Leading an SEO team is not an easy task, whether it’s an in-house or an agency one. Moreover, tracking and measuring results is a critical part of any SEO campaign. You need to make sure that your work provides the results.
In this article, you’ll learn how to effectively guide your SEO team and assess their performance from nine outstanding experts in this niche.
People we’ve asked
1. Julian Redlich @JulianRedlich
Product Manager (SEO) at Booking.com. Leading the product vision and development efforts for all of our over >100M landing pages for all demand channels (paid/organic) with a team of developers, designers, and copywriters.
2. Braden Becker @BradenBecker
Senior SEO Strategist at HubSpot. Writer, editor, marketer, photographer, athlete, environmentalist, and SEO strategist.
3. Vytautas Palovis @VytautasPalovis
SEO & International Growth Lead | Oberlo at Shopify. An experienced ‘T-shaped’ digital marketer with strong skills across a broad range of Digital disciplines such as SEO, Web Analytics, A/B & MVT testing, PPC campaigns, content marketing, affiliate marketing, email marketing.
4. Chris Makara @ChrisMakara
Senior Digital Marketing Analyst at Insperity. A self-taught SEO expert with more than 15 years of digital marketing experience, who helps business owners reach their goals by building and implementing an effective digital strategy.
5. Marcus Miller @marcusbowlerhat
SEO, PPC & Digital Marketing Consultant and Strategist at Bowler Hat. SEO, PPC & Digital Marketing consultant with over 18 years experience.
6. Rodrigo Stockebrand @spanglishseo
Vice President, Digital Analytics & SEO at Univision Communications Inc. A professional search engine optimization and marketing (SEO/SEM) and digital analytics practitioner, trainer, and consultant with over 15 years of experience in the industry.
7. Artem Melikian
Team Lead of SEO at Netpeak Agency. A professional SEO specialist and digital marketer.
8. Sean Si @SEO_Hacker
CEO and Founder at SEO Hacker. An SEO specialist, Growth Hacker, internet marketer, Copywriter, and blogger.
9. Eren Kozik @ErenKozik
Founder and Head of SEO at SEOPT. He has been in the online industry for over 15 years now. In digital marketing, especially in the field of search engine optimization, he feels particularly at home.
Questions we asked and they answered
1. How do you measure the results of your SEO team and individual members?
At Booking.com, we do not have SEOs in the traditional sense; rather my team consists of Backend Developers, Frontend Developers, Designers, Analysts, and Copywriters. All of them contribute to a collectively designed vision in our agile environment but approach this from a different angle. As a Product Manager, I prioritize the tasks for the team in alignment with business priorities, although this isn’t without input from the team. At Booking.com, we put the customer at the center of everything we do, and all of us are working together to leverage their own special skill sets to accomplish this collective goal.
We use organic traffic to measure our SEO team’s performance, and this extends to multiple properties belonging to our website. However, a variety of factors can drive the results we see, and we go through a process of elimination to diagnose issues and attribute successes. When analyzing a period of low performance, for example, things like seasonality, international traffic, and updates to Google’s ranking algorithm are often the first to be looked at.
Individual employees are rather measured by where they’re spending their time, how they’re thinking about team challenges, and what they’re doing to address them. Everyone here has pretty specific focuses, and this makes it easy to hold ourselves accountable when things go particularly wrong or right.
We have monthly goals, as well as projection for the rest of the year. There are two main KPIs which we track as a team:
- Organic traffic
- Conversions from organic traffic
Also, we have a bunch of individual metrics for each SEO area we work on:
- On-page SEO optimization, we check before/after improvements in terms of organic traffic change.
- For off-page SEO, we do track how many unique referring domains we gained (when it comes to off-page SEO, we create a different type of content – linkable assets, as we call them). We also check how powerful are these links, DA/DR metrics, are these links contextual, did they move the needle and helped that page rank better.
Sometimes it depends on the overall goal of the initiative, but it usually can be done by keeping track of a spreadsheet or looking at results in Ahrefs.
We try to take a more holistic approach to SEO than others do. Which is, we don’t just look at organic rankings for a handful of keywords. We really try and look at various KPIs which are typically customized to the needs of each client. I talk about this in some detail in this post.
We tend to have two sets of primary KPIs:
These are KPIs that show us that our SEO health metrics are all going in the right direction:
- Rank for main converting keywords (local/organic)
- Rank for secondary benchmark keywords (local/organic)
- Majestic Citation Flow
- Majestic Trust Flow
- Majestic Trust & Citation Balance
- Moz Domain Authority
- Moz Page Authority
- Moz Spam Score
Real-world SEO KPIs
We then track what we call real-world KPIs designed to tell us if the improvements in the SEO metrics are tracking to real-world results.
