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How to Achieve Better Search Rankings and Conversions

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5 Tips for Better Search and Sales Conversions

Hopefully, some of you will find this useful. Not everything in this guide will be as easy to implement in thirty bees as others, but at the very least it should point those who are interested in the right direction. If anything is unclear please reach out.

If enough people want to know more about any of the areas I have discussed below, I may create a more detailed post covering the subject.

1. Lighten the load (page load that is)

Reduce external requests

Say no to web fonts

Most choose to avoid using system fonts and generic fonts, such as "sans-serif", for good reason — they can be unpredictable in headings (causing your layouts to fail) and make your site's design inconsistent across devices.

However, the solution I see most site owners using is unnecessary and problematic. Web fonts solve one problem poorly and cause other issues.

Not only does loading your fonts from another server cause slow rendering of the page content, your fonts may also load too late (the user sees your fallback font first). This contributes to a poor user experience.

Google uses web fonts as a fallback for their analytics software — while there are many people blocking Google Analytics with ad blockers, few are blocking Google Web fonts.

What's the alternative?

Want a lightning fast page load? Serve your own fonts. This gives you the best of both worlds. Simply convert your [suitable] fonts (check the licence) to woff/woff2 and serve them directly with CSS.

If anyone needs more information on this, let me know.

Forget Font Awesome

Font Awesome is convenient — to you, but not to your customers. Yes, that's another server to wait for before your page can render.

Did you know SVGs are often tiny (in file size), and with [inline] SVG sprites you can load all of your graphics without a single request, and they can be cloned/partially cloned across your page? Now that is more awesome than Font Awesome!

Better images guidelines

The number one performance issue I see, which covers online businesses of all sizes, is poor use of images.

Here are some best practices to solve slow loading pages and related poor conversions:

  • Serve your own images (don't rely on CDNs and avoid hotlinking images)
  • Standardise your image dimensions- Keep all images under 100kb
  • Use srcsets in your code (where possible) to tell the browser which image to serve to which device.
  • Your images should be high quality and consistent

There are a number of open source programs to help you resize and optimise your images. If you are comfortable with the command line, I strongly recommend using imagemagick.

If you want to know more about optimising images for the web and ways to automate the process, let me know.

2. Be minimal and functional

Your customers likely care more about function than style. People are busy — they want to find what they are looking for, buy and leave. The best user experience on an e-commerce site is a fast one.

For this reason:

  • Make your design predictable and practical
    • Your logo links to the home page
    • Your contact page is in the main menu and/or details in the footer
    • Your Returns Policy, Privacy Policy, Ts & Cs should be in the footer
    • Your login button should be top-left
    • Your logo, tagline and branding should make it clear what you do
  • Create a sensible link architecture
    • Link to your most popular products and pages in your footer
    • Have two site maps. XML (for crawlers) and HTML (this one linked to in your footer)

3. Blend in — take advantage of familiarity

Nothing says you are at the top of your game more than looking like you are at the top of your game. Don't try to be different for different's sake. Let familiarity be your friend. If you are new to the industry, research the leading sites in your industry and blend in. You should still have features that identify your brand and make you memorable, but too much personal expression and you will appear like the amateur in the industry.

The world's leading websites don't have flashy designs; they are, for the most part, basic in style, predictable and easy to use.

Ignore this rule only if the competition is poor and can easily and predictably be beaten.

4. Be better

So how do you stand out? Focus on your offering!

  • Are you the cheapest?
  • Do you deliver faster?
  • Are you the ethical choice?
  • Perhaps you have products which others cannot source?

If you don't know why your customers shouldn't buy from Amazon, neither do they.

As a general rule, if you want to sell more products than your competitors, provide more product information. The more information, the more confident your customer will feel in both the product and your website.

Also, this content WILL help you to rank higher on search engines.

Create elaborate pages about the collections you sell

Search intent is important to understand. This is possibly one of the most under utilised tools.

People often look for information before they look to buy. That means your product page may not be what they are looking for. If you sell wood burning stoves, share information about the brands, which stoves in your store are most suited for small homes, which stoves are the most offer the most "bang for your buck". Display the appropriate products on the pages and link to your products, you are likely to qualify a sale which wasn't accessible to you before.

Speak to manufacturers to see if you can gather more info on your products than your competitors.

There are numerous creative techniques I have used to achieve high search rankings and boosted sales conversions. If you are interested to learn more, let me know.

5. Be useful

Start creating content

Create [or ask others to create] guides which may help your potential customers. Digital Ocean (not an affiliate) sell server space, but part of what pushed them ahead of their competition was their content. They pay people to create technical guides as a way of on-boarding new customers.

What content would be useful to your potential customers?

Add to the blog (at least) once per week

If a visitor reads your post and returns in two weeks to see what else you have written only to find the same set of posts, they likely won't return.

