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Everyday Digital Optimization

Posted on 2.03.2014

Walk into any office on a Friday, and you are likely greeted with genuine good cheer from the individuals who work there. For most, the last business day of the week means wearing jeans to work (kind of a big deal), making weekend plans, and chatting or lunching with colleagues.

Aside from categorizing those moments of happiness as “what grown-ups like,” Fridays are fun because they’re casual and optimistic, contagious characteristics that may even spark a certain degree of creativity not seen Monday through Thursday.

Almost by definition, Mondays can be the complete opposite. People are often dressed more formally, tired from their busy weekends, feeling the pressure of the week ahead and typically less social. Mondays can be formal and dreaded, which is also contagious and stifling.


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Digital optimization is a lot like our workweeks. With enough cycles of optimism and dread, Internet professionals begin to meet the act of optimizing something (anything really) with trepidation citing bad timing or lack of resources (time, money, support, tools) as to why something cannot be made better than it was yesterday.

Each professional has a different definition of “optimization.” For someone in Web development, it could mean to code for faster loading times. Similarly, some readers are responsible for increasing visibility on the search engines and finding ways to do that, while others must improve the digital experience to yield better engagement from users. These three areas, if you will, of optimization will be detailed in this month’s feature article complete with stories of professionals who have gone before you to make something better and to reach an optimal state of doing business on the Web.

These tales of “everyday optimization” should prove useful to each reader willing to be positive, work hard and collaborate every day. After all, there are entirely too many virtual elements waiting to be improved and too many offerings available to help.

The Inner Optimizer

Like the attitudes associated with Mondays and Fridays, cycles can help us or hurt us. They can serve as positive reminders that it’s time to clean out the garage in the spring, celebrate a loved one on a birthday or perhaps to reflect in a new year. Online companies, however, fall into negative cycles with decision makers only thinking about website performance before the holidays, their marketing collateral in preparation for product launches in the spring or their relationships prior to industry tradeshows in the fall. Instead, optimization should be ingrained in a company — daily improvements made for the greater, Finding a company’s “inner optimizer,” means thinking of optimization as a never-ending cycle because one improved element, improves another and improves another. When thinking that way, it’s everyday good.

Finding a company’s “inner optimizer,” means thinking of optimization as a never-ending cycle because one improved element, improves another and improves another. When thinking that way, it’s tough to justify waiting to optimize X in the summer if it’s going to improve Y and Z in the spring.

To get a better idea of how one element impacts another, let’s turn to Marc Ostrofsky, the New York Times bestselling author of “Get Rich Click” who wrote that good website practice and optimizing for conversion usually makes for good search engine optimization. He continued that “these work together to ensure you drive quality traffic and can persuade that traffic to help you meet your business goals.” Those thoughts — that there is an intuitive domino effect to optimization — make it pretty convincing to approach optimization more often and more holistically.


Everyday Optimization Tip: Nearly every type of business can benefit from using project management software to identify inefficiencies and improve workflow and access to information. Check out “10 Project Management Tools for ‘Net Professionals” at wsm.co/pgmt10.


Optimization Opportunities

Optimization is clearly a necessity to doing business on the modern Web, but, as Shutterstock Branded Content Producer Daniel Reiss advises, the first part of moving any needle is establishing baseline metrics.

There are countless quantitative and qualitative tools to help those responsible for a company’s Web success understand how their digital assets are currently performing and get an idea of how they can perform better.

Let’s explore a few real-world scenarios of readers like you who have leveraged a number of products to gain insights into their website performance and how they optimized based on those observations.

Engagement
Internet marketing agency Geek Powered Studios uses a variety of practices and tools to optimize its company website as well as those of its clients, but in order to gauge which pages needed to be optimized first on its own site, the “geeks” needed to measure interaction within its Web pages.

These tools, according to “geek of all trades” Jason Whitt, included: Google Analytics, mainly to measure the page flow and amount of time visitors spent on its site; Crazy Egg Heatmaps, to see where interactions on a particular page are taking place; and Wistia for videos, to gain some insight on video interaction such as return views and how far into the video people actually watched.

