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SEO Tools and Tips To Boost Your Rankings

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…

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SEO Tools and Tips To Boost Your Rankings

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Things Designers Should Know About SEO In 2018




Things Designers Should Know About SEO In 2018

Myriam Jessier



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:


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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.


In the left-hand navigation click on “crawl” and then “fetch as Google”. You can compare the rendered images to detect issues between user and bot displays. (Large preview)

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Google Crawling Scheme: Making The Bot Smarters

Search engines go about crawling a website in a certain way. We call that a ‘crawling scheme.’ Google has announced that it is retiring its old AJAX crawling scheme in Q2 of 2018. The new crawling scheme has evolved quite a lot: It can handle AJAX and JavaScript natively. This means that the bot can “see” more of your content that may have been hidden behind some code prior to the new crawling scheme.

For example, Google’s new mobile indexing will adjust the impact of content hidden in tabs (with JavaScript). Before this change, the best practice was to avoid hidden content at all costs as it wasn’t as effective for SEO (it was either too hard to crawl for the bot in some cases or given less important by Google in others).

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.


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So, if you head on over to The Design School Guide To Visual Hierarchy, you will see a page, and if you open the document hierarchy tab, you will see something quite different.


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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:


Position zero example courtesy of Google.com. (Large preview)

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.


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If you wish to know more, you can consult a data-driven article by Neil Patel on the subject “Why 3000+ Word Blog Posts Get More Traffic (A Data-Driven Answer).”

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Tips To Design For Long Form Content

Here are a few tips to help you design for long-form content:

  • Spacing is crucial.
    White space helps make content be more scannable by the human eye.
  • Visual clues to help navigation.
    Encourage user action without taking away from the story being told.
  • Enhance content with illustrations or video animation to maintain user engagement.
  • Typography is a great way to break up text monotony and maintain the visual flow of a page.
  • Intuitive Scrolling helps make the scrolling process feel seamless. Always provide a clear navigation path through the information.
  • Provide milestones.
    Time indicators are great to give readers a sense accomplishment as they read the content.

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User Intent Is Crucial

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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

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).


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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!


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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.


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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.

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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.).


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Image SEO

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.


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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!


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Google Lens

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?


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Penalties For Visual Interferences On Mobile

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.


Types of intrusive interstitials, as illustrated by Google. (Large preview)

As a gentle reminder, this is what would be considered an intrusive interstitial by Google if it were to appear on mobile:


Source. (Large preview)

Tips How To Avoid A Penalty

  • No pop-ups;
  • 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:


Source: primovelo.com. Because the world needs more snow bikes and Canada! (Large preview)

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:


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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Keyword strategy takes a UX approach to get to the core of users’ search intents to craft optimized content that ranks well.
  4. 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.
  5. Give images more visibility: optimize file names, ALT attributes and think about how the bot “reads” your images.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
Smashing Editorial
(da, lf, ra, yk, il)


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Things Designers Should Know About SEO In 2018

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What You Need To Know To Increase Mobile Checkout Conversions




What You Need To Know To Increase Mobile Checkout Conversions

Suzanna Scacca



Google’s mobile-first indexing is here. Well, for some websites anyway. For the rest of us, it will be here soon enough, and our websites need to be in tip-top shape if we don’t want search rankings to be adversely affected by the change.

That said, responsive web design is nothing new. We’ve been creating custom mobile user experiences for years now, so most of our websites should be well poised to take this on… right?

Here’s the problem: Research shows that the dominant device through which users access the web, on average, is the smartphone. Granted, this might not be the case for every website, but the data indicates that this is the direction we’re headed in, and so every web designer should be prepared for it.

However, mobile checkout conversions are, to put it bluntly, not good. There are a number of reasons for this, but that doesn’t mean that m-commerce designers should take this lying down.

As more mobile users rely on their smart devices to access the web, websites need to be more adeptly designed to give them the simplified, convenient and secure checkout experience they want. In the following roundup, I’m going to explore some of the impediments to conversion in the mobile checkout and focus on what web designers can do to improve the experience.

Why Are Mobile Checkout Conversions Lagging?

According to the data, prioritizing the mobile experience in our web design strategies is a smart move for everyone involved. With people spending roughly 51% of their time with digital media through mobile devices (as opposed to only 42% on desktop), search engines and websites really do need to align with user trends.

Now, while that statistic paints a positive picture in support of designing websites with a mobile-first approach, other statistics are floating around that might make you wary of it. Here’s why I say that: Monetate’s e-commerce quarterly report issued for Q1 2017 had some really interesting data to show.

In this first table, they break down the percentage of visitors to e-commerce websites using different devices between Q1 2016 and Q1 2017. As you can see, smartphone Internet access has indeed surpassed desktop:

Website Visits by Device Q1 2016 Q2 2016 Q3 2016 Q4 2016 Q1 2017
Traditional 49.30% 47.50% 44.28% 42.83% 42.83%
Smartphone 36.46% 39.00% 43.07% 44.89% 44.89%
Other 0.62% 0.39% 0.46% 0.36% 0.36%
Tablet 13.62% 13.11% 12.19% 11.91% 11.91%

Monetate’s findings on which devices are used to access in the Internet. (Source)

In this next data set, we can see that the average conversion rate for e-commerce websites isn’t great. In fact, the number has gone down significantly since the first quarter of 2016.

Conversion Rates Q1 2016 Q2 2016 Q3 2016 Q4 2016 Q1 2017
Global 3.10% 2.81% 2.52% 2.94% 2.48%

Monetate’s findings on overall e-commerce global conversion rates (for all devices). (Source)

Even more shocking is the split between device conversion rates:

Conversion Rates by Device Q1 2016 Q2 2016 Q3 2016 Q4 2016 Q1 2017
Traditional 4.23% 3.88% 3.66% 4.25% 3.63%
Tablet 1.42% 1.31% 1.17% 1.49% 1.25%
Other 0.69% 0.35% 0.50% 0.35% 0.27%
Smartphone 3.59% 3.44% 3.21% 3.79% 3.14%

Monetate’s findings on the average conversion rates, broken down by device. (Source)

Smartphones consistently receive fewer conversions than desktop, despite being the predominant device through which users access the web.

