Google Making Mobile First

Google Making Mobile First

On November 4, 2016 Google announced on their Webmaster Central Blog that they have begun experiments to make our index mobile-first and that:

Our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results.

This is big news, to put it mildly.

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Lost in Translation: Quality Content Matters and Other Lessons Learned

I was recently browsing cheap Bluetooth speakers and discovered that while sales for these things are huge, quality content is not high on the agenda for these companies.

To wit, here’s the speakerphone and suction cup description for the LESHP Pocket Mini:

With the strong grade sucker, so speaker can play freely occasions adsorption. Built in high sensitive microphone, a key realization of all calls, neglect neither driving nor calling.

There’s so much to work with in that passage. Bad grammar. Lack of detail. General senselessness.

And there’s more, further down the page:

Good sound began moving 360 to your extraordinary experience from here.

Excellent Bluetooth module, powerful function and perfect sound quality, enjoy wireless music.

We’re probably dealing with a translation from Chinese, but that doesn’t excuse the complete lack of comprehension. However, it offers a case study for content. Let’s look more closely at the lessons the page offers.

  1. As a result of the poor content, I immediately doubted the quality of the product and the seller. Lesson: Quality content matters in a very tangible way. Poor content reflects poorly on you.
  2. Several details about the product are sprinkled throughout the text, but you have to hunt for them. That may be why there’s more than 70 reviews and 11 customer questions needed to round out the content. Lesson: Think about your audiences’ tasks and make sure it’s easy for them to accomplish them.
  3. The user-generated content saves the page. The reviews round out the product information. While I suspect that the reviewers may have gotten discounts or free products in exchange for their post, if you read enough you’ll get a general idea of the pros and cons of the speaker. Lesson: Tap into the expertise and enthusiasm of your audience.
  4. The page serves as the main web presence for this item. There’s no company page, and a search turns up three Amazon pages plus a few other sellers and linkbait sites. Lesson: Not everything needs a website. Sometimes a Facebook page or pages is enough. Be where your audience is.
  5. This product costs less than $10. Lesson: If you price something low enough, the rest may not matter. Sad but true.

And no, I didn’t buy this one. The editor in me wouldn’t allow it.



Secured webpages via HTTPS are commonplace for online stores or cases where you’re accessing private information—for instance, when purchasing a book on or logging into to Gmail. You know you’re on a secured page when you see “HTTPS” in the address bar instead of “HTTP.” Interactions with these sites have helped visitors understand that the little lock icon in their browser bar is important for their security.

In 2014 Google revealed that HTTPS is a ranking signal and that they are advocating for “HTTPS everywhere” on the web. Since then Google has announced concrete steps in that direction (more below). Naturally, many SEO experts have recommended everyone move their sites to HTTPS to garner an advantage in ranking. While it’s true it is a ranking signal, real-world results have not yet shown this to be significant, but that doesn’t matter—you should still move your site to HTTPS.

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Asking the Right Questions

A key to a successful content project is being prepared before you begin creating anything. That means you need to ask the right questions well ahead of any content work. While the specific questions will change based on the project, here are some questions that are always relevant:

Who is your audience?

Understanding who you are creating content for is fundamental to successful content. Is it women ages 25-45? High school students? Nerds in Chicago? That’s the basis for your voice and tone, and sets up the rest of the work to be done.

What do they want to do on the site?

Ideally we’d talk to the prospective users to get this information, but if that’s out of scope we can get at the answers in other ways: analyzing current site analytics, keyword research, and interviewing people in your group who interact with your audience offline.

What do you need the site to do for you?

We believe successful content first meets the needs of users, but it also has to serve your purposes—and it can do both. Having clear goals for your content allows you to measure success in concrete terms. Common goals are things like increasing appointments or reducing calls. Once you’ve defined the goals, gather data as a baseline to compare before and after the new content goes live.

Additional questions

Those are the big three questions to start, but these are worth considering, too:

  • Who will update the content and how often?
  • Does the content meet a larger organizational goal?
  • What do you want the visitor to do next?
  • What are opportunities for images and video?

Thinking about questions like these helps focus content creation and prepares you for a successful project.

Want to know more about how we work? Contact us.

