How to scale your business internationally on search engines

Most online sites at some stage will want to expand, and one of the most common ways to do that is by offering products to an international market.

However, it’s not an easy or simple task by any means. This post will help you understand the risks, research and steps involved in expanding your business into an international market.

Considerations and research

Is it the right time to go international? Is there a need to go international? This very much depends on your focus for the future and the current needs of the business.

If you are increasingly having visitors to your site from international locations, now be may the time to start implementing an international SEO strategy.

There are, of course, a few things that you need to take into consideration – such as:

  • Are you able to implement ALL technical fixes?
  • Do you have the resources to carry out the work and manage each variation in the future?
  • If targeting a different language, do you have somebody to translate?
  • Is the business ready to carry out international orders and process transactions?

Once you have checked all the above, it’s essential to carry out further research. As with any new website idea or build, it’s all about making sure it’s a worthwhile venture.

One of the biggest research areas will be around keyword research to find out if there is demand in the locations that the business will be expanding into. It’s important to note that the keyword research should be done in the language you will be targeting, and location.

If all the above is confirmed and ready to go, the next stage is to plan the implementation.

Website structure

You may have seen a number of different implementations of international, each having different pros and cons. I tend to lean towards using subdirectories; however, it very much depends on the type of targeting you will be using.

These are the main structure types:

  • ccTLD – Domain variations such as example.fr, example.au
  • Subdomain – fr.example.com, au.example.com
  • Subcategory – example.com/au/, example.com/fr/

We have provided an example of the set up for a website using the subcategory URL structure for the UK and France. It’s important to note our main website is sitting on a .com as this tends to be the norm now. However this would work in the same way for .co.uk.

We’ve done this with variations that include both language and location, but this can be done with just language or just location.

This would mean that we add the following code to our website:

We can also add an X-default tag to this piece of code to be safe. This will tell search engines that if there is a URL that is not using this structure that it should default to the URL specified. This would change our code snippet to:

It’s important to note that this is only for the homepage of our example website. Internal links will also need to use this code but with the URLs changed so they reference the specific URL rather than the homepage.

We have also left the homepage as .com because in the past we have seen drops when a site has also used the new URL structure for the homepage. If we were to change example.com to example.com/en-gb/ it would mean example.com having to pass through a redirect.

It’s much easier to do this within the CMS you are using; however, if needed you may use a bulk href lang tool.

Sitemap implementation

When people talk about using sitemaps and international SEO, they tend to be referring to implementing localization through the use of sitemaps. This is another way of accounting for different languages and countries if hreflang is not a possible solution.

The solution works in a very similar way to hreflang, but sits within a sitemap rather than in the website’s source code. We tend to only suggest using this method if hreflang is completely out of the question.

Metadata & content

We have already carried out our keyword research to find out where the demand is based on different languages, this is where new metadata needs to be used for each language variation. It’s also important that the right variation of the word is used, for example when targeting the USA from a site that uses UK or Canadian English.

The on-page content also needs to reflect the language that the user is on. If the hreflang is marked up to say the page is in French, it needs to be written in French. It sounds simple, but you would be surprised how many people get this wrong.

It’s also very important to make sure you have the in-house resource or outside help to be able to get this all done before launch. Yes, it is possible to gradually amend the content, but for users this could be very annoying – imagine their frustration in landing on a language they cannot understand.

As well as translating the content, it should reflect the audience you are targeting and their behaviors. User behavior varies from country to country and is something that needs to be taken into consideration when generating on-page content.

There are many differences that may not be apparent straight away. However, the best tip I can give is to not translate directly from English as what you are saying may not make any sense in another language.

It’s also very important to take cultural differences into account when writing new content or trying to sell a product in a different market. People from different countries will look at areas of the website in different ways such as: security, payment gateways, type of language used, shopping cart structure and many others.

This is why it’s worthwhile speaking to people from the country you are trying to target and getting somebody local to write the content and provide feedback. It all comes back to doing your research beforehand.

International Google Local

This section is very much dependent on the type of business you run. However if you have a physical location in the new countries you will be targeting it’s very important.

Google My Business allows businesses to create a listing giving full details of their company along with the location. This will be important in building up an organic search presence in a new location. There are plenty of posts on local SEO so I won’t go into it too much here, but these are the main steps:

  • Create the location here https://www.google.co.uk/business/
  • Add as many details as possible
  • Add the address to the most relevant page on your website
  • Mark the address up with local schema
  • Obtain links from relevant websites in the area or region

Carrying out the above steps will help the new location build up a stable base of links that can be built on top. I would also suggest creating relevant social profiles and local listings if relevant.

Summary

Making sure you are fully prepared is by far the biggest step in scaling a business to target an international market. Without the correct preparation, there is a very high chance that you won’t achieve what you initially set out to do.

International SEO is not a simple process by any means and can easily go wrong. However, if you are in the position to expand your business into an international set-up, there are easy gains to be made.

How to achieve off the charts off-page SEO that will boost traffic

When you think about improving your SEO, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

Maybe you think of rewriting your web copy to rank better for certain keywords, churning out new posts for your blog, or making sure your website is structured in a logical way.

All of these are important aspects of ranking well in search engines, but they aren’t the only ways you can optimize your web presence. If you want to rank better and get more traffic, you need to improve your off-page SEO, too. This guide will help you get started.

So, what exactly is off-page SEO?

In the simplest terms, off-page SEO encompasses all the aspects of SEO that occur outside your website (yes, it’s true). You can think of it as your reputation. Off-page SEO includes the things you do as well as the things other people say about you. Your social media activity, your customer service practices, and the online reviews customers leave for you on other sites are all examples of off-page SEO. Below is an example of reviews for realtors on Redfin:

Many people think that off-page SEO is just about link-building. It’s true that, at its core, the objective of good off-page SEO is to drive traffic to your site by earning plenty of high-quality links.

But if you just think of your strategy as a way to get more link juice, you’ll be missing a lot of the potential nuance of this topic.

Getting started with off-page SEO

Instead of focusing solely on links, it’s better to improve your off-page SEO by working on your reputation, your authority, and your popularity. In a nutshell, your objective should be to provide excellent value and connect with as many people as possible.

This is a long-term strategy, but your patience will pay off down the road – your business will gain recognition, you’ll establish your expertise in your field, and eventually you’ll start earning links from respected sites.

With that said, there are two main ways you can start improving your off-page SEO: connecting with your target audience and networking with influencers.

#1: Connecting with your target audience

Interacting with the people who might need or want your product or service is smart, both in terms of making more sales and thus improving your SEO because of the traffic that comes with it. However, it’s important to connect with people the right way.

Consumers are savvy, and they don’t like feeling pressured to buy things. Instead of focusing on what you’re selling, which can come across as spammy, grow your following by finding ways to help other people without asking for anything in return. A few ideas include:

Stay active on social media the right way

It goes without saying, but social media is one of the best ways you can connect personally with people who might need or want your service. Figure out where your target audience spends time online (this article covers how to do so in more detail), and make sure you have accounts on those platforms.

In general, the more accounts you have, the better, but keep ROI in mind – there is obviously no point wasting time on an obscure platform most people don’t use.

Furthermore, if you don’t have the resources to manage a lot of social pages, that can end up hurting your reputation, so start with the ones that matter most, post regular updates about your business, product, or service, and engage with your customers every chance you get.

Always remember, people like to know there’s a human behind their favorite business.

Share your knowledge on forums and message boards

If your target audience spends time on sites like Quora or Reddit, create accounts there and start posting. Join interesting conversations and answer other people’s questions. Aim to provide value instead of just increasing your post count.

It’s okay to mention your business if it’s pertinent to a question – for instance, you might tell a story about how you solved a problem with a customer. Just don’t push your product or service.

Your strategy on forums should just be to build up your reputation as an authority in your field. Over time, people will start to recognize you and come to you for advice.

There are tons of people online doing a great job of this. The example below from a personal trainer is just one example of someone who answers a lot of questions, has gained followers because of it, yet doesn’t focus on self-promotion but rather just making those connections:

Be on the lookout for opportunities to create useful off-site content

You might already do content marketing with your on-site blog, but why stop there? Consider incorporating various types of content, like videos, images, and infographics, into your social media marketing and your forum posts.

