SEO best practice guide for URLs

Today we’re going to take a look at the basic building block of not just SEO, but your very web presence itself: the humble URL.

Does the structure of a URL (or uniform resource locator for pointless trivia fans) matter to SEO? Yes it does, in fact there are many best practices you should consider when creating a URL for your content.

The following tips are collected from various resources, including Google’s own advice, Moz’s guide and the Gov.uk style guide.

Please let me know of there’s anything missing, and I’ll add in a future update.

1) Keep a simple, readable structure

This is Google’s number one most important advice – “a site’s URL structure should be as simple as possible.”

It should be logical and readable for human beings. So you’re URL should be www.example.com/SEO-advice-for-beginners not www.example.com/index.php?id_sezione=360&sid=4j3898enno0223bns983201djis03

Use actual words and sentences that anyone can understand, especially when copied into other documents or emails. Stay away from eternally long random patterns of letters and numbers. Nobody wants to click on that.

Gov.UK recommends it should be as short, memorable and unambiguous as possible, especially if a URL is going to be referred to offline.

2) Use hyphens to break up words in a URL

Punctuation is key in promoting readability in URLs. Google recommends hyphens (www.example.com/SEO-advice-for-beginners) instead of underscores (_).

3) All URLs must be in lower case

If your URL contains upper case letters, redirect to the lower case version. In some cases (if you’re hosting with Linux/Unix servers) identical URLs where the sole difference is a capital letter – example.com/webpage versus example.com/webPage – can be considered different pages.

4) Stop-words in URLs

It used to be that you were recommended to avoid stop words (a, an, the) in URLs, but that doesn’t matter anymore. A URL just needs to make sense to human eyes.

5) Your headline doesn’t have to match the URL exactly

In fact it’s a good idea to vary the text, and make it more concise. If your headline says ’25 super-useful SEO best practice tips for beginners’ it may be useful to pair it with a simpler URL: 25-SEO-best-practice-tips-for-beginners

6) Make sure your keywords are near the front of a URL

It’s still good SEO practice to ensure a page’s keywords are near the front of a URL – but it still needs to be readable AND not stuffed with keywords.

7) Use a single domain or subdomain

According to Moz, “a company blog is far more likely to perform well in the rankings and to help the rest of your site’s content perform well if it’s all together on one sub and root domain.”

There’s apparently plenty of evidence to suggest that when a company moves content from a subdomain to a subfolder, they see a positive boost in search visibility in traffic.

8) The fewer folders (slashes) the better

Again, according to Moz, the more slashes your URL has, won’t necessarily harm your performance, but it can create an illusion of depth and make indexing your content more complex.

9) URLS should be the verb stem

As recommended by Gov.uk – you should use the term ‘apply’ rather than ‘applying’ for instance.

10) Avoid high numbers of URLs that point to identical or similar content

Overly complex URLs with multiple parameters (such as in point number one) can cause problems for Googlebots, by creating too many different URLs containing similar content.

Google provides a huge list of how this problem can be created in its guide as mentioned in my introduction. It includes:

Additive filtering of a set of items. If you provide different views of the same set of items or search results, especially if you let users filter by a certain criteria in an additive manner (for example: hotels in New York and with a panoramic view), the number of URLs on your site will “explode.”
Dynamic generation of documents
Problematic parameters in the URL (such as session IDs)
Sorting parameters
Irrelevant parameters in the URL, such as referral parameters
Dynamically generated calendar
How to fix URL problems

Here are Google’s recommendations for fixing problematic URLs:

Use a robots.txt file to block Googlebot’s access to certain URLs. Such as dynamic URLs or URLs that generate search results.
Avoid the use of session IDs in URLs. Use cookies instead.
Shorten URLs by trimming unnecessary parameters.
If your site has an infinite calendar, add a nofollow attribute to links to dynamically created future calendar pages.
Check your site for broken relative links.

Capitalize on volume and long tail in Q4 with Dynamic Search Ads

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In ecommerce, there’s always a scramble to capitalize on the volume that is out there for the holidays.

You’re doing additional builds, optimizing Google Shopping efforts, and using social in multiple ways to get in front of additional audiences. In the midst of all the madness, don’t forget about using dynamic search ads (DSAs) to pick up on the long tail queries users may be typing in relevant to your product/service.

Before we dive into targeting, tips, and tricks, a quick refresher: DSAs are a campaign targeting type for which Google essentially crawls your site, matches ads in real time to shoppers, and directs them to the landing page most relevant to their query.

DSAs allow you to cast a wide (yet relevant) net to find additional queries that you may not be bidding on. Essentially, DSAs should be used more as a query mining tool to help you expand on your keyword build-outs – but they should NOT replace campaigns altogether.

