As a small business owner you will probably already be aware that Data Protection regulations are going to change in May 2018. You will almost certainly be affected if you hold data on individuals in any form. But there’s a lot of poor information swirling about. Don’t get caught out by GDPR myths. We’ve compiled a list of need-to-know tips to help clarify what your responsibilities will be. Read more
New technologies are emerging every day, every hour. How might they affect the way you do business? At UKcentric we aim to keep on top of new developments.
In Google searches, a Featured Snippet is a highlighted information panel that lies at the top of the organic search results, but below any advertising panels. It can contain a paragraph of text, list or table of data drawn from an expert website, which answers the question you asked and links to that site for more information.
They can show that your website has the definitive answer to a specific question.
Let’s take a quick look at what featured snippets are, how you can supply Google with featured snippets, and what problems they may cause.
RankBrain is now entrenched as part of Google’s search ranking algorithm and is said to be the third most important ranking factor after inbound links and great content. It is having a big effect on how searches are presented.
But what exactly is RankBrain and why should small business owners care?
RankBrain is “artifical intelligence” (AI) applied to search engines.
AI is all about machines learning how to get better at doing things. So RankBrain is software that helps Google to improve it’s search results by learning what worked for a particular user in the past.
Back in October 2015 Bloomberg broke the story that Google was using a new system to help deliver search results.
It started out as a way for Google to perform better on the 15% of searches it had never seen before. These are searches that Google was being asked to carry out for the very first time.
The remaining 85% of searches, Google had seen before and could already test which search results were proving popular (being clicked on).
But those pesky 15% of never-before-seen searches were proving difficult for Google to confidently provide results for.
RankBrain aimed to assist by using machine learning to link words together into “vectors” and figure out the relationships between words and word clusters.
For example: Google may have seen the query “what’s the best digital marketing company in London” many times before. But it may never have seen the query “show me top London online marketing firms”.
RankBrain can tell that these queries are similar – that is, the search intent is the same (to find top digital marketing companies based in London).
Here’s a technical post from Google about machine learning in search – very cool.
What’s the state of play today?
RankBrain worked so well for these never-before-seen queries that Google decided to integrate RankBrain into almost all searches.
So now Google has a tool which can much better interpret the intent a user search. This understanding of meaning transforms Google from a dumb machine into an intelligent interpreter of meaning.
So where next for small businesses?
I stress that today, RankBrain is just one of hundreds of factors involved in generating search results.
It means that small business need to worry just a little bit less about creating pages which contain the exact keywords and phrases used in search queries. Perhaps instead of creating two pages, you could create one.
It also means that content should be aimed more and more at human readers and less at search engine spiders.
That’s good news for search engine users and for content providers like SMEs.
What do the next few years hold for search engine optimisation? Since almost all businesses rely on organic search traffic, it’s vital to understand the direction of travel with search engines and SEO. Here’s my brief analysis of where we are currently heading.
Top ranking factors
There are hundreds of factors which determine where your website sits in the search results, but the top three factors are: on-page content, inbound links and (since fairly recently) inputs from Artificial Intelligence software, such as Google’s RankBrain.
Since on-page content and AI deliver more reliable results than inbound linking (which is easier to falsely manipulate), inbound linking may decline as a ranking factor in future.
Accelerated Mobile Pages
This technology allows search engines such as Google to actually host your content instead of you hosting it. It only supports a small subset of the functionality that “full-featured” web pages do. As a result AMP pages load and display really fast. This is good because pages that are loaded with ads tend to display very slowly on mobile devices.
You provide the content by supplying it on your site in a special format called AMP, then Google will take it automatically and display it direct from Google instead of from your site, and credit you at the bottom of the page. As the user experience is held to be better, these pages will be ranked higher in search.
However, it’s controversial because Google allows you to “swipe right” to another provider’s content instead of staying on your website. And some content providers, including major newspapers, have said that ad revenues from AMPs are lower than than from self-hosted web pages.
