Top Ten Tips: SEO Edition #9

SEO Tip 9

Everyone knows the popular idiom “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but to search engines, a picture is worth absolutely no words. Whenever a site uses an abundance of images to describe their products and services, search engines have no way to enable these images to assist with increasing a site’s ranking when people are searching for the products and services they portray.

Unlike with humans, search engines can’t interpret images and decipher their meaning; instead, they only index the fact that an image is present. For modern day designers, the overuse of pictures has become a staple of creating beautiful websites, but it comes at the cost of their SEO rankings, and that’s not something everyone is aware of when building a site.

The dramatic increase in the amount of imagery used on web pages is a result of one of two design tactics. One, you’re using a template provided by a web builder application, something that we discussed may already be hurting your ranking (Tip #10). Or, two, the developer building the site hasn’t mastered CSS, so they’re inserting images in sections where they should be writing code. We’ll discuss how both of these approaches affect your SEO ranking.

Image Heavy Templates

Wordpress Theme
Longform WordPress Theme

Part of the allure of web building applications is not needing to know how to write code to build a website. Gorgeous templates offer clients a variety of design options from professionals, and with some customization of wording and imagery, even my grandma can produce an “Applesque” site that makes mere mortals marvel at its beauty. The downside is, the same person using a template to build a website doesn’t always understand how preconfigured sites affect search rankings. Images give websites a stunning visual appeal, but they don’t integrate with the core results of a search query.

When visitors enter a term into a search engine, the majority of the results display because of the text information contained within the page’s heading and title elements. Images are elements of a web page as well, but when a search engine encounters them, they log them into a different area of the results page than where most of us find the answers to our inquiries about products and services.

Every time a user selects the images tab on the results page, they’ve moved in the dedicated area where search engines store images that they find on websites. When considering how search engines divide text-based and image search results into separate areas, it should come as no surprise that clicks in the images tab do nothing to assist a site in appearing higher in text-based rankings, and this concept is at the core of how a surplus of images is lowering your SEO rankings.

CSS Mastery

On the other hand, developers aren’t perfect either, and they can stumble into different kinds of errors when using images on pages. Modern websites often display beautiful images with subtext sprinkled over them to add context to what’s on-screen, but if developers haven’t quite mastered advanced styling techniques, these subtexts are sometimes rendered as part of the image and not an individual web element.

Integrated Image

Adding text over images requires developers to understand relative and absolute positioning values, and early-stage developers may not have developed this skill set, so they often include wording in the images themselves. Since these articles are meant to focus on SEO, and not web development tips, we won’t go into great detail about how these settings work. What we can do is let you know how to identify if you’re a victim of a novice web developer by letting you know how to detect if the technique is executed correctly.

Non-integrated Image

Not
Integrated

Text that has been directly integrated within an image cannot be selected, and trying to highlight it with a mouse cursor, or pressing and holding your finger over the text on a mobile device, will identify if the wording is selectable. If the words are not selectable, it means these words are only interpreted by sight, and not by search engines. Those images are also not doing anything to improve your search ranking.

Figuring Out Where You Stand

Understanding how much text is on a page, versus how many images the page contains, provides insight into the content/code ratio. The content/code ratio is used to determine if a page is overly reliant on images, and there are a variety of tools that measure this ratio.

For those not familiar with how this measurement works, it relies on reading the source code of a web page and measuring how many page elements are present versus the amount of content they contain. The measurement produces a percentage that developers know as the code ratio. Search engines can also see this ratio and prefer it to be between 10%-20%.

Tools that display the exact percentage are usually made available with professional SEO software, so you’re working with an agency they should have access to it, but it’s unlikely you’ll naturally stumble across it by yourself.  Make sure you’re discussing this aspect of your site as a part of any SEO audit. If you haven’t had an SEO audit, you can get a complimentary one from RTR Digital by clicking here. You can also preview what fully integrated SEO looks like by clicking here.

If you have any question or comments about this article, please them in the comments section.

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Top Ten Tips: SEO Edition #10

Top SEO Tips 10

Welcome to the first article in our ten-part series that discusses the top 10 Search Engine Optimization tips from 2018 that should govern your approach to ranking your site higher in 2019. I’m not going to assume that you’re familiar with Search Engine Optimization, or SEO as it’s commonly known (if you are all in on the tech acronyms), so I’m going to give you a brief overview of what it is and why it’s essential.

“SEO is the practice of making online content more easily readable for search engines.”

