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Making the Most of Electronic Resumes (Pro Tips and Tricks)

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Making the Most of Electronic Resumes (Pro Tips and Tricks)

I’ve submitted hundreds of electronic resumes throughout my career. These digital job applications hold so much weight in the job search process. It’s always nerve-wracking to make sure I’m doing everything right.

I always ask myself: Does this meet the submission requirements? Did I use the right font? Will my resume surpass the employer’s applicant tracking system (ATS)?

→ Download Now: 12 Resume Templates [Free Download]

If you’ve also wanted to ensure you have the highest chance of standing out and securing an interview, here’s how to make the most of electronic resumes.

Table of Contents

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What is an electronic resume?

An electronic resume is any resume that’s submitted online. Employers will request electronic resumes in plain text (ASCII), HTML, or PDF.

This helps applicant tracking systems (ATSs) easily scan and decipher the hundreds of resumes they receive. To meet these standards, electronic resumes are typically created with limited design or formatting.

The Benefits of Electronic Resumes

In my experience, electronic resumes helped me refine my approach to better position myself for a job. I found that I was more likely to land an interview when

I tailored my resume to the job posting, used simple fonts, and included keywords.

Here are a few benefits of using electronic resumes.

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You’ll match the ATS.

Only 30% of resumes are accepted by applicant tracking systems (ATS). But when they’re done right, ATS-approved resumes yield successful results.

When I spoke to Rodolphe Dutel, the founder of remote job board Remotive, about his experience with electronic resumes, he shared with me an incredible story.

Early in his career, he was part of a batch of new hires at Google. Dutel later learned that his electronic resume was the sole reason he landed the role.

“It just so happened that I was one of two people that were not peer-recommended,” he recalls, “meaning that my resume actually got picked up by the ATS, and they decided to contact me.”

Dutel went on to work at Buffer, where he helped grow the team from 20 to 80 people as the director of operations before founding Remotive.

If you want to match a company’s ATS and ensure your resume gets scanned, use your electronic resume to make sure you’re presenting the right information for the job.

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You can focus on content.

One of the very first resumes I created was, admittedly, over the top.

I used a chunky, bright-colored font for my name, followed by weirdly formatted experience and skills sections separated by vertical and horizontal lines.

I would show you what it looked like, but I’m pretty sure I deleted it out of sheer embarrassment.

I did all of this to hide the fact that I didn’t have much work experience yet.

Looking back, it probably would’ve been better to keep it simple and focus on writing a resume that showcased my strengths. Instead, I tried to hide my lack of experience.

This is where a simple electronic resume would help. When you’re required to submit a plain text, no-frills version of your resume, you’re forced to focus on the actual skills. Write about the results you’ve achieved and can bring to a new role.

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Demonstrates your ability to follow instructions.

If a job application asks you to submit a plain text version of your resume, you can guarantee that Microsoft Word Doc resumes will immediately be discarded.

Making the Most of Electronic Resumes Pro Tips and Tricks

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Employers look for applicants who can demonstrate their ability to pay attention to details and follow instructions.

Your resume is the first impression you make on an employer. Use your electronic submission to stand out and start your interview process off on a positive note.

How to Make an Electronic Resume

To demonstrate how to make an electronic resume, I’m going to create one for myself for a specific job posting.

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Here’s a job listing for a content writer at Orchard that aligns with my skills and experience:

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Here’s how I would put together my electronic resume if I wanted to apply for this position.

1. Start with your contact information.

Your resume should start with the basics. Include your name, location (you can list this as “remote” if you’re seeking remote-only positions), and your email. You can also include your phone number.

Remember, the key to creating an electronic resume is to limit the formatting and design elements. Here’s how I’d format my contact information on my electronic resume (this isn’t my real contact information, of course):

Sam Lauron

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Austin, TX, [email protected], (111) 222-3333

2. Mention your education.

If applicable, mention your education. This section typically includes the name of the school you went to, the type of degree you obtained, and any additional achievements you accomplished while in school.