Now, what is the ideal way to set up DSA targeting? Here are the three available types:

  • Recommended Targeting: With this option, you give Google your budget and it essentially ‘runs with it,’ determining which audiences to show your ad to and using mostly some sort of algorithmed intuition to match users to your site.
  • All Webpages: This allows Google to use all of your pages to crawl. This is the go-big strategy; start there and then negate things as you see fit according to performance. Use this only if the majority of your site is conversion-friendly.
  • Specific Webpages: With this option, you choose specific parts of your site for Google to crawl. This is the lowest-risk strategy and ensures you can direct users to highly relevant ads and pages.
  • Now that we’ve covered your options, some tips to keep in mind:

    • With both recommended targeting and all webpages targeting, you will likely see a lot of volume that may not be as relevant as you would like, given that it is taking more of a broad brushstroke approach (a good way to think about it is equating these options with broad match and specific webpages with exact/phrase match). If you choose the broader targeting types, start off with low budgets and stay on top of search query reports so that you can identify negatives as soon as possible.
    • If you are looking for quick scale and do decide to take the “broad brushstroke” approach, choose target ‘all webpages’ and carefully scour through the site to identify pages that may pull in irrelevant traffic which you will want to negate immediately. For example, a jobs/careers page will pull in people who are looking for employment vs. making a purchase, and a blog page will generally be geared more towards education.
    • When launching on DSAs, make sure your bids are lower than the other keywords in your account. You first want to give our more controlled campaigns the opportunity to pick up traffic. The point of DSAs is to determine new queries and keyword modifiers that can grow your account.
    • Take your exact match terms and add them as negatives to the DSA campaign. We want to ensure we have a 1:1 query mapping with the keywords we are bidding on.
    • Monitor DSAs frequently for negatives and keyword buildouts – our goal here is to quickly determine new terms we should build out and tailor ad copy towards. We always want to have the most control over our converting keywords!

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    Overall, if you are looking for a smart way to pick up on long tail keywords that you may not be covering otherwise, set aside some budget to test DSAs and ensure you are making the most of Q4 traffic!

    What makes social videos so effective?

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    As video content in social media increases, how can brands use it more effectively?

    Video consumption is on the rise and while users enjoy it, brands face the challenge of creating more effective video ads to stand out in the overcrowded social feeds.

    How do you measure the effectiveness of a video in social media and what makes it appealing in just a few seconds?

    IPG Media Lab partnered with Twitter to examine how social video works and we are highlighting the most interesting points from the report.

    In-feed, auto play video for relevance and trust

    Auto play video ads that show up in a curated feed are considered more relevant, trustworthy and non-intrusive, comparing to skippable pre-roll ads.

    People seem to feel that relevant ads are less intrusive, which highlights the importance of targeting the right audience before delivering an ad to their feeds.

    The better the targeting, the less annoyed people will be.

    Social video boost brand favourability

    As in-feed video ads gain users’ trust, they are also more likely to increase the brand’s favourability, even with a single exposure to them.

    Social videos seem to have greater impact compared to skippable pre-roll ads, despite the shorter time spent on them.

    This means that brands need to capture immediately the audience’s attention and deliver the best message from the very first seconds. It may be challenging, but it also leads to an increased ad recall.

    Viewability increases ad recall and awareness

    Viewability, or else time in view, marks whether a video is interesting enough to appeal to the audience. The first three seconds seem to be important, as they serve as the critical point where users decide whether they should keep watching a video.

    Thus, a brand has to be creative in less than three seconds to ensure that it captures the viewers’ attention. The longer the view, the higher the awareness and the ad recall.

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    Telling story early

    As the first three seconds of a video are crucial, a brand should invest in a powerful message that is transmitted from the very first second.

    An early story arc may be more persuasive if it conveys the right information as it can create the right context for the rest of the video. What’s more, ad recall may be easier, linking the brand with the story.

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    The impact of branding

    There may be a general consensus on how excessive branding can negatively affect a brand’s content, but this is not necessarily true for social videos.

    When you have a few seconds to explain the aim of the video, heavy branding may be useful, as it manages to create the necessary association between the story and the brand.

    The goal of every video is to improve a brand’s awareness of a brand, or even to boost ad recall and if heavier branding can facilitate this process from the very beginning, then it may be a good idea to try it out.

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    Takeaway

    Video content is becoming popular, but its metrics still evolve, so every marketer should understand how videos differ from other types of content and how they should be measured.

    Social videos will only grow more more popular, which means that it’s important to define the right KPIs that will make them useful as part of your marketing strategy.

    Keep in mind:

    • In-feed, auto-play videos are preferred by users, as they find them less intrusive. This is a useful way to build trust around your brand.
    • Always target the right people to increase the relevance of your content
    • Don’t be afraid to include heavy branding in shorter videos. It might turn out beneficial for your content.
    • Tell a story with a clear message. The first seconds are very important.

    After all, you can still monitor the latest trends in video marketing and examine how they can be personalised to work in your own campaigns.

