Friday, April 28, 2017

White House Puts Offshore Resources Back in the Game

WASHINGTON – Institute for Energy Research President Thomas Pyle issued the following statement on President Trump’s plan for renewed offshore energy development in the U.S.:

“President Trump has made it clear that he wants to unlock America’s vast energy resources and reinvigorate the economy. The president’s decision to review the Obama administration’s anemic offshore leasing program and open up Arctic waters for energy exploration is an important step toward that goal.

“America’s offshore oil and gas resources have been held under lock and key for too long. In fact, the Interior Department only leases one percent of offshore areas—leaving vast amounts of our energy resources off the table. The U.S. Arctic alone holds an estimated 27 billion barrels of oil and 132 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

“The American people deserve better than the keep-it-in-the-ground policies of the previous administration. They deserve to see the benefits of developing these resources, including more jobs, higher wages, and a stronger economy.

“A long process awaits, but the merits of President Trump’s decision are clear. Opening these offshore areas delivers a strong message that America’s energy resources are back in the game.”

###

The post White House Puts Offshore Resources Back in the Game appeared first on IER.

Pop-Ups, Overlays, Modals, Interstitials, and How They Interact with SEO - Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Have you thought about what your pop-ups might be doing to your SEO? There are plenty of considerations, from their timing and how they affect your engagement rates, all the way to Google's official guidelines on the matter. In this episode of Whiteboard Friday, Rand goes over all the reasons why you ought to carefully consider how your overlays and modals work and whether the gains are worth the sacrifice.

Pop-ups, modals, overlays, interstitials, and how they work with SEO

Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high-resolution version in a new tab!

Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we're chatting about pop-ups, overlays, modals, interstitials, and all things like them. They have specific kinds of interactions with SEO. In addition to Google having some guidelines around them, they also can change how people interact with your website, and that can adversely or positively affect you accomplishing your goals, SEO and otherwise.

Types

So let's walk through what these elements, these design and UX elements do, how they work, and best practices for how we should be thinking about them and how they might interfere with our SEO efforts.

Pop-ups

So, first up, let's talk specifically about what each element is. A pop-up now, okay, there are a few kinds. There are pop-ups that happen in new windows. New window pop-ups are, basically, new window, no good. Google hates those. They are fundamentally against them. Many browsers will stop them automatically. Chrome does. Firefox does. In fact, users despise these as well. There are still some spammy and sketchy sites out there that use them, but, generally speaking, bad news.

Overlays

When we're talking about a pop-up that happens in the same browser window, essentially it's just a visual element, that's often also referred to as an overlay. So, for the purposes of this Whiteboard Friday, we'll call that an overlay. An overlay is basically like this, where you have the page's content and there's some smaller element, a piece, a box, a window, a visual of some kind that comes up and that essentially says, maybe it says, "Sign up for my email newsletter," and then there's a place to enter your email, or, "Get my book now," and you click that and get the book. Those types of overlays are pretty common on the web, and they do not create quite the same problems that pop-ups do, at least from Google's perspective. However, we'll talk about those later, there are some issues around them, especially with mobile.

Modals

Modals tend to be windows of interaction, tend to be more elements of use. So lightboxes for images is a very popular modal. A modal is something where you are doing work inside that new box rather than in the content that's underneath it. So a sign-in form that overlays, that pops up over the rest of the content, but that doesn't allow you to engage with this content underneath it, that would be considered a modal. Generally, most of the time, these aren't a problem, unless they are something like spam, or advertising, or something that's taking you out of the user experience.

Interstitials

Then finally, interstitials are essentially, and many of these can also be called interstitial experiences, but a classic interstitial is something like what Forbes.com does. When you visit Forbes, an article for the first time, you get this, "Welcome. Our sponsor of the day is Brawndo. Brawndo, it has what plants need." Then you can continue after a certain number of seconds. These really piss people off, myself included. I really hate the interstitial experience. I understand that it's an advertising thing. But, yeah, Google hates them too. Not quite enough to kick Forbes out of their SERPs entirely yet, but, fingers crossed, it will happen sometime soon. They have certainly removed plenty of other folks who have gone with invasive or overly heavy interstitials over the years and made those pretty tough.

What are the factors that matter for SEO?

A) Timing

Well, it turns out timing is a big one. So when the element appears matters. Basically, if the element shows up initially upon page load, they will consider it differently than if it shows up after a few minutes. So, for example, if you have a "Sign Up Now" overlay that pops up the second you visit the page, that's going to be treated differently than something that happens when you're 80% or you've just finished scrolling through an entire blog post. That will get treated very differently. Or it may have no effect actually on how Google treats the SEO, and then it really comes down to how users do.

Then how long does it last as well. So interstitials, especially those advertising interstitials, there are some issues governing that with people like Forbes. There are also some issues around an overlay that can't be closed and how long a window can pop up, especially if it shows advertising and those types of things. Generally speaking, obviously, shorter is better, but you can get into trouble even with very short ones.

B) Interaction

Can that element easily be closed, and does it interfere with the content or readability? So Google's new mobile guidelines, I think as of just a few months ago, now state that if an overlay or a modal or something interferes with a visitor's ability to read the actual content on the page, Google may penalize those or remove their mobile-friendly tags and remove any mobile-friendly benefit. That's obviously quite concerning for SEO.

C) Content

So there's an exception or an exclusion to a lot of Google's rules around this, which is if you have an element that is essentially asking for the user's age, or asking for some form of legal consent, or giving a warning about cookies, which is very popular in the EU, of course, and the UK because of the legal requirements around saying, "Hey, this website uses cookies," and you have to agree to it, those kinds of things, that actually gets around Google's issues. So Google will not give you a hard time if you have an overlay interstitial or modal that says, "Are you of legal drinking age in your country? Enter your birth date to continue." They will not necessarily penalize those types of things.