It’s rare these days to see an infographic on a forum (except for maybe something like Reddit or Tumblr), but when you do, it stands out. Guest posting is also, of course, another great way to do off-site content marketing, but more on this later.

Screencap of a discussion thread about a picture of a cute dog on Reddit.

#2: Building relationships

Connecting with your target audience is essential for good off-page SEO, but it will only take you so far. To become a recognized authority, and to start earning valuable links from experts in your field, you’ll have to network, too. Here are some tips for building strong relationships.

Guest post on other people’s blogs

Guest posting is a tried-and-true strategy for getting links back to your site. But while it’s a useful way to build your link profile, that’s not the main reason you should offer a guest post.

Instead, think of guest posting as a way to forge new relationships and help people who aren’t in your circle of regular blog readers.

The problem with guest posting for links is that you might be tempted to go for quantity over quality. But writing a lot of low-quality posts on blogs that don’t get much traffic won’t actually help you that much, and depending on where you’re published, it could even damage your reputation.

Instead, pitch guest posts only when you think you have something useful to say. Choose blogs you’d be proud to appear on, and make sure your idea is a good fit by studying the style and content of the blogs you’re pitching to.

Of course, not every blog you write for has to be a household name. In fact, if you’re just starting to guest post, they almost certainly won’t be. Still, you’ll get better results (and you’ll be able to publish on the big-name blogs sooner) if you focus on making genuine connections with other bloggers and saying something of value every time you write a guest post.

Leave comments on the blogs you read regularly

If you find certain bloggers helpful or inspiring, let them know! Bloggers love it when readers leave them thoughtful comments, and commenting on a blog post is one of the easiest ways to connect with someone you admire.

Keep in mind that there’s a right way and a wrong way to comment on blogs. Take the same approach here as you would for a guest post – focus on connecting, not just on commenting for its own sake. Don’t leave generic comments, don’t link to your website or blog, and don’t comment on a post if you didn’t actually read it.

Instead, say something relevant to the post itself. Greet the blogger by name and tell them why you liked this post. Was it helpful? Thought-provoking? Tell them how you implemented their ideas, or ask a question inspired by the post.

When you interact with bloggers this way on a regular basis, they’ll start to notice and remember you. The Wired.com community seems to do this well:

Look for avenues to connect with thought leaders in your field

Leaving comments on blogs is a great way to build relationships, but it’s far from the only way. Remember those social media accounts you made? Use them to follow thought leaders and experts in your field.

Twitter, in particular, is a great way to reach out to others – it’s simple, professional, and brief enough that you don’t have to worry about bothering anyone.

Don’t forget to take advantage of offline networking opportunities, too. That’s right – your off-page SEO efforts don’t even have to involve the internet. Cyberspace makes it easy to reach out to people, but in-person networking events can be far more useful since you’re more likely to be remembered if you connect with someone in real life.

Put yourself out there by looking for some interesting conferences and meetups to attend. Start hanging out where your target audience hangs out and see how far it can take you.

The takeaway

On-page SEO is important, but it’s only half the battle if you want to maximize your success. Off-page SEO plays a huge role in building your reputation, bringing in traffic, and encouraging your target audience to choose you over your competitors.

Improving your off-page SEO is an ongoing task. Whether you’ve been working on your reputation for years or you’re just getting started, there are plenty of things you can do to connect with more people and expand your brand’s reach.

Focus on helping people out, providing useful information, and cultivating a strong network of peers and mentors. Along with a great reputation, you’ll build a profile of high-quality links that will drive more traffic to your site than ever before.

What are your favorite off-page SEO strategies? Let us know in the comment section below.

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

Meeker’s Report on the state of advertising and trends to watch out for

Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends Report 2017, one of the most-anticipated annual events in the world of digital, was released a few weeks ago.

The 355-slide report covers the major shifts we are currently seeing in the internet and the digital economy, and is considered something of a barometer for the state of digital across the globe, as well as a forecast for what is likely to come.

Some notable sections have focused on the rise of interactive gaming in all its forms and what that means for digital, the evolution of customer support in social media, and the state of the internet in China and India.

Meeker also focused a 69-page section on developments in online advertising and commerce, examining the pervading trends and what they mean for the industry. Here are some key highlights.

The rise of mobile advertising

The growth of online advertising is increasingly made up of growth in mobile advertising. An increase of 22% year-on-year indicates that the future of advertising is mobile.

This is a good reminder for marketers and advertisers of the need for mobile-friendly content, be that articles or ads, as the rise of the mobile audience along with the increasing spend on mobile advertising brings new opportunities for success.

Moreover, it also highlights the importance of creating mobile-friendly pages, taking into account all the factors that may affect a site’s speed or performance.

Google and Facebook dominate advertising growth

A closer look at the changes of advertising year-on-year shows a monopoly in advertising growth between Google and Facebook. Google saw a year-on-year increase of 20% from 2015 to 2016, while Facebook saw even greater success, with a year-on-year increase of 62%.

These two combined are responsible for 85% of advertising growth–and this percentage is expected to increase even more in future years.

These are useful figures for marketers exploring the best platforms in which to invest their advertising budget, and a good reminder of how Google and Facebook ads can lead to successful results.

Facebook has invested heavily over the past year in improving its advertising platform to make it more appealing, and its numerous advertising options have won many marketers over. Moreover, its focus on the growing trend of visual content (images and videos), along customized advertising options, has offered new creative avenues for advertising.

As for Google, its focus on mobile growth and understanding of how advertising should evolve has brought new options for marketers seeking the best ways to promote their products through the most relevant search results.

The challenge of measuring ROI

The measurement of social ROI seems to remain a big challenge for marketers. Despite the evolution of social marketing and advertising, it remains a major challenge for marketers to effectively measure the success of their efforts.

When surveyed about the metrics they focus on when defining social ROI, 56% of advertisers picked engagement as their main measurement, while 21% chose conversion and revenue and 15% picked amplification and brand awareness. (Source: SimplyMeasured State of Social Marketing Annual Report)

The diverse goals marketers have for their social media rely on different metrics, which is why it’s still challenging to decide on the best ROI. Although engagement still remains marketers’ means of tracking success, conversion or brand awareness cannot be overlooked.

New ways to target and measure ads

The rise of online advertising and its constant evolution can be attributed to the creative and effective ways that all online platforms help advertisers reach their goals.

There has been an interesting improvement in targeting and measurement across all of the popular platforms in the last year, which may serve as proof that the advertising competition among platforms can lead to more options for marketers.

  • Product listing ads (Google): Google’s idea to highlight product listing ads was successful, with a stable increase in clicks over the past few years. This has allowed the company to capitalize on its new concept, while ecommerce companies have found an enhanced source of revenue through targeted listing.
  • Targeted pins (Pinterest): Pinterest decided to become serious about advertising and it officially became on of the favourite platforms for ecommerce companies to promote their products. Pinterest was well known for being a popular platform for product discovery, as users tended to pin the products they liked. This changed the last year, as it has also become a platform of purchases, doubling the number of people who base their purchasing decisions on the pins they come across.
  • Goal-based bidding ads (Snapchat): Snapchat created a new type of ad, with its unique mobile platform focusing on engagement. Goal-based bidding ads were aiming to make users spend more time on the creative ads, grabbing their attention in the most engaging ways. For example, users may swipe through the ad to play a game, which makes a clever way to appeal to them without relying on traditional advertising methods.

Right ad at the right place at the right time

One of the most successful ways for Google and other platforms to increase their revenue was the focus on the users and their input on each platform.

Google now counts a $679B market capitalisation with its focus on user-typed input, words that help ads become more targeted.

Snapchat already counts a $25B market capitalization in just two years and this can be attributed to its focus on user-uploaded input, the images that make ads more relevant for their audience.

The analysis of data and the idea of having users be the central focus of the platform to create more targeted ads is expected to grow advertising options even further. From a user’s point of view, this increases the chances to make the ads more relevant and less annoying, which is still important in an online world full of irrelevant noise.

The future of voice search

Voice search was a major feature of last year’s Internet Trends Report, and the 2017 Report builds on this. Since 2016, voice has increasingly entered into the consciousness of search experts and marketers, but we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of what it can do.

