Inaccurate or incomplete online product content can lead to poor customer experiences, making it difficult for customers to easily find relevant information on the items they’re looking for. Organized product content can increase online sales and conve…
Inaccurate or incomplete online product content can lead to poor customer experiences, making it difficult for customers to easily find relevant information on the items they’re looking for. Organized product content can increase online sales and conversions through better product search and findability. While uploading and updating new SKUs can be an extensive and tedious task, there is a more efficient way to ensure that product content is up to date.
With the help of machine learning (ML) as the driving force, e-commerce marketers can create high-quality and engaging product content at scale, increase revenue and conversions, and improve customer experiences. ML can identify gaps in product listing classification, enrich product attributes, onboard new SKUs, and quickly implement recommended fixes. Additionally, it can also benchmark against competition and measure key KPIs to inform your future content strategy.
If you’re looking to implement ML into your content strategy, read the full article here to learn more.
Your interface likely uses an accent color to highlight interactive elements. It’s usually your brand color or another color you’ve designated. When you use the same accent color on multiple elements, they compete with each other. You should avoid doin…
Your interface likely uses an accent color to highlight interactive elements. It’s usually your brand color or another color you’ve designated. When you use the same accent color on multiple elements, they compete with each other. You should avoid doing this because it scatters the user’s attention and lowers their efficiency. Different interactive elements that […]
Are you ready for Google’s Core Web Vitals update? Don’t worry if not — our complete guide has five recommendations for improving your site score.
Unless you’ve been living under an SEO rock, you know the deadline for Core Web Vitals ranking signals is rapidly approaching. Starting May 1, Google will start using these metrics as contributors to Page Experience.
It’s impossible to say exactly how these changes will affect organic performance and search engine results (SERPs) — but there’s no shortage of predictions for and research into Google’s largest algorithm update in years. In fact, new research from BrightEdge indicates that eCommerce and retail sites are the least likely to receive a ranking boost from the Core Web Vitals update.
But that doesn’t mean that you should give up on your eCommerce site meeting Core Web Vitals standards. Remember: A good page experience isn’t just critical for organic performance. It also plays a huge role in your users’ satisfaction and your site’s overall conversion rate.
We’ve been helping our clients prep for the Core Web Vitals update since it was first announced. And while there’s no single “proven” approach for beating Google at its own game, there are some strategies for improving your Core Web Vitals score, even with just a few weeks to go.
In this blog post, we’ll help you prep for the upcoming algorithm shift by explaining:
What Core Web Vitals metrics are and how to measure them
How important Core Web Vitals are in reference to your overall SEO strategy
And which five steps you can take to improve your site score
What are Core Web Vitals?
Core Web Vitals are metrics created by Google that help measure and indicate the Page Load Performance of a webpage. Combined with existing Google page experience signals, they provide important insights into user experience on a webpage.
There are three Core Web Vitals metrics:
1. Largest Contentful Paint (LCP)
This measures the loading performance of a webpage. Scores are based on the render time of the largest image or text block visible within the viewport.
2. First Input Delay (FID)
3. Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)
This measures the visual stability of a webpage by evaluating layout shifts. Layout shifts occur any time a visible element changes its position from one rendered frame to the next — for example, shifts in appearance between mobile and desktop browsers.
CLS is calculated as the sum total of all individual layout shift scores for every unexpected layout shift that occurs during the entire lifespan of the page. A “zero” score means no layout shifts; the larger the score, the more layout shifts on a page.
How to Measure Core Web Vitals with Google PageSpeed Insights
All three Core Web Vitals metrics can be measured with one Google tool: PageSpeed Insights. This tool measures how a single page performs across both mobile and desktop devices by reporting metrics as “good,” “needs improvement,” or “poor.”
PageSpeed Insights provides both lab and field data about a page. (Field data can be seen in the screenshot above.) In comparison to lab data, field data better captures true, real-world experience, but it does have a more limited seat of metrics.
Lab data, on the other hand, is useful for debugging performance issues, because the data is collected in a controlled environment. However, it may not always capture real-world bottlenecks. Therefore, take both sets of data into account when creating your Core Web Vitals strategy.
In addition to reporting metrics, the PageSpeed Insights tool also provides suggestions on how to improve a page. We recommend using it to spot-check individual page performance and gain insights from Google on what to prioritize.
To check how your eCommerce site is performing, run a few product and category landing pages through the PageSpeed Insights tool. Take a note of what needs to be fixed, and then deploy those solutions across all pages of that type. Later, evaluate your page performance changes to see whether those changes were successful.
Why are Core Web Vitals So Important?
The short answer: Because Google says so.
The better answer: The Core Web Vitals update is another part of Google’s prioritization of sites that provide the best experience for the user. Core Web Vitals are folded into Page Experience ranking signals, which are designed to keep Google’s users satisfied in their searches. These ranking factors include creating a safe browsing experience (HTTPs), optimizing for mobile-friendliness, and being free of intrusive interstitials — all of which create a better interaction for the user with the web page.
But Google has been vague on the exact effect of the update. It recommends fixing any aspects of your site that fall under “poor” or “needs improvement.” But, once you’re in the green, you’re good.
There’s little (if any) discernable difference between a 90 and 100 score; if your site is reporting decent or good scores, there are more worthwhile SEO strategies to spend your time, effort, and money on. Google says as much itself — subpar scores aren’t necessarily a barrier from having your pages served up in search results:
Page experience is just one of many signals that are used to rank pages. Keep in mind that intent of the search query is still a very strong signal, so a page with a subpar page experience may still rank highly if it has great, relevant content.
But, if your site is showing poor scores, Core Web Vitals could be a crucial part of your overall SEO strategy and resulting performance. We recommend addressing those areas of concern as soon as possible with an experienced development team.
5 Ways to Improve Core Web Vitals Scores on Your eCommerce Site
Every eCommerce site is different, and your site’s needs in regards to Core Web Vitals will be unique. Before you do anything else, we recommend a full audit by an experienced developer or technical SEO team to find out what your biggest issues are (and how to fix them).