- Increase in organic traffic
- Increase in the number of pages on the site that generate traffic
- Increase in non-branded search traffic
- Percentage increase in organic conversions
- Percentage increase in traffic from specific geographic regions
- Organic Impressions (Search Console)
- Organic Click-Through Rate (CTR) (Search Console)
At Univision, our team’s goals are aligned with business objectives for Digital and we measure results based on macro, micro, and nano SEO metrics. Macro would be things like growth in traffic, conversions, revenue, etc. Micro would be things like improvements to page speed, lower bounce rates/exits, and growth in keywords in the top three. And nano metrics would be the positive movement of each individual page for its core keywords, as well as victories like capturing position “0” or getting premium placement in news, video, or image carousel.
For individual contributors, I measure their results in terms of completion of key action items as well as the contribution that those activities had towards performance growth. And while I do help with the assignments and prioritization of tasks, each team member is encouraged to come up with their own assignments, tasks, and performance KPIs.
The main things that I’m looking to accomplish with this method are:
• Empower everyone to create their own performance and task roadmap – you may know far better than I, what’s important and when it should be done. I want people to have the flexibility and freedom to choose.
• Reward value where it’s due – some of the most important tasks in our department have no impact (at least not directly) on organic search performance. Nonetheless, they are critical in getting other things (that do have a direct impact) moving forward. Therefore, for those individuals that are great at moving these particular pieces, we put less importance on the traffic growth side of performance. In general, I want people to do what they do best and measure them fairly for those tasks, whether they impact performance directly or not. Because in the end, it’s even the stairs to the ship that makes its voyage possible.
Of course, we measure the result of teamwork in the number of growing projects and in the volume of growth based on data from the analytics of organic channels. But there are other metrics important to the team:
- Number of projects (the number of old projects should not decrease, and new projects should come)
- Work with budgets (projects should increase the budget if it’ll be useful)
A very similar process is for individual team members. Each specialist is interested in the growth of his/her project. For juniors, it’s a little more complicated.
Through our KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). We have different teams that specialize in the various facets of SEO – content, tech, links, strategizing. Our team’s results are measured by being able to produce a set number that coincides with their monthly quotas. So, that’s the primary way we measure results, but for other select teams, we measure results through rankings since that is what we specialize in. So, if a client does not rank well, that means the team in charge of coming up with strategies/experiments/tasks to make a client rank are not performing well.
Here we use a variety of systems and SEO tools, not only to record project progress and communicate but also to record the results of the team (before / after). As we have no programmers and no need for custom development, we mostly use systems from valued tool providers. Sistrix, Ahrefs, ScreamingFrog, Google Analytics and Google Search Console are the most important tools for us to measure and log the progress and (partial) results of our work. The toolset may change, depending on the requirement and the target.
2. Which CRM systems do you use?
HubSpot uses its very own HubSpot CRM, and we recommend it to others! It’s completely free, forever.
We usually use these two tools:
- Google Search Console
For SEO, I usually use a combination of tools. These are Serpstat, Ahrefs, Google Sheets, Website Auditor, Google Analytics, Google Data Studio, and Reports.io.
We don’t use a dedicated CRM at Bowler Hat and we tend to manage most of our projects within the Asana work management platform. We track leads and sales for Bowler Hat within Asana and we manage all client projects within Asana. Great tool.
When working with clients we have worked with a huge range of CRM systems – everything from Salesforce and Hubspot to bespoke CRMs.
I’m using Jira as a project management tool with my team, but this isn’t the only tool used across Booking.com.
We have an in-house ERP system in our company, which covers almost the entire work cycle of a specialist. And what it does not cover, we connect with external services.
So, for tasks we use Planfix. We also build communication with the client here (tasks to and from him/her).
To fix SEO metrics (such as positions), we use Serpstat. Its multi-user mode allows us to add and remove specialists when needed. It is convenient to monitor the activity and volume of monitoring. Through the Serpstat API, we pull up information on the positions of customer sites in ERP. Based on this + analytics, we determine the success of the project. In such a way, we can immediately see if a project has any problem and fix it quickly. Well, using the same API, we pull this into the client dashboard. So the client can at any time see the situation on the project, not only the analytics of visits but also the dynamics of the positions.
For CRM, we mainly use Pipedrive and Aweber.
We currently use a combination of different tools:
- MeisterTask for project management
- Todoist for daily task management
- Harvest for time recording
- Slack for digital communication in the team
It has been shown that we are currently riding the best with the combination of these tools.