Advertising, on the other hand, advertising could get you into more trouble, as we have discussed. If it's a call to action for the website itself, again, that could go either way. If it's part of the user experience, generally you are just fine there. Meaning something like a modal where you get to a website and then you say, "Hey, I want to leave a comment," and so there's a modal that makes you log in, that type of a modal. Or you click on an image and it shows you a larger version of that image in a modal, again, no problem. That's part of the user experience.

D) Conditions

Conditions matter as well. So if it is triggered from SERP visits versus not, meaning that if you have an exclusionary protocol in your interstitial, your overlay, your modal that says, "Hey, if someone's visiting from Google, don't show this to them," or "If someone's visiting from Bing, someone's visiting from DuckDuckGo, don't show this to them," that can change how the search engines perceive it as well.

It's also the case that this can change if you only show to cookied or logged in or logged out types of users. Now, logged out types of users means that everyone from a search engine could or will get it. But for logged in users, for example, you can imagine that if you visit a page on a social media site and there's a modal that includes or an overlay that includes some notification around activity that you've already been performing on the site, now that becomes more a part of the user experience. That's not necessarily going to harm you.

Where it can hurt is the other way around, where you get visitors from search engines, they are logged out, and you require them to log in before seeing the content. Quora had a big issue with this for a long time, and they seem to have mostly resolved that through a variety of measures, and they're fairly sophisticated about it. But you can see that Facebook still struggles with this, because a lot of their content, they demand that you log in before you can ever view or access it. That does keep some of their results out of Google, or certainly ranking lower.

E) Engagement impact

I think this is what Google's ultimately trying to measure and what they're trying to essentially say, "Hey, this is why we have these issues around this," which is if you are hurting the click-through rate or you're hurting pogo-sticking, meaning that more people are clicking onto your website from Google and then immediately clicking the Back button when one of these things appears, that is a sign to Google that you have provided a poor user experience, that people are not willing to jump through whatever hoop you've created for them to get access your content, and that suggests they don't want to get there. So this is sort of the ultimate thing that you should be measuring. Some of these can still hurt you even if these are okay, but this is the big one.

Best practices

So some best practices around using all these types of elements on your website. I would strongly urge you to avoid elements that are significantly harming UX. If you're willing to take a small sacrifice in user experience in exchange for a great deal of value because you capture people's email addresses or you get more engagement of other different kinds, okay. But this would be something I'd watch.

There are three or four metrics that I'd urge you to check out to compare whether this is doing the right thing. Those are:

  • Bounce rate
  • Browse rate
  • Return visitor rates, meaning the percentage of people who come back to your site again and again, and
  • Time on site after the element appears

So those four will help tell you whether you are truly interfering badly with user experience.

On mobile, ensure that your crucial content is not covered up, that the reading experience, the browsing experience isn't covered up by one of these elements. Please, whatever you do, make those elements easy and obvious to dismiss. This is part of Google's guidelines around it, but it's also a best practice, and it will certainly help your user experience metrics.

Only choose to keep one of these elements if you are finding that the sacrifice... and there's almost always a sacrifice cost, like you will hurt bounce rate or browse rate or return visitor rate or time on site. You will hurt it. The question is, is it a slight enough hurt in exchange for enough gain, and that's that trade-off that you need to decide whether it's worth it. I think if you are hurting visitor interaction by a few seconds on average per visit, but you are getting 5% of your visitors to give you an email address, that's probably worth it. If it's more like 30 seconds and 1%, maybe not as good.

Consider removing the elements from triggering if the visit comes from search engines. So if you're finding that this works fine and great, but you're having issues around search guidelines, you could consider potentially just removing the element from any visit that comes directly from a search engine and instead placing that in the content itself or letting it happen on a second page load, assuming that your browse rate is decently high. That's a fine way to go as well.

If you are trying to get the most effective value out of these types of elements, it tends to be the case that the less common and less well used the visual element is, the more interaction and engagement it's going to get. But the other side of that coin is that it can create a more frustrating experience. So if people are not familiar with the overlay or modal or interstitial visual layout design that you've chosen, they may engage more with it. They might not dismiss it out of hand, because they're not used to it yet, but they can also get more frustrated by it. So, again, return to looking at those metrics.

With that in mind, hopefully you will effectively, and not too harmfully to your SEO, be able to use these pop-ups, overlays, interstitials, modals, and all other forms of elements that interfere with user experience.

And we'll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com


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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

IER Applauds Monuments Executive Order

WASHINGTON – The Institute for Energy Research (IER) applauds President Trump for instructing the Interior Department to review national monument designations under the Obama administration. IER President Thomas Pyle released the following statement:

“President Trump’s executive order shows that his administration remains committed to unleashing America’s energy potential. While energy production has surged on state and private lands over the past decade, production on federal lands has lagged far behind. This disparity is largely due to the previous administration’s keep-it-in-the-ground tactics, including President Obama’s abuse of the Antiquities Act. These tactics were on full display when President Obama unilaterally blocked off large swaths of land in Nevada and Utah in the eleventh hour of his presidency.

“Federal lands belong to the public and the public should enjoy all the benefits those lands have to offer, whether for recreation, energy development, or otherwise.

“Today’s executive action highlights a more pressing issue, which is the need for Congress to revisit the Antiquities Act. Congress can no longer sit on the sidelines and must take action to limit the executive branch’s authority when it comes to designating monuments.”

Click here to read IER’s analysis of the Obama administration’s eleventh-hour land grab.

The post IER Applauds Monuments Executive Order appeared first on IER.

