Google’s Speed Update: How Small Businesses Can Stay Competitive

Google’s Speed Update: How Small Businesses Can Stay Competitive

On January 17, 2018, Google announced that page speed will become a ranking factor in mobile searches, effective July 2018. Couple that announcement with the mobile-first search index that began rolling out late in 2017 — a rollout that will cause Google to favor mobile versions of websites in its search engine results pages — and it quickly becomes clear that businesses of all sizes need to optimize the mobile experience they’re offering to prospects and customers. Here are six steps for SMBs to take to stay competitive online.

Step One: Ensure Your Site is Mobile-Friendly

Google offers a simple way to check: their Mobile Friendly Test. If your site passes the test, that’s great. If not — and if you use a content management system (CMS) such as WordPress, Drupal, Magento, Blogger and the like — you can find CMS-specific guides to optimizing your site for mobile. If you don’t use a CMS, Google offers this Mobile SEO Guide.

Step Two: Evaluate Your Page Speed

A fast and easy way to check the speed is through Google’s PageSpeed Insights, but there’s a catch: only sites with enough traffic (exact number unspecified, but the bar is still pretty high) will receive ratings. If your site gets enough traffic to qualify, you’ll receive an overall rating for mobile: fast, normal or slow. You will also receive a page load distribution chart that will allow you to see what percentage of your site’s pages are considered fast; how many as normal; and how many as slow.

There will be two bars in this chart, one for FCP and one for DCL. FCP is short for First Contentful Paint and measures how quickly a visitor to your site would see a visual response. Amazon, for example, has an FCP rating of 1.3s. DCL stands for DOM Content Loaded and measures the speed at which HTML was loaded and parsed. For Amazon, that number is 1.5s.

If data is not provided for your site at PageSpeed Insights, you can estimate your page speed via a synthetic performance audit using an open-source tool called Lighthouse. As another option, you can determine how quickly your site loads for visitors with a 3G connection at TestMySite. Yet another site with free page speed tests:

Don’t stress out if you don’t have a perfect score. Most websites don’t. What is important: comparing your page speeds scores with your competitors and making continual improvements to stay ahead of them.

Step Three: Analyze Problem Areas

At PageSpeed Insights, even if you can’t get mobile speed ratings for your site, you will still receive information about page elements that are preventing your site from rendering as quickly as desired. If you test your speed at TestMySite, you can download a free report that offers recommendations to address problems.

Review your site’s search console, looking for crawl errors that might be slowing you down. Carefully sift through the Mobility Usability report, as well.

Step Four: Determine if AMP is For You

Webmasters have the option to “AMP” their pages by using Accelerated Mobile Page technology. With AMP, you are stripping down code to its basics and, because the pages are pared down to their bare minimum, they are lightning fast when loading. There are advantages and disadvantages to AMP-ing pages, and you should note that you can create fast-loading pages without using AMP technology. But, it can’t be argued that this technology is succeeding in creating streamlined pages that render quickly, indeed.

Step Five: Optimize, Compress, Minify and Remove

Google offers advice on the following areas:

Now is the time to create a plan to prioritize and fix problem areas. Developer tools are available from Google here.

Step Six: In-House Versus Outsourcing

If your SMB has an inhouse IT department, you may have all the resources you need to tackle these fixes. But note that some areas may be outside the scope and/or expertise of your team and, in that case, it’s important to outsource any work you decide to take on to the right developer. Google provides tips on how to choose a developer to make your site mobile friendly and it never hurts to ask for recommendations from professionals you trust.

More about the Speed Update

Page speed has been a ranking factor for nearly eight years with desktop searches so, if you’ve been focusing on speed for desktop and have created a responsive mobile site, you may already be in pretty good shape. Google has said that this update will only affect a small percentage of queries, those with the slowest loading experiences.

