Here’s a Website Performance Checklist to Kick 2020 Off Right

Reviewing your website’s security practices, privacy policies, accessibility, and analytics can help improve performance over the course of the year. You can still pledge to get the most from your website. This website performance checklist can help.

No need to abandon all hope if your New Year’s resolutions have already fallen by the wayside. You can still pledge to get the most from your website in 2020. This website performance checklist can help.

None of these topics are particularly sexy. Nor are they likely to have the kind of top-line impact (read: massive increases in revenue) that lead to promotions and bonuses. But they can save you a ton of pain and regret throughout the year. And without a doubt, they will make those revenue-spiking initiatives that much more successful.

Security Review

Having your domain blacklisted is nobody’s idea of fun. Because there’s no “Undo” button, once you’re in trouble, it’s time-consuming to get out. So, it is well worth reviewing your site’s security to ensure that no evil lurks in the heart of your coding.

Check your traffic logs and firewall settings to make sure you’re still keeping as much malicious activity off your site as possible.

If your site is custom coded, confirm with your developers that the code base is being updated regularly to guard against malware and other attacks. (Even fully customized sites generally rely on code libraries or frameworks that can be the target of attacks.)

If you use a commercial CMS, do a similar check with the vendor. It can be helpful to also do a web search for “[my CMS name] vulnerabilities” and other phrases to find reports of attacks.

An open-source CMS requires a similar review:

  • Do you have the most recent version installed?
  • Are all of the plugins, modules, widgets, and other helper programs up to date?

In all of these cases, you should be on a regularly scheduled maintenance plan with your development team. Now is the time to make sure you have the most appropriate level of protection.

Don’t forget the basics. A quick review is all that should be required to make sure that your registrar and hosting accounts are secure and your domain name and SSL certificate are in order and not at risk of cancellation. If you host internally, review server access to eliminate the chance of former employees making mischief.

Privacy Review

If GDPR and CCPA sound like alphabet soup to you, it’s definitely time to review your site’s privacy policy and things like data retention. This is now true even for non-transactional sites. GDPR may apply only to those of us who work with E.U. residents, but CCPA applies to most firms who interact with California residents. The Shield law applies to every firm in New York State.

That’s a lot to keep track of and understanding your responsibilities can be overwhelming. Given the potential fines involved, this is not an area where you want to take all of your advice from a marketer, coder, or (ahem) digital strategist. Be sure to have a knowledgeable lawyer review your privacy policies and practices.

Accessibility Review

Making websites accessible to people with disabilities is an area that has grown in importance over the past 18 months or so because of an increase in legal actions, even though the relevant regulations aren’t new.

The good news is that building new websites to be accessible isn’t particularly difficult, nor is maintaining that accessibility as new content is added. Both require an understanding of the requirements and a shift in approach.

The story is not quite as rosy for bringing existing sites into compliance, which tends to be more labor-intensive. Adjustments may include changes to branding and in-depth review of content (image alt tags, for example), as well as less visible coding changes.

There are a number of excellent assessment tools that can help you get an understanding of the effort required to make the site compliant. But a deeper, manual scan will also be required to uncover everything.

Analytics Review

Finally, don’t forget to review your analytics. This is one area that just may uncover insights that can lead to revenue growth that and a move closer to the corner office, though more likely those improvements will be incremental.

  • Compare statistics year-over-year to see where you’ve improved and where performance has fallen off.
  • Determine whether your mobile audience is growing or holding steady. (It’s probably not shrinking.)
  • Review traffic sources to see how visitors are finding you. That can guide adjustments to your marketing efforts.

You may be doing quite a bit of this on a monthly or quarterly basis as part of your marketing efforts. Still, it’s worth it to expand beyond that scope to look at broader performance and strive for continual improvement throughout 2020 and beyond.

Link Spam — What’s Old Is New Again

Link spam is like the proverbial crabgrass in the digital lawn. It requires continuous attention to keep it from taking over.

spamLink spam is like the proverbial crabgrass in the digital lawn. It requires continuous attention to keep it from taking over.

Recently, Google noted an increase in spammy links contained in articles referred to as contributor posts, guest posts, partner posts or syndicated posts. This new outbreak has been particularly virulent among sites publishing articles that are generally written by or in the name of one website, and published on a different one.

