Sports Authority handles 2,000 transactions per second with Google Cloud Platform
Friday, February 19, 2016
Posted by Jon Byrum, Product Marketing Manager, Google Cloud Platform
(Cross-posted on the Google Cloud Platform Blog.)
Athletic gear, much like all apparel categories, is quickly shifting to an online sales business. Sports Authority, seeing the benefits that cloud could offer around agility and speed, turned to Google Cloud Platform to help it respond to its customers faster.
In 2014, Sports Authority’s technical team was asked to build a solution that would expose all in-store product inventory to its ecommerce site, sportsauthority.com, allowing customers to see local store availability of products as they were shopping online. That’s nearly half a million products to choose from in over 460 stores across the U.S. and Puerto Rico.
This use case posed a major challenge for the company. Its in-store inventory data was “locked” deep inside a mainframe. Exposing millions of products to thousands of customers, 24 hours a day, seven days a week would not be possible using this system.
The requirements for a new solution included finding the customer’s location, searching the 90 million record inventory system and returning product availability in just the handful of stores nearest in location to that particular customer. On top of that, the API would need to serve at least 50 customers per second, while returning results in less than 200 milliseconds.
Choosing the right cloud provider
At the time this project began, Sports Authority had already been a Google Apps for Work (Gmail, Google Sites, Docs) customer since 2011. However, it had never built any custom applications on Google Cloud Platform.
After a period of due diligence checking out competing cloud provider options, Sports Authority decided that Google App Engine and Google Cloud Datastore had the right combination of attributes — elastic scaling, resiliency and simplicity of deployment — to support this new solution.
Through the combined efforts of a dedicated project team, business partners and three or four talented developers, it was able to build a comprehensive solution on Cloud Platform in about five months. It consisted of multiple modules: 1) batch processes, using Informatica to push millions of product changes from its IBM mainframe toGoogle Cloud Storage each night, 2) load processes — python code running on App Engine, which spawn task queue jobs to load Cloud Datastore, and 3) a series of SOAP and REST APIs to expose the search functionality to its ecommerce website.
Sports Authority used tools including SOAPUI and LOADUI to simulate thousands of virtual users to measure the scalability of SOAP and REST APIs. It found that as the number of transactions grew past 2,000 per second, App Engine and Cloud Datastore continued to scale seamlessly, easily meeting its target response times.
The company implemented the inventory locator solution just in time for the 2014 holiday season. It performed admirably during that peak selling period and continues to do so today.
|This screenshot shows what customers see when they shop for products on the website — a list of local stores, showing the availability of any given product in each store|
When a customer finds a product she’s interested in buying, the website requests inventory availability from Sports Authority’s cloud API, which provides a list of stores and product availability to the customer, as exhibited in the running shoe example above.
As Sports Authority became comfortable building solutions on Cloud Platform, it opened its eyes to other possibilities for creating new solutions to better serve its customers.
For example, it recently developed an in-store kiosk, which allows customers to search for products that may not be available in that particular store. It also lets them enroll in the loyalty program and purchase gift cards. This kiosk is implemented on a Google Chromebox, connected to a web application running on App Engine.
|This image shows the in-store kiosk that customers use to locate products available in other stores.|
Internal store portal
Additionally, it built a store portal and task management system, which facilitates communication between the corporate office and its stores. This helps the store team members plan and execute their work more efficiently, allowing them to serve customers better when needs arise. This solution utilizes App Engine, Cloud Datastore and Google Custom Search, and was built with the help of a local Google partner,Tempus Nova.
|This screenshot shows the internal store portal that employees use to monitor daily tasks.|
Learning how to build software in any new environment such as Cloud Platform takes time, dedication and a willingness to learn. Once up to speed, the productivity and power of Google Cloud Platform allowed the Sports Authority team to work like a software company and build quickly while wielding great power.
SEO can sometimes feel like it stands for “Something Extremely Obscure,” especially for busy marketers who just don’t have the time to sit down and figure it all out. There are endlessGoogle algorithm updates to stay on top of to ensure we’re always showing up in search results for our target keywords, but as marketers, we don’t always have time to keep up with those ever-changing rules.
But there’s good news! There’s one simple rule of thumb that remains a tried-and-tested technique for SEO success: optimizing your website with relevant and targeted keywords. By having a well-optimized site, you’ll start to see results like an improved quality of visitor, higher conversion rates, and in the end — more closed customers.
