Category: Web Development

  • Explain Like I’m Five: Google AMP

    AMP stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages, and it’s an open-source set of web standards developed and promoted by Google. The idea behind AMP is to facilitate and encourage lightning fast load times for mobile sites.

    Have you ever clicked on a link on your phone, and it took so long to load you just hit ‘back’ and tried a different link? AMP is designed to prevent that from happening. And AMP pages are very fast, somewhere between 4 and 31 times faster on average to load than a non-AMP web page.

    While AMP is pretty new stuff, (it’s about 2 years old,) if you use a mobile browser, you’ve probably seen it already without noticing it. You probably just clicked on a link from google that loaded really fast, and then you didn’t even think about “Wow, that content was instantaneously delivered to me.” Which is the idea: Un-interrupted browsing.

    You’ve already been browsing AMP pages.

    Next time you’re scrolling through Google results on mobile, keep an eye out for this little gray lightning bolt icon. It indicates the link being served is an AMP version of that content. You’ll see that gray icon underneath some results-links, like so:

    google AMP icon on cards in search results

    And if there are news results for your search, you’ll see a little carousel of AMP versions of recent articles pertaining to your search:

    google amp carousel for news articles

    And if you want to see if AMP really is fast, you can access the non-AMP version of a page by clicking the link icon in the little bar up at the top.

    Notice the difference in load times when you access that version of the same content. Also go ahead and notice the subtle styling differences. More on that later.

    google amp URL display address bar

    How Does Google AMP Work?

    So AMP pages are very fast because of a two-fold approach: They’re small, and they’re they’re hosted on very fast servers. It’s like a tiny cannonball being launched out a very large cannon: it goes fast.

    AMP pages are written in AMP HTML, which is a slightly modified version of regular vanilla HTML. There are strict requirements about what can and cannot go into AMP pages, all with the intention of making AMP pages small in size, and fast-loading once they hit the browser. That’s over-simplifying things a little bit, but that’s the gist.

    Anything that is big and bloated is forbidden in AMP pages.

    Because AMP pages are generally intended to be slimmed down versions of other pages, every AMP page has a HTML tag in it that tells web-crawlers what regular HTML page the AMP page is a copy of.

    Similarly, that regular HTML page will have a tag in it that leads to the AMP version.

    You also can have sites that are entirely in AMP HTML, but this is very rare right now. The AMP site itself is written entirely in AMP HTML, though, so it is possible.

    With me so far? Now when google crawls a website, it finds any versions of AMP pages, and then — get this: it uploads and hosts those AMP pages on Google’s servers. That’s the second half of the one-two punch approach to AMP’s speed.

    • Punch 1: pages are slimmed down to their smallest possible size.
    • Punch 2: those slimmed down pages are then hosted on very fast servers.

    Now, to be clear: Google doesn’t own AMP. It’s not technically a Google “product”, it’s a set of standards they’ve helped develop. Other companies can also host AMP pages too. Twitter currently uses AMP for linked content embedded in tweets. But for now and the foreseeable future, Google is the primary host for AMP content.

    Should you be using AMP on your website?

    Well, it depends. AMP is new, has a somewhat unclear future, but also is constantly expanding it’s capabilities.

    If content and clicks is your business, you absolutely should be using AMP pages right now. AMP started out as primarily targeting news and blog content, and it still has the strongest adoption and benefit in that sphere. It doesn’t matter if you run a niche blog about international table tennis news: if your article is not in that slick AMP pages carousel for news articles and someone else’s is, you are probably losing pageviews to them.

    eCommerce Sites and Google AMP

    If your business is primarily eCommerce, you probably should look into AMP pages. Ecommerce is the next area of web traffic the AMP project is targeting. Ebay has already adopted AMP pages, and very soon other major retailers may follow.

    Having AMP versions of your pages may be a meaningful competitive edge for you, and it might pay off more and more in the next few years. If you’re starting a new site, AMP is definitely worth investigating. If you’d be converting an existing project, it’s at least worth looking into.

    Do AMP Pages Boost SEO?

    But what about if you’re neither a dedicated news site or an ecommerce merchant? Does your site need to be re-built to run on AMP HTML? Well, if you asked Google this question, their answer would be emphatically yes. Google would like every website to be using AMP pages for everything.

    Aside from having special presentation for some AMP content, Google does not recognize AMP as a ranking factor for SEO… yet. But we do know that Google does consider how fast your site loads, and AMP version of pages are bound to load faster.