SEO comprises many different elements, such as a page’s structure, metadata, and performance, with the goal of the service being to balance these three aspects of page design to maximize its efficiency, without sacrificing too drastically from its design elements. There are a lot of companies offering SEO services in today’s marketplace, and that’s making it harder for potential customers to distinguish the SEO experts from the SEO imposters.

The goal of this series is to provide education around some of the subtler points of SEO, so when you encounter a so-called “SEO Expert” lacking knowledge of these points, you can determine if the organization is possibly exaggerating their qualifications. So let’s get started.

#10: GOOGLE SEARCH PREFERS CUSTOM BUILT SITES

The first tip you need to know about Google Search, and search engines, in general, are that they favor custom built sites and not ones created with web builder applications. I’m not saying that designing your website with Wix, Squarespace, or WordPress is some nail in the coffin for your search rankings; I’m stating there is a clear preference for one over the other and I’m going to explain why.

The truth is, a search engine can’t distinguish between a site built with a web building application or one coded by a developer, but what search providers can consider, is how long a website takes to load. While not all developers write perfectly efficient code, even those sites created by developers on the lower end of the efficiency spectrum tend to load faster than those generated by applications, and the reason for this is site overhead.

Site Overhead

Load Time Research

Site overhead is a development term used to describe the number of tools a site is required to load before the page can be displayed appropriately. The more tools there are, the longer the loading time. And According to data from Akamai, a leading content delivery network (CDN), loading times in the three-second range dramatically affect a site’s abandonment rate.

Data points like the one mentioned above are not lost on search engine algorithm designers seeking to gain any advantages in their own competitive markets, so loading time is something every web designer needs to consider when deciding what tools to use when creating a site. With that in mind, it’s important to understand that websites created with web building applications are required to load significantly more tools than a site designed by a developer. The reasoning behind this is that sites built with applications have to load every resource they contain regardless of whether they are applied to a particular website.

For example, most templates usually include code that enables designers to create drop-down navigation menu items. For large sites, drop-down style menus make a lot of sense, each product or service is given its own link, making navigating directly to pages much more manageable for visitors. For less robust sites that may only have four or five top-level pages, every page link can be easily fit into a single row navigation bar, meaning the extra code required to create drop-down menus is loading unnecessarily. The result is additional loading time for the smaller site.

 

Mitigating the Damage

Whether your website was created using an application, or by a developer, there are some steps organizations can take to reduce the site overhead. Most hosting companies offer features like photo management and enabling site compression through a visual interface, and executing these steps can minimize site loading times by as much as 20%, but to make real headway, you’ll probably need a developer to perform some more advanced operations.

Intermediate tasks like minimizing HTML, JS, and CSS, require coding knowledge that most novices haven’t yet acquired, with expert level tasks like configuring the browser cache and asynchronous loading requiring someone who knows the server side configurations as well. Given what you now know about SEO, don’t be afraid to reach out for help, you’re not the only one who needs a bit of third-party assistance.

RTR Digital provides complimentary SEO Audits for any organizations that request them, and you can start your organization down the path to higher search rankings by seeking a consultation by clicking here. If you’re a bit timid about reaching out, we offer some more tips about full SEO integration here. If you have questions that you think will benefit everyone by having them answered publicly, feel free to add them in the comments section.

 

 

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Can “New Silicon Valley” Survive without Ads?

Silicon Valley Apocalypse

I’ll start by stating something that I thought should be obvious by now, nothing is free, especially when it comes to content and services. I’m not trying to be a Richard when I say things like this; I just feel like most of us are only paying lip service when we talk about valuing people, time, and hard work. We offer euphemisms like, “you can’t get something for nothing,” but when it comes down to it, we’ve all come to expect a lot of things for “free.” About online content and services, a lot of us consider our use of Google Maps, for example, to be free. But it’s not, we pay for the service by turning over our personal information, GPS location data, search history, etc., with all of that data being used to target advertising more accurately.

I want you to stop and think about this for a second, almost every service that’s “free” on a connected device is primarily a tool for selling us more stuff later down the road. I’m not saying this business model is new; I’m merely stating we’re in advertising overdrive since the transition to the digital era, and I’m not sure if it’s sustainable. When I talk to clients about the “New Silicon Valley,” I’m mainly expressing a shift towards the market share first, advertising next, business models that are sweeping through the region, and it’s all based on the perception that we’re getting content and/or services for free.

Over the last decade, a lot of companies have gone public without presenting a legitimate monetization strategy to investors; solely presenting market share numbers for users in the key, but never really profitable, demographic known as Millenials. Each of these businesses ultimately landed on the same business path to profitability – advertising. And with so many companies relying on advertising dollars to keep their metaphorical ships from sinking, I’m not surprised that the emergence of native browser, ad-blockers gave Silicon Valley quite the scare. 