That said, there are a few suggestions we have for improving your site’s Core Web Vitals scores, based on common issues we’ve seen during our clients’ site audits.
1. Continuously Evaluate Your Site’s Performance
We don’t expect all hell to break loose on May 1. Like many updates, Core Web Vitals metrics will likely take some time to roll out, and the impact on your organic performance probably won’t be seen right away.
That’s why we recommend a long-term approach. Watch your site’s performance over time leading up to and after May 1, and make changes as appropriate to continually improve your performance.
Rather than checking individual pages with PageSpeed Insights, you can easily evaluate your site’s cumulative performance through the Core Web Vitals report in Google Search Console. This tool shows URL performance grouped by status, metric type, and URL group — and also rates them as “poor,” “needs improvement,” or “good.” After you make a change to a group of URLs on your site, you can use the “Validate URL” button to ask Google to re-review performance.
Because this report tracks URLs over time, you can monitor your site’s performance before and after implementing changes. This will tell you whether your strategies are working. (You can also use an open-source auditing tool like Lighthouse to perform similar analysis.)
2. Eliminate Large Layout Shifts
More users than ever search for and compare products on their mobile devices. This year alone, mobile eCommerce sales are expected to make up 53.9% of all eCommerce sales.
Keeping that split in mind (and knowing that many users will use both devices during the research process), Core Web Vitals metrics will help reward sites and retailers who present a united appearance across mobile and desktop devices. Your site’s mobile layout shouldn’t be an afterthought or a poor copy of our desktop layout. In fact, with Google’s mobile-first update, it should be the optimization priority.
We see a few common eCommerce site features bring down overall layout score:
Ad slots (especially those that collapse when there’s no ad)
Chat features, particularly on the mobile side
Banners above the fold
Your developer should be able to minimize layout shifts by deploying responsive screens and prioritizing load time for the biggest offenders impacting your CLS score.
3. Scale Down Your Images and Videos
You don’t need us to tell you how crucial images and videos are to eCommerce sites. Your customers want to see as many details about your products as possible — so the more, the better, right?
Only when they’re properly optimized.
Large images may display fine on desktops and tablets, but they can seriously slow down your mobile site and negatively impact your users’ page experience. They’re also a huge detriment to your Core Web Vitals performance.
Work with your developer to determine which image sizes are best for your site and start implementing that standard across your site. You may be able to use an image resizing plugin (like ShortPixel Adaptive Images), or you may have to make individual page updates after prioritizing the largest images.
Don’t forget your featured images and any videos as well. Native videos can be replaced by embeds from Youtube or Vimeo to cut down on load speed.
Moving forward, make sure to always include width and height size attributes on your images and video elements.
4. Load Page Content in Viewing Order
Most eCommerce sites have a lot going on for each webpage: images, videos, product page links and embeds, and more. A browser will automatically try to load all of these assets in sequential order; if you do not have your most important assets prioritized, it can negatively impact your Core Web Vital metrics.
We recommend prioritizing the loading of your page content as your viewer sees it by preloading important resources and implementing lazy load images. In short, content that appears above the fold should load first; additional content should wait until a visitor scrolls down the page to view it. This can improve your time to First Contentful Paint and time to interactive.
5. Use a Content Delivery Network to Employ Aggressive Caching
A content delivery network (CDN) is an amazing asset for reducing page load speed. It minimizes load lag time between your site’s server and your user’s browser bycaching page informationfor future page loads. While the difference between using and not using a CDN can seem minimal to most (often a few seconds), it can impact your load speed score immensely.
If you don’t have a CDN in place, when a customer loads your site, the page files are accessed from wherever your main server is hosting them. The server stores those files through caching, preventing a browser from re-downloading everything on a page every time it’s visited.
But, if that server isn’t local, loading time will lag. For example, if your customer is located in Florida and your server is located in Europe, those files will take a longer time to load on your customer’s browser.
A CDN spreads your network out, reducing that lag time. Instead of just one server, your site can be loaded from dozens of different servers. A user’s browser will load files from the server closest to them, and your page speed score will lift.
The CDN’s caching abilities also ensure a page’s assets are displayed faster the second time a consumer visits the site, because the assets are already downloaded from the server and stored in the CDN.
If you don’t have a CDN, now’s the time to get one. Speak with your developer about which CDN is right for your eCommerce site and getting it implemented for page speed improvements.
Prepare Your eCommerce Site for Core Web Vitals Now
With just a few weeks to go until the implementation of Core Web Vitals ranking signals, your eCommerce site has no time to lose. But don’t panic! Focusing on the biggest challenges now can help put you in the right position for the update rollout.
While we’ve offered some helpful places to start,we simply can’t cover every aspect of an exhaustive Core Web Vitals audit in this blog. If you’re still playing catch-up, start with the suggestions above and work your way forward from there.
When you and your developer are ready to dig deeper into the weeds, check out these additional resources:
Want to stay on top of Google updates like Core Web Vitals in the future? Our SEO team can create a custom strategy for your site’s SEO success, whatever changes may come. Request a free proposal anytime for more information.
For Equinox, 2020 was the year the fitness clubs were replaced by fitness content. Equinox itself, and the brands it owns — including Soul Cycle and Blink Fitness — had built a business around in-person training, something that was simply not viable under lockdown.
Josh Rappaport, Director, Post-Production and Publishing at Equinox Media, told us: “The pandemic lockdown certainly shifted a lot of the priorities on the content team. One of the biggest challenges being — how do we all continue to work in lock-step, understanding what each teammate is working on, and providing visibility to all collaborators without being together in-person?”
The purpose, of course, was to share content from all the brands with a now remote member base; the challenge was to find ways to do that seamlessly with a remove content team. The low code cloud collaboration service Airtable was a key part of the tool-kit.
