There is a lot of focus at the moment around UX on the web, and rightly so.
Googles guidelines are basically create websites for your users and don’t try to ‘game’ the system. In other words, write good content and make your websites easy to use. This should always be the baseline. Don’t create a website that you think will rank well, focusing on the your search terms in the title and making sure that your content has the correct keyword density. Focus on the user.
Having said that, there is one visitor to your website that you may need to pay attention to. The Googlebot.
The Googlebot is the crawler that reads web pages and follows links to your other content. It is what determines what is shown from your site on the Search engine result page.
The Googlebot reads the content on your website, but it also reads metadata that the typical user doesn’t see. For example, the page description is what the Googlebot pulls from the pages metadata to display on the search engine results page (SERP).
In SERP answer boxes
Google, in the last few years have started including answer boxes in their search engine results page that give the user an answer to their query without the need for them to visit the actual site. While this is probably a better experience for the user, it’s not good if you are trying to earn revenue on your site from advertising.
While there is not a lot you can do to change this, you can ensure that it is your website that is providing the answers.
Elsewhere on the SERP it is important that your website appears in the best way possible. There are set lengths for the text that you use in your titles and page descriptions. It is important that you test these so that they look correct.
If they are not right, Google can sometimes make a best guess as to what the content on the page is. This takes the control away from you and prevents you from having consistency across your site as to how it appears in search engines.
Your site is crawled by robots, they used to be called ‘spiders’ in the more romantic age of the web. These bots (e.g. the Googlebot) love data, but more importantly, they love data about data. Another name for this data is Metadata.
An example of metadata in this blog post could be the word count, or the author or the publish date.
There are many different ways this data exists, for example the title of this post is wrapped in a h1 tag, this is implicit metadata telling the bots that the sentence wrapped in the h1 tag is what this post is about.
The title of the page is another example of implicit metadata.
Both of these technologies allow you to tell the bots exactly what the content is about. This is not only for use on the web with search engines, but a way of structuring data so that computers can understand it. Another example of how it is used could be a calendar app that has access to an email confirming a hotel booking. If there is structured data in the email, then the calendar could add your hotel stay automatically.
This is a huge topic and there is a good article from Google showing the benefits.
This is another type of metadata that you can add into your page or sitemap. It helps to describe content in multi-language websites. Hreflang is especially useful when you have have language variant content; for example, US English and UK English.
What it does is it tells the bots which language and locale the content is meant for. SEO Moz have an up-to-date article on the topic.
Be kind to your bots
Technical SEO is a huge area and so much is hidden in the secret world of search algorithms. Adding structured data to our websites gives them an extra layer and turns content into a set of data that can be used by APIs and give a richer experience to our users.
Working on the web in a team can be difficult. Sometimes you are required to deliver on large projects, such as a new feature or offer; and the rest of the time, you are doing service delivery; update a page, add a new blog post etc.. How do you reconcile both? What is the best way to run a web team for Internet Marketing today?
SCRUM has been around since the Agile Manifesto in 2001. It is a project management technique built around different ceremonies (meetings). The best known of these is the daily standup. A fifteen minute meeting early every day to remove blockers. Another important piece of SCRUM is the concept of a Sprint. A Sprint is where a block of time, usually 2 weeks, is set aside to work through the tasks in the project.
To get the most out of a Sprint all dependencies should be met before starting. The person working on the Sprint should be able to dedicate their time exclusively to the Sprint. This can be difficult in small teams as specialities arise within the team. For example, one of your developers could also be the technical SEO expert. If an issue arises on the website, the expert may have to be pulled out of the Sprint, negating the advantages of running SCRUM.
SCRUM is the best way of efficiently getting a project completed. However, there are not many teams that can lock themselves away for 2 week stretches, especially if the web team reports into a faster paced business unit, like marketing.
So what happens when the marketing team needs to launch their campaign now, not in 2 weeks?
This is where the Service Queue comes in. Tasks are added to the queue and someone on the team is set aside in order to have the capacity to work on the queue. This means that if anything is really urgent it can be worked on straight away.
By combining SCRUM and the service queue, it allows you to give a predictable timeline for projects using SCRUM while the service queue gives you the capability to look after your stakeholders with speed and agility.
When someone touches your brand, whether it is your website, brick and mortar store, email or a sales call, their goodwill only goes so far. It could be said that you are an interaction bank and depending on the experience who is interacting with your brand, you will be in credit of debit. Building and protecting your brand is vital to your business.
How much credit do I have?
The amount of interaction credit depends on a lot of factors:
- The strength of your brand
- Previous interactions, events, emails, calls, using your product/service
- Recommendations from people they know
- PR/Your brand in the news
- Delight Factor
- Thought Leadership
The strength of your brand is the most important of these factors. Potential customers will forgive a lot if you have established a positive brand. All the other factors in the list feed into the strength of the brand.
When someone has a bad interaction with a brand they don’t automatically abandon the brand. So for example when Sony was attacked, resulting in the personal details of 77 million users, they not only survived, they went on to win the latest round in the console wars with Microsoft.
Building a brand takes time and seems like a daunting task.
How do I build my brand?
If you think about your brand in terms of credit in your interaction bank, building your brand becomes straight forward: add credit, reduce debit.
By making every interaction you have with your customers and potential customers a positive one, you can add to your credit. If you work on making the experience excellent, enjoyable of even fun, you will add to your credit.
The funny thing about it is that you can increase your credit with people who you have no connection with at all. For example, recommendations from friends. News reports and social media are other ways that can effect your credit indirectly.
If you continually add to your interaction credit, overtime, you will build a strong brand. To build a brand quickly, you will need a lot of interactions in a short space of time. To build a strong brand, these have to be direct interactions.