3. How do your team members provide reports on their results?
Objectives are crucial to reporting and results at Booking.com. As a team, we continuously align on objectives, spending time to regularly discuss how we are delivering against the objectives and whether these are still the most impactful priorities for us to work on. We really do believe that our performance is based on what we deliver, but also how we deliver it. That may include factors like quality, velocity, and resilience. But I think it also encourages an environment where everyone is empowered to bring their ideas to the table to anticipate issues and solve problems. When we do this, we really are showing our best talent and feel more invested in a given project. As a Product Manager, I am not in the line of management of the team and within this structure, we are able to build trust and improve performance across the team because people are encouraged to raise their hands when they have an idea or solution.
We’re a highly transparent team when reporting on performance. Because we’re scoped on monthly traffic targets, we meet regularly to update a single slide deck and share our progress. Depending on an employee’s focus, we also dig into page-level traffic, lead-generation data, and updates to projects that make our SEO strategy more proactive.
One-on-one weekly meetings is a good way to touch a base and see the progress. We also track monthly updates.
This is usually done by pulling reports from Ahrefs and/or Google Analytics.
We use Raventools to provide a report that includes some manual feedback on jobs done and how these benefit the client to the traditional metrics and KPIs relevant to that client. The key point is that we customize this for each and every client.
We generally measure results in terms of the following: Ticket status, task pacing, and performance dashboards (macro/micro/nano) that we configure via APIs to bring in data real-time and with alerts to capture flags/issues as they occur. We also use Ryte.com to monitor site changes which are pivotal in understanding the ongoing evolution of the site. It’s amazing to see the changes that happen to the site daily that would otherwise go undetected.
Our ERP captures the results of work on projects. Team members are good enough to work and monitor the vital signs of projects.
We have a monthly reporting system for all the teams where they input all the tasks that were done for a specific client and we treat that as a progress and client report. It helps us keep track of every team’s progress and it also enables us to know which teams are under-performing. It’s also a good tracker to use to see if our efforts for a specific client are working and it allows to know if our current strategy for the client is really working.
Two to three times a week the project progress is discussed. In the end, it’s all about team performance, because that is the only way we can actually achieve the defined project goals. This only works through a well-rehearsed team that has worked together for several years. Productivity, effectiveness and efficiency increase with team experience.
To be honest, there is a lot of personal conversation going on. That is what binds and welds more together. Granted, from a certain size so certainly not possible.
For me, the personal contact with my employees is currently very important in order to relate to the achievements and results. That way I can do even better the mentoring role that I, as the Head of SEO and CEO, will take on.
4. How do you build an incentive system and determine salary rates for SEOs?
Well, that’s a great question! We offer a very competitive salary in the market, and I’m not talking specifically only about our SEO team, at Shopify as a company, salaries are on a high level, as well as a bunch of perks and benefits on top.
As for promotions in my team, we try to be a results-driven team. But when a team grows, all soft skills also become important – the ability to work in a team, culture fit, eager to learn, take ownership and get shit done – everything becomes important. As a team lead, I try to evaluate all these things and reward my team members when the time comes. Also, it’s very important to set the right expectations to direct reports in the first place. What do you expect from them? What must be achieved in order to get a salary increase or promotion? I must say, sometimes it could be a tough decision to make.
I haven’t really built out an incentive system yet, as I typically pay for hours worked (provided tasks are completed in a reasonable time). As for the rates, it will depend on the level of work needed. For example, if someone is doing an SEO audit, that can take more skill than researching link opportunities.
Client retention throughout the business is our primary metric for the bonus scheme and salary is always based on experience and performance.
We use general market rates for salaries. For incentives, we take into consideration a variety of activities including rank-a-thons and point-based “achievement unlocks.”
The incentive system is built on the results of projects conducted by our team. (Except for projects in which the result is difficult to measure or not measured in specific numeric KPIs).
There is a fixed part and bonus. The last one consists of several subparts:
- Bonus for project management – Usually more than the fixed part
- Bonus for achieving the result – More the bonus for project management
Bonus for project management depends on the project’s budget. Bonus for achieving the result depends on the result itself (the better the result, the bigger the bonus).
The win-win-win strategy: The client receives the result, the specialist – a good reward, the agency – satisfied customers and specialists, and LT.
- Since we have a dedicated sales team, we offer incentives/commissions to them every time they make a sale or close a client. For our regular team members, we don’t really like the idea of overworking and we strongly discourage overtime since a healthy person can do a lot more than someone that has burned themselves out. This is why we have a relatively generous vacation system and we really encourage our team members to take a break once in a while since it’s an important aspect of staying healthy.
- The salary rate in the Philippines is pretty straightforward and we work around or use that amount as a standard/baseline since we never hired SEOs outside of the company. All our SEOs have been internally trained and started out as a normal team member.
I go individually to the wishes of the employees and try to fulfill them if the wishes are not completely beyond the scope. Listen, appreciate and be honest. Especially in our fast-moving time, it is important to take time for the employees.