Attract qualified visitors by helping them and you will build a loyal customer base.

If you want any advice on building a successful content strategy, let me know.

6. BONUS! The #1 Factor for Ranking on Google:

~~ Direct website visits ~~

  • Are customers recommending your website?
  • Do your customers return?
  • Do customers search for your brand name?

As I'm sure you can see, the right offering and a winning user experience are vital!

 

Regards,

spacer.png
——— jollyfrog ———

Graphic Designer &
Digital/Content Strategist


Edited by jollyfrog
Section on server logs removed
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On 2/8/2021 at 12:18 AM, jollyfrog said:

If you want to learn how to use server logs for analytics, let me know.


I would like to take you up on that offer.  I despise Google Analytics and I relish the irony and the gall of Google telling us that our site needs to be speedy to get ranking yet their own tools are some of the biggest culprits in slowing down things!  They are not alone, of course, but their tools are not optimized and raise flags everywhere for their slowness, including in Google's own speed tools!!!

I remove Analytics eons ago but using the server data, which is often confusing, to achieve the same results, I am all for.

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1 hour ago, movieseals said:

I would like to take you up on that offer.  I despise Google Analytics and I relish the irony and the gall of Google telling us that our site needs to be speedy to get ranking yet their own tools are some of the biggest culprits in slowing down things!  They are not alone, of course, but their tools are not optimized and raise flags everywhere for their slowness, including in Google's own speed tools!!!

I remove Analytics eons ago but using the server data, which is often confusing, to achieve the same results, I am all for.

@movieseals In that case I will prepare something and share it soon.

I am used to reading nginx logs, but I am aware most of the thirty bees sites are probably using Apache. That said, I am confident that this concept can translate.

One question: Are you comfortable in the terminal? (I use tools like grep, sed and awk to achieve the result).

Reading server logs has been very useful to me. So far, I read them regulary, but intermittently; but when I have time, I will automate the process.

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22 minutes ago, jollyfrog said:

One question: Are you comfortable in the terminal? (I use tools like grep, sed and awk to achieve the result).

I am not an expert but I am comfortable with terminal, so no worries there.  I always intuitively knew that the server logs were more accurate but they also track ALL traffic, bots, spambots, etc.  so it is hard to figure out what is useful and what is not.  Thank you for volunteering this.  Very interesting and useful.

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Just now, movieseals said:

I am not an expert but I am comfortable with terminal, so no worries there.  I always intuitively knew that the server logs were more accurate but they also track ALL traffic, bots, spambots, etc.  so it is hard to figure out what is useful and what is not.  Thank you for volunteering this.  Very interesting and useful.

You are right. The way I deal with the bots is to look for patterns and eliminate the associated IP addressses. Bots visit pages/links which regular visitors don't. They also, often, visit pages more quickly and visit far more pages than the average user. Hidden links can be placed on the site as a trap, and timeframes per page and number of pages visited can be measured. I also add to the block/bot list manually if one slips through and to eliminate my own IPs.

These techniques aren't perfect, you may miss some (slow crawlers with ever changing ip addresses) and you may get some false positives, but it will likely be more accurate than GA in the long run as it won't be blocked by ad blockers.

I run a single command which downloads the logs, checks for bots and gives me a basic analysis of the data (sorted bar charts for individual page views, total hits vs unique visits and top refering domains).

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Server logs can serve only a very limited use case when it comes to analytics. It can tell you how many page hits you get, and referring sites. That's all. That's not analytics.

If this is all you want to know, then it's definitely more reliable source of truth than GA. 

But if you would like to know

  • how people behaves on your site
  • what does the sales funnel looks like
  • identify pain points (where do people stop from order completion)
  • attribute sales to referrals 
  • determine revenue of your campaigns (how much money did you earn by sending that latest email newsletter)
  • etc

then you really need to track your visitors. It doesn't have to be GA, you can use self-hosted solution (Matomo), but you need a tracker. Also note that tracker does not slow down your site at all. The only overhead is the <script> tag in your page, and that is just a few bytes. The rest is downloaded async, after the page is already displayed to visitor.

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@datakick Apologies if I have misled anyone, that was not my intention. You are right, this does have very limited application. For ecommerce, people may desire/benefit from more information.

I spend a lot of time dealing with other people's websites and it is too easy to neglect my own. Server logs provide me a quick overview of my websites' performance which can be useful to me.

----

The section in question has now been removed from the post.

Edited by jollyfrog
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Thanks for the data, Jollyfrog.

I use Matomo as I really don't like sending my customer's data to Google. It's not needed, with Matomo served locally I can know what people are doing and can choose not to save specific things like their exact IPs, for example.

Using grep and awk is fine (like Neo reading the Matrix XD), of course, but when more data is needed, I think it's really important to know there are other things out of GA.