The pandemic forced a pivot
“To take a step back, it’s important to note that, although there was a lot of preparation and work that went into our products in 2019, it was not until March 2020 that we debuted Equinox+, a first-of-its-kind platform powering two products: the Equinox+ mobile app and the SoulCycle at-home bike. Our original plan was to unveil the brand and products at SXSW 2020, but of course, that strategy was significantly impacted by the pandemic, and we were forced to pivot.”
The Equinox+ app (which replaced Variis by Equinox) was always intended eventually to be available to non-members, but the pandemic drastically accelerated the timeline. “For context, we had originally planned to introduce the Equinox+ app to Equinox members via a phased market rollout,” said Rappoport, “but due to substantial interest, we accelerated our rollout by more than six months and expanded from one market to 14 in less than two months.” It was made it generally available in October 2020 for $39.99 per month.
“Since launching Equinox+ in March through the end of 2020, Equinox members who use the app are working out nearly 20% more per month compared to 2019,” said Rappoport.
The Airtable migration
Airtable had already been implemented by the content team at Equinox Media as a project management tool. “We had the benefit of being a startup,” said Rappoport (Equinox Media as a division was created in 2019), “and we had the flexibility to move quickly and define the processes we could see the most success with. After an initial period of roughly three months where each team member and production was tracked in a single base, we began what we called ‘the Airtable Migration.’ The goal was to analyze all of the successful components and build them into our ecosystem, while also addressing the pain points and creating a system of requirements within Airtable’s features to redefine the workflow.”
The pandemic forced a halt in production with the business, like so many others, compelled to re-assess its direction and priorities. But this had the benefit of allowing the content team to step back, rethink workflows, and re-tool onboarding for collaborators. There were a number of important elements in the new roll-out:
A templated base for each partner to ensure privacy;
Table linking to allow internal stakeholders to work within the guardrails of content supply chain requirements, while still having the flexibility in their timeline of work completion;
Base syncs to aggregate all information into a single location, giving a full view of the content on Equinox+;
A production tracking system built out further to support publishing APIs, which have improved our time to publish by 400%; and
Time tracking that will provide an understanding of how long each piece of content (full length content, revised content, marketing assets, etc) takes to be completed, the bottlenecks along the way, and how the team works through them (this is in development).
Agility and flexibility
That’s how Equinox Media is currently using Airtable, but instances of the service can be shaped and customized to meet the needs of a range of businesses. That’s the message I got from Airtable CMO Archana Argwal.
“It’s a very agile piece of software,” she said, “a very flexible workflow application. We all have very different processes to get our work done. Teams of every shape and size end up using Airtable for different assets and different business objects that they care about.”
Airtable for marketers
Given that many business teams might have use cases for Airtable, we asked Argwal to whom she was primarily marketing the service. “It’s business users across all teams — obviously marketing teams, but also product, operations, HR.”
The pivot by Equinox from in-person engagement with members to creating content for members is not an uncommon use case, said Argwal. “Obviously as business went online and digital first, a workflow needed to be created which might not be like the key workflows the company had before. With respect to content, keeping people informed, giving them online options and choices — and the marketing of all that as well — had to move online.”
Equinox not only tracks all fitness classes in Airtable, it manages digital content assets like video clips and images in the same system. “We move every asset through a sku-like system,” said Rappoport. “From initial collaboration of programming with our partners, through delivery to our client apps, there is a single ID created that is used in a multitude of locations that can always be searched in various Airtable tables and bases to find every detailed piece of information about that asset.each subsequent video clip and image is also managed through the same system. Each week we are able to seamlessly hand-off numerous marketing deliverables that are used to promote our weekly published class list and to reach our members and prospective customers.”
Airtable today announced a solution aimed specifically at marketers, which not only supports management of deliverables, including creative approvals, but can also be used to orchestrate campaigns and launches, and track results. New integrations with Salesforce, Hootsuite and Box are on the roadmap, Argwal said.
A hybrid future
Equinox is not just patching together a customer experience for a temporary situation. “We believe the future of fitness is a hybrid of digital and physical experiences,” said Rappoport. “The pandemic has created a forced trial of digital fitness and expedited a shift in consumer behavior. Yet, we know that our consumers still crave in-real-life experiences, so our membership is grounded in the understanding that members want the flexibility to pursue fitness on their own terms.”
The pressures on marketing teams are also unlikely to recede. In a new survey on marketing trends, Airtable found that 86% of marketing leaders say current workloads are creating stress for their team; 80% say that the volume of campaigns, requests, and content that marketing needs to deliver on has increased over the last year.
“Over the last few years, there’s been this rapid innovation in the way we do work and what work needs to get done,” said Argwal. “With new channels, new formats, new technologies that marketers use, imagine being able to create a central source where teams — and cross-functional teams — can bring together their processes and workflows to very quickly make changes, have visibility, and deliver work very quickly.”
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Good morning marketers, when attending events, do you prefer 20 minute or 40 minute sessions?
That’s a debate we often have. How long should the sessions be? Especially this past year with virtual events where attention spans are already stretched.
We get a lot of feedback on this topic as well. I spend a good amount of time reading all the comments and ratings we receive about our event sessions and I’ve seen many opinions about session length. As you would expect many people say 15 minutes is too short and not enough time for speakers to dig into the topic. I’ve seen that comment on 30 minute sessions too. I’ve also seen the opposite, that 30 minute sessions are too long. After analyzing comments and feedback for years, I finally realized what the magic session length is. There isn’t one.
In the end, it’s not about length of time, it’s about what you learned or didn’t learn in the session. I’ve watched 10 minute video sessions that I got more out of than a 60 minute webinar. It’s when a speaker jumps right into the subject matter and provides clear actionable solutions, a framework, or a process that I can replicate to improve my own work that makes me feel like the session was well worth my time.
Below you’ll find tips on how to put together a successful presentation. I’m always interested in hearing your thoughts. Maybe you have some ideas about session lengths or more tips for creating memorable presentations. If you do, feel free to reach me at email@example.com.
Certainly, there’s some logic to considering non-martech items as parts of a martech stack. One of the major reasons for including non-martech tools is that marketing systems ideally have some integrations with organization-wide systems.
