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Google Web Vital. It’s time to take UX seriously

Google gave advance warning before an algorithm update. That was a first!

Last week Google announced an update to their search algorithm planned for 2021 – actually giving us time to prepare.

The new signals, dubbed Core Web Vitals, will evaluate the quality of your site’s user experience when ranking it in organic search.

Google has this to say: “Optimizing for these factors makes the web more delightful for users across all web browsers and surfaces, and helps sites evolve towards user expectations on mobile. We believe this will contribute to business success on the web as users grow more engaged and can transact with less friction.”

Another push form Google towards making the web a better place.

Any investment in improving usability is an essential step towards increasing online conversions. And since Mobilegeddon, Google has only gotten more serious about cleaning up the deteriorating state of the web:

  • HTTPS: In 2014 Google announced that secure sites will get a slight ranking boost and by 2018 Chrome started marking non-HTTPS sites as non-secure.
  • Mobile-friendly: In 2015 Google released an update designed to give mobile-friendly sites a boost in organic ranking.
  • Google Safe Browsing: In 2016 Google introduced Safe Browsing, a service that helps browsers, ISPs and Apps protect their users from malware and other threats.
  • Intrusive Interstitials: In 2015 Google started penalising apps that displayed annoying pop-ups and by 2016 that penalty was extended towards websites as well.
  • Accelerated Mobile Pages: In 2018 Google announced AMP, an open-source project designed to help publishers deliver a faster mobile experience.
  • Mobile-first Indexing: In 2016 Google announced it will prioritise indexing mobile-versions of websites and by 2020 switched to indexing mobile-friendly versions of all websites exclusively.

How can you prepare for this update? 

Although the new Core Web Vitals measure metrics like load time, interactivity and stability of the content available on the page, usability is what it’s really about.

After being involved in several web development projects, I can assure you that there’s always a difference between how you thought people will use your site and how they actually use it. 

And the only way to improve usability is to pay attention to your users. 

That means paying extra attention to Service Design and User Experience. 

Where should you start?

In the coming months, you need to answer these questions: 

  • Is it happening? Is the site loading? How quickly?
  • Is it useful? How quickly does the content render so that the user can engage with it?
  • Is it usable? Can the user interact with the page?
  • Is it delightful? Is the user experience smooth and free of lag?

If you have a Service Designer or UI/UX expert on-hand, now’s the time to get them involved in usability testing.

If not, get yourself up-to-speed with Usability and Web Accessibility and other best practices.

Tools like Hotjar allow Session Recording and help you gather the much needed qualitative data to see how people really use your website.

For quantitative metrics, you can use Chrome’s Lighthouse Tools and brand new Web Vitals Chrome extension

A word of advice; don’t just look at speed alone to measure your website’s overall performance. Use testing and optimisation to improve the usability and usefulness of your website.

One thing you can count on is that Google will continue to prioritise pages with better content.

And when you and your competitors all deliver the same quality of content, whoever has the better user experience will be preferred by Google.

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Google wants Facebook advertisers to sit up and pay more attention

Last year Google introduced two new ad-formats, Gallery Ads and Discovery Ads.

The first didn’t make it past the beta but the latter was launched globally this April.

What are Discovery Ads?

Discovery Ads are a new automated, multi-channel ad-format available across YouTube, Gmail and for the first time ever in the Discover Feed on Android devices.

Automated Campaigns? Introduced in 2018, allow you to set your budget and ad-copies, then let Google take care of ad serving and optimisation.

Google wants a share of your social media budgets

For a long time, Google has wanted to grow past the search intent and offer more advertising across more touchpoints throughout the purchase funnel.

Google would like you to know that with Discovery Ads you can reach 2,9 billion people across YouTube, Android devices and Gmail.

Or roughly the same amount of users across all Facebook apps combined.

According to Google, 86% of people expect to discover new brands as they watch videos and browse the web – and Google wants you to know that they’re on it.

“With Discovery Ads, you can rely on Google’s understanding of consumers’ intent across our properties to engage these audiences as they scroll through their favourite Google feeds—no search query needed,” writes Jerry Dischler, VP of Ads Platforms & Google Properties.

Setting the bar high for quality

The biggest attraction in this new ad-format is the Discover Feed on Android devices.

While Discovery Ads are targeted based on Google Audiences (but advertisers can also use Custom Intent Audiences), Google only wants to show ads that are the most relevant and include high-quality images, one ad at a time, in the Discover Feed on Android devices.

Are Discover Ads expensive?

Google recommends setting a budget at least 10x your target CPA bid.

Basically, if the maximum you’re willing to pay for acquiring a customer is 10 €, the set up a daily budget of 100 € and get at least 40 conversions before making any changes to the campaign.

Are Discovery Ads a good alternative to advertising on social media?

While paid search is focused on capturing people in the knowgodo and buy moments, where the intent is expressed by the user through keywords, Discovery is about spontaneity. 