What’s the problem here? Why are we able to get people to mobile websites, but we lose them at checkout?

In its report from 2017 named “Mobile’s Hierarchy of Needs,” comScore breaks down the top five reasons why mobile checkout conversion rates are so low:

Reasons why m-commerce doesn’t convert


The most common reasons why m-commerce shoppers don’t convert. (Image: comScore) (View large version)

Here is the breakdown for why mobile users don’t convert:

  • 20.2% — security concerns
  • 19.6% — unclear product details
  • 19.6% — inability to open multiple browser tabs to compare
  • 19.3% — difficulty navigating
  • 18.6% — difficulty inputting information.

Those are plausible reasons to move from the smartphone to the desktop to complete a purchase (if they haven’t been completely turned off by the experience by that point, that is).

In sum, we know that consumers want to access the web through their mobile devices. We also know that barriers to conversion are keeping them from staying put. So, how do we deal with this?

10 Ways to Increase Mobile Checkout Conversions In 2018

For most of the websites you’ve designed, you’re not likely to see much of a change in search ranking when Google’s mobile-first indexing becomes official.

Your mobile-friendly designs might be “good enough” to keep your websites at the top of search (to start, anyway), but what happens if visitors don’t stick around to convert? Will Google start penalizing you because your website can’t seal the deal with the majority of visitors? In all honesty, that scenario will only occur in extreme cases, where the mobile checkout is so poorly constructed that bounce rates skyrocket and people stop wanting to visit the website at all.

Let’s say that the drop-off in traffic at checkout doesn’t incur penalties from Google. That’s great… for SEO purposes. But what about for business? Your goal is to get visitors to convert without distraction and without friction. Yet, that seems to be what mobile visitors get.

Going forward, your goal needs to be two-fold:

  • to design websites with Google’s mobile-first mission and guidelines in mind,
  • to keep mobile users on the website until they complete a purchase.

Essentially, this means decreasing the amount of work users have to do and improving the visibility of your security measures. Here is what you can do to more effectively design mobile checkouts for conversions.

1. Keep the Essentials in the Thumb Zone

Research on how users hold their mobile phones is old hat by now. We know that, whether they use the single- or double-handed approach, certain parts of the mobile screen are just inconvenient for mobile users to reach. And when expediency is expected during checkout, this is something you don’t want to mess around with.

For single-handed users, the middle of the screen is the prime playing field:

The thumb zone for single-handed mobile


The good, OK and bad areas for single-handed mobile users. (Image: UX Matters) (View large version)

Although users who cradle their phones for greater stability have a couple options for which fingers to use to interact with the screen, only 28% use their index finger. So, let’s focus on the capabilities of thumb users, which, again, means giving the central part of the screen the most prominence:

The thumb and index finger zone for mobile cradling


The good, OK and bad areas for mobile users that cradle their phones. (Image: UX Matters) (View large version)

Some users hold their phones with two hands. Because the horizontal orientation is more likely to be used for video, this won’t be relevant for mobile checkout. So, pay attention to how much space of that screen is feasibly within reach of the user’s thumb:

The thumb zone for vertical and horizontal


The good, OK and bad areas for two-handed mobile users. (Image: UX Matters) (View large version)

In sum, we can use Smashing Magazine’s breakdown of where to focus content, regardless of left-hand, right-hand or two-handed holding of a smartphone:

Where the ideal thumb zone is on mobile


A summary of where the good, OK and bad zones are on mobile devices. (Image: Smashing Magazine) (View large version)

JCPenney’s website is a good example of how to do this:

JCPenney’s form is in the thumb zone


JCPenney’s contact form starts midway down the page. (Image: JCPenney) (View large version)

While information is included at the top of the checkout page, the input fields don’t start until just below the middle of it — directly in the ideal thumb zone for users of any type. This ensures that visitors holding their phones in any manner and using different fingers to engage with it will have no issue reaching the form fields.

2. Minimize Content to Maximize Speed

We’ve been taught over and over again that minimal design is best for websites. This is especially true in mobile checkout, where an already slow or frustrating experience could easily push a customer over the edge, when all they want to do is be done with the purchase.

To maximize speed during the mobile checkout process, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Only add the essentials to checkout. This is not the time to try to upsell or cross-sell, promote social media or otherwise distract from the action at hand.
  • Keep the checkout free of all images. The only eye-catching visuals that are really acceptable are trustmarks and calls to action (more on these below).
  • Any text included on the page should be instructional or descriptive in nature.
  • Avoid any special stylization of fonts. The less “wow” your checkout page has, the easier it will be for users to get through the process.

Look to Staples’ website as an example of what a highly simple single-page checkout should look like:

The single-page checkout for Staples


Staples has a single-page checkout with a minimal number of fields to fill out. (Image: Staples) (View large version)

As you can see, Staples doesn’t bog down the checkout process with product images, branding, navigation, internal links or anything else that might (1) distract from the task at hand, or (2) suck resources from the server while it attempts to process your customers’ requests.

Not only will this checkout page be easy to get through, but it will load quickly and without issue every time — something customers will remember the next time they need to make a purchase. By keeping your checkout pages light in design, you ensure a speedy experience in all aspects.

3. Put Them at Ease With Trustmarks

A trustmark is any indicator on a website that lets customers know, “Hey, there’s absolutely nothing to worry about here. We’re keeping your information safe!”

The one trustmark that every m-commerce website should have? An SSL certificate. Without one, the address bar will not display the lock sign or the green https domain name — both of which let customers know that the website has extra encryption.

You can use other trustmarks at checkout as well.

Big Chill uses a RapidSSL trust seal


Big Chill includes a RapidSSL trust seal to let customers know its data is encrypted. (Image: Big Chill) (View large version)

While you can use logos from Norton Security, PCI compliance and other security software to let customers know your website is protected, users might also be swayed by recognizable and well-trusted names. When you think about it, this isn’t much different than displaying corporate logos beside customer testimonials or in callouts that boast of your big-name connections. If you can leverage a partnership like the ones mentioned below, you can use the inherent trust there to your benefit.

