While a new website might seem like a hefty commitment, recent updates from Google and trends toward a more technically-advanced web approach mean that we suggest there’s never been a better time to review your online presence and invest in making it the best it can be.
Here, we explain what you should be reviewing on your website and where investments are best made for optimal online performance.
- Web trends for 2018-19
- Mobile first indexing
- The rise of voice search
- Load speed
- Google AMP
- GDPR and security
- Changing user expectations
- Technical auditing: what to look for on your business website
- A note on page speed
- CRO considerations for business websites
- User experience and its impact on SEO success
- What will your website look like this time next year?
Web trends for 2018-19
Let’s start by reviewing the trends affecting webmasters in 2018 and into 2019. From both a web management and a marketing perspective, the following changes are highly likely to impact your business’ site:
- Mobile first indexing
- The rise of voice search
- Load speed
- Google AMP (also appears as thunderbolt on LinkedIn etc)
- GDPR and security
- Changing consumer expectations around mobile usability/functionality
Mobile first indexing
The first major change to consider when reviewing your website is the mobile-first index. What’s meant by this is that, rather than reviewing your website’s potential to rank by looking at your desktop version, Google will instead look first at your mobile presence. If your website works well on a mobile, it stands a much better chance of improved rankings across all devices.
Practically speaking, the minimum you need to achieve is mobile-friendliness, as shown via many tools, including Google’s own mobile friendly test.
Achieving mobile-friendliness is only the first step (responsive websites are Google’s recommendation) – and one that it’s highly likely your competitors have already achieved. Therefore, those businesses that want to outrank their competition will need to go a step further; namely, your site will need to deliver not just an acceptable mobile experience, but an exceptional one.
The practices of search engine optimisation, content marketing and conversion rate optimisation will all inform a better user experience. Those businesses taking UX (user experience) seriously will recognise the value of investing in audience research and personas, too – thus enabling them to craft experiences that meet the needs of those individuals they seek to convert, as well as displaying positive signals to Google.
It’s worth noting at this point that Bing has stated it will not create a mobile-first index, but we suggest mobile is still an incredibly important concern, even if Bing’s is your primary audience.
The rise of voice search
Voice technology has been developing for many years, but it is only in recent months that it’s really taken leaps and bounds in its functionality and mass engagement.
According to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP), Google Home has sold 5 million units to date – dwarfed by 15 million unit sales of Amazon Echo. Google themselves expect voice searches to surpass 50% of total searches made on their platform by 2020, indicating just how important a channel voice is set to be.
The impact of voice search on your website will be far reaching. Primarily, those investing in website marketing will be focused on the creation of high quality content that answers long tail queries for its visitors. You’ll need to be able to understand your audience’s needs in order to respond to them adequately, and the best practices around factors like featured snippet ownership will be pieces in the voice search puzzle.
As is relevant beyond voice search as well as within it, technical excellence will be essential. If your website isn’t functioning perfectly, and if it suffers from less-than-perfect load speeds, it will not be as successful as it could in voice search. If we want our audience to be able to find us using voice search (and remember, this is only set to become more important), we need to invest in technically ‘perfect’ (to the best of our ability) websites.
Following on neatly from the rise of mobile and voice comes the increasing reliance on page speed optimisation. Essentially, user expectations around load speeds have changed, such that a site taking a mere 2 seconds to load could well be cast aside from visitors much more accustomed to lightning speeds (you only need to look at Google’s statement about how long a search took in its own search results pages to deliver results to see just how important it considers this metric to be).
You may have noted while viewing the Impression website that the site loads incredibly quickly (in fact, our data shows that it loads faster than all of our major competitors!). Another example can be found in the site Savvy Woman, which we recently updated to deliver those ‘lightning quick’ responses users need.
Load speed can be improved in a number of ways. Start by reviewing the page load speed of your own website, using either Google’s own tool, or we like Pingdom Tools for more in depth analysis. Each tool will show you how long your site takes, and provide tips on how best to improve.
Updating your server can improve your page load speeds significantly. We recommend the use of Amazon Web Servers (AWS), which is a cloud based solution that’s more robust, secure and faster than hosted alternatives.
Implementing a ‘separation of concerns’ will also facilitate faster speeds. This means separating the responsibilities or demands put on your website into different considerations, where each can be loaded at the same time, rather than waiting on one to finish before another can start.
It’s also worth considering use of a content delivery network (CDN) if your website has lots of images on it. This is something we use on the Impression site, too.
Google AMP (accelerated mobile pages) project is all about making the mobile web faster and the content therein easier to access on any device.
Generally speaking, the AMP project is a change to the way we develop web pages that minimises the demands of the website and means they can be loaded and experienced more quickly on mobile.
It also means that AMP enabled pages are held in Google’s cache, making it possible for those pages to be served immediately.
We’ve written about this on our site a number of times, and are still of the opinion that AMP shouldn’t be even on the radars of most small business websites, instead being most relevant to major publishers – read our thoughts on AMP here. With that said, this is something likely to evolve in the coming year, so worth being aware of (follow our updates on this in the web category of our blog).
