Evidence of the Surprising State of JavaScript Indexing

Evidence of the Surprising State of JavaScript Indexing

Posted by willcritchlow

Back when I started in this industry, it was standard advice to tell our clients that the search engines couldn’t execute JavaScript (JS), and anything that relied on JS would be effectively invisible and never appear in the index. Over the years, that has changed gradually, from early work-arounds (such as the horrible escaped fragment approach my colleague Rob wrote about back in 2010) to the actual execution of JS in the indexing pipeline that we see today, at least at Google.

In this article, I want to explore some things we’ve seen about JS indexing behavior in the wild and in controlled tests and share some tentative conclusions I’ve drawn about how it must be working.

A brief introduction to JS indexing

At its most basic, the idea behind JavaScript-enabled indexing is to get closer to the search engine seeing the page as the user sees it. Most users browse with JavaScript enabled, and many sites either fail without it or are severely limited. While traditional indexing considers just the raw HTML source received from the server, users typically see a page rendered based on the DOM (Document Object Model) which can be modified by JavaScript running in their web browser. JS-enabled indexing considers all content in the rendered DOM, not just that which appears in the raw HTML.

There are some complexities even in this basic definition (answers in brackets as I understand them):

  • What about JavaScript that requests additional content from the server? (This will generally be included, subject to timeout limits)
  • What about JavaScript that executes some time after the page loads? (This will generally only be indexed up to some time limit, possibly in the region of 5 seconds)
  • What about JavaScript that executes on some user interaction such as scrolling or clicking? (This will generally not be included)
  • What about JavaScript in external files rather than in-line? (This will generally be included, as long as those external files are not blocked from the robot — though see the caveat in experiments below)

For more on the technical details, I recommend my ex-colleague Justin’s writing on the subject.

A high-level overview of my view of JavaScript best practices

Despite the incredible work-arounds of the past (which always seemed like more effort than graceful degradation to me) the “right” answer has existed since at least 2012, with the introduction of PushState. Rob wrote about this one, too. Back then, however, it was pretty clunky and manual and it required a concerted effort to ensure both that the URL was updated in the user’s browser for each view that should be considered a “page,” that the server could return full HTML for those pages in response to new requests for each URL, and that the back button was handled correctly by your JavaScript.

Along the way, in my opinion, too many sites got distracted by a separate prerendering step. This is an approach that does the equivalent of running a headless browser to generate static HTML pages that include any changes made by JavaScript on page load, then serving those snapshots instead of the JS-reliant page in response to requests from bots. It typically treats bots differently, in a way that Google tolerates, as long as the snapshots do represent the user experience. In my opinion, this approach is a poor compromise that’s too susceptible to silent failures and falling out of date. We’ve seen a bunch of sites suffer traffic drops due to serving Googlebot broken experiences that were not immediately detected because no regular users saw the prerendered pages.

These days, if you need or want JS-enhanced functionality, more of the top frameworks have the ability to work the way Rob described in 2012, which is now called isomorphic (roughly meaning “the same”).

Isomorphic JavaScript serves HTML that corresponds to the rendered DOM for each URL, and updates the URL for each “view” that should exist as a separate page as the content is updated via JS. With this implementation, there is actually no need to render the page to index basic content, as it’s served in response to any fresh request.

I was fascinated by this piece of research published recently — you should go and read the whole study. In particular, you should watch this video (recommended in the post) in which the speaker — who is an Angular developer and evangelist — emphasizes the need for an isomorphic approach:

Resources for auditing JavaScript

If you work in SEO, you will increasingly find yourself called upon to figure out whether a particular implementation is correct (hopefully on a staging/development server before it’s deployed live, but who are we kidding? You’ll be doing this live, too).

To do that, here are some resources I’ve found useful:

Some surprising/interesting results

There are likely to be timeouts on JavaScript execution

I already linked above to the ScreamingFrog post that mentions experiments they have done to measure the timeout Google uses to determine when to stop executing JavaScript (they found a limit of around 5 seconds).

It may be more complicated than that, however. This segment of a thread is interesting. It’s from a Hacker News user who goes by the username KMag and who claims to have worked at Google on the JS execution part of the indexing pipeline from 2006–2010. It’s in relation to another user speculating that Google would not care about content loaded “async” (i.e. asynchronously — in other words, loaded as part of new HTTP requests that are triggered in the background while assets continue to download):

“Actually, we did care about this content. I’m not at liberty to explain the details, but we did execute setTimeouts up to some time limit.

If they’re smart, they actually make the exact timeout a function of a HMAC of the loaded source, to make it very difficult to experiment around, find the exact limits, and fool the indexing system. Back in 2010, it was still a fixed time limit.”

What that means is that although it was initially a fixed timeout, he’s speculating (or possibly sharing without directly doing so) that timeouts are programmatically determined (presumably based on page importance and JavaScript reliance) and that they may be tied to the exact source code (the reference to “HMAC” is to do with a technical mechanism for spotting if the page has changed).

It matters how your JS is executed

I referenced this recent study earlier. In it, the author found:

Inline vs. External vs. Bundled JavaScript makes a huge difference for Googlebot

The charts at the end show the extent to which popular JavaScript frameworks perform differently depending on how they’re called, with a range of performance from passing every test to failing almost every test. For example here’s the chart for Angular:

Slide5.PNG

It’s definitely worth reading the whole thing and reviewing the performance of the different frameworks. There’s more evidence of Google saving computing resources in some areas, as well as surprising results between different frameworks.

