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How to Use Chrome to View a Website as Googlebot

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How to Use Chrome to View a Website as Googlebot

The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.

Introduction to Googlebot spoofing

In this article, I’ll describe how and why to use Google Chrome (or Chrome Canary) to view a website as Googlebot.

We’ll set up a web browser specifically for Googlebot browsing. Using a user-agent browser extension is often close enough for SEO audits, but extra steps are needed to get as close as possible to emulating Googlebot.

Skip to “How to set up your Googlebot browser”.

Why should I view a website as Googlebot?

For many years, us technical SEOs had it easy when auditing websites, with HTML and CSS being web design’s cornerstone languages. JavaScript was generally used for embellishments (such as small animations on a webpage).

Increasingly, though, whole websites are being built with JavaScript.

Originally, web servers sent complete websites (fully rendered HTML) to web browsers. These days, many websites are rendered client-side (in the web browser itself) – whether that’s Chrome, Safari, or whatever browser a search bot uses – meaning the user’s browser and device must do the work to render a webpage.

SEO-wise, some search bots don’t render JavaScript, so won’t see webpages built using it. Especially when compared to HTML and CSS, JavaScript is very expensive to render. It uses much more of a device’s processing power — wasting the device’s battery life— and much more of Google’s, Bing’s, or any search engine’s server resource.

Even Googlebot has difficulties rendering JavaScript and delays rendering of JavaScript beyond its initial URL discovery – sometimes for days or weeks, depending on the website. When I see “Discovered – currently not indexed” for several URLs in Google Search Console’s Coverage (or Pages) section, the website is more often than not JavaScript-rendered.

Attempting to get around potential SEO issues, some websites use dynamic rendering, so each page has two versions:

Generally, I find that this setup overcomplicates websites and creates more technical SEO issues than a server-side rendered or traditional HTML website. A mini rant here: there are exceptions, but generally, I think client-side rendered websites are a bad idea. Websites should be designed to work on the lowest common denominator of a device, with progressive enhancement (through JavaScript) used to improve the experience for people, using devices that can handle extras. This is something I will investigate further, but my anecdotal evidence suggests client-side rendered websites are generally more difficult to use for people who rely on accessibility devices such as a screen reader. There are instances where technical SEO and usability crossover.

Technical SEO is about making websites as easy as possible for search engines to crawl, render, and index (for the most relevant keywords and topics). Like it or lump it, the future of technical SEO, at least for now, includes lots of JavaScript and different webpage renders for bots and users.

Viewing a website as Googlebot means we can see discrepancies between what a person sees and what a search bot sees. What Googlebot sees doesn’t need to be identical to what a person using a browser sees, but main navigation and the content you want the page to rank for should be the same.

That’s where this article comes in. For a proper technical SEO audit, we need to see what the most common search engine sees. In most English language-speaking countries, at least, that’s Google.

Why use Chrome (or Chrome Canary) to view websites as Googlebot?

Can we see exactly what Googlebot sees?

No.

Googlebot itself uses a (headless) version of the Chrome browser to render webpages. Even with the settings suggested in this article, we can never be exactly sure of what Googlebot sees. For example, no settings allow for how Googlebot processes JavaScript websites. Sometimes JavaScript breaks, so Googlebot might see something different than what was intended.

The aim is to emulate Googlebot’s mobile-first indexing as closely as possible.

When auditing, I use my Googlebot browser alongside Screaming Frog SEO Spider’s Googlebot spoofing and rendering, and Google’s own tools such as URL Inspection in Search Console (which can be automated using SEO Spider), and the render screenshot and code from the Mobile Friendly Test.

Even Google’s own publicly available tools aren’t 100% accurate in showing what Googlebot sees. But along with the Googlebot browser and SEO Spider, they can point towards issues and help with troubleshooting.

Why use a separate browser to view websites as Googlebot?

1. Convenience

Having a dedicated browser saves time. Without relying on or waiting for other tools, I get an idea of how Googlebot sees a website in seconds.