The Tools We Use: Slickplan for Site Maps

We make a lot of site maps. It’s a fundamental step in planning any content or web project. We used to use Omnigraffle for this task; and while it creates elegant looking site maps, a single site map took a long time to create and just as long to update—especially when we were dealing with hundreds of pages.

It used to be there weren’t many tools for this task, but several web-based services have come out over the past few years. We considered DynoMapper and WriteMaps, as well as MindMeister (which we still use on occasion). But for now we’ve settled on Slickplan.


Why we chose Slickplan

  • Fast: You can create a site map through its easy visual interface or—even better—upload a text file that it converts to boxes and arrows.
  • Fee to try: We ended up getting a paid plan rather quickly to take advantage of collaborations, but it was nice that we could try it without any significant investment.
  • Easy to make changes: Automatic page numbering saves me hours. That alone is the greatest benefit.
  • Shareable: Just send a link and our clients can get a clickable version on the web.
  • Notes, links, and more: You can add notes about page content, link to existing pages, and add icons to tag a kind of page.

What we don’t like

  • Aesthetics: We’re not a fan of the visual design of the site maps, and wish we had more options.
  • Too little control over page numbering and layout
  • Price: They need a better option between Basic and Pro user monthly costs.

Alternative: MindMeister

Mindmeister seems better suited to mind mapping than regular old site maps, but the aesthetics are better than SlickPlan. However, it doesn’t handle page numbering the way I want, so I’ll stick with SlickPlan for now.

What are you using for making site maps? Leave a comment and we’ll check it out.


Against Content Minimalism

At the recent 2015 Healthcare Internet Conference in Orlando, several groups presented on content strategy. I sensed a clear theme: Slim is in. Everybody wants to cut content.

I’m taking a stand against this. Not because we’re a content-first company, but because cutting content without examining visitor goals makes no sense.

When to go minimal

I’m all for getting rid of ROT (redundant, outdated, or trivial) content. If a page duplicates information, cut it. If your information is wrong and you can’t make it accurate, it shouldn’t be on your site. If nobody is visiting a page, you may want to remove it—after first seeing if you don’t have an SEO issue that’s preventing people from accessing good information.

But you shouldn’t seek to slim down simply because it’s trendy. Most of these content reduction efforts seem to be focused on pure marketing goals that don’t take users into account at all. If you go down that path, you’ll be doing your visitors and your business a disservice.

How to approach deep content

The most popular reason for reducing content seems to be that most people don’t read all that content anyway. That’s true. Most visitors will skim and move on. But many other people—especially in health—want a significant amount of detail. If you remove the details completely, you’re saying that you don’t care about them.

Matt Hummell of Red Privet identified three types of visitors on a health care site during his presentation at the conference. Paraphrasing his work, those groups are:

  1. Fans: Referred to institution and will go without any convincing. All they want is to know how to make an appointment.
  2. Hesitaters: Referred but need to be convinced. They want to know why to choose your institution over another option.
  3. Doubters: These people need to be convinced to come to you. They want every detail possible before making a decision.

If you go minimal, you’ll get group 1 and likely lose 2 and 3.

Instead you need to create content that meets the needs of all three groups, and then present it in a way that doesn’t get in the way of group 1. Allow the doubters to drill down for details.

Understand your visitors

The key is that you need to understand what your users want before you can decide if you have too much content. We can, of course, help with that. Through user research, analytics, keyword research and more, we’ll provide insight into what people need from you, and match that with your business goals. We’ll deliver just the right amount of content—not too much and not too little.

What You Should Know About Responsive Design

Let’s just agree up front that mobile devices have changed the web and there’s no going back. One of the results of this web evolution has been a term you may be getting tired of: responsive design.

Responsive design is, at its core, a straightforward technique of applying specific styles for different screen sizes so that layouts, font sizes, images, etc. are all optimized for a particular screen. This is what allows a website to show your phone’s browser the ubiquitous hamburger icon rather than a full nav menu.

The ramification of this solution is that your style decisions (defined in your style sheets) are now multiplied by the number of screen sizes you target. Say you settle on three sizes—desktop, tablet, and phone—for each element on a page you must decide how it is presented for each of those three sizes. The typical approach is to divide page templates in regions, and define a behavior for each region.