This informative blog post set my spidey-sense tingling. Should it be interpreted as more than a bland warning about the evils of link-building? Google usually signals major changes prior to implementation of what would, in this instance, be corrective action. Savvy SEOs know that these bland-seeming alerts should be heeded, for they give just enough time for alert site owners to correct any problems.

Link-Building — An Unusual Approach

In more than 15 years as a full-time SEO, link-building has always been the last effort on my list of must-do’s. Here are some reasons for my somewhat iconoclastic view:

• Links Are an Invitation for Your Visitor to Leave

Most of my clients are in the e-commerce space. Links, even links that open in a new window, still take a valuable visitor away from the site. If the information is essential, it should be on the page or somewhere on the site. Links should be references.

• Links Require Management

Links to and from outside sites can go bad, just like milk or fruit. There are tools available for managing links to make sure that your site does not have a load of dead links, but this just adds yet another line into an already too-long list of site maintenance tasks. For very large sites, this can become a non-trivial task; hence, it is too easy to let hygiene slip by the wayside. Just ask any email marketer about the problems and challenges of list maintenance.

• Good Content Attracts Links

A build-it-and-they-will-come approach has always been my recommendation. Content that is original, useful and highly targeted to your users will attract not only readers/users, but also links. This is completely congruent with Google’s recommendations.

What Are the Bad Links Google Is Targeting?

Google does not discourage linking in articles when they inform users, educate another site’s audience or bring awareness to a cause or company. This type of link can readily grow from quality content. Google is discouraging link-building schemes where the main intent is to build links in a large-scale way back to the author’s site. Google also indicates the traits of links in articles that violate their guidelines. These include:

  • Stuffing keyword-rich links to your site in your articles that appear on other sites.
  • Having the articles published across many different sites; alternatively, having a large number of articles on a few large, different sites.
  • Using or hiring article writers who aren’t knowledgeable about the topics they’re writing on.
  • Using the same or similar content across these articles; alternatively, duplicating the full content of articles found on your own site (in which case, use of rel=”canonical” in addition to rel=”nofollow” is advised).

Google notes that when the search engine detects such spammy links, it may alter its perception of the site and impact its ranking.

In short, punishment in the form of ranking demotion should be expected for those who do not heed this warning and clean up their acts. So, if you use contributor posts, guest posts, partner posts or syndicated posts as part of your marketing, review how you are handling linking. Not sure of the value, but not ready to let them go, just “nofollow” the links.

Consider yourself warned, don’t persist, or you will be downgraded. Maybe not today, but sometime soon.

Telemarketing: The Impossible Tradeoff

One of my Brazilian colleagues, Roberto Silva (not his real name), was a frequent traveler to the U.S. on business and for pleasure. He had a daughter at an American university and he visited her whenever he could. He also liked buying things at specialist outlets and, a few years back, had bought some trousers (which became his favorites) from Lands’ End.

Call center agentOne of my Brazilian colleagues, Roberto Silva (not his real name), was a frequent traveler to the U.S. on business and for pleasure. He had a daughter at an American university and he visited her whenever he could. He also liked buying things at specialist outlets and, a few years back, had bought some trousers (which became his favorites) from Lands’ End.

With his wife reminding him regularly that these favorite trousers were wearing out, he decided to buy some new ones on his next trip. From his New York hotel, he telephoned Lands’ End and introduced himself to the cheery telephonist who welcomed him back to Lands’ End. A moment later, she asked him about his daughter, how she was doing and if she had graduated from college? Stunned, he asked how she knew about his daughter and she said that the last time he had called, he had mentioned that as the reason for his visit. What could she do to help him?

She asked how he liked the trousers he had bought before. He replied that if they still had them in stock, he’d order two more pair. “Can we ship them to the same hotel you stayed at last time? We can have them to you by tomorrow evening,” she said. Of course he purchased them and some other items and when he told me the story he said emphatically: “I’ll never buy trousers like these anywhere else. There are warm, friendly people who work there, not a telephone bullpen staffed by bored and underpaid, out-of-work actors. These people obviously enjoy talking to customers and seem in no hurry to get you off the phone and you don’t have to listen to endless menu options and punch in some numbers to get someone to talk to you.”