China and the Paris Climate Accord

With the United States rolling back Obama-era regulations and possibly exiting the Paris climate accord, some analysts are assuming that China will take over its leadership.[i] And, that may be the case. China has nothing to lose. The country pledged to keep increasing its greenhouse gas emissions through 2030 as it continues to grow its economy, and then begin to decrease them. This is widely different from the U.S. pledge to decrease those emissions by 26 to 28 percent by 2025 (from 2005 levels). As a result, China is enjoying increasing its electrification of communities and supplying energy to fuel its economy by using mainly coal-fired electricity. The majority (83 percent) of its growth in electricity demand for the first quarter of 2017 was fueled by thermal energy (mainly coal).[ii]

Source: http://chinaenergyportal.org/en/2017-q1-electric-power-statistics/

*Thermal includes coal, gas, oil, and biomass

China’s Electric Sector, 2016

In 2016, according to China’s statistics, China’s electricity demand rose 5.2 percent and was fueled mainly by coal (65 percent) and hydropower (20 percent). While nuclear generation increased by 24 percent, it only represented 3.6 percent of the total generation in 2016. Non-hydroelectric renewables represented just 6 percent of the total generation in that year. While wind generation increased by 30 percent, it represented just 4 percent of total generation. Solar generation increased by 72 percent, but represented just 1 percent of total generation. (See graphs below.)

Note: Growth of ‘Other thermal’ includes that of biomass power generation. No statistics for 2016 are currently available, but it was 57.8 terawatt-hours in 2015.

Source: http://chinaenergyportal.org/en/2016-detailed-electricity-statistics/

In 2016, the traditional energy sources (coal, natural gas, petroleum, and nuclear) increased by 153 terawatt-hours—led by coal at 52 terawatt-hours. Hydroelectric power and pumped storage added an additional 69 terawatt-hours, followed by wind (56 terawatt-hours), and solar (28 terawatt-hours). See graph below.

Source: http://chinaenergyportal.org/en/2016-detailed-electricity-statistics/

China’s Wind Power Curtailment

In 2016, newly installed capacity of wind power in China was 19.3 gigawatts and cumulative installed wind capacity totaled 149 gigawatts–9 percent of the total installed power generation capacity. However, while wind capacity was at 9 percent of total capacity, wind generation was just 4 percent of total generation (241 terawatt-hours). In order to ensure stability of its electric grid, China had to curtail 49.7 terawatt-hours of wind generation—17.1 percent of total wind power production. That curtailment was an increase of 47 percent from the prior year and equivalent to the total amount of wind generation in Spain. (See graph below.)

Source: http://chinaenergyportal.org/en/2016-wind-power-installations-production-province/

China’s Future Coal Generation

The International Energy Agency in its World Energy Outlook 2016 projects in its “New Policies Scenario” that over the next 35 years, the amount of electricity that China is expected to produce from coal will increase by 4.3 percent while the amount of coal it will use to generate that electricity will decline by 4.6 percent. That is because China is leading the world in constructing the latest super-critical and ultra-super-critical low-emission-coal technology. This technology operates at much higher temperatures and pressures, increasing the efficiency of turning coal into electricity by up to 30 percent, and enabling new-technology power stations to generate more electricity while emitting less carbon dioxide and criteria pollutants (such as particulates, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides). While former President Obama’s war on coal had the Environmental Protection Agency implementing regulations to decrease the use of coal in the United States, China was and is implementing technology to make its coal-fired power plants more efficient while improving local air quality.[iii]

Conclusion

The Obama administration’s climate negotiators did not put American interests first. In essence, in the Paris accord, those countries that offered the most, like the United States, would end up losing the most. While supporters of the Paris Agreement argue that U.S. withdrawal would put the world’s climate at risk, what the Paris agreement really does is put the future of American families and businesses at a great disadvantage. Meanwhile, China is taking action to grow its economy by continuing to use coal and to invest in the low emission coal technology. The United States should learn from China’s example and invest in that coal technology, as well, putting our miners back to work and ensuring centuries of coal-fired generation to fuel its economy.


[i] The Hill, China can take reins of clean-energy boom should US falter, April 10, 2017, http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/energy-environment/328132-should-us-falter-china-poised-to-capitalize-on-clean

[ii] https://twitter.com/ChnEnergyPortal/status/854285874821033984

[iii] National Review, The U.S. Should Abandon the Paris Agreement and Learn from China, December 7, 2016, http://www.nationalreview.com/article/442822/paris-climate-agreement-united-states-clean-power-plan-china-coal-emissions

The post China and the Paris Climate Accord appeared first on IER.

There's No Such Thing as a Site Migration

Posted by jonoalderson

Websites, like the businesses who operate them, are often deceptively complicated machines.

They’re fragile systems, and changing or replacing any one of the parts can easily affect (or even break) the whole setup — often in ways not immediately obvious to stakeholders or developers.

Even seemingly simple sites are often powered by complex technology, like content management systems, databases, and templating engines. There’s much more going on behind the scenes — technically and organizationally — than you can easily observe by crawling a site or viewing the source code.

When you change a website and remove or add elements, it’s not uncommon to introduce new errors, flaws, or faults.

That’s why I get extremely nervous whenever I hear a client or business announce that they’re intending to undergo a "site migration."

Chances are, and experience suggests, that something’s going to go wrong.

Migrations vary wildly in scope

As an SEO consultant and practitioner, I've been involved in more "site migrations" than I can remember or count — for charities, startups, international e-commerce sites, and even global household brands. Every one has been uniquely challenging and stressful.

In each case, the businesses involved have underestimated (and in some cases, increased) the complexity, the risk, and the details involved in successfully executing their "migration."

As a result, many of these projects negatively impacted performance and potential in ways that could have been easily avoided.

This isn’t a case of the scope of the "migration" being too big, but rather, a misalignment of understanding, objectives, methods, and priorities, resulting in stakeholders working on entirely different scopes.