The True Cost of Content

Dollar Bills

The whisper of the idea that companies are going to be forced to live in a world where ads won’t reach the screens of potential consumers sent chills down the spine of Silicon Valley.  If advertising revenue models went away, a lot of your favorite Silicon Valley darlings would plummet back down to earth as if their unicorn wings had been clipped, forcing them to sell their products and services for a hefty fee (Facebook would cost ~$168 year). This situation could be the ultimate demise of the companies, as no one really buys content or services anymore, as a matter of fact, no one really buys anything. I’m not even sure if it’s okay for me to admit that I miss the days when I handed over money and received something tangible in return.

“Between radio, television, print, online, and subscription services, how many advertising dollars are there to go around?”

I’m no Saint when it comes to using advertising as a part of a business model, especially when I’m subsidizing this blog with advertisements (is you see something you like, be sure to click on it), but there is no way there are enough advertising dollars for all of us to survive. It’s not as if producing content can ever be free, regardless of its medium, someone had to pay for it in some way. In the case of this blog, my time was spent writing this; time I could have spent growing other parts of the business, managing employees, or making sales calls.

Not only is my time worth some monetary value (I won’t mention my hourly rate), but not performing other activities in place of this blog also carries its own theoretical loss of value by choosing this activity over another. Unless this blog goes viral, the pennies on the dollar I’ll generate from advertising revenue will never be enough to make up for the cost of creating this content. And it’s for this reason; I would remind all content creators that advertising revenue is supposed to be a subsidy, not a core revenue stream (Google Search being the exception to the rule).

Great Services, Equals Great Profits

Profit Margin

In the midst of the “New Silicon Valley,” we can’t lose sight of the real problem; companies have yet to position their content and services in a manner that validates its monetary value on its merit. A situation that is especially sad when you consider the number of people that helped to create said content and services that go un/underpaid. At some point, the cost of content and services will have to garner enough revenue to sustain the businesses that produce it, leading back to an era when we didn’t consider “software a service.”

“There it is. I don’t believe software is a service –”

I’ve been dancing around calling it out this entire article, but now all the cards are on the table, so I can go hard to close this thing out.

I’m not old enough to call myself “old school” when it comes to service. I wasn’t around for the heydays of personalized service, or have the money to enjoy the convenience of a personal shopper, but one thing I do know is that service usually involves humans. Not software and a touchscreen, but actual human interactions. While software and automation provide vital costs savings to many businesses, they are also diminishing their ability to differentiate themselves from one another. Long term, this is going to be a problem. The only businesses that seem to be flourishing in the digital era, other than a handful of software companies, are those that generate profits through quality service.

In my heart, I believe there only a handful of companies producing content or software that is so unique that you can call them a service, and as the fear of failure looms for the rest of those companies that opted to play the “long game” with profits, they will find their backs against the wall in the coming years. You should start asking yourself, what’s the maximum your willing to pay for Netflix, Spotify, or any other media service? In the next decade, all those companies will have to figure out what that number is if they hope to survive.

 

 

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The Net Neutrality Paradox

Net Neutrality

Concept Explained…

White Board ExplanationFor those who aren’t as familiar with the topic of net neutrality as us hardcore techies, I’m going take a minute to summarize (in Layman’s terms) what it is, and why you should care about it. If you’re reading this post, you’re probably one of the millions of people in the world who access some kind of multimedia via the internet. If you subscribe to NetflixHulu, Amazon Prime, SpotifyApple MusicPandoraDirectv Now, or any other streaming subscription service, you fall into the category of people I’m addressing and should make sure to read this article in its entirety.

If you have one of the subscription streaming services mentioned above, you probably enjoy access to thousands of music and movie titles via an internet connection that’s provided by a cable or phone operator, and until now, that hasn’t been a problem. Since the inception of streaming services, these companies that have been happily providing internet connections to your homes while adhering to a simple principle called Net Neutrality.

The principle goes something like this, as long as you are paying for the broadband service they’ve been providing, whatever you decide to download via that connection is up to you, and the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) won’t interfere with it. But more recently, the content consumers are streaming has inhibited the ability of those same companies to monetize their content, so now they’re lobbying the FCC to remove the rules that formalized the Net Neutrality principles in writing, enabling them to charge more for content coming through their pipelines that originates from competing services.

History Repeats Itself

Infinity Sign

You’ve probably been hearing a lot of techies trying to convince consumers that net neutrality needs to stay in place, and taken at face value, that argument would appear to be correct. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll see that the abolishment of Net Neutrality could be the best thing for those of us who choose to access our favorite media via the internet. Let me explain.

