1. Focus On Improving The Mobile Searcher Experience
People access content differently on their smartphones and don’t want to have to do extra work because they happen to be searching on a smartphone. Fixing this and improving the mobile searcher experience is at the heart of this update.
Knowing that, there are things webmasters can do today to get ahead of the next update and help Google by making things better for mobile searchers.
- Make pages load in less than a second on mobile devices. Page speed is not part of this mobile update, according to Google’s Gary Illyes at SMX West, but it is an overall ranking factor and may be a bigger consideration for mobile in the future. While you’re at it, fix anything Google has listed as a common error, and use toolsets like Pure Oxygen Labs Mobile Page Audit to make a better experience for mobile searchers.
- If you have an Android app, add deep linking to your app. Google is currently using content from deep-linked apps in ranking for personalized search results of users with the app installed, but Google’s Mariya Moeva said at SMX Westthat this may one day expand to apps that are not yet installed. The newGoogle Search for Developers page is inclusive of both apps and web content, so it’s clear that search engine optimization isn’t exclusive to websites anymore.
- Optimize for mobile assistants like Google Now. Mark up email notifications for reservations and think about creative ways to integrate with mobile assistants that work for your business and help people find what they’re looking for. See Mobile Moxie’s Google Now and the Predictive Search World SMX West presentation for more details about why this is necessary today.
- Add relevant structured data for Knowledge Graph inclusion.Hummingbird was about asking questions, especially on mobile devices, and the knowledge graph is a site owner’s answer key to instant answers. Google has a detailed tutorial on how to make it happen.
2. Provide A Mobile Site Experience That Is Additive Rather Than Reductive
For years, the standard with mobile web development was “simplify.” Developers were asked to create a mobile web experience that provided only essential information for mobile searchers, who were expected to be time-starved and on-the-go.
We now know that most smartphone use occurs at home, and the trend in the last several years has been to make content accessible on any platform. Responsive and adaptive design advocates have led the charge, Google has helped with theirpenalties for redirects to the homepage on mobile, and growth of full web experiences on smartphones has increased.
This is a positive trend, but we need to do more. Smartphones are equipped with technologies like cameras, microphones, accelerometers and GPS that desktops and laptops either don’t have or don’t have in a way that’s practical for people to use on a regular basis.
Google has used these in development of their search product to allow things in mobile search results that aren’t possible in desktop or traditional results: nearby searches using GPS rather than IP address, voice search, Google Goggles, etc. Why not do the same with your content and get ahead of your competition?
Google Goggles is one example of providing useful features to searchers that they can’t get on desktop.
It’s not enough to make mobile experiences as good as desktop experiences anymore. We can and should make them better. Doing so will generate links, delight users, and drive traffic, as it has for Google search already.
3. Be An Early Adopter Before It’s Too Late
Not to kick you while you’re down, readers. If you missed my warning in 2009, still aren’t mobile-friendly after countless warnings since, and are now under the gun to create mobile-friendly content in less than two weeks, you have it bad enough already. I do understand why this might have happened, though.
I know it’s tough to keep up with every smartwatch and personal headset and every Meerkat that’s hot one week and not the next. If you adopted every technology the minute it came out, you would spend unlimited resources being optimized for a small group of people that may never grow into a large group of people. Plus, as we discovered with our own mobile SEO case study, sometimes being an early adopter in mobile is not as immediately rewarding as you’d expect.
I’m not suggesting that you become an early adopter with everything — just the things that you keep hearing about, months and years after their debut. These tend to be things that people find useful, and dragging your feet for a prolonged period of time doesn’t help your customers or your business. (In the case of this update, in fact, it might even hurt you.)
All I’m saying is, don’t wait six years to pull the trigger on something that grows substantially every year. We’ve known this moment was coming for a while. Hopefully, next time, all of us will think about investing in features that help the searcher experience, even before Google announces that those things are a ranking factor.
I would like to add some answers to important questions:
Question #1: Why Do We Need A Mobile-Friendly Website?
As of April 21, when Google rolls out its new mobile-friendly algorithm, sites that aren’t mobile-friendly will rank lower in search results than if they were mobile optimized.
The search engine won’t block or remove your site for not being optimized for mobile search (as Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller recentlyconfirmed), but you’ll have fewer sales because mobile searchers won’t be able to find you as easily. If your competitor has a mobile-friendly website, they’ll have a distinct ranking advantage over you.
Question #2: Is It True That A Mobile-Friendly Website Is Optimized For Mobile Search And Doesn’t Need SEO?
Absolutely not. “Mobile-friendly” only means that your website renders nicely on a mobile device. In other words, your content will be presented neatly on any smartphone or tablet.
But just because your site looks good on a mobile device doesn’t mean it’s optimized for mobile search. Mobile optimization depends on several factors like technical implementation, coding and content. It requires an integrated effort across multiple disciplines, including off-page factors.
Question #3: How Can I Tell If A Page Is Mobile-Friendly Or Not?
A quick way to determine if a page is mobile-friendly or not is to use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test Tool. This test will not only assess whether your page has a mobile-friendly design, but will also offer specific advice on where improvements can be made.