Another consideration is that project management and collaboration tools that span multiple departments will certainly affect unarguable martech. For example, if the sales department needs a landing page on the website, that may likely come through a project management system.
While a debate if a system is martech or not is an important topic to explore, it is also crucial to understand that the implications of this debate are broader than this one question.
Presenters often get caught up in their subject matter and forget some of the basics that allow for clear informative presentations. If you’re getting ready to present a session at a virtual event or a webinar, here are some tips to keep in mind.
1) Get the audience’s attention by starting with an interesting fact or stat that encapsulates what the presentation is about.
2) Keep your presentation topic narrow in focus. You can’t teach someone everything they need to know about a broad topic in one 30 or even 60 minute presentation. The more specific the topic of your presentation is, the more likely you’ll deliver on what you’ve promised to teach.
3) Skip the background and get to the meat of the presentation. If someone has chosen to come to your session or webinar, they usually understand or have experienced the problem. So skip the details about why the topic is important (they know) and jump straight to the solutions you’re teaching.
4) Keep the words on the slides to a minimum and use graphics to illustrate the point. It’s been said before but it’s hard to do. The words and graphics on your slides should illustrate and enhance what you’re saying, not serve as a script. If you want your audience to have more details, provide them with separate document or handout.
5) Keep your presentation very actionable. For most event and webinars presentations the attendee wants to walk away with a new tip or technique they can use to improve their business. Providing step-by-step instructions or a framework are often successful ways of doing that.
6) Leave your audience with a summary or next steps. Don’t make your viewers work hard, leave them with a list of things to get started implementing what you just taught them.
Infutor scales its consumer insight capabilities
In the latest contribution to solving the consumer identity puzzle, consumer data management company Infutor today announced a new product, Total Consumer Insights (TCI). TCI aggregates privacy-compliant behavioral and household attributes on 266 million US consumers and 120 million households. The scale of the data-set is comparable to the U.S. consumer data-sets maintained by Epsilon and Experian, and it incorporates predictive attributes such as age, household income and gender, as well as behavioral signals.
“Infutor has been kind of behind the scenes of many of the data compilers and aggregators that are out there,” said Senat. “Now we’re moving a little bit more downstream, focusing our products, and the deployment of said products, more toward the brand and the agency.” TCI is explicitly viewed, therefore, as competitive with other products in the market. “Historically, Infutor has been very good at standardizing, cleansing and enriching data, and we’ll continue to do all of those things,” said Zora Senat, SVP of Marketing and Partnerships, “but beyond that we want to complete the cycle and move into activation and measurement.”
Why we care. Infutor’s new product is yet another piece in the complex jigsaw puzzle of consumer identity. It’s part of the trend of leaning heavily on first-party data profiles, while attaching demographic and behavioral signals to those profiles. The message heard from many sides right now is that first-party data, for all its limitations, will be the bedrock of marketing going forwards.
Integrate launches the Demand Acceleration Platform
“We would argue that the B2B buyer was changing even before COVID, but has only accelerated 110%,” said Deb Wolf, CMO at Integrate. “Buyers today are so much more on their own, and marketers are left to figure out almost how to be the marketer and the salesperson, because they need to be in all these channels where the buyers are.” That’s the context for the launch of Integrate’s Demand Acceleration Platform, aimed at helping marketers orchestrate the B2B buying experience for the digital era. Integrate describes this as an account-based, customizable, precision demand approach.
The new platform will allow marketers to connect engagement at all parts of the funnel, from content syndication to attract new buyers at the top, through webinars and display advertising, to understanding what individual account members are doing. It should also provide visibility into how channels are performing, to inform best next investments.
Why we care. These are new frontiers for B2B marketers. With buyers creating their own journeys, usually remotely and digitally, the marketer should expect to be engaged further and further down the funnel. Does this mean a different role for sales — perhaps advising and counseling rather than trying to close the deal? Perhaps so. It certainly means more focus on orchestrating the later stages of the journey, rather than just pulling accounts into the funnel based on intent and propensity signals.
Eye tracking has long been used in the fields of UX and CRO to accurately map where a user’s focus is when navigating a website. There have been many practical conclusions that have come out of this research such as this article published by CXL last year. However, as form specialists, we wanted to hone […]
Eye tracking has long been used in the fields of UX and CRO to accurately map where a user’s focus is when navigating a website. There have been many practical conclusions that have come out of this research such as this article published by CXL last year.
However, as form specialists, we wanted to hone in on what eye tracking could tell us about web forms and how to improve their user experience. In this article, we’ll explore some of our biggest takeaways and how they can apply to your own form design.
Before we dive in, it’s first important to highlight how we came about our research. We partnered with Nudge Insights, a UK based behavioral science consultancy to conduct a study on how users interact with form flows and fields. Using state of the art eye-tracking technology, we got users to make their way through six UK financial forms:
While straight measurement of time spent completing each field is a valid measure (and one supported by most form analytics tools), we wanted to take advantage of the technology to track specific eye-based metrics, namely:
Fixations – A fixation is essentially when the eye settles and focuses on a particular part of the form (remaining stable for a minimum of 60 milliseconds), indicating attention.
Saccades – A Saccade is the rapid eye movement between two fixation points.
When pieced together fixations and saccades make up a scanpath.
The findings and conclusions in this article are all based on the assumption that the smoother the scanpath (i.e. the lower the fixation count / duration), the better the form experience for the user.
High fixation counts and durations at a particular point in a form indicates that the user had more difficulty in completing the field or section.
Six Key Findings
As noted above, these conclusions are predicated on the assumption that guiding your user quickly and efficiently through the form is good. Distractions, delays and confusion are bad. Here are our takeaways.
1. Use Text Fill rather than Dropdowns for Date of Birth
Previous research has shown that dropdown menus provide a poor user experience in forms. These studies have used time or click based methodology to demonstrate how dropdowns create greater friction than a text or radio based interface. Our research reinforced these conclusions based on eye tracking evidence.