No one needs a football table to feel comfortable in a company. For example, instead of a foosball table, we have the option of a job bike, which I fully finance as an AG.
Of course, flexible working hours, job tickets and options for HomeOffice days are must-haves, so that employees can spend a little more free time. Amenities that make work more enjoyable, because only a co-worker who feels comfortable and does not have to worry can concentrate fully on the work and perform at their best.
Don’t forget to share your thoughts and tips in the comments section.
Inna Yatsyna is a Brand and Community Development Specialist at Serpstat. She can be found on Twitter @erin_yat.
The post How to lead SEO teams and track its performance effectively: Experts’ tips appeared first on Search Engine Watch.
Microsoft announced this morning that it was acquiring jClarity, an open source tool designed to tune the performance of Java applications. It will be doing that on Azure from now on. In addition, the company has been offering a flavor of Java called AdoptOpenJDK, which they bill as a free alternative to Oracle Java. The companies did not discuss the terms of the deal.
As Microsoft pointed out in a blog post announcing the acquisition, they are seeing increasing use of large-scale Java installations on Azure, both internally with platforms like Minecraft and externally with large customers including Daimler and Adobe.
The company believes that by adding the jClarity team and its toolset, it can help service these Java customers better. “The team, formed by Java champions and data scientists with proven expertise in data driven Java Virtual Machine (JVM) optimizations, will help teams at Microsoft to leverage advancements in the Java platform,” the company wrote in the blog.
Microsoft has actually been part of the AdoptOpenJDK project along with a Who’s Who of other enterprise companies including Amazon, IBM, Pivotal, Red Hat and SAP.
Co-founder and CEO Martin Verburg, writing in a company blog post announcing the deal, unsurprisingly spoke in glowing terms about the company he was about to become a part of. “Microsoft leads the world in backing developers and their communities, and after speaking to their engineering and programme leadership, it was a no brainer to enter formal discussions. With the passion and deep expertise of Microsoft’s people, we’ll be able to support the Java ecosystem better than ever before,” he wrote.
Verburg also took the time to thank the employees, customers and community who has supported the open source project on top of which his company was built. Verburg’s new title at Microsoft will be Principal Engineering Group Manager (Java) at Microsoft.
It is unclear how the community will react to another flavor of Java being absorbed by another large vendor, or how the other big vendors involved in the project will feel about it, but regardless, jClarity is part of Microsoft now.
Download an easy to use ppc performance troubleshooting template that will organize your analysis and allow for easy collaboration among teams.
Read more at PPCHero.com
The Performance Planner helps advertisers optimize campaigns by suggesting an “ideal plan” by “spreading spend in the most effective way among campaigns in the plan.” Performance Planner is easy to use and certainly helpful, but it should be used with caution.
Read more at PPCHero.com
Google updated their Test My Site tool to include custom recommendations for mobile sites. Read more to find how this tool can improve your mobile performance.
Read more at PPCHero.com
The 9th generation of Intel’s Core series helps firm up the foundation of the PC resurgence.
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Q4 is right around the corner, and that means digital marketers need to be on top of their game in planning, building, executing, and converting. But when you are looking to really scale revenue and new customers this holiday season, you’ll have to incorporate some branding strategies.
Now, I work for a performance digital marketing agency, so everything we do is always tied back to the question, ‘Well, is it improving performance?’ So when I say branding, I’m talking about the avenues that will allow you to get very targeted so that you can be sure you are hitting relevant audiences for your business. Better yet for performance marketers, there is a way where (to some extent) you can measure the effects these branding plays have on performance (I’ll get to that in a bit).
In this post, I’ll break down channels to test for branding, and then I’ll talk about how to measure the performance of those branding channels/campaigns. Let’s get started.
This channel has huge reach, and it’s a great way to cast a wide net and get exposure for your brand. The biggest downside with YouTube is that, if you’re not careful, you can spend a lot of your budget ineffectively.
Here are a few targeting recommendations to effectively get in front of the right audiences and have a positive impact on performance:
- In-market audiences – With this targeting, Google identifies users who are actively shopping for certain categories. Additionally, if you know the demographics of your target audience, you can layer on gender and age targeting to get more selective about the folks who see your ad.
- Custom intent audiences – You can also take things one step beyond in-market audiences and develop your own custom intent audiences. With custom intent audiences, you enter a list of search terms that align with what your ideal audience uses to find your product/service. Google will then use that list to define and reach the ideal audience for your business; this lets you go beyond Google’s predefined audience segments and reach people as they’re making a purchase decision.
What makes Instagram’s stories feature so great is that it takes advantage of all of Facebook’s granular targeting capabilities, which means you can get right in front of the specific personas you want to target (including interests, demographic, behavioral, as well as lookalikes and custom audiences). You can also get specific with the devices you want to target, so if you know, for instance, that your core purchasers are typically iPhone users, you can limit targeting to those devices.