Here’s how my education section would look for an electronic resume:

B.A. Mass Communication, Public Relations

Texas State University

3. Identify your target keywords.

To catch the attention of the ATS, it’s essential to use keywords that were mentioned in the job posting you’re applying to.

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These keywords are what the ATS will scan for, so if your resume doesn’t mention any of the words from the job listing, it will automatically be discarded.

For example, if we take a look at the job listing for the content writer at Orchard, we can see keywords like “real estate,” “SEO best practices,” and “content strategy.”

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Using that information, these are the keywords I’d target for the specific job posting at Orchard. Aim to incorporate these keywords throughout your resume.

Notice that I capitalized the beginning of each new keyword. This helps the ATS identify them as separate phrases.

Keywords: Content writer, Content strategy, SEO marketing, SEO best practices, Content marketing, Real estate

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3. Highlight your skills.

With any resume you put together, it’s important to tailor it to the job you’re applying for. This includes adjusting your skills section to match the job listing if you want to increase your chances of the ATS picking up your resume.

Here’s an overview of what types of skills the role at Orchard is looking for:

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Similar to the keywords, I can take language from this posting to generate skills I want to highlight.

Keep in mind that bullet points don’t often translate well in plain text. Instead, you can use a dash or asterisk. These are the skills I’d highlight on my electronic resume for this job.

Skills:

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– Content writing

– Search engine optimization (SEO)

– Real estate industry knowledge

– Homeownership

– Writing explainer content

– Updating and optimizing content

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4. Describe your work experience.

Now, time for the work experience section. You’ll do the same thing for this section as you’ve done for the last few. Use language and keywords from the job posting to describe your own experience.

Here’s the job description for the content writer role at Orchard:

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Here’s how I would translate my work experience to match the job listing. Like the skills section above, I used dashes instead of bullet points.

Work Experience:

– Write educational explainer content

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– Update and optimize older articles to ensure accuracy, and improve quality and overall search rankings

– Conduct research for data-based articles

– Execute SEO best practices

Electronic Resume Tips

Based on my experience of creating an electronic resume, here are some of my tips for making the most of the digital format. I also asked Dutel for his suggested best practices.

Use keywords.

Including keywords that were mentioned in the job posting is essential.

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These words and phrases are what the ATS will scan for, so if your resume doesn’t mention any of the words the system is looking for, it will be automatically discarded.

“For instance, if you’re applying to be a business analyst and the job description wants someone who is proficient with data, it is your job to understand that you’re going to have to include keywords such as VBA, Excel, and Gantt chart,” says Dutel.

While incorporating the right words and phrases is important, they have to make sense.

“Remember that an ATS is looking for keywords whereas humans are looking for [experiences] that make sense,” says Dutel.

“If you don’t have the ability to fit in the keywords in your work experience section, you can add a section at the bottom of your electronic resume for other skills and add the keywords that you think are interesting.”

Keep context in mind.

You don’t want to stuff your digital resume with keywords, as this will be obvious and unenjoyable for a recruiter to read.

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Instead, your resume should be a balance of careful targeting and original content to appease both the robots and the humans who will be reviewing your resume.

“Your resume should reflect who you are as a professional and individual,” suggests Dutel. “You have to articulate your work accomplishments and your learnings in such a way that’s understandable and friendly to an ATS and understandable and friendly to HR.”

Remove formatting.

In my experience, the simpler the resume, the better.

Some applications require you to paste your resume into the application, and a resume that’s overly designed doesn’t translate the same way when it’s submitted electronically. Unless you save it as a PDF, your format won’t remain intact.

Use simple fonts for your electronic resume. Acceptable fonts to use include Times New Roman, Arial, or any other type of web-safe font. The reason for this is that some fonts are hard to read while others simply don’t transfer if you submit your resume as a Microsoft doc, for instance.

You should also remove vertical lines, bullet points, and bold and italicized fonts as these can all mess up your resume when it’s scanned by the ATS and decrease your chances of getting through to the next stage.

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Follow a standard structure.

