Inside Google’s SEO Roadmap

It hasn't even been a full year since Google redesigned how they measure page speed, an update which put site performance at the top of its ranking factors. So high, in fact, that over the months it's become clear that page speed can deeply impact your overall SEO ranking and even make your ad buys more expensive.

In short, performance is everything to Google. As the platform improves how it defines optimal page speed, Google will only continue to favor the fast and trusted web. So before things develop any further, it's important to get acquainted with how Google currently measures page speed and, specifically, the metrics the platform has identified as mattering the most.


Understanding Site Performance

According to Google, one of the most common misconceptions about site performance is that it's measured solely based on load time. While this isn't exactly untrue, what's often misconstrued is that load time is based on one user's experience. But we know that every user experiences a different load time based on the conditions of their connection, device, and so on. This means load times are measured across a host of different times collected from various users instead.

To better illustrate, here's a graph from Google:

In the graph, the x-axis represents load times, and the y-axis shows the number of users who experienced that particular load time. So while most of the users in this example experienced a fast load time of less than a second, there were still many users who experienced a much slower load time.

Slow load times can be caused by a number of things. For example, if there's too much JavaScript on a site, the code can take longer to execute and slow down the site's progress. Because of this, it's important to not just consider initial load time when measuring site performance, but rather a user's entire experience on site. Is the site animating smoothly? Are clickable links too slow to register? The best way to understand a user's journey is by becoming familiar with the metrics Google uses to determine their experience.

The User-Centric Metrics That Matter

User experience isn't just important from a technology standpoint; it's a make-or-break factor in any publisher's content strategy. If you're producing quality content, it's important to first make sure that content can be viewed with ease.

According to Google, when a user first arrives at a site, this is what both parties are looking for:

From Google.

To answer these questions, Google has broken down each into a few meaningful measurements:

From Google.

Let's break down what each of these means:

  • First Paint (FP): FP is the amount of time it takes for any visual content to appear on site, which answers the question: Is it happening?
  • First Meaningful Paint (FMP): This is the amount of time it takes the most important content, what Google calls "hero elements" to load on site. Hero elements are different for every site, but should be intuitive based on your content. This metric answers the question: Is it useful?
  • Time to Interactive (TTI): This is the most important metric to keep an eye on. This is when the site is fully rendered and ready for user action. This can be a critical point when slow load time can occur, due to JavaScript that hasn't fully loaded or long tasks, which you will learn about shortly. So, in short, think of TTI as how long it takes for your site to load completely, answering the question: Is it usable?
  • Long Tasks: As you see in the chart above, long tasks are something you want to avoid. When a browser executes JavaScript, it delivers it in a series of tasks one by one. Sometimes certain tasks take longer to complete than others, causing site load time to tank quickly. Here's a link to Long Tasks API, which identifies tasks that take 50 milliseconds or longer to load.

These metrics are your roadmap to how Google will rank your site's performance and, ultimately, where it ends up in the search rankings. Here's a good visual on how the load journey works:

From Google.

How to Get One of the Fastest Sites on the Open Web

The best way to test your own site's performance score is by using Google's PageSpeed Insights and Lighthouse tools. This article demonstrates some good ways to track Google's key metrics to see if your site is performing.

It's always best to measure, test, and repeat to optimize your site for speed. The good news is that by focusing on these metrics, you aren't just prioritizing overall load time, but you're also overhauling your entire user experience for the better.

At RebelMouse, we've tracked social and search algorithm changes and how they impact the publishing industry for many years. Thanks to the massive scale of our CMS platform, we live close to data like site performance, and are able to identify the key strategy changes publishers need to make to stay on top of industry standards.

An example of an article page speed score from RebelMouse-powered Mikkeller Brewing NYC.

Now that platform dependence has subsided, and the rise of subscription-based models and thoughtful news aggregators are becoming more popular, user experience is what will set your site apart in a very saturated space. In 2013, publishers asked themselves: "How do I get the most reach on Facebook?" In 2019, the question has become: How do I make my site the best it can be? This is the ticket to unlocking modern sustainable growth and building a loyal user base.

We've built and host some of the fastest sites on the web, often beating out major publishers with huge tech teams and budgets. RebelMouse is made up of a team of traffic-obsessed, data-driven strategists. We make small updates to our platform daily to prioritize speed. Whether it's more options for lazy loading or updating all images to Google's next-generation image format, our product is always adapting — and so is Google.

Google isn't done defining just how they'll define page speed moving forward, but this roadmap is a good start, and a ticket to your site's monetary health and SEO ranking. If your site isn't optimized for speed like it should be, request a proposal today and we'll help you build one of the fastest sites on the open web. Let's create something meaningful together.