I would recommend initially starting off with your top-performing Facebook audience and refine testing from there.
Native is a great way to deliver your ads to massive audiences who are in the mindset of consuming content. Native offers tons of channels: Outbrain, Taboola, Yahoo Gemini, etc. My recommendation is to start with Yahoo Gemini – in particular, the following ad types.
Yahoo mail ads appear within your Yahoo mailbox. You can leverage Yahoo’s capabilities to target by age, gender, interests, and custom audiences. Typically, I recommend targeting users interested in your competitors as they would be highly relevant; that, coupled with layering on age/gender data, will get you close to the personas you want to go after.
Additionally, as you test across Yahoo’s wider network with native, one highly recommended ad format to use would be carousel ads, which come in either desktop or mobile format.
Desktop carousel ads allow advertisers to show a more premium format for their ads:
Mobile carousel ads allow advertisers to use up to 5 images to tell a visual story:
One caveat: not all sites are set up to take carousel ad formats. The sites that are set up for carousel ads tend to be higher-quality properties, so it’s a nice bit of self-selecting when you put carousel ads into play.
How to measure branding performance
Okay, now that you’re casting a wide net and building awareness for your brand, how can you quantify the value of those efforts? Although it’s not easy to assign value to every aspect, we’ve found some strategies to be helpful.
One technique we use is by tagging our ads with utm parameters, indicating the channel, campaign, targeting and ad that a user is coming through on when they click the ad.
Then we develop remarketing campaigns or ad sets specifically targeting our brand awareness efforts. (For example, we remarket specifically to those who have clicked on our Instagram Story ad.) This separates our brand awareness efforts within our remarketing campaigns, which allows us to quantify conversions (and conversion rates) of those who have been exposed to our brand via our broader branding initiatives. It’s not perfect, but it helps us define how successful our branding efforts are.
With users brought in through branding campaigns, it’s important to remember that the buying journey can be longer – even if you’re a retail brand in Q4. If you’re looking to capitalize on your user base for the holiday season, there’s no time like the present to bring in this new audience and get the nurture/remarketing engine running.
According to Hochman Consultants (2017), the average cost of pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is increasing – with the average cost-per-click in 2016 being nearly double that of 2013.
When you consider the fact that Google processes over 2.3 million searches per minute (Business Insider, 2016), this is hardly surprising.
But what can marketers do to ensure that they can attract customers on this increasingly competitive channel, while avoiding these burgeoning costs?
In my previous two articles, I looked at how to stop Google AdWords campaigns from failing by using a Customer Data Platform (CDP) to gain a holistic overview of customer behavior, and how data-driven attribution with a CDP can supercharge your paid search.
In this article, I’ll outline five ways that a Customer Data Platform can improve your AdWords performance and ROI by keeping costs down and attracting new business.
Content produced in partnership with Fospha.
1. Data accuracy
Many businesses continue to struggle with optimizing their keyword bids. The simple reason for this is the fact that, regardless of how modern and advanced your bid management platform is, inputting inaccurate data can hinder success – and be costly to your business.
A Customer Data Platform gathers, integrates and centralizes customer data from various sources to give marketers more control of, and visibility over, their data. This data-driven approach stitches together the customer journey, and uses attribution to accurately assign credit to various marketing channels based on their importance in the path to conversion.
Without this true view of their data, businesses are missing the accurate value of their different channels. They also risk making poor decisions about which marketing channels are beneficial, and which are not, which might result in budget being taken away from a channel which has a huge role in the path to conversion.
With more accurate data, Customer Data Platforms are able to highlight the true value of keywords – allowing your business to pinpoint high and low performing keywords and campaigns, and optimize their spend on paid search.
For instance, with a more accurate data source, Fospha were able to help a client identify that 50% of their keywords weren’t contributing to any conversions. Check out the full case study here.
Manual bid management can be a laborious task, but with the help of a bid management platform to automate the process, this becomes a quick, effortless and efficient process. The next step lies in super-charging the capabilities of this platform. And the answer lies in an accurate data source.
Combining the power of the Customer Data Platform to discover high and low performing keywords across all channels through this data, with the automation of a bid management platform, enables spend on poorly performing keywords to be quickly reallocated – resulting in an improvement in ROI.
3. Real-time access
Unlike most other Customer Data Platforms, Fospha facilitates real-time interactions for bidding, helping reduce and eliminate the amount of wasted clicks on incorrect audiences. A Customer Data Platform integrates seamlessly with bid management platforms like Kenshoo and Marin to support these real-time interactions, such as bidding on ad clicks.
Real-time access through a Customer Data Platform also enables marketers to automate their bid management through advanced machine learning.
