Why Effective, Modern SEO Requires Technical, Creative, and Strategic Thinking – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

There’s no doubt that quite a bit has changed about SEO, and that the field is far more integrated with other aspects of online marketing than it once was. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand pushes back against the idea that effective modern SEO doesn’t require any technical expertise, outlining a fantastic list of technical elements that today’s SEOs need to know about in order to be truly effective.

For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard. Click on it to open a high resolution image in a new tab!

Video transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week I’m going to do something unusual. I don’t usually point out these inconsistencies or sort of take issue with other folks’ content on the web, because I generally find that that’s not all that valuable and useful. But I’m going to make an exception here.

There is an article by Jayson DeMers, who I think might actually be here in Seattle — maybe he and I can hang out at some point — called “Why Modern SEO Requires Almost No Technical Expertise.” It was an article that got a shocking amount of traction and attention. On Facebook, it has thousands of shares. On LinkedIn, it did really well. On Twitter, it got a bunch of attention.

Some folks in the SEO world have already pointed out some issues around this. But because of the increasing popularity of this article, and because I think there’s, like, this hopefulness from worlds outside of kind of the hardcore SEO world that are looking to this piece and going, “Look, this is great. We don’t have to be technical. We don’t have to worry about technical things in order to do SEO.”

Look, I completely get the appeal of that. I did want to point out some of the reasons why this is not so accurate. At the same time, I don’t want to rain on Jayson, because I think that it’s very possible he’s writing an article for Entrepreneur, maybe he has sort of a commitment to them. Maybe he had no idea that this article was going to spark so much attention and investment. He does make some good points. I think it’s just really the title and then some of the messages inside there that I take strong issue with, and so I wanted to bring those up.

First off, some of the good points he did bring up.

One, he wisely says, “You don’t need to know how to code or to write and read algorithms in order to do SEO.” I totally agree with that. If today you’re looking at SEO and you’re thinking, “Well, am I going to get more into this subject? Am I going to try investing in SEO? But I don’t even know HTML and CSS yet.”

Those are good skills to have, and they will help you in SEO, but you don’t need them. Jayson’s totally right. You don’t have to have them, and you can learn and pick up some of these things, and do searches, watch some Whiteboard Fridays, check out some guides, and pick up a lot of that stuff later on as you need it in your career. SEO doesn’t have that hard requirement.

And secondly, he makes an intelligent point that we’ve made many times here at Moz, which is that, broadly speaking, a better user experience is well correlated with better rankings.

You make a great website that delivers great user experience, that provides the answers to searchers’ questions and gives them extraordinarily good content, way better than what’s out there already in the search results, generally speaking you’re going to see happy searchers, and that’s going to lead to higher rankings.

But not entirely. There are a lot of other elements that go in here. So I’ll bring up some frustrating points around the piece as well.

First off, there’s no acknowledgment — and I find this a little disturbing — that the ability to read and write code, or even HTML and CSS, which I think are the basic place to start, is helpful or can take your SEO efforts to the next level. I think both of those things are true.

So being able to look at a web page, view source on it, or pull up Firebug in Firefox or something and diagnose what’s going on and then go, “Oh, that’s why Google is not able to see this content. That’s why we’re not ranking for this keyword or term, or why even when I enter this exact sentence in quotes into Google, which is on our page, this is why it’s not bringing it up. It’s because it’s loading it after the page from a remote file that Google can’t access.” These are technical things, and being able to see how that code is built, how it’s structured, and what’s going on there, very, very helpful.

Some coding knowledge also can take your SEO efforts even further. I mean, so many times, SEOs are stymied by the conversations that we have with our programmers and our developers and the technical staff on our teams. When we can have those conversations intelligently, because at least we understand the principles of how an if-then statement works, or what software engineering best practices are being used, or they can upload something into a GitHub repository, and we can take a look at it there, that kind of stuff is really helpful.

Secondly, I don’t like that the article overly reduces all of this information that we have about what we’ve learned about Google. So he mentions two sources. One is things that Google tells us, and others are SEO experiments. I think both of those are true. Although I’d add that there’s sort of a sixth sense of knowledge that we gain over time from looking at many, many search results and kind of having this feel for why things rank, and what might be wrong with a site, and getting really good at that using tools and data as well. There are people who can look at Open Site Explorer and then go, “Aha, I bet this is going to happen.” They can look, and 90% of the time they’re right.

So he boils this down to, one, write quality content, and two, reduce your bounce rate. Neither of those things are wrong. You should write quality content, although I’d argue there are lots of other forms of quality content that aren’t necessarily written — video, images and graphics, podcasts, lots of other stuff.

And secondly, that just doing those two things is not always enough. So you can see, like many, many folks look and go, “I have quality content. It has a low bounce rate. How come I don’t rank better?” Well, your competitors, they’re also going to have quality content with a low bounce rate. That’s not a very high bar.

Also, frustratingly, this really gets in my craw. I don’t think “write quality content” means anything. You tell me. When you hear that, to me that is a totally non-actionable, non-useful phrase that’s a piece of advice that is so generic as to be discardable. So I really wish that there was more substance behind that.

The article also makes, in my opinion, the totally inaccurate claim that modern SEO really is reduced to “the happier your users are when they visit your site, the higher you’re going to rank.”

Wow. Okay. Again, I think broadly these things are correlated. User happiness and rank is broadly correlated, but it’s not a one to one. This is not like a, “Oh, well, that’s a 1.0 correlation.”

I would guess that the correlation is probably closer to like the page authority range. I bet it’s like 0.35 or something correlation. If you were to actually measure this broadly across the web and say like, “Hey, were you happier with result one, two, three, four, or five,” the ordering would not be perfect at all. It probably wouldn’t even be close.

There’s a ton of reasons why sometimes someone who ranks on Page 2 or Page 3 or doesn’t rank at all for a query is doing a better piece of content than the person who does rank well or ranks on Page 1, Position 1.

Then the article suggests five and sort of a half steps to successful modern SEO, which I think is a really incomplete list. So Jayson gives us;

  • Good on-site experience
  • Writing good content
  • Getting others to acknowledge you as an authority
  • Rising in social popularity
  • Earning local relevance
  • Dealing with modern CMS systems (which he notes most modern CMS systems are SEO-friendly)

The thing is there’s nothing actually wrong with any of these. They’re all, generally speaking, correct, either directly or indirectly related to SEO. The one about local relevance, I have some issue with, because he doesn’t note that there’s a separate algorithm for sort of how local SEO is done and how Google ranks local sites in maps and in their local search results. Also not noted is that rising in social popularity won’t necessarily directly help your SEO, although it can have indirect and positive benefits.