The migrations I’ve experienced have varied from simple domain transfers to complete overhauls of server infrastructure, content management frameworks, templates, and pages — sometimes even scaling up to include the consolidation (or fragmentation) of multiple websites and brands.

In the minds of each organization, however, these have all been "migration" projects despite their significantly varying (and poorly defined) scopes. In each case, the definition and understanding of the word "migration" has varied wildly.

We suck at definitions

As an industry, we’re used to struggling with labels. We’re still not sure if we’re SEOs, inbound marketers, digital marketers, or just… marketers. The problem is that, when we speak to each other (and those outside of our industry), these words can carry different meaning and expectations.

Even amongst ourselves, a conversation between two digital marketers, analysts, or SEOs about their fields of expertise is likely to reveal that they have surprisingly different definitions of their roles, responsibilities, and remits. To them, words like "content" or "platform" might mean different things.

In the same way, "site migrations" vary wildly, in form, function, and execution — and when we discuss them, we’re not necessarily talking about the same thing. If we don’t clarify our meanings and have shared definitions, we risk misunderstandings, errors, or even offense.

Ambiguity creates risk

Poorly managed migrations can have a number of consequences beyond just drops in rankings, traffic, and performance. There are secondary impacts, too. They can also inadvertently:

  • Provide a poor user experience (e.g., old URLs now 404, or error states are confusing to users, or a user reaches a page different from what they expected).
  • Break or omit tracking and/or analytics implementations, resulting in loss of business intelligence.
  • Limit the size, shape, or scalability of a site, resulting in static, stagnant, or inflexible templates and content (e.g., omitting the ability to add or edit pages, content, and/or sections in a CMS), and a site which struggles to compete as a result.
  • Miss opportunities to benefit from what SEOs do best: blending an understanding of consumer demand and behavior, the market and competitors, and the brand in question to create more effective strategies, functionality and content.
  • Create conflict between stakeholders, when we need to "hustle" at the last minute to retrofit our requirements into an already complex project (“I know it’s about to go live, but PLEASE can we add analytics conversion tracking?”) — often at the cost of our reputation.
  • Waste future resource, where mistakes require that future resource is spent recouping equity resulting from faults or omissions in the process, rather than building on and enhancing performance.

I should point out that there’s nothing wrong with hustle in this case; that, in fact, begging, borrowing, and stealing can often be a viable solution in these kinds of scenarios. There’s been more than one occasion when, late at night before a site migration, I’ve averted disaster by literally begging developers to include template review processes, to implement redirects, or to stall deployments.

But this isn’t a sensible or sustainable or reliable way of working.

Mistakes will inevitably be made. Resources, favors, and patience are finite. Too much reliance on "hustle" from individuals (or multiple individuals) may in fact further widen the gap in understanding and scope, and positions the hustler as a single point of failure.

More importantly, hustle may only fix the symptoms, not the cause of these issues. That means that we remain stuck in a role as the disruptive outsiders who constantly squeeze in extra unscoped requirements at the eleventh hour.

Where things go wrong

If we’re to begin to address some of these challenges, we need to understand when, where, and why migration projects go wrong.

The root cause of all less-than-perfect migrations can be traced to at least one of the following scenarios:

  • The migration project occurs without consultation.
  • Consultation is sought too late in the process, and/or after the migration.
  • There is insufficient planned resource/time/budget to add requirements (or processes)/make recommended changes to the brief.
  • The scope is changed mid-project, without consultation, or in a way which de-prioritizes requirements.
  • Requirements and/or recommended changes are axed at the eleventh hour (due to resource/time/budget limitations, or educational/political conflicts).

There’s a common theme in each of these cases. We’re not involved early enough in the process, or our opinions and priorities don’t carry sufficient weight to impact timelines and resources.

Chances are, these mistakes are rarely the product of spite or of intentional omission; rather, they’re born of gaps in the education and experience of the stakeholders and decision-makers involved.

We can address this, to a degree, by elevating ourselves to senior stakeholders in these kinds of projects, and by being consulted much earlier in the timeline.

Let’s be more specific

I think that it’s our responsibility to help the organizations we work for to avoid these mistakes. One of the easiest opportunities to do that is to make sure that we’re talking about the same thing, as early in the process as possible.

Otherwise, migrations will continue to go wrong, and we will continue to spend far too much of our collective time fixing broken links, recommending changes or improvements to templates, and holding together bruised-and-broken websites — all at the expense of doing meaningful, impactful work.

Perhaps we can begin to answer to some of these challenges by creating better definitions and helping to clarify exactly what’s involved in a "site migration" process.

Unfortunately, I suspect that we’re stuck with the word "migration," at least for now. It’s a term which is already widely used, which people think is a correct and appropriate definition. It’s unrealistic to try to change everybody else’s language when we’re already too late to the conversation.

Our next best opportunity to reduce ambiguity and risk is to codify the types of migration. This gives us a chance to prompt further exploration and better definitions.

For example, if we can say “This sounds like it’s actually a domain migration paired with a template migration,” we can steer the conversation a little and rely on a much better shared frame of reference.

If we can raise a challenge that, e.g., the "translation project" a different part of the business is working on is actually a whole bunch of interwoven migration types, then we can raise our concerns earlier and pursue more appropriate resource, budget, and authority (e.g., “This project actually consists of a series of migrations involving templates, content, and domains. Therefore, it’s imperative that we also consider X and Y as part of the project scope.”).

By persisting in labelling this way, stakeholders may gradually come to understand that, e.g., changing the design typically also involves changing the templates, and so the SEO folks should really be involved earlier in the process. By challenging the language, we can challenge the thinking.

Let’s codify migration types

I’ve identified at least seven distinct types of migration. Next time you encounter a "migration" project, you can investigate the proposed changes, map them back to these types, and flag any gaps in understanding, expectations, and resource.