    ‘Creepy data’: how to avoid spooking your customers

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    Halloween is a scary time for me and not because I fear hundreds of kids banging on my door and hollering for candy. I’m terrified that they won’t come, and I’ll have to eat all of the leftovers myself.

    But, for marketers, there’s something even scarier than a stoop full of Elsas and Annas, Spidermen and Minions. It’s the dreaded “creepy data” problem.

    ‘Creepy data:’ Data your customers don’t expect you to have on them

    Back in the 2008 presidential election, then-candidate Obama sent an email to campaign contributors and others who signed up for messages. The email said something like “Make sure you’re registered to vote.”

    “This would be cool,” I thought. I clicked through, gave the campaign access my Facebook and then watched as the message came up: “Congratulations! You’re registered to vote!”

    That is not creepy data.

    The notice also had a share-with-friends button. As a loyal American, I encourage everyone to vote, then as well as today. So, I clicked on the “share” button, expecting to see a post reminding my friends to vote. Instead, I saw a stream showing all of my friends who weren’t registered to vote.

    That is creepy data.

    Making data less creepy

    Third-party data is a vastly richer source of information that just the clickstream and preference data we collect on our customers. But it’s also a double-edged sword. Your customers don’t know how much data we do have on them.

    Some big data houses have 300-plus data points on each person in their database: demographic, psychographic, behavior and more. Customers don’t expect that data to be out there for marketers to access and use.

    Many companies buy third-party data for profiling, segmentation or modeling. These are proper uses of data, but it’s easy to overreach.

    After all, you can be too smart in your data use. Remember the dad who found out his teenage daughter was pregnant because she started getting pregnancy-related mail from Target?

    You can avoid this by first asking yourself, “Do my customers know I have this data, and would they want me to use it this way?”

    What’s scary for a brand using third-party data is using too much data and using it the wrong way. The media blowback can be massive if customers take their grievances to social media, as Target found out.

    Data misuse affects people lives and tarnishes your brand image. None of us want that.

    How not to be a creep

    These three steps can help you know if you have strayed into the creepy-data zone:

    1.You’re describing a new marketing program, and you get a funny feeling in the pit of your stomach, or if you look back at a strategy, and it just feels wrong.

    In my years of working with third-party data and hundreds of companies, I’ve learned that when someone gets that funny feeling, we usually find we did overreach. We either used too much data or forgot the customer doesn’t know we had that data.

    Trust your instinct, and change course.

    2. Never refer directly to data you get from a third-party source if your customers didn’t give it to you.

    They don’t expect you to have this data. It applies to Facebook, mobile apps and the like. Have you ever looked at the app permissions on your phone?

    As a marketer, you might, but the average user doesn’t look.

    Forcing permission in your app’s tiny-type user agreement and telling the customer you’re using it are two different things. Use the “common person” test. Would this person expect you to have the data you’re using?

    That’s why you should not refer to data unless your customers know for certain that you have it.

    That’s where Target went wrong. The company was too blatant about letting its customers know how much data it had on them. A marketing piece – an email message or a direct-mail piece – is no place to brag about how smart your modeling is.

    3. Develop a customer advisory group

    Consult this group when planning marketing programs using complex data integrations or advanced segmentation. Discuss what you want to do, and ask their opinions. In other words, get a reality check on what regular people would find creepy or cool.

    Naturally, you have to build your group carefully. Nondisclosure agreements and other security measures are key. You don’t need a large group, but the membership should constitute a good cross-section of your customer base.

    Preview marketing materials and campaigns, brief them on big-concept ideas, and ask them whether they would expect you to know the data you present in the email.

    I’ve worked with marketers who got ahead of themselves with data and made grand assumptions about how their customers will react. We all need a governor to tell us when we’ve gone too far too fast.

    Conclusion: Don’t be creepy

    Creepy data doesn’t go away like Halloween. Data gets creepier the more often we use it recklessly. Always recognize your data can hurt real people’s lives. No fancy data integration is worth that.

    Five most important search marketing news stories of the week

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    Welcome to our weekly round-up of all the latest news and research from around the world of search marketing and beyond.

    This week we have brand new Google search data for the holidays, an update to Analytics 360, the introduction of a ‘mobile first’ search index and a lovely stock photo of a dog with a newspaper.

    Google announces Surveys as part of its Analytics 360 suite

    Announced in its recent blog-post, Google will be adding a market research product to its enterprise version of Analytics.

    This means that marketers will be able to carry out market research in combination with performance and analytics data, all in one place.

    According to Google “market research has been slow to adapt” to the current and future shift in digital behaviour. Traditional research meant “hiring a research firm, waiting three months or more, and then getting data that’s siloed and may not be sharable.”

    However with Surveys 360, you will have instant access to a panel of 10 million online respondents and 1 million surveys fielded weekly, offering enterprise marketers access to a “brand new layer of data and insights into what consumers are doing and thinking.”