While you want to include keywords that match the job description, it’s also important to follow a standard structure that will be understood by both ATS and HR.

Dutel recommends following the STAR method to structure your electronic resume. The STAR method is an interview technique that helps you answer a question in four parts. The acronym stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result.

You can follow the same method when putting together your resume content.

Take a look at the job description and identify the skills you want to incorporate into your resume. Then, list those talking points in a similar way that you’d answer an interview question. Structuring your key points this way makes it easy for both robots and humans to follow along.

Another element of your electronic resume structure that should be standardized is the headings. Use standard headings like “work experience” or “skills” rather than trying to get creative.

The ATS is trained to pick up common phrases, so using less common words like “skillset” or “expertise” can impact whether or not your resume gets noticed.

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Use a resume builder.

Staring at a blank page is intimidating. Instead of creating your electronic resume from scratch, use a resume builder or template to get started.

There are plenty of free resume builders available to job seekers. Some offer customizable templates, while others offer expert tips throughout the creation process.

Personally, my experience using HubSpot’s resume templates was seamless and fast. The template I used made it easy to stick to the common structure and acceptable format for electronic resumes while still being able to customize it to match my needs.

There are so many elements of the job searching and interviewing process that require a lot of time and preparation, but your electronic resume doesn’t have to be one of them.

By following these expert best practices, keeping your resume simple, and using professional resume templates, your electronic resume can be created and accepted in no time.

Getting Started

Electronic resumes don’t need to be daunting. This of them as a place where your work and skills can shine. Follow the steps above, and you’ll get noticed by both resume crawlers and humans.

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Crafting Effortless Sales Through ‘Wow’ Moments in Experience Marketing

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Crafting Effortless Sales Through 'Wow' Moments in Experience Marketing

Crafting Effortless Sales Through Wow Moments in Experience Marketing

In an era where consumers are bombarded with endless choices and digital noise, standing out as a brand is more challenging than ever. Enter experience marketing – a strategy that transcends traditional advertising by focusing on creating immersive, memorable interactions. This innovative approach leverages the elements of surprise, delight, and reciprocity to forge strong emotional connections with customers, making the sale of your core product feel effortless. But how can businesses implement this strategy effectively? This guide delves into the art of crafting ‘wow’ moments that captivate audiences and transform customer engagement.

The Basics of Experience Marketing

Experience marketing is an evolved form of marketing that focuses on creating meaningful interactions with customers, aiming to elicit strong emotional responses that lead to brand loyalty and advocacy. Unlike conventional marketing, which often prioritizes product promotion, experience marketing centers on the customer’s holistic journey with the brand, creating a narrative that resonates on a personal level.

In today’s competitive market, experience marketing is not just beneficial; it’s essential. It differentiates your brand in a crowded marketplace, elevating your offerings beyond mere commodities to become integral parts of your customers’ lives. Through memorable experiences, you not only attract attention but also foster a community of loyal customers who are more likely to return and recommend your brand to others.

Principles of Experience Marketing

At the heart of experience marketing lie several key principles:

  • Emotional Connection: Crafting campaigns that touch on human emotions, from joy to surprise, creating memorable moments that customers are eager to share.
  • Customer-Centricity: Putting the customer’s needs and desires at the forefront of every marketing strategy, ensuring that each interaction adds value and enhances their experience with the brand.
  • Immersive Experiences: Utilizing technology and storytelling to create immersive experiences that captivate customers, making your brand a living part of their world.
  • Engagement Across Touchpoints: Ensuring consistent, engaging experiences across all customer touchpoints, from digital platforms to physical stores.

Understanding Your Audience

Before diving into the intricacies of crafting ‘wow’ moments, it’s crucial to understand who you’re creating these moments for. Identifying your audience’s pain points and desires is the first step in tailoring experiences that truly resonate.

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This involves deep market research, customer interviews, and leveraging data analytics to paint a comprehensive picture of your target demographic. By understanding the journey your customers are on, you can design touchpoints that not only meet but exceed their expectations.