You could argue that some of these aren’t strictly "migrations" in a technical sense (i.e., changing something isn’t the same as moving it), but grouping them this way is intentional.

Remember, our goal here isn’t to neatly categorize all of the requirements for any possible type of migration. There are plenty of resources, guides, and lists which already try do that.

Instead, we’re trying to provide neat, universal labels which help us (the SEO folks) and them (the business stakeholders) to have shared definitions and to remove unknown unknowns.

They’re a set of shared definitions which we can use to trigger early warning signals, and to help us better manage stakeholder expectations.

Feel free to suggest your own, to grow, shrink, combine, or bin any of these to fit your own experience and requirements!

1. Hosting migrations

A broad bundling of infrastructure, hardware, and server considerations (while these are each broad categories in their own right, it makes sense to bundle them together in this context).

If your migration project contains any of the following changes, you’re talking about a hosting migration, and you’ll need to explore the SEO implications (and development resource requirements) to make sure that changes to the underlying platform don’t impact front-end performance or visibility.

  • You’re changing hosting provider.
  • You’re changing, adding, or removing server locations.
  • You’re altering the specifications of your physical (or virtual) servers (e.g., RAM, CPU, storage, hardware types, etc).
  • You’re changing your server technology stack (e.g., moving from Apache to Nginx).*
  • You’re implementing or removing load balancing, mirroring, or extra server environments.
  • You’re implementing or altering caching systems (database, static page caches, varnish, object, memcached, etc).
  • You’re altering the physical or server security protocols and features.**
  • You’re changing, adding or removing CDNs.***

*Might overlap into a software migration if the changes affect the configuration or behavior of any front-end components (e.g., the CMS).

**Might overlap into other migrations, depending on how this manifests (e.g., template, software, domain).

***Might overlap into a domain migration if the CDN is presented as/on a distinct hostname (e.g., AWS), rather than invisibly (e.g., Cloudflare).

2. Software migrations

Unless your website is comprised of purely static HTML files, chances are that it’s running some kind of software to serve the right pages, behaviors, and content to users.

If your migration project contains any of the following changes, you’re talking about a software migration, and you’ll need to understand (and input into) how things like managing error codes, site functionality, and back-end behavior work.

  • You’re changing CMS.
  • You’re adding or removing plugins/modules/add-ons in your CMS.
  • You’re upgrading or downgrading the CMS, or plugins/modules/addons (by a significant degree/major release) .
  • You’re changing the language used to render the website (e.g., adopting Angular2 or NodeJS).
  • You’re developing new functionality on the website (forms, processes, widgets, tools).
  • You’re merging platforms; e.g., a blog which operated on a separate domain and system is being integrated into a single CMS.*

*Might overlap into a domain migration if you’re absorbing software which was previously located/accessed on a different domain.

3. Domain migrations

Domain migrations can be pleasantly straightforward if executed in isolation, but this is rarely the case. Changes to domains are often paired with (or the result of) other structural and functional changes.

If your migration project alters the URL(s) by which users are able to reach your website, contains any of the following changes, then you’re talking about a domain migration, and you need to consider how redirects, protocols (e.g., HTTP/S), hostnames (e.g., www/non-www), and branding are impacted.

  • You’re changing the main domain of your website.
  • You’re buying/adding new domains to your ecosystem.
  • You’re adding or removing subdomains (e.g., removing domain sharding following a migration to HTTP2).
  • You’re moving a website, or part of a website, between domains (e.g., moving a blog on a subdomain into a subfolder, or vice-versa).
  • You’re intentionally allowing an active domain to expire.
  • You’re purchasing an expired/dropped domain.

4. Template migrations

Chances are that your website uses a number of HTML templates, which control the structure, layout, and peripheral content of your pages. The logic which controls how your content looks, feels, and behaves (as well as the behavior of hidden/meta elements like descriptions or canonical URLs) tends to live here.

If your migration project alters elements like your internal navigation (e.g., the header or footer), elements in your <head>, or otherwise changes the page structure around your content in the ways I’ve outlined, then you’re talking about a template migration. You’ll need to consider how users and search engines perceive and engage with your pages, how context, relevance, and authority flow through internal linking structures, and how well-structured your HTML (and JS/CSS) code is.

  • You’re making changes to internal navigation.
  • You’re changing the layout and structure of important pages/templates (e.g., homepage, product pages).
  • You’re adding or removing template components (e.g., sidebars, interstitials).
  • You’re changing elements in your <head> code, like title, canonical, or hreflang tags.
  • You’re adding or removing specific templates (e.g., a template which shows all the blog posts by a specific author).
  • You’re changing the URL pattern used by one or more templates.
  • You’re making changes to how device-specific rendering works*

*Might involve domain, software, and/or hosting migrations, depending on implementation mechanics.

5. Content migrations

Your content is everything which attracts, engages with, and convinces users that you’re the best brand to answer their questions and meet their needs. That includes the words you use to describe your products and services, the things you talk about on your blog, and every image and video you produce or use.

If your migration project significantly changes the tone (including language, demographic targeting, etc), format, or quantity/quality of your content in the ways I’ve outlined, then you’re talking about a content migration. You’ll need to consider the needs of your market and audience, and how the words and media on your website answer to that — and how well it does so in comparison with your competitors.

  • You significantly increase or reduce the number of pages on your website.
  • You significantly change the tone, targeting, or focus of your content.
  • You begin to produce content on/about a new topic.
  • You translate and/or internationalize your content.*
  • You change the categorization, tagging, or other classification system on your blog or product content.**
  • You use tools like canonical tags, meta robots indexation directives, or robots.txt files to control how search engines (and other bots) access and attribute value to a content piece (individually or at scale).

*Might involve domain, software and/or hosting, and template migrations, depending on implementation mechanics.