Perhaps that’s a rather long way around to introduce the “impossible tradeoff,” the obvious cost-saving of having an automated system interact with the customer up to or beyond the point where he or she either needs or demands to talk with a human being, vs. a totally human interface which may be less efficient in terms of costs, but is more likely to have customers become “advocates,” as my friend Roberto had. Can you imagine someone saying how happy they were only having to make four menu options instead of 10?

Banks and credit card companies seem to be in competition with mobile phone operators to win some prize for making it difficult to talk with anyone (and making you wait the longest time if you want to). Internet sellers are often even worse, hiding their telephone numbers in the most secluded nooks of their websites. The recent United Airlines disaster of dragging a passenger off of a flight to free up some oversold seats is a horrible example of how a focus on efficiency (in this case, maximum passenger loads created by intentional over-booking) can undermine customer loyalty. After that incident, it will take a long time before anyone is ever “loyal” to United again.

The ultimate question is one of relative value. And despite all of the big data in the world, there really is no way of gauging accurately the relative value of the tradeoff. How strongly the customer feels about the transaction must be an important if unquantifiable (soft) data point.

The bean-counters will assure you of the obvious saving; machines are, in the long run, cheaper than people. They work 24/7, they don’t demand raises and they don’t need pregnancy leave. Then they will argue that customers are better-served, get to speak to the right knowledgeable person faster than explaining their problem over and over again — or better, have it dealt with without human intervention. Not so for my friend Roberto, who will counter that his loyalty and the loyalty of many like-minded customers will more than make up for the savings in long-term revenue and insulation against “efficient” competition.

So where do you draw the bottom line?

It’s always a tradeoff compromise (the best solution or the worst). But I would opt for an automated answer which, first, thanked the caller for calling and second, offered a choice of:

  1. Immediately talking to a warm, friendly and knowledgeable human, or
  2. Hearing a short menu, which may speed you to the answer you are looking for.

Unfortunately, a “right” answer is impossible.

 

Endit …

AMP-Up Your Mobile Search Efforts Now

Those who heeded the warnings of Mobilegeddon and now have pages designated “mobile-friendly” have found that users strongly prefer the mobile-friendly pages and reward them with clicks. Google has just upped the ante with its announcement earlier this month that accelerated mobile pages (AMP) would soon be receiving a special notation in the search results.

Google AMPIf you put mobile on the back-burner with the passing of Mobilegeddon in April 2015, you made a huge mistake.

First, mobile searches have continued to grow and now outnumber those done from the desktop. Mobile devices have now become the de facto tool in the hands of almost everyone. The diversity of searches on mobile reflect this.

Mobile search is no longer confined to busy individuals looking for flower shops, restaurants and pizza stores. Yes! Mobile search is still used for finding local eateries and services, but today there is a much broader diversity of searches.

Those who heeded the warnings of Mobilegeddon and now have pages designated “mobile-friendly” have found that users strongly prefer the mobile-friendly pages and reward them with clicks. Google has just upped the ante with its announcement earlier this month that accelerated mobile pages (AMP) would soon be receiving a special notation in the search results. This advance warning from Google should give site owners some time to develop their solutions before this designation is rolled out worldwide.

AMP Adds New Urgency for Mobile SEO

AMP pages are the result of an open-source initiative envisioned to help publishers create mobile-optimized content once and have it load instantly everywhere. Thousands of developers have worked on creating this project.

Google has long touted speed as a key SEO element, so savvy SEO practitioners have sought every available means to speed their pages. Users don’t abandon fast-loading pages, and Google uses reduced bounce rates as one of its algorithmic measures. Google has noted that 40 percent of users will abandon any website that takes more than three seconds to load. Mobile pages often take at least eight seconds to load.

Slow-loading mobile pages lead to user frustration, abandonment of searches and other undesirable results.

AMP pages load four times faster and use eight times less data than traditional mobile-optimized pages. This is because AMP has essentially overhauled the core elements of how websites structure their mobile pages. It allows developers to strip down the markup creating a simpler, leaner, faster Web page. AMP eliminates third-party scripts like Javascript to create a bare-bones version, cached and delivered through Google’s speedy network. The results are stunning.

