Search engine optimization for small and very small businesses.

Archive for the user experience Category

Helpful Smartphone User Information for Your SEO

Good-to-know smartphone usage information.

The infographic below is from last year and from UK Web Host Review, but it’s still definitely relevant in 2021 in the US.

As just a single point of SEO related information, search engines have been increasingly penalizing web pages that aren’t mobile-friendly. Last year Google doubled down on its mobile-first policy.  Now your website may not just rank lower if it doesn’t work well on phones, it might not show up in the search results at all.

Here are some more relevant statistics for you.

Smartphone User Information for SEO from UKWebHostReview

Embedded from UKWebHostReview

63% of Google searches are from smartphones. That means it’s critical that your website be mobile friendly, preferably responsive. It’s also essential that your site downloads to a phone quickly, preferably within 2½ seconds. You can test your speed at Google’s Mobile Website Speed Testing site.

Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Here: 7 Steps to Prepare for Google’s Page Experience Factor

Page experience will affect your rankings soon

There’s a new algorithm change at Google scheduled for next May, and it promises to be a big one. Google calls it the Page Experience factor and we introduced it in this blog a few months ago. Much of what’s involved in page experience used to be referred to as user experience, or UX.

Perhaps the most important thing to understand about page experience is that not only will it help you to rank better in search results, but it will also help retain visitors on your site. A good page experience encourages visitors to read more on your site and visit more pages. And that’s highly correlated with conversions of those visitors to paying customers.

How you can get ready

Let’s look at seven specific things you can do to make sure you have a healthy page experience and can demonstrate that to Google.

1 — Mobile Friendly

Yoiur web site MUST be mobile friendly.More than half of all website visits are happening on cell phones. As a result, Google’s index of website content is looking only at mobile friendly content. If your website isn’t mobile friendly, it’s awkward to use on a phone and people are likely to abandon you and look up a competitor instead. For that reason and others, Google is reluctant to rank highly websites that aren’t mobile friendly. In general, I recommend a responsive site rather than having a separate site for mobile users that’s at all different from your desktop version.

2 — Core Web Vitals

One of the most important page experience factors is your page download experience, and core web vitals grade you on that. Google scores this based on three things:

It's important to pay attention to your page speed metrics.Loading

How quickly the page displays in your browser or on a phone — in technical terms, “largest contentful paint” (LCP), or how long it takes before you have a full screen displayed. If your page displays a temporary splash screen or a loading indicator, that doesn’t count. This measures how long it takes before you have a meaningful screen. To be acceptable, this should be no more than 2.5 seconds.


First input delay (FID) measures how long it takes before it’s interactive (meaning responsive to your actions on the page). A page is not always usable immediately upon being displayed; for example, buttons may not work until additional code has been loaded. To be acceptable, this should be no more than 0.1 seconds.

Visual stability

This is measured as something called “cumulative layout shift” (CLS). In some websites, you may be ready to press a button when all of a sudden things move on the screen and that button is no longer where it used to be. Sometimes after the page loads, pop-ups may show up that interfere with using the page. Instability of objects on the screen is a negative experience factor. This is measured by the relative size of the unstable element and how much it moves. To be acceptable, this score should be no more than 0.1.

Google's core web vitals metrics are an important part of its evaluation of your Page ExperienceSome of this is a function of your website itself, but some may also be a function of your web hosting company. For most of us, this is the technical stuff that we leave up to our web designer or web host. To check how your own website stands up to these, there are a number of tools you can use. Google offers six ways to check your core web vitals.

Are you inclined to dig into the details? If so, here’s a good overview.

If you’re not a technical person, I suggest asking your web developer to let you know how you stack up. And if your site needs work, I encourage you to have them deal with it because this may be the single most important part of Google’s new page experience score.

3 — Readability

Poor readability is an important reason for users to abandon your page and look elsewhere for what they need. When someone finds your page in search results and immediately bounces back to the search results to choose something else, the search engines understand that to mean that your page was not a good match for that search. And it’s less likely to be shown for that search in the future.