I feel like this list is super incomplete. Okay, I brainstormed just off the top of my head in the 10 minutes before we filmed this video a list. The list was so long that, as you can see, I filled up the whole whiteboard and then didn’t have any more room. I’m not going to bother to erase and go try and be absolutely complete.

But there’s a huge, huge number of things that are important, critically important for technical SEO. If you don’t know how to do these things, you are sunk in many cases. You can’t be an effective SEO analyst, or consultant, or in-house team member, because you simply can’t diagnose the potential problems, rectify those potential problems, identify strategies that your competitors are using, be able to diagnose a traffic gain or loss. You have to have these skills in order to do that.

I’ll run through these quickly, but really the idea is just that this list is so huge and so long that I think it’s very, very, very wrong to say technical SEO is behind us. I almost feel like the opposite is true.

We have to be able to understand things like;

  • Content rendering and indexability
  • Crawl structure, internal links, JavaScript, Ajax. If something’s post-loading after the page and Google’s not able to index it, or there are links that are accessible via JavaScript or Ajax, maybe Google can’t necessarily see those or isn’t crawling them as effectively, or is crawling them, but isn’t assigning them as much link weight as they might be assigning other stuff, and you’ve made it tough to link to them externally, and so they can’t crawl it.
  • Disabling crawling and/or indexing of thin or incomplete or non-search-targeted content. We have a bunch of search results pages. Should we use rel=prev/next? Should we robots.txt those out? Should we disallow from crawling with meta robots? Should we rel=canonical them to other pages? Should we exclude them via the protocols inside Google Webmaster Tools, which is now Google Search Console?
  • Managing redirects, domain migrations, content updates. A new piece of content comes out, replacing an old piece of content, what do we do with that old piece of content? What’s the best practice? It varies by different things. We have a whole Whiteboard Friday about the different things that you could do with that. What about a big redirect or a domain migration? You buy another company and you’re redirecting their site to your site. You have to understand things about subdomain structures versus subfolders, which, again, we’ve done another Whiteboard Friday about that.
  • Proper error codes, downtime procedures, and not found pages. If your 404 pages turn out to all be 200 pages, well, now you’ve made a big error there, and Google could be crawling tons of 404 pages that they think are real pages, because you’ve made it a status code 200, or you’ve used a 404 code when you should have used a 410, which is a permanently removed, to be able to get it completely out of the indexes, as opposed to having Google revisit it and keep it in the index.

Downtime procedures. So there’s specifically a… I can’t even remember. It’s a 5xx code that you can use. Maybe it was a 503 or something that you can use that’s like, “Revisit later. We’re having some downtime right now.” Google urges you to use that specific code rather than using a 404, which tells them, “This page is now an error.”

Disney had that problem a while ago, if you guys remember, where they 404ed all their pages during an hour of downtime, and then their homepage, when you searched for Disney World, was, like, “Not found.” Oh, jeez, Disney World, not so good.

  • International and multi-language targeting issues. I won’t go into that. But you have to know the protocols there. Duplicate content, syndication, scrapers. How do we handle all that? Somebody else wants to take our content, put it on their site, what should we do? Someone’s scraping our content. What can we do? We have duplicate content on our own site. What should we do?
  • Diagnosing traffic drops via analytics and metrics. Being able to look at a rankings report, being able to look at analytics connecting those up and trying to see: Why did we go up or down? Did we have less pages being indexed, more pages being indexed, more pages getting traffic less, more keywords less?
  • Understanding advanced search parameters. Today, just today, I was checking out the related parameter in Google, which is fascinating for most sites. Well, for Moz, weirdly, related:oursite.com shows nothing. But for virtually every other sit, well, most other sites on the web, it does show some really interesting data, and you can see how Google is connecting up, essentially, intentions and topics from different sites and pages, which can be fascinating, could expose opportunities for links, could expose understanding of how they view your site versus your competition or who they think your competition is.

Then there are tons of parameters, like in URL and in anchor, and da, da, da, da. In anchor doesn’t work anymore, never mind about that one.

I have to go faster, because we’re just going to run out of these. Like, come on. Interpreting and leveraging data in Google Search Console. If you don’t know how to use that, Google could be telling you, you have all sorts of errors, and you don’t know what they are.

  • Leveraging topic modeling and extraction. Using all these cool tools that are coming out for better keyword research and better on-page targeting. I talked about a couple of those at MozCon, like MonkeyLearn. There’s the new Moz Context API, which will be coming out soon, around that. There’s the Alchemy API, which a lot of folks really like and use.
  • Identifying and extracting opportunities based on site crawls. You run a Screaming Frog crawl on your site and you’re going, “Oh, here’s all these problems and issues.” If you don’t have these technical skills, you can’t diagnose that. You can’t figure out what’s wrong. You can’t figure out what needs fixing, what needs addressing.
  • Using rich snippet format to stand out in the SERPs. This is just getting a better click-through rate, which can seriously help your site and obviously your traffic.
  • Applying Google-supported protocols like rel=canonical, meta description, rel=prev/next, hreflang, robots.txt, meta robots, x robots, NOODP, XML sitemaps, rel=nofollow. The list goes on and on and on. If you’re not technical, you don’t know what those are, you think you just need to write good content and lower your bounce rate, it’s not going to work.
  • Using APIs from services like AdWords or MozScape, or hrefs from Majestic, or SEM refs from SearchScape or Alchemy API. Those APIs can have powerful things that they can do for your site. There are some powerful problems they could help you solve if you know how to use them. It’s actually not that hard to write something, even inside a Google Doc or Excel, to pull from an API and get some data in there. There’s a bunch of good tutorials out there. Richard Baxter has one, Annie Cushing has one, I think Distilled has some. So really cool stuff there.
  • Diagnosing page load speed issues, which goes right to what Jayson was talking about. You need that fast-loading page. Well, if you don’t have any technical skills, you can’t figure out why your page might not be loading quickly.
  • Diagnosing mobile friendliness issues
  • Advising app developers on the new protocols around App deep linking, so that you can get the content from your mobile apps into the web search results on mobile devices. Awesome. Super powerful. Potentially crazy powerful, as mobile search is becoming bigger than desktop.

Okay, I’m going to take a deep breath and relax. I don’t know Jayson’s intention, and in fact, if he were in this room, he’d be like, “No, I totally agree with all those things. I wrote the article in a rush. I had no idea it was going to be big. I was just trying to make the broader points around you don’t have to be a coder in order to do SEO.” That’s completely fine.

