Give Your Website the Finger

We have been saying for quite some time that the shift toward mobile devices is absolutely revolutionary across all online channels. It is no less than a tectonic movement, and is one that is shaking up the internet. Earlier this year, the number of searches on mobile devices surpassed PCs for the first time. In a world where many businesses are still struggling to comprehend the importance of mobile use, 1.75 billion consumers worldwide used smartphones in 2014.

Mobile friendly website example

Example of search result on smartphone

As you read this, Google has fully implemented the  new “mobile-friendly” label as part of its mobile search results. To qualify for this label, the GoogleBot must detect the following criteria on your website:

  • Site avoids the use of software that is not common on mobile devices, i.e. Flash or Java
  • Site uses text that is readable without manually zooming in and out
  • Site sizes its content to the screen so users don’t have to scroll
  • Site places links far enough apart so that each may be tapped easily

In a nutshell, what does this mean to design for mobile?

How would you design your website if it ONLY would appear on mobile phones?

Google also recently announced a new feature for Google Webmaster Tools that tracks common usability issues on mobile devices. The tool alerts you to problems with the criteria listed above. Google would not introduce a tool like this without the implication that, in the near future, these elements will become part of Google’s ranking algorithm. You can test your site’s “friendliness” at Mobile-Friendly Test. The test even shows you an example of how your site looks on a smartphone.

mobile friendly smartphone view

Smartphone view

When developing a website to be seen on a mobile device, simplicity is crucial. The interface must  be clean, without extraneous text, graphics or video.  These types of add-ons will only serve to      slow down your load time.  Short and sweet content, the use of conventional mobile icons, images  that are optimized for responsiveness, all of these elements are going to make the user experience  far more positive on your mobile site. And don’t forget fat fingers! Those buttons need to  accommodate ALL finger sizes, not just those that are “piano fingers.”

Also, don’t forget that one of the best features of mobile devices is that a potential customer may  simply call you or get GPS directions to you directly from your website as they are viewing it. That  is IF they can find your phone number and address!  Placement, font size and color of your basic  information should always be taken into consideration for mobile use.

With all of this in mind, the time has come to consider implementing mobile responsive design at  the beginning of the creation process instead of going back later to enhance a site’s mobile-ability  Simply resizing a website to fit on a small screen or assuming that the customer will pinch or  zoom the view on their device is not enough to satisfy those who may never view your website any  other way.

Stop resisting. The future and the present IS mobile. Start your design with this in mind this and you will have a clean, simple and responsive site that looks great and is easy to use, no matter what size the screen, or finger. You’ll be glad that you did.

Amazon Travel to Compete with Expedia, Priceline

Travel Photo with Orange HatOnline travel industry news source, Skift.com,  is reporting Amazon’s entrance into the travel market. So far, it’s but a toe in the water for Amazon, with offerings only near major US cities and a handful of independent hotels with good reviews reported on TripAdvisor.com. Nonetheless, for those of us in the travel industry, having a new distribution opportunity from an entity with the might and muscle of Amazon is pretty big news, and something definitely worth watching as it unfolds!

Facts:

  • Who:
    • Independent hotels with good TripAdvisor ratings, with only a few places per city.
    • By Invitation Only. Amazon Travel is inviting a few independent hotels and resorts to participate. There is no online sign up area.
  • Where:
    • near major US cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston and Dallas
  • When:
    • January 1, 2015
  • Why:
    • 15 percent commission vs. the average 25 percent rate paid to Expedia.
    • There are about 20 million members in Amazon Prime. Hotels can give special deals to Amazon that undercut the deals that they give to all OTAs, because these specials deals are offered just to Amazon’s Prime Members.
  • How:
    • Amazon already offers local deals at its local.amazon.com website; these travel deals are supposed to be another offering in that area of Amazon.
    • Pretty rudimentary booking procedures. Booking notifications will be via email, and hotels need to update their calendars on the Amazon extranet site.
    • Amazon gets paid first, then will pay the hotel in two payments, less its 15% commission

Stats for comparison:

  • Booking.com (owned by Priceline) has over 550,000 properties, including over 210,000 vacation rentals globally.
  • Expedia has over 300,000 hotels globally.
  • According to Seeking Alpha, Amazon has
    • 20 milllion Prime Members
    • Over 230 million active user accounts
    • About 80 million people using its website to shop each month

Amazon has ventured into the travel arena in the past:

  • With Expedia in 2001, when they partnered in an online travel store. This foray ended in a nasty breakup between Amazon and Expedia.
  • With SideStep (later acquired by Kayak) in 2006 which allowed searches in Amazon’s travel store for flights, hotels, car and vacation packages.