  • Identifying Pain Points and Desires: Use surveys, social media listening, and customer feedback to gather insights. What frustrates your customers about your industry? What do they wish for more than anything else? These insights will guide your efforts to create experiences that truly resonate.
  • Mapping the Customer Journey: Visualize every step a customer takes from discovering your brand to making a purchase and beyond. This map will highlight critical touchpoints where you can introduce ‘wow’ moments that transform the customer experience.

Developing Your Experience Marketing Strategy

With a clear understanding of your audience, it’s time to build the framework of your experience marketing strategy. This involves setting clear objectives, identifying key customer touchpoints, and conceptualizing the experiences you want to create.

  • Setting Objectives: Define what you aim to achieve with your experience marketing efforts. Whether it’s increasing brand awareness, boosting sales, or improving customer retention, having clear goals will shape your approach and help measure success.
  • Strategic Touchpoint Identification: List all the potential touchpoints where customers interact with your brand, from social media to in-store experiences. Consider every stage of the customer journey and look for opportunities to enhance these interactions.

Enhancing Customer Experiences with Surprise, Delight, and Reciprocity

This section is where the magic happens. By integrating the elements of surprise, delight, and reciprocity, you can elevate ordinary customer interactions into unforgettable experiences.

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  • Incorporating Surprise and Delight: Go beyond what’s expected. This could be as simple as a personalized thank-you note with each purchase or as elaborate as a surprise gift for loyal customers. The key is to create moments that feel special and unexpected.
  • Applying the Principle of Reciprocity: When customers receive something of value, they’re naturally inclined to give something back. This can be leveraged by offering helpful resources, exceptional service, or customer appreciation events. Such gestures encourage loyalty and positive word-of-mouth.
  • Examples and Case Studies: Highlight real-world examples of brands that have successfully implemented these strategies. Analyze what they did, why it worked, and how it impacted their relationship with customers.

Best Practices for Experience Marketing

To ensure your experience marketing strategy is as effective as possible, it’s important to adhere to some best practices.

  • Personalization at Scale: Leverage data and technology to personalize experiences without losing efficiency. Tailored experiences make customers feel valued and understood.
  • Using Technology to Enhance Experiences: From augmented reality (AR) to mobile apps, technology offers myriad ways to create immersive experiences that surprise and engage customers.
  • Measuring Success: Utilize analytics tools to track the success of your experience marketing initiatives. Key performance indicators (KPIs) could include engagement rates, conversion rates, and customer satisfaction scores.

Section 5: Overcoming Common Challenges

Even the best-laid plans can encounter obstacles. This section addresses common challenges in experience marketing and how to overcome them.

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  • Budget Constraints: Learn how to create impactful experiences without breaking the bank. It’s about creativity, not just expenditure.
  • Maintaining Consistency: Ensuring a consistent brand experience across all touchpoints can be daunting. Develop a comprehensive brand guideline and train your team accordingly.
  • Staying Ahead of Trends: The digital landscape is ever-changing. Stay informed about the latest trends in experience marketing and be ready to adapt your strategy as necessary.

The Path to Effortless Sales

By creating memorable experiences that resonate on a personal level, you make the path to purchase not just easy but natural. When customers feel connected to your brand, appreciated, and valued, making a sale becomes a byproduct of your relationship with them. Experience marketing, when done right, transforms transactions into interactions, customers into advocates, and products into passions.

Now is the time to reassess your marketing strategy. Are you just selling a product, or are you providing an unforgettable experience? Dive into the world of experience marketing and start creating those ‘wow’ moments that will not only distinguish your brand but also make sales feel effortless.


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The Current State of Google’s Search Generative Experience [What It Means for SEO in 2024]

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The Current State of Google's Search Generative Experience [What It Means for SEO in 2024]

SEO enthusiasts, known for naming algorithm updates after animals and embracing melodrama, find themselves in a landscape where the “adapt or die” mantra prevails. So when Google announced the launch of its Search Generative Experience (SGE) in May of 2023 at Google/IO, you can imagine the reaction was immense.