Take 6pm, which uses a “Login with Amazon” option at checkout:

6pm uses an Amazon trustmark


6pm leverages the Amazon name as a trustmark. (Image: 6pm) (View large version)

This is a smart move for a brand that most definitely does not have the brand-name recognition that a company like Amazon has. By giving customers a convenient option to log in with a brand that’s synonymous with speed, reliability and trust, the company might now become known for those same checkout qualities that Amazon is celebrated for.

Then, there are mobile checkout pages like the one on Sephora:

Sephora’s PayPal trustmark


Sephora uses a trusted payment gateway provider as a trustmark. (Image: Sephora) (View large version)

Sephora also uses this technique of leveraging another brand’s good name in order to build trust at checkout time. In this case, however, it presents customers with two clear options: Check out with us right now, or hop over to PayPal, which will take care of you securely. With security being a major concern that keeps mobile customers from converting, this kind of trustmark and payment method is a good move on Sephora’s part.

4. Provide Easier Editing

In general, never take a visitor (on any device) away from whatever they’re doing on your website. There are already enough distractions online; the last thing they need is for you to point them in a direction that keeps them from converting.

At checkout, however, your customers might feel compelled to do this very thing if they decide they want a different color, size or quantity of an item in their shopping cart. Rather than let them backtrack through the website, give them an in-checkout editing option to keep them in place.

Victoria’s Secret does this well:

Victoria’s Secret edit lightbox in checkout


Victoria’s Secret doesn’t force users away from checkout to edit items. (Image: Victoria’s Secret) (View large version)

When they first get to the checkout screen, customers will see a list of items they’re about to purchase. When the large “Edit” button beside each item is clicked, a lightbox (shown above) opens with the product’s variations. It’s basically the original product page, just superimposed on top of the checkout. Users can adjust their options and save their changes without ever having to leave the checkout page.

If you find, in reviewing your website’s analytics, that users occasionally backtrack after hitting the checkout (you can see this in the sales funnel), add this built-in editing feature. By preventing this unnecessary movement backwards, you could save yourself lost conversions from confused or distracted customers.

5. Enable Express Checkout Options

When consumers check out on an e-commerce website through a desktop device, it probably isn’t a big deal if they have to input their user name, email address or payment information each time. Sure, if it can be avoided, they’ll find ways around it (like allowing the website to save their information or using a password manager such as LastPass).

But on mobile, re-entering that information is a pain, especially if contact forms aren’t optimized well (more on that below). So, to ease the log-in and checkout process for mobile users, consider ways in which you can simplify the process:

  • Allow for guest checkout.
  • Allow for one-click expedited checkout.
  • Enable one-click sign-in from a trusted source, like Facebook.
  • Enable payment on a trusted payment provider’s website, like PayPal, Google Wallet or Stripe.

One of the nice things about Sephora‘s already convenient checkout process is that customers can automate the sign-in process going forward with a simple toggle:

Sephora lets customers save sign-in information


Sephora enables return customers to stay signed in, to avoid this during checkout again. (Image: Sephora) (View large version)

When mobile customers are feeling the rush and want to get to the next stage of checkout, Sephora’s auto-sign-in feature would definitely come in handy and encourage customers to buy more frequently from the mobile website.

Many mobile websites wait until the bottom of the login page to tell customers what kinds of options they have for checking out. But rather than surprise them late, Victoria’s Secret displays this information in big bold buttons right at the very top:

Victoria’s Secret express checkout options


Victoria’s Secret simplifies and speeds up checkout by giving three attractive options. (Image: Victoria’s Secret) (View large version)

Customers have a choice of signing in with their account, checking out as a guest or going directly to PayPal. They are not surprised to discover later on that their preferred checkout or payment method isn’t offered.

I also really love how Victoria’s Secret has chosen to do this. There’s something nice about the brightly colored “Sign In” button sitting beside the more muted “Check Out as a Guest” button. For one, it adds a hint of Victoria’s Secret brand colors to the checkout, which is always a nice touch. But the way it’s colored the buttons also makes clear what it wants the primary action to be (i.e. to create an account and sign in).

6. Add Breadcrumbs

When you send mobile customers to checkout, the last thing you want is to give them unnecessary distractions. That’s why the website’s standard navigation bar (or hamburger menu) is typically removed from this page.

Nonetheless, the checkout process can be intimidating if customers don’t know what’s ahead. How many forms will they need to fill out? What sort of information is needed? Will they have a chance to review their order before submitting payment details?

If you’ve designed a multi-page checkout, allay your customers’ fears by defining each step with clearly labeled breadcrumb navigation at the top of the page. In addition, this will give your checkout a cleaner design, reducing the number of clicks and scrolling per page.

Hayneedle has a beautiful example of breadcrumb navigation in action:

Hayneedle checkout breadcrumb navigation


Hayneedle’s breadcrumbs are cleanly designed and easy to find. (Image: Hayneedle) (View large version)

You can see that three steps are broken out and clearly labeled. There’s absolutely no question here about what users will encounter in those steps either, which will help put their minds at ease. Three steps seems reasonable enough, and users will have a chance to review the order once more before completing the purchase.

Sephora has an alternative style of “breadcrumbs” in its checkout:

Sephora’s numbered breadcrumbs navigation


Sephora’s numbered breadcrumbs appear as you complete each section. (Image: Sephora) (View large version)

Instead of placing each “breadcrumb” at the top of the checkout page, Sephora’s customers can see what the next step is, as well as how many more are to come as they work their way through the form.

This is a good option to take if you’d rather not make the top navigation or the breadcrumbs sticky. Instead, you can prioritize the call to action (CTA), which you might find better motivates the customer to move down the page and complete their purchase.

I think both of these breadcrumbs designs are valid, though. So, it might be worth A/B testing them if you’re unsure of which would lead to more conversions for your visitors.

7. Format the Checkout Form Wisely

Good mobile checkout form design follows a pretty strict formula, which isn’t surprising. While there are ways to bend the rules on desktop in terms of structuring the form, the number of steps per page, the inclusion of images and so on, you really don’t have that kind of flexibility on mobile.

Instead, you will need to be meticulous when building the form:

  • Design each field of the checkout form so that it stretches the full width of the website.
  • Limit the fields to only what’s essential.
  • Clearly label each field outside of and above it.
  • Use at least a 16-point-pixel font.
  • Format each field so that it’s large enough to tap into without zooming.
  • Use a recognizable mark to indicate when something is required (like an asterisk).
  • Always let users know when an error has been made immediately after the information has been inputted in a field.
  • Place the call to action at the very bottom of the form.