While auditing a website that served different content to browsers and Googlebot, and where issues included inconsistent server responses, I needed to switch between the default browser user-agent and Googlebot more often than usual. But constant user-agent switching using a Chrome browser extension was inefficient.

Some Googlebot-specific Chrome settings don’t save or transport between browser tabs or sessions. Some settings affect all open browser tabs. E.g., disabling JavaScript may stop websites in background tabs that rely on JavaScript from working (such as task management, social media, or email applications).

Aside from having a coder who can code a headless Chrome solution, the “Googlebot browser” setup is an easy way to spoof Googlebot.

2. Improved accuracy

Browser extensions can impact how websites look and perform. This approach keeps the number of extensions in the Googlebot browser to a minimum.

3. Forgetfulness

It’s easy to forget to switch Googlebot spoofing off between browsing sessions, which can lead to websites not working as expected. I’ve even been blocked from websites for spoofing Googlebot, and had to email them with my IP to remove the block.

For which SEO audits are a Googlebot browser useful?

The most common use-case for SEO audits is likely websites using client-side rendering or dynamic rendering. You can easily compare what Googlebot sees to what a general website visitor sees.

Even with websites that don’t use dynamic rendering, you never know what you might find by spoofing Googlebot. After over eight years auditing e-commerce websites, I’m still surprised by issues I haven’t come across before.

Example Googlebot comparisons for technical SEO and content audits:

  • Is the main navigation different?

  • Is Googlebot seeing the content you want indexed?

  • If a website relies on JavaScript rendering, will new content be indexed promptly, or so late that its impact is reduced (e.g. for forthcoming events or new product listings)?

  • Do URLs return different server responses? For example, incorrect URLs can return 200 OK for Googlebot but 404 Not Found for general website visitors.

  • Is the page layout different to what the general website visitor sees? For example, I often see links as blue text on a black background when spoofing Googlebot. While machines can read such text, we want to present something that looks user-friendly to Googlebot. If it can’t render your client-side website, how will it know? (Note: a website might display as expected in Google’s cache, but that isn’t the same as what Googlebot sees.)

  • Do websites redirect based on location? Googlebot mostly crawls from US-based IPs.

It depends how in-depth you want to go, but Chrome itself has many useful features for technical SEO audits. I sometimes compare its Console and Network tab data for a general visitor vs. a Googlebot visit (e.g. Googlebot might be blocked from files that are essential for page layout or are required to display certain content).

How to set up your Googlebot browser

Once set up (which takes about a half hour), the Googlebot browser solution makes it easy to quickly view webpages as Googlebot.

Step 1: Download and install Chrome or Canary

If Chrome isn’t your default browser, use it as your Googlebot browser.

If Chrome is your default browser, download and install Chrome Canary. Canary is a development version of Chrome where Google tests new features, and it can be installed and run separately to Chrome’s default version.

Named after the yellow canaries used to detect poisonous gases in mines, with its yellow icon, Canary is easy to spot in the Windows Taskbar:

Screenshot of the yellow Chrome Canary icon in a Windows 10 taskbar

As Canary is a development version of Chrome, Google warns that Canary “can be unstable.” But I’m yet to have issues using it as my Googlebot browser.

Step 2: Install browser extensions

I installed five browser extensions and a bookmarklet on my Googlebot browser. I’ll list the extensions, then advise on settings and why I use them.

For emulating Googlebot (the links are the same whether you use Chrome or Canary):

Not required to emulate Googlebot, but my other favorites for technical SEO auditing of JavaScript websites:

User-Agent Switcher extension

User-Agent Switcher does what it says on the tin: switches the browser’s user-agent. Chrome and Canary have a user-agent setting, but it only applies to the tab you’re using and resets if you close the browser.

I take the Googlebot user-agent string from Chrome’s browser settings, which at the time of writing will be the latest version of Chrome (note that below, I’m taking the user-agent from Chrome and not Canary).