Google has been showing AMP results in the news carousel for several months. This has essentially softened up the user base for the full implementation.

It should be noted that AMP implementation should not be undertaken under the mistaken notion that it will provide a rankings boost. Whether a page is AMP or not will not influence its ranking, but here is the minor rub. Page speed has long been a ranking factor, and users have been shown to prefer fast pages. To my way of parsing the logic, a faster page will result in a better user experience. A positive user experience is the ultimate ranking factor.

Not Ready Yet!

Be advised that there are already 150 million AMP pages out there. You will not be a pioneer if you get on board now. If you are not ready to jump in the AMP pool with both feet, if it’s too new perhaps or too risky, then consider AMP-ing just a few pages or sections of your site and give it a test.

Don’t wait too long — this is another fast-moving change driven by users’ preferences for fast-loading pages, and your site is all about the users, isn’t it?

Your Top 5 Direct Marketing Problems

What do you consider your greatest marketing problem? Or perhaps of even more interest: What do your peers report as their top marketing problems? And if you could, wouldn’t you want to know what channels your competitors report as working for them?

Angry manWhat do you consider your greatest marketing problem? Or perhaps of even more interest: What do your peers report as their top marketing problems? And if you could, wouldn’t you want to know what channels your competitors report as working for them? I recently surveyed a few marketers with those questions, so today I share what’s on their minds, along with an analysis of those marketing problems and successful channels as we go into 2016.

First, the top five problems:

  1. “Finding new customers and reengaging the ones we have to buy again.”
  2. “Competitive pressure is relentless and we’re struggling to break out.”
  3. “Overwhelmed with channel choices and uncertain what channels to use.”
  4. “Marketing in general isn’t delivering like it used to.”
  5. “Profitability is too low.”

Next, the channels with the highest satisfaction:

  1. Email
  2. Websites/landing pages
  3. Facebook
  4. Video
  5. Direct mail

Combining these two topics, I offer this analysis in the form of three takeaways:

Takeaway No. 1
Problem No. 1, finding new customers, and No. 3, channel choices, are linked. If these two elements are your problems too, you may be limiting your profitability with the channels you’re using. The number of channel choices and the pace at which they evolve is dizzying. You need to be knowledgeable about them (or find someone who can untangle them for you). You may need to venture out into the unknown. As they saying goes, you need to “meet your customers where they are.” If they’re on a channel you’re not using, then you likely suffer from difficulties in finding new customers and reengaging past customers.

Now, let’s overlay these problems with the channels where your peers report satisfaction.

  • The marketers who I heard from are satisfied with email marketing. If you’re not happy with your email marketing results, maybe it’s time to more aggressively A/B test new approaches to identify winners. Don’t forget the importance of your landing page to close deals.
  • Consider A/B testing of video on your landing page and evaluate its impact on conversions. Or test a long-form video sales letter. A well-done video can create greater comprehension.
  • Have you tried Facebook remarketing? Promoted posts? Are you engaging your followers frequently, with meaningful content, to create raving fans? Once you build Facebook followers, you have to continue to deliver meaningful content before you see results.

Takeaway No. 2
Problem No. 2, competitive pressure, and No. 4, marketing not delivering like it used to, can also be linked. How do you break away from your competition? You may need to re-examine your unique selling proposition, and then reposition your product or organization.

Have you conducted a competitive analysis? Research what your competitors are doing online and the channels they are using. Document your findings, then make a list of the top five things they’re doing that you’re not and test new approaches.

Takeaway No. 3
Problem No. 5, low profitability, reveals that you need to find lower-cost channels, or make a higher-cost channel like direct mail work better. Another possibility: reevaluate your offer and price. The top three channels where marketers are satisfied (email, websites and Facebook) are typically less expensive than direct mail, but require ongoing content development. Video doesn’t have to be expensive, especially if you’re able to use customer-generated video for testimonials.

If profitability is lower than you want, now is the time for two tests: One is to invest in lower cost channels. The second is to test new creative and/or production values in direct mail to either increase response, or lower your cost per response.