Because the checkout form is the most important element that moves customers through the checkout process, you can’t afford to mess around with a tried and true formula. If users can’t seamlessly get from top to bottom, if the fields are too difficult to engage with, or if the functionality of the form itself is riddled with errors, then you might as well kiss your mobile purchases (and maybe your purchases in general) goodbye.

Crutchfield shows how to create form fields that are very user-friendly on mobile:

Large-sized form fields on the Crutchfield checkout


Form fields on the Crutchfield checkout page are large and difficult to miss. (Image: Crutchfield) (View large version)

As you can see, each field is large enough to click on (even with fat fingers). The bold outline around the currently selected field is also a nice touch. For a customer who is multitasking and or distracted by something around them, returning to the checkout form would be much easier with this type of format.

Sephora, again, handles mobile checkout the right way. In this case, I want to draw your attention to the grayed-out “Place Order” button:

Smart use of the Sephora call to action in checkout


Sephora uses the call to action as a guide for customers who haven’t finished the form. (Image: Sephora) (View large version)

The button serves as an indicator to customers that they’re not quite ready to submit their purchase information yet, which is great. Even though the form is beautifully designed — everything is well labeled, the fields are large, and the form is logically organized — mobile users could accidentally scroll too far past a field and wouldn’t know it until clicking the call-to-action button.

If you can keep users from receiving that dreaded “missing information” error, you’ll do a better job of holding onto their purchases.

8. Simplify Form Input

Digging a bit deeper into these contact forms, let’s look at how you can simplify the input of data on mobile:

  • Allow customers to user their browser’s autocomplete functionality to fill in forms.
  • Include a tabindex HTML directive to enable customers to tap an arrow up and down through the form. This keeps their thumbs within a comfortable range on the smartphone at all times, instead of constantly reaching up to tap into a new field.
  • Add a checkbox that automatically copies the billing address information over to the shipping fields.
  • Change the keyboard according to what kind of field is being typed in.

One example of this is Bass Pro Shops’ mobile website:

Bass Pro checkout form uses a smart keyboard


Each field in the Bass Pro checkout form provides users with the right keyboard type. (Image: Bass Pro Shops) (View large version)

For starters, the keyboard uses tab functionality (see the up and down arrows just above the keyboard). For customers with short fingers or who are impatient and just want to type away on the keyboard, the tabs help keep their hands in one place, thus speeding up checkout.

Also, when customers tab into a numbers-only field (like for their phone number), the keyboard automatically changes, so they don’t have to switch manually. Again, this is another way to up the convenience of making a purchase on mobile.

Amazon’s mobile checkout includes a quick checkbox that streamlines customers’ submission of billing information:

Amazon streamlines form input with address duplication


Amazon gives customers an easy way to duplicate their shipping address to billing. (Image: Amazon) (View large version)

As we’ve seen with mobile checkout form design, simpler is always better. Obviously, you will always need to collect certain details from customers each time (unless their account has saved that information). Nonetheless, if you can provide a quick toggle or checkbox that enables them to copy data over from one form to another, then do it.

9. Don’t Skimp on the CTA

When designing a desktop checkout, your main concerns with the CTA are things like strategic placement of the button and choosing an eye-catching color to draw attention to it.

On mobile, however, you have to think about size, too — and not just how much space it takes up on the screen. Remember the thumb zone and the various ways in which users hold their phone. Ensure that the button is wide enough so that any user can easily click on it without having to change their hand position.

So, your goal should be to design buttons that (1) sit at the bottom of the mobile checkout page and (2) stretch all the way from left to right, as is the case on Staples’ mobile website:

Staple’s big blue CTA button


Staple’s bright blue CTA sticks out in an otherwise plain checkout. (Image: Staples) (View large version)

No matter who is making the purchase — a left-handed, a right-handed or a two-handed cradler — that button will be easy reach.

Of all the mobile checkout enhancements we’ve covered today, the CTA is the easiest one to address. Make it big, give it a distinctive color, place it at the very bottom of the mobile screen, and make it span the full width. In other words, don’t make customers work hard to take the final step in a purchase.

10. Offer an Alternate Way Out

Finally, give customers an alternate way out.

Let’s say they’re shopping on a mobile website, adding items to their cart, but something isn’t sitting right with them, and they don’t want to make the purchase. You’ve done everything you can to assure them along the way with a clean, easy and secure checkout experience, but they just aren’t confident in making a payment on their phone.

Rather than merely hoping you don’t lose the purchase entirely, give them a chance to save it for later. That way, if they really are interested in buying your product, they can revisit on desktop and pull the trigger. It’s not ideal, because you do want to keep them in place on mobile, but the option is good for customers who just can’t be saved.

As you can see on L.L. Bean’s mobile website, there is an option at checkout to “Move to Wish List”:

L.L. Bean wish list option


L.L. Bean gives customers another chance to move items to their wish list during checkout. (Image: L.L. Bean) (View large version)

What’s nice about this is that L.L. Bean clearly doesn’t want browsing of the wish list or the removal of an item to be a primary action. If “Move to Wish List” were shown as a big bold CTA button, more customers might decide to take this seemingly safer alternative. As it’s designed now, it’s more of a, “Hey, we don’t want you to do anything you’re not comfortable with. This is here just in case.”

While fewer options are generally better in web design, this might be something to explore if your checkout has a high cart abandonment rate on mobile.

Wrapping Up

As more mobile visitors flock to your website, every step leading to conversion — including the checkout phase — needs to be optimized for convenience, speed and security. If your checkout is not adeptly designed to mobile users’ specific needs and expectations, you’re going to find that those conversion rates drop or shift back to desktop — and that’s not the direction you want things to go in, especially if Google is pushing us all towards a mobile-first world.

Smashing Editorial
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What You Need To Know To Increase Mobile Checkout Conversions

Monthly Web Development Update 4/2018: On Effort, Bias, And Being Productive




Monthly Web Development Update 4/2018: On Effort, Bias, And Being Productive

Anselm Hannemann



These days, it is one of the biggest challenges to think long-term. In a world where we live with devices that last only a few months or a few years maybe, where we buy stuff to throw it away only days or weeks later, the term effort gains a new meaning.

