Tag Archives: Google

How to Implement Google Publisher Markup on Your Website (and why you should)

 

IBM search results

This is an update to an earlier version of this article. It has been edited for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

By now, you’ve likely seen rich search results popping up in Google for brands and publishers, and you might be wondering how you can get your site to appear in search results like that.

In this article, we’re going to cover how you can enable what is referred to as “Google Publisher Markup”, and why it’s valuable for your site.

 

What can you do with Google Publisher markup?

Over the years, Google has added more and more rich snippets to its search results pages.

Listicles, answers to questions, definitions, directions, instructions, company profiles, reviews, and the weather are all things that Google can now pull from content and repurpose into a search result.

Google Publisher markup (along with Schema.org) is the technical HTML implementation of this.

Google Publisher traditionally allowed companies to post their own information in a short bio (“meta description”) as a search result when people Googled them.

For example, here’s ours:

moveable online search results

Today, the same functionality has been expanded to include other capabilities that let you:

  • Add a searchbox to your site

washable search bar

  • Provide a specific name for your business to show up in organic search (or multiple names)
  • Submit a specific logo to show up in search results and the knowledge graph, like in the example of IBM at the top of the page
  • Add breadcrumbs
  • Add social media links to SERPs
  • Redirect people to your app instead

 

Why bother with markup?

Markup makes your search result easier to read and understand. It helps drive user engagement. Markup gives MOST users MOST of the information about your company they’re going to be looking for.

Dave’s Computers Search resultsFor example, imagine that you were getting your computer fixed by Dave’s Computers, but you’re going to be 20 minutes late picking it up.

Without Markup, you have to dig through three pages of the site to get a contact number.

With Markup, it’s just one click. You can even call directly from the search result for a more streamlined experience.

Second, snippets will get more important as people increasingly search via voice tools like Siri or Google Assistant. In conjunction with the Schema.org project, Google is moving from telling you where to get information to providing that information themselves.

This is an important shift.

As Google becomes more of a one-stop shop, they’ll prioritize companies that make it easy for them to pull information in the form they want it. To catalyse the change, Google’s made it good for SEO, both in terms of ranking and in how your result looks in the SERPs:

  • Google My Business links your Google+ account to your search results. This ports over the information to your search results (e.g. phone numbers).
  • Enable breadcrumbs so people can see where they’re going to land before the click.

 

Accelerated Mobile Pages

The final benefit of using Google Publisher markup is integration with the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project.

It’s a system of building web pages in stripped-down HTML so they respond extremely quickly over slow connections on mobile devices. You can publish your site with AMP using a plugin if you’re using a CMS, or you can build your own AMP pages.

Either way, AMP helps your site by:

  • Providing a visual cue in the SERPs that your site is speedy on a phone
  • Letting your content into the Top Stories carousel
  • Pulling enriched snippets from your content for certain content types like reviews, recipes, music, video, local businesses, and TV and movies

NY Times AMP results

 

How to add Google Publisher markup

Fortunately, you don’t have to bother with rel=publisher links anymore.

Now, adding Google Publisher markup to your site is a simple task:

  1. Register your business with the search console.
  2. Configure your information like name, number, address, and hours to display exactly how you want to them too.
  3. Add a specific site name to search results using JSON-LD or Microdata.
  4. Add your logo to the knowledge graph using Microdata in your page header.
  5. Add social media links using this microdata markup in your page header.

Now, you’re set for the basics of Google Publisher markup.

However, there’s plenty of additional work you can do to make your site even more user (and Google) friendly.

  • Adding breadcrumbs makes it easy for people to see where they’re going before they click.
  • Adding a searchbox using markup language on your homepage reduces the clicks for users to get where they’re going.

 

Over to you

Now it’s over to you.

Making your site exceptionally user friendly doesn’t have to be an arduous task anymore. Google’s Schema.org project, AMP, and Google Publisher markup present brands with unique opportunities to provide users the information they want at the click of a link. And with distinct SEO benefits as well, the opportunity cost of not being on Publisher is only going to increase.

At the end of the day, Google Publisher can help make your customers’ lives easier.  And no one’s ever lost business doing that.

How to Make the Most of Google’s Free Website Tools

woman on computer

Regular site maintenance and monitoring does not have to come at a huge expense. We’re big advocates of regular audits and an iterative approach to design – but to keep track of your site’s day-to-day performance, you are going to need a different set of tools.

Fortunately, there’s a lot of free website tools that can help you, especially from one of the industry leaders, Google. In this post, we’re sharing a list of Google’s available tools you should at least be aware of and how you can make the most of them to improve your site.

 

Google Analytics

analytics

You’re probably already familiar with Google Analytics. It’s the reigning king of Google’s free site tools, and for good reason: it’s full of features, it can help you easily measure and track your site goals, it will give you a lot of information about your site visitors, and it’s 100% free.

Because it’s packed full of features, it can take some experimentation to figure out how to make the most of Google Analytics for your site, but here are some of the areas where Analytics can offer insight:

  • Your conversions, including how many people go through your product purchasing process, as well as how many people abandon it at particular stages
  • Your visitors’ social engagement with site content and social plug-ins
  • Your key traffic sources, including search engines and (some) keywords
  • Your best performing content
  • Your visitors’ demographics and the technology they use to view your site, and their pages per visit
  • Real-time data of how many users are on your site and what pages they’re viewing

Analytics also allows for a lot of customization: you can set up custom alerts to receive reports at specific times, hand-pick the metrics in those reports, and track the progress of particular campaigns.