Benefits of faster-loading pages will go beyond the ranking issue, though, as site visitors also prefer fast loads. According to data:

  • 47% of them expect a web page to load in two seconds or less
  • 40% abandon sites that take more than three seconds to load
  • 79% of shoppers who have a dissatisfying experience because of website performance are less likely buy from that site in the future
  • 52% of shoppers say that quick page load is important to site loyalty
  • A one second delay (or three seconds of waiting time) decreases satisfaction by customers by about 16%
  • 44% of shoppers will tell friends about bad online experiences
  • A one second delay can result in a 7% drop in conversions

How much work you need to do to remain competitive depends upon two main factors: how much you’ve already done, and how much your competitors have done and are currently doing. As a final tip, regularly check your site in site speed tools to see what recommendations remain and continue to prioritize the most important.

How to Develop an Authentic Brand for Your Business Online

How to Develop an Authentic Brand for Your Business Online

When companies talk about building an authentic brand, conversations often revolve around developing or changing the mission statement—or the logo, the tagline or some other tangible thing—and then, when that matter is solved, the build-a-brand item is checked off corporate agendas. Building a brand, though, involves so much more, and it starts with taking a step back and determining what the term “brand” really means.

An article in does a good job of tackling that task, distinguishing between a “brand” and a “brand name.” Brand names are objective, factually stated, with examples of brand names including Nike, Pepsi and Starbucks. A brand, though, is something much more than a company, product or service name. It’s subjective, consisting of what your prospects think about when they hear your brand name. Uncomfortable as this may make some company executives feel, you can’t dictate your brand as it actually exists only in people’s minds.

In other words, this means your brand isn’t who you think you are, or say you are. It’s who you really are! With that definition at the forefront, developing a brand might suddenly feel like being told to capture lightning in a bottle. So, now what?

Well, because your brand is defined by what people think about when hearing your brand name, developing an authentic brand—whether online or offline—is really about your reputation, your relationships, how well you understand your audience and respond to customers, and how you help your audience get to know more about you. The real you.

Who Are You, Really?

To define this, you need to take two key steps. First, list your unique offerings and how you describe them. This will likely involve getting rid of catchphrases you’ve come to cherish, and taking a deeper look at claims you make. If, for example, you state your FasterBusiness App will skyrocket productivity in the workplace, have you compared your app with those of your competitors’? Does your product really boost productivity or is that a too-easy (untested!) cliché to use?

If it’s the first, that’s fantastic, and now you’ll need to quantify to what degree your app boosts workplace productivity, and prepare to share that information with prospects and customers. If it’s the second, what truly is your unique offering?

As a second step, you must define your desired customers. If you’ve created personas, take another look at them and adjust, as needed. If you haven’t created them yet, put that on your priority list. Compare your personas to your actual customers. Is there a gap? If so, define it and determine what needs to change in your offerings to entice your desired customers. (Note how different this is from simply changing your messaging to what your ideal customers would want to hear!)

Once you’re clear about your offerings and audience, and you’ve addressed any gaps, what do you need to adjust in your messaging? Now would be the time to make changes in how you are presenting your brand in messaging both on and off your website online, as well as offsite.

Building Relationships

Now that you’re clear about your messaging, and it meshes with your targeted audiences and your products/services, it’s time to offer value to your online audience by providing your expertise. This includes, but isn’t limited to, creating useful content—with this content being created for people who are just starting to research your industry to those who are ready to buy products and/or services. It also includes methods for people to contact you to ask questions, and it’s essential that you foolproof how quickly and well you respond to those questions, including concerns and negative experiences with your products and/or services.

Social media channels are an excellent place to build relationships, so be sure to effectively respond to people who engage with you there. Also build relationships with people who might not buy your product but might help to spread the word about how you fulfill your brand promises. This group of people can include bloggers in your industry, people who share your posts and more. Cultivate relationships with influencers in all relevant niches in your space.

Be sure to monitor what people say about your company by reading reviews at Google, Yelp and the like. Do Google searches or set up Google alerts to see what shows up under your brand name and variations of it, the names of key members of your team and the like. Are you proud to read what’s written about your brand? Are there issues that clearly need correcting to strengthen your brand?

As you build relationships, be transparent, be human! Avoid corporate speak and show your personality.

Tangible Brand Building

You’ll also need to invest in the tangibles, building a great website that’s easy to use with an eye-catching design. The logo needs to represent your brand well, not just be a visual representation of your brand name, and the mission statement and tagline need to accurately portray your company.