As part of the study, Nudge Insights looked specifically at the date of birth field on each of the forms. It’s generally thought that formatting the DOB field should be relatively straightforward—it only requires the day, month and year to be input. Although there are various ways of structuring this field, most forms settle on text fill, drop down or some combination of these elements.
The below table shows each Form against the DOB format used and the average eye fixations that study participants used when filling in the field.
The most obvious pattern is that, with the exception of Halifax (more on that later), the forms using text fills have lower fixations than those using drop down menus, implying that they deliver a smoother user experience. Does this tally with how the user interacts with the form? Take a look at these two scan paths. The first is for the Post Office form which statistically performed the worst in the study.
An associated scan path from the field essentially how the user’s eye is moving and focusing. Notice how they are forced to flick their focus up and down significantly.
Compare this to the Little Loans form which opts for the simple text mechanism.
The combination of the average fixation data and the raw scan paths indicate a clear difference in usability and efficiency of the two methods.
Practical Takeaway: Use a text field format over drop downs for your date of birth fields (and likely for most other date fields).
2. Don’t jump the gun on error messages
We noted above that Halifax was the exception to the general pattern of text fill fields DOB averaging lower eye fixations than drop downs.
Why would that be? At first glance, the interface doesn’t look that different to the Little Loans one.
Yet the scanpaths are much longer and less compact than Little Loans:
Three scan paths from the Halifax DOB field
Closer inspection of the user videos revealed the causes.
Firstly, as soon as a user completes the “Day” part of the field and focuses into the “Month” an error message is displayed.
This early error message distracts the user, driving the eye movements upwards from their original position. This is especially unfortunate as the message is not even necessary. While research has shown that inline validation can smooth user experience, in this case the user has not even entered a value nor left the field before they are being shown the big red writing. Premature introduction of an error message whilst the user is still inputting information creates stress and slows the user down.
The second factor is that the date of birth question has fallen at the bottom fold of the page. When the error message triggers (which it does every time!) the text fill boxes are pushed below the fold so disappear to the eye. The user is forced to scroll to continue interacting with the field, hence the strong vertical pattern in the above scan paths.
These issues are a salutary warning to not rely solely on “best practice”. Although we’ve established that text fills are, in general, the most efficient mechanism for date fields, if you blindly implement them without testing the execution you may still be creating unforeseen issues in the user environment.
Practical Takeaways: Don’t trigger error messages until after the user has completed a field. Road test your form to avoid unintended usability issues.
3. If your error messages are not clear or sited correctly you will confuse the user
The most pertinent example that underlines why that wisdom exists in the first place was the personal details section of the Santander form. They took the approach of not notifying the user about any errors until the form was submitted. This message was generated at the top of the web page:
With such a message, you might think that when you found one of the mythic red asterisks there may be some indication of what the error might be. You would be sorely disappointed to see the below.
With the slight exception of “Home phone number” there is no guidance for the users once they have taken the trouble to scroll back up to the top of the form to get the general error message and then scrolled back down again to locate the offending fields.
While we would definitely expect such a pattern to lead to unnecessary form abandonments, what effect does it have from an eye tracking perspective? Take a look at this example scan path from a user who has made errors in the Santander form.
Compare this to Little Loan’s method of using inline validation to communicate the error immediately and to provide some further guidance.
This results in a much more compact scan path for users who enter invalid information, implying a smoother journey and better user experience.
Practical Takeaways: Deliver error messages next to the relevant field and trigger them as soon as the invalid information is entered.
4. There is a usability cost if you ask for the same information multiple times
The debate about whether you should ask for users’ email twice usually centres on UX versus avoidance of incorrect information on your database. There are various articles that cover the arguments so we won’t wade into the pros and cons here. Rather, we will see if the hypothesis that asking users to confirm their email causes UX issues is backed up by our eye tracking data.
That said, as well as “Confirm Email” requests, many forms compound this by asking for multiple phone numbers; sometimes as high as 3 different ones. Do they really need that information?
The below table shows the average number of fixations and the average duration of all fixations during a user session completing their personal details.
While this is not conclusive, the general trend is; the easier the input requirements (email confirmation + phone numbers), the lower the number of fixations required to complete and the less time spent on those fixations. This underscores the hypothesis that such requirements introduce friction to the UX.
Practical Takeaways: Don’t ask for email confirmation or multiple phone numbers unless you have a clear reason to do so.
5. Streamline the UI to minimize cognitive load for the user
When looking at the relative form sections asking about Employment details, there was a significant difference between the best performing form (Halifax) and the worst (Santander):
Why is this difference so marked? At first glance the forms look pretty similar.
The most obvious difference is that Santander asks for additional details such as employer address which, as extra information, will inevitably require greater concentration than a shorter form. It is not enough to explain everything, however. There are two other factors at play.
Firstly, the UI around the “Job Title” field.
This looks like it should be a free text box where the user can enter anything they like. That is not the case though. Submitting an answer that doesn’t match the list that the back end holds gives the user a red asterisk (and, like previously, this is not verified inline but upon form submission).
This issue is compounded by the lack of any guidance on what has gone wrong. In the above example the system would accept the answer “Teacher” but that is not clear – the only way to get any type of help is to click on the question mark which delivered guidance which is still vague.
The eye tracking showed a cluster of fixation points gathered closely together around this field, indicating that it required a higher level of cognitive effort to complete.
Halifax took a different approach:
They opted for a drop down execution which, as we noted earlier, is not ideal. However, when compared to the open-ended, yet restrictive, Santander approach, it at least provides some clarity and guidance to the user, forcing them to select an option to progress. We can probably pick holes in whether the list they use is optimal but from an eye tracking perspective only, it doesn’t perform too badly.
The second factor to consider is the question around employment length. Santander asks the user to input the length of employment, essentially asking them to know when they started and then calculate the time up to the present day themselves.
In comparison, Halifax just asks for the start date and calculates the employment length automatically.