    Understanding Limitations With Google AMP

    If you remember, AMP pages will often look slightly different than the non-AMP versions. Fonts might change and design elements might be gone from the AMP version. That’s because AMP forbids or excludes a lot of things that most sites use to make them run.

    Really that’s the whole idea: it’s like a bike lane for slimmed-down mobile pages where clunky semi-truck web pages are not allowed.

    The problem then, is that most web sites are more truck than bike. And creating a bike-site version of your truck-site, y’know, can be hard. And even though AMP HTML is expanding, it doesn’t currently allow certain common site elements, and requires unusual implementations of others.

    If your site is built on WordPress, there are some WordPress plugins designed to create AMP versions of pages (because there’s a WordPress plugin for everything), and there are tools for some of the other major content management systems as well. But because AMP HTML is a pretty major paradigm-shift compared to regular HTML, expect some hiccups with plug-and-play tools like that. That’s like a DIY truck-to-bike kit, your mileage may vary.

    If you’re not using a CMS that already has an AMP tool developed, you will need to have a discussion with your developers as to what adopting AMP pages would cost. Chances are, if you’re just looking for more visibility in search results, there are less costly ways of accomplishing that.

  • What is RSS…And How Can You Use It?

    You’ve probably heard the terms RSS or RSS Feed or maybe you’ve seen the icon in use throughout the web.

    rss icon displayed on websites with rss feedsWhat is it? RSS stands for Rich Site Summary, although there is another common moniker Really Simple Syndication. In a nutshell RSS is structured data format based on XML. It displays information such as:

    • A website’s URL
    • The title of a piece of content
    • The date of the content
    • A summary of the content
    • The URL where this content permanently resides
    • The full text of the content
    • Information about the author
    Historical Use of RSS Feeds

    The history of the RSS feed coincided with the rise of blogging in the early 2000s. RSS quickly gained a foothold among tech-minded bloggers as a method of reading content in one place without the need to visit numerous sites daily.

    sample of an rss feed in xml format
    Using Feed Readers for RSS

    Through the use of a feed reader, a user could enter the URL of site’s RSS feed, along with any other sites they commonly visited. The feed reader would periodically visit the feed throughout the day to see if there was new content. If it detected something fresh, it would automatically pull it in.

    It made keeping up with the news and bloggers an easy task. Your news feed, right where you want it, in a streamlined format using Previous and Next navigation.

    Popular RSS Feed Readers

    Perhaps the most well known Feed Reader was Google Reader, which really opened the door to the use of RSS feeds. Sadly Google Reader closed down in 2013, despite heavy usage, as it appears Google was never able to find a way to monetize Google Reader.

    rss feed reader feedly.com

    Today Feedly.com is one of the most popular, along with NewsBlur.com, InoReader.com and Feedspot.com. Additionally, there are numerous application-based readers as well including NetNewsWire for Mac and iOS [netnewswireapp.com], and functionality within the browser like Safari, Firefox, and Chrome (via an extension).

    RSS Feeds Are Still Useful In 2017

    I’m subscribed to over 150 different RSS feeds. But using a feed reader, it takes me only a few minutes a day to scan through the headlines. If I see something of interest, I will open it in a new browser tab for later reading.

    I also have additional tools which allow me to share something I like to my Twitter account. The beauty of RSS is that it frees you from having to read everything you subscribe to. Using keyboard shortcuts you can easily skip over items that aren’t of interest.

    In today’s world, there are even more uses for RSS as well…

    Writing a new blog post for your website? Use an automation tool such as Zapier or IFTTT (If This, Then That) to automatically grab the information from your blog post and push it out to your social media accounts.

    Compiling news or press releases for a multi-location business? Set up a dashboard tool to bring in current headlines or display company news on esignage without the need for rewriting a news story.

    Adding support for Facebook Instant Articles for your brand or website? Facebook relies on a customized RSS to create lightweight pages that load fast for mobile readers on slower connections.

    Privacy Concerns and RSS Feeds

    For the privacy conscious people among us, RSS also provides a layer of anonymity. Since feed readers capture the data provided from an RSS feed. The websites you subscribe to will never see any personally identifiable data.

    What are you waiting for? Fire up a feed reader and subscribe to our feed.