By gathering all this data, Whitt and his team were able to see just where visitors were “falling off” or leaving their site and then split-test changes using a tool called Visual Optimizer. By running A/B split tests, Geek Powered Studios was able to gather data on how people adapt to the page changes it makes.

These methods are also used to help improve the websites of Geek Powered Studio clients. From testing video thumbnails and video interaction, to image placement and text structure, the “geeks” have no limit to the variety of tests that they run to optimize results.


Everyday Optimization Tip: Over 6 billion hours of video are watched each month on YouTube—that’s almost an hour for every person on Earth, and 50 percent more than last year, according to the Google-owned website. enLocal DC, an online marketing company specializing in Google Local Search Listings & YouTube videos, recommends using YouTube as a second website to drive more traffic to a company’s main site. Get a “Crash Course on YouTube for Business” at wsm.co/youtube4biz.


Conversion
Reiss from Shutterstock took his own advice of establishing baseline metrics before making changes when he was part of the stock photography agency’s blog relaunch. Shutterstock used reporting tools to understand how the current blog was converting before making any actual changes and adopted the same proprietary tracking technology used on its main site for its blog platform.

As a company that is successfully selling millions of photos, illustrations and video clips, it make sense to use the same software that is working on Shutterstock.com to improve conversions through Shutterstock.com/blog, which ultimately shows existing and potential customers how to put the Shutterstock library to work for them.

Along with adding instantly deployable marketing modules for category and article pages to quickly test and tweak imaging and messaging, the Shutterstock blog simply found more opportunities to lead readers back to the main site to begin registration. Overall, Shutterstock is headed in the right direction to make the two properties work as one cohesive unit, improve the user experience and increase conversion along the way.

Regardless of what enterprises use to improve conversions (Shutterstock uses its own proprietary technology), brands need to be able to test and optimize at will. The Jan. 2014 issue of Website Magazine featured 50 of the top testing and optimization solutions and is available on the ’Net at wsm.co/jan50.


Everyday Optimization Tip: In-content linking is an optimization opportunity many organizations ignore or misuse, but every content creator should have a steadfast process for in-content linking that is strategic, consistent and helps readers discover more relevant material. Website Magazine contributor Greg Keller of LinkSmart shares five power tips to pick in-content links at wsm.co/incontent.




Search Engine Optimization
At USNetting.com, its Web development and SEO team have gone through the process of optimizing just about everything, every day, including its digital media such as images and videos, page titles and description tags, image alt tags, contact forms, backlink profiles and the code of its site. And, while some of these optimization efforts could certainly fall under the “performance” umbrella, rather than SEO, it’s important to remember that X affects Y.

Many of the performance audit tools that Brandon Shallenberger and Ed Wieczorek of USNetting.com have been using in the past few months have provided detailed metrics and error reports that helped them find exactly what is slowing down their site and what could be holding it back from ranking in the search engine result pages (SERPs). While they have been jumping around to see what tools give them the most concise and accurate information, here are some free tools available for all Web developers that they recommend for everyday optimization:

Google/Bing Webmaster Tools
Two of the most important tools on the market are the Webmaster tools offered by Google and Bing. Both allow brands to see how each search engine views pages, which can give insights into website problems, such as 404 errors, spammy backlinks and missing title tags. (Note: Bing Webmaster tools also apply to the Yahoo! search engine.)

W3C
The http://validator.w3.org/ site audits Web validity of Web pages and returns comprehensive error reports with line references and explanations. Brands looking to validate an entire site can use the new premium model that allows companies to run more than one page at a time.

Screaming Frog

This is one of the “coolest” tools Shallenberger and Wieczorek have come across, and they have only began to understand its capabilities. Its most simple function crawls a site and finds any resources and pages that may be attached. This is helpful for finding 404’d images and URIs, missing title or alt tags, and managing 304 redirects. The paid version allows complete customization, turning it into a brand’s own Web crawling bot. So why does this matter for search engine optimization? Search engines want to provide an optimal experience and need to be able to access information quickly to determine its credibility. Multiple redirects, broken links and missing information hinder those efforts and the user experience.