The clear lesson here is to ask for as little information as is needed to get what you need. Methods such as auto-calculation can remove points of friction.
Practical Takeaways: If you have a fairly open ended question (e.g. Job Title) but require specific answers for your back end, don’t make the user guess what is necessary – make it as easy for them as possible. Use auto-calculation where possible to smooth the user journey (if you are struggling to do this, there is some coding advice here).
6. Even “Good” guidance distracts the eye
We are generally big fans of including microcopy to guide a user through your form. However, even with the best guidance, we should always be aware there is a cost that needs to be balanced against the benefit. Look at this overlay of scan paths on the Little Loans’ Employment Details section.
We can see that the users are inevitably flicking their eyes away from the fields to the text on the right. This isn’t to say that adding the guidance is wrong (in general, it’s probably better to err on the side of having the guidance than not), but you need to be clear why you are doing it. In Little Loans’ case, it is not always certain that it is necessary.
In this particular example the form states they need the next pay date to verify the user has income. It is not apparent how this will help the verification and this reason is implicit in the question itself so the guidance may be an unnecessary distraction for this field.
Practical Takeaway: When designing your form, always be cognisant of;
Where your guidance copy is placed – make it as close to the field as possible to minimise eye distraction.
Do you need to include this copy? If the guidance is clearly implied in the question consider omitting it.
While these findings probably won’t seem earth shattering to CRO and UX professionals, they still provide further backing for already established hypotheses and axioms as well as providing additional advice on how to smooth a user’s journey through your webform or checkout.
Ranking for those competitive keywords and optimizing your landing pages for conversions is undoubtedly an effective way to grow your traffic and increase sales. But what if I told you there’s something other than your site you should be optimizing that so many marketers miss? One of the most powerful ways to create a more […]
Ranking for those competitive keywords and optimizing your landing pages for conversions is undoubtedly an effective way to grow your traffic and increase sales.
But what if I told you there’s something other than your site you should be optimizing that so many marketers miss?
One of the most powerful ways to create a more effective sales funnel is to analyze and optimize your branded search. In this article, I’ll share why branded search is so important and how it can help you improve your rankings and sales.
What is branded search?
Branded search happens whenever someone types a search query that contains your brand or product name.
In most cases, branded search queries are used by people who already know your brand, or are at the very least familiar. Those searching your brand name directly are more likely to convert into customers compared to those who randomly find you in search.
As such, branded search is a huge (albeit neglected) part of any sales funnel: About 50% of people will type [brand name reviews] or something similar in Google before buying (source: Google.)
Here’s a very detailed tutorial on how to research and act upon your branded search queries:
Find (and organize) your branded search queries
When someone searches for your brand, what do they find? The results say a lot about your brand, site, and products. Fortunately, it’s pretty straightforward to find out.
Note: This step will likely require a lot of time but the good news is, it should be done once unless you are managing a startup that is about to see an exponential growth which will boost your branded search.
Start with Google’s immediate suggestions
The first step here is to clearly understand what people are seeing when they start typing your brand name in Google’s search box:
The as-you-type results are called “Google Suggest.”
Google Suggest can tell you a lot about most common buyers’ journeys as it relies on how often each of those queries are being used:
Again it is important to remember that these results are triggered based on searching frequency and trends. If “refund” is included in your brand’s suggestions, this means that enough people are searching for it for Google to take note of it.
Apart from understanding existing searching patterns, these results can also help you evaluate how your branded search can impact those buyers’ journeys.
Let’s say your customer is trying to reach your customer support without ever thinking to consider another company and suddenly he/she sees a competitor suggested and decides to try them instead.
Google’s Suggest results change as people are typing further. For example, if a customer were to type [brand name cost], Google suggests even more queries:
At this point it is important to capture immediate suggestions. You first want to get a lay of the land. Jot down the first 5-10 results that you see when searching for your brand.
Treat your brand as a keyword
Now that we know the immediate impression your customers may get when searching for your brand name or typing it in the search box, let’s dive in deeper.
If your brand name is searched enough for Google to generate search suggestions, chances are it’s also being recorded by keyword research and SERP analytics tools with keywords that are relevant as well.
So here you may want to perform a keyword research using your name. There are a few powerful keyword research platforms out there (and I use many of them on a weekly basis) but for the sake of focus and clarity, I’ll demonstrate the process using one of them, Ahrefs.
Start by typing your brand name in the “Keyword Explorer” tool. Here’s the first screen you’ll get:
The first section you’ll want to click is “Phrase match.” This is where you’ll see all the more-or-less popular search queries that contain your brand name:
Because this example is a an incredibly popular brand, there’s a lot going on, but really what you need to know:
Keyword: This is the search query that includes your brand name.
KD (Keyword difficulty): This metric indicates how difficult it may be to rank in top 10 for this search query. Don’t get discouraged here. It’s going to be easier for you to rank your own site for these queries as Google prioritizes brand-owned sites when it comes to brand-driven queries;
Search volume: This is how many times each search query is being searched every month, on average. This number comes from Google Keyword Planner and it is a good indicator of the popularity of each keyword.
Clicks: This metric shows how many clicks each search engine result page generates to ranking pages. Not all SERPs (search engine result pages) generate clicks these days as search results have become too informative and interactive. I’ve talked about this in much detail in my previous CXL column.
While there’s a lot of more data, these are the main metrics I focus on and record in my spreadsheets. There’s also a handy filter allowing you to clearly identify most common searching treds, i.e. which words usually show up in search queries next to my brand name. You can click any of these words to see search queries containing your brand name AND this word:
Once you’re happy with your searches, you can export all of these search queries into an Excel spreadsheet to start organizing them.
In addition, there are three more notable sections that are worthwhile to explore.
Search suggestions: These will show ALL search suggestions that show up in Google for your brand name as people keep typing.
Questions: These are branded search suggestions and search queries that are phrased as questions
Newly discovered: As your brand grows, keep an eye on this section as it will include newer search queries. This will allow you to identify new search trends. This is also a good section to monitor after redesigns and new product launches.