The rise of mobile has made voice searches more popular in turn, and it’s interesting to note that 20% of mobile queries are made via voice. This indicates that voice search is becoming increasingly a part of our everyday habits.

Moreover, it has been observed that almost 70% of requests in Google Assistant are carried out in natural language, which serves as a good reminder on the way that voice can replace typing on several occasions.

Moreover, voice recognition has shown great signs of improvement in recent years, with Google’s machine learning reaching an accuracy rate of 95%.

There is a big challenge ahead for voice search providers to equal the accuracy of text-based searches, in order to convince people to trust voice functions even more.

Smart home hubs with in-built voice assistants have also seen great growth in the last year. A closer look at Amazon Echo’s installed base over the last two years indicates that consumers are exploring how voice can become an integral part of their daily lives.

It is expected that the applications of voice will expand even more in years to come, with communication, shopping and entertainment being key areas of growth.

Overview

As advertising giants search for new ways to maintain their growth, marketers should keep seeking the best methods to reach their target audience.

The variety of ad platforms nowadays brings an opportunity for more creative advertising and it’s important to consider how the use of data, the domination of mobile and new types of advertising can lead to the most effective results.

Measuring ROI on these new forms of advertising is still a challenge, but the fact that most of the industry is aware of this issue brings us closer to a time where this problem will be solved.

3 ways to scale your SEM efforts when you are hitting a wall

It happens to every AdWords practitioner at some point. We launch our campaigns, split out exact match and broad match, mine for queries, work on expansions, test different initiatives, run betas, etc. – and then we hit a wall.

What do we do next? How do we continue to push forward and scale our paid search accounts to capitalize on intent?

Below are a few strategies to break through the SEM wall and grow your account in an effective yet efficient manner.

Use Dynamic Search Ads for query mining

This is an obvious one, but many folks forget or tend to not use DSAs as they fear them going rogue and eating up spend without performing. First off, what are DSAs?

DSAs are a campaign type in Google that allows Google to crawl your site, matches ads in real time to shoppers, and directs them to the landing page most relevant to their query. (I have written in more detail about DSAs and the various targeting types in a previous article, ‘Capitalize on volume and long tail in Q4 with Dynamic Search Ads‘.)

Essentially, the goal I would recommend with DSAs is not to have that campaign as a volume driver but to leverage it for query mining. Cast a wide net, see what matches up and performs, then graduate those to keywords in your other campaigns where you can have more control over optimization, ad copy, and performance.

Use RLSA to expand keyword options

As you know, RLSA leverages your remarketing audiences for search ads. The great thing about RLSA is the fact that users who have visited your site are already familiar with you, your brand, and your overall offering.

With this in mind, you can create a campaign leveraging more broad, upper-funnel terms that you would normally deem to risky or wouldn’t expect to convert.

In addition, you can even include terms that you feel are somewhat relevant but may have been tested and paused for poor performance. Layering on RLSA audiences makes the same keywords less risky given that the audiences are already familiar with your brand – the goal is to get back in front of them, convince them to come back to your site, and convert.

A couple of additional tips on how to be more strategic with this strategy as you begin to test and expand:

Segment different audience types based on their interaction with your website to see how each performs (e.g. researchers, high intent, add to carts, etc.). By segmenting these audiences and layering in RLSA, you can bid more aggressively for segments performing well.
If you get significant traffic on your site and have fairly large audience list segments, you may actually want to create separate broad RLSA campaigns per audience segment. That allows you to customize your ads to each audience segment, along with customizing the LPs you would want to send them to – and of course you’ll have better control over budgets, so you can invest more of your dollars into the top-performing segments.
Pair a token analysis with broad match expansion

We’re all familiar with doing keyword expansions, whether that involves poring over search query reports to find converting terms or leveraging competitor keyword tools. However, it’s important to take a step back and look at your account at a high level. What are the core tokens that are not only driving volume but also performance?

A note on tokens if you’re not familiar with them: Tokens are basically the different stems in the keyword (essentially, you break up the keyword into its individual words).

For example, ‘Photography ecommerce website’ contains the tokens: photography, ecommerce, website.

Download your last 3-6 months of performance data across your keywords. Break down your keywords to their various tokens, and aggregate the data for each token. (You’ll want to look at Impressions, Clicks, Conversions, CPA, or Revenue/ROI.)

Once you’ve identified your top-performing tokens, you’ll want to build out long tail keywords and bid on them in broad match.

Note: it’s important to use broad match because the volume of long tail keywords is already fairly limited.

A bonus to the token analysis is that it can also help with efficiency efforts; if you notice bleeding or poor-performing tokens, add them to your negative keyword list and free up budget better spent elsewhere.

These three strategies should help you push past the SEM wall – but you don’t necessarily need to wait for a performance plateau to use them. Good luck!

How to optimize images for mobile: Implementing light, responsive, correctly formatted images

Graph shows: The average individual response size for content for the top 100 sites.

The mobile web has a weight problem. Too many mobile sites are slow to load, and bloated with unnecessary bells and whistles, leading to a poor user experience.

Chief among the culprits is images, which as we have seen in part 1 of this series, How to optimize your mobile site speed, account for 68% of total page weight. Then, in part 2, we looked at how to reduce the impact of images on the speed of your mobile site, including how to make sure your images are as accessible as can be. This mostly focused on removing images which do not add value, and making the ones you do use work harder.

But how can you make sure that any images on your mobile site are light, device-responsive, and use the best format to combine speed and quality? This column focuses on optimizing images for mobile, including responsive images and other clever methods for stopping images ruining mobile user experience.

The balancing act of image optimization

The problem with image optimization is that there are no hard and fast rules. Image optimization is always going to be a careful balancing act between user experience, attractiveness and page performance.

Raluca Budiu, Director of Research at Nielsen Norman Group, explains:

“Because the screen is small on mobile, too small images may offer too little information, and too big images may slow down the page too much. We recommend that you start with a modest size image and allow people to zoom in (or download a larger picture of the image).

Most of the time huge images are not a good idea — their information density is low, and they require people to wait for the page to load and/or to scroll down for more content. This is a common problem with responsive one-column designs: because images are supposed to fill up the whole container width, we often end up with huge images that carry little information compared to their size.”

There is no set-in-stone rule for how small a mobile image should be – it’s a trade-off between quality and page size. But a good guideline is to benchmark against the 100 most popular sites. According to httpArchive, the average JPG is 29KB and the average PNG is 16KB.

Reducing the weight of an image is partly about saving the image at the appropriate size and resolution (number of pixels) and partly about compressing the image. Some creative tools, such as Photoshop, will afford some compression, but often not enough, especially with larger image types such as PNG.

There are a number of tools that will very effectively compress images individually or in batches of images. For example the homepages image above was compressed using TinyPNG resulting in a 79% reduction in weight.

For a comparison of the leading compression tools, see GitHub.

Should you use different sized images for mobile, tablet and desktop?

When designing separate websites for mobile, tablet and desktop, whether that is via dedicated URLs (site.com and m.site.com) or serving different sites via a single URL (adaptive web design), it is implicit that images ought to be appropriately sized for the largest device in that category.

The position is perhaps less clear with responsive web design (RWD). With RWD, the principle is to serve the same website to different devices, using CSS to format the content according to the device capabilities and screen size.

This doesn’t mean, though, that websites should necessarily adopt a one-size fits all approach to images, explains Alex Painter, Web Performance Consultant at NCC Group:

“Pages are often slow on mobile because of a failure to deliver images appropriately sized for the viewport. The popularity of responsive design may be partly to blame – the idea that the same content can be reflowed so the layout works in any viewport can mask the fact that imagery hasn’t been optimized for mobile.

Plenty of sites deliver the same images on desktop as they do on mobile – with mobile versions just scaled down to fit. This might not be immediately obvious to end users with high-end devices on fast, reliable networks. But it can make websites completely unusable for people with lower spec phones or with poor connectivity.

There are two reasons why this is a big problem. The first is simple – it just takes longer to deliver an unnecessarily large image over the network. The second is often overlooked: the mobile device has to work hard to a) decode and b) scale down the image. This is expensive in terms of processing power and memory.”

