With the recent update to Google’s algorithm, designed to improve their search results and punish content farms, SEO has been a hot topic. I get many industry newsletters each week and the majority are discussing topics related to Social Media, but SEO has seen a nice bump in awareness given Google’s recent update in late February. However, companies who focus too much on how their website performs in the Google index can miss the most important aspect of their internet presence. How well does the website perform when someone actually visits the site? Regardless of the source of traffic (organic, paid, referral, or direct) your site’s ability to convert visitors into customers relies more on usability than your rankings in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
Think about your site’s performance in terms of visitor engagement. Do many visitors leave after viewing only one page (in other words, do you have a high bounce rate)? Is there a statistically significant percentage of visitors who view many pages per visit but never complete the desired call to action on your site? Testing different colors, images and page layouts can help determine the best website design to convert your visitors to customers. While it way seem elementary to test a blue background versus a white one, you may be surprised to see how even subtle changes can increase your site’s performance.
An excellent way to leverage your visitor’s interaction and help increase the performance of your site is through usability experiments. Google Website Optimizer (GWO) is an easy to set up (and free) tool that allows you to test different page layouts, images, and color schemes to determine which best leads to a desired result. Moving an image from the right hand side of the page to the left may be just the change needed to increase conversions. Using bullet points instead of paragraph text may help lower a page’s bounce rate. There could be hundreds of different combinations in which to layout your pages and test which performs best. Think about your site’s usability and the user experience while you are reviewing your next traffic report. The changes you make to increase your site’s performance should be born from usability experiments rather than how well your site ranks in the SERPs or the volume of traffic your site receives.
With the explosive growth of smartphone usage over the last couple of years, businesses have to be ready to embrace mobile marketing. Depending on who you talk to, you may be playing “catch up” already if you have not employed a mobile marketing strategy. While certain industries seem to be ahead of the digital curve, social media and advanced mobile devices, like smartphones and tablets, are influencing how businesses connect with and market to their target audience. But what exactly is mobile marketing, and how much of an impact does Google have in shaping that definition? Given their market share in search and the success of the Android OS, I tend to lean toward Google having tremendous influence over how mobile marketing will be executed. Given the sway in which Google may affect mobile marketing, there is still the user experience businesses must consider. At the end of the day, you need to strike a balance between how the search engines and real people view your site, because they are very different. Regardless of the technical ramifications of Google’s views on mobile devices, if you do not like the look of your site from an Android or iPhone powered device, creating a mobile version of your site is essential. With that said, let’s take a closer look at the technical ramifications based on Google’s current smartphone ideology.
Pierre Far, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google recently posted an article on the Official Google Webmaster Blog about “making websites mobile friendly”. There is one point in particular mentioned in the blog I feel gives an indication where Google might be shaping what is considered “mobile marketing” from a technical perspective. He states in the article, “For now, we expect smartphones to handle desktop experience content so there is no real need for mobile-specific effort from webmasters.” My take on this explanation, Google sees smartphones as a PC you can put in your pocket. If Google doesn’t see a need to create mobile-specific content for visitors using these devices, can we make the assumption you do not need to create mobile-specific marketing for these devices? If you are at home using your PC or on the road using your smartphone to browse the internet, Google views the devices to connect to the internet the same. It is an interesting concept considering Google’s definition of the smartphone, which Far explains are “Phones with browsers that render normal desktop pages, at least to some extent. This category includes a diversity of devices, such Windows Phone 7, Blackberry devices, iPhones, Android phones, and also tablets and eBook readers.” However, the user experience side of the discussion can not be ignored and Far addresses this by additionally stating, “However, for many websites it may still make sense for the content to be formatted differently for smartphones, and the decision to do so should be based on how you can best serve your users.”
As with many online marketing initiatives, I believe mobile marketing will evolve over time. That evolution will be greatly influenced by the amount of smartphones in use. I believe at some point even the most simplified cell phones will be considered smartphones. If this is true and Google’s views on smartphones stays consistent (two big IF’s, but still possible) will there be any need for mobile-specific marketing? I believe the answer is yes, but the direction will be device focused versus the current broad concept of “mobile marketing”. For example, if iPhone users are more likely to view video ads and Android users are more likely to view ads embedded in apps, then your “device driven” marketing strategy should take these factors into consideration.
Privacy groups have had their sights set on behavioral targeting (also known as remarketing) since the idea of tracking web surfer’s activity first surfaced. The Center for Digital Democracy, a leading privacy advocacy group, has been a vocal player in protecting consumer’s privacy online. As far back as November 2007, the group has penned letters to the FCC asking for the federal agency to act on behavioral targeting in the interest of online privacy. While it remains to be seen if the FCC will ever act to prohibit behavioral targeting, many companies who employ the strategy experience solid results; but how long will that last?
As recently as January 24th of this year, Google introduced a downloadable extension to their Chrome browser that allows its users to “opt out of personalized advertising”. In Google’s own words, “Keep My Opt-Outs is an extension for users who aren’t comfortable with personalization of the ads they see on the web. It’s a one-step, persistent opt-out of personalized advertising and related data tracking performed by companies adopting the industry privacy standards for online advertising.” Coincidentally (or not), Mozilla announced a similar option for their Firefox browser the day before Google’s announcement. Mozilla’s new browser feature is best described by Alex Fowler, the Global Privacy and Public Policy Leader at Mozilla, the organization behind Firefox. He states on his blog, “As the first of many steps, we are proposing a feature that allows users to set a browser preference that will broadcast their desire to opt-out of third party, advertising-based tracking by transmitting a Do Not Track HTTP header with every click or page view in Firefox. When the feature is enabled and users turn it on, web sites will be told by Firefox that a user would like to opt-out of OBA. We believe the header-based approach has the potential to be better for the web in the long run because it is a clearer and more universal opt-out mechanism than cookies or blacklists.” Not to be outdone, Microsoft’s newest version of Internet Explorer “IE9”, which was released yesterday, provides users the ability to create a list of sites that they do not want tracking them.
Between the main three browsers (Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 56%, Mozilla’s Firefox 23%, and Google Chrome 11%) 90% of all web surfers now have greater control over how they are tracked online. If you are actively running behavioral targeting or remarketing campaigns, you should keep a close eye on your results to see if these new browser settings impact the return on your ad spend.