Google Hops Down from the Carousel and Shows Off Its Three Pack

Google is dropping the somewhat controversial carousel display of local search results, which was used for hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues, in favor of a “three pack” of top ranked organic listings.

The Carousel hasn’t been very popular with SEO experts who had difficulty figuring out how the Carousel could change the way users searched for businesses. It was also unpopular with the businesses themselves, as the business owners couldn’t control which image would be used for the display. The Carousel never even launched in Europe.

The new three pack looks like this, appearing BELOW the AdWords results (the Carousel appeared above AdWords):

 

Google Three Pack Example

Example of Google’s New Search Results with the 3-Pack Listing replacing the Carousel.

The three featured destinations are ranked by Google, using algorithms. Hotels will have their pricing and review results listed in the three pack listing, along with a calendar feature allowing the searcher to check on availability. Night club and restaurant results are similar, with reviews and price points. The ”More” link takes the user to a page of local results, along with an interactive Google map.

The  great improvement the three pack delivers for hotels is that by clicking on one of the featured listings, the user will be taken to a business profile page, something very similar to the Google Knowledge Graph panel. The business panel appears at the top of the new page, along with alternative photos, reviews and a Google map. If the hotel offers online booking, the user is able to start the booking process directly from that page.

For now, the three pack results will only appear in PC queries, not mobile.

This new display result gives users an easy way to navigate the top listings in the category they are searching for, while still feeling integrated into Google search; the features can make the booking process nearly seamless.

This improvement should be much more popular than the Carousel, especially for those whose organic results place them in the top three!

Facebook Changes their Algorithm Again

You think Google changes their search algorithm all the time? Well, Facebook changes just as frequently. This week Facebook is rolling out an altered news feed algorithm once again. In previous updates, Facebook has tried to ensure that users see the posts that are most popular within their circle of friends, even if the post was few days ago and only if you had contact with that Facebook user recently. However, Facebook waFacebook Algorithm Updatesnts the news feed to show you the right content at the right time; not irrelevant content or something that happened a few days ago. Facebook is now taking all of this into consideration.

The current Facebook update will include ranking based on trending Facebook topics, along with the timing of each like and comment, to pair up with current post popularity. So if a friend posts about a trending topic, for instance, Emma Watson and her stance on Feminism, and the post goes viral because it is a fresh topic, but then dies slowly over the next day or so, it will tend to get moved lower and lower on your news feed while new trends and those popular with your friends start showing higher on the scale. This goes back to when the term Time Decay’ was being referred to more often than not.

This week we’re also seeing a possible update to the ‘Boost Post’ feature with the addition of more audience and demographic options. This will make it much easier for those marketers who don’t promote posts that often to include better targeting options for the boost. This update still lacks the control and sophistication of the Facebook Ads Manager, but for those not ready to cross over into full fledged Facebook Advertising, this should be a great advancement to the on-page posting promotions.

Another of Google’s Dodo Birds

Another of Google’s Dodo Birds

Google Authorship Becomes Extinct

Google has done it again! They have marked the history books of online search by adding another Dodo Bird to their increasing list of extinct projects that did not succeed in the intended fashion; this time it is the Authorship program.

As of last Thursday (8-28-14) Google has stopped showing authorship in search results. We lost the authorship images back in June, but this recent Google + post by John Mueller indicated that there will be no more authorship display of any kind in organic search results going forward. This Google program ran for just over 3 years, and supported the use of structured data markup that helped to identify content authors using the rel=”author” tags and provided both a rich snippet enhancement, and supposed ranking benefits to those individuals and websites that properly used the markup.