  • Choosing Your Next Domain Name

    1. Do Your Research Before buying anything from a domain name service or web hosting company, research the domain name you’ve selected to see if it has been used in the past by a previous owner. This is a critical step in the selection process that can make or break your site’s potential for future success on the web. Just recently, marketing guru Neil Patel documented the dangers of missing this step in his $100,000 Challenge. If your desired domain was successful in the past for a particular niche or industry, it will be significantly easier to get a new site off the ground with that domain for that same niche or industry. If your desired domain was unsuccessful or spammy in the past, it will be significantly harder to launch a new site with that domain for any niche or industry. The reasoning for this boils down to an understanding of how search engines work. The domain authority and backlinks associated with a domain in search engines do not magically disappear when a domain name record changes hands or expires. Search engines rely heavily on these backlinks to interpret signals about the strength and accuracy of the content on a website. Do not assume that purchasing a premium domain will avoid this issue, even domains that are listed for higher than market value can have a history of spammy link tactics. Our interactive director, Shawn Hartley, recommends avoiding sites with any history of the “Three P’s: Pills, Porn, and Poker.” Take advantage of cached web pages on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine and get an actual glimpse of the design and layout of the site as it once was. You can also reference the ICANN WHOIS records to track the domain’s ownership over time. You can then use sites like ahrefs.com, Majestic SEO, or SEM Rush to do a full analysis of the links pointing to the domain in question and assess if its backlinks are the result of natural traffic or if there is a history of spammy tactics or malware. Check the anchor text of the links for keywords that don’t align with the site’s niche or industry, these could be evidence of a hacked site. Research can aid in your search of a domain that has good history, but it is also necessary to make sure you are avoiding issues with other business names and trademarked brands. Conduct a search for trademarked words if necessary.

    2. Use keywords that are relevant to your topic or industry
    Using keywords that are related to what you do can help both search engines and human searchers decipher what your brand is all about. Our clients at Fireplace, Stone & Patio understand this concept better than anyone. But for years, they operated under the name Lumberman’s Hearth and Home. FSP President Jeff Funk realized that their name was already popular among design and construction professionals, but they wanted a name that resonated with the general public as well. Fireplace, Stone & Patio highlights their three areas of expertise and reminds customers where they can go to find everything in one place. If you’re thinking about going the keyword route, grab a thesaurus for some creative inspiration and brainstorming. You can also rely on keyword planning tools like KeywordTool.ioUbersuggest, or simply by typing words and phrases into the query box on Google.com for combinations and suggestions. While this approach may not be ideal for every industry, consider how your brand name resonates with your future customer base, especially if your target audience is rather diverse like in the case of Fireplace, Stone & Patio.
    3. Make it easy to remember and spell
    Taco Bell recently claimed a new domain name: ta.co If you ask me, this is one of the best examples of branding on the web. Taco Bell is clearly on a mission to dominate the online conversation about what they do best: tacos. The name is short—so short it can be entered into your search bar or browser by typing just five characters. It’s uniquely memorable because the combination of the URL’s extension and the domain name itself create a full word. This is known in some circles as “domain hacking.” Google recently performed a similar stunt with the launch of their parent company Alphabet. Their announcement for the formation of their new company was displayed on the homepage of a new domain: abc.xyz These two URLs are clever examples of how to leverage the domain selection process in some creative ways. Not all businesses will be able to pull off something like this, but it’s important to understand just how far some of the most successful brands on the web are willing to go to make their domain names truly unique and memorable.
    4. Select an Appropriate Domain Extension
    Back in the day, there weren’t many choices for domain extensions. Today it seems like I stumble on a new one almost every week. Despite the sharp uptick in the number and variety of available domain extensions, most webmasters would agree that the tried and true .com will always dominate the game. This has more to do with public perceptions on the web than it does SEO. Big businesses have relied on the .com for so long that it has become ingrained in the minds of users as a more reputable and authoritative extension. Although you can attract quite a bit of attention with some of the newly available extensions, they don’t provide any noticeable boost for SEO. Probably the most controversial new domain extension is the dot sucks extension. In fact, if you think you’ve identified a really awesome domain name only to discover someone is already using it with a .com, you might as well look elsewhere. There is not a lot of value in owning and building a domain name if someone already owns it with the most popular extension. This can create confusion for customers and even cost your company valuable business. Conversely, some companies reduce the chances that someone will snatch up an identical domain by buying up the name across multiple extensions. Some extensions are more popular in certain industries than others. In recent years, you may have noticed that many startups and app development companies have flocked to the .co and .io extensions. Some domain extensions can also give companies the opportunity for geographical targeting. Extensions like .uk, .it, .eu are examples of these and can perform well if you do business abroad.
    5. Choose Wisely
    Choose your domain and extension wisely. It’s always a good idea to see what your competitors are up to as well as notable online businesses in similar industries for inspiration and guidance.

    Additional Resources

    Does your website show up in organic search results? Renew your focus on search engine optimization tactics to become a known competitor in your industry or local market.