If you don’t have Google Analytics already, it’s a simple process to sign up and implement on your site. Visit analytics.google.com to get started.

 

Data Studio

google data studioIf there’s a problem with Google Analytics, it’s that the sheer amount of data it offers can be overwhelming. But Google also has an answer for that.

The new Data Studio – which is still in the beta stage – allows users to turn all that data into beautiful, easy to digest reports. You can easily share the reports with your colleagues and clients – or just use them for yourself to make your life a whole lot easier.

You can try Data Studio here for free.

 

Google Webmaster Tools

webmaster tools

Like Analytics, Webmaster Tools is all about the data. In this case, the data focuses less on your users, and more on the overall health and performance of your site.

Webmaster Tools will help you with:

  • Finding malware infections
  • Making HTML improvements that will boost your site’s performance and user experience (based on any issues with your title and description tags)
  • Understanding search queries and the top traffic-driving keywords for your site
  • Finding the site errors that Google has detected when crawling your site
  • A breakdown of crawl stats (i.e. how fast crawlers read your site pages)
  • Viewing your site as Google sees it, or identifying any potential Google penalties against your site

There’s much more to Webmaster Tools than we can cover here, so we recommend this great blog post for more tips, and you can get started with your own Webmaster Tools at google.com/webmasters

 

Google Consumer Surveys

google consumer surveys for website owners

Getting to know your audience is one of the best things you can do for your site’s performance and usability. If it’s not the time for a full-blown UX evaluation, Google’s Consumer Surveys can be a good stand-in.

Consumer surveys allow you to measure your site visitors’ satisfaction by asking four default questions that will offer you a good idea of how your users feel about your site and their experience with it.

The major drawback is that the free option doesn’t allow you to customise the survey – but as a short term option, consumer surveys give you some valuable basic information about your users.

Click here to get started with Consumer Surveys for Website owners.

 

 

Page Speed Insights

pagespeed

By now, it’s well known that site speed impacts your search ranking, so it’s a good idea to keep regular tabs on your speed performance. Google’s PageSpeed Insights will give your site a speed rating on a scale of 1 to 100. It measures both above-the-fold and full page load times to give you a robust picture of your site’s speed issues.

If your score is low, PageSpeed also offers suggestions for improvement, such as prioritising visual content or optimising caching.

Click here to measure your page speed.

 

Mobile-Friendly Test Tool

mobile friendly test

If you want Google’s opinion on whether your site is mobile-friendly (especially in light of its mobile-friendly algorithm update), you can use this quick test to get a simple yes or no answer. It’s super simple: you type in your website’s URL, and the tool gives your site a pass or fail measured against various design factors.

The tool also you show you how your page looks on a mobile screen, which can help you identify any mobile red flags. We know that Google’s algorithm gives a big boost to mobile-friendly sites, so getting a quick evaluation straight from the source is valuable.

It’s also worth mentioning that Google Webmaster Tools and PageSpeed Insights both include a Mobile Usability report that flags any mobile issues with your site. You can also customise your Google Analytics dashboard to include some key mobile metrics (you can find out more about that at this post from Creative Bloq).

 

 

Wrap Up

There you have it – a round-up of our favourite free Google tools and how you can get the most out of them to improve your site’s performance.

If you want to build the habits you need to make sure your site is always performing, using some these tools regularly will almost certainly be part of you routine.

Always Be Iterating

iterative design

When it comes to improving your website, there are two main routes you can take. Your first option is to do a major overhaul every few years, start from scratch and recreate your site with a brand new vision.

Your second option is to embrace an iterative design approach, and improve your site incrementally. This approach involves introducing new features slowly, testing them, improving and refining them, and testing all over again.

So which one should you choose? We’re sorry to disappoint our readers who’ve got a flair for the dramatic, but in our min,d there isn’t even a choice. An iterative approach is almost always your best bet when it comes to accomplishing real, measurable design improvements to your site.

 

The Case For Iterative Design

We’ve covered our love for iterative design before, so we won’t go over definitions in much detail (you can find all that in our post, What is Iterative Design). But essentially, iterative design is a process based around the idea that your website is a living project that you should regularly tweak and improve upon as you go, rather than building it in one fell swoop and being done for good.

In this post, we’re going to look at the case for embracing regular iterative design. It might not be as exciting as a full-blown site redesign, but trust us, it’ll lead to better results in the long run.

 

Example 1: Google Maps

Think of Google Maps, one of Google’s biggest ongoing design projects. It was initially released in 2005. In the years since its release, Google has been regularly making changes to Maps, with its most recent notable design changes rolling out in mid-2016.

The product you see today is dramatically different from the original iteration, but Google has gotten to this point slowly, by making constant, incremental improvements.

google maps 2016 redesign

Early 2016 (left) and current Google Maps (right).

The changes made in mid-2016 reflect subtle design updates, as opposed to a full blown redesign. And it’s not just a colour palette change – the update also included new features. From the Google Maps blog:

As you explore the new map, you’ll notice areas shaded in orange representing “areas of interest”—places where there’s a lot of activities and things to do. To find an “area of interest” just open Google Maps and look around you. When you’ve found an orange-shaded area, zoom in to see more details about each venue and tap one for more info.