This program’s rise & fall have come full circle; for fantastic details (beyond my own post) on the history and research behind the loss of Google Authorship, checkout the excellent Search Engine Land article co-written by Eric Enge and Mark Traphagen.

Why Has Authorship Been Removed from Google Search?

Unfortunately after a great deal of review, Google’s experts felt that they had not met the programs goals with the success that was expected, and found that it was time to lay the poor beast to rest citing two primary areas that fell short:

  • Low adoption rates and unsuccessful implementation by authors and webmasters – the numbers of participants correctly using authorship markup did not meet Google’s expectations, and it became seemingly obvious that user patterns were not going to improve. Without better participation for using authorship markup, Google felt that it was not successfully evaluating & connecting content and authorship across the internet as it had hoped to (particularly for the amount of resources they were utilizing).
  • Minimal value to searchers- especially with the ever-growing mobile search market. John Mueller indicated that Google was seeing little difference in “click-behavior” and did not feel that authorship display was offering users any significant value.

What Should You Know Now that Authorship is Gone?

According to John Mueller (who responded to a number of expert questions posted in his blog regarding this change) the following are things that you as a website owner or webmaster should keep in mind:

  • Google is no longer using authorship structured data in anyway, including behind the scenes or for other data analysis.
  • This change only affects authorship markup, not publisher markup.
  • Leaving any existing authorship markup on your site is not an issue in Google’s eyes (it shouldn’t cause problems), and could still offer users important information about you as an author if they want to learn more.
  • Google is NOT yet saying one way or the other whether there is value in linking your Google+ profile to pieces of work that you create. The inferred answer is that there still is value in the linking created by these connections, and that ultimately you will want to be connected to that which you create for other reasons (that Google may assess in new & different ways). So the markup may not be necessary to include within your site going forward as authorship markup itself has no benefit, but linking yourself to content, and authorship in general may still have value. Only time will truly tell…
  • It appears, by spot checking several Google Webmaster Tools accounts, that the authorship markup testing tool has already been removed, and that Webmaster tools is no longer reporting on authorship related markup errors.

There are plenty of people who debate Google’s real data points and reasoning for removing authorship from search display,  but the bottom line is, Google didn’t feel that this bird was flying high enough to justify the processing resources it used.  And so, like many other Google programs, services & interfaces, Google Authorship has gone extinct… like the Dodo Bird.

Blizzard University Workshops Coming Up Soon!

Blizzard-University-Countdown-Susan-

Join us at our Blizzard University workshop on online marketing during the first day of RezFest in Nashville, on Wednesday, Sept. 17th, or VRMA in San Diego on Sunday, October 26th! Learn hands-on, tactical and practical methods to improve your online bookings and overall reservations by using the most effective online marketing techniques.

 Three Options to Choose From:

Full Day: 9:00 to 5:00 pm

 Morning: 9:00 to 12:30 pm

Afternoon: 1:30 pm to 5 pm

Dan-Blizzard-University
Increase your bookings, and lower your costs, by using the most effective techniques to market your website.

Special VRMA $300 Membership Offer Extended To August 31

VRMA is THE industry organization providing outstanding education and resources for vacation rental management professionals, such as:

  • Sample marketing plans, government affairs whitepapers, and many other resources
  • VRMA Weekly electronic newsletter that delivers dozens of industry articles from multiple sources
  • In-depth articles and industry updates in The Review quarterly magazine
  • Registration discounts for VRMA events so you pay the best available rate
  • Community of industry professionals who share experience and best practices with each other
  • Vendor/suppliers with products specific to the industry and to serve your business needs

Your membership begins as soon as your membership application and dues are received, and provides membership in VRMA with full benefits until December 31, 2014. Go to vrma.com/managermember  to complete a membership application today. To receive the $300 offer, select Manager Mid-Year Special as the member type on the application and let them know that Blizzard referred you!

VRMA Vacation Rental MarketingVisit VRMA’s Frequently Asked Questions page for more information about this special promotion.

If you want to learn more, but aren’t ready to join, sign up for a FREE two-month subscription to the VRMA Weekly.

If you have any questions, call the VRMA office at 317-454-8315 or visit www.VRMA.com.

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