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Helped in part by the advocacy of the Responsive Images Community Group, the HTML specification now makes it easier for developers to create a number of alternate images for different device types – to suit different screen sizes (viewport), resolutions (number of pixels) or device capability.

The webpage HTML tells the browser which of these images to select for screens up to a maximum width and if the image should take up all or just part of the screen width.

Previously, some developers would use JavaScript to specify the use of different images, but using the HTML element should be more efficient, reducing the extra code and requests that slow down page load times.

Alex Painter:

“Delivering the right image for the viewport is now reasonably straightforward. We’ve had CSS media queries for background images for some time, but until recently images referenced in the HTML was more of a problem.

Now, we have the responsive images specification: the element, with the srcset[set of alternative image sources] attribute and sizes attribute that make it possible to define which image should be delivered for which viewport width (or to allow the browser to make the most appropriate choice from a selection of images).

The spec is now very well supported by browsers, and developers should ideally be using it rather than using JavaScript to achieve the same end.”

Who is using responsive images?

A peek at the source code of major websites such as Amazon, Facebook and the BBC confirms that none is yet using the element to serve responsive images.

Would they benefit from doing so? Serving different images to each platform potentially offers several advantages:

  • Allows the website to show a larger, higher resolution image on the desktop.
  • Reduces the picture sizes and total page weight and thus speeding up mobile load time.
  • Enables the mobile site to show a zoomed in image on mobile. (Note the cropped image of the dog above).
  • Retailers can display Mobile-Friendly Hero Images on mobile while sticking to traditional pack shots on larger displays.

Finding the best format for your images

The most common formats for images used in mobile/mobile-friendly sites are JPEG 46%, PNG 28%, GIF 23% and SVG 1% according to httpArchive.

Graph shows: image requests by format. JPG is most popular with 46%. Source: httpArchive February, 2017

Using an inappropriate image format can increase file size and effect quality when images scale for different screen sizes.

There are two types of web image: raster and vector. The first is made up of dots (like a digital photograph), while the second is made up of lines and shapes. JPEG, PNG and GIF are raster. SVG is a vector. SVG is a newer format not as widely used (yet), but is recommended for responsive design sites by this course on Responsive Images from Google and Udacity.

There are pro and cons for each, and every web designer has a different opinion and favorite formats. You need to research your own company policy, but in general:

  • JPEG is most commonly used for web photographs
  • GIF is common for animations as well as simple graphs, icons and logos
  • PNG is common for higher quality graphs, logos, icons and other illustrations and photos with graphical effects
  • SVG is good for graphs and logos, page headers – things that are designed by an illustrator.

For more information on format types and sizes, see Google’s guide to optimizing images.

Alternatives to traditional images

Webpages are made up of many small images, such as icons and buttons. If these are made using individual GIF/PNG/JPEG images, it all adds to the page size and each one requires an individual browser request, which can slow down page load time.

Three methods that can help keep page size and image requests down are:

  • CSS sprites – combines a collection of smaller graphics into a single CSS file. N.B. Overloading sprites with too many or too large graphics will be counter-productive.
  • Icon fonts – is a library of icons sent as one single file.
  • CSS shapes – are shapes built using CSS, rather than as a traditional image

Mike D’Agruma Lead Front-End Web Developer, E-volve Creative Group:

“To save on file size, I generally stay away from loading larger, more popular icon libraries, and use Fontastic to create my own custom icon fonts. This method works extremely well on a variety of levels: 1) As I’m only using a small number of custom icons, the font file size is drastically smaller; 2) Icons are created with SVGs, which ensures they’ll be extremely crisp on devices; 3) You can’t beat this option for flexibility, as font icons are extremely customizable with CSS.

Another great way to safe on time, file-size and server requests is to use CSS to create shapes – you can create most shapes and add as many effects and transitions as you’d like with CSS.

Take Summit County Metro Parks mobile site as an example, in the header section alone, I was able to use a combination of CSS shapes and font icons to create what could’ve been six different images. Activating the mobile menu shows an example of a CSS-shape animation (the hamburger menu morphing into an “X”), and the use of an additional icon on the right side of accordion triggers shows open and closed states.”

Screenshot of Summit County Metro Parks mobile site, there are six small button icons in the header.

Web design techniques for improving perceived load time

When you have trimmed the fat, removed the unnecessary images and optimized the remainder, but the page is still not loading fast enough – what do you do? Cheat.

Make sure the most important stuff loads first, says Raluca Budiu:

“When a page loads, make sure that the text loads first, so that people can start scanning the content. As images load, don’t shuffle the already loaded content around — it will cause readers to lose their place on the page, and sometimes they will even click on the wrong link because the right target unexpectedly moved.”

There is a difference between perceived load time and actual load time. All that matters to the user is that the content on they are looking at, or for, is available. They do not want to be staring at an empty screen while the browser fetches images they may never see.

There are three common techniques for delivering this. Robert Gaines, a Kansas, US-based, web and app developer explains:

“1. Deferred loading, or delayed loading, uses JavaScript to stop images and other assets loading until after the main content of a webpage has finished loading. Deferred loading reduces the amount of time it takes for a webpage’s primary content to render, but reduces the need to cut images that would otherwise slow down a webpage.

2. Lazy Loading loads assets when and as they are needed. So content is loaded above the fold first, then below the fold as the user scrolls. With image galleries – such as product searches on retail sites – thumbnail images are used, larger images are only loaded when a corresponding thumbnail is clicked.

3. Progressive image loading first loads low quality images while a webpage is being rendered and then replaces them with high quality images after primary content has finished loading. Progressive image loading balances performance with visual appeal. Unlike deferred loading, it doesn’t leave users waiting for secondary images to load after primary content.”

Tools such as Photoshop allow images to be saved as progressive JPEGs, or interlaced PNG, which will load in the way described.

This course on Responsive Images from Google and Udacity is a good introduction to this subject; it is aimed at web developers, but everyone will benefit. You can skip the coding exercises.

This article is Part 3 of a three-part series on how to optimize your mobile site speed. Read the previous instalments in this series:

  • How to optimize your mobile site speed: Testing for issues
  • How to reduce the impact of images on your mobile site speed

A version of this column was originally published on our sister site, ClickZ. It has been republished here for the enjoyment of our audience on SEW.

How to optimize for Google’s featured snippets

Google featured snippets are an amazing opportunity for marketers to skyrocket above competitors on page one, increase page views, and boost conversions.

But what is a Google featured snippet? And does this SERP manipulation really work?

What exactly is a Google featured snippet?

Chances are, you have seen a Google featured snippet while searching Google. If you asked a question based query, Google will have eagerly answered it with a snippet. These featured snippets are the answers to users’ questions, showcased in a box in what’s known as “position zero” on page one.

For instance, let’s say you searched for, “How do I optimize my website?” Your question based query will be met with a snippet answering your question. In most cases, these are pulled from page one results, but snippet information can be pulled from page two, three, and maybe even farther down the SERP line.

Google Featured Snippets are indeed search friendly, and you will get answers without having to click any pages.

Featured snippet formats range from bullet points to numbers, but there are in fact a variety of snippets that Google will deem worthy and display.

Snippets may answer search-based queries in paragraph form, like so:

You may be wondering, Why is this important for my business, products, services, or blog? By obtaining position zero on Google page one, you rank above the #1 organic listing. The sheer real estate given to featured snippets is staggering.

They essentially dominate the results page, giving you and your brand maximum, above the fold, exposure. And all without dipping into your AdWords budget. What could be better?

Probably the most appealing aspect of snippets is that they are indifferent to industry powerhouse brands, and sites that normally dominate SERPs. Any brand, large or small, corporate to boutique, start up to conglomerate, can get a coveted position zero, page one spot.

The SEO value for your brand and business includes:

  • Snippets drive more traffic to your site.
  • Snippets boost brand visibility in Google SERPs.
  • Snippets increase trust and credibility.

All great things aside, it is essential to understand that getting a Google Featured Snippet can be like hunting for Bigfoot. You may get your content featured one day, but the next, it could simply be back to position three or four.

How do you get a Google featured snippet?

This question is becoming a focal point for many SEOs, marketers, content developers, and CEOs in nearly every industry. The most important aspect behind getting a featured snippet is quality content, formatted in a specific way.