Although SGE has the potential to be a truly transformative force in the landscape, we’re still waiting for SGE to move out of the Google Labs Sandbox and integrate into standard search results. 

Curious about our current take on SGE and its potential impact on SEO in the future? Read on for more.

Decoding Google’s Defensive Move

In response to potential threats from competitors like ChatGPT, Bing, TikTok, Reddit, and Amazon, Google introduced SGE as a defensive maneuver. However, its initial beta release raised questions about its readiness and global deployment.

ChatGPT provided an existential threat that had the potential to eat into Google’s market share. When Bing started incorporating it into its search results, it was one of the most significant wins for Bing in a decade. In combination with threats from TikTok, Reddit, and Amazon, we see a more fractured search landscape less dominated by Google. Upon its launch, the expectation was that Google would push its SGE solution globally, impact most queries, and massively shake up organic search results and strategies to improve organic visibility.

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Now, industry leaders are starting to question if Google is better off leaving SGE in the testing ground in Google labs. According to Google’s recent update, it appears that SGE will remain an opt-in experience in Google Labs (for at least the short term). If SGE was released, there could be a fundamental reset in understanding SEO. Everything from organic traffic to optimization tactics to tracking tools would need adjustments for the new experience. Therefore, the prospect of SGE staying in Google Labs is comforting if not entirely reliable. 

The ever-present option is that Google can change its mind at any point and push SGE out broadly as part of its standard search experience. For this reason, we see value in learning from our observations with SGE and continuing to stay on top of the experience.

SGE User Experience and Operational Challenges

If you’ve signed up for search labs and have been experimenting with SGE for a while, you know firsthand there are various issues that Google should address before rolling it out broadly to the public.

At a high level, these issues fall into two broad categories including user experience issues and operational issues.

Below are some significant issues we’ve come across, with Google making notable progress in addressing certain ones, while others still require improvement:

  • Load time – Too many AI-generated answers take longer to load than a user is willing to wait. Google recommends less than a 3-second load time to meet expectations. They’ll need to figure out how to consistently return results quickly if they want to see a higher adoption rate.
  • Layout – The SGE layout is massive. We believe any major rollout will be more streamlined to make it a less intrusive experience for users and allow more visibility for ads, and if we’re lucky, organic results. Unfortunately, there is still a decent chance that organic results will move below the fold, especially on mobile devices. Recently, Google has incorporated more results where users are prompted to generate the AI result if they’d like to see it. The hope is Google makes this the default in the event of a broad rollout where users can generate an AI result if they want one instead of assuming that’s what a user would like to see. 
  • Redundancy – The AI result duplicates features from the map pack and quick answer results. 
  • Attribution – Due to user feedback, Google includes sources on several of their AI-powered overviews where you can see relevant web pages if there is an arrow next to the result. Currently, the best way to appear as one of these relevant pages is to be one of the top-ranked results, which is convenient from an optimization standpoint. Changes to how attribution and sourcing are handled could heavily impact organic strategies. 

 

On the operational side, Google also faces significant hurdles to making SGE a viable product for its traditional search product. The biggest obstacle appears to be making the cost associated with the technology worth the business outcomes it provides. If this was a necessary investment to maintain market share, Google might be willing to eat the cost, but if their current position is relatively stable, Google doesn’t have much of an incentive to take on the additional cost burden of heavily leveraging generative AI while also presumably taking a hit to their ad revenue. Especially since slow user adoption doesn’t indicate this is something users are demanding at the moment.

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While the current experience of SGE is including ads above the generative results now, the earliest iterations didn’t heavily feature sponsored ads. While they are now included, the current SGE layout would still significantly disrupt the ad experience we’re used to. During the Google I/O announcement, they made a statement to reassure advertisers they would be mindful of maintaining a distinct ad experience in search.  