In this case, Google used iterative design principles to refine its design to improve usability, and improve new features – no full redesign required!

Another great example of this is the Google Street View feature. Through user testing, Google realized that people weren’t using the feature to navigate streets the way they wanted to. Google made a single, tiny change – a redesign of the cursor in Street View – and saw Street View usage triple.

Google Maps Street View new cursor

Redesigned cursor on Google Maps Street View

Without an iterative process, that jump in usage might not have happened.

 

Example 2: Apple’s iOS Camera

Or, there’s the classic Apple example. We all love it when Apple releases cool new products, but their genius probably lies more in their ability to dig deep and perfect the products we already love, through many rounds of iteration.

The iPhone camera is a great example. The iPhone is one of the most popular camera choices around, and that’s because it’s been consistently improving. Check out this series of comparison shots that show how the iPhone camera quality has improved over the years.

iPhone vs iPhone 6s camera comparison

iPhone vs iPhone 6s photo comparison

With each iteration of the iPhone, Apple improves the quality of its camera hardware, as well as its camera software. Opening the camera app on your iPhone in 2016 vs 2010 looks essentially the same, but users now have a multitude of options available to improve their photo-taking capabilities.

You can see the evolution of the camera app’s functionality in this mockup by Luke Wroblewski:

iOS Camera Evolution

The iOS Camera app doesn’t need a redesign every few years, but it benefits greatly from continuous refinements, feature additions and usability improvements.

 

7 Reasons to Embrace Iterative Design

iterative design

If the Google and Apple iterative design success stories aren’t enough for you, here are seven more reasons to embrace an iterative approach to design.

 

1) It’s virtually impossible to design a perfect product from the start

The odds are good that the first pass you take at solving a design problem won’t be perfect. But an iterative approach gives you the chance to design, test, and redesign until you find the best solution to a design problem. You don’t have to put all your eggs in one basket and rely on the first pass at a design being perfect like you would with a major site overhaul.

 

2) An iterative approach makes risks less risky

When you take on a massive site overhaul and make a whole slew of changes at once, you’re taking a big risk.

First off, if you make all of your changes at the same time, you’ll struggle to figure out which ones work and which don’t. This becomes challenging when you’re trying to optimize for particular conversions.

You also risk making the wrong changes and losing some site features that were actually working for you. And because it’s time consuming and expensive to identify and fix the failures in a sea of changes, the stakes for making those changes are much higher.

But if you make incremental changes one or two at a time, then test them to see what kind of results they get, taking a risk on a design change isn’t really so risky.

 

3) Iterative design puts your customer first (and helps your bottom line)

It’s easy to lose sight of the end-user and their needs at some point in the design process. But with iterative design, user feedback and testing is a crucial part of the design process – so it’s pretty much impossible not to put your customer first.

If you’re taking on a full site overhaul every few years, you’ll only receive user feedback once in a while. But if you’re taking an iterative approach, you’ll have a chance to gauge your users’ experiences regularly and work to constantly improve – which will ultimately help your bottom line.

 

4) You’ll save time, money and design resources

With iterative design, you catch problems early and figure out what works (and what doesn’t) early on. You avoid investing time, money, and design resource into solutions that don’t work.

With a dramatic site overhaul (which sucks up a lot of time and money at the best of times) you run the risk of making major investments in features that aren’t going to help your site achieve its goals, and you’ll struggle to catch problems early on in the process.

 

5) Iterative design gives you great data to back up your decisions

We’ve talked about the benefits of data-driven design before, but it’s worth mentioning again: having data to back up your design decisions is incredibly helpful.

The great thing about iterative design is that it produces a lot of data for you to work with. By constantly testing ideas, improving them, and re-testing, you can gather a lot of concrete and objective numbers that tell you which designs work.

 

6) Iteration leads to better user feedback

It can be tricky to get robust user feedback. That’s especially true during major redesigns or site overhauls, where you’re often presenting users with wireframes, sketches, and prototypes. In that situation, users have to provide feedback on something that doesn’t exist yet, and imagine how they’ll feel using it. That’s not an inherently bad thing, but it doesn’t provide much solid user feedback on the end product.

In an iterative design process, you’ll usually be soliciting user feedback on an actual, usable website, which lets users focus on the product and their experience using it. As a result, they’ll be able to provide more solid feedback on their experience.

 

7) An iterative approach measurably improves usability

In a study on iterative design, Nielson Norman Group found that, with each iteration of a user interface, usability increased by an average of 38%. That’s a huge jump, and it adds up fast: the median improvement in overall usability from the first iteration to the last was 165%.

If better usability is your goal, iterative design is definitely an approach worth pursuing.

 

Conclusion

When you run into issues with your site, or you’ve got a design problem you need to solve, it can be tempting to cut your losses and go for a full-blown redesign. And in some cases, this can be the right decision.

But there’s a strong case to be made for taking the iterative route. It’ll help your bottom line, improve your end product, make your users happy, and make your life easier.

If making annual, incremental site or app improvements sounds like a daunting task, don’t worry – we’ve got you covered with this guide to iterative design planning and budgeting.

The 2016 Google I/O Highlights for Designers and Developers

Google I/O 2016

Last week, we wrote about the big news and major announcements coming out of Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC). But Apple is not the only major player in the tech world hosting developer conferences these days.