CRO tests are getting indexed

When we first started seeing JavaScript-based split-testing platforms designed for testing changes aimed at improving conversion rate (CRO = conversion rate optimization), their inline changes to individual pages were invisible to the search engines. As Google in particular has moved up the JavaScript competency ladder through executing simple inline JS to more complex JS in external files, we are now seeing some CRO-platform-created changes being indexed. A simplified version of what’s happening is:

  • For users:
    • CRO platforms typically take a visitor to a page, check for the existence of a cookie, and if there isn’t one, randomly assign the visitor to group A or group B
    • Based on either the cookie value or the new assignment, the user is either served the page unchanged, or sees a version that is modified in their browser by JavaScript loaded from the CRO platform’s CDN (content delivery network)
    • A cookie is then set to make sure that the user sees the same version if they revisit that page later
  • For Googlebot:
    • The reliance on external JavaScript used to prevent both the bucketing and the inline changes from being indexed
    • With external JavaScript now being loaded, and with many of these inline changes being made using standard libraries (such as JQuery), Google is able to index the variant and hence we see CRO experiments sometimes being indexed

I might have expected the platforms to block their JS with robots.txt, but at least the main platforms I’ve looked at don’t do that. With Google being sympathetic towards testing, however, this shouldn’t be a major problem — just something to be aware of as you build out your user-facing CRO tests. All the more reason for your UX and SEO teams to work closely together and communicate well.

Split tests show SEO improvements from removing a reliance on JS

Although we would like to do a lot more to test the actual real-world impact of relying on JavaScript, we do have some early results. At the end of last week I published a post outlining the uplift we saw from removing a site’s reliance on JS to display content and links on category pages.

odn_additional_sessions.png

A simple test that removed the need for JavaScript on 50% of pages showed a >6% uplift in organic traffic — worth thousands of extra sessions a month. While we haven’t proven that JavaScript is always bad, nor understood the exact mechanism at work here, we have opened up a new avenue for exploration, and at least shown that it’s not a settled matter. To my mind, it highlights the importance of testing. It’s obviously our belief in the importance of SEO split-testing that led to us investing so much in the development of the ODN platform over the last 18 months or so.

Conclusion: How JavaScript indexing might work from a systems perspective

Based on all of the information we can piece together from the external behavior of the search results, public comments from Googlers, tests and experiments, and first principles, here’s how I think JavaScript indexing is working at Google at the moment: I think there is a separate queue for JS-enabled rendering, because the computational cost of trying to run JavaScript over the entire web is unnecessary given the lack of a need for it on many, many pages. In detail, I think:

  • Googlebot crawls and caches HTML and core resources regularly
  • Heuristics (and probably machine learning) are used to prioritize JavaScript rendering for each page:
    • Some pages are indexed with no JS execution. There are many pages that can probably be easily identified as not needing rendering, and others which are such a low priority that it isn’t worth the computing resources.
    • Some pages get immediate rendering – or possibly immediate basic/regular indexing, along with high-priority rendering. This would enable the immediate indexation of pages in news results or other QDF results, but also allow pages that rely heavily on JS to get updated indexation when the rendering completes.
    • Many pages are rendered async in a separate process/queue from both crawling and regular indexing, thereby adding the page to the index for new words and phrases found only in the JS-rendered version when rendering completes, in addition to the words and phrases found in the unrendered version indexed initially.
  • The JS rendering also, in addition to adding pages to the index:
    • May make modifications to the link graph
    • May add new URLs to the discovery/crawling queue for Googlebot

The idea of JavaScript rendering as a distinct and separate part of the indexing pipeline is backed up by this quote from KMag, who I mentioned previously for his contributions to this HN thread (direct link) [emphasis mine]:

“I was working on the lightweight high-performance JavaScript interpretation system that sandboxed pretty much just a JS engine and a DOM implementation that we could run on every web page on the index. Most of my work was trying to improve the fidelity of the system. My code analyzed every web page in the index.

Towards the end of my time there, there was someone in Mountain View working on a heavier, higher-fidelity system that sandboxed much more of a browser, and they were trying to improve performance so they could use it on a higher percentage of the index.”

This was the situation in 2010. It seems likely that they have moved a long way towards the headless browser in all cases, but I’m skeptical about whether it would be worth their while to render every page they crawl with JavaScript given the expense of doing so and the fact that a large percentage of pages do not change substantially when you do.

My best guess is that they’re using a combination of trying to figure out the need for JavaScript execution on a given page, coupled with trust/authority metrics to decide whether (and with what priority) to render a page with JS.

Run a test, get publicity

I have a hypothesis that I would love to see someone test: That it’s possible to get a page indexed and ranking for a nonsense word contained in the served HTML, but not initially ranking for a different nonsense word added via JavaScript; then, to see the JS get indexed some period of time later and rank for both nonsense words. If you want to run that test, let me know the results — I’d be happy to publicize them.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

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7 Ways Facebook Keeps You Addicted (and how to apply the lessons to your products)

7 Ways Facebook Keeps You Addicted (and how to apply the lessons to your products)

How Facebook Keeps You Addicted

In 1972 the first app went live.

It wasn’t designed for mobile and it was meant only for geeks and programmers.

That invention was designed and built by Ray Tomlinson. Today that messaging app is used by 4.3 billion people and 269 billion messages are sent every 24 hours.

You may have already guessed what that app is.

Email was the first addictive digital technology that had us checking in to our computers and then decades later our mobile phones.