Marketers are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of moving away from keyword-based marketing, and towards audience-based marketing. However, they can go one step further – making a move towards people-based marketing.
This is no less of a necessity with your bidding strategies. Understanding your audience is crucial, and by utilizing a data-driven attribution model, a Customer Data Platform provides you with a granular understanding of a single customer. From here, you are able to use your data to optimize your targeting and increase conversions by offering more relevant content to your customers.
In addition to this, keyword performance is largely dependent on types of devices used. It is important to boost keywords that do better on mobile and to suppress those that do not. Marin found that by adjusting bids for mobile, their clients enjoyed 10% higher CTR and 2.5% lower CPC than those that failed to do so.
A Customer Data Platform is able to detect these optimized conditions and adjust your bid management strategy accordingly.
5. Bidding strategies
Defining your bidding strategy can drastically improve the performance of your paid search campaigns. However, in order to reach a truly optimized level, different keywords, audiences and goals will require different bidding strategies.
A Customer Data Platform gives you a granular view of all your marketing channels to ensure the strategy deployed is custom to each specific need.
Content produced in partnership with Fospha. Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Search Engine Watch.
Following its longstanding tradition of reporting quarterly earnings for its fourth financial quarter of the year in July, Microsoft today announced non-GAAP revenue of $ 24.7 billion and GAAP earnings per share of $ 0.83 (and non-GAAP earnings per share of $ 0.98) for the last three months. Operating income was $ 7.0 billion non-GAAP. Read More
Enterprise – TechCrunch
Video has become an important tool in the marketers’ tool box. Video storytelling is a useful and increasingly popular way to engage customers.
But if your video doesn’t work properly or cripples your website or app performance it will become a major frustration to customers, marketers and techies alike.
- Video dominates mobile data traffic
- When implemented correctly, mobile video should not impact the speed that pages load on a mobile device
- Mobile users start to become impatient after waiting just two seconds for a video to load; by 10 seconds a fifth will have given up.
This column will explore how to detect, avoid and remedy issues with videos to give your viewers the best possible experience with your video content and keep them engaged and watching your videos.
How to detect problems with video
Detecting issues with video, audio or any other web or app issue a) can be straightforward; b) should be everyone’s responsibility, from the CEO down; and c) helps to keep agencies, techies and marketers on their toes.
1. Use it
Blatantly obvious – but when was the last time you checked out your site and videos from a bus, train or bar? Incentivize employees to use the site/app (during beta testing and routinely after goes live) and report issues and suggest improvements.
- How quickly did the site/page load? (Count the seconds)
- How long did you have to wait for the video to start?
- How good is the quality?
- Does it stall / (re) buffer during playback?
- Was it worth watching/watching to the end?
- How do you feel about these conclusions?
2. User test it
Recruit customers and monitor their behavior and reactions as they use your web site, using different devices, networks and locations. Score against the above checklist. If this cannot be conducted in person use a remote service such as UserTesting.com.
User testing should occur at each stage of the development process. For more on why user testing is so crucial, see my previous column for our sister site ClickZ on Why user testing should be at the forefront of mobile development.
3. Test it
There are different types of testing, including:
- Page performance – tools such as WebPageTest (free) show how/if the video is impacting how fast the page loads. It shouldn’t. The image below shows the WebPageTest results for how quickly Sam Dutton’s mobile video explainer on YouTube loads on a mobile device. The page took 6.6 seconds to load 809kB.
- A/B testing – tests alternative experiences with different groups of web (or app) visitors. For example, test hosting the video on the homepage versus on a dedicated page.
- Video testing tools – AT&T’s Video Optimizer (formerly known as Application Resource Optimizer) is a free-to-download tool used by developers (requires technical knowledge) to detect issues such as delays with start-up and the frequency and duration of stalls and optimum segment size.
4. Monitor it
- Web analytics tools, such as Google Analytics, track visitor engagement with video – e.g. number of views, who viewed, how long, and with the webpage itself, including dwell time and bounce rate. See this introduction to using GA to assess video engagement.
- Heat map tools, such as Clicktale and Crazyegg provide a visual representation of how users interact, or attempt to interact, with webpages and video.
How to avoid problems with video
Following best practices while creating/producing the video or coding the page, website or app that will host it should help avoid many of the common issues – videos that won’t play, are slow to play, or have broken playback.
Industry guidelines on mobile video are thin on the ground, considering the increasing popularity of the format. What guidance is available tends to be a bit techie and thus a turn off for non-techies.
The following recommendations have been compiled with the help of:
- Doug Sillars, Principal Architect, Mobile Application Performance, AT&T
- Usha Andra, Senior VNI Analyst, Cisco
- Rick Viscomi, HTTP Archive project leader, Developer Advocate, Google
- Ramesh Sitaraman, Professor of Computer Science, UMass, Amherst
- Sam Dutton, a Developer Advocate at Google.