To get the user-agent, access Chrome DevTools (by pressing F12 or using the hamburger menu to the top-right of the browser window, then navigating to More tools > Developer tools). See the screenshot below or follow these steps:

  1. Go to the Network tab

  2. From the top-right Network hamburger menu: More tools > Network conditions

  3. Click the Network conditions tab that appears lower down the window

  4. Untick “Use browser default”

  5. Select “Googlebot Smartphone” from the list, then copy and paste the user-agent from the field below the list into the User-Agent Switcher extension list (another screenshot below). Don’t forget to switch Chrome back to its default user-agent if it’s your main browser.
    • At this stage, if you’re using Chrome (and not Canary) as your Googlebot browser, you may as well tick “Disable cache” (more on that later).

Screenshot of DevTools showing the steps described above

To access User-Agent Switcher’s list, right-click its icon in the browser toolbar and click Options (see screenshot below). “Indicator Flag” is text that appears in the browser toolbar to show which user-agent has been selected — I chose GS to mean “Googlebot Smartphone:”

Screenshot showing User-Agent Switcher options described in the paragraph above

I added Googlebot Desktop and the bingbots to my list, too.

Why spoof Googlebot’s user agent?

Web servers detect what is browsing a website from a user-agent string. For example, the user-agent for a Windows 10 device using the Chrome browser at the time of writing is:

Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 10.0; Win64; x64) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/102.0.5005.115 Safari/537.36

If you’re interested in why other browsers seem to be named in the Chrome user-agent string, read History of the user-agent string.

Web Developer extension

Web Developer is a must-have browser extension for technical SEOs. In my Googlebot browser, I switch between disabling and enabling JavaScript to see what Googlebot might see with and without JavaScript.

Why disable JavaScript?

Short answer: Googlebot doesn’t execute any/all JavaScript when it first crawls a URL. We want to see a webpage before any JavaScript is executed.

Long answer: that would be a whole other article.

Windscribe (or another VPN)

Windscribe (or your choice of VPN) is used to spoof Googlebot’s US location. I use a pro Windscribe account, but the free account allows up to 2GB data transfer a month and includes US locations.

I don’t think the specific US location matters, but I pretend Gotham is a real place (in a time when Batman and co. have eliminated all villains):

Windscribe browser extension showing location set to New York: Gotham, with a background of the United States of America flag behind a blue overlay

Ensure settings that may impact how webpages display are disabled — Windscribe’s extension blocks ads by default. The two icons to the top-right should show a zero.

For the Googlebot browser scenario, I prefer a VPN browser extension to an application, because the extension is specific to my Googlebot browser.

Why spoof Googlebot’s location?

Googlebot mostly crawls websites from US IPs, and there are many reasons for spoofing Googlebot’s primary location.

Some websites block or show different content based on geolocation. If a website blocks US IPs, for example, Googlebot may never see the website and therefore cannot index it.

Another example: some websites redirect to different websites or URLs based on location. If a company had a website for customers in Asia and a website for customers in America, and redirected all US IPs to the US website, Googlebot would never see the Asian version of the website.

Other Chrome extensions useful for auditing JavaScript websites

With Link Redirect Trace, I see at a glance what server response a URL returns.

The View Rendered Source extension enables easy comparison of raw HTML (what the web server delivers to the browser) and rendered HTML (the code rendered on the client-side browser).

I also added the NoJS Side-by-Side bookmarklet to my Googlebot browser. It compares a webpage with and without JavaScript enabled, within the same browser window.

Step 3: Configure browser settings to emulate Googlebot

Next, we’ll configure the Googlebot browser settings in line with what Googlebot doesn’t support when crawling a website.

What doesn’t Googlebot crawling support?

  • Service workers (because people clicking to a page from search results may never have visited before, so it doesn’t make sense to cache data for later visits).

  • Permission requests (e.g. push notifications, webcam, geolocation). If content relies on any of these, Googlebot will not see that content.

  • Googlebot is stateless so doesn’t support cookies, session storage, local storage, or IndexedDB. Data can be stored in these mechanisms but will be cleared before Googlebot crawls the next URL on a website.