    Survey 360 is available for purchase today, but currently only in the US and Canada.

    Google Search Index set to go ‘mobile-first’ within months

    Speaking at Pubcon last week, Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst Gary Illyes stated that Google will create a separate mobile index within the next few months.

    Furthermore, this mobile index will become the primary Google index. The newly separated desktop index will not be kept as up-to-date as the mobile one.

    Details of the split haven’t been fully addressed as of yet, but it has been confirmed by Illyes that it will happen “within months.”

    Snapchat to abandon ‘revshare’ for publishers, will now pay for content

    As reported by Al Roberts in ClickZ this week, Snapchat has been looking to negotiate different terms with publishers. This means an end to Snapchat revenue share.

    Instead, Snapchat will pay publishers a guaranteed amount of cash up-front for a license to the content they produce. Snapchat will then have the exclusive ability to sell ads against the content and keep all the revenue the content generates.

    As Recode’s Peter Kafka notes, this model is like that of television networks, which license programming and keep the revenue from ad sales. According to Kafka, some of Snapchat’s publishing partners are amenable to a licensing arrangement while others are more hesitant.

    Google adds a ‘fact check’ feature

    As reported by Clark Boyd in ClickZ this week, Google has added a new fact check feature within its News products, allowing users to separate fact from fiction on trending stories.

    The tag will be shown within expanded story boxes, as in the example below:

    Google has a two-step process for deciding which pages are worthy of the fact check label.

    The first is the implementation of the ClaimReview schema. Only pages that claim to contain fact-check content within the article title will be assessed, with the ClaimReview schema then adding specificity to that claim by highlighting the content in question.

    From here, sites must be able to prove that they have followed a rigorous fact check process, clearly citing their sources and ensuring that these are taken from reputable, trustworthy institutions.

    AdWords reveals new holiday shopping data, reveals the rise of the ‘supershopper’

    According to AdWords’ latest blog post, shoppers around the world are more informed and more efficient than ever before – “they’ve transformed into supershoppers seemingly overnight.”

    Here’s the data behind the claim:

    • Last year, more than 50% of holiday shoppers said they were open to purchasing from new retailers. Now, after searching on Google, 76% of mobile shoppers have changed their mind about which retailer or brand to purchase.

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    • 64% percent of smartphone shoppers turn to mobile search for ideas about what to buy before heading into store.
    • 25% of mobile video viewers in the US have visited YouTube for help with a purchase decision while they were at a store or visiting a store’s website.
    • Last holiday, mobile searches related to “best gift” grew 70% year over year while mobile searches related to cheap or inexpensive gifts grew about 35%.
    • 76% of people who search for something nearby on their smartphone visit a related business within a day, and 28% of those searches result in a purchase.
    • More than 40% of smartphone shoppers want retailers to automatically surface relevant information such as the location of the item in the store, a special deal or related products.

    How to combine AdWords with Outbrain without cannibalizing their effectiveness

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    How different parts of the funnel can specifically incorporate two different channels – AdWords and Outbrain – while avoiding cannibalization.

    There may be a portion of digital marketing professionals who remember a time when the number of channels were limited. Today though, there’s many more channels than we really need, and each channel has a number of different options.

    Although an omni-channel campaign will have one major objective, not every channel can be used in the same way, hence they need to be aligned so that they’re playing to their own strengths.

    There is a temptation to judge everything on the same metrics, but to do that will mean ignoring the nuances of each channel and removing any of those aforementioned strengths.

    AdWords and Outbrain: differences and similarities

    Let’s take AdWords and Outbrain as examples. These are often seen as competing channels, even though they exist in distinctly different guises. It’s a dangerous thing to run them both with the same expectations on what they’re going to deliver at the end. The thing that can help you is to remember how they actually execute and target end users.

    AdWords is predominantly about capitalising on a user’s search intent. Your ads will appear just when a user is really looking for your products or services, and that is the perfect time to strike.

    Outbrain is based around matching content by similar context.

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    The belief here is that if a user is already reading or consuming content on a certain subject, they’ll be interested in getting more of the same from another source. Clearly then, these two channels are very distinct in both their visuals, and targeting methods.

    Interaction

    The next step will be to understand how users interact with them, because that will tell you at what stage of the sales funnel they’re most likely to be used at.

    Whereas an AdWords practitioner can be reasonably confident about interpreting search query intent, an Outbrain optimiser is dealing with a bit more uncertainty.

    As a result, you might want to assign Outbrain higher up the funnel than AdWords, where it can get broader reach and use the content to help nurture leads. AdWords, on the other hand, can be used towards the sharper end, as we can be surer of its users’ intents.

    Measurement

    So now that we’ve understood the way they work, who they target and established their purposes, we can begin thinking about how these get measured. This is important, as it’s ultimately the part that enables us to judge whether or not they’re doing a good job.