My colleague Rachel Sprung wrote an awesome blog post recently about how to research what keywords you should be using in your inbound marketing, which is a great place to start. For this article, I’m going to talk about how to add those keywords to your website once your research is complete. This article is appropriate for anyone just getting started with SEO, or adjusting their keyword strategy.
Start With a Site Audit
Once you’ve identified the keywords you’re going to target, you need to start adding them to your site. The methodology I’m outlining is one to keep with you as you add new site content in the future — but is also good for a one-time SEO overhaul.
The first step in this process is to identify which pages should target which phrases. This is a good time to do an audit of your site pages, which will surface any other issues you may have, like duplicate content. (You can learn more about why duplicate content is bad for your SEO and how to fix it in our SEO video tip series here. The experts over at Dejan SEO will bring you through the steps of performing your own SEO site audit.) But if you’re looking for the quick and dirty, here’s what you can do:
- Export all your site pages into an Excel spreadsheet.
- Sort by the most frequently visited pages.
- Decide which keyword category each one falls into, and add that category into a column beside the page name.
- Add another column in your spreadsheet to add more specific keywords that you want to add to that page. Keep in mind that they must be relevant to the content on that page, as well as terms your target audience would be searching for.
Here’s an example of what this might look like:
Once you’ve completed this process for all of your pages — or at least the most important ones if you have a ton of pages — you can jump into your site to start adding keywords.
Start Adding Keywords to Your Site
When optimizing your site for new keywords, you need to include those keywords on your site. (Duh, right?) Here are some of the most important places to optimize for your chosen keywords on your site:
- Headings and Content
- Image file names
If you haven’t optimized these sections of your site in the past, you have some work to do — but make your life easier by starting on the pages that get the most traffic. Then, as you create more pages, be sure to optimize as you go.
Titles are shown in the browser tab and search results, and have a direct impact on searcher clickthrough rates (CTRs) and search rankings. When writing a title, try to keep it below about 65 characters, and include one of your target keywords or phrases so it’s easier for searchers to identify that your results are relevant to other query.
Descriptions are also shown in search results and can help increase CTR — but remember that nowadays, they don’t have a direct impact on rankings. They exist to tell searchers why they should click on your result. Use one of your target keywords or phrases in your meta description so they know your content is relevant to their query, but make it attractive to the viewer, too. This is great real estate for selling the benefits of clicking through to that page’s content.
Bonus: You can use this cool tool from Dejan SEO to preview what your search result would look like before deciding on what description to use.
Headings and Content
It’s important to use your keywords in your headings and content, as visitors are much more likely to stay on a page if they can see the terms they had searched for on it. However, it’s critical you use these keywords naturally — so write for readers first, not search engines.
Using keywords in your content is also used by Google as a ranking factor, so doing this can help improve your SERP placement. Although you should include keywords in multiple locations across your site, you should also avoid over-using keywords for the sake of SEO. If they’re used too frequently, it can appear manipulative and result in your site being demoted in search results. And hey, no one wants to read content like that, anyway.
Image Titles and Alt Text
You can also look at including keywords in a natural way in your image titles and alt text. This seems minor — and it isn’t going to impact your search rankings as much as other things on this list — but it helps Google find your site in image searches, improves accessibililty for people with poor vision using screen readers, and is also used as a minor search ranking factor.
Again, rather than adding keywords to image titles and alt text for the sake of SEO, try and be as accurate and descriptive as possible with your images.
It’s a good idea to include keywords in your URL if they accurately describe the page contents. This is particularly important for businesses that do a lot of blogging — there’s a huge opportunity to optimize your URLs on every post you publish, as every post lives on its own unique URL.
But beware — search engines will penalize exact match domains that are keyword stuffed. So if you’re thinking of starting up arizonerealestaterealtorsinarizona.com, think again. Keep it to businessname.com/topic-topic, and you should be fine.
Avoid Search Penalties
There are a couple of things you should also avoid when optimizing your site for keywords, so be careful of the following sketchy SEO practices some people (mind-bogglingly) still use:
1)Never hide keywords. Whether by using the same color background as you do for the text, hiding them behind images, or off to the side using CSS. (I know, I can’t believe I have to say it.) Doing this is not approved by search engines and can result in penalties, and just simply won’t be effective.
2)Avoid keyword stuffing. Avoid stuffing keywords in titles, headings, descriptions page content, and URLs. This appears spammy and is not approved by search engines.
3) Don’t force keywords where they don’t belong. This isn’t quite the same as stuffing a lot of keywords into a post. This is more about not forcing a keyword in — even if it’s just one — if it doesn’t belong, contextually. (Note: If you can’t figure out a place to put a keyword in a piece of content, it’s often a sign the content isn’t that well-aligned with what your personas need, anyway.)