Recently, I was reading an essay on ‘Yatnah’, ‘Effort’. I spent a lot of time outside in nature in the past weeks and created a small acre to grow some vegetables. I also attended a workshop to learn the craft of grafting fruit trees. When you cut a tree, you realize that our fast-living, short-term lifestyle is very different from how nature works. I grafted a tree that is supposed to grow for decades now, and if you cut a tree that has been there for forty years, it’ll take another forty to grow one that will be similarly tall.

I’d love that we all try to create more long-lasting work, software that works in a decade, and in order to do so, put effort into learning how we can make that happen. So long, I’ll leave you with this quote and a bunch of interesting articles.

“In our modern world it can be tempting to throw effort away and replace it with a few phrases of positive thinking. But there is just no substitute for practice”. — Kino Macgregor

News

  • The Safari Technology Preview 52 removes support for all NPAPI plug-ins other than Adobe Flash and adds support for preconnect link headers.
  • Chrome 66 Beta brings the CSS Typed Object Model, Async Clipboard API, AudioWorklets, and support to use calc(), min(), and max() in Media Queries. Additionally, select and textarea fields now support the autocomplete attribute, and the catch clause of a try statement can be used without a parameter from now on.
  • iOS 11.3 is available to the public now, and, as already announced, the release brings support for Progressive Web Apps to iOS. Maximiliano Firtman shares what this means, what works and what doesn’t work (yet).
  • Safari 11.1 is now available for everyone. Here is a summary of all the new WebKit features it includes.
Progressive Web App on iOS
Progressive Web Apps for iOS are here. Full screen, offline capable, and even visible in the iPad’s dock. (Image credit)

General

  • Anil Dash reflects on what the web was intended to be and how today’s web differs from this: “At a time when millions are losing trust in the web’s biggest sites, it’s worth revisiting the idea that the web was supposed to be made out of countless little sites. Here’s a look at the neglected technologies that were supposed to make it possible.”
  • Morten Rand-Hendriksen wrote about using ethics in web design and what questions we should ask ourselves when suggesting a solution, creating a design, or a new feature. Especially when we think we’re making something ‘smart’, it’s important to put the question whether it actually helps people first.
  • A lot of protest and discussion came along with the Facebook / Cambridge Analytica affair, most of them pointing out the technological problems with Facebook’s permission model. But the crux lies in how Facebook designed their company and which ethical baseline they set. If we don’t want something like this to happen again, it’s upon us to design the service we want.
  • Brendan Dawes shares why he thinks URLs are a masterpiece and a user experience by themselves.
  • Charlie Owen’s talk transcription of “Dear Developer, The Web Isn’t About You” is a good summary of why we as developers need to think beyond what’s good for us and consider what serves the users and how we can achieve that instead.

UI/UX

  • B. Kaan Kavuştuk shares his thoughts about why we won’t be able to build a perfect design or codebase on the first try, no matter how much experience we have. Instead, it’s the constant small improvements that pave the way to perfection.
  • Trine Falbe introduces us to Ethical Design with a practical getting-started guide. It shows alternatives and things to think about when building a business or product. It doesn’t matter much if you’re the owner, a developer, a designer or a sales person, this is about serving users and setting the ground for real and sustainable trust.
  • Josh Lovejoy shares his learnings from working on inclusive tech solutions and why it takes more than good intention to create fair, inclusive technology. This article goes into depth of why human judgment is very difficult and often based on bias, and why it isn’t easy to design and develop algorithms that treat different people equally because of this.
  • The HSB (Hue, Saturation, Brightness) color system isn’t especially new, but a lot of people still don’t understand its advantages. Erik D. Kennedy explains its principles and advantages step-by-step.
  • While there’s more discussion about inclusive design these days, it’s often seen under the accessibility hat or as technical decisions. Robert del Prado now shares how important inclusive design thinking is and why it’s much more about the generic user than some specific people with specific disabilities. Inclusive design brings people together, regardless of who they are, where they live, and what they can afford. And isn’t it the goal of every product to be successful by acquiring as many people as possible? Maybe we need to discuss this with marketing people as well.
  • Anton Lovchikov shares ways to improve optical adjustments in components. It’s an interesting study on how very small changes can make quite a difference.
Fair Is Not The Default
Afraid or angry? Which emotion we think the baby is showing depends on whether we think it’s a girl or a boy. Josh Lovejoy explains how personal bias and judgments like this one lead to unfair products. (Image credit)

Tooling

  • Brian Schrader found an unknown feature in Git which is very helpful to test ideas quickly: Git Notes lets us add, remove, or read notes attached to objects, without touching the objects themselves and without needing to commit the current state.
  • For many projects, I prefer to use npm scripts over calling gulp or direct webpack tasks. Michael Kühnel shares some useful tricks for npm scripts, including how to allow CLI option parameters or how to watch tasks and alert notices on error.
  • Anton Sten explains why new tools don’t always equal productivity. We all love new design tools, and new ones such as Sketch, Figma, Xd, or Invision Studio keep popping up. But despite these tools solving a lot of common problems and making some things easier, productivity is mostly about what works for your problem and not what is newest. If you need to create a static mockup and Photoshop is what you know best, why not use it?
  • There’s a new, fast DNS service available by Cloudflare. Finally, a better alternative to the much used Google DNS servers, it is available under 1.1.1.1. The new DNS is the fastest, and probably one of the most secure ones, too, out there. Cloudflare put a lot of effort into encrypting the service and partnering up with Mozilla to make DNS over HTTPS work to close a big privacy gap that until now leaked all your browsing data to the DNS provider.
  • I heard a lot about iOS machine learning already, but despite the interesting fact that they’re able to do this on the device without sending everything to a cloud, I haven’t found out how to make use of this for apps, yet. Luckily, Manu Rink put together a nice guide in which she explains machine learning in iOS for beginners.
  • There’s great news for the Git GUI fans: Tower now offers a new beta version that includes pull request support, interactive rebase workflows, quick actions, reflog, and search. An amazing update that makes working with the software much faster than before, and even for me as a command line lover it’s a nice option.
Machine Learning In iOS For The Noob
Manu Rink shows how machine learning in iOS works by building an offline handwritten text recognition. (Image credit)