    For AdWords, the most sensible way to proceed would be to track final conversions. This could be shopping basket checkouts, newsletter registrations or ticket sales, whatever it is, it’s the final action that you want your users to take and round things off. It makes sense because there are definitely instances where a final search engine query leads to the end.

    As for Outbrain, because it’s being used as a firehose to fill the funnel, its measurement metric needs to be a bit more abstract. In cases such as this, you need to ask questions as to how you measure the quality of the traffic.

    It might be reducing the bounce rate percentage, or gauging it via the number of pageviews generated per session. An even better way would be to see how many instances Outbrain was responsible for starting, and then seeing how readily they turn into repeat visits.

    By setting an objective in this manner, you’ll be able to tie the channel to its strength of building brand presence through compelling content, rather than judging it on hard and fast conversions that it isn’t built to do.

    This is exactly the approach that we used for a client that was looking to drive registrations to their security event. As they had produced a lot of high quality blog content, it was used with Outbrain to deliver a high volume of users who had discovered it contextually.

    It gave us a pool of users who we were confident would be interested in attending the event. AdWords was then used to specifically target those readers the next time they carried out another relevant search about the same issues and we were able to pick them off with highly targeted messages.

    Obviously this is just one small example of how to integrate two distinct channels into one campaign. The same thought process can be applied to any number of channels, so long as you follow these takeaway pieces of advice:

    • Understand how each channel works, including the technology behind it
    • Think about how users interact with the channel, and thus the likely stage of the conversion cycle that they’re likely to encounter it
    • That in turn will allow you to describe what you expect users to do afterwards, enabling you to assign a measurement metric to it

    Mun Yin Liu is Digital Media Director at Text100 and a contributor to SEW.

    Why are high-consideration customers becoming more decisive?

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    The following article is sponsored content produced in collaboration with IgnitionOne. Click here to read our collaborative content guidelines.

    If you’re a brand selling high-consideration, ‘big ticket’ items like appliances, cars or luxury goods, the customer journey is vitally important.

    Unlike lower-cost goods, sellers of high-consideration items can expect the customer journey to be much longer, taking place over months or even years. Simon Sproule, Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Aston Martin, tells ClickZ Intelligence that the customer journey for an Aston Martin can be stretched out across decades.

    “It’s a peculiar segment where a purchase may have its roots in a 10-year-old’s experience, but isn’t fulfilled until 30 years later,” he says.

    But research over the past few years has shown that the high-consideration purchase customer journey has begun shortening, indicating that customers may be becoming more decisive. Why is this, and how can brands take advantage of it?

    A fragmented customer journey

    A new report, published today by ClickZ Intelligence in partnership with IgnitionOne, ‘The Psychology of High-Consideration Buying’, gives an insight into the psychology of high-consideration purchases and how the customer journey has fragmented and changed with the rise of screen-based technologies.

    With so many additional sources of information available to them, customers are starting to research earlier on in the journey, which leads to more product discoveries, more research, and so on until the journey is complete.

    Unlike the traditional ‘purchase funnel’ which has long been used to visualise the customer journey, today’s fragmented customer journey looks more like a matrix, as envisaged by Martin Talks, consultant and Digital Trends Expert for Google Squared Online. This is true for all types of purchase, but is particularly significant for high-consideration purchases, where customers spend more time in the research stage.

    This AIDA model was developed by E. St. Elmo Lewis in 1898, and is often depicted as a funnel.

    “There’s definitely more research being done online for big-ticket items, more complex items, generally,” Talks tells ClickZ Intelligence. “If you use Google terminology for example, the ‘zero moment of truth’ – when you get made aware of something, and people go off and research – if it’s a big-ticket item, a complex item, then you spend a lot more time in the zero moment of truth, going on social media, research sites, review sites, because it’s a more complex purchase.”

    Talks’ Customer Journey Matrix visualises consumers ping-ponging between different stimuli and ‘moments of truth’: the ‘zero moment of truth’, when they become aware of a product; the ‘first moment of truth’, where they are confronted with the product online or offline; the ‘second moment of truth’; and so on until they arrive at the ‘ultimate moment of truth’, where they decide on the product to buy.

    With high-consideration purchases, consumers will inevitably have more of these moments of truth, as they deliberate longer over the purchase and compare many more items to find the perfect one.

    And yet, relative to two or three years ago, today’s customers are spending less time in the research stage than they were before. In 2013, GE Capital Retail Bank conducted the second annual Major Purchase Shopper study, and found that customers of high-consideration purchases spent an average of 79 days gathering information before making their purchase.

    Two years later, the Synchrony Financial Major Purchase Consumer Study found that consumers were spending an average of 68 days researching a major purchase – a decrease of 14%.

    What is driving this change, and how is it linked to the new, fragmented customer journey?