There are a few pitfalls to avoid when building a responsive design site:

  • Boring, homogenous pages: There are many CSS toolkits for responsive grids and other schemes, and a development team new to responsive sites will tend to stick to the basics and force the design to fit the technology (in this case, their imperfect use of technology). Just be aware that there is nothing about responsive design that prevents you from producing beautiful web sites so keep at it.
  • Mobile features on the desktop: Watch out for that hamburger icon creeping out of the mobile-targeted styles. That, and other features that mobile users appreciate, don’t belong on your desktop site.
  • Surprising behavior and layouts: Each of the different screen sizes warrant extra planning, design, development, and QA time. Don’t expect to be able to build a responsive site for the same amount of effort as a traditional site.

And what of the biggest challenge of all: retrofitting an existing site as a responsive site? That’s a topic that deserves its own post, so stay tuned.

Bring on the Robowriters

I’m being replaced by machines, and I’m okay with it.

Over the past few years, several companies have developed software and algorithms that can take basic data and transform it into content for their sites. Newspapers use these tools to write simple stories, like a report on earnings or an earthquake. Recently Automated Insights made the technology available to everybody. So what’s the future hold for a writer when a machine can do the work?

I see this as an opportunity. A writer’s time isn’t best spent rehashing simple facts. If a machine can take data and create understandable sentences from it, that means a writer can use the time saved to delve deeper—what does the data mean, and why is it important to the people reading it?

To be honest, a few months out of journalism school, writers hate those cookie cutter stories anyway. So the machines are welcome to them.

Strategic content is more valuable

A better question to ask yourself: If some piece of information is so basic that it can be written by a machine, is it worth having on your site? For most of our clients, the answer should be no.

We work with several academic medical centers and health organizations, and their sites need to demonstrate expertise with treatments and tests. But often physicians want to duplicate encyclopedic information that’s readily available at WebMD or through licensed content. What’s more valuable are insights into why a patient should choose one facility over another and who they’ll be treated by.

Content strategy can help make your content unique—not something a robot can churn out—and more valuable to you and your readers. You need to understand where your visitors are in their journey, and as a result, what information they want from you at that time. Some of your patients may be at the beginning of their research, but in many cases they may have been diagnosed already and ready for the next step.

We can help you find the right balance of content, and write it in a way that adds context. We’ll leave the quarterly earnings to the robots.

Poor Image Tags: SEO or Accessibility Issue?

A recent report on on-page SEO by Raven Tools took the data obtained by their Site Auditor product—data from over 200 million pages crawled—and summarized their findings. Their #1 key finding was that 78 percent of all on-page SEO issues were image related. They went on to name the top 2 common on-page SEO issue on the web being:

  1. Images missing title attributes
  2. Images missing alt attributes

But let’s break down what this really means before you get too excited at the prospect of setting those attributes and garnering new traffic to your site.

First, yes, it’s not surprising that there are so many images on websites missing these tags. Marking up every image with a relevant and useful title and alt attribute is not difficult, but when sites are initially built there are hundreds or thousands of images at the outset and setting those attributes is rarely a priority. Unless you have a full-time SEO expert in-house, your web team probably sets those attributes, at best, as an afterthought.

Second, consider this: a typical website, especially one built 3 years ago or older, has an abundance of images as part of the page structure. A complex page template before the content is even added could easily contain 50 structural images. Those images may have the alt tags set, but probably not the title tag. What SEO value does the average structural image like this hold? None. And consider that those images would be counted for every page crawled in the report, inflating their numbers geometrically.

Finally, is it even worth evaluating your site and making changes? Yes. Images in your body content are extremely valuable, and training your web team to properly mark them up will add to your page’s SEO value.

But what this report really reveals is not so much an SEO issue, but an accessibility issue. All those structural images with no value? Every single one needs an alt attribute set to “” so that screen readers know to ignore them. While there is always something new you can do to improve your site’s SEO, accessibility isn’t sexy and site owners who aren’t government funded are generally ignorant of good accessibility practices. Take the first step by improving your image tagging.