USNetting.com also uses a variety of paid tools to perform site performance auditing and search engine ranking tracking functions, including Raven tools (their favorite), SEMrush, cognitiveSEO and Moz. With all of its optimization efforts, Shallenberger and Wieczorek have seen a huge increase in their site’s page loading speed across all devices. Additionally, the site is steadily moving up the ranks in search engines, even for high competition terms.

The pair said that their predecessor made some “really bad SEO decisions,” and USNetting.com was certainly penalized in the past for them. These errors in judgment or knowledge can be hard to recover from, but with constant diligence, they have started to reclaim USNetting.com’s spot atop the search results.

“One thing to keep in mind from this is that when it comes to non-technical factors there is such a thing as over-optimization,” said Shallenberger. “Don’t spam keywords in your title, description or alt tags. This may move you up slightly but Google finds out really quick in most cases who is gaming the system.

Always focus on user experience and providing useful and unique content. If you do that, top rankings will follow. And never purchase links. Just take a look into what happened to Rap Genius in January for an example of what link schemes will get you.”


Everyday Optimization Tip: For a “BIG List of Tools for Professional Search Marketers” visit wsm.co/searchlist.


Investment Woes In the examples from Geek Powered Studios, Shutterstock and USNetting.com, optimization was a team effort. Collectively, they evaluated what wasn’t working, took action and then evaluated again. Sometimes, however, things aren’t so cut and dry when there are different powers at play.

“Each client really has their own unique challenges and issues but we are seeing that fairly consistently across all verticals, companies run into challenges of internal buy-off in order to meet the needs of the project,” said Jason Squardo, executive vice president of optimization at ZOG Digital. “We recommend that clients communicate internally to their technical and website teams so that all stakeholders on the project are aware of the digital marketing plan and how their role impacts the process.”

Oftentimes “buy-in” or getting people on board a project relies on how educated the employee “pitching” is on what needs to be tweaked or completely overhauled. We all are not, however, cut from the same cloth. Some Internet professionals prefer to present an idea in a written report, while others may want to present their ideas face-to-face. To help with both, Website Magazine has compiled, “6 Ways to Pitch a Project” available on the Web at wsm.co/pitchperfect6.

Power of One

Companies, regardless of size or vertical, are sometimes not managed the way employees think they “oughta be.” This can discourage employees and over time, turn them indifferent (hands down the worst characteristic anyone can bring to the table, virtual or otherwise).

Brands should empower their employees to take action and to voice their ideas. How a company does that depends on its own culture, but there should always be a way to address an issue, make a plan to fix it and, of course, see it through.

As individuals, however, there is a lot we can do to optimize our accountability, creativity and productivity without approval from above. Here are few ideas for individual optimization:

Use Free Services

Much to the chagrin of some employers, a person’s smartphone is typically never 2 feet away from them, even at work. This can improve a person’s output if they put their smartphone to work for them. For example, using Toggl Time Tracker, Pomodroido or Jiffy Time Tracker apps can help them manage their time better.

Net professionals looking to create content that matters can turn to InboundWriter to optimize their writing for better visibility and conversions. With free and premium plans, writers can use InboundWriter to optimize their content and share their findings with their teammates later on. Other free tools that can help optimize content for both creativity and “findability” are Prompts, iThoughts, If This Then That (IFTTT), PRLog.com and Portent’s Title Maker.

Become a Subject Matter Expert

Sometimes we don’t give ourselves enough credit, but each of us has something that we do better or know more about than a friend, family member or even coworker.

This knowledge can help those willing to learn more (using products like Feedly, NewsBlur or Newsle can help) and share their knowledge to optimize selfand brand recognition. Here are 14 places to show off your subject matter expertise: Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, SlideShare, Quora, PRLog, PRWeb, Scoop. it!, GoodBlogs, NewPitchEngine, Help a Reporter Out, Vimeo, Tumblr and YouTube.

Energy Matters

As individuals that make up teams, ideas and projects, we bring energy to every situation. The type of energy we bring — whether it’s Friday-like excitement or Monday-like dread — is up to us, yet our attitudes are contagious.

When online professionals start thinking about how we can continuously improve something to be better than it was yesterday, optimization can truly be an everyday matter. To continue this discussion, please visit this issue’s commentary on page 70.

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