A sample of text with poor readability.A key measure of readability is the reading level, usually expressed as a grade level. Unless you’re writing a technical thesis, you don’t want your writing to be at a grade level 13 or higher. In general you should target a grade level of no higher than eighth grade. A quick and easy test for your web pages is available at WebFX.

Unfortunately, this is not usually something you can delegate to your web team. It requires your subject knowledge, and often the assistance of a professional copywriter can be invaluable.

4 — Clarity

Make sure your website content is both readable and clear.Beyond the reading level of your content, it also needs clarity. Is it easy for the reader to determine the point you’re trying to make? People typically scan content first to decide whether to read it carefully. A web page that’s set up for quick and easy scanning makes that easy.

The use of headings and subheadings can help a user quickly scan down the page to get to where they need to read carefully. Having short, punchy paragraphs, enough white space around it, and supportive images makes content easier to digest than long, dense paragraphs. You don’t want to have someone look at your page and conclude TL:DR — “too long, didn’t read”.

Avoid belaboring the point – don’t go off on tangents either. Mark Twain once said, “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one.” Take the time to write with clarity.

5 — Intrusive Interstitials

You want to avoid these. But it’s not immediately obvious what they are. Interstitials are usually screens that pop up in between pages as someone navigates through your website. Sometimes they pop up before the home page is displayed. Often they’re ads, but sometimes they’re something helpful like an offer to chat with a live person.

Examples of intrusive interstitial's that can generate a Google ranking penalty.Pop-ups are not necessarily bad if they’re small enough. The problem is intrusive interstitials that are so large that significant portions of the content are obliterated by them.

On a responsive website, pop-ups that aren’t intrusive in a desktop browser may be very intrusive on a phone. That’s something to keep in mind because Google’s index is based on the mobile version of your website.

6 — Safety

Danger warning icon.If your website gets hacked or contains malicious software, you can count on getting weeded out of Google’s search results. Make sure your website and your web host are safety conscious and have appropriate protective software in place.

If your website is designed in WordPerfect, I recommend the WordFence security plug-in to alert you whenever security updates are available for your website or any of the plug-ins it uses. Your web designer can make other recommendations about what’s appropriate for you.

7 — Security

Security has to do with encrypting data that travels between your website and the user’s computer or phone. A secure website has a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificate. It’s easy to tell because if it does, the address of your website starts with https://instead of just http://.

Originally most websites didn’t bother with an SSL certificate unless they were collecting personal data like credit card information. That’s changed now, and all websites should be secure.

Chrome will point out if a website is insecure for not having an SSL certificate.If your website doesn’t have an SSL certificate, when people look at it in Chrome they will see indicator that your site is “not secure”. Some users may infer that means your website is dangerous; you can lose potential customers that way!

Now’s the time to get ready for Google’s Page Experience algorithm update.

As of this writing, we all have about five months to get our websites ready for this significant change to Google’s ranking factors. Don’t put it off.

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Join the conversation with your thoughts or questions in the comments below.

Google’s New Ranking Factor: Page Experience

Google to focus on user experience as a ranking factor.Google’s next big algorithm change for Page Experience is planned for launch next year. It will measure user enjoyment of web pages using both old and new specific ranking factors, grouped into a page experience score. Google explains it:

The page experience signal measures aspects of how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page. Optimizing for these factors makes the web more delightful for users across all web browsers and surfaces, and helps sites evolve towards user expectations on mobile. We believe this will contribute to business success on the web as users grow more engaged and can transact with less friction.

So what are these page experience factors?

I’ve broken them down into nine discrete thing that a small business owner needs to address on your website.  Let’s hit them one at a time.

Your site needs to be responsive and mobile friendly

A responsive site is one that adapts to the device it’s showing up on. If you open up your site in a browser and change the width of the browser window, the display of the website should respond to that. If you make the browser window narrower, you shouldn’t see it cut off the right edge of paragraphs.