You’re a busy marketer with a lot of things on your plate. SEO need not fall to the bottom of your priority list because of a lack of knowledge, or worse — fear you’re doing it wrong. The most important thing to consider is your visitor’s user experience. Think about them first, and search engines second, and you’ll be alright.
If you want to perform your own SEO site audit, you can get this tip along with six others in ourSEO: Bite-Sized video tip series. The guys over at Dejan SEO live and breathe this stuff, so we thought there was no one better to teach us on the subject.
Today we’re proud to release WooCommerce 2.5 “Dashing Dolphin” into the wild! 2.5 has been in development for ~5 months and has seen around 1600 commits from 42 contributors.
This is another evolutionary release which focusses on improvements to existing functionality, as well as stability and performance. We do however have some new features to mention in 2.5 which developers in particular should enjoy using.
Introducing WooCommerce CLI
The WooCommerce CLI (command line interface) lets you perform many actions on your store via the command line, such as creating customers and coupons. This should be very useful for power users! Here is a quick example of the CLI in action, in this example updating then deleting a coupon.
A new sessions table
Early on we decided to adopt a solution based on wp-session-manager whereby you have a cookie to identify each user, and have their session data stored in the WP options table. This worked well, and has served us nicely until now, however it did lead to problems with scalability and data cleanup.
For these reasons we’re introducing a new session handler which uses custom tables, rather than the WordPress options table.
We made a number of performance improvements in 2.5, mainly working on optimising our usage of transients which we covered in our beta 2 post.
tl;dr we’ve audited all transients, removing those that are unnecessary and moving to alternative forms of data storage and caching where possible. Combined with the new sessions table, query speed should be improved due to reduced usage of the wp options table.
Tax rate settings UI
We’ve been experimenting with backbonejs to improve the user interface recently, which should feature more prominantly in core from 2.6. In 2.5 we’ve used it to improve the tax rate input screens, which now saves via ajax and has a new inline search.
Improved checkout flow
- Moved the terms and conditions box before the place order button
- Tweaked default call to action button styles
- Added error recovery when malformed JSON is returned by the ajax methods.
- Removed the ‘estimated’ text from the cart totals area.
- Made it so when only 1 gateway is enabled, the radio buttons will be hidden.
- Added pass
If you like Chrome but don’t think it loads web pages fast enough, you might be in luck. Google has now readied a new compression algorithm for the browser which will squeeze web pages down by as much as 25 percent more than it does right now.
The new algorithm, called Brotli, is designed to replace the one that Chrome currently uses, known as Zopfli. (Google has always sucked at naming things—in this case, Brötli means ‘small bread’ in Swiss German.) It’s been in the works for a while, but the code is now ready to roll, according to Google’s Ilya Grigorik.
The code is now said to be readied to the stage of “intent to ship,” which means it should appear in Chrome very soon. Good news for the impatient.
Found at: http://gizmodo.com
Authored by: Jamie Condliffe
It’s been a long time coming but, as of January 12th, Microsoft will no longer support Internet Explorer 8, 9 or 10. Rest in peace, IE.
Microsoft points out that version 11 will continue to cling on to its dear little life for at least a while, receiving security updates, compatibility fixes, and technical support on Windows 7, Windows 8.1, and Windows 10. For now.
But if for some unimaginable reason you use an older version of IE, then it’ll no longer receive updates. If you insist on using a Microsoft browser, now might be time to consider using Edge?
Somewhere deep in the cobweb-filled recesses of your brain, you might remember a time when checking your email meant booting up Internet Explorer. But as this infographic shows, it wasn’t long ago that the world was filled with Internet Explorers. Then, a couple years back, nearly every country switched to Chrome.
The visualization below, which colors countries based on the most popular desktop and tablet internet browser of the year, was created by Jody Sieradzki using data from the web tracker Stat Counter. The widespread switch from Internet Explorer to Chrome is fascinating to watch, but so are some of the other regional patterns: Opera, for instance, had a brief moment of glory in Russia and former USSR countries six years back, while Firefox swept across Asia and Africa in 2011 and 2012 before getting dethroned by Chrome. In 2014, the two people living in Greenland decided to give Safari a go.
It was a short-lived experiment.
Sooner or later the time comes when your corporate identity and/or marketing scheme are no longer up to scratch. With tax season in the rear view mirror (hopefully) and summer heating up, redesigning and marketing your corporate identity may seem like only an afterthought.