Keep in mind that the Mobile-Friendly Test Tool can only analyze a single page/URL at a time. Since it’s is not practical for larger sites to individually test each URL on their site, the best approach is to connect to Google Webmaster Tools, which will provide insight into site-wide issues impacting your mobile friendliness.
Question #4: We’re Already Doing Traditional SEO — Do We Also Need Mobile SEO?
Though traditional SEO is already complex, mobile search requires more specialized knowledge. Search results change based on location and device, so the rules are also changing frequently. See this not as a limitation, but an opportunity to gain an advantage.
Question #5: How Is Mobile SEO Different From Local SEO?
While local search relates to your city or town, mobile search is “hyper-local” and pertains to exactly where you are at the moment. The key difference is a focus on PEOPLE. Google displays different results on mobile searches that are unique, personalized and relevant to the searcher. As mentioned above, it also takes into account your website’s mobile-friendliness.
Question #6: Should Content Be The Same For Mobile Units And Desktops?
It depends. You must consider things like:
- user attention span
- noise and distractions
- goals on pages
- business goals
Trying to dump the same code and content from a webpage designed for desktops to a smartphone will adversely affect your conversion rate and sales. You must look beyond code and styling, to consider the intent and meaning of each page to your audience.
Question #7: What Is The Best Mobile Configuration For Us?
The truth is, the right choice for you depends on a variety of factors: your website content, your technological capabilities, your budget/resources, your industry, your business goals, your conversion points, and your visitors’ expectations all play a role in dictating which mobile configuration works best for your website.
Google recognizes three different configurations for mobile sites (you’ll find more technical information in this guide):
- Responsive design: Desktop content is adapted to render nicely on a mobile unit, as described here. This means URLs of pages won’t change and digital analytics with reporting is easier. However, resizing and re-formatting the same content for various devices may not deliver great results.
- Dynamic serving: The web server ‘sniffs’ a user’s browser and then serves up appropriate HTML based on device information, as described here.
- Separate mobile sites: Visitors on a smartphone are directed to a separate mobile URL (such as http://m.yourcompany.com) that is optimized with different, device-specific code and content, as described here.
You can optimize the design, content and call-to-action more intelligently based on your user’s needs. I recommend getting a good technical SEO consultant to advise on planning and implementation.
Question #8: Traffic From Mobile Units Doesn’t Convert Well — So, Is Mobile Search Not Important?
There are many reasons for poor conversion with mobile traffic, such as:
- Your content doesn’t fit the unit well, forcing people to pinch and zoom or making it harder to click on links or calls-to-action.
- The page displays too much information (or other distractions/noise), causing visitors to bounce before they can convert.
- The page contains elements that don’t render on a mobile device, such as Flash.
- There are problems with your site’s analytics configuration, tracking and reporting.
Most important, however, is the fact that people often underestimate the degree to which mobile influences sales due to poor attribution modeling. Google Analytics counts unique devices, not people.
So, if the same person visits your site from an iPhone while traveling, and then on an iPad at home, and finally makes a purchase from an office computer, it will be reported as three individual visits, only one of which resulted in a conversion. Your mobile traffic might appear unimportant for sales in this case, yet it really was what landed you that buyer!
Planning and executing strategy based on inaccurate or incomplete data can be disastrous. Just installing a web analytics tool on your website isn’t good enough in a multi-channel digital universe, because what you see may not be what you get! Good analysts with multi-channel experience can help you choose tools that generate meaningful reports and provide actionable data.
Question #9: Can I Trust Online Testing Tools?
There are many good tools out there for evaluating the mobile-friendliness of your website, but you can’t trust them blindly. Here’s an example: This website scored 96/100 points for user experience with Google’s PageSpeed Insights… but it obviously won’t do well!
You should beware of that there are issues with Google’s mobile-friendly test, and that you may get a “Your site is awesome!” result for a site that’s not mobile-friendly at all. Here is a good explanation of this issue, as discussed by forensic SEO consultant Alan Bleiweiss in his article, “Flawed Google Mobile Usability Test Results.”
This just illustrates that you shouldn’t rely on testing tools, even Google’s own. Thus, it’s important to get input from experts on mobile SEO and mobile usability before attempting to make your site mobile friendly.
Here Are My Predictions…
Before winding up, I’ll make a few predictions about what will happen over the next 12-24 months:
Every business will accept that without a mobile-friendly website, they’ll vanish from Google’s search results on mobile devices. People in charge will plan to quickly roll out mobile-friendly websites.
Companies offering web design and web development services will try to capitalize on this wave, piecing together a site using a formulaic cookie-cutter approach. Only later will they realize it doesn’t deliver new business because it doesn’t rank on mobile searches.
Conclusion: SEO consultants have a promising future ahead.
Businesses will begin to understand that responsive design may not be right for them. Copying the same content from a big screen to a smaller one might not be effective.
They must create an optimal user experience. Designing separate mobile versions of their website intelligently will boost conversion rates and lead acquisition.
It’s time to get your mobile SEO act together — and hopefully the answers above were of some help. If you have any more questions, please post them in a comment and we’ll talk about them.