These bullet points are summarized from an interview by Eric Enge with Google’s Martin Splitt:

Step 3a: DevTools settings

To open Developer Tools in Chrome or Canary, press F12, or using the hamburger menu to the top-right, navigate to More tools > Developer tools:

Screenshot showing the steps described above to access DevTools

The Developer Tools window is generally docked within the browser window, but I sometimes prefer it in a separate window. For that, change the “Dock side” in the second hamburger menu:

Screenshot showing the 'Dock side' of DevTools
Disable cache

If using normal Chrome as your Googlebot browser, you may have done this already.

Otherwise, via the DevTools hamburger menu, click to More tools > Network conditions and tick the “Disable cache” option:

DevTools screenshot showing the actions described above to disable cache
Block service workers

To block service workers, go to the Application tab > Service Workers > tick “Bypass for network”:

Screenshot showing the steps described above to disable service workers

Step 3b: General browser settings

In your Googlebot browser, navigate to Settings > Privacy and security > Cookies (or visit chrome://settings/cookies directly) and choose the “Block all cookies (not recommended)” option (isn’t it fun to do something “not recommended?”):

Screenshot showing how to block cookies in Chrome settings

Also in the “Privacy and security” section, choose “Site settings” (or visit chrome://settings/content) and individually block Location, Camera, Microphone, Notifications, and Background sync (and likely anything that appears there in future versions of Chrome):

Screenshot of Chrome's privacy settings

Step 4: Emulate a mobile device

Finally, as our aim is to emulate Googlebot’s mobile-first crawling, emulate a mobile device within your Googlebot browser.

Towards the top-left of DevTools, click the device toolbar toggle, then choose a device to emulate in the browser (you can add other devices too):

Screenshot showing mobile device emulation in Chrome

Whatever device you choose, Googlebot doesn’t scroll on webpages, and instead renders using a window with a long vertical height.

I recommend testing websites in desktop view, too, and on actual mobile devices if you have access to them.

How about viewing a website as bingbot?

To create a bingbot browser, use a recent version of Microsoft Edge with the bingbot user agent.

Bingbot is similar to Googlebot in terms of what it does and doesn’t support.

Yahoo! Search, DuckDuckGo, Ecosia, and other search engines are either powered by or based on Bing search, so Bing is responsible for a higher percentage of search than many people realize.

Summary and closing notes

So, there you have your very own Googlebot emulator.

Using an existing browser to emulate Googlebot is the easiest method to quickly view webpages as Googlebot. It’s also free, assuming you already use a desktop device that can install Chrome and/or Canary.

Other tools exist to help “see” what Google sees. I enjoy testing Google’s Vision API (for images) and their Natural Language API.

Auditing JavaScript websites — especially when they’re dynamically rendered — can be complex, and a Googlebot browser is one way of making the process simpler. If you’d like to learn more about auditing JavaScript websites and the differences between standard HTML and JavaScript-rendered websites, I recommend looking up articles and presentations from Jamie Indigo, Joe Hall and Jess Peck. Two of them contribute in the below video. It’s a good introduction to JavaScript SEO and touches on points I mentioned above:

Questions? Something I missed? Tweet me @AlexHarfordSEO. Thanks for reading!



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Top 3 Strategies for Success

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Top 3 Strategies for Success

With the advent of e-commerce, manufacturers have unprecedented opportunities to expand their reach, streamline their operations, and enhance profitability. Amidst this digital revolution, adopting Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) is pivotal in optimizing production processes, quality control, and resource management.

As the lines between traditional brick-and-mortar sales and online commerce continue to blur, manufacturers increasingly realize the need to adapt and thrive in this new digital landscape. This article explores the top 3 strategies manufacturers can employ to succeed in e-commerce.

Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES)

MES (Manufacturing Execution System) is specialized application software designed to solve the tasks of synchronization, coordination, analysis, and optimization of production output within any production. MES systems belong to the class of shop floor-level management systems but can also be used for integrated production management at the enterprise as a whole.