One of the key reasons for why it is so addictive is “operant conditioning”. It is based upon the scientific principle of variable rewards, discovered by B. F. Skinner (an early exponent of the school of behaviourism) in the 1930’s when performing experiments with rats.

The secret?

Not rewarding all actions but only randomly.

Most of our emails are boring business emails and occasionally we find an enticing email that keeps us coming back for more. That’s variable reward.

That’s one way Facebook creates addiction.

Addiction is now designed “in”

Social media is no different but it has gone to another level.

In fact addiction and keeping you hooked is now designed “into” many platforms and apps. Because the apps that win are not the best products but the most addictive.

In a recent interview on Brain Hacking, Tristan Harris (an ex-Googler) describes how Facebook, Google and others are designing apps for addiction. They want you back to their product at least once a day.

But the reality is that users are spending an average of 50 minutes a day just on Facebook. This is up from 40 minutes a day just a year ago.

A tiny habit

Habits are powerful.

They are also behind behaviour change and one of the top in this field is the behaviour scientist B.J. Fogg who has been lecturing on this since 1997. He shares his time between Stanford University and industry work.

Fogg told Ian Leslie in a recent interview in 1843 magazine that he read the classics in the course of a master’s degree in the humanities. He says that when he read Aristotle’s “Rhetoric”, a treatise on the art of persuasion, “It just struck me….this stuff is going to be rolled out in tech one day!”

The reality now is that we are seeing soft and pervasive persuasion used on the social web.

His simple model provides an insight into how to create powerful apps and design .

Image source: Foggmethod.com 

His recommendation?

Design for the behaviour and not the outcome. That specific behaviour could be a tiny habit. The outcome of becoming healthy is made up of many tiny simple habits. This could include, eating a healthy breakfast, walking every day and getting a good nights sleep.

A creating a tiny habit could be as simple as:

Trigger: After I walk in the front door

Behaviour: I will hang my keys on the hook

His suggestion is then to celebrate that small habit success. That could be as simple as saying “I am awesome” or a happy dance.

The goal is to use daily routines to create tiny habits. Here is his format for creating a tiny habit.

 

Using an app is simple. Checking into Facebook to see how many likes you have on your latest post.

One of his students at Stanford University was Mike Kreiger, who went on to co-found Instagram, where over 700 million users now share sunrises, sunsets and selfies. The concept was simple, upload a photo and add a filter.

For many using Instagram is now a habit.

Better than cocaine

Some recent research by Sang Pil Han at Arizona State University discovered that mobile social apps foster more dependency than cocaine or alcohol. This was discovered when they looked at the data behind the use of Facebook and the popular Korean game, Anipang

The slot machine is a perfect example of creating a machine that is designed to hook and addict the user. Natasha Dow Schull, an anthropologist and the author of the book “Addiction by Design”  has spent 15 years of field research in Las Vegas studying solitary gambling at electronic machines.

Her findings reveal how the mechanical rhythm of electronic gambling pulls players into a trancelike state they call the “machine zone”,  in which daily worries, social demands, and even bodily awareness fade away.

Losing time

Even Skinner likened his Skinner box for the rats with its variable reward to the one armed bandits called slot machines. Beyond the reward the other elements to the art of seducing the gambler to slowly empty his pockets over hours and days includes the music, the mini games and even the actual appearance  of spinning wheels.

Money is one thing but time is another and it is something you can never buy. So losing time is a worse addiction than losing money.

You can earn more more money but you can never get back time.

This is how Facebook creates addiction

Building and developing a product that entices you to use it many times a day is at the heart of the Facebook marketing philosophy. It is core to their product development.

So here are some insights into human behaviour that keep us switching on and logging in.

1. Validation

As human creators and sharers we all feel the need to have our creations validated.

Not many of us are immune to the numeric quantification of attention that appears at the bottom of every post on Facebook.

Just a few “likes” and we feel like no-one cares. But get 100 and you feel like an awesome creative champion.

Recent developments on the platform are seeing the streaming love hearts and likes that were were initially built into Periscope are now appearing on Facebook. This burst of visual likes is programmed in to keep you hooked. It is “not” an accident.

Facebook has the resources to copy almost any feature of competitors that they feel improves their addiction tactics.

2. Variable reward

The discovery by Skinner that showed that rats were more likely to become addicted when there were random rewards.

Diving into your Facebook feed reveals various pieces of content and revelations that keep us hooked. Some boring others enticing.

The ever changing feedback that is the numeric quantification of content success is like a drug.

3. Fear of missing out

We all want to be part of the show and fear of missing out is real. This is sometimes abbreviated as “FOMO”. Curiosity is a human condition that keeps us looking, listening and clicking on the the little app icon.

There is a bit of a voyeur in all of us and the platforms feed and reward that human behaviour.

4. Sounds

Getting that sound from your phone notifications is one thing that makes most of us “check in”.

But the Facebook messenger sound that happens when you are exchanging private messages builds even more anticipation. It is intoxicating and addictive.

That design is not by accident.

This is now even appearing as a visual on your SMS and text messages. Now those little moving dots reveal that someone is typing at the other end and that one little tactic keeps us glued to our screens.

5. Vibration

Phones also provide us with alerts when on silent mode. It is that vibration in your pocket or purse.

In most cases when downloading an apt is hard “not” to activate it or it is almost hardwired in.

It is opt-out not opt-in as the default.

That tempting vibration when someone likes, comments or leaves a message on your social media networks is an ever-present temptation.