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Why RebelMouse Is the Best Content Marketing Platform

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A Modern Story of Web Performance From RebelMouse Founder + CEO Andrea Breanna

If I had more time, this website would have loaded faster

In the first months of 2020, we've focused at RebelMouse on page speed and performance. We worked very hard and found ways to take 90% of the sites we power to 90+ performance scores via Google's PageSpeed Insights tool — even with sites that are loaded with ads, embeds, third-party analytics, and other typical slow-loading elements. You can read more about our victories here.

A few months after we started this process, COVID-19 hit the world very hard. Suddenly, every media company was faced with a huge problem: Advertising fell off a cliff in what seemed like seconds. The only way to survive this unprecedented downturn is to grow traffic and control costs at the same time. So we started to shave our code and made our websites faster. We dropped costs just as dramatically as we were increasing scores.

Here are some surprises we found when doing this: If you want truly exceptional performance, none of the JavaScript and CSS frameworks that developers love so much make the cut. We thought the React version of RebelMouse was going to be the huge page speed breakthrough, until we realized the only way to achieve this goal was to write the code carefully and refactor it endlessly until it was as short as possible. As any author will tell you, like editing a book or a blog post, the revision process is never really done. By stepping away from frameworks, and methodically shaving vanilla code, our customers continue to see major improvements in performance.

As we announced this to our site network and rolled it out publicly, many of our clients asked me personally, "How did you do it?" The answer is easy to understand regardless of how technical you may be. It's perfectly summarized in this wonderful quote attributed to Mark Twain:

"If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter."
—Blaise Pascal, 1657 (and later, more famously Mark Twain)

The universe is sometimes very beautiful, and especially when you keep it simple. If you would like to start publishing on a site optimized for both speed and sustainability, request a proposal and let's start working together.

How to Format a User’s Joined Date

With RebelMouse's Layout & Design Tool, it's quick and easy to change how a user's information is formatted and displayed on their profile page.

In this post, we'll go through the steps necessary to expose and customize the way a user's joined date is displayed and formatted.

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AMP on the RebelCMS Platform

How to guarantee your media and ads are approved for AMP

RebelMouse makes rich, dynamic and flexible implementations of AMP simple to deploy. The platform has a suite of out of the box tools for editors/journalists/creators as well as tools for developers and product managers.

Easy to Enable Rich AMP Options on Any Post

RebelMouse makes it easy for product managers to quickly design AMP pages that outperform industry standards with an average of five pages per user. With the RebelCMS, you can choose to enable AMP by default or implement it across articles individually with one click in our Entry Editor. This level of granular control sets us apart from other CMS solutions and allows you to decide how deep you'd like to go with AMP.

Pure AMP (Canonical AMP) Features out of the Box

To maximize the speed benefits of AMP, RebelMouse also provides a way to force AMP for mobile and desktop traffic on a per-article basis. When enabled, traffic for the article will be redirected to the AMP version of the page for better performance.

Google will still see your AMP-enabled pages as usual and provide all of the normal benefits for search, but now you'll also get faster-loading pages that increase user engagement and drop bounce rates regardless of the traffic source.

Simplified AMP Layout Creation and Management

Our Layout & Design tool allows you to easily implement dynamic AMP layouts either through the default canonical usage or when forcing AMP on mobile and/or desktop. Using this tool, it's possible to create complex, multi-column layouts with ease that will be served as lightning-fast AMP pages to your visitors. The RebelCMS intelligently serves the proper layout depending on the device that a visitor is using to view your site's content.

Add Conversion Units to Maximize Audience Retention

Interstitial conversion units can be placed within your content so you can build a mailing list, get leads, or just highlight a new feature to your audience.

Beautiful Support for AMP Stories

The RebelCMS has an gorgeous integration with AMP stories. Read more about that here.

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The RebelMouse Guide to a Modern Instagram Marketing Strategy

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It's estimated that Instagram users spend an average of 53 minutes on the platform each day. That's a lot of time to grab your targeted audience's attention. Whether you're a new media property just getting started, a legacy publisher, or big-box brand, Instagram can be a great way to move the needle on your social engagement strategy.

However, it can feel like an uphill battle to even dip your toe into the waters of such a competitive platform. Although every brand's aesthetic is unique to them, there are a few key points that companies can follow to grow on Instagram.

Of course, since Instagram is such a visual application, it's essential that your feed has high-quality photos that are visually appealing. Here are some quick tips to help guide and optimize your Instagram marketing strategy for audience growth and engagement.

Refine Your Feed

Apart from maintaining on brand and quality content, all of the best Instagram feeds have one important thing in common: visual consistency. RebelMouse client 7X7 Bay Area is a great example of an Instagram feed with consistently beautiful photography that's equal parts refined and fresh.