MES collects and analyzes production processes, product demand, and inventory data. This allows manufacturers to adapt more quickly to changes in the market, reconfigure production to meet current requirements, and closely monitor trends. As a result, manufacturers can more easily predict and meet customer needs, which helps increase online sales.

MES helps in maintaining accurate inventory records and managing inventory turnover. This avoids overstock or shortages, which can affect a company’s ability to meet online demand and maintain customer service levels.

Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) enhance transparency and automate operations, reducing human errors and operational costs. Integrating Manufacturing CRM streamlines customer data, allowing manufacturers to tailor products, respond to market changes, and offer competitive prices in online stores. The synergy between MES and CRM creates an agile manufacturing environment, optimizing efficiency and customer satisfaction.

Content Marketing

Kapost’s research shows that companies in the B2B segment that blog get 67% more leads on average than companies that don’t. However, it’s worth remembering that content marketing requires a lot of resources to prepare and regularity in publishing it. This content can be, for example, brand identity and E-commerce logo, articles and videos, webinars, research, and interviews.

The content should help solve a specific problem to create the image of an expert and thus influence the decisions of potential customers. The topics discussed should not be chosen randomly. A little research in Google Trends will help select the main topic, discussion areas in the video, phrases, and words that should be included in the article. Publishing content based on such a prepared analysis allows you to achieve high positions in search engines. It provides a good user experience for customers looking for answers to product/service questions, comprehensively covering the subject matter.

The benefits of this e-commerce strategy are free traffic, increased user confidence, and the creation of an expert image.

Content marketing is a form of promotion that requires patience and time. Its effects will also depend on the quality of thecontent itself, its optimization, and promotion methods. No specific terms can be specified here.

YouTube channels as a form of content marketing

You can discuss your production process and show and test products on your YouTube channel. If someone is looking for information about a product and is unsure which brand to choose, they will likely find your video and maybe make a purchase. Remember to choose a title that matches the search query and prepare a video description with product links. You can send out an email to announce when new videos are released. Whenever you have particularly compelling videos, you could also promote them via texting notifications to drive even more traffic.

Utilize user-generated content and social media

Not utilizing the content that your users generate is a huge issue. This is because it’s not easy to refresh an e-commerce website and keep it alive. But photos and videos taken by real customers are great for this purpose.

Adding a “widget” that connects your online store’s website to its official social media accounts brings significant benefits. These include revitalizing your social media accounts, increasing your credibility as a manufacturer, inspiring other customers to buy, and encouraging repeat purchases.

Snapchat Planets

Snapchat’s “Planets” feature provides a unique and interactive way to engage with your e-commerce store’s audience. Here are some creative ideas on how to leverage Snapchat Planets to create engaging content:

  • Virtual Store Tours: Use the AR feature to create a virtual tour of your store. Each planet can represent different sections or categories of your store. For instance, one planet could showcase your latest collection, another could highlight bestsellers, and another could offer exclusive deals.
  • Product Launches: Announce new product launches by creating a cosmic journey. Users can travel from one planet to another, each unveiling a new product with engaging visuals and detailed descriptions. This creates a sense of excitement and discovery around new arrivals.
  • Interactive Shopping Experience: Create interactive shopping experiences where users can explore products in a fun and engaging way. For example, users can navigate through different planets to find hidden discounts or special offers, making shopping more interactive and rewarding.
  • Customer Rewards and Loyalty Programs: Develop a loyalty program where users earn points or rewards by exploring different planets. Each planet can offer unique rewards, such as discounts, free samples, or exclusive access to new collections. This gamifies the shopping experience and encourages repeat visits.
  • Themed Campaigns: Align your marketing campaigns with planetary themes. For instance, during holiday seasons, you can create a holiday-themed planet where users can find special holiday deals, gift ideas, and festive content.

By leveraging Snapchat Planets, you can transform your e-commerce store’s content into a captivating and interactive experience that keeps your audience engaged, entertained, and coming back for more.