“In this new generative experience, Search ads will continue to appear in dedicated ad slots throughout the page. And we’ll continue to uphold our commitment to ads transparency and making sure ads are distinguishable from organic search results” – Elizabeth Reid, VP, Search at Google

Google is trying to thread a delicate needle here of staying on the cutting edge with their search features, while trying not to upset their advertisers and needlessly hinder their own revenue stream. Roger Montti details more of the operational issues in a recent article digging into the surprising reasons SGE is stuck in Google Labs.

He lists three big problems that need to be solved before SGE will be integrated into the foreground of search:

  1. Large Language Models being inadequate as an information retrieval system
  2. The inefficiency and cost of transformer architecture
  3. Hallucinating (providing inaccurate answers)

 

Until SGE provides more user value and checks more boxes on the business sense side, the traditional search experience is here to stay. Unfortunately, we don’t know when or if Google will ever feel confident they’ve addressed all of these concerns, so we’ll need to stay prepared for change.

Experts Chime in on Search Generative Experience

Our team has been actively engaging with SGE, here’s a closer look at their thoughts and opinions on the experience so far:

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“With SGE still in its early stages, I’ve noticed consistent changes in how the generative results are produced and weaved naturally into the SERPs. Because of this, I feel it is imperative to stay on top of these on-going changes to ensure we can continue to educate our clients on what to expect when SGE is officially incorporated into our everyday lives. Although an official launch date is currently unknown, I believe proactively testing various prompt types and recording our learnings is important to prepare our clients for this next evolution of Google search.” – Jon Pagano, SEO Sr. Specialist at Tinuiti

“It’s been exciting to watch SGE grow through different variations over the last year, but like other AI solutions its potential still outweighs its functionality and usefulness. What’s interesting to see is that SGE doesn’t just cite its sources of information, but also provides an enhanced preview of each webpage referenced. This presents a unique organic opportunity where previously untouchable top 10 rankings are far more accessible to the average website. Time will tell what the top ranking factors for SGE are, but verifiable content with strong E-E-A-T signals will be imperative. –Kate Fischer, SEO Specialist at Tinuiti

“Traditionally, AI tools were very good at analytical tasks. With the rise of ChatGPT, users can have long-form, multi-question conversations not yet available in search results. When, not if, released, Google’s Generative Experience will transform how we view AI and search. Because there are so many unknowns, some of the most impactful ways we prepare our clients are to discover and develop SEO strategies that AI tools can’t directly disrupt, like mid to low funnel content.” – Brandon Miller, SEO Specialist at Tinuiti

“SGE is going to make a huge impact on the ecommerce industry by changing the way users interact with the search results. Improved shopping experience will allow users to compare products, price match, and read reviews in order to make it quicker and easier for a user to find the best deals and purchase. Although this leads to more competitive results, it also improves organic visibility and expands our product reach. It is more important than ever to ensure all elements of a page are uniquely and specifically optimized for search. With the SGE updates expected to continue to impact search results, the best way to stay ahead is by focusing on strong user focused content and detailed product page optimizations.”  – Kellie Daley, SEO Sr. Specialist at Tinuiti

Navigating the Clash of Trends

One of the most interesting aspects of the generative AI trend in search is that it appears to be in direct opposition to other recent trends.

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One of the ways Google has historically evaluated the efficacy of its search ranking systems is through the manual review of quality raters. In their quality rater guidelines, raters were instructed to review for things like expertise, authority, and trustworthiness (EAT) in results to determine if Google results are providing users the information they deserve. 

In 2022, Google updated their search guidelines to include another ‘e’ in the form of experience (EEAT). In their words, Google wanted to better assess if the content a user was consuming was created by someone with, “a degree of experience, such as with actual use of a product, having actually visited a place or communicating what a person has experienced. There are some situations where really what you value most is content produced by someone who has firsthand, life experience on the topic at hand.” 

Generative AI results, while cutting-edge technology and wildly impressive in some cases, stand in direct opposition to the principles of E-E-A-T. That’s not to say that there’s no room for both in search, but Google will have to determine what it thinks users value more between these competing trends. The slow adoption of SGE could be an indication that a preference for human experience, expertise, authority, and trust is winning round one in this fight. 