You would assume that Google algorithms choose selected snippets based on first page search results. However, this is not always the case. SERP rank may actually have little to do with the decision.

Our research on featured snippets discovered that content can be pulled from any page, even as far back as page 80.

Taking page two or page three content to produce a snipp-able piece of content defies traditional Google ranking factors. This gives all a shimmer of hope, regardless of your page two ranking, or page eight, or those sites trapped in SERP purgatory.

It is all about authoritative content, and the format you choose to make that content snippable.

Here’s how you can get a Google featured snippet

Starting to optimize your content for featured snippets, or reworking previous content to get a snippet, requires a few formatting techniques.

Formatting

Formatting your featured snippets should take into account. . .

  • Text
  • Tables
  • Numbered lists
  • Bullet points
  • Steps
  • Charts
  • Images

We’ll get into more details with each, but draw out your dusty old basic HTML techniques and use them when optimizing pages for featured snippets.

Word count

Making your steps, numbered and bulleted lists, or paragraphs concise and tight may make it easier for algorithms to determine whether your content is fit for the feature.

You want to optimize to the tune of Google’s algorithms, and research has found that word count makes a big difference. “The most common length of content in Featured Snippets is between 40-50 words,” according to an analysis by SEMrush.

FAQ content

Searches often type questions into Google, and expect to find exact answers. When creating your editorial calendar, craft content in an FAQ format. Develop entire articles around the questions that people will ask, and answer those questions in your content.

Instead of having all of your content in an FAQ page, create a page for each question, and then you can link them all together through an FAQ glossary that links to all the FAQ pages.

Craft your Q&A list utilizing a keyword research tool to identify related questions. You can also check keywords at the bottom of any SERP for snippet optimization.

Table, paragraph or list?

The type of snippet format you choose for your content may play a role in how Google’s algorithms choose snipp-able content. For instance, 29 percent of all snippets are tables.

A featured snippet “Table” would look like . . .

This, however, doesn’t rule out a list or paragraph. In fact, paragraphs and lists seem to be trending as of late for Google featured snippets.

Even “Rules” can be applied to snippets . . .

And the standard numbered list . . .

Use paragraph tags

Another formatting tactic you can use for Featured Snippets is to ensure the content, or answer, is in a paragraph (

) tag. The tag also needs to be below the search query header.

Headers play a role

To optimize your content for a Featured Snippet, your search query should be in an h1, h2, h3 header.

Don’t be afraid to add steps

For question based searches, Google might not pull through an entire paragraph for the snippet. By adding Step 1, Step 2, etc. for each subheading, h2, Google will work them chronologically.

Remember, when it comes to snippets, Google likes content that is logically formatted.

A quick case study on featured snippets

The below post on diamond girdles is a good example of a Google Featured Snippet that gets superior ranking with a position zero snippet, position one, and above all on page one.

Even though the site ranks #1 organically for this keyword, there was a 16% increase in traffic ever since the featured snippet gained rankings. By creating content optimized for the Who, What, When, Where, Why questions and using keywords that appear in Search Suggestions, this website has gained dozens of featured snippets that have increased traffic substantially, month over month.

What are you waiting for?

To get off to a powerful start, run an audit of keywords you rank for, and pluck the question based queries. Then, answer those questions using the above tips and tactics. Optimize for position zero and make Google work for you, and your bottom line!

Progressive Web Apps versus Android Instant Apps: Which is better for marketers?

Vector graphic of a pair of hands holding a phone, with one finger tapping an icon on its screen.

Much has been made of the fight between mobile apps and the mobile web, but the line between the two is no longer as clear-cut as it used to be.

Broadly speaking, a mobile-friendly or mobile-responsive website is less costly and time-consuming to develop than a native mobile app, and tends to attract a wider audience – it’s quick to access, with no downloading or storage required.

Native mobile apps, meanwhile, tend to offer a better user experience and see more engagement from a dedicated core of users who are loyal enough to download a company’s app and come back to it time and time again.

But in the last couple of years, two hot new contenders have been added to the mix which aim to combine some of the best features of the mobile web and the app world for a better all-round mobile experience. They are: Progressive Web Apps (PWAs), and Android Instant Apps.

Image via Google Developers

Both Progressive Web Apps and Android Instant Apps are Google initiatives that put a new spin on the traditional mobile app. Both aim to provide a faster-loading, slimmed-down mobile experience; so you can be forgiven for wondering what exactly the difference is between the two.

In this article I’ll sum up the key features of Progressive Web Apps and Instant Apps, look at the differences between the two, and examine which offers a better proposition for businesses who are considering investing in one or the other.

What are Progressive Web Apps?

Andy Favell recently wrote a great piece for Search Engine Watch about the latest developments with Progressive Web Apps in the wake of Google I/O. In it, he explained:

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

Google’s Developer page about Progressive Web Apps describes PWAs as “user experiences that have the reach of the web and are reliable, fast and engaging”. While at base PWAs are mobile webpages, they are designed to act and feel like apps, with fast loading and offline usage.

This immediately eliminates one of the biggest drawbacks of the mobile web: that mobile web pages depend on an often-shaky data connection that can lead to a poor experience and long, frustrating load times.

Image via Google Developers

Progressive Web Apps can also be saved to a user’s home screen, so that they can be launched with the tap of an icon just like a regular app can.

Google encourages developers to build Progressive Web Apps to an established standard, which when met, will cause Chrome to prompt the user to add the PWA to their home screen.

Brands who have already jumped on the PWA bandwagon include Twitter (whose PWA, Twitter Lite, sees 1 million daily visits from users’ homepage icons), Forbes, Expedia, Alibaba, the Washington Post, and even former native app-only companies like Lyft.

Twitter Lite is a faster, data friendly way for people to use Twitter to see what’s happening in the world.

👉https://t.co/AIUgyCAFj0 pic.twitter.com/9EIG7pgK6O

— Twitter (@Twitter) April 6, 2017

PWAs already offer many traits that we associate with native apps, including push notifications, geolocation, access to device features like the camera and microphone, and as mentioned above, offline working and icons on the home screen.

At the same time, they give organizations access to the benefits of the mobile web including easy discoverability and shareability (just send a link), universal access regardless of device (no need to release a separate iOS or Android app – although PWAs don’t quite have full functionality on iOS yet; more on that later), and the ability to bookmark individual links.

This sounds like a very compelling proposition for companies who aren’t sure whether to invest in a mobile site or a mobile app, or who want to significantly improve the experience of their mobile site for users.

So why did Google, after already having developed Progressive Web Apps, go on to launch Android Instant Apps in 2016? What is the difference between the two?

What are Android Instant Apps?

Android Instant Apps are fully-fledged native Android apps that are designed to work in a very specific way. Like Progressive Web Apps (or any mobile site, for that matter) they can be shared via a link, which when opened will give the recipient access to a stripped-down version of the app.

So, in the example that Google used at I/O in 2016, one user could send another a link to the recipe section of the Buzzfeed Video app, who would then be able to open it and access the part of the app that was linked to – in this case, recipe videos – without downloading it.

Screencap via Android Developers on YouTube

If they wanted to access the rest of the app, they would need to then download the full version, but this could be done easily without performing an additional search in the Play store.

Android Instant Apps are designed to be effectively the same as using a regular Android app, to the point where users may not even notice that they are using the feature. The only indicator that they are accessing an Instant App is a simplified app interface.

Apart from Buzzfeed, brands known to be using Instant Apps include The New York Times Crossword, Periscope, Viki (a video streaming service for Asian TV and film), football app Onefootball and video hosting service Vimeo.

Gif of Android Instant apps from various brands displayed on smartphone screens

Some of the brands currently using Android Instant Apps, including Onefootball, Vimeo and The New York Times. Image via Android Developers Blog

Android Instant Apps set out to tackle many of the same problems as Progressive Web Apps: they are designed to launch quickly, provide a user-friendly interface, and avoid cumbersome and data-costly downloads.

The feature is designed as an upgrade to existing Android apps, rather than being an additional app that companies need to develop. This is good news for organizations who already have an Android app, and for those who do, upgrading probably seems like a no-brainer.

But for those who might not have an app yet, do Instant Apps make a persuasive enough case by themselves for developing an Android app? Or might they be better off putting their time into developing a Progressive Web App?