Bring mobile-friendly is no longe an option. Most searches are done from phones now.This is it really obvious on a phone. Your website should look  different on a phone than it does on a desktop computer. But you don’t want to have a separate mobile-only websites like some people did in the early days of the smart phone. You want the same information available on a phone that’s available on a computer, since Google is using a mobile-first index. If your mobile site is abbreviated and has less content in an effort to more easily fit on a phone, that’s the version of your site Google will index and rank. You want one website that can display differently on a computer and a phone. That way the same information is available regardless of how a customer is looking at it.

Also in terms of being mobile-friendly, it’s important that tap targets, links, buttons and so forth, are large enough and far enough apart to make it easy to tap them. If they’re too close together, your fingers are likely to hit two at once and that provides a poor user experience. The size of your text also may need to be different on a phone so that it’s easy to read.

Page speed

Page speed is important: all else being equal, a fast page will outrank a slow page.Page speed refers to how many seconds it takes for a page on your website to download into a user’s browser or phone. Google likes to see a web page that displays on your phone or in your computer within 2½  seconds. Fully displaying in 4 seconds is considered adequate, but any longer than that and Google considers it to offer a poor experience.

From a practical matter, we live in an age of impatience. If someone clicks on your listing in search results and drums their fingers while they’re waiting for to load, they may give up before it finishes loading and go back to the Google search results. They are there likely to click on another listing and that “bounce” tells Google that they didn’t like what they found on your site. Not only did you lose a potential customer, but it’s likely to hurt your rankings in the future.

Visual stability

All across the web they are calling this “cumulative layout shift” or CLS. Let your web designer worry about those terms, but don’t  let this jargon intimidate you. What this refers to is things jumping around on your screen as a page loads. It can be very annoying, as you can see on the website Media Bias Fact Check. Google considers this a poor page experience and if it’s happening on your website, your rankings will suffer for it.

[Update March 2021] I’m sure it’s not because of us, but Media Bias Fact Check has corrected their visual stability issue so it’s no longer a good example.

Avoid 404 errors

404-error-page-not-foundWhen a user tries to go to a page that isn’t where they think it is, they get a 404 Page Not Found error. If there are links on your site that point incorrectly to content on you’re website, your shooting yourself in the foot. It’s a poor user experience if you send your users to pages that aren’t there. It’s important to scan your website and make sure you clear up any of those.

Beyond that, though, there may be malformed links on other websites or links on those sites that point to pages you have since eliminated or moved. Those 404 errors are pretty much unavoidable. But you can improve the user experience of them with a custom 404 page. Unlike the default 404 error your browser provides, if you have a custom 404 page it’s formatted just like your website so users know that they haven’t been completely lost. Many websites treat this with a little bit of humor and offer to help the misled user to find what they’re looking for via a search option or a link to your site map.

Security is important

HTTPS padlock icon

Is your website secure? Google is on a mission to improve security across the web, and as a result it tends to give a ranking advantage to secure websites. If your website URL starts with HTTP:// then it’s not secure. Secure websites start with HTTPS:// and insecure websites are flagged when they show up in Chrome. Many people will see the “Not secure” indicator in the address bar of their browser and mistake it to mean that the site is dangerous. You certainly don’t want that for your own website.

If your website is insecure, our blog post from a couple of years ago may help. It’s entitled Make Your Small Business Website Secure with HTTPS.

Avoid intrusive interstitials

Boy, that’s a mouthful. Intrusive interstitials refers to those annoying pop-ups that block most or all of the page content when you arrive on the page. You may have run into them when loading certain websites with an ad blocking plug-in in your browser. Very often they pop up to ask you to subscribe to a newsletter, and so forth. They provide an annoying user interface, and Google doesn’t like them for that very reason.

Not all pop-ups are bad; just those that are intrusive, blocking too much content.


Writing readable text The Internet expression TL:DR has become popular lately. It means “Too Long: Didn’t Read”. If your web page is too long or too dense and intimidating, people may leave before they digest what you’re trying to say. That doesn’t mean you need to have short pages with little content on them. On the contrary. But you can reduce the density of the page with effective implementation of images and white space.