In late May, Google hosted its annual Google I/O event, where it announced its major product launches and updates. There were a few surprises and a lot of big changes. Here are the highlights that developers and designers should be taking note of.

 

Android N is kicking things up a notch

Android N

Google previewed its new Android OS (which is set to be released later this summer), and it comes with a ton of new features. Split-screen multitasking, new emojis, improved software updating and virtual reality platforms are just some of the new elements of the software that users can expect to see on their devices when they upgrade to ’N’. Google is also promising better security and faster performance.

Developers are getting some new features with Android N as well, like Vulkan, a new API that gives developers direct control of a phone’s GPU for higher-performance 3D graphics.

 

Virtual reality is coming to Android

Google unveiled its plans for Daydream, a VR platform for Android. It’s still in the dream phase for users, but when it is publicly released, it will allow users access to a suite of VR apps that they can access in a ‘viewer’ (like Google Cardboard). You can see a walkthrough of the platform in the video below:

Developers can get their hands on Daydream now, and for good reason: while Google is building the framework for Daydream, it needs developers to build the apps, games, and VR experiences that will draw users in.

Google has already started to build VR versions of its apps (like Street View, YouTube, and Google Photos), but other companies are also getting in on Daydream. Word has it that the New York Times, HBO, and Netflix are among companies that have started developing their Daydream apps.

 

Google Assistant is taking on Siri

Google Assistant

Gearing up to take on Apple’s Siri, Google officially launched ‘Google Assistant’, which is essentially a smarter, more sophisticated version of its existing ‘OK, Google’ feature. Google Assistant has sophisticated tech that gets to know its users’ preferences and habits, and help them make better, more refined searches.

Plus, like the newest version of Siri, the Google Assistant is integrated with a ton of other apps – it can facilitate many different actions, from recommending movies, to buying you the tickets and even hailing you the Uber to get you there.  This opens up a plethora of new integration opportunities for app developers.

 

Android Instant Apps is shaking up mobile

In an interesting twist, Google introduced a concept it’s calling ‘Android Instant Apps’, which will let you use an app without downloading the whole thing. Check out the quick explainer video from The Verge below:

It’s a cool idea for users, and it’s positioned as an improvement for the mobile browsing experience. Let’s say you’re browsing a news web site, and you click a video link. If the site has an app that could stream that video better, Google Play will get you the parts of that app that will enhance your experience, without making you download the whole thing.

What does this mean for developers? Google says it should take ‘less than a day of work’ for developers to set up their apps for the feature. Beyond that, the links between apps and websites could also help developers monetize their apps successfully and get buy-in from users.

If you’re interested in more of the details of Instant Apps, check out Google’s developer documentation.

 

Google Home arrives on the scene

Google Home

via google.com

Google is taking on another major competitor with Google Home – but this time it’s the Amazon Echo. Google Home is a sleek little device with an integrated speaker that connects your devices and lets you wander around your house asking Google questions and getting help from the new Google Assistant. It doesn’t have a confirmed release date yet, but is expected later this year.

But there’s sad news for developers: Google hasn’t opened up the Homes API – yet. According to Google, integration with a huge range of apps and devices is inevitable, and developers will get the opportunity to work with Google Home in the near future.

 

 Firebase 2.0 is getting a major expansion

firebase

This is the big news for developers: the Firebase development platform is getting a slew of updates and new features for building and testing apps. Firebase has always had a good reputation for developers, but this is a major step up.

Here’s the highlight reel of the new-and-improved features coming to Firebase 2.0:

  • A new Analytics module that will allow developers to define custom user groups, called Audiences, and follow user-centric metrics
  • Firebase Cloud Messaging (FCM), an integration with Google Cloud Messaging that promises a better cloud-to-device push messaging service for developers
  • Firebase Storage, which will give developers Google Cloud-powered storage for images, videos and other large files
  • Firebase Remote Config, a feature that lets you instantly update and fine tune various app variables on the go, without releasing a whole new version
  • An improved Firebase Test Lab for Android and Firebase Crash Reporting
  • Admob, a feature that will help developers monetize their apps
  • A bunch of features for growing and engaging your app’s audience, including Firebase Notifications, Firebase Dynamic Links, Firebase app indexing (formerly Google App indexing), and integration with Google’s AdWords

You can check out all of the Firebase updates here.

 

Android Studio 2.2 is getting an upgrade

Android Studio 2.2 is also getting a few updates that developers will no doubt appreciate. The upgrades largely focus on speed, promising faster development turnaround, faster builds, and faster layouts, with more automation and quality checks.

 

Odds and Ends

allo duo

There were plenty of other announcements from Google at this year’s conference, including new messaging and video apps (called Allo and Duo, respectively), an overhaul for Android Wear (which is available exclusively for developers now) that’s focused on making wearables more autonomous, and new updates on the Google Car project.

It was a dense conference, so if you want a full run down of the announcements, we recommend checking out the full keynote here.

 

Wrap Up

The 2016 Google I/O highlighted the fact that Google sees the future of technology as a more interactive one. Most of the updates and new products focused on letting consumers interact more with their technology. From the Google Assistant, to Home, to Virtual Reality, it was all about drawing users in to a more connected tech ecosystem.

Google also made it clear that the developer experience matters. Firebase and Android studio both received major upgrades that aim to improve how developers and designers work with Google. There were also announcements of early release developer editions for much of Google’s new tech.