So I’m not going to try and rain criticism down on him. But I think if you’re reading that article, or you’re seeing it in your feed, or your clients are, or your boss is, or other folks are in your world, maybe you can point them to this Whiteboard Friday and let them know, no, that’s not quite right. There’s a ton of technical SEO that is required in 2015 and will be for years to come, I think, that SEOs have to have in order to be effective at their jobs.

All right, everyone. Look forward to some great comments, and we’ll see you again next time for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Technical Site Audit Checklist: 2015 Edition

Posted by GeoffKenyon

Back in 2011, I wrote a technical site audit checklist, and while it was thorough, there have been a lot of additions to what is encompassed in a site audit. I have gone through and updated that old checklist for 2015. Some of the biggest changes were the addition of sections for mobile, international, and site speed.

This checklist should help you put together a thorough site audit and determine what is holding back the organic performance of your site. At the end of your audit, don’t write a document that says what’s wrong with the website. Instead, create a document that says what needs to be done. Then explain why these actions need to be taken and why they are important. What I’ve found to really helpful is to provide a prioritized list along with your document of all the actions that you would like them to implement. This list can be handed off to a dev or content team to be implemented easily. These teams can refer to your more thorough document as needed.


Quick overview

Check indexed pages  
  • Do a site: search.
  • How many pages are returned? (This can be way off so don’t put too much stock in this).
  • Is the homepage showing up as the first result? 
  • If the homepage isn’t showing up as the first result, there could be issues, like a penalty or poor site architecture/internal linking, affecting the site. This may be less of a concern as Google’s John Mueller recently said that your homepage doesn’t need to be listed first.

Review the number of organic landing pages in Google Analytics

  • Does this match with the number of results in a site: search?
  • This is often the best view of how many pages are in a search engine’s index that search engines find valuable.

Search for the brand and branded terms

  • Is the homepage showing up at the top, or are correct pages showing up?
  • If the proper pages aren’t showing up as the first result, there could be issues, like a penalty, in play.
Check Google’s cache for key pages
  • Is the content showing up?
  • Are navigation links present?
  • Are there links that aren’t visible on the site?
PRO Tip:
Don’t forget to check the text-only version of the cached page. Here is a
bookmarklet to help you do that.

Do a mobile search for your brand and key landing pages

  • Does your listing have the “mobile friendly” label?
  • Are your landing pages mobile friendly?
  • If the answer is no to either of these, it may be costing you organic visits.

On-page optimization

Title tags are optimized
  • Title tags should be optimized and unique.
  • Your brand name should be included in your title tag to improve click-through rates.
  • Title tags are about 55-60 characters (512 pixels) to be fully displayed. You can test here or review title pixel widths in Screaming Frog.
Important pages have click-through rate optimized titles and meta descriptions
  • This will help improve your organic traffic independent of your rankings.
  • You can use SERP Turkey for this.

Check for pages missing page titles and meta descriptions
  
The on-page content includes the primary keyword phrase multiple times as well as variations and alternate keyword phrases
  
There is a significant amount of optimized, unique content on key pages
 
The primary keyword phrase is contained in the H1 tag
  

Images’ file names and alt text are optimized to include the primary keyword phrase associated with the page.
 
URLs are descriptive and optimized
  • While it is beneficial to include your keyword phrase in URLs, changing your URLs can negatively impact traffic when you do a 301. As such, I typically recommend optimizing URLs when the current ones are really bad or when you don’t have to change URLs with existing external links.
Clean URLs
  • No excessive parameters or session IDs.
  • URLs exposed to search engines should be static.
Short URLs
  • 115 characters or shorter – this character limit isn’t set in stone, but shorter URLs are better for usability.

Content

Homepage content is optimized
  • Does the homepage have at least one paragraph?
  • There has to be enough content on the page to give search engines an understanding of what a page is about. Based on my experience, I typically recommend at least 150 words.
Landing pages are optimized
  • Do these pages have at least a few paragraphs of content? Is it enough to give search engines an understanding of what the page is about?
  • Is it template text or is it completely unique?
Site contains real and substantial content
  • Is there real content on the site or is the “content” simply a list of links?
Proper keyword targeting
  • Does the intent behind the keyword match the intent of the landing page?
  • Are there pages targeting head terms, mid-tail, and long-tail keywords?
Keyword cannibalization
  • Do a site: search in Google for important keyword phrases.
  • Check for duplicate content/page titles using the Moz Pro Crawl Test.
Content to help users convert exists and is easily accessible to users
  • In addition to search engine driven content, there should be content to help educate users about the product or service.
Content formatting
  • Is the content formatted well and easy to read quickly?
  • Are H tags used?
  • Are images used?
  • Is the text broken down into easy to read paragraphs?
Good headlines on blog posts
  • Good headlines go a long way. Make sure the headlines are well written and draw users in.
Amount of content versus ads
  • Since the implementation of Panda, the amount of ad-space on a page has become important to evaluate.
  • Make sure there is significant unique content above the fold.
  • If you have more ads than unique content, you are probably going to have a problem.

Duplicate content

There should be one URL for each piece of content
  • Do URLs include parameters or tracking code? This will result in multiple URLs for a piece of content.
  • Does the same content reside on completely different URLs? This is often due to products/content being replicated across different categories.
Pro Tip:
Exclude common parameters, such as those used to designate tracking code, in Google Webmaster Tools. Read more at
Search Engine Land.
Do a search to check for duplicate content
  • Take a content snippet, put it in quotes and search for it.
  • Does the content show up elsewhere on the domain?
  • Has it been scraped? If the content has been scraped, you should file a content removal request with Google.
Sub-domain duplicate content
  • Does the same content exist on different sub-domains?
Check for a secure version of the site
  • Does the content exist on a secure version of the site?
Check other sites owned by the company
  • Is the content replicated on other domains owned by the company?
Check for “print” pages
  • If there are “printer friendly” versions of pages, they may be causing duplicate content.

Accessibility & Indexation

Check the robots.txt

  • Has the entire site, or important content been blocked? Is link equity being orphaned due to pages being blocked via the robots.txt?

Turn off JavaScript, cookies, and CSS

Now change your user agent to Googlebot

PRO Tip:
Use
SEO Browser to do a quick spot check.

Check the SEOmoz PRO Campaign

  • Check for 4xx errors and 5xx errors.