GDPR and security
GDPR is an update to the data protection regulations that was implemented in May 2018. As a marketer, it’s important to be aware of these changes, and to ensure you have a strategy in place to be compliant by May at the very latest.
We wrote about GDPR here; it’s worth noting that, due to Brexit, the final version of what GDPR will look like in the UK is still to be confirmed, and we’ll be providing updates as we get them in the digital marketing category of our blog.
Changing user expectations
Underpinning all of these evolutions are changing user experiences. As technology progresses, so too do the expectations of the people who use it.
Savvy web owners are aware of this, and will be investing in a forward-looking website that’s equipped to meet the demands of the coming year and beyond.
On a practical level, there are lots of ways to better understand how well the user experience you provide is serving your potential customers. Review your Google Analytics data as a start to see where things are working well, and where people are perhaps not completing the goals you’d hope.
Conversion rate optimisation (CRO) is the process we use to improve user experience, through scientific experiments that work to identify pain points in the journey and provide better alternatives, which we then test through data analysis. Take a look at our beginner’s guide to CRO for more insights.
Technical auditing: what to look for on your business website
One of the key trends set to impact websites in 2018 is that of technical excellence. As users move into the mobile-first world, and with the rise of voice search set to continue in the coming 12 months, having a technically sound website is critical to your success.
Present a user with a site that doesn’t work as they’d expect, and you will see reduced conversion rates and decreasing click through rates and traffic as a result.
The following are the main things you need to look at on your site to ensure it is technically excellent for 2018/19:
Are you using HTTPS? (It’s now free)
HTTPS is the secure version of HTTP that webmasters are being encourage to adopt as soon as possible. Though historically this was more relevant to those websites making sales or taking payment details, it’s strongly recommended that all websites take this step today. From a user perspective, this will protect them when cookies etc are used, and from a marketing perspective, you’ll avoid the big red ‘not secure’ badge we expect to be appended to non secure sites in the browser bar in 2018.
Is it mobile friendly?
Though marketers have been talking about the ‘year of mobile’ for as long as many of us can recall (it certainly feels that way, at least!), 2018 really will be the Big One for mobile search in particular.
As mentioned earlier in this guide, Google is moving toward a mobile-first index and, regardless of your search engine of choice, the fact remains that mobile use has rocketed and has long since surpassed desktop search. If you want to engage today’s audiences and continue to do so into 2018/19, you need to be delivering an exceptional mobile experience.
Is the load speed less than 2 seconds?
It’s a generalisation to say ‘2 seconds’, but that’s what’s typically cited as the optimum max load time for any site. Any longer than that and it’s highly likely your visitor will simply leave your site and go back to the search results to find a quicker loading alternative.
Does it work well on slower connections? 3G for example.
This is a really important consideration – even more so when we consider mobile.
Your own data connection might be pretty fast, especially if you work in digital marketing. But have you considered those users who are accessing your site on a slower 3G connection? Be sure to test across all connections to ensure a positive experience for all.
Are you running any render blocking script that might affect load speed or experience?
There are many ways to code a website and the technique employed on your own will dictate how it loads and the order in which it loads, too.
If you’re running render blocking script (that which requires loading before the rest of the site renders), you risk seriously impacting your overall load speeds. Investing in a review of your code will ensure all necessary steps are taken to mitigate the risk of longer load speeds (as we’ll talk about more in the next section of this guide).
Can Google and other search engines effectively crawl your site?
If you’re investing in digital marketing, you need to be sure that, as a minimum, Google can access your full site. Perform a basic site search to check how many pages it currently holds in its index using the query below, and then compare that to the number of pages in your sitemap and they should match up.
Look out for issues such as ‘index bloat’, which mean Google is indexing more than it needs to, or the opposite. If you find there is a discrepancy, it could indicate duplication of pages which are accessible via different URLs, or the existence of pages which have not been considered ‘worthy’ of indexation by Google, e.g. those which have thin content.
There are many reasons Google might not be able to access your full site, and there may be reasons you don’t want it to. A thorough review of this will reveal any opportunities to make more of your limited ‘crawl budget’ so that Google sees everything you want it to – and therefore your potential customers do, too.
Are your URL structures appropriate for the hierarchy of the site?
If you look at the Impression site, you’ll notice how the structure of our URLs mirrors the hierarchy of those pages. Our SEO page, for example, sits in the ‘digital marketing’ folder, because SEO is a service within digital marketing. ‘Ecommerce SEO’ then sits within SEO, as a component of that service.
It’s a simple technique but one which means Google can easily see what our site is all about and where our areas of specialism lie. Some people are now referring to this as ‘topic silos’ or ‘authority hubs’; whatever you want to call it, the basic principle is to reflect the hierarchy of your services or products within your page URLs. As an ecommerce business, you’ll also consider product categories and how these interact as part of this.
Do you have any duplication issues which require canonicalisation?
Duplicate content isn’t something for which you’ll be ‘penalised’ in the traditional sense (though there are people who suggest this is the case).