6. Connection

At a recent social media marketing conference I bumped into a new attendee that revealed that she had now found her “tribe”. Being connected to a world wide community is part of the attraction of social media. It allows us to connect online first and then meet in person later.

Wanting to be connected is a very powerful motivation to use the social web.

The ability to find other passionate humans around the world and to join your global “passion tribe” is compelling ….and addictive.

7. Investment

One of the reasons I use Facebook is to record my trips. It is where  post my mobile photos that distils the highlights of the day in words and images. The time line then becomes a travelogue that is in essence my adventure diary.

It is an investment.

The more I create and the longer I spend in posting and publishing the bigger the emotional investment. Facebook becomes your life mapping app.

Taking control back

A digital detox is one tactic that seems to be gaining traction and attention but for me there is a simpler solution.

Turn off all alerts and notifications.

Gaining back control of your attention is necessary to get work done. Deep work and creating content of consequence is not achieved when there is constant distraction.

I am writing this with sounds, vibrations and all social media turned off. Even the email is off duty.

How to apply the lessons to your products

In his book “Hooked: How to Build Habit Forming Products“, Nir Eval reveals the model for building products that people love. And products that win are the ones that get us hooked.

Here is an example of how Pinterest keeps you “hooked”

how Facebook keeps you addicted

Source: Slideshare

Here is the distillation of his model in 4 steps to keep your prospects and customers engaged.

  1. Create internal and external triggers that bring people to your product
  2. Get them to log-in or sign up to your resources or product
  3. Provide a variable reward that connects to the tribe, provides resources and enables personal mastery
  4. Allow them to build an investment that provides more triggers to keep them coming back.

Over at his website he has a worksheet that is worth checking out.

Over to you

Creating simple and tiny habits over time leads to big outcomes.

Using this principle alone to design and build digital products that bring value to people’s lives and keeps them coming back sits behind some of the fastest growing companies that the world has ever seen.

How could you apply these principles to your products?

The post 7 Ways Facebook Keeps You Addicted (and how to apply the lessons to your products) appeared first on Jeffbullas’s Blog.

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Branding, Belief And Keates With Tom Asacker – This Week’s Six Pixels Of Separation Podcast

Branding, Belief And Keates With Tom Asacker - This Week's Six Pixels Of Separation Podcast

Episode #568 of Six Pixels of Separation – The Mirum Podcast is now live and ready for you to listen to.

Tom Asacker is one of my favourite voices on the subject of branding and what corporations do to make consumers believe in their products and services. He is the bestselling author of The Business of Belief, Opportunity Screams, A Little Less Conversation and A Clear Eye for Branding. All of them are groundbreaking books that will help business leaders rethink business and communication for this new age of abundance. His first book, Sandbox Wisdom, was a heartwarming story about a CEO’s search for meaning and success in the world of business and work. Now, Tom is back is a very ambitious (and honest) effort called, I Am Keats (it’s not what you think). Enjoy the conversation…

You can grab the latest episode of Six Pixels of Separation here (or feel free to subscribe via iTunes): Six Pixels of Separation – The Mirum Podcast #568.

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via Six Pixels of Separation – Marketing and Communications Insights – By Mitch Joel at Mirum Read More…

Shopify SEO: How to Optimize Your Store for Success by @SEOBrock

Shopify SEO: How to Optimize Your Store for Success by @SEOBrock

Want your Shopify store to rank in Position 1 on Google? No matter the platform, the same SEO principles apply if you want your e-commerce store to be found in search results.

With some simple tweaks and optimizations to your Shopify store, you can improve your visibility, rank on the first page for your targeted keywords, and make the sale.

While you may not outrank Amazon on day one, this Shopify SEO guide will walk you through everything you need to position your store for success.

Launching Your Shopify Store

Your store theme should match your brand style and make sense for your inventory. But also think about the impact on speed and usability, as these factors will greatly affect SEO.

Before you buy or install a theme, verify that it won’t hurt your speed and performance.

  1. Run the theme URL through a tool like GTMetrix or Web Page Test. While the numbers will be different on your store, it will give you an idea of the resource demand of the core theme you’re building on.Screenshot of fast Shopify theme scanned in GTMetrixScreenshot of slow Shopify theme scanned in GTMetrix
  2. Run the theme URL through PageSpeed Insights. Since Google’s analysis of your page is ultimately what matters when you want to rank, verify that Google evaluates the code positively.

Screenshot of fast Shopify theme in PageSpeed Insights

Screenshot of slow Shopify theme in PageSpeed Insights

When it comes to speed, the Turbo Shopify theme from Out of the Sandbox is my favorite right now. This theme is optimized for speed without sacrificing form or functionality.

Installing this theme on a client site cut loading time by 75 percent. We routinely see clients keep load times under five seconds when they launch to a lean and clean theme.

A smart theme selection will set you on the right path in terms of branding, user experience, and SEO.

Technical SEO

Without a strong foundation, SEO is just wainscoting on a pile of rubble. But when you build, reinforce, and maintain a strong foundation, SEO tweaks will add that decorative flourish to set you apart from the competition.

Always optimize your site for customers, first and foremost.

On-page SEO

The same SEO elements that apply to a regular site apply to Shopify (here’s a great SEO checklist):

  • Upload a robots.txt file so bots can crawl your site.
  • Ensure you have an XML sitemap to guide Google through the architecture of your site.
  • Install Google Analytics.
  • Validate HTML and CSS.
  • Purchase an SSL certificate and upgrade to HTTPS.
  • Correct any crawl errors and redirect issues.
  • Include target keywords for a given page in the title and H1.
  • Optimize meta descriptions, as this can affects click-through-rate (CTR).
  • Optimize headings (H1s, H2s, etc.) in a natural way.
  • Optimize images (file name, alt text, and image size).