XML sitemaps are listed in the robots.txt file

XML sitemaps are submitted to Google/Bing Webmaster Tools

Check pages for meta robots noindex tag

  • Are pages accidentally being tagged with the meta robots noindex command
  • Are there pages that should have the noindex command applied
  • You can check the site quickly via a crawl tool such as Moz or Screaming Frog

Do goal pages have the noindex command applied?

  • This is important to prevent direct organic visits from showing up as goals in analytics

Site architecture and internal linking

Number of links on a page
Vertical linking structures are in place
  • Homepage links to category pages.
  • Category pages link to sub-category and product pages as appropriate.
  • Product pages link to relevant category pages.
Horizontal linking structures are in place
  • Category pages link to other relevant category pages.
  • Product pages link to other relevant product pages.
Links are in content
  • Does not utilize massive blocks of links stuck in the content to do internal linking.
Footer links
  • Does not use a block of footer links instead of proper navigation.
  • Does not link to landing pages with optimized anchors.
Good internal anchor text
 
Check for broken links
  • Link Checker and Xenu are good tools for this.

Technical issues

Proper use of 301s
  • Are 301s being used for all redirects?
  • If the root is being directed to a landing page, are they using a 301 instead of a 302?
  • Use Live HTTP Headers Firefox plugin to check 301s.
“Bad” redirects are avoided
  • These include 302s, 307s, meta refresh, and JavaScript redirects as they pass little to no value.
  • These redirects can easily be identified with a tool like Screaming Frog.
Redirects point directly to the final URL and do not leverage redirect chains
  • Redirect chains significantly diminish the amount of link equity associated with the final URL.
  • Google has said that they will stop following a redirect chain after several redirects.
Use of JavaScript
  • Is content being served in JavaScript?
  • Are links being served in JavaScript? Is this to do PR sculpting or is it accidental?
Use of iFrames
  • Is content being pulled in via iFrames?
Use of Flash
  • Is the entire site done in Flash, or is Flash used sparingly in a way that doesn’t hinder crawling?
Check for errors in Google Webmaster Tools
  • Google WMT will give you a good list of technical problems that they are encountering on your site (such as: 4xx and 5xx errors, inaccessible pages in the XML sitemap, and soft 404s)
XML Sitemaps  
  • Are XML sitemaps in place?
  • Are XML sitemaps covering for poor site architecture?
  • Are XML sitemaps structured to show indexation problems?
  • Do the sitemaps follow proper XML protocols
Canonical version of the site established through 301s
 
Canonical version of site is specified in Google Webmaster Tools
 
Rel canonical link tag is properly implemented across the site
Uses absolute URLs instead of relative URLs
  • This can cause a lot of problems if you have a root domain with secure sections.

Site speed


Review page load time for key pages 

Make sure compression is enabled


Enable caching


Optimize your images for the web


Minify your CSS/JS/HTML

Use a good, fast host
  • Consider using a CDN for your images.

Optimize your images for the web

Mobile

Review the mobile experience
  • Is there a mobile site set up?
  • If there is, is it a mobile site, responsive design, or dynamic serving?


Make sure analytics are set up if separate mobile content exists


If dynamic serving is being used, make sure the Vary HTTP header is being used

Review how the mobile experience matches up with the intent of mobile visitors
  • Do your mobile visitors have a different intent than desktop based visitors?
Ensure faulty mobile redirects do not exist
  • If your site redirects mobile visitors away from their intended URL (typically to the homepage), you’re likely going to run into issues impacting your mobile organic performance.
Ensure that the relationship between the mobile site and desktop site is established with proper markup
  • If a mobile site (m.) exists, does the desktop equivalent URL point to the mobile version with rel=”alternate”?
  • Does the mobile version canonical to the desktop version?
  • Official documentation.

International

Review international versions indicated in the URL
  • ex: site.com/uk/ or uk.site.com
Enable country based targeting in webmaster tools
  • If the site is targeted to one specific country, is this specified in webmaster tools? 
  • If the site has international sections, are they targeted in webmaster tools?
Implement hreflang / rel alternate if relevant
If there are multiple versions of a site in the same language (such as /us/ and /uk/, both in English), update the copy been updated so that they are both unique
 

Make sure the currency reflects the country targeted
 
Ensure the URL structure is in the native language 
  • Try to avoid having all URLs in the default language

Analytics

Analytics tracking code is on every page
  • You can check this using the “custom” filter in a Screaming Frog Crawl or by looking for self referrals.
  • Are there pages that should be blocked?
There is only one instance of a GA property on a page
  • Having the same Google Analytics property will create problems with pageview-related metrics such as inflating page views and pages per visit and reducing the bounce rate.
  • It is OK to have multiple GA properties listed, this won’t cause a problem.
Analytics is properly tracking and capturing internal searches
 

Demographics tracking is set up

Adwords and Adsense are properly linked if you are using these platforms
Internal IP addresses are excluded
UTM Campaign Parameters are used for other marketing efforts
Meta refresh and JavaScript redirects are avoided
  • These can artificially lower bounce rates.
Event tracking is set up for key user interactions

This audit covers the main technical elements of a site and should help you uncover any issues that are holding a site back. As with any project, the deliverable is critical. I’ve found focusing on the solution and impact (business case) is the best approach for site audit reports. While it is important to outline the problems, too much detail here can take away from the recommendations. If you’re looking for more resources on site audits, I recommend the following:

Helpful tools for doing a site audit:

Annie Cushing’s Site Audit
Web Developer Toolbar
User Agent Add-on
Firebug
Link Checker
SEObook Toolbar
MozBar (Moz’s SEO toolbar)
Xenu
Screaming Frog
Your own scraper
Inflow’s technical mobile best practices

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Reblogged 3 years ago from moz.com

How You Can Build a Meaningful Brand

Posted by Hannah_Smith

Earlier this year I wrote a post about
the future of marketing. In it, I made a handful of predictions; arguably the most ‘out there’ of which was this: in the future, only brands which ‘mean something’ to consumers will survive. 

In today’s post I’ll be exploring what it takes to become a meaningful brand, and how you might go about building one.

SEO is not dead

Just so we’re clear, I’m not saying SEO is dead, or that organic search is not an important channel 🙂
These stats speak for themselves:

However, what we’re being asked to do as SEOs is constantly evolving. 

It used to be that you could build a very successful business online just by being great at SEO. But today, the SERPs are changing, and ranking first doesn’t mean what it used to:

The BBC still rank first organically for ‘weather’—but their listing is pushed beneath the fold. Plus, given the that the information the searcher is seeking is displayed right there in the SERP, I’m guessing they’re not receiving as much traffic from this term as they once were.