**May overlap into a template migration if the layout and/or URL structure changes as a result.

6. Design migrations

The look and feel of your website doesn’t necessarily directly impact your performance (though user signals like engagement and trust certainly do). However, simple changes to design components can often have unintended knock-on effects and consequences.

If your migration project contains any of the following changes, you’re talking about a design migration, and you’ll need to clarify whether changes are purely cosmetic or whether they go deeper and impact other areas.

  • You’re changing the look and feel of key pages (like your homepage).*
  • You’re adding or removing interaction layers, e.g. conditionally hiding content based on device or state.*
  • You’re making design/creative changes which change the HTML (as opposed to just images or CSS files) of specific elements.*
  • You’re changing key messaging, like logos and brand slogans.
  • You’re altering the look and feel to react to changing strategies or monetization models (e.g., introducing space for ads in a sidebar, or removing ads in favor of using interstitial popups/states).
  • You’re changing images and media.**

*All template migrations.

**Don’t forget to 301 redirect these, unless you’re replacing like-for-like filenames (which isn’t always best practice if you wish to invalidate local or remote caches).

7. Strategy migrations

A change in organizational or marketing strategy might not directly impact the website, but a widening gap between a brand’s audience, objectives, and platform can have a significant impact on performance.

If your market or audience (or your understanding of it) changes significantly, or if your mission, your reputation, or the way in which you describe your products/services/purpose changes, then you’re talking about a strategy migration. You’ll need to consider how you structure your website, how you target your audiences, how you write content, and how you campaign (all of which might trigger a set of new migration projects!).

  • You change the company mission statement.
  • You change the website’s key objectives, goals, or metrics.
  • You enter a new marketplace (or leave one).
  • Your channel focus (and/or your audience’s) changes significantly.
  • A competitor disrupts the market and/or takes a significant amount of your market share.
  • Responsibility for the website/its performance/SEO/digital changes.
  • You appoint a new agency or team responsible for the website’s performance.
  • Senior/C-level stakeholders leave or join.
  • Changes in legal frameworks (e.g. privacy compliance or new/changing content restrictions in prescriptive sectors) constrain your publishing/content capabilities.

Let’s get in earlier

Armed with better definitions, we can begin to force a more considered conversation around what a "migration" project actually involves. We can use a shared language and ensure that stakeholders understand the risks and opportunities of the changes they intend to make.

Unfortunately, however, we don’t always hear about proposed changes until they’ve already been decided and signed off.

People don’t know that they need to tell us that they’re changing domain, templates, hosting, etc. So it’s often too late when — or if — we finally get involved. Decisions have already been made before they trickle down into our awareness.

That’s still a problem.

By the time you’re aware of a project, it’s usually too late to impact it.

While our new-and-improved definitions are a great starting place to catch risks as you encounter them, avoiding those risks altogether requires us to develop a much better understanding of how, where, and when migrations are planned, managed, and start to go wrong.

Let’s identify trigger points

I’ve identified four common scenarios which lead to organizations deciding to undergo a migration project.

If you can keep your ears to the ground and spot these types of events unfolding, you have an opportunity to give yourself permission to insert yourself into the conversation, and to interrogate to find out exactly which types of migrations might be looming.

It’s worth finding ways to get added to deployment lists and notifications, internal project management tools, and other systems so that you can look for early warning signs (without creating unnecessary overhead and comms processes).

1. Mergers, acquisitions, and closures

When brands are bought, sold, or merged, this almost universally triggers changes to their websites. These requirements are often dictated from on-high, and there’s limited (or no) opportunity to impact the brief.

Migration strategies in these situations are rarely comfortable, and almost always defensive by nature (focusing on minimizing impact/cost rather than capitalizing upon opportunity).

Typically, these kinds of scenarios manifest in a small number of ways:

  • The "parent" brand absorbs the website of the purchased brand into their own website; either by "bolting it on" to their existing architecture, moving it to a subdomain/folder, or by distributing salvageable content throughout their existing site and killing the old one (often triggering most, if not every type of migration).
  • The purchased brand website remains where it is, but undergoes a design migration and possibly template migrations to align it with the parent brand.
  • A brand website is retired and redirected (a domain migration).

2. Rebrands

All sorts of pressures and opportunities lead to rebranding activity. Pressures to remain relevant, to reposition within marketplaces, or change how the brand represents itself can trigger migration requirements — though these activities are often led by brand and creative teams who don’t necessarily understand the implications.

Often, the outcome of branding processes and initiatives creates new a or alternate understanding of markets and consumers, and/or creates new guidelines/collateral/creative which must be reflected on the website(s). Typically, this can result in:

  • Changes to core/target audiences, and the content or language/phrasing used to communicate with them (strategy and content migrations -—more if this involves, for example, opening up to international audiences).
  • New collateral, replacing or adding to existing media, content, and messaging (content and design migrations).
  • Changes to website structure and domain names (template and domain migrations) to align to new branding requirements.

3. C-level vision

It’s not uncommon for senior stakeholders to decide that the strategy to save a struggling business, to grow into new markets, or to make their mark on an organization is to launch a brand-new, shiny website.

These kinds of decisions often involve a scorched-earth approach, tearing down the work of their predecessors or of previously under-performing strategies. And the more senior the decision-maker, the less likely they’ll understand the implications of their decisions.

In these kinds of scenarios, your best opportunity to avert disaster is to watch for warning signs and to make yourself heard before it’s too late. In particular, you can watch out for:

  • Senior stakeholders with marketing, IT, or C-level responsibilities joining, leaving, or being replaced (in particular if in relation to poor performance).
  • Boards of directors, investors, or similar pressuring web/digital teams for unrealistic performance goals (based on current performance/constraints).
  • Gradual reduction in budget and resource for day-to-day management and improvements to the website (as a likely prelude to a big strategy migration).
  • New agencies being brought on board to optimize website performance, who’re hindered by the current framework/constraints.
  • The adoption of new martech and marketing automation software.*

*Integrations of solutions like SalesForce, Marketo, and similar sometimes rely on utilizing proxied subdomains, embedded forms/content, and other mechanics which will need careful consideration as part of a template migration.