Along these lines, Google is also diversifying its search results to cater to the format in which users get their information. This takes the form of their Perspectives Filter. Also announced at Google I/O 2023, the perspectives filter incorporates more video, image, and discussion board posts from places like TikTok, YouTube, Reddit, and Quora. Once again, this trend shows the emphasis and value searchers place on experience and perspective. Users value individual experience over the impersonal conveyance of information. AI will never have these two things, even if it can provide a convincing imitation.

The current iteration of SGE seems to go too far in dismissing these trends in favor of generative AI. It’s an interesting challenge Google faces. If they don’t determine the prevailing trend correctly, veering too far in one direction can push more market share to ChatGPT or platforms like YouTube and TikTok.

Final Thoughts

The range of outcomes remains broad and fascinating for SGE. We can see this developing in different ways, and prognostication offers little value, but it’s invaluable to know the potential outcomes and prepare for as many of them as possible.

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It’s critical that you or your search agency be interacting and experimenting with SGE because:

  • The format and results will most likely continue to see significant changes
  • This space moves quickly and it’s easy to fall behind
  • Google may fix all of the issues with SGE and decide to push it live, changing the landscape of search overnight
  • SGE experiments could inform other AI elements incorporated into the search experience

 

Ultimately, optimizing for the specific SGE experience we see now is less important because we know it will inevitably continue changing. We see more value in recognizing the trends and problems Google is trying to solve with this technology. With how quickly this space moves, any specifics mentioned in this article could be outdated in a week. That’s why focusing on intention and process is important at this stage of the game.

By understanding the future needs and wants SGE is attempting to address, we can help you future-proof your search strategies as much as possible. To some extent we’re always at the whims of the algorithm, but by maintaining a user-centric approach, you can make your customers happy, regardless of how they find you.

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Here’s Optimizely’s Automatic Sample Ratio Mismatch Detection

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Here's Optimizely’s Automatic Sample Ratio Mismatch Detection

Optimizely Experiment’s automatic sample ratio mismatch (SRM) detection delivers peace of mind to experimenters. It reduces a user’s exposure time to bad experiences by rapidly detecting any experiment deterioration.

This deterioration is caused by unexpected imbalances of visitors to a variation in an experiment. Most importantly, this auto SRM detection empowers product managers, marketers, engineers, and experimentation teams to confidently launch more experiments. 

How Optimizely Experiment’s stats engine and automatic sample rate mismatch detection work together

The sample ratio mismatch actslike the bouncer at the door who has a mechanical counter, checking guests’ tickets (users) and telling them which room they get to party in.

Stats engine is like the party host who is always checking the vibes (behavior) of the guests as people come into the room.

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If SRM does its job right, then stats engine can confidently tell which party room is better and direct more traffic to the winning variation (the better party) sooner.

Why would I want Optimizely Experiment’s SRM detection?

It’s equally important to ensure Optimizely Experiment users know their experiment results are trustworthy and have the tools to understand what an imbalance can mean for their results and how to prevent it.

Uniquely, Optimizely Experiment goes further by combining the power of automatic visitor imbalance detection with an insightful experiment health indicator. This experiment health indicator plays double duty by letting our customers know when all is well and there is no imbalance present.

Then, when just-in-time insight is needed to protect your business decisions, Optimizely also delivers just-in-time alerts that help our customers recognize the severity of, diagnose, and recover from errors.

Why should I care about sample ratio mismatch (SRM)?

Just like a fever is a symptom of many illnesses, a SRM is a symptom of a variety of data quality issues. Ignoring a SRM without knowing the root cause may result in a bad feature appearing to be good and being shipped out to users, or vice versa. Finding an experiment with an unknown source of traffic imbalance lets you turn it off quickly and reduce the blast radius.

Then what is the connection between a “mismatch” and “sample ratio”?

When we get ready to launch an experiment, we assign a traffic split of users for Optimizely Experiment to distribute to each variation. We expect the assigned traffic split to reasonably match up with the actual traffic split in a live experiment. An experiment is exposed to an SRM imbalance when there is a statistically significant difference between the expected and the actual assigned traffic splits of visitors to an experiment’s variations.