But it’s not just informational queries:

Skyscanner still rank first for the term ‘flights to paris’, but again here their organic listing is pushed beneath the fold thanks to paid search listings and the proprietary Google flight product.

Google is even going so far as to show its proprietary products against branded searches (hat-tip to 
Barry Adams for pointing this out):

MoneySuperMarket’s organic listing is above the fold, but Google is nonetheless being very aggressive.

As a consequence of these changes, as SEOs, we’re being asked to do different things. Clients of yesteryear used to say things like:

Get us links!

But today they’re saying things like:

Get us press coverage, social shares and exposure [links] on sites our target audience reads.

Whilst they may not explicitly be asking us to build a brand, nonetheless much of what we do today looks a lot like brand building. But where do we start?

What does ‘brand’ mean?

Before we kick off I think it’s worth exploring what brand really means. We have a tendency to use ‘brand’ and ‘company’ or ‘organisation’ interchangeably, but in reality they are two distinctly different things.

Here’s a definition:

brand – to impress firmly; fix ineradicably; place indelibly

Therefore a brand is not a brand unless it leaves a lasting impression, and of course, it needs to be a favourable impression. Essentially companies or organisations need to build brands that mean something to people.

However, right now companies and organisations are struggling to do this effectively:

“In Europe and the US, consumers would not care if 92% of brands ceased to exist” 


source

That means that consumers would only miss 8% of brands. 

Clearly we have a mountain to climb. How do we go about building meaningful brands? Particularly on SEO retainer budgets?

You can learn a lot by deconstructing the success of others

Like many in the search industry, I’m a fan of taking stuff apart to figure out how it works. So, when trying to figure out how to go about building a meaningful brand, I started by looking at what meaningful brands are doing right now.

I uncovered three core principles—some meaningful brands do all three; some just do one or two—I’ll deal with them each in turn.

1) Meaningful brands find opportunities to delight customers

Most people’s interactions with brands suck. But great interactions stand out and are shared. Let’s take a look at some examples:

@smartcarusa

Here’s how @smartcarusa responded when someone suggested that a single bird dropping would total one of their cars:

Now the takeaway here is not to rush out and make a bunch of infographics on disparate topics.
Out of context, the infographic is neither remarkable, nor particularly interesting, and I don’t think it would have garnered coverage had it not been created in response to this tweet.
But I think a lesson we can take from this is that going the extra mile to respond in a novel way can yield out-sized returns.

@ArgosHelpers

This is how @ArgosHelpers responded to a customer asking when PS4s would be back in stock:

The takeaway here is not people love brands who use slang—I think this is actually a very artfully worded response. See how the brand has taken care to use the same language as their customer without being in any way condescending? That’s what you need to shoot for.

@TescoMobile

This is how @TescoMobile responded when someone described their network as a ‘turn off’:

Whoa! 

The lesson here is definitely not ‘be a dick to people who are dicks to you’; I think the lesson here is that a well-judged, cheeky response can travel.

Ultimately you need to tread carefully if you want to use this type of tactic. I think @TescoMobile got away with this one—but it is really close to the line. To do this sort of thing you need to have a deep understanding of your audience—what’s considered funny and what’s just plain rude? This can vary hugely depending on the niche you’re working in and the public perception of your brand.

Moreover, if you’re a brand engaging in this sort of activity, you need to consider not only your own response, but the potential response from your audience, too. Some brands have an army of loyal advocates. But if brands aren’t careful, they may unwittingly encourage said army to attack an individual with a response like this.

Of course it’s not just interactions that have the capacity to delight—sometimes being nimble is enough:

@Arbys

When Pharrell turned up to the GRAMMYs wearing *that hat* here’s how @Arbys responded:

The takeaway here is not that you need a bit of luck, instead it’s that you need to be ready, willing and able to take advantage of opportunities as and when they arise. I think that if @Arbys hadn’t tweeted that, then someone else would have done and their brand wouldn’t have benefited.

Hopefully you can see where I’m going with this; let’s move on to principle two:

2) Meaningful brands give people the ability to define themselves to others

Have you ever thought about why you share what you share on social media? Most of us don’t think about it too much, but
The New York Times did a
study on the psychology of sharing in which 68% of respondents said they share things via social media to give others a better sense of who they are and what they care about.

For example, I might share an article from
hbr.org because I want you to think I’m the sort of person who reads Harvard Business Review. Or I might share an Oatmeal comic because I want you to think I have an excellent sense of humour. I might share something about the Lean In movement because I want to let you know where I stand on important issues.

If you’re seeking to create a meaningful brand, this can be an excellent space to play in because brands can give people the ability to define themselves to others. Now I don’t necessarily mean by creating content like
this which literally allows people to define themselves:

Brands can also help people define themselves by creating things people ‘look good’ sharing—let’s take a look at some examples:

GE’s #6SecondScience

The takeaway here is to create things which are tangentially related to your brand, that people ‘look good’ sharing. When people shared this content they were sharing stuff that was more than just ‘cool’—by sharing this content they were also able to express their enthusiasm for science.

In a similar vein meaningful brands create commercials that don’t feel like commercials—again, these are things that people ‘look good’ sharing:

Wren’s First Kiss

This film definitely got people talking. To date it’s received over 94 million YouTube views and coverage on over 1300 sites. But this isn’t just a video content play…

Oreo

When Oreo turned 100, they created 100 pieces of content over 100 days:

This campaign got over 1m Facebook ‘likes’ and thousands of pieces of press coverage. 

But actually, I think the smartest thing about this campaign was that it was highly topical content which put the cookie right in the centre of people’s conversations without being self-serving.

Still with me? Let’s move on to principle three:

3) Meaningful brands stand for something above and beyond their products or services

This is difficult to explain in the abstract, so I’m going to shoot straight to some examples.

BrewDog

BrewDog is a craft beer company. Their brand values are drawn from punk subculture—they’re anti-establishment and believe in individual freedom.
So when Dead Pony Club ale was ‘banned’ because the phrase “rip it up down empty streets” was printed on the label, their response was to issue a
press release apologising for ‘not giving a shit’ over the marketing rules breach.
Their fans loved their response:

The takeaway here isn’t that sweary press releases get attention (although they undoubtedly do)—by refusing to take the ruling lying down BrewDog showed people they were a brand which stood for something beyond great beer.

Nike

A core value for Nike is “if you have a body, you are an athlete”, and these values have inspired incredible creative like this:

I think that this advert is powerful because Nike isn’t talking about how their trainers enhance your performance, they’re talking about celebrating everyone’s athletic endeavours. It’s about more than just their products. 