 

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1 hour ago, Wartin said:

Thanks for the data, Jollyfrog.

I use Matomo as I really don't like sending my customer's data to Google. It's not needed, with Matomo served locally I can know what people are doing and can choose not to save specific things like their exact IPs, for example.

Using grep and awk is fine (like Neo reading the Matrix XD), of course, but when more data is needed, I think it's really important to know there are other things out of GA.

 

@Wartin Yes, you are right. People need to know the options and Matamo would certainly be useful for ecommerce sites. Unfortunatley, with clients, I almost always have to use GA and other insidious software.

Server logs provide a wealth of information (not what I am sure Matamo can provide, but insightful) and are underestimated. The only issue is that the data is unfiltered. "like Neo reading the Matrix XD", indeed.

Working with clients, I became increasingly frustrated at their obsessions with keyword stuffing, content rehashing and backlink purchasing, all based on their analytics. It became difficult to convince them to focus on long-term goals and good practices, such as a solid content strategy.

On a relatively low-profile website, once content has gained pace and relationships with influencers have been established, the right post can deliver 10,000 to 20,000 visitors to the website in a few hours. Analytics usually cause website owners to look internally (rather than externally), it can be tempting to repeat what has worked, instead of exploring what could work better.

Of course, you can see that my issues are mostly with how people interpret analytics rather than the analytics themselves.

Progress isn't made with change alone, but by building on what you already have. I would, if I were running an ecommerce shop, want to gather more meaningful data than what I could get through server logs alone. Hence, I would like to know more about your experiences with Matamo. Also, do ad blockers affect Matamo in the same way as GA?

 

Edited by jollyfrog
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I should clarify, while I have not attempted to manipulate Apache server logs, NGINX provides the following useful information:

  • IP address (to identify the user)
  • Dates and times the server was accessed
  • The URLs of the resources which were accessed
  • Referring domains
  • Response codes
  • The user-agent (which provides clues as to who/how the site was accessed)

I am aware, it is possible for NGINX to be configured to provide more data than this.

 

While the raw data could appear near unreadable, the following data could be filtered:

  • Number of visits over a given period
  • Most popular pages/resources
  • Average time on page
  • Common entry and exit pages
  • Whether the pages were accessed via other (internal) pages or accessed directly
  • New users vs return users (both as a percentage and cumulative data) over a given time period
  • Most popular pages by referring domain
  • Overall traffic by referring domain
  • ...

To measure the data above, sensible assumptions must be made, such as "a session has ended once the user has not interacted for X mins/hours", and "the last page of the user journey does not count toward average time on page for any given page".

Admittedly, the server logs do not track button clicks or measure marketing campaigns or goals, for this you would have to make assumptions based on continuous testing and correlative data (changes to sales of a given product prior to, during and after a campaign).

Sales funnels would not be tracked automatically, but it is possible to track the journey of your visitors through the website.

There would be no keyword data relating to search engines, but Google has moved away from keywords and now focuses on topics (grouped keywords) and user behaviour (you can rank No.1 for a phrase without mentioning it on your website).

I agree that GA and Matamo provide more information and the information is more accessible. It was, therefore, irresponsible of me not to mention that there are other options. There is also Fathom, which I have tried, but the free (open source) version does not provide much depth of information, but could also be used for a quick overview/summary.

To sum up: Measuring server logs manually is not going to be feasible for everyone and, while not everyone want's to use Google, Matamo may be a happy medium.

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3 hours ago, jollyfrog said:

To sum up: Measuring server logs manually is not going to be feasible for everyone and, while not everyone want's to use Google, Matamo may be a happy medium.

There is something left, and in the middle between the Matrix and full tracking. Using Apache, like ten years ago I used Webalizer. It shows you what logs can give you, and it's pretty easy to set up. I suppose it works with Nginx's logs too.

Quote

Hence, I would like to know more about your experiences with Matamo. Also, do ad blockers affect Matamo in the same way as GA?

I used it before start using TB, setting by hand some 'events' to know what people were clicking. Then installed Thirtybees module and give it Matomo credentials and it start showing all about e-commerce. It's pretty nice. I can't compare it with GA really, haven't used it.

 

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On 2/8/2021 at 6:18 AM, jollyfrog said:

5 Tips for Better Search and Sales Conversions

Hopefully, some of you will find this useful. Not everything in this guide will be as easy to implement in thirty bees as others, but at the very least it should point those who are interested in the right direction. If anything is unclear please reach out.

If enough people want to know more about any of the areas I have discussed below, I may create a more detailed post covering the subject.

1. Lighten the load (page load that is)

Reduce external requests

Say no to web fonts

Most choose to avoid using system fonts and generic fonts, such as "sans-serif", for good reason — they can be unpredictable in headings (causing your layouts to fail) and make your site's design inconsistent across devices.