  • 5 Takeaways for Internet Marketing Success

    SEO or Social Media, or Content Marketing. Can you guys do this?” Take a moment and ask yourself the following questions about your online business:

    1. What is the number one goal of your company website?
    2. What have you done in the last 6 months to make your website achieve that goal?
    3. Do you know what your conversion rate is?
    4. Are you considered an expert in your line of work? Do your clients and prospects know this?
    5. Do you know the demographics of your prospective clients?

    Identify Your Business Goals

    The simple fact of the matter is that most businesses are hard pressed to come up with an answer to the first question. Despite the commercial web being nearly 20 years old, you would be surprised how many times I hear the answer “I don’t know; everyone told me I needed a website.” Would you hire a new employee and just expect him or her to just sit there? Usually there is a full blown job description listing the responsibilities of the job that lays out what is expected of a new hire. You should take this same step when thinking about developing (or rebuilding) your website. Whether or not you become a Corporate 3 Design client, being able to talk to your web developer and say “the goal of our site is this: _________________” you immediately define an expectation of success and give your web developer the ability to be razor focused on the project before them. Here are some sample goals to get you started:
    • “I need this website to be a bridge between my existing clients and myself, automating many of our shared tasks to make us all more efficient.”
    • “I make blue widgets, and I need this site to sell x amount of widgets every month.”
    • “Our company isn’t well known, but we are experts in our field. I need our site to help expose our credentials, get the word out to a larger audience, and get them to fill out our contact form.”
    • “We are a restaurant but need help reaching our customers. We want to grow our email list so that 1) we know who our customers are so we can market to a similar demographic and 2) build a better relationship with them by offering rewards via email.”

    Feed Your Site With Original Content

    When was the last time you added something new to your site? The simple fact of the matter is that for a website to successfully reach its goals, it needs to be fed. It doesn’t have to happen all at once; in fact, it would be better if didn’t. Taking the analogy of treating your website like an employee again, it needs to be treated as a living entity. Launching the website was step one, now you need to expand the size and depth of your site by: It doesn’t have to be done daily or even weekly, but take the time to put together a content calendar that gives you an outline and time-line for when you should be adding new content to your site.

    Find fresh content for your website

    Do you blog? Do you have dynamic individuals on staff that could be the focus of video? Do you have talent on staff that could maintain a podcast? Content can come from anywhere. Look to your staff for the people who are already doing it. Here’s a tip, if you have more than a few employees, I’ll bet that you have someone on staff who is already blogging on their own time, and more often than not, blogging about your industry.

    Make Sense of Your Conversion Rates

    What do you think is the better opportunity: Thousands of web visitors a day or a small handful? Do you know your conversion rate – those who complete an action on your site that fits with your site’s goal? If you don’t, you may be surprised on the correct answer. More traffic isn’t always the pathway to success. Now let me ask you this: Would you rather have 15,000 daily visitors that results in 10 people completing your goal action or would you rather have 100 visitors and 30 completing the goal action? Want to change your answer to the first question now? The simple fact of the matter is that in most cases, going after more traffic is often a wasted effort. But unless you know your conversion rate, you can’t be sure. Google Analytics is a great place to start!

    Leverage Your Thought Leaders

    Somewhere in your company you most likely have someone who is a thought leader in your industry. These types of people can be invaluable to bringing the spotlight to both your company and your website. Thought Leaders are ideal as blog authors, press interviews, podcast and video interviews and more. These people are also ideal on social media networks such as Twitter and LinkedIn. Putting a face to the knowledge and making them available, is a key method of getting in front of new prospects. They should also have some sort of featured element on your website, so don’t forget them when planning a new site architecture.

    Use Demographics For Targeting

    Do you know the demographics of your customers and prospects? Learn how to find your audience with the help of social media or analytics. If not, how can you begin to plan on how to reach them. Nothing sends a worse message than expending your resources in one direction only to find out your prospects aren’t even there. For example, companies who, even to this day, insist on having huge, complex sites filled with technology that breaks where it is needed most. I’m looking squarely at you restaurants. These days, most visitors to restaurant sites are visiting on a mobile device, and they want one of three things:
    1. The Phone Number
    2. The address
    3. The menu
    Yet I still see it on weekly basis, a restaurant sitting there with a website built in Flash, completely unusable in the mobile space. The next time you go down the path of designing or developing your web presence I hope you take the time to ask yourself these questions. Regardless if you ever become a Corporate 3 Client or not, having an answer to these questions can determine if your new site will be a success or a failure. Unsure about your company website’s performance? Contact us today for a FREE website assessment to discover your potential for growth on the web!