4. Technical or financial necessity

The current website is in such a poor, restrictive, or cost-ineffective condition that it makes it impossible to adopt new-and-required improvements (such as compliance with new standards, an integration of new martech stacks, changes following a brand purchase/merger, etc).

Generally, like the kinds of C-level “new website” initiatives I’ve outlined above, these result in scorched earth solutions.

Particularly frustrating, these are the kinds of migration projects which you yourself may well argue and fight for, for years on end, only to then find that they’ve been scoped (and maybe even begun or completed) without your input or awareness.

Here are some danger signs to watch out for which might mean that your migration project is imminent (or, at least, definitely required):

  • Licensing costs for parts or the whole platform become cost-prohibitive (e.g., enterprise CMS platforms, user seats, developer training, etc).
  • The software or hardware skill set required to maintain the site becomes rarer or more expensive (e.g., outdated technologies).
  • Minor-but-urgent technical changes take more than six months to implement.
  • New technical implementations/integrations are agreed upon in principle, budgeted for, but not implemented.
  • The technical backlog of tasks grows faster than it shrinks as it fills with breakages and fixes rather than new features, initiatives, and improvements.
  • The website ecosystem doesn’t support the organization’s ways of working (e.g., the organization adopts agile methodologies, but the website only supports waterfall-style codebase releases).
  • Key technology which underpins the site is being deprecated, and there’s no easy upgrade path.*

*Will likely trigger hosting or software migrations.

Let’s not count on this

While this kind of labelling undoubtedly goes some way to helping us spot and better manage migrations, it’s far from a perfect or complete system.

In fact, I suspect it may be far too ambitious, and unrealistic in its aspiration. Accessing conversations early enough — and being listened to and empowered in those conversations — relies on the goodwill and openness of companies who aren’t always completely bought into or enamored with SEO.

This will only work in an organization which is open to this kind of thinking and internal challenging — and chances are, they’re not the kinds of organizations who are routinely breaking their websites. The very people who need our help and this kind of system are fundamentally unsuited to receive it.

I suspect, then, it might be impossible in many cases to make the kinds of changes required to shift behaviors and catch these problems earlier. In most organizations, at least.

Avoiding disasters resulting from ambiguous migration projects relies heavily on broad education. Everything else aside, people tend to change companies faster than you can build deep enough tribal knowledge.

That doesn’t mean that the structure isn’t still valuable, however. The types of changes and triggers I’ve outlined can still be used as alarm bells and direction for your own use.

Let’s get real

If you can’t effectively educate stakeholders on the complexities and impact of them making changes to their website, there are more "lightweight" solutions.

At the very least, you can turn these kinds of items (and expand with your own, and in more detail) into simple lists which can be printed off, laminated, and stuck to a wall. At the very least, perhaps you'll remind somebody to pick up the phone to the SEO team when they recognize an issue.

In a more pragmatic world, stakeholders don’t necessarily have to understand the nuance or the detail if they at least understand that they’re meant to ask for help when they’re changing domain, for example, or adding new templates to their website.

Whilst this doesn’t solve the underlying problems, it does provide a mechanism through which the damage can be systematically avoided or limited. You can identify problems earlier and be part of the conversation.

If it’s still too late and things do go wrong, you'll have something you can point to and say “I told you so,” or, more constructively perhaps, “Here’s the resource you need to avoid this happening next time.”

And in your moment of self-righteous vindication, having successfully made it through this post and now armed to save your company from a botched migration project, you can migrate over to the bar. Good work, you.


Thanks to…

This turned into a monster of a post, and its scope meant that it almost never made it to print. Thanks to a few folks in particular for helping me to shape, form, and ship it. In particular:

  • Hannah Thorpe, for help in exploring and structuring the initial concept.
  • Greg Mitchell, for a heavy dose of pragmatism in the conclusion.
  • Gerry White, for some insightful additions and the removal of dozens of typos.
  • Sam Simpson for putting up with me spending hours rambling and ranting at her about failed site migrations.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Green Jobs: A Bipartisan Mirage

Bipartisanship—that romanticized political ideal of a bygone era when Democrats and Republicans could commune together without vitriol and unite behind shared goals—is dead.

Five months removed from the most socially-divisive presidential election in living memory, the likelihood of politicians reaching across the aisle to work together seems exceedingly thin. Political scientists describe our present era as among the most polarizing in our nation’s history.

But, for some, there is hope. Like Rocky speaking to the crowd after defeating Ivan Drago, these merchants of bipartisanship proclaim, “If I can change, and you can change, everybody can change.”

This bipartisan platform—this unicorn—is the promise of green jobs.

Jobs in industries like wind and solar, advocates profess, are a political panacea—soothing the environmental concerns of the left and the employment concerns of the right in one fell swoop. The record does in fact show that both Democrats and Republicans have considered green jobs a winning issue. South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, one of four senators from the party to spearhead the Senate Energy and Environment Working Group, argued in 2015, “We must have energy independence. And in the process, I believe it is possible to produce a safe, clean environment, and create new well-paying jobs for Americans of all generations.” Former New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte, another then-member of the working group, said the purpose was to “focus on ways we can protect our environment and climate while also bolstering clean energy innovation that helps drive job creation.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s website touts green jobs in stunningly similar terms, “Now more than ever, House Democrats want to move America in a new direction for energy independence — working to lower energy prices, make America more secure, and launch a cleaner, smarter, more cost-effective energy future that creates hundreds of thousands of clean energy jobs.”