You also want to avoid sounding pedantic because it takes too much effort on the part of your reader. The Yoast SEO plug-in for WordPress has a very valuable feature in that it will assess the readability of your content and offer suggestions to make it more approachable.

Employ clear headings and subheadings

Clear headings and subheadings can go a long way toward making your material less intimidating. Users can scan the page to find the precise portion of the page they are most interested in. Odds are you scanned this page’s headings before deciding to read it. And by employing proper heading tags in the code of your page, you help Google more easily understand your page, and that can only help in your rankings.

Don’t forget CTAs

Include a Call To Action on your page for best reaults.A CTA is a Call to Action and is critical in getting your users to take the action you want them to. If you’ve ever ordered a burger at a fast food joint, the cashier almost certainly asked you “do you want fries with that?” They sell a hell of a lot more fries because they ask.

So if you want someone to call you or to sign up for your newsletter, or to buy something, you need to ask them to do just that. The easiest CTAs to see are buttons, but you can also employ text-only calls to action if that fits your purposes better.

Page experience is important in so many ways

A good page experience will entice more people to read what you have to say, will keep them  engaged and on your page longer, That will reduce your bounce rate and increase your time-on-page, and thus will increase conversions as more people click on your calls to action. Here’s some helpful information about optimizing your conversions rate.

Not only that, but Google will like your page better and rank it higher.

Get ready for Google’s upcoming Page Experience algorithm update by improving the user experience across your website now.

Facing challenges with your page experience? Start a discussion below.

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How to Avoid a Google Penalty

Oops! Don't run afoul of a Google penalty.Some “Google Penalties” Aren’t

Colloquially, the term “Google penalty” , usually means anything on your website that is harming your rankings. According to Google, though, a “penalty” is a manual action taken by Google that negatively affects your rankings.

Manual Penalties

These are real “penalties”. If you get hit with a manual penalty, you should see evidence from that in your Google Search Console. Normally Google will identify exactly what you’ve done that they don’t like. So obviously, you should fix whatever that might be.

Google penalties will reduce your online visibility and traffic.

Once you’ve fixed the offending practice on your site, you can ask Google to re-index your site with the corrective actions implemented. Normally that will restore you to Google’s good graces and eliminate the penalty. This doesn’t happen immediately, though, and you can expect the delay of possibly weeks before you see your rankings improve.

Algorithm penalties

There are a number of things that might happen on your website that can negatively affect your rankings without incurring a manual penalty. I call those algorithm penalties because they’re just a normal result of Google’s algorithms evaluating the content on your site. Here are a few of the most common ones.

  • Free hosting services
    • If you’re cutting costs by using a free hosting service, there is one common attribute of those that can get you in trouble with Google. That’s when the hosting service compensates for the free service they’re giving you by adding advertising to your web pages. Some of  that advertising may be pretty spammy, and Google is not likely to be happy with it.
  • Malware
    • If your website has been infected by any viruses, trojans, or spyware, you’ll get hit with one of these penalties. Make sure your website is malware-free. The GlobalSign blog has some excellent suggestions on how to find malware on your site and how to protect against it. You can check that out here.
  • Thin content
    • Many websites for visually oriented businesses overly rely on images on their pages and have very little text. Those photos or graphics could be pictures of your pet cat as far as Google can tell. Google can read the alternate text behind your images (you do have that, right?), but other than that images do little to help Google understand what your page is about.
    • Aside from that, if you’re overly concerned about brevity on your pages, you can run into the same problem. If there’s too little text content on your pages, regardless of why, you may be penalized for thin content.
    • You can also run into those pages being considered “duplicate content” if the actual body content of the page pales in size with other elements on the page that are common to all pages on your website (think footers, sidebars, and so forth). In this caseyou may be facing the plagiarism penalty (see below).
  • Keyword stuffing
    • This is an ancient SEO technique to make sure your targeted keyword phrase appears many times on the page. This used to work with some early search engines. But it provides a very poor user experience for those trying to read your content. Google is smart enough to identify that and consider it a negative ranking factor. I still see this from time to time.
  • Plagiarism
    • Duplicate dogs are fine. Duplicate content? Not so much.If you copied significant amounts of content from another website (even if you own that other website) Google considers it to be duplicate content. Google is excellent at identifying duplicate content and will usually try to show only the oldest of those duplicate pages. If you think about it, it’s pretty obvious that there is little benefit to the user if Google shows a bunch of pages that all say the same thing. So Google doesn’t do that. If the content on your page is not original, it may never show up in Google search results.
    • I see this sometimes on websites designed by vertical web services. These are companies that specialize in a particular kind of businesses like handyman services, dental practices, plumbers, etc. The often have lots of excellent pre-written content about the kinds of services these businesses provide. One problem with this is that many other businesses in your niche may use the same pre-written content that ends up on your website. Bingo: you have duplicate content! If you use such a company, please ensure that the content they put on your pages is unique to you.