Review your social media profiles and anywhere else you have an online profile and/or presence, and make sure that each accurately reflects what you’ve learned through the process of developing an authentic brand.

2018: The Year of Writing Long-Form Content

2018: The Year of Writing Long-Form Content

Our prediction is that companies creating well-written, appropriately optimized and strategically targeted long-form content will benefit in 2018, more so than ever before. Long-form content typically consist of 1,500-3,000 words, and presents a fairly comprehensive look at a particular topic.

Long-form content benefits companies that create it in multiple ways. This type of content usually ranks better, which boosts traffic to the website. When well-crafted and targeted, it keeps site visitors engaged for longer periods of time and can boost the number of pages viewed, especially when internal links are strategically included. Overall, long-form content improves engagement metrics, which can cause Google to rank the content more highly.

Long-form content is also the ideal vehicle for including checklists, FAQs and bulleted content. This is the type of content Google typically includes in its Answer Boxes, which gives websites outstanding visibility. This content can then be segmented for use in email marketing campaigns, social media messaging and much more.

But, how do you create top-quality long-form content? It’s not just a matter of writing more content, but of strategically creating comprehensive, useful content.

Here are five tips to creating quality long-form content:

1. Glean the Wisdom of Your Team

Before you even start writing, talk to members of your team who have contact with and/or in-depth knowledge of your customers. What questions are they frequently asked? What topics are of special interest to customers? What content is missing from your site that your team believes is needed?

Using this intelligence, you can brainstorm the best topics for long-form content and use it to begin crafting FAQs to include.

2. Gather Intelligence from Analytics

Again, before you ever start writing, do legwork. What posts bring the most traffic to your site? What patterns do you see? What gaps can you fill in and how can you add value to these subjects? How can you create a high-level, long-form piece of content from which you can naturally link to these other assets on your site?

3. Benefit from Expert Perspectives

Interview people from the company to gather quotes about the subject at hand. Also consider interviewing experts from outside the company that are in your business and social networks. If your site meets the Alexa-rating requirements of (known as HARO), this is an excellent way to connect with experts across multiple industries. Requests for interviews and quotes go out three times a day, Monday through Friday, and you can also request urgent help. Another quality source to find experts to interview is ProfNet from PR Newswire.

4. Put the Pieces Together

Types of content often included in long-form content are:

History/context of an industry or product

Let’s say you’re writing content about IoT, and the company sells the latest in wearables. There can be value in including the development of IoT so that the cutting-edge aspects of the products sold can become clear. Contextual history can be a valuable part of long-form content creation in general, helping site visitors who are new to the products and/or services sold, and to create a comprehensive post that Google will reward. But you don’t want to get lost in the myriad of details. Choose what matters. Also know that what happens first, chronologically speaking, doesn’t need to be at the beginning of your long-form post.

Quality images and how-to videos

You don’t want your long-form content to consist of long blocks of unbroken text, because that’s a sure recipe for site visitors to bounce off. Create original images, whenever possible, including infographics; when you need to use stock photos, use them judiciously. Creating original video is a real plus. If you’re using YouTube videos from other sources, embed the videos into your post so people don’t need to click off the site to view them.

FAQs and Checklists

Use the information you’ve gathered from members of the team and from your research to create FAQs that include questions likely to be asked from people just beginning to do research to those who are ready to buy. Consider creating a checklist, as just one example, that shares the top ten things someone needs to know before buying the ideal wearable. This will be useful to a spectrum of potential buyers and may end up in Google’s Answer Box.

Industry leader quotes, testimonials and case studies

You can scatter the quotes throughout the piece so it’s clear your company is in the know, a real authority on the subject. Near the bottom of the post, it makes sense to include testimonials and case studies so that people who are ready to buy can be reassured your company is the one to choose.

These are not the only elements to include in long-form content, but they are important ones. If you’ve got original research data you’re willing to share, definitely include that, as it will be a magnet for inbound links. If you’ve got engaging anecdotes or little-known pieces of information of interest to your target audiences, those are also important to include.