And to much publicity, green jobs are indeed on the ascent. As the Washington Post reported last week, the fastest-growing occupation in the country is wind turbine technician.

The Department of Energy’s recently released U.S. Energy and Employment Report reveals a trove of interesting data on this topic. It informs us, for example, that solar technologies employ 374,000 workers in the US—a whopping 43 percent of the electricity generation workforce. Wind employs another 102,000 workers—accounting for 12 percent of the electricity generation workforce—meaning that these touted green jobs now make up over half of our electricity generation jobs in total. Coal, oil, and natural gas, meanwhile, employ 87,000 workers—just 22 percent of the electricity generation workforce. Now, of course, we must take into account that the coal, oil, and natural gas electricity generation number doesn’t include the hundreds of thousands of workers who ply their trade closer to the sources’ extraction points and are classified under the “fuels” designation rather than the “electricity generation” designation.

Nevertheless, the volume and growth of green jobs is noteworthy. The number of jobs added from 2015 to 2016 in wind and solar dwarfs the new job additions in coal, oil, and natural gas electricity generation by a ratio of more than six to one. Solar employment expanded by 25 percent from 2015 to 2016 and wind increased by 32 percent.

That sure sounds like a bipartisan winner, doesn’t it? 25 to 30 percent growth is—as the president might say—tremendous.

And yet, something is wrong with this picture. The job numbers are there, but something more critical isn’t: actual electricity generation.

Despite green jobs making up more than half of the jobs in the electricity generation sector, wind and solar combined to generate a paltry 6.5 percent of our central station electricity in 2016, with wind producing 5.6. That means that despite accounting for 43 percent of the electricity generation workforce, solar energy produced less than one percent of our central station electricity. When distributed generation is included, it produced another 0.5 percent of generation for a total of 1.4 percent.

Let me state that again: solar accounts for 43 percent of the electricity generation workforce. And it generates about one percent of our electricity.

What if other sectors of our economy looked this way?

What if McDonald’s employed 43 percent of all burger joint employees nationwide, but could only produce one percent of the burgers needed by a hungry public?

You’d rightly suspect something had gone very wrong in someone’s economic calculations. That’s the situation we’re in now with these touted green jobs.

Something has clearly gone amiss.

At this point you might be thinking, “Well, yes, the electricity generation is low now for solar, but many of those 374,000 jobs are in solar construction, so we’re on the verge of a solar generation windfall, right?”

Wrong.

Despite the vigorous appearance that the green jobs growth numbers give wind and solar, the Energy Information Agency forecasts that the electricity fuel mix will remain virtually unchanged for the next two years. EIA estimates solar will move from producing just under one percent in 2016 to 1.4 percent of our central station (utility-scale) electricity in 2018. Coal, for comparison, is expected to climb as well—from 30.4 percent in 2016 to 31.1 percent in 2018—as natural gas prices rise.

If 2018 is too short a time horizon to dash your hopes for solar productivity, consider EIA’s long-range projections. In its non-Clean Power Plan scenarios even in year 2040—more than two decades from now—all of the sources EIA classifies as renewables (hydroelectric, biomass, wind, solar, etc.), which today combine to make up about 15 percent of our electricity, will still combine to produce only about a quarter of our electricity in 2040.

Solar energy will produce about 6 percent in 2040. Wind will produce about 9 percent. And natural gas and coal will supply around 34 percent and 28 percent respectively.

With the current electricity fuel mix and long-range projections showing a rather marginal—and at best supplementary—role for solar and wind, we’re left to wonder: are green jobs the bipartisan silver bullet they’re cracked up to be or are they instead a bipartisan mirage?

The post Green Jobs: A Bipartisan Mirage appeared first on IER.

Strengthening Community Through Solar

Dayne came to Solar Energy International (SEI) with his eyes toward the future: his future career, a more prosperous future for his community, and a sustainable future for his wife and son. Dayne travelled from Lapwai, ID where he works at the Nez Perce National Historic Park and is a member of the Nez Perce Tribe. He sees solar as a way to support the people and organizations he cares about. His first day in class, Dayne shared that, in part, he wants to use his solar training to ensure his son would never have to worry about utility bills. He’s hoping to integrate solar electric and solar thermal systems into his home, along with an orchard, so his son will be provided for into the future.

It soon became clear that Dayne’s solar aspirations extended far into his community. He hopes to utilize solar technology as a way to be a responsible steward of the planet and reduce energy costs for his church and other community programs. “With the community saving some money there will be more funding for better programs. Programs that would fix the roads, sidewalks, school programs and supplies, better equipment for the clinics, funding for that clinic to grow to a hospital. Funding to have a full fire station instead of a fire department run on volunteers. That’s my goal as a community member, Nez Perce Tribal member, First Presbyterian Church Trustee and most importantly of all, Husband and Father.”

He is taking great strides into his future through his pursuit of solar training. His first step was research on the industry and certification. Eventually,  Dayne hopes to become a NABCEP Certified Solar Installer and  he found SEI’s program through the educational resources page. He is well on his way as his journey to SEI’s Paonia, CO training for PV201L: Solar Electric Lab Week  marked his completion of SEI’s Solar Professionals Certificate Program for Residential and Commercial Photovoltaic Systems. The SEI Solar Professionals Certificate Program is a selective admissions program to help ensure the success of our students and provide a quality workforce for the solar industry. His application and performance demonstrated his commitment to his solar training and all of the skills and dedication he’d bring to a future solar career. Now that he’s completed the five requisite courses, both online and in-person, to complete this certificate program, he’ll be ready to take the NABCEP PV Certification exam. SEI eagerly awaits word of his success the good work he’s doing for his community.

The post Strengthening Community Through Solar appeared first on Solar Training - Solar Installer Training - Solar PV Installation Training - Solar Energy Courses - Renewable Energy Education - NABCEP - Solar Energy International (SEI).