Security

Web Performance

Accessibility

CSS

  • Amber Wilson shares some insights into what it feels like to be thrown into a complex project in order to do the styling there. She rightly says that “nobody said CSS is easy” and expresses how important it is that we as developers face inconvenient situations in order to grow our knowledge.
  • Ana Tudor is known for her special CSS skills. Now she explores and describes how we can achieve scooped corners in CSS with some clever tricks.
Scooped Corners
Scooped corners? Ana Tudor shows how to do it. (Image credit)

JavaScript

  • WebKit got an upgrade for the Clipboard API, and the team gives some very interesting insights into how it works and how Safari will handle some of the common challenges with clipboard data (e.g. images).
  • If you work with key value stores that live only in the frontend, IDB-Keyval is a great lightweight library that simplifies working with IndexedDB and localStorage.
  • Ever wanted to create graphics from your data with a hand-drawn, sketchy look on a website? Rough.js lets you do just that. It’s usually Canvas-based (for better performance and less data) but can also draw SVG paths.
  • If you need a drag-and-drop reorder module, there’s a smooth and accessible solution available now: dragon-drop.
  • For many years, we could only get CSS values in their computed value and even that wasn’t flexible or nice to work with. But now CSS has a proper object-based API for working with values in JavaScript: the CSS Typed Object Model. It’s only available in the upcoming Chrome 66 yet but definitely a promising feature I’d love to use in my code soon.
  • The React.js documentation now has an extra section that explains how to easily and programmatically manage focus states to ensure your UI is accessible.
  • James Milner shares how we can use abortable fetch to cancel requests.
  • There are a few articles about Web Push Notifications out there already, but Oleksii Rudenko’s getting-started guide is a great primer that explains the principles very well.
  • In the past years, we got a lot of new features on the JavaScript platform. And since it’s hard to remember all the new stuff, Raja Rao DV summed up “Everything new in ECMAScript 2016, 2017, and 2018”.

Work & Life

  • To raise awareness for how common such situations are for all of us, James Bennett shares an embarrassing situation where he made a simple mistake that took him a long time to find out. It’s not just me making mistakes, it’s not just you, and not just James — all of us make mistakes, and as embarrassing as they seem to be in that particular situation, there’s nothing to feel bad about.
  • Adam Blanchard says “People are machines. We need maintenance, too.” and creates a comparison for engineers to understand why we need to take care of ourselves and also why we need people who take care of us. This is an insight into what People Engineers do, and why it’s so important for companies to hire such people to ensure a team is healthy.
  • If there’s one thing we don’t talk much about in the web industry, it’s retirement. Jan Chipchase now wrote a lot of interesting thoughts all about retirement.
  • Rebecca Downes shares some insights into her PhD on remote teams, revealing under which circumstances remote teams are great and under which they’re not.
What would people engineers do
People need maintenance, too. That’s where the People Engineer comes in. (Image credit)

Going Beyond…

We hope you enjoyed this Web Development Update. The next one is scheduled for Friday, May 18th. Stay tuned.

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Monthly Web Development Update 4/2018: On Effort, Bias, And Being Productive

Designing For The Tactile Experience




Designing For The Tactile Experience

The focus of digital technology in the last few decades has neglected human hands and bodies to a large extent. Our thoughts and feelings are strongly connected to the gestures, postures, and actions we perform. I aim to push you — as a designer — to think outside of the zone of screens.

I’d also like to ask you to start thinking critically about current technologies; touch and motor skills need to be taken into consideration when designing your very next product. Allow me to explain why.

Less Haptic Stimuli, Less Experience

According to Finnish neurophysiologist Matti Bergström, quoted in a lecture of Sofia Svanteson:

“The density of nerve endings in our fingertips is enormous. Their discrimination is almost as good as that of our eyes. If we don’t use our fingers during childhood or youth, we become “fingerblind,” this rich network of nerves is impoverished — which represents a huge loss to the brain and thwarts the individual’s development as a whole. Such damage may be likened to blindness itself. Perhaps worse, while a blind person may simply not be able to find this or that object, the fingerblind cannot understand its inner meaning and value”.

Hold, Push, Swipe, Tap

If you end up as a typical white-collar worker, you’ll probably spend a significant part of your day looking at your screen, without any possibility of physically touching the things you work with. How much time do you spend on your computer at work? How much time do you spend on your phone afterwards. What about during your spare time: What do you do during those hours? Hold, push, swipe, tap.

The word “touch” is in the word “touchscreen,” but tapping and swiping a cold flat piece of matter basically neglects the sense of touch. You are capable of experiencing only a fraction of what your sense of touch allows you to during the long hours of manipulation with touchscreens.

What actions do you physically perform with your body? Perhaps you are not a very active person. What posture are you usually in? What kind of impact can sitting over the screen of a mobile phone or computer all day have on a person? Pablo Briñol, Richard E. Petty and Benjamin Wagner claim in their research article that your body posture can shape your mind.

“… We argue that any postures associated with confidence (e.g., pushing one’s chest out) should magnify the effect of anything that is currently available in people’s minds relative to postures associated with doubt (e.g., slouching forward with one’s back curved).”

As the theory of embodied cognition states, your body affects your behavior.

Tactile Feedback

Many tangible things are disappearing from our surroundings and reappearing in digital form. They are improved upon and enriched with new functions that would not be possible in the material world. A few examples are maps, calendars, notebooks and pens, printed photos, music players, calculators and compasses. However, with the loss of their material form comes also the loss of the sensations and experiences that only physical interaction with objects can give us. The “… disembodied brain could not experience the world in the same ways that we do, because our experience of the world is intimately tied to the ways in which we act in it,” writes Paul Dourish in his book Where the Action Is.


Man holding an open book


Fingers are able to sense the progress of a book (Image: on Unsplash) (View large version)

Different Activities, Different Movements

Consider some actions we perform in the physical world:

I pay for a ticket. I pull my wallet out of my bag. I open it and take out banknotes. While holding the notes in one hand, I draw some coins with my other hand. I give the money to the salesperson.

I confess love. I sit or stand opposite to the person. I look into their eyes. I blush. I say, “You know, I love you.” I am kissed.