All of these sections will look the same as I described above.
Larger brands with lots of keywords in each of these sections will probably have to merge several spreadsheets while noting which category each search query applies to (i.e. search suggestion, question, new).
Research your branded “People Also Ask” results
A “People Also Ask” box is a newer search element that includes related questions. Here’s an example of a brand-driven “People Also Ask” box:
Google doesn’t clearly state how they are coming up with these questions, but from experience these are not questions people actually search. This means these questions will unlikely show up in your keyword research.
I will not try to theorize here as to how Google is coming up with these questions but it is worth noting that Google suggests them as “further research,” so they may not even directly relate to the current search query.
Branded “People Also Ask” results may also influence any buyers’ journey by giving your customers more ideas of what they may be interested in, including your competitors. As such, I suggest including these in your keyword research process. As a general rule, it’s a good idea to rank your pages as answers to as many of these questions as possible:
Here’s a good example of a brand ensuring a searcher will continue their journey on their site and likely convert.
Here’s an example of an answer which will most likely encourage a searcher to change their minds and re-consider this brand
I recommend treating “People Also Ask” questions as keywords. I also suggest you keep these terms in a separate spreadsheet and address as many of them as you are able to find in your copy.
This keyword research tool (Disclaimer: This tool is developed by the company I work for) helps you collect “People Also Ask” results for your most important queries, including branded search queries. There are of course, other options depending on your needs.
You will also see how many search queries each question shows up for so you can prioritize.
Another useful tool here is called Text Optimizer that uses semantic research (much like Google is likely to) in order to generate related questions. These questions will help to predict “People Also Ask” results as well as understand searching patterns better:
Organize your branded search queries
There are many ways to search for the same thing. People put words in different orders, use synonyms, etc. Prioritizing your keyword list will help you focus on the keywords that are most valuable to you. I always mark these keywords as higher-priority:
Immediate search suggestions;
Those with any search volume (For branded search, I consider a keyword worth prioritizing if more than 10 people search for it a month. These are 10 potentially lost customers per month!)
The good news is, these two groups of search queries will overlap as Google mostly relies on search frequency when generating suggestions. That being said, immediate suggestions will often have the highest search volume.
The search volume metric will help you come up with a longer list though. Google suggests ten search queries, so if you include the search volume, you will be able to come up with a much longer list of high-priority keywords to act upon.
But for the sake of variety, here I am demonstrating the process using a newer tool called Site Checker. The tool is extremely user-friendly, so you will figure it out even if you are not a professional SEO. This makes it perfect for this particular task.
In this example, I am only monitoring my top-priority keywords.
Here, you can copy-paste your keywords from your spreadsheet or import your whole sheet. Honestly I never have a lot of luck importing anything anywhere without spending some time re-formatting my source document, so I almost always prefer copy-pasting option:
You can keep the search engine settings default (google.com) unless you need to change to a local option or narrow results to a particular location.
From there, come back in about a day to find out (and export) your positions.
For most branded search queries your site is likely to be #1. This is because Google is desperately trying to rank a brand for brand-driven searches. Your goal is to find search queries that you rank #2 or lower and start focusing on those.
For People Also Ask questions, create a new group to monitor these separately. For that, instead of clicking “Add”, click a little arrow next to it, then “Add to group.” This will allow you to create a new group to keep these questions there:
The tool will visualize your weekly movements nicely making it easy for you to keep an eye on your progress:
I can filter results by position range and export keywords that need my attention first.
Now that you know your most important queries, you’ll be able to group them by a common keyword modifier (i.e. a word that is included in the search query) or meaning. As mentioned above, Ahrefs is especially useful here.
For popular brands the process will look as follows:
Create a list of keywords of higher priority;
Take note of keyword modifiers for each one;
Start clicking those modifiers in Ahrefs to see more keywords that can be assigned to each prioritized keyword;
Clean up each group to only include keywords that matter (more on this below)
Let’s say your high-priority keyword is [brand cost], so “cost” is your keyword modifier to identify your first group:
Add secondary keywords that add a new meaning;
Take note of questions (those would be helpful to cover in your future content). I may add them as a comment when creating a spreadsheet;
Ignore words that use the same words in a different order.
Obviously, this step will require some time and effort for bigger brands but it will be much easier for most small and medium-sized businesses out there. In both cases, this will help you better understand your current and potential customers and their searching habits.
Now that we have a spreadsheet full of keyword data, let’s try to make it actionable.
I use labels to categorize my keyword list by:
Type (Suggestion, People Also Ask, New, etc.)
Intent (Or possible stage in the buying process). What is it a searcher is likely to be able to do when searching for this?
High intent: Almost a buyer, e.g. [brand coupons]
Reputational: Likely to be about to buy, e.g. [brand reviews] or [is brand legit?]
Research (Informational intent): Still researching, e.g. [Is brand worth it?]
Competitive research: We have almost lost this buyer as they are considering other options, e.g. [brand vs competitor]
Navigational: When your site user (or your current customer) is obviously lost navigating your site, e.g. [brand login]
Latest rankings (Your rank monitoring solution will generate this data for you)
Further action (based on rankings):
None so far (if the site ranks #1 already)
Create new content (if the site is not in top 50)
Optimize existing content (if the site is already ranking for the search query)
What if my brand is not searched a lot yet?
If you are not seeing too many branded search queries for your brand, this may mean either of two things:
You are in a tight niche where not many people search. Or your business is not large enough (this is usually the case for local businesses that rely on local foot traffic rather than Google search)
Your business is new.
If your brand is too new and not researched enough in Google, take your closest competitor and look into their branded search. This will help you predict your future branded searching patterns and avoid many mistakes. This is a good exercise for the product planning stage as well.
How to analyze (and optimize for) each important search result page
Start with your brand name
The first step to understanding and optimizing your branded search is basic: Google yourself. Type your brand name in Google’s search results and evaluate what you see.