Progressive Web Apps versus Android Instant Apps

On an individual feature basis, here is how Progressive Web Apps and Android Instant Apps compare to one another:

Progressive Web Apps
Android Instant Apps
App-like interface
App-like interface
Offline usage
Offline usage
Fast loading
Fast loading
No need to download an app/visit the app store
No need to download an app/visit the app store

✘ Unless you want to access the full version of the app

Shareable via a link
Shareable via a link
Icon on the home screen
Icon on the home screen
✘ Lacks integration with some smartphone features (e.g. flashlight, contacts, Bluetooth, NFC)
All the features of a native app
✘ Not yet supported by every OS (PWAs can be used on iOS/Safari and Windows/Microsoft Edge but have no offline functionality or push notifications)
✘ Android only
Can be crawled by search engines
✘ Not discoverable by search engines
No need to develop a fully-fledged app

✘ But you do still need to develop a web app that meets Google’s standards

✘ Need to develop a fully-fledged Android app

Unless you already have one, in which case you can just upgrade

In that list, you may have seen some features which especially appeal to you, some which might be deal-breakers and have put you off one option or the other, or some “cons” which aren’t enough of a deal-breaker to put you off.

Point-for-point, however, the two look about equal. So in the interests of settling the debate: which one is the better option for marketers?

Which is better for marketers: Progressive Web Apps or Android Instant Apps?

Well… Sorry to let you down after you’ve made it this far, but the issue isn’t quite as clear-cut as I’ve framed it to be.

As with the “mobile app versus mobile web” debate, no one option is inherently better than the other (although one can be cheaper or quicker to develop than the other), because it all depends on the needs of your brand and what you want your mobile experience to deliver.

What PWAs and AIAs have done is mitigate some of the biggest drawbacks of the mobile web and mobile apps, respectively, so that it’s possible to almost have the best of both worlds no matter what you decide.

If you’re trying to decide between building a regular mobile site (whether mobile-optimized, mobile-friendly or mobile-first) or a PWA, a Progressive Web App is a no-brainer. And if you already have an Android app (or were going to build one), upgrading to an Instant App would bring a lot of additional benefits.

Image via Android Developers

The lack of iOS support for both is an obvious drawback, although in this respect PWAs just edge out, as Safari is reported to be considering support for Service Workers, the feature that enables PWAs’ offline usage and push notifications. (Chrome, Firefox and Opera all currently support Service Workers, and Microsoft Edge is in the process of developing support).

Ultimately, the best solution might be a combination of several. Google Developer Advocate Dan Dascalescu points out in his article ‘Why Progressive Web Apps vs. native is the wrong question to ask’ that “if you already have a product, you already have an app, a web presence, or both, and you should improve both. If you don’t have a product, then if you have the resources to build native Android + native iOS + web apps, and keep them in sync, go for it.”

If you don’t need Android-specific native features, he reasons, then you can cover your bases with the combination of a PWA and a native iOS app. Though in some cases, building a PWA can lead to increased adoption even on iOS; AliExpress, Alibaba’s answer to eBay, saw an 82% increase in conversion rate on iOS after launching a Progressive Web App.

Progressive Web Apps have been around and available to organizations a little longer than Android Instant Apps, so there are a few more use cases and examples of why they work than there are for Instant Apps. Over the next year or so, I predict that we’ll see wider adoption of Instant Apps, but only from those brands who had already developed Android native apps anyway.

Ultimately, for those companies for whom developing a native Android app makes sense, nothing has really changed. Companies who were undecided between investing in mobile web versus a native app may have more reasons to plump for mobile web now that Progressive Web Apps have come along – especially once PWAs have full support in Safari and Microsoft Edge.

I can see PWAs becoming the more widespread choice for organizations once they work across all devices, as they truly do combine the best features of mobile web and apps, while also being universally accessible. But they’re not going to eliminate the need for apps entirely.

The upshot of it all is that whether organizations adopt Progressive Web Apps or Android Instant Apps, users will get a better experience – and that benefits everyone.

This article was originally published on our sister site, ClickZ, and has been reproduced here for the enjoyment of our audience on Search Engine Watch.

The ultimate guide to mobile technical SEO

With smartphone users growing year-on-year while desktop users stagnate, it comes as no surprise that Google looks to put mobile at the very core of its search engine algorithm in 2017.

Mobile is destined to become the backbone of determining rankings on both the mobile and desktop version of your website – so it’s vital to look at technical SEO from a mobile perspective.

What is technical SEO?

Technical SEO provides Google and other search engines with the information they are requesting to understand the true purpose of your content.

Technical SEO looks at the coding and technical issues which impact search engines, many of which will be mentioned in this blog.

What mobile configuration should I be using for my mobile website?

There are currently three mobile configurations that Google recognizes: ‘responsive web design’, ‘dynamic serving’ and ‘separate URLs’. However, Google recommends using responsive web design, which is distinguishable from the other two configurations due to the URLs and HTML remaining the same for both mobile and desktop.

1. Responsive web design

A responsive web design uses CSS media queries to allow desktop webpages to be viewed in response to the size of the screen, which redesigns the content according to the device.

Benefits:
Singular URL is better for users and makes content easier to share and to click on
Google crawlers and other bots only need to crawl once, which will help in increasing crawl budget and indexing your pages efficiently
Redirects are not required to take them to the correct version of the page. This reduces errors that can be made when creating redirects on your site.
Weaknesses:
If the desktop version goes down, so does the mobile version
Can’t be used for feature phones or tablets like the other two.
2. Dynamic serving

Dynamic serving uses user agent detection to deliver alternate HTML and CSS according to the user agents that are requesting them.

Benefits:
Unique experience delivered per device
No redirection required.
Weakness:
User agent redirects are prone to mistakes
Bots need to crawl pages with different user agents, which uses up crawl budget and can lead to indexing inefficiency.
3. Separate URLs

For every desktop URL on your site there is an equivalent mobile URL with this mobile configuration. This allows you to serve mobile-dedicated content.

Much like dynamic serving, user agent detection is used to redirect mobile users landing on the desktop version.

Benefits:
Mobile-dedicated content
Implementation is easy.
Weakness:
User agent redirects are prone to mistakes
Waste of crawl resources.
3 focus areas of mobile technical SEO

These areas are fundamental for your mobile technical SEO:

1. Website speed

How can you improve your website load speed and make your user experience smooth? If you’re not already asking this question, then please do!

This is a crucial first stage of a user’s experience of your website – you want it to be epic and flawless! Here are four ways to speed up your pages:

Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)

Although AMPs are not signal ranking factors and mainly benefit the users, these pages are an area which may become important with mobile-first indexing in 2017.

AMP works using coding language AMP HTML which restricts code to increase page loading speed and reliability. This can help load a page in under three seconds if your page is not able to perform that otherwise.

If you have a WordPress site it’s very straightforward to implement AMP. Check out this article on how to implement Google AMP on your WordPress site.

Simple and minimalistic templates

It’s important to remember the No.1 rule when it comes to the design of your website; less is more, so ensure your templates are minimalistic.

Additional elements to your template layout such as plugins, widgets and tracking codes all require additional loading time which can start to accumulate and cause excessive page loading times to pages on your site.

A normal page loading time is roughly under three seconds. Anything that exceeds this is considered too long, so ensure only necessary elements are on the page template.

One easy but effective way to reduce page speed loading time is to ensure Gzip compression and lossless compression is applied to all images. Oversized images can be a big cause of slow page speed loading.

No redirect chains

Under no circumstances should you ever have redirect chains. These can increase page loading with every additional redirect in the chain. Therefore, it’s fundamental that all redirects are performed in one step instead of multiple steps.

In the circumstance of 404 pages you must crawl and export these pages and resolve them using 301 (one step) or ensure you’re using custom user-friendly 404 pages which humors the user and guarantees they can continue their journey on your website instead of bouncing from your site.

Browser caching

Every time a browser is opened to your website it must download the web files to display your page correctly – which includes HTML, CSS and JS.

Browser cache begins to accumulate website resources automatically (local computer) upon the users’ first time on your web page. This allows the browser to recall the first website version cached, which allows the site to be loaded quicker on your return to a particular page of your site – greatly benefiting your returning visitors to your website.