Due to the fact it’s much easier to change services and equipment between wireless carriers than it is switch between ISPs, the wireless industry has always moved faster than the “wired” industry, and it’s generally pretty safe to look toward them for indications of how strategy changes will affect markets. It’s a bit of a canary in a coal mine situation, which I’ll sure the wireless industry would prefer wasn’t the case, but never the less, here we are.

It wasn’t that long ago that conversations with wireless executives about unlimited data plans resulted in executives stating, with 100% confidence, they would never have to offer unlimited data plans to their customers. Less than five years later things have changed, with wireless agreements including unlimited talk, text, and data, in addition to offering consumers the choice between Netflix, Hulu, and HBO. And now, depending on with whom you sign on the dotted line, a whole range of extras are available because of the addition of a new point of competition.

Unlike with ISPs, wireless providers compete head-to-head in almost every region, and the result of “true competition” has benefited customer across the nation, as the average cost of wireless bills has lowered when compared to 5 years ago. The removal of net neutrality on the wired side of the business would create a point of competition between ISPs similarly to how unlimited data plans affected the wireless industry. This assertion isn’t made without merit, as I remember the days before unlimited wireless plans were everywhere, and cell phone service providers were picking and choosing which particular content to include as a part of “data free” streaming. Can you see the similarity?

The 4K Factor

The availability of Ultra High Definition (UHD or 4K) content will probably be the tipping point for all of this due to the amount of internet bandwidth it requires and the lack of ability for traditional cable providers to offer it. If imposed caps and limitations on streaming content to our homes remain in place (there’s already a 1TB cap), consumers with 4K HDTVs and streaming source content to match will quickly start looking for ISPs that aren’t tacking on extra charges for owning the latest equipment and wanting to take full advantage of its capabilities.

The delivery of 4K content has become a more significant point of emphasis now that HDTV manufacturers have been ushering retailers towards selling UHD televisions in higher proportions than 1080p sets, and the transmission of these signal puts an enormous amount of stress on an aging internet infrastructure that streaming providers like Netflix aren’t responsible for maintaining. We can argue about the fairness of this arrangement later, but for now, we’ve reached the core of the Net Neutrality dilemma.

As the amount of data used to deliver 4K content to homes increases, inevitably, consumers will realize their home internet service plans more closely resemble the restrictive wireless data plans of the past than the newer unlimited data plans of the future. This dilemma will force the cable industry to choose which strategy to pursue in the same manner as the aforementioned wireless carriers.

The Rub

On the one hand, cable and internet providers could leave home internet services and Net Neutrality as it stands, collecting overages whenever customers surpass their streaming limit, hoping they can hold on long enough to figure out their own content system.

On the other hand, they fight to abolish Net Neutrality, unleashing an immediate flurry of competition that will undoubtedly lead down a rabbit hole to including everything but the kitchen sink to maintain video subscribers. So what can they do?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments section and time will tell if any of us had the right answers.

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Has HDMI 2.0 Been Worth the Wait?

HDMI 2.0

HDMI 2.0 Has Arrived

HDMI Infographic

HDMI 2.1 is here, but what does it mean for the average consumer? It’s pretty rare that I meet consumers that are up-to-date on their HDMI specification knowledge, and I wonder if the HDMI Consortium was aware of this fact when they put out their HDMI 2.0 press release. Sometimes, it seems like these press releases are for an “engineers only” meeting, and I get the feeling it takes a blog post, like this one, to explain the practical applications of the new specification. So, I am going to give everyone a rundown of what’s new, and you can decide for yourself if you should be excited or not.

I almost forgot to mention; I am also going to take some time to clear up some misconceptions about HDMI connectors and cables along the way, and this means I will have to cover some basic information that will result in this post reading like a buying guide.

Contrary to popular belief, and Monster Cables’ marketing department, there are not eight different versions of HDMI cables floating around in the marketplace, there are four, and the HDMI Consortium places labels on these cables based their bandwidth (I’m trying to avoid using the word “speed”). From a consumer’s perspective, the bandwidth ratings mainly affect the supported television resolutions, but there are some hidden features bundled in along the way, so you have to pay close attention to get the best performance from a cable.  The four categories of HDMI cables are Standard, High-Speed, Premium High-Speed, and Ultra High-Speed.

The Cable Breakdown

Network Cables

Standard HDMI cables were the first ones that made available to the public; they launched with the original HDMI 1.0 specification, and as such, they primarily support the features that were available through HDMI 1.0 connectors. The most notable aspect of Standard cables is that they do not support 1080p resolution. It was not until the introduction of High-Speed HDMI cabling that consumers were able to enjoy the benefits of 1080p televisions.