    The role of technology

    As I mentioned earlier, the rise of screen-based technologies such as computers, laptops and smartphones, together with the internet, is credited with fragmenting the customer journey by giving customers access to more information, more ways to compare products, and more opportunities to research items in the midst of everyday life.

    But developments in technology may also be responsible for customers spending less time in the research stage of late, theorises Martin Talks. With so many different ways to pay, customers are being presented with more and more opportunities to ‘jump out’ of the journey and go straight to the moment of purchase.

    “There are many other ways we can buy things … You can buy with a click of your button on mobile now, even relatively high-ticket items, [as well as with] technologies like wearable technology, payment bands, Fitbits and other things like that. So this level of friction is removed.

    “Perhaps that’s making us more decisive as well, because there are more opportunities to buy, more opportunities to jump out of the journey and need to go to that dealer.”

    A lot of technological developments today are geared towards removing the friction from everyday decisions, says Talks.

    “This desire to escape friction is driving a lot of digital technology development. A lot of what people want from artificial intelligence, the internet of things, big data, all of these kinds of technological developments, they’re all about making our life easier. Because they’re taking away some of the friction of small decisions for us. They can link one thing to another and make logical conclusions for us, without us having to participate in that decision.”

    This applies to many different areas of life, not just retail; but in the case of the retail customer journey, it can speed up the decision-making process. And even as customers are being presented with more information than ever before, removing these points of friction can make the overall journey smoother and more efficient.

    “We’ve got more information than ever, and more information can sometimes lead to decision paralysis because you have so many options [that] it’s difficult to make a choice. But obviously what’s happening is that user experience is getting sufficiently good that people are able to make their decisions quicker,” says Talks.

    With all this in mind, what can retailers and marketers do to capitalise on this newfound decisiveness, and boost their conversions?

    Fill in the form below to download the full report from ClickZ Intelligence and IgnitionOne and find out more about the psychology of high-consideration buying, the new fragmented customer journey, and what you can do to drive up purchases.

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    Technical SEO checklist: a webmaster’s guide to on-page optimisation

    sew-test

    Presenting a guide to carrying out all the on-page checks that webmasters and SEOs need to carry out to ensure a website is optimised for search.

    This checklist will bring together a lot of already published content from the site in one place, and there will be links to more detailed guides throughout.

    It’s also worth reading our guides on How to test a website before launch and SEO essentials for optimising your site for further information.

    Sign up to Google Search Console

    Search Console is where you can monitor your site’s performance, identify issues and monitor backlinks. This is also where Google will communicate with you should anything go wrong.

    Here are the key things you should set-up and regularly check in Search Console:

    • Set your preferred domain: whether your site shows up in search results with the www prefix or without it.
    • HTML improvements: this is where Search Console will recommend any improvements to your meta descriptions and title tags, as well as informing you of any non-indexable content.
    • Links to your site: here you can see the domains that link to your site and its content the most, as well as your most linked webpages.
    • Manual actions: Google will inform you if it has administered a manual action to your site or specific webpage.
    • International targeting: make sure you’re targeting your preferred audience based on language and country.
    • Index status: this lets you know how many pages of your website are currently included in Google’s index. You can quickly see any worrying trends, as well as any pages that have been blocked by robots or removed.
    • Crawl errors: this report shows all the errors that Google has found when crawling your site over the last 90 days.
    • robots.txt editor: this is where you can edit your robots.txt and check for errors. The bottom of the page reveals your errors and warnings.

    Sign up to Google Analytics

    Google Analytics is a free service that tracks and reports website traffic. Providing insight into the demographics of site visitors, the performance of a specific campaign, and how long people are staying on your site.

    Make sure Google Analytics or the analytics package you’re using, is set up and ready to go from day one so you can measure and analyse traffic to your site.

    Site speed

    Use Google’s own site speed test tool to check how quickly your website loads and implement any changes it recommends.

    Mobile friendliness

    Is your website and its content equally optimised for any given screen size or device? Bear in mind that Google has stated that responsive design is its preferred method of mobile optimisation. Look through our thorough mobile-friendly checklist to help fix any problems.

    Title tags

    • Title tags should be 50-60 characters long, including spaces.
    • Your most important keywords need to be first in your title tag, with your least important words coming last.
    • If your company name is not part of the important keyword phrases, put it at the end of the title tag.
    • Do not duplicate title tags, they must be written differently for every page.
    • Don’t mass replicate your title tags it will negatively affect your search visibility.
    • Title tags must accurately describe the content on the page.
    • Do not ‘keyword stuff’ title tags.
    • Make your headline ( tag) different from the title tag.

    Meta descriptions

    • Make sure your most important keywords for the webpage show up in the meta description.
    • Write legible, readable copy.
    • A meta description should be no longer than 135 – 160 characters long. Any longer and search engines will chop the end off, so make sure any important keywords are nearer the front.
    • Do not duplicate meta descriptions.