Making use of browser caching is very simple and can be done by editing your HTTP header to set expiry times for files. With most file types, you can choose how frequently they need to be updated.

2. Site architecture

The site structure is another very important element of mobile technical SEO – mobile users want to be able to navigate to the pages with ease and within less than three clicks. Here are some simple ways to make sure all pages are easily accessible and still relevant.

Following the breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs present a clear website hierarchy and indicate where the user currently is, which will help reduce the number of clicks/actions required to get to previous pages or different sections.

Breadcrumbs should be used as secondary navigation in addition to your primary navigation. Breadcrumbs should be used by large sites and ecommerce sites where hierarchy and site structure may become very complex and confusing for users and bots.

Juicing internal links

Silo content helps search engine crawlers to correctly interpret your website and help increase keyword rankings for that page. Internal links within the content make it easier for users to find content targeting keyword relevant terms. This will improve the visibility of your older articles that are topically related to the newly published ones.

In addition, utilizing internal category links will help users flow between your related topic resources on your site and discover other related topics.

3. Structured data mark-up

Structured data helps inform Google as to how to interpret the type of resource the page is by looking at the content and on-page optimization.

Rich snippets provide additional structured data markup to provide extra information of what your site entails in SERPs. This allows users to determine if the page is worth clicking through to. Rich snippets provide opportunities to provide extra information such star rating and number of reviews.

Google has two tools for structured data markup – one for help with implementing structured data mark-up and the other for testing the structured data mark-up. For more help getting started, check out our beginner’s guide to Schema.org markup.

Summary

As you can see, this is a very extensive topic and I’ve focused on the areas that I expect technical SEO to place most importance on. There won’t be a particular change in current technical SEO tasks performed but it’s clear that if mobile is at the forefront of search engine algorithm updates in future then we should expect to see a change in priority of ranking signal factors.

When it comes to choosing your mobile configuration, it will come down to your budget and where your audience is viewing you. If you’re looking for simple and non-expensive, then having a responsive website design is the solution.

However, if you’ve got a little more to spend and want to ensure your audience have a great experience of your website, then the other mobile configurations are good options as well.

It’s also worth considering how you’re currently being viewed by your audience. Are they more desktop/laptop based? If so, then responsive web design is the best solution as they will have no issues with understanding the mobile layout.

If they are split, or mobile views are higher, you might be better off with the other options as the user may want to obtain information quickly.

If you have any technical SEO questions, feel free to comment below.

6 ways to turn your website into a niche knowledge hub

Facebook Trends

Giving away knowledge is the most effective way to build a solid brand presence. But is it just about writing and publishing blog posts?

It might have been sufficient to start a niche blog to build authority ten years ago. These days, you’ll need to go the extra mile.

Here are 6 ways to turn your website into a niche knowledge hub to build a stronger, more recognizable brand and a more reliable web presence.

1. Educate yourself: Monitor industry trends

A company that monitors and utilizes latest industry trends is an innovative company. Besides, knowing what’s hot in the industry gives you a lot of new marketing ideas and keeps your business always moving forward.

Twitter and Facebook are most efficient ways to monitor micro-trends (i.e. those that are happening at any given moment). They are also incredibly time-saving because you don’t need spend hours reading articles on what’s going on. You can just hover over the trending word to see the immediate context:

When it comes to yearly industry trends, those that happen gradually, month by month, the ways to monitor them can vary.

  • Monitor your keyword in Buzzsumo or at least Google Alerts
  • Put together a thorough reading or RSS list to subscribe to trusted niche news outlets.

2. Monitor competitors

What are your competitors doing to innovate? Which latest technology trends have they been embracing? Which new marketing tactics have they been playing with?

Monitoring your competitors is a must for an innovative company that strives to educate its employees and community. There’s always ways to learn from others, especially when it comes to mistakes to avoid and new tactics to adopt.

SE Ranking offers one of the most robust competitor monitoring solutions allowing you to monitor their page changes, search engine rankings, backlinks and even social media mentions. It’s a convenient platform holding a lot of tools under one roof and hence making competitor monitoring much more productive:

SE ranking

3. Hold webinars with influencers

Webinars have a ton of benefits, from the ability to create new video content (that can be further repackaged into podcasts) to community building and lead generation.

Webinars are also helpful for influencer marketing and positioning your company as a niche knowledge hub. When seeing familiar names on your site, visitors will automatically assume your brand is trusted and will be more inclined to buy from you or opt in to your email list.

ClickMeeting is a feature-rich affordable solution to easily host webinars that include lead generation forms, timelines, convenient backend, reliable video recording technology, customizable thank-you pages and more.

Clickmeeting

It’s a smart idea to combine this tactic with trend monitoring process to hold webinars on some recent events and tendencies.

4. Put together a whitepaper

A whitepaper is an official company’s report on their area of expertise. Apart from sounding really fancy, a whitepaper is a great downloadable material that tells your users that your company is willing to give back and contribute to the community knowledge base.

It takes some considerable time and effort to put together a solid whitepaper, so look into some repackaging opportunities to include some in-depth articles you have previously published on your site. For some examples, head over to Internet Marketing Ninjas Resources page to see a few whitepapers we did (they are free to download).

Internet Marketing Ninjas Resources

5. Hold a yearly industry survey

Investing in an industry survey has a huge PR benefit: Surveys are great outreach material as many journalists and bloggers are happy to cover your findings on their sites.

On top of that, you can use surveys to build relationships with niche influencers inviting them to take the survey and contribute their thoughts. This is what Moz has been doing for years, quite successfully.

Moz survey

The easiest way to put together a high-quality industry survey is:

  • Reach out to influencers (using Boomerang app or a similar one to scale follow-ups)
  • Invest into Google Surveys. Choose your target audience, type your questions, and watch the results come within hours. Your questions are published across a network of news and reference sites, as well as within Google mobile app. People answer your questions in exchange for access to premium content, and credits to Google Play.
  • Google Surveys are the fastest, highest-quality way to collect answers and put together all kinds of reports to pitch bloggers and publish on your site.

    Google Surveys

    6. Create a course

    If you’ve been taking the above steps, you are likely to have a lot of expert content piling up and scattered around the web. Putting together a course to consolidate all those multi-format materials is the smartest thing you can do.

    Upload your webinars as video lessons, attach whitepapers and reports as bonus downloads, include your observations about the niche trends, and you have a solid online course to further engage your audience and add value to the industry.

    Kajabi is the most advanced way to build an online course I’ve seen so far. It has plenty of building and marketing tools inside and you can use your own domain to host the course too.

    kajabi

    Becoming a well-known brand is a long-term project. But the outcome is well worth it.

    The above ideas will help you build a stronger, more recognizable brand while also letting you create linkable assets and solid trusted content for your site too.

    How to reduce the impact of images on your mobile site speed

    Image shows screenshots of three ice cream products on Walmart's mobile site: Magnum bars; Drumstick cones; Breyers ice cream.

    Images are the main culprit for causing oversized web pages (average size 2.2MB) that can perform slowly on mobile devices.

    Last week, we looked at how to optimize your mobile site speed and test for issues that might be slowing your site down. With Google placing more and more emphasis on mobile site speed and user experience in order to achieve a good ranking, discovering issues with your mobile site speed is critical. But how can you fix those issues once you’re there?

    This column, the second of three, will discuss the different ways to reduce the impact of images on the performance of your mobile site.

    You need to fix your mobile image problem. You are not alone. As detailed in my previous column, the average mobile webpage is now a ludicrous 2.2MB and this can severely impede how quickly the page loads on a mobile device.

    At 68% of total page weight, images are the main culprit. This column will look at the different ways to reduce the impact of image on the performance of your website.

    For those you like a step-by-step approach, here are ten steps to speedy mobile web pages.

  • Speed test: how fast site loads on mobile device; causes of delay.
  • Test image impact: do images improve or kill user experience.
  • Image policy: review company policy on images; educate everyone.
  • Image audit: evaluate number, format, size, situation, impact.
  • Cut the fat: remove images that do not add value.
  • Image impact: make images work harder.
  • Balancing images with accessibility.
  • Optimize images: right format, right size.
  • Alternative techniques: for icons and buttons.
  • Even more speed: web design techniques.
  • Steps 1-4 were mostly covered in Part 1. This column will concentrate on steps 5-7. Part 3 will concentrate on steps 8-10.