OKCupid

I think that taking the decision to stand for something is perhaps most potent when it could actually cost a brand customers. When Mozilla appointed a new CEO, OKCupid showed this message to Firefox users:

They went on to say:

The takeaway here is not ‘align your brand with a cause and win the the Internet’, but rather, taking a bold stance on a relevant issue, even if it could actually hurt your business, can create a lasting impression.

What do I mean by ‘actually hurt your business’? Sadly, not everyone believes in equal rights for gay couples, as such, taking this stance could cost OK Cupid.

Using these principles day-to-day

The reality for me is that right now, much of this I can’t affect—sadly no clients have dropped several million into my lap and asked me to create them an ad like Nike’s 🙂

That said, I do think that it’s helped me to clarify my thinking on what it means to be a meaningful brand and how to figure out how to get there. At Distilled (the company who is good enough to employ me), the place we play most frequently is principle two—we create content which allows people to define themselves to others; things that people ‘look good sharing’. 

Perhaps more importantly, we’re taking the time to understand the companies we’re working with better so that our creative work is better aligned with their brand values. 

And so, dear reader, over to you—I’d love to hear what you think it takes to build a meaningful brand, and what’s working (and not working) for you, do let me know via the comments.

This post is based on a session I presented at SearchLove; those who are interested can view the full deck below:

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Reblogged 4 years ago from moz.com

Developing Innovative Content: What You Need to Know

Posted by richardbaxterseo

A few weeks ago, I attended a breakfast meeting with a bunch of entrepreneurs in the technology, space (yes, space travel), software and engineering industry. I felt so blown away by the incredible talent of the speakers. You know, there are people out there building things, like private satellite networks, bio printing facilities, quantum computers and self-driving cars. I was completely transfixed by the incredibly future facing, innovative and exceptionally inventive group in front of me. I also immediately wished I’d worked a little harder in my twenties.

After the presentations, one of the questions that came up during the Q&A session was: “what’s the next big thing?”

Wow. Have you ever thought about “the next big thing”?

Part of the magic of predicting innovation is that it’s really, really hard to get right. Those that can accurately predict the future (in my humble opinion) are those that tend to understand how people will respond to an idea once they’re exposed to it. I think predicting this is a very special skill indeed.

Then again, we’re expected to be able to predict the outcome of our marketing, all the time. While predicting it is one thing, making it happen it is a whole different ball game.

Competition for the attention of our customers is getting tougher

In our industry, when you really boil down what it is we do, we’re fixing things, making things, or we’re communicating things.

Most of the time, we’re building content that communicates: ideas, stories, news and guidance–you get the idea. The problem is, no matter which vertical you work in, we’re all competing for something: the attention of our customers.

As our customers get smarter, that competition is getting tougher and tougher.

The most successful marketers in our industry all have a special trait in common. They are good at finding new ways to communicate ideas. Take a look at classic presentations
like this from Ross Hudgens to see just how powerful it can be to observe, imitate and develop an idea with astounding viral reach.

I particularly enjoy the idea of taking a piece of content and making improvements, be it through design, layout or simply updating what’s there. I like it because it’s actually pretty easy to do, and there’s growing evidence of it happening all over the Internet. Brands are taking a second look at how they’re developing their content to appeal to a wider audience, or to appeal to a viral audience (or both!).

For example; take a look at this beautiful
travel guide to Vietnam (credit: travelindochina.com) or this long form guide to commercial property insurance (credit: Towergate Insurance / Builtvisible.com) for examples of brands in competitive verticals developing their existing content. In verticals where ordinary article content has been done to death, redeveloping the medium itself feels like an important next step.

Innovative isn’t the same thing as technical

I’ve felt for a long time that there’s a conflict between our interpretation of “innovative” and “technical”. As I’ve written before, those that really understand how the web works are at a huge advantage.
Learn how it’s built, and you’ll find yourself able to make great things happen on your own, simply by learning and experimenting.

In my opinion though, you don’t have to be able to learn how to build your own site or be a developer. All you have to do is learn the vocabulary and build a broad understanding of how things work in a browser. I actually think we all need to be doing this, right now. Why?

We need more innovation in content marketing

I think our future depends on our industry’s ability to innovate. Of course, you still need to have your basics in place. We’ll always be
T-Shaped marketers, executing a bit of technical SEO here, a bit of content strategy there. But, we’re all SEOs and we know we need to acquire links, build audiences and generally think big about our ambitions. When your goal is to attract new followers, fans, links, and garner shares in their thousands, you need to do something pretty exciting to attract attention to yourself.

The vocabulary of content development

I’ve designed this post to be a primer on more advanced features found in innovative content development. My original MozCon 2014 presentation was designed to educate on some of the technologies we should be aware of in our content development projects and the process we follow to build things. We’ll save process for another post (shout in the comments if you think that would be useful!) and focus on the “what” for now.

At Builtvisible, we’re working hard on extending our in-house content development capabilities. We learn through sharing amazing examples with each other. Our policy is to always attempt to deconstruct how something might have been developed, that way, we’re learning. Some of the things we see on the web are amazing–they deserve so much respect for the talent and the skills that surface the content.

Here are some examples that I think demonstrate some of the most useful types of approach for content marketers. I hope that these help as much as they’ve helped us, and I hope you can form a perspective of what innovative features look like in more advanced content development. Of course, do feel welcome to share your own examples in the comments, too! The more, the merrier!

The story of EBoy

eBoy: the graphic design firm whose three co-founders and sole members are widely regarded as the “godfathers” of pixel art.

The consistent styling (as well as the beautifully written content) is excellent. Technically speaking, perhaps the most clever and elegant feature is the zoom of the image positioned on the Z axis in a <canvas> container (more on this in a moment).

An event listener (jQuery) helps size the canvas appropriate to the browser window size and the z axis position shifts on scroll to create an elegant zoom effect.


View the example here:

http://www.theverge.com/2014/6/17/5803850/pixel-perfect-the-story-of-eboy.

<canvas> is an HTML element which can be used to draw graphics using scripting (usually JavaScript). This can, for instance, be used to draw graphs, make photo composition or simple animations.

Colorizing the past

Take a look at
Pixart Printing’s Guide to Colourizing the Past (credit: Pixartprinting / Builtvisible.com) for a clever example of <canvas> in use. Here’s one of the images (tip, mouse-over and click the image):

The colorization feature takes advantage of the power of the canvas element. In this case, the color version of the image is applied to the canvas as a background image, with the black and white version on a layer above. Clicking (or touching, on mobile) erases portions of the top image, revealing the color version underneath.