    Headlines

    The headlines for your articles should be under 55 characters to ensure their complete visibility in SERPs. Make sure they’re snappy, attractive and as descriptive as possible.

    H1 – H6 tags

    Make sure your headlines are tagged as H1, and any subheadings in your articles are tagged as H2, H3 etc. Makes sure they’re used in a descending, logical order.

    h2 and h3 tags

    Images

    Make sure your images are all optimised for the web. Ensuring they’re not too large – and site-speed draining. As well as being properly labelled with titles and alt-text.

    XML Sitemaps/HTML Sitemap

    Make sure your website has an accurate site map in both XML and HTML format, to ensure thorough and complete indexing by Google.

    Accelerated Mobile Pages

    If you’re using Google’s AMP project to provide mobile searchers with faster loading web pages, you need to make sure these are rendering properly. You can check for this in the Search Console AMP tool.

    Social media integration

    Do the social media icons on the site go to the correct pages? Do you have the right buttons and social plugins installed for what you are trying to accomplish and what you want the user to be able to do? (For example, does it ‘share a post’ rather than ‘Like’ your page on Facebook.)

    Secure Certificate

    If your site is ecommerce, or you’re using encrypted pages to protect visitor privacy on a form or elsewhere, you’ll need to check your certificate.

    https padlock

    Duplicate content

    If you have duplicate content on your own site, set up a 301 redirect so Google only indexes your preferred page.

    Ensure that Google is only indexing your preferred domain, i.e. either with the www prefix or without it: http://www.example.com or http://example.com. Google may treat the www and non-www versions of your domain as separate sites with separate pages, thus harming your visibility.

    If your republishing another site’s content (with permission of course) ensure there’s a rel=canonical tag on each page linking to the original source.

    Google News

    Double check your site is eligible for Google News, if not, try resubmitting once you’ve carried out Google’s suggestions.

    Nofollow

    Add rel=“nofollow” to any links that you don’t want search engine crawlers to follow. For instance, sponsored content or commercially led articles with links out to vendors or service providers.

    Check structured data

    The Structured Data section in Search Console contains information about all the structured data elements Google has located on your site, whether from Schema markup or other microformats. Check for any errors. If you click on the individual ‘Data Types’ it will show you exactly which URLs contain that particular markup and when it was detected.

    Error response codes

    Response codes, such as 400, 403, 404, 500 and 503, should all be investigated thoroughly. If you see multiple 404 results from internal site links, fix the offending links immediately.

    Makes sure 301s being used for all redirects, and avoid any 302 or 307 redirects.

    Internal linking

    Are you using internal linking in the most effective way? You should have a few relevant internal links per article (depending on length and type of content). Make sure the anchor text is descriptive of the linked page.

    Nine excellent examples of web form design

    form-opt10

    Filling in forms online can be a pain, but good design can make a lot of difference to the user experience.

    To coincide with our new Marketer’s Guide to Form Optimisation, produced in association with Fospha, I’ve collated some examples of great form design, or aspects of forms that are worth learning from.

    Schuh: easy address entry

    Schuh uses this predictive postcode entry tool on its checkout, which suggests matching addresses as you begin to type them in.

    This has two benefits:

  • The customer doesn’t have to spend time typing out their whole address.
  • It reduces the risk of making mistakes and subsequent delivery problems.
  • Threadless: use of micro copy

    Some form fields can create confusion among customers, perhaps due to uncertainty about entry formats, or the information required.

    This can often be solved with some explainer text placed next to the relevant form field.

    Here, Threadless clearly explains what it expected in terms of card entry, and clarifies the security code format for different card types.

    AO.com: easy input formats for mobile users

    While form entry is always likely to be a little more difficult on mobile devices, thanks to a smaller screen, there are ways to use the features of smartphones to make it easier.

    For example, AO.com defaults to the most appropriate mobile keypad depending on the type of data required – numerical keypad for phone numbers, email keypad for email addresses, and so on.

    form-opt12

    Booking.com: card scanning on mobile

    Booking.com and other sites provide a card scanning option which uses the smartphone camera to shorten the process of entering payment details.

    form-opt14

    Moneysupermarket: addressing questions about form fields

    Here, Moneysupermarket provides useful information next to many form fields which explain why some information is needed and how it will be used.

    moneysuper

    Autoglass: clear error messaging

    Error messages should be clear and helpful. They should also be placed next to the relevant form field.

    form-opt7

    Lowe’s: offer registration at end for guest checkout

    Guest checkout is an essential option for most retailers but it’s also important to encourage customers to create an account. The key is to avoid making it a barrier to purchase.

    Here, Lowe’s presents this option at the end of checkout, and is only asking for the creation of a password.

    form-opt-17

    Reiss: explaining why information is required

    Some sites ask for information which some may not consider to be necessary for checkout. For example, some may wonder why a phone number is required, and worry that it will be used for marketing purposes.