5. Linking!

Whenever it’s helpful to link from the long-form post to other assets on your website, do so. This is an ideal way to keep people on your website, which will boost engagement metrics, and to strategically nurture site visitors along to where they are ready to buy. Appropriate internal linking is also helpful for SEO purposes.

Concluding Thoughts

No two pieces of long-form content are the same, and neither are the ways in which you will research and write them. In general, though, it makes sense to gather together as much relevant information as you can from multiple sources, and to structure the piece well. But, stay alert to possibilities that will take you off the beaten path to create content that surprises and delights your readers.

6 Suggestions to More Effective Content Creation

6 Suggestions to More Effective Content Creation

As the results of a new survey from BrightEdge circulates online, it’s likely that increasing numbers of digital marketing agencies, content creators and anyone else vested in using content to attract attention to a site are discussing how to increase content consumption.

The survey collected 252 responses from Fortune 500 brand digital marketers, both B2B and B2C, with 43 percent of them stating that 75 percent of their content produced was not being consumed. Meanwhile, 70 percent said that 50 percent (or less!) of their content was being consumed.

The conclusion shared by is that “The overall picture that emerges from the survey is one of inefficiency and misalignment between where enterprise marketers think the audiences are going and what they’re doing to reach them. Furthermore, they’re pouring resources into content that they believe is not being seen or read by its intended audience.”

So, what should you do? Here are six suggestions.

#1 Do a deep dive into what your customers really want.

It’s time to ditch the spaghetti method where you throw content against the wall to see what sticks. Instead, look at your current content. Do you have pieces that truly resonated? If so, what can you learn from the top-performing pieces? What information did they share? What problems did they solve? How can you offer similar pieces of content to this audience at a different place in the sales funnel? Targeted to another audience of yours?

Look at previous surveys of your customers wants, needs and interests. Is it time to collect new data? Discover what people say they will consume even before you write it. If, for example, you’ve got a strong social media following, poll readers to find out what to write next.

#2 Understand yourself, then realize it really isn’t about you.

The American Marketing Association is calling customer attention the scarcest resource in 2017, with the average person exposed to as many as 10,000 brand messages daily. A British study shows that consumers switch screens up to 21 times every single hour. So, you need to do a mind-switch. Yes, you start out with creating goals (traffic, conversions and the like) and make sure that you’re very clear about your value proposition: what it is and how to best communicate it to site visitors. Then, however, you need make sure your content provides what customers want, not what you want to express about your company wants, needs or goals.

#3 Elicit emotion.

Compelling theater productions, comedy routines and more provide an emotional hook that cause viewers to keep on engaging. So, follow their lead to increase engagement. The American Marketing Association suggests that “simpler messages, communicated in a sharper way” are best, “making them more visual, emotional and engaging.”

#4 From a little ask to gated content

One way to keep customers engaged is to involve them in the content creation itself. If you’re a bookstore, for example, ask customers three easy-to-answer questions about their favorite book of the year. Create a piece of content based on those crowdsourced answers on your site, just enough to entice readers—including those who participated—and then create a piece of comprehensive gated content based on what you learn. It’s likely that a decent percentage of people who read the high-level piece will want to know more.

#5 Two types of site/social media visitors

A 2016 study reported on by the Washington Post shows that 59 percent of people who share news on social media channels haven’t even clicked on the story. In other words, they didn’t consume the content! It isn’t such a bad thing to have followers who are intrigued enough by your headlines and who trust your company enough to share your content, however; this can spread your reach enough to get your content in front of people who will consume it. So, yes. Clickable headlines are important, attracting people who will spread the news of your brand like bees spread pollen.

#6 Two types of content audiences: be honest with yourself

Although it’s entirely possible to write content that’s appealing to readers while being search-engine friendly, the reality is that many times, content creators are saying that their primary audience are humans, while really writing for the search engines. There is no shame in writing for the search engines, given that the content is of reasonable quality—and there is a huge advantage to being honest about your motives. Once you admit, even to yourself, that you’re writing to boost rankings, you can forget about trying to achieve perfection and focus on regularly writing decent content. Frequency is your friend. Conversely, if you really are writing to appeal to site visitors, then consider writing fewer pieces of copy, focusing significant effort on each one.