Optimize all future pages as you add them, including collections and product pages.

You’ll also need to re-optimize your content periodically to better target the keywords that convert the most.

SEO is an ongoing process. Tweaks will always be needed because search algorithms are constantly changing – and so are your customers’ wants, needs, and behaviors.

Run your site through an auditor like WooRank. Check back in every few months to make sure your corrections have taken hold and identify any new issues.

On-page Optimizations in Shopify

Shopify makes it easy to set your basic on-page details directly in the backend.

Navigate to Sales Channels > Online Store > Preferences. On this page, you can update your homepage title and meta description. This is also where you can link your Google Analytics account.

Enter your store's title and meta description in these fields

Individual product title and meta descriptions can be set directly on the page:

Enter your product page's title and meta description in fields provided

Need to set up redirects? This can be done via Sales Channels > Online Store > Navigation. Click the “URL Redirects” button in the top right. Here, you can manage redirects and add new ones.

Screenshot of URL redirects in Shopify backend

Shopify automatically generates an XML sitemap of your store. You can find it by going to http://ift.tt/NXUDQh.

While Shopify isn’t quite as SEO-friendly as sites on WordPress with a plugin like Yoast, you can optimize almost everything directly through the dashboard.

Apps

Shopify has a pretty awesome collection of free or low-cost app integrations to take your store to the next level.

Our clients have had great success capturing abandoned carts and re-engaging past customers with Conversio (formerly Receiptful). Bold Apps can help with sales and upsells, not to mention Sweet Tooth Loyalty Program and MailChimp integration for your email marketing efforts.

The Shopify Reviews App or Yotpo are amazing as they add review schema right onto the product to help click-through rate in the SERPs.

Apps can help with everything from driving newsletter sign-ups to running sales. However, apps can slow down stores and cause some conflicts, so choose wisely.

Screenshot of product review page

Speed

Speed should always come before cool features. Why? Forty percent of users will abandon a page if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load. In fact, a single second delay in page loading can drop conversions by 7 percent.

For an e-commerce store, that could cost thousands in lost sales each year. Mobile users are impatient. A slow store is bad business.

Optimizing your Shopify store for speed is almost exactly the same as any other website. Small improvements like the ones listed below should help improve load times:

  • Minify code (CSS & JavaScript)
  • Compress images
  • Minimize redirects
  • Enable browser caching
  • Use a content delivery network (CDN)

You can see a full list of recommendations and see how your store measures up when you run your domain through a tool like GTMetrix.

Speed matters for user experience, but it’s also a Google ranking factor. The faster your site can be without stripping elements that provide an optimal user experience, the better.

User Experience

Ask yourself these questions to evaluate whether your Shopify store offers an excellent user experience:

  • Does the homepage explain what your store is all about? Is it easy to understand?
  • Is the site structured well?
  • Is the page layout clear, consistent, and visually appealing?
  • Are the graphics welcoming and consistent?
  • Do your product images show high-quality graphics of what you are selling?
  • Is there good use of white space? Is the content too dense?
  • Are navigation buttons and tabs consistent and intuitive?
  • Is the relationship between the page and navigation clear?
  • Is there a clear “path” for users to follow from first landing on the site to buying a product?
  • Is the content unique, well-written, and accurate?
  • Are there ads, interstitials, pop-ups, or any other obtrusive elements on the page? If so, are they displayed in a professional manner?
  • Are there calls-to-action (CTAs) on the page, and are they clear and intuitive?

If you can say an emphatic “yes” to all of these questions, you’re on the right track to delight your users and Google.

If you’re hesitant about any of the above elements, go back to the drawing board. You can draw in visitors through paid ads, organic traffic, or social, but the page has to serve their needs. Otherwise, metrics will confirm your site just isn’t cutting it and everything will suffer — including search rankings.

User testing can help you get a more accurate sense of how customers interact with your store and shine a spotlight on problem areas.

Optimizing Your Store for Conversions

Conversion optimization is all about getting visitors to engage with your content, like you, trust you, and ultimately buy your product.

Each of these actions at one level or another is associated with a site-level metric that influences your site’s Google rank. After all, users who take an action on your site contribute a lower bounce rate, longer time on site, higher pages/session, and more.

Without worrying about a single technical detail, shifting your mindset to associate conversion optimization with rankings benefits will pay tremendous dividends.

If Google sees that users click to your store and buy something, that can positively influence your rankings.

Google wants to show the most relevant and useful results to users. Make your site exactly what your customers want and need.

Content

A beautiful website without quality content is like a top-line Viking range with no ingredients to cook — a total waste.

All the little optimizations and tweaks I detailed earlier mean nothing if they’re not building on a rich, deep, and insightful foundation of high-quality content.

Homepage

Your Shopify homepage represents who you are, what you do, what you offer, and your unique value proposition.

Harris Farm Markets is one site that does a great job with their homepage layout and content:

An example of a good eCommerce homepage

It’s hyper-visual and rich in content. From the first look at the page to the final scroll, you get a total sense of who they are, what they do, and what makes them different from a supermarket.

Muse is another great example:

An example of a good eCommerce homepage

Must makes it clear what the product is and how it can help from that first hero image to the research partners that provide credibility.