Instagram accounts with a harmonious and attractive feed have a higher chance of retaining new visitors and converting them into followers, which helps to grow your brand's account overall.

Here are some tips to achieve visual consistency in your feed:

Use the same font for all text:

It's important to note that it can become visually overwhelming to users if there are too many photos collaged into one picture. The aim is for the feed to not look overcrowded with imagery.

If you would like to use multiple photos for the same post, use the multiple-image post functionality so that users can swipe through photos one at a time.

Try to make sure that each of your Instagram photos has a high resolution so they're clear and sharp. Colors should not be overly saturated, overly opaque, or too zoomed in.

Also, make sure your images are cropped correctly. Here's a link to Instagram's recommended image dimensions.

Find Your Filter Balance

The colors of pictures and videos can be enhanced with editing software, or by using Instagram's built-in filtering options. It's a good idea to be consistent in your editing or use of filters so that your feed maintains color uniformity.

It should be noted that Instagram's own filtering options often result in an overall aesthetic that is too strong, whether it be through the use of contrast, opacity, or saturation.

Too much contrast:

Not enough saturation or too pale:

A good rule of thumb is to not use more than 50% of any filter:

Use On-Brand Captions

Captions should always be on target and suitable for your brand's audience. This will vary greatly depending on the type of brand or website you power, as well as what your target audience looks like. It's important to recognize who your audience is, and how this aligns with your own brand's values, to maintain a consistent tone.

This is a great example of a fun caption that caters to RebelMouse-powered PAPER Magazine's audience. Their use of informal language is fresh and on brand:

Here's a more professional approach from RebelMouse-powered Work It Daily that still keeps the tone on target for their brand and community of support for the modern workforce.

Hashtag Usage and Management

The usage of hashtags can greatly benefit an Instagram post because it allows the post to be found by users looking for a particular hashtag. This can lead to an increase in traffic to the post, as well as the account as a whole.

Developing Instagram accounts such as Work It Daily can benefit from hashtags.

It's important when using hashtags to make sure that they're relevant to your company overall, as well as to the post's content. Furthermore, it's also a great idea to use different variations of the same key hashtags to capture as much traffic as possible.

One thing to note is that the larger the account, the less necessary hashtags are since the account will already have a large reach. Figuring out how many hashtags to use will require a little trial and error, but the main takeaway here is that the number of hashtags to use is not static and will need to change over time as an account grows.

Currently, the limit on hashtags is set at 30 per post.

Aim for Engagement

Interaction with followers and other Instagram users who comment and like your content is also an extremely important part of a successful Instagram marketing strategy.

Instagram's algorithm currently prioritizes accounts with high levels of interaction. The greater the amount of interaction, the more your account's content will get prioritized when appearing in a user's feed.

Post New Content Regularly

Regularly posting new content shows users that a particular Instagram account is active, which is especially important for media and news companies that need to demonstrate to their users that their content is relevant and up to date. Besides helping to increase followers, this practice also helps accounts maintain their current followers.

One thing to always keep in mind when deciding when to post is that "quality over quantity" should always prevail. It's much more efficient to have two great posts a week with high levels of visibility and engagement versus five posts with low visibility and engagement.

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One of Instagram's newest and most popular features is IGTV. To access IGTV, tap the IGTV button located in the navigation bar of your search page.

From there, you'll be brought to a personalized feed of curated IGTV content. The content is pulled in from accounts you follow who have IGTV content, as well as IGTV content from similar accounts that you're not following.

Because a user's IGTV feed is composed of content from both accounts a user follows and new accounts that post similar content, any IGTV content that appears in a non-following user's feed has a greater-than-normal chance of seeing the person view the content and converting into a follower. This makes IGTV one of the most effective Instagram post-types in terms of user growth, since it provides higher levels of accessibility, opportunity, and possibility to reach new users. IGTV will soon feature in-stream ads as well.

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Although any sort of format can be used successfully when creating IGTV content, one of the most effective ways that we recommend is to create an IGTV series.

Series on IGTV are essentially short videos with a common format or related theme that help draw in users so that they become familiar with the type of content and format they can expect to see on an account. They're useful at driving loyalty because users will want to see what the next part of the series will cover, and will therefore be more likely to convert into followers.

Win on Instagram

At RebelMouse, we believe that the social ecosystem is made up of a universe of creators. Your brand already has a community of collaborators waiting to engage with your Instagram content — it's just a matter of nurturing your social strategy to find them.

If you have any questions about what's working or not working for your Instagram account, email support@rebelmouse.com or talk to your account manager today.

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