The impact of duplication actually lies more in a missed opportunity than a penalty. When you have the same content across multiple pages, Google doesn’t know which page to rank. Rather than try to work it out, it either doesn’t rank them at all, or takes a stab at which one it thinks is the best and ranks that, usually much lower in the SERPs than a unique page.
This isn’t uncommon, and can happen a lot particularly in ecommerce stores where one product might fit into multiple categories. As such, there is a simple solution – canonicalisation. This is where you tell Google that yes, there are multiple versions, but here’s the one we want you to rank. When there’s just one version for Google to select, it has a much better chance of higher ranking positions – this is something we’ve employed to great effect for many of our clients, so well worth looking at.
Do you offer the latest methods of payment if yours is an ecommerce store?
Ecommerce businesses (those which sell products online) should consider their payment methods and ensure they offer the full range, including PayPal and Apple Pay, which are easier for a customer to pay with on mobile in many cases than having to input card details.
A note on page speed
We know that page speed is one of the most important technical considerations. For those websites that want to attract organic search visitors, having a fast loading site is imperative – and can help you achieve featured snippet placements, too.
With most experts suggesting a load time of less than 2 seconds is essential, here are some of the most common mistakes websites are making, and their solutions:
- Large images; these can slow load time, and can be reduced in size of served via a CDN
- No compression of assets
- Not adopting HTTP2 – a new protocol which streams all requested files in one response to your browser (rather than individual files)
- Not including width and height tags on your images
- Not lazy loading your images (optional)
- Dynamic image loading based on device size (srcset)
- Including too many external tags which you’re no longer using – audit your GTM containers!
- Not updating your server regularly, or shopping around providers. Spend the additional $10/month or upgrade to SSD storage rather than HDD
- Enable as much fullpage HTML caching as possible – internal or external
- Add some protection, even for free, such as via Cloudflare to decrease chances of being taken offline
CRO considerations for business websites
Another thing businesses should be considering as we move into 2018 is that conversion rates. While many mature marketing plans will already be achieving traffic increases, getting more conversions per visitor will help you make more money from your existing efforts.
Here are some of the common mistakes businesses are making that will be reducing their conversion rates:
- Complex user journeys
- Overcomplicated checkout procedures
- Poor mobile site usability
- Mobile CSS styling positioning elements off screen
- Form labels not being above form fields – causing a lot of frustration around unknown field entry requirements on forms
- Poor load speed
User experience and its impact on SEO success
Having a website that functions well isn’t where it ends. User experience is more important than ever, with Google considering how well people interact with and move through your site as part of its ranking choices. Your website should represent your business in the best way, and appeal to your audience on every level.
That means your website should, at the most basic level, serve its visitors well and make it easy for them to find what they need, and to do what you’d like them to do, be that make a purchase, enquire or a softer goal like a download or video view.
As web marketing has evolved, the focus has remained on the user experience – today more than ever before. Knowing, as we do, that Google’s goal is to emulate user behaviour and decision making in its own assessments of our website, we simply must provide an exceptional user experience if we are to continue to rank well into 2018 and beyond.
But more than that, it’s about understanding your audience and providing them what they need, at all parts of their user journey. Something we’ve been doing very successfully with our clients this year is helping them to explore the different points in their own conversion funnels, and what their users want and need at each point. Funnel-driven keyword research, for example, can help you identify the terms for which you should be optimising in order to attract potential customers at the very beginning of their journey.
When we also consider how important personalisation is in search, and how Google is trying to give preference to the sites we’ve visited before when surfacing new results for us, it’s more important than ever to have a strategy that targets those in the ‘awareness’ stage.
Practically speaking, this means your website should no longer just be about the products you sell. Instead, you need a strategy which reaches further than that, answering questions and showcasing benefits to those people who don’t even know they need what you’re selling yet.
At the most basic level, having a blog on your website is essential. Not only does this keep your site fresh and up to date, it also provides a platform for you to explore the longer tail queries and higher funnel topics that can aid brand awareness. On a deeper level, this means having a solid content strategy, underpinned by technical considerations.
What will your website look like this time next year?
The advice laid out in this guide is intended to help you as a website owner or marketing manager to consider the performance of your website from a number of angles pertinent to 2018.
At the same time, it’s really important to remember that your website will never be ‘done’. A website isn’t a static thing, it needs to grow and evolve. Here at Impression, we prefer to build websites using content management systems that make evolution simple; our own site, for example, is built using a series of modules that mean we don’t need the support of our development team to add new pages. Taking a similar approach to your own site will mean anyone, regardless of technical ability, will be able to add new pages and change things up from time to time.
Having a strategy in place for the website’s growth and evolution is essential. We all know how trends can change, and being aware of that is important. But more so, we know how our own businesses change and we need to ensure our websites reflect that. It’s near impossible to build a website today that will still do everything you need it to tomorrow; that’s why we now recommend those people choosing us as their web development team also invest in a 12 month roadmap, led by our dedicated web strategist, to get the most out of that new site well into the future.
If you’re reviewing your own site and would like our advice or support, get in touch! We’d love to talk to you about how we can help you, and also offer full website audits for those unsure of where to look, or anyone who would like an outside review.