Google’s search result pages are visual and interactive these days. They contain lots of elements (top positions, questions, featured snippets, images, videos, etc.) that can impact your customers’ perspective of your brand or even force them to go to your competitors.
Your main branded search is like your business card: Lots of your future and current customers will google your brand name at one time or another. Which immediate first impression will they have?
Here’s an example of the main brand SERP which, as you can see, consists of a few prominent elements:
Knowledge Panel (This is where you see a quick snapshot of the brand). If you don’t see this element for your main brand search, chances are Google doesn’t yet know about your company as a niche entity
Brand-driven “People Also Ask” box
What is this brand doing right?
They have their home page and official social media accounts rank on top of everything else. They have all the fundamentals taken care of.
What else can be done here:
First (and foremost), they need to claim their Knowledge Panel. This will allow them to add more info there and push the competitors (“People also search for”) down beyond the immediately visible part of the screen.
They need more videos! There’s a video carousel ranking prominently for their brand name search and none of those videos come from the official brand’s Youtube channel
They need to ensure all questions from inside Google’s “People Also Ask” box are answered on the home page.
They need to start bidding on their brand name. This is one of the most popular questions out there: “Why should I spend money bidding on my own name in Google if I am already ranking #1”.
Well, there may be several explanations there, and my friend Lior Krolewicz of Yael Consulting puts it in the most easy-to-understand way when I reached out to him:
When people search, they may click top organic results (more often) or they may click ads. When you control both, all of those clicks take them to your site. So almost 0 chances to lose those clients!
This is both easy and effective. When it comes to SERPs, the more search elements you control, the better.
Explore SERPs for your high-priority keywords
Now that we have a plan for our keywords, we will also look into each high-priority search engine result page. The thing is, position monitoring is useful, yet not enough on it’s own. As we saw above, there may be many search elements you want your brand presence in, including:
Top news, etc.
Search for every single high-priority search query and note search elements to pay attention to. This is where your master spreadsheet and its “notes” column is very useful.
As you scroll through the branded SERPs, keep a record of ideas on how to rank your assets for more visual assets (e.g. videos to be created, graphics to be designed, etc.)
The more brand presence you manage to build within your branded SERPs, the better you control those buyers’ journeys outside of your site.
For example, this page has a very prominent video carousel showing up on top of organic search results, right below the ads, so it is a great idea to target video content to this search query:
[If I owned this brand, I’d want more brand-owned videos to show up here to better control the sentiment]
And here’s an example of image carousel showing up for branded search:
Throughout this process, it’s easy to get overwhelmed! Don’t! Branded videos and images are pretty easy to create if you know your tools. I tend to create all my branded videos and images using one of these three easy online tools:
On top of that, think about how you can make your search snippet more clickable. For example, your page explaining things and answering questions will always benefit from FAQ Schema that generates FAQ rich snippets showing those questions in SERPs. This is a good way to stand out in SERPs!
As you are checking your branded search results, your spreadsheet may start looking like this:
Note: You can pull “SERP Features” from Ahrefs as well!
Going further: Take action and monitor
There’s one important thing many businesses fail to understand when researching branded queries. Every branded search in Google may mean an interrupted buyers’ journey. Imagine your site user following your sales funnel and then suddenly turning to Google. In many cases that potential customer had a problem your site failed to resolve, so the buyer’s journey was interrupted.
This means that branded query research should focus on building out a diverse content strategy. You should also always ask yourself: Is there a way for me to eliminate the need to search for this. Can I tweak my site, product/service or operations for my customers to never have to search for it?
For example, if people are searching for [site login], there’s an obvious usability issue (lots of people cannot find how to login), so implement some web design changes to make it easier, etc.
Remember how I recommended noting search intent several paragraphs above? This is where that search intent label may turn useful, as understanding why your customer may have had to search for each query and which stage of the sales funnel he/she was when turning to Google – will help you adjust your business to better serve those searchers on your site.
Here you can use your master spreadsheet to note further action: Consult with the design team, create a ticket for your usability team, set up a heatmap test to identify why your site users are having trouble to locate that option, etc.
Here’s a quick overview of what those further actions may look like:
Branded search query intent
Example of content to be created
Other teams to get involved
Blog content + video tutorials
Include your product management team for them to collect answers (feedback) and implement required product updates / improvements)
Include your CRO expert and A/B testing expert for optimal on-page conversion optimization
Include your design+usability teams for them to solve navigational issues
Create specific landing pages + videos to explain your product benefits
Ask your product management team to collect+analyze customer feedback and implement required product updates / improvements). Include your sales team for them to know how to best explain your product benefits to clients
Create specific landing pages + videos
Include your reputation management + social media teams to address these queries properly when they have to
Obviously, not all search queries may clearly fall under one single category, so these actions may vary based on your (and your team’s) personal observations and assumptions. The important thing is to remember that branded search may show you a problem that needs solving, not just a content piece that should be created.
So here’s the final stage of our spreadsheet evolution:
Monitor your branded search
By now we have our ranking monitoring tool set up, but we need to go even further.
As buying journeys are becoming more complex, getting top rankings and even clicks may not thoroughly represent the effectiveness of your branded search optimization strategy.
This whole tutorial is not only about getting those searchers to land on your page. It’s also a reputation management strategy that aims at building your brand’s trustworthiness.
As you move from one branded search query to the next one making sure there are videos created, social proof publicized and questions answered, you are making sure that any potential customer looking at these SERPs will think “This brand can be trusted” even prior to clicking anything.
While every business may have its own SEO KPIs, what we really want to see after a few months of the above optimization efforts is:
More returning visitors;
This is a huge topic which probably deserves an article on it’s own, so I’ll leave you with a few excellent articles to get you started.
Branded search research is one of the most valuable (yet quite neglected) data sources out there. It can give you loads of data about your niche, your competition, your product or site problems (and how to fix them).
Branded search optimization will not only help you generate more traffic to your site, it will increase your brand’s trust and loyalty which both come with many more perks including higher conversions and more social proof.