Voice and personalisation
Personal assistants such as Google Now, Siri and Cortana are set to grow massively and change the future of search.
Currently, the most popular voice requests are to for travel directions, time and weather updates, dictating text messages, playing music and getting TV and film listings.
But that’s just the tip of of the iceberg.
As these assistants are personal, they will tailor search results according to how you have interacted with them in the past. This bypasses the search engine results pages and goes straight to the relevant content.
In a similar way, smarthome devices such as Google Home and Amazon Echo are bypassing visual interfaces and moving straight to voice interfaces, which requires a “direct to result” approach (perhaps a throwback to Google’s I’m Feeling Lucky – remember that?)
User experience (UX)
User experience (UX) is another huge factor in upcoming SEO. UX means the quality of the experience a user has when visiting your site. For example, if your site is laid out in a logical, appealing and easy-to-use way, we say it is a good user experience.
On the other hand if your content is bland or weak, badly put together, badly laid-out and unappealing, users won’t stick around because it’s a poor user experience.
Google is wise enough to know that if a website has a great user experience it is probably a better bet to send a user there than to a site with poor UX. Google measures UX in a number of ways. Three easy ways to check your UX is to look at page dwell time – the amount of time a user spends reading your page. Bounce rate – the % of users who hit your site and flounce straight off again, disgusted by the lack of relevance to their search.
New platforms for search
Off-search engine search engines will continue to rise. When we think of search we tend to think of Google’s search bar or search page. But actually the biggest search engines are social networks such as YouTube, Facebook. And social media content has appeared in search results for a long time now.
Google can now index the content inside mobile apps and incorporate this into searches even when the user does not have the app installed. Little wonder, since 84% of time on mobiles in spent in apps, especially social networking and messenger apps such as SnapChat and WhatsApp. What you can do with your apps – especially social networking apps – is set to increase. Facebook now have instant messaging, SnapChat lets you send money to friends via SnapCash.
For small businesses, this all means three simple things to do right now:
- Keep producing great content for your online presence, assisting your existing and new customers in every way possible
- Improve the user experience of your website
- Consider using Accelerated Mobile Pages
Here are three important things that are going to be big news in the world of PPC and SEO.
Local search ads
Ads on Google Maps will lead people straight to your location.
70% of mobile searchers call a business directly from search results. Mobile users don’t necessarily want to click through to a website. They want to call you right now, especially if their need is urgent – for example, breakdown services, dentists, or pizza! Call-only ads bypass the website completely and you bid for calls, not clicks.
Expanded text ads
This new type of ad will be rolling out soon and in time will likely overtake the text ads we have now. Google is doubling the length of the title, and this can lead to a doubling of clickthrough rates.
We are now in a fully-fledged digital age. The internet of things is fast becoming reality, mobile phones scan codes on products bought in a shop, and even toddlers are naturals with touch-screen technology. We are at the stage where digital interaction is unavoidable throughout our daily lives – but has it now absorbed the more traditional world of marketing?
They’re ambitious, mature and ready to change the world with the confidence of their own convictions and creativity. They are generation Z.
It’s no surprise if you’ve grown a little tired of the word “millennials”– it’s everywhere at the moment. And rightly so – as one of the most fascinating generations, we as marketers should pay them close attention.
But what about the next generation? UKcentric recently had our very own generation Z in our midst for work experience, so we took this opportunity to get their take on everything digital. Making up about a quarter of the UK’s population, it’s definitely worth dedicating time to reach out to this group.
Nathan, a 15-year-old pupil, chatted to us about his regular digital routines and his views on each of them.
“I hardly ever go on Facebook”, he admits. As a bright and energetic teen, Nathan said that Facebook definitely seems like a network for older people.
“There’s nothing people would need to contact me on Facebook about,” he said. “If my friends really wanted to tell me something they’d do it in person.” Not to mention the lack of relevant news that Facebook seems to produce for our generation Z.