However, could it be time to take that great leap?
On average, businesses change their identities once every seven to ten years and, depending on the platform, remarket yearly. The important factors to consider when assessing this includes equity measurement; market differentiation and accessibility; brand awareness, relevance and vitality; and consumer personality, preference, usage, associations, and emotional connectivity.
If your company can improve its relationship to its customer base in any or all of these key areas, you may want to think seriously about making the move. Here are five reasons to invest in our re-branding and multi-platform marketing endeavors:
1. You’re ready for a change – it’s time to revitalize your image.
2. Your brand’s image/marketing scheme no longer reflects who you are or what you do.
3. Your corporate aptitudes have increased with key changes in business
4. Your competition is expanding and their volume is deafening.
5. It’s time to evolve with ever-changing social media platforms
Next Up: “SEO 101: How, What & When”
The future of Android is here. Android M (I’m still hoping for Muffin) is the software that will power Android smartphones starting this fall. Aesthetically, everything looks familiar, but there’s a lot buried under that Material Design exterior. Let’s take a look.the
Google’s Senior VP Sundar Pichai introduced M saying that Android focused “on polish and quality” for its newest release, which comes out in a few months (though the developer preview drops today). One of its first big updates was app permissions. This gives users the right to accept and revoke permissions to apps for enhanced security and privacy.
Permissions are managed through a new dashboard where you can go through and pick and choose what an app can and can’t do. Google also says that this will make updates to apps for developers more seamless and painless. Basically, a win-win.
Custom Chrome Tabs
Android is also bringing Chrome Custom Tabs to Android. What all that insidery mumbo-jumbo means is that apps can now run closely with the Chrome browser, having the app actually running over top of the app itself. But this also means that you get some of Chrome’s excellent capabilities such as saved passwords, autofill suggestions, and multi-process security.
Developers can now link between apps, so you don’t have to stare at that infamous “Open With?” menu option. This means it goes right to app because Android to check apps to make sure it supports the capability. Android just saved you a click.
Android Pay and Fingerprint Authentication
One of Android biiiig updates for M is Android Pay. As its simple name suggests, it’s just like Apple Pay, the tap-to-pay service for iPhones. The actual card number is never shared with the merchants and can use all major credit cards. Obviously, NFC is needed for you to use this neat-o feature at 700,000 stores across the U.S. Read all about it right here.
Of course, secure payments means Android needs a secure way for authentication. Yep, fingerprint sensor support for Android.
Better Idle Battery Life and USB Type-C
And when we’re talking “polish and quality,” hopefully that would mean extending battery life—something every smartphone in the world could use. Android has a new feature called Doze. With Android M, the device will use motion detection to see if it’s been left alone for an expended period of time. If it has, the smartphone will go into a “deep sleep.” This will essentially trade off app freshness for battery life but will still be able to sound off alarms and delivery high-priority messages like always.
Google says they loaded two Nexus 6s, one with Lollipop and one with M, and the new software gave the M-powered Google phone double the battery life in standby. Ok, you have my attention.
But that’s not all the charging news. USB-Type C is also coming to Android (obviously), which is expected news but great news nonetheless.
Google Now, Upgraded
Google’s also been hard at work toiling away on Google Now by inviting tons of third-party developers to join in on the convenient virtual assistant. However, in Android M, it’s getting even better. You can now double tap on the home screen which basically tells Google Now you need help. This is called Now on Tap (: /), and Aparna Chennapragada, director of the Google Now team, went through a few scenarios using the new M-powered Google Now. You can check the name of music artists, quickly create Google Card reminders to pick up laundry, learn more about a movie some just emailed you about, or helping you not sound like an idiot at a fancy Italian restaurant. Also, you can use it in Chrome by tapping on things in the browser you have questions about. All great things!
Google Photos App
We also got a good look at the new Photos app for Android (and also iOS) that’s been born from the ashes of Google+. Now that it’s untethered from the Google’s limping corpse of a social network, you get its best feature stock on Android. This means facial recognition powers, seamless sharing, and an improved editor and storage interface. But the biggest news? Free unlimited backup for photos and videos. That’s zero dollars, euros, yen, pounds, or whatever! It’s also available for iOS, Android, and web starting later today. Read more about it right about here.
When Dave Burke, the vice prez of engineering at Android, closed out his speech, he said that M is all about “the little things,” and that’s seems true. It’s some fine-tuning here and there, but a necessary step to make Android that much better.