ingvild. And arrow indicates she pushes this code to the main repository.


After Dag-Inge gives the thumbs up, Ingvild can push the fix to production. (Large preview)

Why Bother Doing Code Review?

If you’ve never done code review, the process above might sound bureaucratic. If you have doubts, here’s a ton of blog posts and academic research about the advantages of code review.

Code reviews set the tone for the entire company that everything we do should be open to scrutiny from others, and that such scrutiny should be a welcome part of your workflow rather than viewed as threatening.

Bruce Johnson, co-founder of Full Story

Code review reduces risk. Having someone proof your work, and also knowing someone will proof your work, helps weed out
 errors and
 heightens quality. In addition, it ensures consistency and helps every team member familiarize with more of the code base.

When done right, code review also builds a culture for collaboration and openness. Trying to understand and critique other people’s work is an excellent way to learn, and so is getting honest feedback on your work.

Always having at least two people look over the code also curtails ideas of “my” code 
and “your” code.
 It’s our code.

Considering these advantages, a review shouldn’t just be for code.

Review Principles For All Disciplines, Not Just Code

With reviews, there is always one author and one or more reviewers. That means you can involve people early on without falling into design by committee.

First, I have to mention two important factors which will affect your team’s ability to do beneficial reviews. You don’t necessarily have to have mastered them, but as a minimum, you should aspire to the following:

  • You and your colleagues respect each other and each other’s disciplines.
  • You’re sufficiently self-assured in your own role so that you feel like you can both give and receive criticism (this is also connected to the team’s psychological safety).

Even if we’re not reviewing code, there’s a lot to learn from existing best practices for code reviews.

Within our team, we try to adhere to the following principles when doing reviews:

  1. Critique the work, 
not the author.
  2. Be critical, but remain 
affable and curious.
  3. Differentiate between a) Suggestions b) Requirements, c) Points that need discussion or clarification.
  4. Move discussions from
 text to face-to-face. (Video counts)
  5. Don’t forget to 
praise the good parts! What’s clever, creative, solid, original, funny, nice, and so on?

These principles weren’t actually written down until after we discussed why our collaboration was working so well. We all felt we were allowed to and expected to ask questions and suggest improvements already, and that our motivations were always about building something great together, and not about criticising another person.

Because we were being clear about what kind of feedback we were giving, and also remembered to praise each other’s good work, doing reviews was a positive force rather than a demotivating one.

An Example

To give you an idea of how our team uses review across disciplines and throughout a process, let’s look at how the different members of our team switched between the roles of author and reviewer when we created our sign-up flow.

Step 1: Requirements gathering

Author: Ida (UX)

Reviewers: Svein (strategy), Dag-Inge (engineering), Ingvild (engineering).


A whiteboard is showing rough sketches of a sign-up form. A man (Svein) and a woman (Ingvild) are smiling and discussing.


The team gathered around the whiteboard. Svein (CEO) to the left, Ingvild (Sr. Eng), to the right. (Large preview)

Whiteboard sessions can be exhausting if there’s no structure to them. To maintain productivity and creativity, we use the author/reviewer structure, even for something as seemingly basic as brainstorming on a whiteboard. In this case, in which we were coming up with the requirements for our sign-up flow, I got to be the author, and the rest of the team gave their feedback and acted as reviewers. Because they also knew they’d be able to review what I came up with in step 2 (plenty more opportunity for adjustments, suggestions, and improvements), we worked swiftly and were able to agree upon the requirements in under 2 hours.

Step 2: Mockup with microcopy

Author: Ida (UX)

Reviewers: Ingvild (engineering), Eivind (design), Svein (strategy).


A screenshot of a Google Doc mocking up a sign-up form with comments from team members Ingvild and Ida.


By mocking up in Google docs, it’s easy for people from all disciplines to provide feedback early on. (Large preview)

As an author, I created a mockup of the sign-up flow with microcopy. Did the sign-up flow make sense, from both the user and engineering perspective? And how could we improve the flow from a design and frontend perspective? At this stage, it was essential to work in a format in which it would be easy for all disciplines to give feedback (we opted for Google Docs, but it could also have been done with a tool like InvisionApp).

Step 3: Implementing the sign-up flow

Author: Ingvild (engineering)

Reviewer: Ida (UX) and Dag-Inge (engineering).

We had agreed upon the flow, the input fields, and the microcopy, and so it was up to Ingvild to implement it. Thanks to Surge, we can automatically create preview URLs of the changes so that people who can’t read code are able to give feedback at this stage as well.