Use newsletters to captivate your target audience

Newsletters can strengthen the connection with the consumer and demonstrate that shopping with you is safe and profitable. Remember that the more personalized the message, the more effective it will be. It should contain a call to action (CTA), such as a button that redirects to products.

Don’t forget to put a box to check for consent to process personal data when subscribing to the newsletter. Also, add an option to unsubscribe from the newsletter in each email.

A regular email account is not adapted for the newsletter, so do not use your everyday email address. This way, you risk being blacklisted by spam filters. The benefits of newsletters are optimizing advertising costs, increasing loyal audiences from different channels, and building mutually beneficial relationships with partners.

Print and PDF Channel

1716522964 432 Top 3 Strategies for Success

In the digital landscape, the significance of Print and PDF channels cannot be underestimated for manufacturers engaging in e- commerce. The tactile experience of print offers unique psychological advantages, enhancing comprehension and retention, which are vital for technical manuals and complex product details. PDFs merge this benefit with digital accessibility, ensuring wide reach while maintaining format integrity. This dual-channel approach not only caters to diverse consumer preferences but also bolsters marketing efforts, making technical content more engaging and understandable. Utilizing catalog software further streamlines the integration of Print and PDF channels into e-commerce strategies, enhancing product presentation and distribution efficiency.

Contextual advertising: Google Ads

1716522964 713 Top 3 Strategies for Success

If you want the advertising you invest in to have an immediate effect, it’s worth turning to Google Ads. Google displays paid ads in search results and on Google’s network of partners (on-site ads in the form of banners).

You bid when you search for a keyword for which advertisers have set up a campaign. The search engine determines who will appear in the search results and at what position. When assigning bids, the quality of the landing page, the quality of the ads, and the stated maximum bid per click are all considered.

To start setting up your campaign, simply login to your Google Ads account. Using the service is free, and you’ll find plenty of online tutorials on creating a campaign. However, you may find that it won’t generate valuable traffic if you don’t set it up optimally. Your budget will be wasted on clicks that won’t lead to conversions. This is why most companies resort to the help of agencies, including specialized agencies.

There is probably no industry in which Google Ads campaigns cannot be used. However, advertising can be moderately profitable if there is a lot of competition in the industry and margins are low.

The benefits of this e-commerce strategy are large audience reach, the ability to get the target audience as accurately as possible, and very detailed statistics on results.

The effect of launching a campaign should appear almost immediately. A properly set up campaign will increase traffic to the website. By systematically optimizing the campaign, you can achieve much better results.

You also can use paid Facebook Ads post promotion. It is important to pinpoint your target group, but how do you do it? A popular way is to draw up a customer portrait, that is, to make a collective image of your customer.

This considers age, gender, income level, location, interests and hobbies, and online behavior. Such a person will display a group interested in your services or goods.

Implement personalized product selections

Recommended product block and cross-selling are very powerful internet marketing strategies. In addition to the recommended product block, which shows the analogs of the product being viewed, it is worth paying attention to the website’s functionality.

As a rule, the products in the “You may also like” block are selected based on the pages previously viewed by the customer, his previous purchases on the website, as well as what was purchased by other customers with similar tastes. If this functionality is implemented technically sound, it can lead to additional items added to the shopping cart. “You may also like” block partly acts as an alternative to the advice of a specialist or consultant.

With blocks for cross-selling related products is a similar situation. Usually, in them are placed products from the same product line, collection, or simply those that perfectly match the product being viewed. You can use AI-powered live chats to proactively engage in customer conversations and suggest products based on their behavior.

Conclusion

E-commerce for manufacturers is a vast field, and in this article, we have presented the most popular and most effective forms of selling online. Remember, no effective e-commerce strategy exists. Each industry and business will have specifics. Try combining the above mentioned e-commerce strategies to maximize your chances of success and increase your profits.

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Why Even Crushing Content Failures Aren’t Mistakes

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Why Even Crushing Content Failures Aren’t Mistakes

Did you follow the Apple iPad Pro content debacle?

