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A guide to building better web experiences ahead of Google’s big algorithm shift

By Vickram Agarwal, Partner & Managing Director, Black Rock Marketing Group

There is a direct relationship between reliance and quality. The more we rely on something, the greater our expectation of quality. The more we patronize an establishment, the more we expect recognition of our loyalty. The more we love, the more love we hope to receive.

And that applies to digital experiences too. Web sites, above all, need to provide an enjoyable experience. This will become even more apparent in May 2021, when Google is updating its page rank algorithm to include page experience signals which will measure how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page. There will be consequences for not getting this right.

To make the daunting task of optimizing for Google’s evolution a little less intimidating, I have put together a checklist of the elements to follow when addressing this pivotal element in the digital ecosystem. Whether you are trying to improve an existing web experience, launching a brand-new site or rebuilding an outdated one, these pointers should help bridge the knowledge gap and demystify. So, here we go…

Omnichannel vs. Omni-digital

Ask some fundamental questions: is your digital strategy focused on value or customer experience? Are you looking to deliver the right content on the right set of channels at the right time, to maximize value to your customer? Or is about providing a uniform experience irrespective of the digital channel your customer is using? The two aren’t the same and having a preference for one over the other is a great starting point.

Technology & Security

These are important considerations when identifying the platform and underlying technology that will be the linchpin of your strategy.

Is the platform on trend? Are the developers making the necessary investment in regular updates? Does your business need a CMS? Are you custom building or using a theme? Should you go low-code no-code? Are there legal implications to the decisions? Is the platform accessible? Is the technology built for the desired user experience? Are you paying close enough attention to security? Will the site seamlessly transition from HTTP to HTTPS with the enabled SSL certificate?

It’s important to note that safe Browsing and HTTPS are important Google Search Signals for Page Experience and affect rankings.

UX, Page Speed & Page Experience

In online retail, it matters if your web user is acquired from social, search, by referral or came directly to your website.

Pay close attention to site load times and page experience signals. Users want what they want, and they want it at the speed of light. Depending on the acquisition source, their expectations from the journey will vary. A user coming to your website from Google is looking for you/your product and will be far more accepting of an average user experience if they eventually find what they are looking for. A Facebook user is probably served an advertisement that interrupts their social snooping and will be less likely to tolerate the same user experience. This behavior pattern will hold true for the same person if they arrive at your website from different sources.

Bottom line: user experiences and customer journeys on the web are nuanced and require close attention and analysis.

Analytics and Data

If you are in the process of updating/upgrading your existing web presence, take a gander through your analytics dashboard. Review most frequently visited pages, average time spent on site, bounce rates, user locations. Audit and compare some of these metrics against multiple traffic sources and timeframes. Not only will this help inform your overall digital strategy, but it will also build strong rationale as you address the user experience. It is easy to get lost and intimidated by the volume of data available, but it is definitely wise to look at a few key metrics to validate assumptions.

Mobile optimization/Mobile-first development

Despite desktop versions of sites looking (and performing) so much better (for now), users prefer the convenience of a mobile device. In 2015, Google introduced the mobile-friendly label to help users find pages where text and content was optimized for mobile. In 2017, it added a penalty for mobile sites with intrusive interstitials (e.g., popups that block main site content). Consequently, mobile needs to be a strategic priority and a development starting point.

Accessibility and SEO

Web Accessibility guidelines provide a framework to help make web content inclusive and user-friendly to all, embracing and accounting for varying abilities. The W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) are widely accepted as the source for web accessibility rules around the world. Many jurisdictions adopt them word for word, while others do so with minor adjustments. Building from scratch or updating an existing website to accessibility standards has a multitude of benefits including, improved usability, reduced legal risk, greater social responsibility, lower future maintenance costs and improved Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

Search Engine Optimization helps customers find your site more efficiently and improves the quality and quantity of unpaid website traffic. SEO and the Web Accessibility are inextricably linked and many of the guidelines overlap with SEO best practices.

By no means does this article cover everything you need to consider when building a digital experience. My effort with this checklist is to help streamline your thoughts and position your digital property in context of the multiple stakeholders that will interact with it, both tech and human. An issue that will only be brought into sharper focus with Google’s impending changes.

Black Rock Marketing Group is a member of the Institute of Communication Agencies. Report on Marketing is where leading Canadian agencies showcase their insights, cutting-edge research and client successes. The Report on Marketing provides a valuable source of thought leadership for Canadian marketers to draw inspiration from. Find more articles like this at the Report on Marketing.

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