1. Make it worth it
There are many costs involved with video/audio:
- For the producer: the cost of production and distribution; impact on web performance
- For the network: the impact of network congestion
- For the viewer, in terms of data consumption, battery life and time it takes to consume.
This makes it imperative that the video is meeting a known user need, contains quality content, is the right length, optimized in terms of bitrate, segments and compression.
2. Be aware: video is greedy; HD greedier; 4K much greedier
When it comes to bandwidth, standard video is greedy, requiring 0.5 Megabits per second (Mbps); high definition (HD) is five times as greedy as SD; and 4K is 30 times as greedy.
Cisco’s Usha Andra explains:
“Mobile video and multimedia applications have higher bandwidth and lower latency requirements than non-video applications. The requirements can range from a low of 0.5Mbps for standard definition (SD) to 2.5Mbps for high definition (HD) and over 15Mbps for 4K/ultra-high definition (UHD) downloads and much higher for virtual reality (VR). Latency requirements can range from 100 milliseconds (ms) to 15ms for UHD VR video applications.”
3. Know the limitations of mobile networks in your target markets
Even among developed telecoms markets, the capability of mobile networks varies considerably. Check the Cisco GCI Global Cloud Readiness Tool for an averages of each country.
The stats suggest that download speeds in the US and UK are 40% lower than Norway and South Korea, and 25% lower than Canada:
- South Korea – download: 31.0Mbps; upload: 14.3Mbps; latency: 68ms
- Norway – download: 29.1Mbps; upload: 11.6Mbps; latency: 40ms
- Canada – download: 24.2Mbps; upload: 9.0Mbps; latency: 51ms
- UK – download: 18.2Mbps; upload: 8.0Mbps; latency: 55ms
- US – download: 17.1Mbps; upload: 10.0Mbps; latency: 88ms.
Usha Andra adds:
“Please note that these are average speeds and latencies, which means many users experience higher or lower speeds compared to the average speeds. When the speeds and latencies are lower than what an application warrants, the end user experiences delay in video, garbled audio, etc.”
4. Home page or own page?
Few of the most popular sites, including those that have a strong video focus – YouTube, Vimeo, BBC and CNN – host videos on the homepage or category pages. These sites promote their videos on the homepage as image links (often with play button icon overlaid) and text links, which when clicked or tapped go to a page dedicated to that video.
Why? Keeping video off the homepage keeps it leaner and faster to load on mobile devices. See the Twitch example below.
5. Avoid autoplay
Forcing mobile web visitors to view video whether they want to or not, is:
- Frustrating for the customer (especially when it happens in a quiet environment)
- Prone to using up the customer’s bandwidth and battery life unnecessarily
- Liable to slow down how quickly the page loads
- Contrary to accessibility best practice (as it can interfere with the screen readers used by visually impaired people)
- A common technique for artificially inflating video view stats.
There is a (vaguely plausible) argument that sites such as YouTube are an exception to the no autoplay rule. As the visitor is clicking through to the video on a dedicated page it is implicit that they intend to watch.
Consider Twitch, the surprisingly popular site where fans watch gamers playing video games live, captured in the image below. On the desktop homepage, Twitch.tv has a live game on autoplay, while on m.Twitch.tv, there are no videos hosted on the homepage.
Comparing the download size and page speed of Twitch homepage when downloaded to a mobile and desktop device on HTTP Archive (April 15 2017) delivers dramatic results:
- Mobile homepage (with no video) took 5.8 seconds to load 354kB of data over 24 requests
- Desktop homepage took 19.9 seconds to load 16,255kB of data over 275 requests. Of that, 11,827kB is video content.
6. Viewer experience (VX) and choice
Make sure the video and host page is intuitive. Let the viewer take control. Make it easy to:
- Choose video quality – low quality, HD or 4K
- Select and exit full-screen view
- Change device orientation change
- View and operate. Ensure the video fits the device screen and that buttons are intuitive
- Allow playback when the device is offline.
7. Make the video accessible
To make video/audio accessible for:
- Visually impaired people, provide a written transcript of the audio.
- People with hearing impairments, provide subtitles.
For more advice on making mobile content accessible to a wide audience, the BBC Mobile Accessibility Guidelines are an excellent resource.
8. Minimize video start-up delay
The delay to start-up is caused by two essential processes:
- The authentication process (including digital rights management).
- The downloading of the video. Video files are subdivided into segments. A sufficient number of segments need to be downloaded to the buffer (temporary store on the client device), before the video starts to play.
A delay is inevitable, but the video should be optimized to ensure delays are kept to a minimum.