Google knows what a key role developers play in the success of its tech, and the 2016 I/O made it clear that it’s cultivating that relationship.

The Aftermath of Google Mobilegeddon: 1 Year Later

iPhone

Around this time last year, those involved in developing and managing websites were waiting for what had been termed “Mobilegeddon”: Google’s then upcoming algorithmic change that was going to totally shake up how we search online.

Twelve months on we are left with one question: what actually happened?

Mobilegeddon: a quick review

  • Mobilegeddon was a Google algorithm update that took place on 21 April 2015.
  • The update was aimed at making the web more mobile-friendly in response to increasing traffic from mobile devices.
  • The update essentially did an automatic review of each website and, based on factors like font size, tap targets, button links being close together, and content readability, determined if it was mobile friendly or not.
  • If your site was mobile-friendly, then you got a boost in search engine results; if your site was not mobile friendly, you were penalized and pushed down the rankings.

Importantly, unlike previous updates, if you were deemed to not be mobile-friendly and then made changes, you didn’t have to wait for Google to notice – your site would spring back on its own.

The reason that there was such an awareness around Mobilegeddon was that unlike previous updates, this one was set to impact a much larger number of websites, including major websites of Fortune 500 companies.

 

What Google wanted to happen

Google’s rational for the change was, users were increasingly browsing from mobile devices and they wanted to be able to provide them the best experience. They reasoned that by linking a positive mobile experience to a company’s wallet, they could encourage and speed up the transition to a mobile-friendly web. Google balanced this change in the algorithm by having its impact limited to mobile traffic. If you were searching for something on a mobile device, they wanted to only display results that would be mobile friendly. If you were doing your search on a desktop, the results wouldn’t be impacted by which was mobile-enabled.

 

What everyone said would happen

Predictions ranged, but many thought that major websites, including 40% of Fortune 500 companies, were going to be seriously impacted which would lead to a mad scramble to get mobile websites up and running as quickly as possible to regain market share.

For example, TechCrunch reported on a list of major websites that were not mobile friendly. Many consumer-facing websites like Wal-Mart, GM, Ford, Apple, HP, and Costco were fine. However, non-consumer companies like Fannie Mae, UnitedHealth Group, Valero Energy and McKesson fared poorly. The hope was that these sites (and others) would see a financial impact from their poor ranking that they would immediately improve their mobile experiences.

 

What actually happened

As you can see from the report provided by Search Engine Land, there was a significant reduction in mobile traffic to a non-mobile-friendly website.

However, in terms of the real impact on traffic and rankings, the average change was much smaller than everyone predicted. Many websites were already mobile friendly, and even if they weren’t, they either weren’t acquiring much of their traffic from mobile devices anyways, or the change just didn’t have a significant impact.

Another factor that affected the overall impact of this update is that the general mix of traffic to most sites meant that there weren’t that many obvious profound ‘winners’ and ‘losers’. Generally speaking, websites will get a mix of traffic from various devices, so even if their mobile traffic was punished, there would be enough other traffic to offset it.

The final tally was captured by BrightEdge, who tracked 20,000 URLs through the two weeks of mobilegeddon’s rollout. At the end of it, 17% of these URLs were no longer on the front page of search results. So yes, there was some change, but for the most part it was more minor than Google’s Panda update, and easier to fix.

 

Winners and losers

So, who’s actually better off? Search metrics compiled a list of winners and losers based on mobile SEO visibility. Major winners included companies like Upworthy, bandcamp, GQ  and tvttropes.com with a 420% gain in visibility.

The losers are, for the most part, minor websites like fool.com, youngmoney.com, and Sidereel, but also some serious heavyweights like Reddit (visibility down 27%) nbcsports.com (visibility down 28%) and usps.gov (visibility down 20%).

 

Conclusion

All in all, Mobilegeddon was an important step to making mobile-friendly part and parcel of web. The buildup and media buzz around it was probably more useful than the update itself in getting companies to make their websites mobile friendly, but we believe had a lasting impact on how people approach their online presence and it set a precedent that it’s the mobile way or the highway when it comes to Google search results.

Design Trend: Material Design

material design

Each month, we profile a web design trend that we think every designer should know about, covering what it is and its role in web design today. This month, we’re looking at material design.

 

What is material design?

Material design is a design language developed by Google which, at its core, is an extremely sophisticated and well defined set of guidelines to help both designers and end users replicate Google’s work as well as explain why things in Google look and respond the way they do. The goal of material design is to better unite fundamental design principles with technology.

Material design has three core principles:

1. Material is the metaphor: Our on-screen design should be a metaphor for off-screen things, especially pen and paper. This means that on-screen buttons should look like real-life buttons, elements should have shadows, and “the fundamentals of light, surface, and movement” need to be respected.

Material design uses the idea that user experience is enhanced when elements on a screen mirror (to an extent) how those things looks in the off-screen world. For example, a pop-up ad, it should have a subtle shadow, because all 3D objects have shadows.

material design in print

2. Bold, graphic, and intentional: Everything that we design should be deliberate and big. No more wishy washy colours like beige. Be bold! Use magenta! The takeaway here is that material design aims to guide designs that make sense straight away, is easy to follow (e.g. bold colours, headlines), and creates a clear and uncluttered experience (for example, with negative space).

material design UI kit

3. Motion provides meaning: Motion can be used to help move the user and create meaning, in particular, movement is especially useful in providing feedback to the user. For example, on Android, when you hold down an icon, it pops out a little to tell you that it’s ready to be moved. That small movement is a great way to communicate with the user. That’s what material design aims for.