We can help!

If you’re concerned that you might be at risk for some of these penalties, give us a call. We can review your website with you over the phone at no cost and help you understand any potential issues that may be lurking there.

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Your Website Needs Calls to Action!

This Buy Now button is a clear call to action.

Not having calls to action (CTAs) is one of the ten most common SEO mistakes small business owners make.

What’s a Call to Action?

An Add To Cart call to action buton is essential on any product or service "Buy" pageA CTA is a direction that asks or tells your reader to do something. It’s an image or line of text that prompts your reader to take an action, like download, buy, learn, request, sign up, subscribe, join, phone, ask, get help …

Why are CTAs important?

If you want people to comment on your blog posts, you nered to encourage that with a callo to action button like this one.

Do you want more orders? More inquiries from potential customers? How about more readers for your blog? More social shares? None of that is likely to happen without good calls to action.

If you’ve ever ordered a fast food burger, you were almost certainly asked “Do you want fries with that?” That’s a call to action, and it sells a lot more fries than if they don’t ask.

This call to action button for downloading something is more effective with nearby text extolling the valkue of the download.

It’s a very important part of getting your website visitors to convert into customers, and it’s often overlooked in writing website content. A call to action can determine whether or not a visitor on your website does what you want them to.

Small Business Trends claims that 70% of small business websites lack a call to action.

And customers actually expect them. When they get to a breaking point in a page or reach the bottom, they often look for direction to help them move on to the next step – whatever that is.

How to create and use Calls to Action

There are a few guidelines for effective use of CTAs. Here are what I consider to be the most important of them.

  • Almost all of your marketing content needs calls to action:
    • brochures
    • emails
    • blog posts
    • web pages
    • coupons
    • print ads
  • Get more subscribers with a CTA like this.Make them brief. Occasionally for SEO purposes, a call to action may be longer for the sake of including keywords, but in general they tend to work better if they’re brief.
  • Make them clear – ambiguous CTAs don’t work.
  • Demonstrate a benefit. Give your readers a reason to take the action you want them to take.
  • It never hurts to emphasize that something is FREE!
  • Use strong action verbs:
    • Download
    • Buy
    • Sign up
    • Subscribe
    • Join
    • Get Started
    • Call Now
    • Ask Us
    • Get Help
  • Wherever possible, avoid weak directions like “click here” or “learn more”.
  • Make your CTA as specific as possible:
    • Download my E- book
    • Call to talk with us
    • Sign up for our email newsletter
    • Ask us a question
  • Make your call to action stand out visually on the page.
  • The best locations are at the end of a blog post or web page, in between separate topics on a page, in a side panel, or in a pop-up or slide-in.

Some in-depth reading

The Daily Egg has a nice article on examples that work.

Neil Patel suggests avoiding CTAs like Sign up — Buy now — Learn more. He offers some detailed advice on how to write calls to action that are more likely to convert visitors to customers.

And here are a few CTA’s of our own:

We welcome your opinion. Join the conversation in the Comments below!

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Need more traffic so more customers can see and respond to your Calls to Action? Rank Magic can help! Ask me how.