As can be seen from the 2016 data from Conviva study below, videos tend to take longer to start on mobile devices, both on WIFI and Cellular, than Tablet or Desktop. It’s no coincidence that mobile has the highest proportion of exits per attempt.
9. Keep the user informed
While the authentication, downloading and (re) buffering occurs, tell the user what is happening and/or distract them. Watching a spinning wheel icon can be frustrating.
10. Minimize video stalls
Stalls occur when too few video segments stored in the buffer to allow playback to continue. The video will not continue until sufficient segments have been downloaded (called re-buffering).
The key is to find balance between slow start and stalling, says AT&T’s Doug Sillars:
“The 2 biggest metrics for video are:
- Startup delay (how long from click to stream).
- Stalls (video stops, maybe a spinner).
These are (of course) interrelated. If you startup too quickly – there will not be enough video stored locally on the device… and you might get a stall. Or you can take too much data at the start (long startup delay), but have no stalls later.
There is a magic “Goldilocks” point in the middle – not too hot, not too cold – that balances the two factors.”
11. Optimize bitrate, compression and segment size
Optimize bitrate, compression and segment size for the device and network connection.
- Re-buffering typically occurs where the video is played at a speed, measured in bitrates (bits per second), that is too fast for the download speed (bitrate) of the network connection, so the buffer is emptied quicker than it is being filled.
- Digital videos are divided into files, called segments, of 2 to 10 seconds, which are downloaded to the buffer and then played in order. Segments of optimum size for the connection will download, buffer and play faster.
- A Codec (coder/decoder) is a tool for compressing and decompressing audio and video files. There are a number of different compression formats, e.g. MPEG-4, each with pros and cons. Different video quality and the client device/connection will influence choice of format.
12. Use adaptive bitrates.
Adaptive bitrate streaming creates and stores digital video at a number of different quality/speeds/bitrates. The video player on the client device requests the most appropriate of these based on a) network speed, b) device capability, and c) capacity of the buffer.
There are two types of adaptive streaming, DASH and HLS, because one industry standard that worked on all devices would be just too easy (find out more here).
13. Use a content delivery network (CDN)
A content delivery network speeds up how quickly web media, including video loads and plays on a mobile device by reducing the that the video has to travel between the original web server – e.g. your webserver in California, USA and a viewer in Timbuktu in Mali – by replicating and storing the video on servers around the world.
According to BuiltWith, 53.8% of the top 10k websites use CDNs.
Akamai Edge, which was one of the original CDNs, founded in 1999, remains one of the most popular. According to BuiltWith, Akamai is used by 11.4% of the top 10,000 sites, followed by Amazon CloudFront at 4% and MaxCDN at 1.3%.
14. Host or embed?
Hosting websites on a third party network, and embedding the file, removes several headaches, including video compression, adaptive bitrates and engaging a CDN. This helps to explain why 15.2% of top 10k websites embed YouTube videos and 3.6% Vimeo, according to BuiltWith.
How to remedy problems with video / audio
1. Page weight or load speed issues.
Regularly check the key pages using a testing tool such as WebPageTest (this is the tool used by HTTP Archive).
- Kill autoplay
- Ensure the video is not preventing the page loading correctly
- Move the video to a dedicated page (with a prominent picture and text link)
- Use A/B testing to verify if this solves the issue.
2. Video fails or is slow to start or stalls during play
If the video performance is an issue, here are some troubleshooting tips to try:
- Try loading the video to a dedicated video service such as Vimeo or YouTube. Compare the performance of the video on the third-party site, embedded on your site and with the self-hosted version to highlight if problems lie with the video, as opposed to the website, webserver or CDN (or lack of CDN)
- Test the video with a tool such as AT&T’s Video Optimizer (requires development skills) to detect issues with video segmentation, compression, buffering etc. and fix them
- Have the video re-edited to make it more concise; and optimized to improve bitrate and compression
- Use or replace the CDN.
If video performs better on some devices and over different connections e.g. PC on cable versus smartphone on 3G:
- Prepare a number of versions of the video in different formats, with different quality, bitrates and compression to suit the most common scenarios of device and network type
- Use device detection to discover the client device, its capabilities and the type of connection to serve the most appropriate version of the video
- Use adaptive bitrates.
Resources (and sources)
These resources are aimed at developers, but are useful for all (if you ignore the techie bits):
- BBC’s Mobile Accessibility Guidelines (best resource on mobile accessibility).
- AT&T’s best practices for mobile video
- Sam Dutton’s mobile video explainer (video)
- Sam Dutton’s guide to video web fundamentals
- François Beaufort’s guide to Mobile Web Video Playback
This is Part 3 of a series looking at how video impacts mobile web performance and UX. Read the previous installments:
- How video impacts mobile web performance and UX, part 1: data and download speed
- How video impacts mobile web performance and UX, part 2: autoplay and audio
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