A really good example of building a brand quickly is Uber. They created a system where there are a lot of interactions with the brand, and ensured the quality of the interactions by using a driver rating system. This allowed Uber to survive many scandals. This goes to show that many small positive direct interactions can vastly outweigh indirect interactions.
The opposite is also true. There is a brilliant documentary on Netflix about the Fyre festival. A party on tropical island promoted by super models on social media. The indirect interaction credit very quickly turned to debit on the first direct interaction.
The Fun Factor
I read a book on how to remember things called Moonwalking with Einstein. In the book the talk about techniques on how to remember decks of cards, lists, long numbers etc. One of the things that the book talked about was that if people find something fun, it will be easier to remember. The plus side is that if it is fun it is always a positive experience. Creating fun experiences is extremely difficult, and if they backfire they can go horribly wrong.
Where possible, try to make the mundane as exciting as possible. A good example of this is the trend in packaging. I bought a chromebook from hp recently and it came in a plain brown box with some foam. When you compare that to the Lenovo Carbon X1 unboxing, it’s definitely a different experience.
Can you see the balance in the interaction bank?
This is a tricky one. It is very difficult to measure how much an individual enjoys interacting with your site or service. There are survey and feedback tools that can be used that will give an indication of how some users (those inclined to leave feedback) feel about your interaction performance.
The best way to gauge performance is on the aggregate. Measure engagement and interactions. For example, if you run a website, a high bounce rate will mean that your credit is low and needs some investment.
I have never been to the North Pole, I have never climbed Everest, I probably never will either.
Yet, I love adventure. Reading about it, watching videos about it and to a really small extent, living it.
I work a full time desk job, I have a family and a mortgage. So the thought of doing the 7 Summits is the stuff of pure fantasy. However, I still have the adventure itch that needs a good scratch.
A few years ago I began sea kayaking. I highly recommend it. The sea is different every time I go out, the sea is different. Learning to kayak was definitely an adventure and it taught me a lot about myself and what I was capable of doing.
Being in a kayak brings you closer to the water than you can normally get, without swimming. You only have a few millimetres of plastic between you and the water. You feel every motion of the sea as it moves under you.
I have had some amazing adventures kayaking, from visiting abandoned islands off the west coast of Ireland to kayaking under the Golden Gate bridge.
More recently, I have taken up hiking and I try to do one or two “large” hikes every year. By “large” I mean large in the context of a micro adventure. This is not doing the P.C.T. or the A.T., but in 2018 I did do the Bangor Trail. I also camped on Slieve Carr, Ireland’s remotest mountain.
I was exhausted by the end of it, but there is something about being on your own in the wilderness. However, food that you make yourself, on your own camp site, after a long days hike, is the best tasting food there is.
I have started making my plans for 2019. This year, I am going to do some of the Wicklow Way with my son. The initial leg will be from Marley Park to Roundwood, spending a night in a hostel along the way.
My really “big” adventure this year, will be to do the Mourne wall challenge. Between 1904 and 1922, a wall was built around the Mourne mountains. I plan to split the hike into two days.
Hopefully I won’t need my passport.
We are meant to connect with the wild, because sitting in an office all day is not good for the soul.
January every year is a month of new beginnings and self-improvement. There are many self help books and methodologies out there.
The idea is that if you keep repeating positive traits, they become habits and easy to repeat.
Habits are very powerful and precisely why they are built into many facets of our daily lives. For example, we brush our teeth in the morning and evening. We don’t even think about what we do when driving. It becomes so easy that it requires very little conscious effort.
I have been trying to put these into practice for the last few weeks, but I am ramping it up in January and trying to bring rituals into everything that I do in the hope that they become habits.
This has been a well known strategy for ages. Think of the way scrum has all it’s ceremonies of planning sessions, stand-ups etc..
It doesn’t have to be that structured either. You can have your daily list for example. A ritual around that might be something as simple as making sure it’s up-to-date when you are having your morning cup of tea.
Another example is to be proactive with your calendar. At the start of the week have a ritual of setting yourself in order. (Side-note: Calendars are not just for meetings, block out time for your tasks that you need to complete as well.) It helps if at the start you reward yourself for completing a ritual. For example, if you do your weekly planning, you can watch a funny youtube video.
Ultimately, after a while this will become second nature and you will be completing tasks with having to even think about it.
The Web as a platform is all the rage these days. It’s not hard to see why. With the ability to create web apps in a matter of hours with very little experience in coding, it will soon be the de facto way to build applications.
It even looks like the war between web based apps and native apps on mobile has been won by the web platform in the guise of progressive web apps (pwas).
The reason for this, is of course because after fending off Flash and Java applets, JS is the only way to code applications on the web.
Components are becoming popular as it allows companies to create block of UI that they can reuse across apps and sites. For example EA Games share a set of components through their many individual game sites.
React components can be shared between applications and sites. There are many sites out there that even offer UI libraries of React components.
Polymer is a project that is backed by Google. It aims to help you create components with a small library to ease the process. The Polymer project also includes a CLI (command line interface) to help you build and test your components.
Webcomponents.org is the home for a W3C project that aims to make web components a standard. It outlines 4 specifications that make up web components; Custom Elements, Shadow DOM, ES Modules and HTML Templates.
Custom elements allow developers to create custom HTML tags. So for example, you could create an element called
<my-side-navigation> that would render a side navigation on your site. You could then share it with your other sites.
The Shadow DOM allows you to encapsulate HTML and CSS so that they don’t effect the rest of the site.
HTML Templates are where the components html is created. This is the HTML that is rendered when the tag is added to a page.
There are other libraries out there for creating web components, but these are the main ones.
Web components are sign of the maturing of the web as a platform. In traditional application development, components have been around for a long time. Together with concepts like Atomic Design, there are now really powerful tools for developing reusable components to put together really compulsive experiences for your visitors.