Step 4: User testing

Author: Ida (UX)

Reviewer: The users.


Two women (Ida and a user) sitting next to eachother in front of a laptop.


Ida doing user testing on a small budget. (Large preview)

Yes, we consider user testing a form of review. We brought our newly built sign-up flow face-to-face with actual users. This step gave us a ton of insight, and the most significant changes in our sign-up flow came as a result.

Step 5: Design

Author: Eivind (design)

Reviewers: Ingvild (engineering) and Ida (UX).


A screenshot from Slack. Eivind, the designer, has posted a screenshot, and Ida replies with enthusiasm.


The first version of the sign-up flow was based on existing design components. In this stage, Eivind developed some new components to help improve the design. (Large preview)

When design suddenly shows up here in step 5, it might look a lot like a waterfall process. However, our designer Eivind had already been involved as a reviewer since step 2. He gave a bunch of useful feedback at that stage and was also able to start thinking about how we could improve the design of the sign-up flow beyond the existing modules in our design system. At this step, Eivind could also help solve some of the issues that we identified in the user testing.

Step 6: Implementation

Author: Ingvild (engineering)

Reviewer: Eivind (design), Ida (UX) and Dag-Inge (engineering).

And then we’re back to implementing.

Why review works

In summary, there’s always just one author, thus avoiding design by committee. By involving a range of disciplines as reviewers early on, we avoid having a waterfall process.

People can flag their concerns early and also start thinking about how they can contribute later on. The clearly defined roles keep the process on track.

Regular Review Walkthroughs

Taking inspiration from code walkthroughs, we also do regular review walkthroughs with different foci, guided by the following principles:

  • The walkthrough is done together.
  • One person is in charge of reviewing and documenting.
  • The idea is to identify issues, not necessarily to solve them.
  • Choose a format that gives as much context as possible, so that it’s easy to act upon the findings later (e.g. InvisionApp for visual reviews, Google Docs for text, and so on).

We’ve done review walkthroughs for things such as accessibility audits, reviewing feature requests, auditing the implementation of the design, and doing heuristic usability evaluations.

When we do our quarterly accessibility reviews, our accessibility consultant Joakim first goes through the interface and documents and prioritizes the issues he’s found in a shared Google Sheet. Joakim then walks us through the most important issues he’s identified.

Meeting face-to-face (or at least on video) to go through the issues helps create an environment for learning rather than a feeling of being supervised or micromanaged.


Three people in a sofa gathered around a laptop. They’re discussing and smiling.


Accessibility review: Joakim (right) walks Ingvild and Dag-Inge through the accessibility issues he found in his audit. (Large preview)

If you find yourself always being tied up with something that’s due for release, or fixing whatever is at the top of your inbox, reviews can help remedy that. If you set aside regular half days for reviewing work you’ve already done, you can identify issues before they become urgent. It can also help you refocus and make sure you’re priorities are keeping along the right lines. Your team should maybe not begin building that new feature before you’re confident that the existing features are living up to your standards.

User Testing Is A Form Of Review

An important motivation for code reviews is to reduce risk. By doing it every single time you introduce a change or add something new to your product, and not just when you suspect something is maybe not up to par, you diminish the chance of shipping bugs or subpar features. I believe we should look at user testing from the same perspective.

You see, if you want to reduce the risk of shipping with major usability issues, user testing has to be part of your process. Just having your UX designers review the interface isn’t enough. Several studies have found that even usability experts fail in identifying every actual usability problems. On average, 1 in 3 issues identified by experts were false alarms — they weren’t issues for users in practice. But worse, 1 in 2 issues that users did in fact have, were overlooked by the experts.

Skipping user testing is just as big a risk as skipping code review.

Does Review Mean Death To Creativity?

People working within design, user experience, and content often have educational backgrounds from art schools or maybe literature, in which the sole creator or creative artistic genius is hailed as the ideal. If you go back in history, this used to be the case for developers as well. Over time, this has changed by necessity as web development has grown more complex.

If you cling to the idea of creativity coming from somewhere deep within yourself, the idea of review might feel threatening or scary. Someone meddling in your half-finished work? Ouch. But if you think about creativity as something that can spring from many sources, including dialogue, collaboration, or any form of inspiration (whether from the outside or from someplace within you), then a review is only an asset and an opportunity.

As long as we’re building something for the web, there’s no way around collaborating with other people, be it within our own field or others. And a good idea will survive review.

Let’s create something great together.

Smashing Editorial
(rb, ra, yk, il)


Original article: 

Better Collaboration By Bringing Designers Into The Code Review Process

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