Google Material Design

Why Material design is important

Now that we understand that material design is a set of guidelines that’s trying to make technology more usable, let’s put it into a larger design context.

First, material design is really important in the context of flat design. We’ve been talking about flat design, or elements of it, for years. Material design represents the first major shift away from that trend, although parts of it like the principle of material being the metaphor even pushes back towards early-2000s skeuomorphic design.

This is a big deal.

For the first time, elements have become less flat, and as a result have become easier to use – without losing any of the beautiful minimalism of flat design.

Second, material design approaches design on screens from a much more tactile direction than other design languages or approaches have before. The material design guidelines place all objects on screen within a 3D matrix, rather than 2D. That is, in the material design world, objects (like a text box, for example) actually occupy space. That unique approach makes it both extremely intuitive for users, as well as easy to understand as a designer.

The last reason that material design is a big deal is its ability so span screen sizes. When material design was first announced in November 2014, we were still thinking pretty decidedly in three screen sizes – mobile, tablet, and desktop. However, material design was intended to be functional across a much wider range of screens, from watches to TVs, and incorporating features such as screen agnostic motions to inform users.

material design screen sizes

 

Wrap up

We feel that Google’s material design has proven overwhelmingly successful in improving user experiences. With a subtle shift away from flat design, material design embraces the fact that we all still live in the off-screen world, and most importantly, Google has created detailed guidelines that make it much easier for web designers and developers to deliver fantastic UIs – all with simplicity and finesse.

Have a question about how we can help your design? Let us know!

SEO Trends You Need to Know to Keep Google Happy

SEO search trends

SEO is constantly evolving. Between Google working to provide the best possible results for its users, and SEO experts working to improve their techniques (and sometimes game the system), it’s hard to know how to keep up with the latest trends – and keep your business’s ranking competitive.

Here are some SEO trends that we’ve noticed over the past few months, and what we expect might be coming for 2016.

 

Desktop platforms will be sticking around

This is tangentially related to SEO, but we think it’s a good place to start. We’ve been talking for months now about the enormous influence that mobile is having on global web traffic, with mobile device traffic overtaking the incumbent desktop in May 2015.

However, the steady growth that mobile has seen over other platforms is set to level off, largely because desktop losses are set to stop happening.

global mobile growth

Rand Fishkin of Moz argues that mobile has taken nearly everything it can from desktop, and a lot of desktop functionality remains for things that require big screens (think photo editing and computer games).

He says,

Most everything that mobile was going to replace or take away from desktop use has been taken, and I’m skeptical that things like creative work, programming, long-form writing, computer gaming, and other tasks that big monitors and full keyboard+mouse inputs were made for can be successfully cannibalized by the screen that fits in our pockets.

Mobile is still poised for significant growth, but going forward it will be carving that usage away from desktop platforms less and less. So while mobile is going to be important over the next year, don’t disregard desktop just yet.

 

SEO-friendly design

web design

In order to stand out for both Google and its users, you’re going to have to design your site a little more carefully than in the past.

For a number of reasons, users expect better web design now than ever before. Some of these reasons include:

  • Improved drag-and-drop web tools
  • Perceived decreasing price of web design due to templates solutions
  • Increasing number of websites and user familiarity with the web
  • Increasing reliance on device-specific apps (app experiences become the norm)

The result is that people expect a great user experience, regardless of what device they’re on, and increasingly see poor website design as a security risk and a company not worth doing business with.

In response to that shift, Google is assigning more and more weight to usability ranking factors to try and judge sites based on their user experience (UX). These factors include things like formatting and layout, as Google works to deliver good UX, and good UX only.

 

Content reigns supreme

Or rather, supreme content reigns supreme. For a long time, content and SEO have gone together like two peas in a pod: SEO needs content to provide things like keyword opportunities, and content needs SEO to deliver its traffic.

However, Google is now ranking for quality in a whole new way. Among some of Google’s new ranking factors in 2015 were readability and content length, premised on the idea that the best content is long-form that’s easy to read. In 2016, we’re expecting even more quality factors to have an increased weighting in search result ranking, as Google aims to move to a content-first model.

 

Keyword importance

A shift in keyword importance follows Google’s move to focus more on quality. Keywords are a bit of a thorny problem for Google’s new ethos of content, content, content. While it might be good for the user to decrease the importance of keywords, keywords are the linchpin to Google Pay-Per-Click advertising.

Quite the conundrum.

However, even with that challenge, we think that we can expect Google to reduce the importance of keywords, and focus more on the context that they’re used in.

Our advice is to ramp up your content marketing efforts and build a sustainable marketing model of content-led SEO traffic. Is that easier said than done? Absolutely – but it’s also a much more stable model than relying on skillfully-placed keywords alone.

 

Rich answers + data structuring

Rich answers and data structuring are two points that are being talked about a lot right now, but we’re covering them together.

The first is rich answers, which is when you Google something and the first result is a selection of text pulled as the answer from the most relevant result.

For example, if you Google ‘data structuring’, you get the following result:

data structuring

Similarly, if you Google something like ‘F to C’, you’ll get a calculator converting Fahrenheit to Celsius.

f to c on google

These are examples of rich answers. We can expect more of these as Google continues to grow its rich answer database.