Here’s a quick recap. A recent online ad for the new iPad Pro showed a large hydraulic press slowly crushing various symbols of creativity. A metronome, a piano, a record player, a video game, paints, books, and other creative tools splinter and smash as the Sonny and Cher song All I Ever Need Is You plays.

The ad’s title? “Crush!”

The point of the commercial — I think — is to show that Apple managed to smush (that’s the technical term) all this heretofore analog creativity into its new, very thin iPad Pro.  

To say the ad received bad reviews is underselling the response. Judgment was swift and unrelenting. The creative world freaked out.

On X, actor Hugh Grant shared Tim Cook’s post featuring the ad and added this comment: “The destruction of the human experience. Courtesy of Silicon Valley.”

When fellow actor Justine Bateman shared the Tim Cook post, she simply wrote, “Truly, what is wrong with you?” Other critiques ranged from tone-challenged to wasteful to many worse things.

Actor Justine Bateman shared Tim Cook’s post on X, which featured the ad, and added this comment: "Truly, what is wrong with you?".

A couple of days later, Apple apologized and canceled plans to air the ad on television.

How not-so-great content ideas come to life

The level of anger surprises me. Look, the ad does show the eyeballs on an emoji-faced squishy ball popping under the plates’ pressure, but still. Calling the ad “actually psychotic” might be a skosh over the top.

Yes, the ad missed the mark. And the company’s subsequent decision to apologize makes sense.

But anyone who’s participated in creating a content misfire knows this truth: Mistakes look much more obvious in hindsight.

On paper, I bet this concept sounded great. The brainstorming meeting probably started with something like this: “We want to show how the iPad Pro metaphorically contains this huge mass of creative tools in a thin and cool package.”

Maybe someone suggested representing that exact thing with CGI (maybe a colorful tornado rising from the screen). Then someone else suggested showing the actual physical objects getting condensed would be more powerful.

Here’s my imagined version of the conversation that might have happened after someone pointed out the popular internet meme of things getting crushed in a hydraulic press.

“People love that!”

“If we add buckets of paint, it will be super colorful and cool.”

“It’ll be a cooler version of that LG ad that ran in 2008.”

“Exactly!”

“It’ll be just like that ad where a bus driver kidnaps and subsequently crushes all the cute little Pokémon characters in a bus!” (Believe it or not, that was actually a thing.)

The resulting commercial suffers from the perfect creative storm: A not-great (copycat) idea at the absolutely wrong time.

None of us know what constraints Apple’s creative team worked under. How much time did they have to come up with a concept? Did they have time to test it with audiences? Maybe crushing physical objects fit into the budget better than CGI. All these factors affect the creative process and options (even at a giant company like Apple).

That’s not an excuse — it’s just reality.

Content failure or content mistake?

Many ad campaigns provoke a “What the hell were they thinking?” response (think Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner ad or those cringy brand tributes that follow celebrity deaths).

Does that mean they’re failures? Or are they mistakes? And what’s the difference?

As I wrote after Peloton’s holiday ad debacle (remember that?), people learn to fear mistakes early on. Most of us hear cautionary messages almost from day one.

Some are necessary and helpful (“Don’t stick a knife in a live toaster” or “Look both ways before you cross the street.”) Some aren’t (“Make that essay perfect” or “Don’t miss that goal.”)

As a result, many people grow up afraid to take risks — and that hampers creativity. The problem arises from conflating failure and mistakes. It helps to know the difference.

I moved to Los Angeles in 1987 to become a rock ‘n’ roll musician. I failed. But it wasn’t a mistake. I wasn’t wrong to try. My attempt just didn’t work.

Labeling a failed attempt a “mistake” feeds the fears that keep people from attempting anything creative.

The conflation of failure and mistakes happens all too often in creative marketing. Sure, people create content pieces (and let’s not forget that there are always people behind those ideas) that genuinely count as mistakes.

They also create content that simply fails.