Product Pages

Ensure your product pages are fully optimized. Pasting the same generic sentence on each page won’t cut it.

  • Write a unique, captivating product description.
  • To avoid duplicate content, add variants to each product. This way, you won’t have to come up with new content for red and blue versions of the same shirt.
  • To better serve your customers, have shipping, return, and sizing information available on the page.
  • Ensure your images are optimized with a descriptive file name and relevant alt text.
  • Consider enabling reviews on the page. Not only does it provide more value/info for customers, but it’s free content!
  • Don’t use manufacturer descriptions! Write your own.

Duplicate Product Pages

If duplicate products are unavoidable, apply the rel=canonical tag to the product you want to take priority. If this is an ongoing issue like if your store is duplicating products across collection pages, you can install an app like the NoFollow and NoIndex Manager to take control over what gets followed and indexed.

Deleting Products

When a model becomes obsolete or you move on to a different stock, do you just delete the product? This can cause big SEO issues.

Ensure you set up 404 redirects for all deleted products. Link to the most similar live product if you can, or the most relevant collections page. If nothing applies, redirect to the homepage.

The Perfect Product Page

Here’s an example of an exceptional product page:

An example of a strong eCommerce product page

It has:

  • Tons of content broken up into different chunks for readability and flow.
  • Variants all on the same page to avoid duplicate content issues.
  • Visual, informative content about features and specs, and even includes videos of the product in use.
  • A review app, giving 800 words of additional content.

Tabbed content allows you to add depth to the page without cluttering it. Here’s a great example:

An example of tabbed content on a product page

Collections

Shopify automatically creates collections pages. You don’t have to make the pages visible on your site, but they represent a huge ranking opportunity for category keywords if you choose to use them.

If your collections pages are just product lists, you’re missing an opportunity.

We’ve been doing content projects for a lot of our e-commerce clients to grow their collections pages, and we’ve seen great results.

For instance, instead of just a generic “jeans” or “men’s jeans” page, make a “skater jeans” or “baggy jeans” landing page building on a collection. These hyper-targeted keywords convert really well.

An example of good collections page content

Blog

A blogging strategy is really important, especially for e-commerce. Maintaining a blog will:

  • Provide value to users.
  • Help you target long-tail keywords.
  • Improve your organic search visibility.
  • Give you more content to promote on social.

Use tools like Google Trends and BuzzSumo to identify keyword opportunities and stay ahead of the curve on evergreen and trendy topics.

Write long-tail content that has your product as the answer to a commonly asked question. Browse social media, Quora, Reddit, and niche forums to find these questions.

Remember, a blog can be so much more than pure text:

  • Post videos.
  • Do a Q&A.
  • Post how-tos.
  • Create an infographic.
  • Post gift guides, style guides, and lookbooks.

Integrate buy buttons and strong calls-to-action (CTAs) to make blogs an important part of your sales funnel.

An example of Shopify's buy button used in a blog

Off-page Optimizations

All of your on-page optimizations are just one part of the puzzle. Your store’s off-page presence is just as important, if not more.

In other words, you need to market your Shopify store. Get the word out there.

  • Put effort into a comprehensive, strategic social media presence.
  • Do outreach and online PR.
  • Build a robust backlink profile from trustworthy, authoritative domains.

All of these efforts will help build brand awareness and affinity, which will ultimately increase search demand.

Conclusion

From choosing an SEO-friendly theme to core optimizations (on-page, speed, UX, CRO, content, and off-page), the recommendations in this guide should help steer your Shopify store to improved and sustained rankings success.

Plan and deploy your SEO strategy using Shopify’s built-in features; monitor your results through keyword tracking software and Google Analytics, and adjust and experiment until you strike gold.

Just remember: SEO alone isn’t enough for Shopify success. Search engines want to satisfy users, so always optimizing for your customers will delight two birds with one stone.

Image Credits

Featured Image: Shutterstock
All Screenshots by Brock Murray. Taken May 2017.

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Quiz: Should You Use WordPress.org or WordPress.com?

Quiz: Should You Use WordPress.org or WordPress.com?
If you’ve taken the time to read our article WordPress.com and WordPress.org: What’s the Difference? then you know there are major differences between the two WordPress platforms. While both the hosted and self-hosted versions of WordPress are technically free to use (at least to start), that is pretty much where the similarities end. The major difference […]

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Color Psychology In Branding: Industry Colors Explained [Infographic]

Color Psychology In Branding: Industry Colors Explained [Infographic]

Colour psychology has become a vital part of branding and logo design in modern commerce. With 80% of visual information from logos coming from color alone, careful attention needs to be paid to the message that each choice is likely to convey to the viewer. 

This infographic, created by Towergate Insurance, analyzes the logos of 520 companies. It identifies their color preferences and explores the emotional responses that these logos may be designed to provoke. 

Moreover, the same color is thought to generate varying responses depending on the industry it appears in. Take, for example, the color red – used in the restaurant industry, it’s an attention-grabbing color and is even thought to stimulate hunger. The same color used in the airline industry, however, is used to convey a sense of warmth and caring – something that’s deemed an essential quality of any airline. 

The communication industry predominantly uses blue to promote a sense of clear communication and mental clarity. In the pharmaceutical industry, blue signifies well-being, as it is often associated with cleanliness and health. 

With this in mind, it pays to familiarize yourself with the values that your brand considers the most important and choose your color scheme accordingly.