The other factor is data structuring, which is (you guessed it) how data is structured, which in turn allows for rich snippets to be pulled. Consider the following result for ‘Toronto Maple Leafs’, with numerous examples of structured data being presented:

toronto maple leafs google result

We think that there’s going to be increased importance placed on data structures and formats with rewards and punishments to match. This will allow Google to generate rich answers more easily, furthering their goal of becoming an indispensable fountain of information.

Plus rich answers are great for hands-free Googling, something that Google continues to develop. Fortunately, Google has also created a tool to help you stay on top of your own data structures. Be sure to check out the Structured Data Markup Helper if you haven’t yet.

 

Wrap up

These SEO trends are all themed around the same idea – making it easier for the user. Whether that’s with design, content, data, or better keyword deployment, Google remains committed to making the best user experience possible. And we think that commitment is really what’s driving its SEO policy.

Our advice to you for the coming year is to work less granularly on SEO and more on the big picture of what your user actually wants. As Google demonstrates again and again, if you can keep your user happy, then they’re all too happy to rank your site.

And if Google’s happy, then everything’s gravy.

Is Your Site Being Punished By Google?

google penalty

Google is the primary traffic driver for most websites. In May, it was responsible for 64.1% of all desktop traffic in the US. And if you were to look into your own analytics, our bet is that most of your organic traffic is Google.

The fact is that if you want to get traction online, you’re going to be in business with Google. Unfortunately, if you don’t play by its rules, Google can also take that traffic away.

Here’s how to recognize if you’re being penalized by Google and what you can do about it.

 

What is a Google penalty

A Google penalty is either a manual or automatic action taken by Google specifically against your site for violating its guidelines. Basically, Google thinks you’ve broken the rules, and is getting you in trouble.

There are two kinds of penalties: manual ones and automatic ones.

Manual penalties are when someone on the Google Search Quality Team notices your site is violating its guidelines, and is penalizing you for it.

Algorithmic penalties are when the same thing happens, except it’s detected by a computer, not flagged by a person. For the most part, algorithmic updates are going to be caused by either Penguin or Panda. Penguin updates relate to over-optimization (buying links, too much keyword optimization), and Panda is related to user experience.

A penalty is not if you’ve fallen two or three slots for a specific keyword or search. Someone else is just getting more traffic, or has hired a new SEO firm, or redesigned their site. Basically, search results aren’t set in stone, and something happened. You can go tweak and change your site and content to regain your spot.

 

How to recognize a penalty

How do you know if you’ve been penalized? If it was a manual penalty, you would have received a notification through your Google Webmaster Tools account informing you of the action taken by Google, and some indication of what particular behaviour caused the penalty. So that’s pretty easy.

If it’s an algorithmic penalty, there’s a little more guesswork. Here are some signs you’ve been penalized (adapted from the KissMetrics blog):

  1. Your website is not ranking well for your brand name any more. You should pretty much always rank for your brand name.
  2. Page one positions that have moved one or two pages back (not one or two slots) when you didn’t do anything and your traffic didn’t change leading up to it. A steady decline isn’t a penalty.
  3. Your PageRank has dropped from two or three to one or zero.
  4. Searching your site for a keyword through Google (e.g. site:moveableonline.com [keyword]) doesn’t return any results.

If your site exhibits two of these signs, then you’re likely suffering an algorithmic penalty. And the signs can also tell you how bad your penalty is.

For example, if your site’s not returning any results when you search site:yourdomain.com then you’ve probably been removed from the index. This is a big move by Google, and it means your penalty is pretty severe.

If, however, your page has only moved some page one position back a few pages, then it’s probably a new update that you can fix relatively easily.

 

What to do about it

Manual penalties are relatively straightforward to fix. If you get a manual penalty, it’s probably because you’ve been running some “black hat” SEO tricks like link buy-ing (more on that below). Even if you haven’t, when Google emailed you, its web spam team probably explained the problem so you know what you have to do.

Stop doing whatever bad thing you’re doing (or whatever Google thinks you’re doing).

Then, you send Google a Reconsideration Request. If it’s approved, the penalties are removed from your site. If it’s rejected, you haven’t fixed the problem well enough and need to go back and try again.

Algorithmic penalties are, again, a little more complicated. First, you need to figure out what caused your problem. There are a couple of ways you can do this. If you’re doing some black hat SEO, stop immediately and purge your site of your ill-begotten backlinks. Google has caught up with you. Black hat SEO includes:

  • Over-optimizing anchor text (having too many links that all say exactly the same thing)
  • Too many links from low quality sites (usually link buying/farming)
  • Hiding text by making it the same colour as the background

If you’re not deliberately breaking the rules, your best bet is to take a look over all your back links and make sure there are no obvious red flags. If not, it’s probably not a Penguin (over-optimization) problem.

If you think your site is being penalized for its user experience, then all you can really do is work to improve it. Begin producing more focused content. Some Panda penalties are drives by thin content and low engagement. Improving what you’re publishing is the best way to fix that.

You should also make sure you’re only linking relevant things, since Google penalizes irrelevant or spammy outbound links.

Finally, if Google feels that your site is hacked or is at risk, then it’ll penalize you to protect your users. Here’s how you can find out if your site’s been hacked.