    Cut the fat

    The first and easiest step to improving page speed is to remove unnecessary images. If images do not add value and are taking up valuable real estate get rid of them. Crappy stock image just there to fill space? Be gone.

    When you are auditing your existing pages or creating a new one, ask: does this image justify:

  • The space it takes up on the mobile screen?
  • Adding 30KB, 50KB, 100KB etc. to the page size?
  • Robert Gaines, a Kansas, US-based, web and app developer, advises:

    “Before you add an image to a webpage, decide if you really need it; if it really adds value. Every image that you add slows the webpage down, impacting both user experience and search rankings. If you don’t need an image, cut the fat!

    Slider images are a great example of images that can be cut from a webpage. Studies have shown that sliders do not have a significantly positive impact on either conversions or user experience – they are unnecessary bloat.”

    Use heatmaps, user testing and A/B testing (covered in Part 1 of this series) to assess the impact your images are having on the users. Is it positive, negligible or negative?

    Images that count

    Once you have illuminated the images that don’t add value, concentrate on making the remaining images work harder for their pixels/KBs.

    Raluca Budiu, Director of Research at Nielsen Norman Group, says:

    “As web images can take longer to load on mobile devices, it is usually a good idea if they contain information, and are not purely decorative. Users rarely appreciate a pretty picture that is unrelated to an article. Ecommerce sites, in particular need good images — people can rarely make a buying decision if they cannot see the product well.”

    Case study: Unilever mobile-ready hero images

    One company that has really flung its weight behind making images more useful is Unilever.

    Working with Cambridge University Inclusive Design team, the company has redesigned all product shots for all its brands to make them easier for web customers to instantly recognize and pick the right product, just using visual recognition, as they speed through any retailer’s catalogue of products “Vegas style” (i.e. spinning through results like the reels on a slot machine).

    The idea is that by highlighting the essential details – brand, product type, size and quantity – on the image, shoppers don’t have to read the copy for every product.

    In case you were wondering, a hero image is the term given to the fat clickable/tappable banner image, often on a carousel, at the top of homepages (particularly), featuring a new product, promotion etc. and a call to action. Mobile-Ready Hero Images are the smaller thumbnail images found on a page of product listings either in a category or following a search for e.g. men’s deodorant.

    Oliver Bradley, Global eCommerce Experience Design Director at Unilever, explains:

    “Mobile-Ready Hero Images were created specifically for online retail to act as the primary image in search / favorites thumbnail results. They are designed to work well on all screen sizes that are typical for online retail (16mm on mobile, 23mm on tablet and 48mm on laptop / desktop).

    They allow the online shopper to better recognize brand, format, variant and size as they are perform that fast vertical scroll which is typical behavior when scanning through long lists of products on a mobile or tablet.

    The images can be zoomed and/or cropped to deliver better legibility & recognition of brand and variant esp. on portrait packs. If required brands can add the size of the product or number of contents in the bottom right-hand corner. If necessary, the type of product may be added as a stripe on the right-hand side (portrait packs), or as a stripe along the bottom (landscape packs). Makes better use of space than with a conventional packet shot.”

    First introduced in 2014, Unilever has moved rapidly to convince retailers in 20 countries – including many of the retail giants e.g. Walmart, CVS, Walgreens, Tesco and Carrefour – to introduce the enhanced imagery to their e/m-commerce sites.

    With some retailers, such as Asda.com (Walmart’s UK subsidiary), every Unilever product is now marketed with a Mobile-Ready Hero Image.

    What’s more, Unilever, with the Cambridge team, have turned Mobile-Ready Hero Images into a standard: available open source and free for any competitor to pick up. And many of Unilever’s biggest competitors have done just that, says Bradley:

    “We realized that we needed to create a versatile category solution with the same visual architecture and consistency across the board. Since doing this we’ve been pleased to see L’Oréal, GSK, P&G, Kellogg’s, Kimberly Clark and J&J follow our approach.”

    The image below displays two screenshots. The first captures a deodorant search from Walmart.com, showing two Unilever brands with hero images with the product type and size alongside the product shot. With the two rival products, it is more difficult to establish the type of product or the size, without zooming in on the product.

    As Walmart does not include these details in the blurb, this makes the hero images doubly useful.

    The second image captures a shampoo search from Asda.com, showing a Unilever product (TreSemme), a P&G product (Herbal Essences), both using the hero image. The third product, also a P&G brand (Pantene) does not use a hero image. While the hero images are considerably more high-impact, Asda does include the product type and size in the blurb… assuming that the consumer reads it.

    Two screenshots: 1. Showing a search on Walmart.com, showing two Unilever brands with hero images; 2. Showing a search on Asda.com, showing a Unilever product (TreSemme), a P&G product (Herbal Essences), both using the hero image.

    So what’s the impact on UX?

    At the start of the project, Unilever and the Cambridge team conducted quantitative research (i.e. interviews and surveys) with 3000 shoppers in and then verified their findings/work by conducted eye tracking tests with more than 100 shoppers, to watch how they interacted with the site and images using mobile devices on mobile to verify.

    This user testing put Unilever in a good position to rebut any doubters from the retail business.

    “Some retailers argue pack shots are necessary for e-commerce, because the text description next to the pack shot provides all the information that cannot be obtained from the photograph. But we know from eye tracking that 90% of the e-commerce page is ignored.

    We know that the majority of shoppers don’t bother to check the product name, size or format on retailers’ websites or apps. That’s why nearly every shopper we interviewed had a story of accidentally buying a product online that turned out to be not as expected (especially on size). If a pack looks similar to the one their used to, they don’t bother to check the text to verify.

    The point of online grocery is convenience and saving time. It’s about selecting a large number of products as quickly as they can. Because you don’t have to check the text with hero images, it makes shopping even faster.

    We know this is true from the conversions the hero image have delivered. The A/B test results have been amazing: a 24% lift on Magnum, a 19% lift on Simple, and a 4% lift on Ben & Jerry’s.”

    Accessibility

    The biggest issue for any sort of image, but particularly an image that contains important textual data, is that that they are invisible to people with visual impairments. People who don’t see well or at all, use screen-readers to read the text on the site aloud.

    There’s nothing wrong with using images, or hero images for that point, but it is essential that the content in the image should be either written in the web copy and/or in alt tags (these tags describe the image to a screen reader, but are invisible to the able-bodied reader).

    Generally, accessibility experts frown on the use of text being placed within an images, because screen readers are blind to the data it contains. This is why, for example, it is preferable from an accessibility point of view to prepare tables of data as an html table, rather than simply uploading an image of the table – but this will always take additional time and usually won’t look as good.

    Marco Zehe is an accessibility evangelist and QA engineer at Mozilla:

    “Mobile images need alt text, just like for the desktop, of course. But it helps if the images are responsive, because people with low vision or elderly people will benefit from them zooming better.

    “However screen readers do not do image recognition on the web, yet, so if there is text on the image, this is will be inaccessible. In principle, text on images should be avoided. But if the text helps clarify a photo, especially for people with low vision, and as long as it is only duplicating what is said in the copy and in the alt text, this is acceptable.”

    So, if text genuinely adds value to an image, as is the case with Mobile-Ready Hero Images, then it is safe to assume this is acceptable, as long as it is duplicated in the copy and the alt tag.

    So looking back to our Walmart and Asda examples pictured above:

    • The source code for the Dove deodorant on Walmart contains the alt text: “Dove Men+Care Extra Fresh Deodorant, 3 oz, Twin Pack”, which describes the product, size and quantity. The page copy describes the product, but does not include size or quantity.
    • The source code for the TRESemme Shampoo on Asda contains alt text: “TRESemme Moisture Rich Shampoo Rollback”, which describes the product, and offer, but not the size. The shopper needs to click through to discover this information.

    This article is Part 2 of a three-part series on how to optimize your mobile site speed. Check back next week for Part 3, which looks at how to refine and reformat your mobile site images.

    Or read the previous instalment: How to optimize your mobile site speed: Testing for issues.

    This column was originally published on our sister site, ClickZ, and has been reproduced here for the enjoyment of our audience on SEW.

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