“I don’t want to see everyone’s selfies. It’s boring. I’d rather spend my time finding interesting stuff on Twitter…”
Surprisingly perhaps, most of Nathan’s friends have Twitter accounts.
“I don’t tweet though – I don’t have anything I want to say, I use it to find things.” Unlike the #hungry and #selfie cults of Twitter, Nathan does not use his own account for what some critics describe as ‘digital shouting’, but to find articles, videos, comics – anything he has an interest in.
But this is a generation of do-ers. Should they not be actively joining in with the conversation specific hashtags like #GBBO or #xfactor? No doubt some do; but Nathan prefers to engage in one thing at a time, leaving the tablet browsing whilst watching telly down to the millenials and upwards (sorry to anyone who spent a long time learning how to multi-task in order to do this).
Nathan’s younger sibling is a young generation Z and does not have a Twitter or Facebook account, and this isn’t unusual.
“They all use Instagram. It’s the fastest way to get a message across – that and Snapchat.”
As the younger generations find their digital voice, the content becomes more and more image focused.
General online use
As a very pro-active generation, there are no surprises that the Zs like the most up-to-date websites to browse. This extends further than preferred aesthetics – they also place more trust in the newest looking sites.
“I wouldn’t buy anything from a website that looked like it was designed a few years ago. It might work fine, but there’s something untrustworthy about it looking old …”
As a more visually driven age than the millennials and beyond, Nathan told us how memes were also a large part of not just his social media interaction, but meetings in person with friends and classmates.
“There are certain memes that are very funny and really relevant to you in your everyday life at school.”
As well as being good comedy material, memes also play a large role in community spirit for this young generation. If a classmate makes reference to a particularly well-shared meme, most people will understand the joke. This is a fascinating new approach to bringing what is online into the classroom.
“There was a boy who come late into a maths class and entered with, ‘Sorry I’m late. I’ve just picked up a Mayo Chicken for 99p’. So if everyone knows a particular phrase or something from TV, it’ll often become a sort of meme in real life.”
Being able to embrace the online world and immediately use it in social situations gives us a key insight to the Z-style:
- Things must be immediate
- Things must hold factual or interesting content yet other ads can still triumph with a catchy, gimmick approach (but it doesn’t last long)
- Illustrating concepts, products and philosophies through imagery is absolutely key
Something that Nathan has really taught us, is the rapid ability that generation Z’s has in adapting to new technology. So whatever marketing strategy you choose next – it had better be cutting edge, to the point and happen quickly, or this generation will have moved on.
Today the BBC has announced that after several weeks of A/B testing it will move all users to it’s new responsive website design.
Responsive design means the same site present itself differently according to the kind of device that it’s being viewed on.
Usually this means having more horizontal content on desktops and on mobiles using bigger text, and fewer or just one column of content, with content stacking up vertically instead of horizontally. This means less pinching and zooming on mobiles, links that are easier to click, and forms that are easier to fill in, while at the same time delivering the rich user experience that desktop users demand.
We’ve been using the responsive design for a few weeks and we like it. It focusses the user on the content not on the presentation, which is Rule #1 of great web design. We didn’t much enjoy being directed to a separate website when viewing the site on mobile, but now we’ll stay on the main bbc.co.uk/news URL.
The BBC news team have said that up to 65% of their traffic is now via mobiles and the old desktop site was built four years ago when the conventional wisdom was to build different sites for different devices. They also have a great mobile app which is specifically designed for mobile and there are no signs that will be withdrawn.
- Visit the new BBC News website
- UKcentric build all new websites as responsive as standard.
We completed another interesting project using technologies that we don’t normally use – creating PDFs from ASP.NET.
Our client supplies materials around the world to research institutions. For decades, every year they produced a paper-based catalogue – an impressive heavyweight document – which they send to all their clients and anybody else who wanted one anywhere in the world.
This was a successful marketing strategy and great customer service, but extremely expensive and very time-consuming.