Chrome Experiments: Globe

Globe is “simple” global data visualization of the Earth’s population growth over a set range of dates. The 3d visualization based in
webGL: a JavaScript API for rendering interactive 3D graphics and 2D graphics within any compatible web browser without the use of plug-ins.


View the example here:

http://globe.chromeexperiments.com/.

WebGL is a really exciting, emerging option available to content marketers who might want to experiment with immersive experiences or highly interactive, simulated environments.

Some of my
favourite WebGL examples include Hello Racer and Tweetopia, a 3d Twitter Hastag visualizer.

If you’d like to see more examples of webGL in action, take a look at
Chrome Experiments. Don’t worry, this stuff works in the latest versions of Firefox and IE, too.

Polygon’s PS4 Review

You might have seen me cover this long form concept over at Builtvisible. Polygon’s Playstation 4 review is a fully featured “long form” review of Sony’s much loved gaming machine. The bit that I love is the SVG visualizations:

“What’s SVG?”, I hear you ask!

SVG is super-fast, sharp rendering of vector images inside the browser. Unlike image files (like .jpg, .gif, .png), SVG is XML based, light on file size, loads quickly and adjusts to responsive browser widths perfectly. SVG’s XML based schema lends itself to some interesting manipulation for stunning, easy to implement effects.

View Polygon’s example here: http://www.polygon.com/a/ps4-review

That line tracing animation you see is known as
path animation. Essentially the path attribute in the SVG’s XML can be manipulated in the DOM with a little jQuery. What you’ll get is a pretty snazzy animation to keep your users eyes fixated on your content and yet another nice little effect to keep eyeballs engaged.

My favourite example of SVG execution is Lewis Lehe’s
Gridlocks and Bottlenecks. Gridlocks is a AngularJS, d3.js based visualization of the surprisingly technical and oft-misunderstood “gridlock” and “bottleneck” events in road traffic management.

It’s also very cool:

View the example here:http://setosa.io/blog/2014/09/02/gridlock/.

I have a short vocabulary list that I expect our team to be able to explain (certainly these questions come up in an interview with us!). I think that if you can explain what these things are, as a developing content marketer you’re way ahead of the curve:

  • HTML5
  • Responsive CSS (& libraries)
  • CSS3 (& frameworks)
  • JavaScript (& frameworks: jQuery, MooTools, Jade, Handlebars)
  • JSON (api post and response data)
  • webGL
  • HTML5 audio & video
  • SVG
  • HTML5 History API manipulation with pushState
  • Infinite Scroll

Want to learn more?

I’ve
amassed a series of videos on web development that I think marketers should watch. Not necessarily to learn web development, but definitely to be able to describe what it is you’d like your own content to do. My favourite: I really loved Wes Bos’s JS + HTML5 Video + Canvas tutorial. Amazing.

Innovation in content is such a huge topic but I realize I’ve run out of space (this is already a 1,400 word post) for now.

In my follow up, I’d like to talk about how to plan your content when it’s a little more extensive than just an article, give you some tips on how to work with (or find!) a developer, and how to make the most of every component in your content to get the most from your marketing efforts.

Until then, I’d love to see your own examples of great content and questions in the comments!

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Reblogged 4 years ago from feedproxy.google.com

Using SenSEO Firefox Plugin to Improve SEO and Page Rankings

In this short video I show you how to install and use SenSEO – a free firefox plugin. SenSEO analyzes a specific page against your target keywords or keyphra…

Reblogged 4 years ago from www.youtube.com

SEOs Know Things about UX: Here’s How to Prove it

Posted by Kristina Kledzik

As a human being currently using the internet, you have opinions about online user experience. The problem is, everyone’s experience is going to be different based on their expectations. So although you, as a Moz blog reader and probably an internet connoisseur, may have some very good ideas about making your company’s or client’s site easier to use for the majority of visitors, there’s a good chance that your boss or client will disagree with you. 

If you’re like me and aren’t a user experience expert, it’s going to be hard to argue with them on gut instinct alone. Rather than debate in circles, spend the time to validate your argument:

  1. Prove there is a problem. This is a good idea even if you and your boss (or client) wholeheartedly agree that the site is less than optimal. Get feedback from visitors who aren’t working on the site and see if their feedback lines up with your assumptions. 
  2. Propose a solution. Based on the feedback, propose a solution. It’s best to do this visually with a page mockup. 
  3. Test that solution. See how visitors respond better to your new design than they did to the old design.

By going through these steps, you can build a strong case for implementing your recommendations.

How to prove there is a problem

The first step is to prove that there really is a user experience issue. If you’re lucky and have time and money, the best way to get user experience feedback is to reach out to your customers and/or people in your target market and work with them in person. But most of us aren’t so lucky. If you’re confined to an SEO’s budget like I usually am, you can use an online tool:

My favorite:

Qualaroo

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Qualaroo is a simple yet effective way to collect feedback. You just put a small piece of JavaScript code on your site, allowing Qualaroo to load a question in the lower right hand corner of a page. You can: 

  • Place the question on any page or group of pages
  • Write your own questions or use their helpful library of examples
  • Set a time for when the box shows up (e.g., on page load, after 15 seconds, or when the visitor moves their cursor up to the URL bar on their browser, indicating they might leave)

Example use: One of my clients runs seminars. They can host them in a number of places, but if the seminar is hosted in their primary building, they don’t explicitly say where the seminar is held. I theorized that this is causing confusion for visitors and that adding the address to the seminar page would make visitors’ decisions easier.

I didn’t want to ask a leading question, though, so I just added a question to every seminar page, “Is there any other information you need to make a decision today?” Once I had collected a few hundred responses, I exported the feedback to an Excel file and started sorting ideas. I was right: a good proportion of people were interested in the location. The exercise also taught me that a lot of visitors wanted a sample schedule of the program. 

Pros: Easy to use, fast way to get feedback, very flexible program

Cons: You only hear from people who are on your site

Price: $79/month (less if you pay for 1 – 2 years at a time)

Cheap feedback without access to the code of your site:

Feedback Army/Mechanical Turk

Feedback Army

While I recommend Qualaroo, I realize that many of you may not be able to convince your boss or client to install JavaScript and potentially distract visitors with your UX questions. If that’s the case, you can use 
Mechanical Turk, or Feedback Army, which is a guy using Mechanical Turk for you, because mTurk’s interface is pretty clunky.

Mechanical Turk allows you to submit questions to millions of online workers from across the world (about 30% are American), so you can use the same questions as you would with Qualaroo. You have to lead them to the right page to review as well, but that should be easy enough.