Don’t let extreme reactions make you fear failures

Here’s the thing about failed content. You can do all the work to research your audience and take the time to develop and polish your ideas — and the content still might fail. The story, the platform, or the format might not resonate, or the audience simply might not care for it. That doesn’t mean it’s a mistake.

Was the Apple ad a mistake? Maybe, but I don’t think so.

Was it a failure? The vitriolic response indicates yes.

Still, the commercial generated an impressive amount of awareness (53 million views of the Tim Cook post on X, per Variety.) And, despite the apology, the company hasn’t taken the ad down from its YouTube page where it’s earned more than 1 million views.

The fictional Captain Jean Luc Picard once said, “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not weakness. That is life.” The Apple ad turns that statement on its head — Apple made many mistakes and still won a tremendous amount of attention.

I’m not suggesting that people shouldn’t criticize creative work. Constructive critiques help us learn from our own and others’ failures. You can even have a good laugh about content fails.

Just acknowledge, as the Roman philosopher Cicero once wrote, “Not every mistake is a foolish one.” 

Creative teams take risks. They try things outside their comfort zone. Sometimes they fail (sometimes spectacularly).

But don’t let others’ expressions of anger over failures inhibit your willingness to try creative things.

Wouldn’t you love to get the whole world talking about the content you create? To get there, you have to risk that level of failure.

And taking that risk isn’t a mistake.

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MARKETING

The Future of Content Success Is Social

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The Future of Content Success Is Social

Here’s a challenge: search “SEO RFP” on Google. Click on the results, and tell me how similar they are.

We did the same thing every other SEO does: We asked, “What words are thematically relevant?” Which themes have my competitors missed?” How can I put them in?” AND “How can I do everything just slightly better than they can?”

Then they do the same, and it becomes a cycle of beating mediocre content with slightly less mediocre content.

When I looked at our high-ranking content, I felt uncomfortable. Yes, it ranked, but it wasn’t overly helpful compared to everything else that ranked.

Ranking isn’t the job to be done; it is just a proxy.

Why would a high-ranking keyword make me feel uncomfortable? Isn’t that the whole freaking job to be done? Not for me. The job to be done is to help educate people, and ranking is a byproduct of doing that well.

I looked at our own content, and I put myself in the seat of a searcher, not an SEO; I looked at the top four rankings and decided that our content felt easy, almost ChatGPT-ish. It was predictable, it was repeatable, and it lacked hot takes and spicy punches.

So, I removed 80% of the content and replaced it with the 38 questions I would ask if I was hiring an SEO. I’m a 25-year SME, and I know what I would be looking for in these turbulent times. I wanted to write the questions that didn’t exist on anything ranking in the top ten. This was a risk, why? Because, semantically, I was going against what Google was likely expecting to see on this topic. This is when Mike King told me about information gain. Google will give you a boost in ranking signals if you bring it new info. Maybe breaking out of the sea of sameness + some social signals could be a key factor in improving rankings on top of doing the traditional SEO work.

What’s worth more?

Ten visits to my SEO RFP post from people to my content via a private procurement WhatsApp group or LinkedIn group?

One hundred people to the same content from search?

I had to make a call, and I was willing to lose rankings (that were getting low traffic but highly valued traffic) to write something that when people read it, they thought enough about it to share it in emails, groups, etc.

SME as the unlock to standout content?

I literally just asked myself, “Wil, what would you ask yourself if you were hiring an SEO company? Then I riffed for 6—8 hours and had tons of chats with ChatGPT. I was asking ChatGPT to get me thinking differently. Things like, “what would create the most value?” I never constrained myself to “what is the search volume,” I started with the riffs.

If I was going to lose my rankings, I had to socially promote it so people knew it existed. That was an unlock, too, if you go this route. It’s work, you are now going to rely on spikes from social, so having a reason to update it and put it back in social is very important.

Most of my “followers” aren’t looking for SEO services as they are digital marketers themselves. So I didn’t expect this post to take off HUGLEY, but given the content, I was shocked at how well it did and how much engagement it got from real actual people.

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