I look for a recipe. I choose a cookbook from the shelf. I take the book. I flip a few pages, forwards, backwards. I find a recipe.

Whereas in the world of screens:

I pay for a ticket. I fill text fields. I hit a button.

I confess love. I fill a text field. I hit a button.

I look for a recipe. I fill a text field. I hit a button.


Man with rings on his fingers holding paper notes and cigarette


(Image: Jeremy Paige on Unsplash) (View large version)

The environment surrounding us, the activities we perform and the things we come into contact with help us to perceive situations more intensely and meaningful. Phenomenologists such as Husserl, Schutz, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty have already explored the relationship between embodied action and meaning. “For them, the source of meaning (and meaningfulness) is not a collection of abstract, idealized entities; instead, it is to be found in the world in which we act, and which acts upon us. This world is already filled with meaning. Its meaning is to be found in the way in which it reveals itself to us as being available for our actions. It is only through those actions, and the possibility for actions that the world affords us, that we can come to find the world, in both its physical and social manifestations, meaningful.” Another quote from above-mentioned book by Paul Dourish.

Because so many different activities are being carried out in the same manner in the digital world, their value is becoming less clear. I believe that haptic sense has something to do, for instance, with the perception of paying by “real” or by virtual currency — that feeling of something tangible in your hand that you are giving to someone else, compared to just tapping a flat surface to confirm that the number on the screen will be deducted from your account.

Try a simple task. Suppose you want to remember something. Write it down and see how it affects your brain. Professor Anne Mangen, who studies the impact of digital technologies on reading and writing, has shown that writing helps your brain process information and remember it much better. Physical sensorimotor activities create a stronger connection to performed tasks. That’s probably one of the reasons why paper planners are seeing a rise in sales. Sales of paper books are also rising. Giving a digital book as a gift is much less impressive than giving its paper equivalent. This points to an interesting phenomenon. Physical presents just “feel” much better. There is a trend of returning to “tangible music”, which caused an increase in vinyl sales. But are those returns to “old forms” enough? Or can we act also from the current opportunities?

Designing For Touch

How can we create more material experiences in design? What are some tangible solutions, solutions that solve problems through our senses, through our contact with the physical, material world, solutions that let us act in our surrounding as much as possible without using our smartphones or any other flat screens? There are many possible ways to get back to the physical experience.

1. Interact With Digital Technology in a More Human Way.

Make digital information tangible. Interact with it by hand gestures and movements in the material world.

One of the most famous pioneering projects with that aim was SixthSense. Back in 2009, it linked digital devices and our interactions with the physical world. This kind of wearable technology consisted of a camera, a projector hanging on the user’s neck, and color markers stuck to their fingers. The user could dial a phone number using projected keys on their palm, while the camera would record their finger movements. They could read newspapers showing live video news, or draw a circle on their wrist to check the time. The whole principle was to project visuals into the world surrounding the user. With current technology, however, that principle has transformed. The outside world is no longer altered by some projection. The only altered thing is our vision. It’s enhanced by a new layer of augmented reality (AR), by special kinds of glasses, and there is a completely new reality created in virtual reality (VR) headsets.


Finger dialing number on a palm with projected numbers


Using a palm to dial a phone number. (Image: pranavmistry.com) (View large version)

A more modern example is Magic Leap, a secretive project that connects virtual reality and the “real” world in a mixed reality. You can see objects in your surroundings that are not part of your reality — for example, jellyfish flying in your room. This device is exceptional because it also enables hand tracking. You are able to shoot robots falling from your ceiling, holding a real plastic gun in your hand, meanwhile controlling the interface with hand gestures. This is big progress from mostly sequential activities, which screen interfaces enable the user to do. We are getting there.


Two open palms hold a tiny elephant


Magic Leap connects ‘real’ and virtual. (Image: magic-leap.reality.newsView large version)

Mixed, VR and AR projects could be the future. The good thing is that these technologies are built with a huge emphasis on human behavior, psychology, physics laws and ergonomics. The experience is lived, not just observed on a screen. They are not tearing you away from the natural (or virtual) environment and sticking you in a chair to stare into a flat square. You get involved in the action, immersed in doing things and feeling emotions. All of these technologies bring you experiences. Whether they’re real or not, you will remember them as things that happened to you.

Another advantage is that they make your body move — for example, by replacing your physical screens with virtual ones. They allow you to do your work practically everywhere, possibly on the move as well. Whether you are 3D painting with a virtual brush, throwing squares (a VR game) or organizing your desktop, you are using your fingers, your hands, your wrists and whole body movements. Technology is finally adapting to you.

2. Involve More Sensory Experiences In Your Design.

If sight sensors are already occupied by some functionality, don’t add more visual stimuli. Better to include some haptics, hearing or even olfactory stimuli — thus, creating so-called multi-sensorial design. As noted in their book Product Experience, Hendrik N. J. Schifferstein and Paul Hekkert state, “By now, many different studies have suggested that the greater the number of sensory modalities that are stimulated at any one time, the richer our experiences will be.”

Let’s discuss the topic of virtual reality further. Even though it doesn’t feel like virtual could satisfy the need for material or tangible experience, VR is a perfect example of connecting several senses together, not only sight and hearing, but also touch.

There are a couple of different ways to bring touch into VR:

  • The classic primitive controllers
    They give you the sense of being present, just like holding a mouse, i.e. it’s one object but has a single point of interaction. Well, it actually has two controllers that are controlled by two hands. Still, the full potential of your hands and ten fingers is not being used in this case.

Girl with VR head-mounted display and controllers in her hands and girl holding wire


Classic VR controllers. (Image credit) (View large version)

  • Haptic gloves
    These enable you to feel objects from VR in your hands. The sensors translate touch sensations into vibrations that enable you to perceive the shape of an apple or to experience rain. You can even feel the release of a virtual arrow. Obviously, all of these sensations are not the same as real ones in their fidelity. But as a whole virtual reality, they pose a question: What does it mean to be real? What makes for a real touch experience — a real touched object made of realistic, tangible material or a real feeling transmitted by neurons to your brain? Is it enough to fool your brain, without even using your hands? This is maybe the moment when we can ask, Are we just brains or whole bodies?