For an algorithmic update, there’s not a single solution. Make sure your behaviour is in line with Google’s guidelines. Then make sure your backlinks are clean and high quality, cutting out any low quality ones as you go. Then, make sure your outbound links are relevant, and you’re producing high-quality content for your users. Your goal is really to just improve your site as much as you can, so that it’s more in line with what Google has in mind.

 

Summary

A penalized site can be a tremendous loss for a company, both in the opportunity cost of lost business and in the cost of fixing it. But don’t worry – even the biggest sites can be penalized by Google, and they get their search rankings back. You can too.

The best thing to do is figure out why you’re being penalized, and then begin taking steps to rectify that specific situation. With a little bit of work, you’ll be ranking again in no time.

 

Google is changing its search algorithm: Is your website ready?

woman holding iPhone

On April 21, Google began implementing a change to its algorithm that many are referring to as “Mobilegeddon.”

As the name suggests, that could mean impending doom for sites that do not have a mobile-friendly version available for smartphone users.

Google’s move to favour mobile-friendly sites impacts any business that depends on traffic from searching (and really, what business these days doesn’t?).

Check out our Mobilegeddon Survival Guide to make sure your site is keeping pace with Google’s updates.

The Beginner’s Guide To SEO in 2015

seo

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a huge web of conflicting views, retracted opinions, updates, algorithms, and heated debate. So here are some quick and dirty guidelines to how you can optimize your website for a better ranking position (and a better experience for your users).

 

What is SEO?

At the end of the day, search engine optimization is the process of making sure your content shows up first when someone googles the relevant product or service. (for this post, we’re going to refer to search engines as Google, first because it’s just easier and second because, well, let’s be honest – they’re really the only game in town).

Here’s an SEO example. When you google ‘digital insights blog’, ours is one of the first sites to come up. That’s SEO.

digital insights blog seo

Obviously, how to make sure that your company turns up right there are the top, instead of buried four pages deep, is absolutely crucial. In fact, entire companies (albeit small ones) are made or broken according to SEO and Google’s algorithm.

Back in the day, SEO meant two things:

  1. Building lots of links
  2. Loading your content with keywords

Fortunately for users, while those are still important (more on them later), they’ve become much less so as Google focuses far more on sites with quality content.

So in this new era of Google algorithmic magic, what can you do to make sure your site ranks well?  

 

Produce good content

This is the number one thing you can do to make sure that your website ends up top of mind for Google searchers, and for so many reasons. First, Google is sophisticated enough now to recognize good content, so they know if you’re producing absolute rubbish. Second, with the aforementioned demise of keyword stuffing, something has had to take that place in the Google algorithm – and that something was content. Producing fresh content all the time will help you rank well, since Google takes into account dynamic vs static web content.

But all that aside, producing good content is going to be good for your site because it’s going to be useful for your users. Remember: the goal of your website isn’t just to get people there – it’s to get people to purchase your product or service. Good content will drive conversions. It’s as simple as that.

 

Optimize for local

Some companies aren’t local, and if that’s the case give this a miss. But for most organizations, there’s an office, a geographical base of operations that relevant to your customers. Use that. People want to work with people close by, so you should make yourself easy to find to those close to you.

And since users want to work with people close by, Google wants to make those close by easy to find. In 2014, Google changed its algorithm to make local searches come right up to the top. Fortunately, there are a couple things you can do to make this nice and easy (again, this is only for Google).

  • Make a local business profile
  • Categorize your business correctly
  • Fill out all your contact info – name, address, phone
  • Get reviews for your business (if you can – it’ll help, but it’s not essential)
  • Get your contact info on your website – name, address, phone

Those are just a few tips on how to show up in local searches. One really easy way to improve your web presence from a local perspective is try and find a product or service yourself that you want local. Imagine you’re looking for a maid. What do you Google? Do you add in your city, or your suburb to the search (e.g. Maid Services Toronto)? What do the snippets say that grab your attention? Compile that information and incorporate it back in your own digital properties, and see if your local hits and conversions improve.

 

Use keywords correctly

There’s a lot of conflicting information on what to do with keywords, and lot of questions about them. If you’re using AdWords, do you buy high-ranking keywords? Should you incorporate them into your H1 headings? Do you use them with meta tags? Should your content use them? If so, how many?

Unfortunately, none of these questions have hard and fast answers. If you have 100 keywords on your homepage, you’re not guaranteed the #1 search result. At the same time, having absolutely none will hurt your rankings too. To get a better idea on how to optimize your keywords, you need to think about their function.

Since Google can’t read out minds, keywords are a way for them to see what a webpage is about. Once upon a time, this could be easily manipulated. But now, Google can recognize when they’re being abused or ‘stuffed’ into content.

So, the best way to use keywords is naturally. If it makes sense in your H1 headings, then use them in your H1 headings. If you’re maintaining a blog on your website, it might be worth looking at AdWords to get an idea of what your desired customers are looking for, and incorporating 1-2 into each post. Or better yet, use that information to write really useful content!

digital strategy services

 

The key to keyword optimization is to be natural. Use them when they work, don’t worry about it when they don’t. If you do that, you should be absolutely fine.

SEO is a big bundle of confusion for companies, web teams, and users. There’s always going to be attempts to ‘crack’ SEO to benefit a particular strategy or group. But the best possible way, again and again, to be top of the Google ranking is to just be really useful to your users. If you do that, everything else will fall into place.