They approached us to find out if we could automate the production of their product catalogue and make it downloadable from their web site. We said “Of course!” Then we had find out how to do that.
PDFs from ASP.NET
Since their web site technology stack includes ASP.NET, C# code, and Microsoft SQL Server, it made sense to source a software library that would easily fit in. We looked at several PDF libraries for ASP.NET and found the most popular to be iText – but when we received a license quotation from them we realised it would not be financially viable to use this software. In the end we plumped for PDFSharp and MigraDoc.
Getting the data
Once installed, these libraries allow programmers to create PDF documents, add pages, images, paragraphs, tables of data, tables of contents, headers, footers, page numbers – exactly what we wanted.
First we created software classed that would extract the relevant data from the database, using the specified currency – our clients sell in GBP, Euros, US dollars, Japanese Yen and Swiss Francs.
Then we created classes using PDFSharp that would inject the product data in the right format and right currency into the document.
Once that was done, we focussed on building a table of contents.
Tables of Contents
Seemingly simple, the table of contents turned out to be one of the most challenging parts of the project. The client wanted two nested levels of contents – the main material and within that, the form of the material (sheet, rod, wire etc). All these had to linked to the relevant pages in the document, but of course it’s impossible to know which pages those products might appear on. Fortunately PDFSharp provides a way of setting up a bookmark and taking care of the page numbers itself – a very handy feature which makes internal linking easy.
Finally we added a full-page cover image with the company’s logo, a terms and conditions page and introduction pages. We added headers and footers to the product pages with the company’s logo as a watermark to add polish and panache to the finished product.
Automatically generating the catalogue
The last piece of the project was to get the catalogue to be generated daily in each of the five currencies. To do this we set up a .net page which generates the catalogues and saves to the server’s filesystem, making them available to be linked to for download. We set up a scheduled task to allow this to happen daily at 5am. Finally, we added links to the catalogues from all the relevant points of the web site.
This automatic system now does away with the heavy, expensive and out-of-date catalogue. Now our client can point their customers to a brand new downloadable catalogue that is produced every day so has the most up-to-date prices. They will save considerable amounts by not having to send the paper-based catalogue around the world. And customers can now download the catalogue in their preferred currency at any time from anywhere in the world.
Photo credit: Kevin M Gill
Our client has a thriving e-commerce site which we built a few years ago. They sell all over the world and accept payments in a number of different currencies. The challenge with this project was to ensure that customers outside the UK were presented with prices displayed in their home currency.
For this we implemented a geolocation lookup using the reliable ip2location service. This takes the user’s IP address and performs a lookup against ip2location’s database, returning the country the customer is in with extremely high levels of accuracy. The service is fast enough to be done on-the-fly without any noticeable slow-down in accessing the site.
Performance – speed is king
The process of identifying the geographical location of a person or device by means of digital information processed via the Internet
Performance in any web application is key, so instead of performing the lookup every time a visitor arrives at the site, we cache the lookups in the database. We first perform a check against the database to find out if we have already done a lookup on the IP address within the last few days. If so, we don’t need to call ip2location for the country, and we retrieve it from the database. This makes things even faster.
One of the challenges of web development is finding out what your site/pages look like in countries outside the UK. To do this we employed several techniques. We tested using many web proxy services, and also utilised a great service called GeoPeeker to get a view from the USA, Brazil, Singapore, Ireland and several other locations.
Now the service has been launched, so customers around the world are presented with their “home” currency. This is great customer service and is a handy time-saver for customers who no longer have to change their currency from UK pounds to their home currency.
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- GDPR – What Small Businesses Need To Know
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- 10 Easy Ways to be Found in Local Search
- What are Featured Snippets and How Do You Get Them?
- Accelerated Mobile Pages – What Are They and Should You Care?
- 10 Simple Trust Signals Your Website Should Always Have
- What is RankBrain?
- Future of SEO
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