Set of images of man with haptic VR gloves


Haptic VR controllers still look a bit utopian. (Image: dextarobotics.com) (View large version)

  • Combining haptic gloves with material objects
    Various games layer VR over a physical playground. One of them is The Void. As a player, you wear a vest with 22 haptic patches that vibrate and shake you at the right times. The idea is that you are playing the game in VR but all of your surroundings are tangible, so instead of seeing four empty walls, you see a large territory around you. A big stone would be perceived as a mountain, and a normal door could be transformed into a magic one. But opening the magic one would feel real because, in the end, it is. All such little gimmicks with sight, touch, hearing and even smell involve more sensory experience and make VR even more immersive.

Man touching big rock with shining symbol


The Void game (Image: thevoid.com) (View large version)

3. When Designing For The Screen, Think About How the Task Could Be Performed In The Physical World Instead.

How would people act in their most “natural” way?

Time tracking is not always pleasant, maybe because you feel like a robot from constantly checking the time or opening and closing your time-tracking app. ZEI is a great example of tangible design. The developers found a way to get robots to do our job in the background so that we can act more like humans. This time-tracking device is an octahedron (eight sides). Each face is assigned one activity, so you can easily track time spent on different projects just by flipping it. It presents a very natural way to switch from task to task and to turn your attention from one thing to another.


Hand reaching for ZEI tracking device


ZEI moves screen tasks to tangible reality. (Image: timeular.com) (View large version)

When you’re designing a product, think of how users would perform without it. How do people track their work? Maybe they tend to take notes. How did people used to complete tasks in the past? Did we stand up from our chair and stretch a bit? What if every accomplished task were to be followed by a small exercise or at least standing up, to support users’ health? Many ridiculous ideas will probably appear in that kind of process, but you can get much closer to designing products for humans with such a human approach.

4. Transfer Your Digital Product To Tangible Experiences.

If you already have a product, program or app designed for the screen, think of whether there is some possibility to convert it to the physical world.

Computers made it possible to compose music by using various musical instruments that exist only in the digital world. But the dynamics of physical contact with the instrument cannot be replaced by using a computer mouse. Physically pushing keys on a piano or hitting drums with drumsticks, fast or softly, using mostly just your fingers and wrists, or blasting drums with your forearms and whole arms — these are experiences that seem to be non-transferable to computer programs.

Ableton, the well-known producer of software for music production, decided to create its own hardware, Ableton Push. The second edition of Ableton Push “puts everything you need to make music in one place — at your fingertips.” Push is basically a table with pads and controls that enable you to play drums or pitched instruments on one device. It offers a range of ways to play and manipulate samples, allowing you to capture ideas quickly. No technology stands in the way, and you can physically interact with music once again.


Man touching Ableton Push device


Ableton Push (Image: ableton.com) (View large version)

5. Think the Other Way Around: How Can You Upgrade Things That Already Exist With Some Digital Experience?

Classic toys, board games, paper books and notebooks, musical instruments — all of these have served us for decades and are beautiful, efficient and playful. However, many of them are disappearing because they are no longer attractive enough and are unable to compete with the digital experience. Sustain them. Upgrade them with some digital value and experience.

Playing with wooden toys is one of the best experiences for children. Their material and shape develop children’s building capacity and hand muscles. Their simplicity stimulates children’s imagination and creativity. We should not give up these benefits for a flat screen. Studio deFORM’s project KOSKI, a building block game, “connects the physical world and the digital gaming world together.” Physical, wooden toy blocks are mirrored in an iPad app and enhanced with imaginative worlds, characters and stories on the screen. The player physically alters the projected world on screen by manipulating the blocks in the real time.

While we can argue about whether this game develops a child’s imagination, I find it to be a good alternative to current tablet games.


Tablet mirroring kids playing game KOSKI, enhanced with imaginative plants, figures and waterfall


KOSKI (Image: koskigame.com) (View large version)

We’re already used to old-fashioned things. There’s no need to teach users new design patterns or ways of communication with hi-tech novelties. Everyone knows how to use a paper notebook. But often when I want to write with a pen on paper, I have to think twice about it. I know that, in the end, it will have to be rewritten in some digital form so that it can be easily shared and stored. This issue was tackled by Wacom with its notebook digitizer. Its solution was the SmartPad, which converts handwriting into digital files. It also offers the possibility to combine pages of notes and to edit them.

Even existing material can take on new qualities when enriched by the digital experience. Mixing together unexpected things can create very non-traditional objects. Consider FabricKeyboard, made by MIT Media Lab’s Responsive Environments Lab. As Meg Miller explains:

“This fabric made from textile sensors allows you to play the keys like one would on a normal keyboard, or you can create the sounds by manipulating the fabric itself — by pressing, pulling, twisting and even by waving your hands above the material. The e-fabric responds to touch, pressure, stretch, proximity and electric field.”


Man's hands stretching FabricKeyboard


FabricKeyboard (Image: Irmandy Wicaksono on MIT Media Lab) (View large version)

Finally, let’s consider one more reason why we should think carefully before letting traditional objects vanish away. They’ve been created from years of experience. They’ve evolved into their current form, one that fits their purpose very well. Think of how usable, convenient and pleasurable many printed books are. The rules of layout and typography from this established medium have been transferred very quickly to ebooks and web design, which are struggling to meet the standards of their physical counterparts. Think also of the non-transferable qualities: the tactile sense of progress, their collectibility, the sensuous aspects.

Some old-school materials are worth keeping, and their development should continue even in the digital era.

Tangible Future

As Andrea Resmini and Luca Rosati write in their book Pervasive Information Architecture:

“We are swinging like a pendulum. Fifty years ago we were rooted in material world. When you wanted to know something, you asked some person or read a book. Then desktop computers became our interface of choice to access information, and now we are swinging back to the real world, but we are bringing computers along. Information is becoming pervasive.”

One way to bring qualities of the real world to our daily used technologies is to learn from material things. Another way is to suss out the attributes we are missing in our interaction with screens. Let your senses lead you, and think about a solution that can replace a current discomfort. The classic human-centered approach still works. However, as advanced technologies improve and extend into multiple areas of our lives, we need to think more carefully about what it means to be human. Our bodies and senses are definitely a part of it.

Smashing Editorial
(cc, ra, al, yk, il)


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