High-Speed HDMI cables support the majority of features that customers find on modern-day televisions, so if you bought cables in the last five years, then they are probably High-Speed rated, as most retailers have removed Standard ones from their shelves. Every so often I run into some Standard cables on clearance, in places like Home Depot or Lowes, and my only hope is that customers are not purchasing them while under the impression that all HDMI cables are the same. In addition to 1080p resolution, high-speed cables also added support for 3D HDTVs (not sure if anyone still manufacturers those), x.v.Color (Deep Color), and 4K resolution (2160p).

After reading the list of features supported through High-Speed cabling, and then comparing them to the features available on your current HDTV, you are probably wondering how there are still two more cable ratings to go. I’ll be honest; there is not much of a difference between High-Speed and Premium High-Speed cables. The most notable features deal with unlocking the full potential of 4K content, ultimately showing up as the HDR feature. So while High-Speed cables support 4K content transmissions, if you want the most out of that new television, a new cable purchase may be in order.

Finally, we have arrived at Ultra High-Speed cabling, or as your favorite marketing department calls it, “Future Proof Cabling.” Ultra High-Speed cables support every feature, on every device, currently on the market. They support resolutions up to 10K, although most consumers will likely see 8K as the next logical step in HDTV resolutions, I just wouldn’t hold my breath for either resolution to become widely available shortly (4K still isn’t there yet). These cables also include support for Dolby Vision, other HDR specifications, and Quick Switching, alleviating the blank screen that appears for ~2 seconds while you are switching inputs.

The Connection Breakdown

Audio ReceiverNow that I have taken the time to make sure you are all caught up on cables, it is time to talk about then new HDMI 2.1 connectors. Why? Because that is the topic of this article, but explaining how to enable all of the specification’s features is nearly impossible without making sure you have an understanding of cabling basics. The reason for my concern is that there is no clear correlation between cables and connectors. That’s right, there are only four HDMI cable categories, but there have been roughly seven different types of HDMI connectors released over the last ten years.

The 2.1 specification focuses on tweaking the previously released HDMI 2.0 connector specs, and most of the features are tied up in minute tweaks at an engineering level. There is the Variable Refresh Rate (VBR) feature, reducing the amount of lag higher resolution televisions produces during gaming. There is the aforementioned Quick Media Switching (QMS), reducing the amount of time there is no picture on-screen while switching HDMI inputs. However, it is the ability to transmit resolutions up to 10K that has most manufacturers taking notice.

It should come as no surprise to anyone who covers HDTV sales that software-based features have failed to drive new hardware sales in recent years. Whether we are discussing 3D TV, Smart TV, or HDR, it seems as if the only thing that motivates HDTV enthusiasts to make a new purchase is a discernable change in resolution. After all, the switch to 4K has brought about new competition between content providers, a new type of blu-ray player, and new versions of the most popular gaming systems.

The new 2.1 specifications can usher in a new set of HDTVs, a new disc format, all new cabling, and force content and internet providers to step up their game once again. Consumers should never forget that the goal of a specification change is to drive sales, and when it comes to the new HDMI connectors, consumers cannot realize the potential of their systems without a complete makeover. Now, let’s talk about how to configure all these components.

Configuration Breakdown

What’s often lost in the explanation of HDMI configurations is the comprehension of the lowest common connection. If someone has ever told you that “you are only as strong as your weakest link,” he or she could have been talking about your HDMI setup. When it comes to putting everything together, the features available through HDMI are dictated by the lowest featured cable, or connection, in the chain.

The optimal situation for HDMI 2.1 involves both pieces of equipment having new connectors, linked together with an Ultra High-Speed cable, resulting in every feature being available. In extreme cases, connecting two HDMI 1.3 devices with a Standard HDMI cable will restrict the feature set to those enabled with HDMI 1.0 connectors. The most common situation in most households involves reusing cables or connecting a new television to an out-dated cable box. In scenarios like this, even if your TV has the latest HDMI ports and a new Ultra High-Speed cable securely plugged-in to it, the features available will be restricted by the HDMI 1.1 connector outputting the signal from your cable box.

Hopefully, the infographic associated with this article provides a sufficient aid to understanding everything that I’ve covered, but if it doesn’t, you can always post questions in the comments section. With everything laid out on the table regarding the new HDMI 2.1 specification, I leave it you to decide if upgrading your hardware is worth it. Will you update your disc players, televisions, gaming systems and cables in preparation for 8K/10K content?

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