However, the solution I see most site owners using is unnecessary and problematic. Web fonts solve one problem poorly and cause other issues.

Not only does loading your fonts from another server cause slow rendering of the page content, your fonts may also load too late (the user sees your fallback font first). This contributes to a poor user experience.

Google uses web fonts as a fallback for their analytics software — while there are many people blocking Google Analytics with ad blockers, few are blocking Google Web fonts.

What's the alternative?

Want a lightning fast page load? Serve your own fonts. This gives you the best of both worlds. Simply convert your [suitable] fonts (check the licence) to woff/woff2 and serve them directly with CSS.

If anyone needs more information on this, let me know.

Forget Font Awesome

Font Awesome is convenient — to you, but not to your customers. Yes, that's another server to wait for before your page can render.

Did you know SVGs are often tiny (in file size), and with [inline] SVG sprites you can load all of your graphics without a single request, and they can be cloned/partially cloned across your page? Now that is more awesome than Font Awesome!

Better images guidelines

The number one performance issue I see, which covers online businesses of all sizes, is poor use of images.

Here are some best practices to solve slow loading pages and related poor conversions:

  • Serve your own images (don't rely on CDNs and avoid hotlinking images)
  • Standardise your image dimensions- Keep all images under 100kb
  • Use srcsets in your code (where possible) to tell the browser which image to serve to which device.
  • Your images should be high quality and consistent

There are a number of open source programs to help you resize and optimise your images. If you are comfortable with the command line, I strongly recommend using imagemagick.

If you want to know more about optimising images for the web and ways to automate the process, let me know.

2. Be minimal and functional

Your customers likely care more about function than style. People are busy — they want to find what they are looking for, buy and leave. The best user experience on an e-commerce site is a fast one.

For this reason:

  • Make your design predictable and practical
    • Your logo links to the home page
    • Your contact page is in the main menu and/or details in the footer
    • Your Returns Policy, Privacy Policy, Ts & Cs should be in the footer
    • Your login button should be top-left
    • Your logo, tagline and branding should make it clear what you do
  • Create a sensible link architecture
    • Link to your most popular products and pages in your footer
    • Have two site maps. XML (for crawlers) and HTML (this one linked to in your footer)

3. Blend in — take advantage of familiarity

Nothing says you are at the top of your game more than looking like you are at the top of your game. Don't try to be different for different's sake. Let familiarity be your friend. If you are new to the industry, research the leading sites in your industry and blend in. You should still have features that identify your brand and make you memorable, but too much personal expression and you will appear like the amateur in the industry.

The world's leading websites don't have flashy designs; they are, for the most part, basic in style, predictable and easy to use.

Ignore this rule only if the competition is poor and can easily and predictably be beaten.

4. Be better

So how do you stand out? Focus on your offering!

  • Are you the cheapest?
  • Do you deliver faster?
  • Are you the ethical choice?
  • Perhaps you have products which others cannot source?

If you don't know why your customers shouldn't buy from Amazon, neither do they.

As a general rule, if you want to sell more products than your competitors, provide more product information. The more information, the more confident your customer will feel in both the product and your website.

Also, this content WILL help you to rank higher on search engines.

Create elaborate pages about the collections you sell

Search intent is important to understand. This is possibly one of the most under utilised tools.

People often look for information before they look to buy. That means your product page may not be what they are looking for. If you sell wood burning stoves, share information about the brands, which stoves in your store are most suited for small homes, which stoves are the most offer the most "bang for your buck". Display the appropriate products on the pages and link to your products, you are likely to qualify a sale which wasn't accessible to you before.

Speak to manufacturers to see if you can gather more info on your products than your competitors.

There are numerous creative techniques I have used to achieve high search rankings and boosted sales conversions. If you are interested to learn more, let me know.

5. Be useful

Start creating content

Create [or ask others to create] guides which may help your potential customers. Digital Ocean (not an affiliate) sell server space, but part of what pushed them ahead of their competition was their content. They pay people to create technical guides as a way of on-boarding new customers.

What content would be useful to your potential customers?

Add to the blog (at least) once per week

If a visitor reads your post and returns in two weeks to see what else you have written only to find the same set of posts, they likely won't return.

Attract qualified visitors by helping them and you will build a loyal customer base.

If you want any advice on building a successful content strategy, let me know.

6. BONUS! The #1 Factor for Ranking on Google:

~~ Direct website visits ~~

  • Are customers recommending your website?
  • Do your customers return?
  • Do customers search for your brand name?

As I'm sure you can see, the right offering and a winning user experience are vital!

 

Regards,

spacer.png
——— jollyfrog ———

Graphic Designer &
Digital/Content Strategist


It is not everyday you see someone that seems to understand these  key factors that Jollyfrog pinpoints.  For all of you interested in getting good ranking, take note of these very important advices and implement all of them before trying other measures.

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