    Here, Reiss reassures customers that it will only contact them if there’s an issue around the order.

    reiss

    Selfridges: clear CTAs

    Sites shouldn’t leave users in any doubt about where they need to click to complete or move on to the next step of forms.

    Selfridges makes sure that the CTA for delivery is clear and unmissable on a mobile device.

    form-opt13

    The report, A Marketers Guide to Form Optimisation is available to download free of charge now.

    How to use buyer intent to write better copy

    Gadgets concept banners

    Understanding your audience is the hardest thing in copywriting.

    Most of us know our target demographic and still, it is very hard for us to constantly create content that converts. In the end, without a loyal audience, there is no reason for you to write in the first place.

    It is even harder to write for websites that are purely profit driven. In such cases, a writer has to have good understanding of a product, its advantages and flaws and how to properly present them. In other words, you have to understand a buyer’s intent.

    Aligning your articles with your website

    Although this is not in a direct connection with copy itself, it is definitely something that can affect your conversion rate. If you already have a commercial site, you need to create content that will be aligned with the general website theme.

    Even though this will not make your article better, it prevents loss of customers who visited your website expecting to see one thing only to be greeted with something completely different.

    Make sure to use your website to strictly write on topics that are connected to your products and services. Have in mind; these people came to your pages because they were interested in purchasing a product. If you use website’s blog as a way to vent, you will lose customers.

    This doesn’t mean you should be narrow-minded. On the contrary, you can talk about state of your industry, modern technology that will improve products, characteristics of ingredients or parts, etc. But, avoid writing about irrelevant things. People will not only avoid these pages but it will also make you look less professional.

    Creating truthful reviews

    Whenever you review a product, make sure you’re honest.

    Every product or service has its advantages and flaws. That is only to be expected. However, if you present your product in a superior way and it doesn’t deliver you will definitely lose that customer.

    Here, we are able to manipulate with buyers intent. For example, if you are selling beds for hospitals, most of your clients will prefer having a comfortable product instead of a well-designed one. This way, you are able to present comfort as the biggest advantage of your bed and at the same time, you can mention that it doesn’t have the most popular design.

    thinkstockphotos-507274998

    As buyers will not care about the design, they will see the review as a truthful one. With it, you can quickly improve your reputation in their eyes. And, if your product manages to deliver, you can be sure that the client will come to your website for more similar products.

    This strategy can also be used if you have multiple similar products. Emphasizing advantages and disadvantages can explain why one of your products is cheaper and other is more expensive. It will also help customer make his decision.

    In case your products are of lower quality than your competition, make sure to emphasize the price.

    On the other hand, you do not have to go in details when it comes to characteristics. Instead, you can only mention some basic stuff such as the dimensions.

    Giving direct answers to questions

    There are two main reasons why people surf the internet: to learn something new or to buy a product.

    Visitors who are searching for a product or service are not as patient as those who are looking for new knowledge. In fact, most of them wish to get quick info so they can form an opinion regarding an item. That being said, you need to be very careful when writing your articles.

    People have short attention spans nowadays. Because of it, you will have to be very direct, concise and to give step-by-step instructions.

    When people start reading a copy dedicated to a product, they do not wish to be entertained; they are not interested in quality of the article per sé. Instead, they need direct answers to their questions.

    Presenting your company though an article is a great opportunity to add value and inform public about your operations. However, you need to be careful and give the audience just the right information they require otherwise, they will lose interest in you altogether.

    With that, we come to our next point.

    Proper research

    Efficiency is one of the most important aspects for buyers as we’ve previously said. If a reader has an option, he will rather gather majority of the information in one place saving them valuable time.

    That being said, you commercial articles shouldn’t only be direct and truthful, they also should be scientific.

    Business Woman Working Planning Ideas Concept

    What does that mean?

    Whenever you create an article pointed towards a potential customer, you should provide them with all the facts. Now, this data shouldn’t be affected by your personal opinion. Preferably, they should be backed up by scientific research.

    In order to strengthen your claims regarding a product or a service, make sure to link out to authoritative websites within your niche. Individuals always need additional opinion before making a big purchase. Make sure to provide it, emphasizing benefits while downplaying downsides (as long as you do it in moderation) similar to what we explained in the second paragraph.

    This will strengthen claims in your article which will give you overall credibility.

    Conclusion

    Content writing is always pointed towards readers. We are constantly trying to create things that will be read and which will persuade people to revisit our blog.

    Ultimately, buyers are also readers. The main difference is in priorities. Recognizing the intent will allow us to make better copy.

    As a business enterprise, you have to prioritize cold, hard facts. But, your pages have to remain interesting enough to suck a person in. This cannot be done through idle talk but by persuading people why they should give advantage to your company and product.

    Nikolay Stoyanov is one of Bulgaria’s top SEO experts with more than eight years of practicing SEO and a contributor to SEW.