Pros: An inexpensive way to find and learn from testers

Cons: Mechanical Turk doesn’t pay their testers a whole lot, so you’ll get very quick, off the cuff responses. Plus, they won’t be from your target audience or customer base.

Price: $40 per 10 responses

More expensive feedback without access to the code of your site:

UserTesting.com

usertesting.com

If you’d like a more robust user experience test, try out
UserTesting.com. Testers are paid $35/test, so they’re going to give you a much more in-depth, thoughtful review than Mechanical Turk. With a higher price tag comes a lot more information, though: you give testers a task and ask them for feedback along the way. This may be excessive if your idea was about tweaking one piece of one page, but it’s great for information architecture/site navigation issues.

Pros: A still fairly inexpensive way to find and learn from testers. You can select your target market by age, gender, income, location, and experience online.

Cons: Reviewers are being paid well to test your site, here, so they want to do a thorough job, and I’ve heard they can be nitpicky.

Price: $49/tester (you’ll need a few, at least)

Bonus: Running tests like these without access to the code of the site means that you can run tests on your competitors, too! Use either Feedback Army or UserTesting.com to learn what people like about your competitors’ sites and what frustrates them. It’ll tell you what you’re up against, and pieces that testers praise may be worth imitating on your own site.

Quantitative feedback:

Google Analytics

Google Analytics

Google Analytics won’t give you the opinions of visitors, but sometimes actions speak louder than words. If your theory is that:

  • Calls to action aren’t really…calling people to action
  • Visitors don’t know how to navigate to the page they’re looking for
  • Readers don’t scroll all the way to the bottom of the page

Then you can look at:

  • What proportion of visitors clicked on that call to action (if there are multiple CTAs to the same location on a page, you may have to set up Event Tracking to be sure which CTA was clicked)
  • How visitors move through your site with the Visitor Flow report, and how many visitors clicked around before using site search with the Site Search report
  • How far visitors scrolled down a page, by setting up Events at certain break points
Pros: Free! And, probably already installed on your system. 

Cons: You get a lot of data, but what it means can be somewhat up to interpretation. This might be a good springboard to convince a client that you need to do further testing, but it can’t prove much on its own.

Price: Free!

How to propose a solution

Proving that there is a problem gets your boss or client to the table. The next step is proposing a solution and proposing it well.

The most effective way I’ve found to pitch a design change is to actually mock up your solution. If you have access to design tools, definitely use those. I don’t, though, so I either modify the HTML with Chrome’s Inspect Element feature or use a combination of the Windows Snipping Tool and Paint.

Snipping Tool & MS Paint

I know, no one gets design cred from using MS Paint. But I’m a child of the ’90s, and Paint was my first introduction to design software, so it’s easy for me to use. The point here isn’t to use Paint necessarily, but to use whichever program you have access to and is easy to use. Don’t stop yourself from creating designs just because you don’t own a copy of Dreamweaver or Photoshop.

When I want to mock up a dramatically different version of a page, I use the Snipping Tool to take a picture of the webpage as it currently is, then modify the parts that I want to. The selector makes it easy to move elements around. If Paint doesn’t have an option I need, I just use other Office products:

  • For text overlays and adding a variety of shapes, I’ll often use Word, since it has a lot of text box options
  • For color changes and setting a transparent color, I use PowerPoint, because as far as I know it’s the only Office product that has that option
  • For text changes, I’ll modify the HTML in Chrome (see section below), then copy that over to my Paint design

Is this hack-y? Yes. Is it impressive? No. But it gets the job done. All you need at the end is a design good enough to communicate your idea. Once you get sign-off, actual designers will make sure that the details turn out right.

Rewriting the HTML

As I mentioned above, this works best if what you’re doing is modifying the existing text or images. You can either download the HTML of a page, modify it, and share that, or you can use Chrome’s Inspect Element to quickly modify text and take a picture of the result. It took me 15 seconds to change the text on Moz’ homepage:

rewriting html in chrome

Just right click wherever you want to edit on your page while in Chrome and click “Inspect Element.” If you want to make color changes or image changes, it’ll be a little more complicated, but still doable. 

You can do this in Firefox as well with Firefox’s add-on,
Firebug.

Once you’ve got a mock up, save it and send it on to your boss/client with your description of the changes you’ve made, the stats from your tests, and why your solution is solving those problems. (Just don’t mention how you made that mock up.)

How to test your solution

Even if your proposed solution is a big hit and everyone wants to implement it right away, it’s better to test to make sure that it’s actually going to work before making a permanent change to your site. I’ve had a lot of clients tell me that it’s too hard to test changes, but it’s actually fairly easy with the right tools.

If you or a dev can build you variation pages:

Google Experiments

google experiments

Image from Marketing Engine Land, which includes more details on Google Experiments.

If you’ve got a developer who can build out your suggested change, 
Google Experiments is a free, reliable, and easy to use tool to track results. It’s integrated into Google Analytics, so it uses the conversion metrics you already have set up (this may mean you’ll have to set up a new goal to cover your test’s desired outcome). 

Pros: Free and completely integrated with Google Analytics

Cons: You have to create your own variation pages.

Price: Free!

If dev resources are limited:

Optimizely

optimizely

Optimizely does need a bit of dev work to install a JavaScript code onto your site, but once it’s there, you can edit the HTML for tests with their web interface, without talking to a developer. You can edit with their editor or use actual HTML, meaning the tool doesn’t require HTML skills, but still allows those able to write HTML the extra precision they can get from making changes to the code directly. 

As a consultant, I
love working with clients who have Optimizely installed, because I can take a test from start to finish. I prove the problem, propose a solution, set up the test, and present results, all without my point of contact having to take time out of his or her busy schedule to make any changes. And, once you have numeric results, it’s easy to prove the value of your suggested change and get it into the dev queue. 

Pros: Easy to use, and gives you a lot of flexibility 

Cons: You have to start with the core page and then modify elements with JavaScript, so you can’t make dramatic changes 

Price: Based on your monthly traffic, prices start at $19/month

Make a solid argument for change

Assuming that each step supported your initial ideas, you now have more than enough data to strongly support making the change you suggested. When you make your recommendation, take the time to tell the story of what you went through—getting user feedback, coming up with a solution, and proving the solution works. Clients and bosses feel a lot more comfortable with your conclusions if they see how thoroughly you researched the issue.

Has anyone else gone through a similar process? Any tools you prefer, or tips you’d like to add? Share in the comments below!

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