Besides YouTube and Gmail, the biggest charm of this new ad-format is really the Discover Feed on Android devices. People often habitually browse this feed the same way they browse Instagram or Facebook.

In markets where Android is the dominant device, we might see more advertisers testing Discovery Ads.

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Should you have informational content on your e-commerce site for better SEO?

In my experience, e-commerce marketers are never too thrilled about investing in creating guides, how-tos and instructional pages (aka information content).

I don’t blame them. When your budgets are tied to revenue, you’re not going to invest in creating pages that generate a fraction of your revenue.

Yet, here I am talking about informational content. Again.

But SEO is too technical and stuff.

It’s also important and stuff.

A large majority of the SEO projects I’ve worked on involve technical optimisation as well as on-page optimisation for product/category pages.

On-page SEO often goes hand-in-hand with outreach i.e. getting links from other sites to the product and category pages.

This case study might help change your mind, or at the very least, give you pause to think about your content differently.

In the case study (an e-commerce store) every page with informational content was redirected to the home page.

As a result, the site lost ranking for a number of keywords, not just for the missing pages, but across the whole domain.

The lesson?

They learnt that the informational content on the site had a number of high-value backlinks.

Removing those pages meant that the informational content was no longer passing internal links to different product pages. Losing those links reduced keyword ranking across the entire site.

How can you be smarter?

Listen to your content marketers and copywriters.

It may seem unnecessary, but creating informational content is essential for every e-commerce site if they want visibility in SERP.

If you’re ahead of the curve and already have a healthy amount of guides available on your site, you get a gold star! ⭐️ Keep it up!

To stay ahead, do this:

  1. Revisit those pages to see that they’re properly optimised for long-tail queries.
  2. Make sure that they are accessible by crawlers.
  3. Make sure that you build internal links from informational pages to relevant product pages.

And where and when possible, get backlinks from other domains to your informational content.

The stronger you make the network your online presence exists in, the more visible you will be to all those people just itching to give you their money.

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New features introduced by Google during COVID-19: which ones are likely to stay?

A lot has changed in the last few months. We’ve learned more than we ever wanted to about pandemics and most of us have discovered that perfect spot in our homes for taking video calls (saunas and bathrooms seem to top the list).

It’s evident that some businesses were more prepared than others to move their operations online overnight.

As the world moved online, Google introduced a number of new features from delivering reliable information on COVID-19 to helping small businesses connect with customers online.

Some of those updates have been all over the news while others haven’t. So, I’ve put together a list of all new features for businesses that Google introduced since this crisis began.

Rollback of SameSite cookies

Last year Google announced that its Chrome browser will stop supporting third-party cookies.

Their first milestone was removing support for SameSite cookies past February 2020. SameSite cookies help browsers share a user’s information from one site to another.

According to Google’s original plan, cookies without proper labelling would stop working past that deadline.

Google ultimately decided to postpone this move to avoid causing disruption for websites and businesses who wouldn’t be able to properly prepare for this due to staff restrictions. They are now aiming to complete this rollout during summer 2020.

Free listings on Google Shopping

Non-essential retail has been one of the hardest-hit sectors of the economy. In an effort to support retailers, Google decided to make Google Shopping available to all retailers ahead of schedule.

Google Shopping results show up as thumbnail images on top of the search results. Here’s a handy guide to get you up and running on Google Shopping.

Rising Retail Categories

To help businesses keep up with shifting consumer demand, Google launched the Rising Retail Categories, currently available in the US, UK and Australia. It functions the same way as Google Trends but the data is primarily focused on displaying products people are interested in based on what people are searching for.

Google mentioned that the site is updated daily and hope that business can use this information for creating better content, better advertising campaigns or use it for improving their product inventories.

It seems that in the UK, beyond the obvious motorboats, are having a breakout in consumer interest.

Curbside pickup badges

As the global lockdown started Google reported a 70% increase in searches with ‘in stock’. As governments imposed stricter rules for social distancing, Google introduced new features including in-store and curbside pickup in their local inventory ads.

Local inventory ads are currently available to brick-and-mortar stores in Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, and the US.

Support links for local businesses

Perhaps besides tourism, the worst-hit sector has been local businesses.

With many having to shut down indefinitely and others permanently, many entrepreneurs have had to come up with creative ways to keep their businesses afloat. One such approach is asking for customers to buy gift cards that can be used once life returns to normal.

To support small business, Google launched Support links for My Business profiles.

Using this feature small businesses can direct their customers directly to their Google My Business profiles where they can collect donations or sell gift card (or both).

This feature is available in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.

Which features are more likely to stay?

Google has a solid track record in introducing new features that get us to use their products more often.

In my opinion, while features such as information on COVID spread in organic search will eventually fade, I hope that the new features launched to support local businesses will remain available and be improved over time.

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