Color Psychology In Branding: Industry Colors Explained [Infographic] | Social Media TodayThis post first appeared on Irfan Ahmad’s blog.

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Quora’s Native Advertising Solution is Out of Beta and Available to Everyone

Quora’s Native Advertising Solution is Out of Beta and Available to Everyone

If you’re a social media marketer and you’re not familiar with Quora, it’s time to get up to speed.

Quora a highly addictive Q&A site that boasts a global audience of close to 200 million monthly users, and was featured previously as one of 56 vendors in The 2017 Social Media Native Advertising Landscape. It’s userbase is highly educated, too.

It’s known for the quality of its content and the insightfulness of its users. The community is relatively troll-free and is actively policed by its users. Users come to the site to ask questions and read reliable answers, which includes information about products, services, brands, competitors and industries.

Many of these queries and answers influence users during the consideration stage of their buyer’s journey.

Quora’s Native Advertising Solution is Out of Beta and Available to Everyone | Social Media Today

And now, Quora has launched it’s own self-serve ad platform, which is available to all users. Quora first started testing ads last year, but only made the option available to select partners in beta. Now, anyone can give them a try – and they may well be worth consideration.

Reasons to Advertise Using Quora

Quora gives four main reasons (see below) brands should consider it for advertising. It should also be added that the variety of topics is immense, so targeting to the right audience at the right time should be easy for marketers.

  1. A large, engaged audience
  2. Only quality content
  3. High user intent
  4. Measurable results

How it Works According to Quora

  1. Create your account – You need a Quora profile account to get access to the Quora Ads Manager and start running ads. If you don’t have an account, create one here.
  2. Create your ad copy and choose your audience – Choose a headline, description text, landing page URL and a call to action for your text ad. Target your ad by topic, platform or location.
  3. Set your budget and launch your campaign – Quora Ads runs off a CPC-based model that is powered by a real-time auction. Set your desired CPC bid and adjust the bid and budget at any time. Measure performance using our reporting.
  4. Only pay for results – Signing up for Quora ads is free. You only pay when someone clicks on your ad. You control how much you spend and you can adjust spend based on your needs.

Quora’s Native Advertising Solution is Out of Beta and Available to Everyone | Social Media TodayThe companies that used Quora’s native advertising during beta range in industries from ecommerce, law, HR, SaaS and parenting.

Anne Halsall,  the co-founder of Winnie, says that “the conversion rate was 4-5 times higher than what we saw on other platforms.”

Quora’s native advertising solution represents another arrow in the quiver for brands to reach their target audience where they’re at, and on their terms. Initial results look impressive. As a Quora user myself, I plan on using this new offering as soon as possible and you can bet I’ll be sharing the results here – stay tuned.

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How to Measure the Performance of Your Web Testimonials – and Why You Should Care

How to Measure the Performance of Your Web Testimonials - and Why You Should Care

For the majority of today’s consumers, testimonials play a significant role in their purchase decisions. A testimonial can help solidify a consumer’s product selection, boost trust in a business, and even help generate a new desire for a product the consumer wasn’t previously shopping for.

Considering how much power testimonials have, it’s imperative that companies across all industries display the right testimonials, in the right places, in order to convert more leads. Unfortunately, too many companies neglect this important tool for business growth, as many times they’re under the mistaken assumption that there isn’t much that can be done with testimonials.

Testimonials can be analyzed and optimized in ways that can make them one of your most valuable tools for generating leads and conversions. This is why you should care about how your testimonials are performing, and learn what you can do to make them perform even better.

Are your testimonials located in the right places across your web assets? Do the testimonials you’re displaying come from reviewers who represent your target audience? These are the key questions you need to ask yourself as you dive into the process of optimizing your testimonials for improved performance.

Measuring the performance of your testimonials

Before you can take any steps towards optimizing your testimonials, you first need to understand the results they’re generating.

There are the three main ways you can gauge your testimonials’ performance:

  • Views – The number of times a certain testimonial was viewed is a great indicator as to its relevance to your target audience.
  • Profile clicks – How many times were your reviewer’s profiles clicked? This can provide insight into whether your site visitors relate to the testimonials you choose to highlight. When they see reviews from people in a similar position to their own (similar job titles, companies, etc.), they can more easily imagine themselves having similar experiences to those of the reviewers.
  • Leads Generated – With some straightforward A/B testing, you can deduce whether an increase in leads is the result of your testimonials.

There are a number of tools out there that can help you analyze the performance of your testimonials. For example, the Spectoos testimonial platform helps you with everything related to managing and optimizing your testimonials through an attractive, fully integrated analytics dashboard that makes it easy to understand your testimonials’ performance metrics.

How to Measure the Performance of Your Web Testimonials - and Why You Should Care | Social Media Today

The Spectoos platform also enables you to add and aggregate your testimonials from various networks across the web (LinkedIn, Facebook, Amazon, Yelp, etc.) and display them in what they call a “Faceboard” (see below) on your website, Facebook business Page, landing pages, and other web assets.

How to Measure the Performance of Your Web Testimonials - and Why You Should Care | Social Media Today

How to Optimize Your Testimonials

Now that you know which metrics to measure, and have determined if your testimonials are not performing as well as you’d like them to, you can start optimizing them to get more leads.

Here are four ways to do it:

1. Improve your testimonials’ location

One of the most basic – and important – steps for improving the performance of your testimonials is ensuring that their placement on your website is ideal. Considering how influential testimonials are, you should put them right in front of your site visitor’s eyes when they reach your site.