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1. A mismatch doesn’t mean an imperfect match

Remember: A bonified imbalance requires a statistically significant result of the difference in visitors. Don’t expect a picture-perfect, identical, exact match of the launch-day traffic split to your in-production traffic split. There will always be some ever-so-slight deviation.

Not every traffic disparity automatically signifies that an experiment is useless. Because Optimizely deeply values our customers’ time and energy, we developed a new statistical test that continuously monitors experiment results and detects harmful SRMs as early as possible. All while still controlling for crying wolf over false positives (AKA when we conclude there is a surprising difference between a test variation and the baseline when there is no real difference). 

2. Going under the hood of Optimizely Experiment’s SRM detection algorithm

Optimizely Experiment’s automatic SRM detection feature employs a sequential Bayesian multinomial test (say that 5 times fast!), named sequential sample ratio mismatch. Optimizely statisticians Michael Lindon and Alen Malek pioneered this method, and it is a new contribution to the field of Sequential Statistics. Optimizely Experiment’s sample ratio mismatch detection harmonizes sequential and Bayesian methodologies by continuously checking traffic counts and testing for any significant imbalance in a variation’s visitor counts. The algorithm’s construction is Bayesian inspired to account for an experiment’s optional stopping and continuation while delivering sequential guarantees of Type-I error probabilities.

3. Beware of chi-eap alternatives!

The most popular freely available SRM calculators employ the chi-square test. We highly recommend a careful review of the mechanics of chi-square testing. The main issue with the chi-squared method is that problems are discovered only after collecting all the data. This is arguably far too late and goes against why most clients want SRM detention in the first place. In our blog post “A better way to test for sample ratio mismatches (or why I don’t use a chi-squared test)”, we go deeper into chi-square mechanics and how what we built accounts for the gaps left behind by the alternatives.

Common causes of an SRM  

1. Redirects & Delays

A SRM usually results from some visitors closing out and leaving the page before the redirect finishes executing. Because we only send the decision events once they arrive on the page and Optimizely Experiment loads, we can’t count these visitors in our results page unless they return at some point and send an event to Optimizely Experiment.

A SRM can emerge in the case of anything that would cause Optimizely Experiment’s event calls to delay or not fire, such as variation code changes. It also occurs when redirect experiments shuttle visitors to a different domain. This occurrence is exacerbated by slow connection times.

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2. Force-bucketing

If a user first gets bucketed in the experiment and then that decision is used to force-bucket them in a subsequent experiment, then the results of that subsequent experiment will become imbalanced.

Here’s an example:

Variation A provides a wildly different user experience than Variation B.

Visitors bucketed into Variation A have a great experience, and many of them continue to log in and land into the subsequent experiment where they’re force-bucketed into Variation A.

But, visitors who were bucketed into Variation B aren’t having a good experience. Only a few users log in and land into a subsequent experiment where they will be force-bucketed into Variation B.

Well, now you have many more visitors in Variation A than in Variation B.

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3. Site has its own redirects

Some sites have their own redirects (for example, 301s) that, combined with our redirects, can result in a visitor landing on a page without the snippet. This causes pending decision events to get locked in localStorage and Optimizely Experiment never receives or counts them.

4. Hold/send events API calls are housed outside of the snippet

Some users include hold/send events in project JS. However, others include it in other scripts on the page, such as in vendor bundles or analytics tracking scripts. This represents another script that must be properly loaded for the decisions to fire appropriately. Implementation or loading rates may differ across variations, particularly in the case of redirects.

Interested?  

If you’re already an Optimizely Experiment customer and you’d like to learn more about how automatic SRM detection benefits your A/B tests, check out our knowledge base documentation:

For further details you can always reach out to your customer success manager but do take a moment to review our documentation first!

If you’re not a customer, get started with us here! 

And if you’d like to dig deeper into the engine that powers Optimizely experimentation, you can check out our page faster decisions you can trust for digital experimentation. 

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