Most people won’t scroll down to the bottom of the page or click on your “Clients” tab to read testimonials, so placing them on your homepage, above the fold, is the best placement for optimal results.

2. Display your highest quality testimonials

Some testimonials speak louder than others. Your highest quality testimonials will consist of stories that resonate with your target audience. This means reviews that mention common challenges or issues that your customers use your solution or product to solve.

The best testimonials also provide details – while shorter testimonials that are quick and to the point are nice, testimonials that offer deeper insight into the reviewers’ experiences can more effectively impact the buying decisions of your site visitors.

For example, this short testimonial is very positive. But it doesn’t give potential customers an idea about the type of experience they could have.  

How to Measure the Performance of Your Web Testimonials - and Why You Should Care | Social Media Today

Meanwhile, a longer testimonial that gives details about the reviewer’s situation makes potential customers feel empathetic – which can more significantly impact their decisions to choose your offering.

How to Measure the Performance of Your Web Testimonials - and Why You Should Care | Social Media Today

3. Make sure your testimonials appear on relevant pages

If your company offers a variety of services or products, the testimonials you display on those product pages should be relevant to that specific offering.

For example, let’s say your company offers SEO, content marketing and social media marketing services. A person who’s considering hiring you to improve their company’s SEO won’t benefit as much from testimonials about your social media marketing services.

Marketo puts this rule into practice – their Lead Management solution page, for example, features a video testimonial from a client who used that specific solution. This video testimonial speaks most powerfully to site visitors who are considering the same solution, as they can more easily relate to the person in the video and imagine that they will also experience positive results.

VIDEO

If you don’t have video testimonials for each of your individual offerings, you can still divide and display your testimonials, accordingly. The Spectoos testimonial platform mentioned above for measuring testimonial metrics also enables you to create multiple Faceboards. You can put a different Faceboard on each of your service or product pages and populate them with relevant testimonials.

4. Get influencers to leave you testimonials

Influencers can make a big difference when it comes to helping grow your business. Building relationships with the people who others trust and look to for guidance enables you to reach a wider audience that you might not be able to access otherwise. When influencers promote you through a positive testimonial, that testimonial holds a ton of weight with your audience. Research has shown that this tactic can help increase your ROI by over 13%.

Freelance marketing writer, Kristi Hines, an influencer herself, employs this tactic expertly by using endorsements from other industry influencers, like this one from Neil Patel, to promote her services:

As you can see, testimonials can have a big impact, and it’s important you’re utilizing them in optimal ways to maximize their benefits. In the social media era, word of mouth is more powerful than ever, and great, balanced testimonials can ensure you’re tapping into this trend and using it to full effect. 

Hopefully these notes get you thinking about how you can use testimonials in your own marketing efforts. 

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Six Links Worthy Of Your Attention #361

Six Links Worthy Of Your Attention #361

Is there one link, story, picture or thought that you saw online this week that you think somebody you know must see?

My friends: Alistair Croll (Solve for InterestingTilt the WindmillHBS; chair of StrataStartupfestPandemonio, and ResolveTO; Author of Lean Analytics and some other books), Hugh McGuire (PressBooks, LibriVox, iambik and co-author of Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto) and I decided that every week the three of us are going to share one link for one another (for a total of six links) that each individual feels the other person "must see".

Check out these six links that we’re recommending to one another: 

  • Price-bots can collude against consumers – The Economist. "One of the checks and balances of democratic capitalism is anti-trust. The idea that the free market is efficient, and produces the most people with the most things for the least money, depends on a few, large players not concentrating power and taking excessive profits. It’s why the Department of Justice broke AT&T up into regional operating companies — and why they prosecute organizations that collude to raise prices. But what if collusion happens automatically? As this Economist article points out, algorithmic pricing and online transparency may lead to monopolies despite our best efforts. Yet another robot apocalypse to worry about." (Alistair for Hugh).
  • The Window of Bacon Fat – Now I Know. "It ain’t Kosher, but it’s marketing. Every notice bacon looks like red meat in the store, but white fat in the pan? Turns out there’s a law because of that. When vendors tried to put their best side forward, they were hiding the greasy truth — and the government stepped in. Overreach? Antitrust? Or just consumer protection? Whatever the case, there’s a law about that package of bacon. Now if someone can just get an AI to fix it." (Alistair for Mitch). 
  • Japan’s "Superhuman" Athletes – Reuters. "Oh, Japan." (Hugh for Alistair).
  • A Brief Rant On The Future Of Interaction Design – Worry Dream. "I like to read everything Brett Victor writes." (Hugh for Mitch).
  • Are You A Self-Interrupter? – Nautilus. "How do you feel about people who interrupt you in a conversation? It could be your kids, a work colleague, a parent or a friend. We all know one person like this (some of us know many people like this). They’re just not listening. They’re thinking of what they want to say now/next. What if we’re doing this to ourselves? All of the time. Do you hate yourself just a little bit more about now?" (Mitch for Alistair).
  • These Powerful Art Illustrations Show How Backwards Society Really Is – Anonymous. "Maybe it’s my heavy metal upbringing, but I’ve always had a taste for art that is more subversive and obvious in pointing out our human flaws. The more it makes me squirm – or makes me feel uncomfortable – the more I can’t look away… and the more that I like it. He’s a slew of artwork that this will make you think twice. Promise. It’s very punk too." (Mitch for Hugh). 

Feel free to share these links and add your picks on Twitter, Facebook, in the comments below or wherever you play.

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