Does Google Really Need Your Website? Well, How Mobile-Friendly Are You?

In the last two months alone, two significant updates have occurred to the Google algorithm — creating volatility in the search results. The second update happened around March 15, and was a major update — a Core Algorithm Update.

In the last two months alone, two significant updates have occurred to the Google algorithm — creating volatility in the search results. The second update happened around March 15, and was a major update — a Core Algorithm Update.

These core updates occur several times a year. Recovering from rankings drops created by a core algorithmic change is not about fixing a page. I contend that just fixing a few pages is an exercise as fruitful in arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Instead, you site owners should ask yourselves, honestly, does Google really need the website? The answer is often “no,” so Internet management teams avoid the question and pour their efforts and funds into fixing pages in response to algorithmic updates.

The way to avoid making fixes is to think like long and big. Think like Google, and use its learning on search and user intent to make your site valuable.

Why Should Google Want Your Site?

With its proclaimed intent to index all the world’s knowledge, it could be argued that Google needs your site to fulfill this mission.

But just being included does not mean showing up in the top results. What brings a site to the top of the results? It is the user and whether your site answers the intent of the user’s query.

If a page and, by extension, the entire site addresses the user’s intent per the query and provides clear expert, authoritative and trustworthy (E-A-T) content, then it will show up in the top results.

There is an added wrinkle. With Google moving to a mobile-first, mobile-focused environment, your mobile site must meet the user’s intent.

As I write this post, I am working at a laptop linked to a large monitor, the typical configuration of an Internet worker. This is not where the searchers are. They are on mobile devices.

If your analytics don’t show more than half your visitors are mobile, then you are an outlier.

If you are looking to fix your search results, think mobile. I would suggest getting away from the monitor at your desk and using your mobile device to conduct a series of searches your typical user might perform. You may find yourself frustrated. If you typically chase rankings, you may find lots of reasons why you are not in the top search rankings.

How Do You Fix the Problem?

Because SEO success is tied to meeting the user’s search intent, then it is imperative to attach more significance to a creating successful user experience for mobile users.

This does not push aside all of the other elements of good SEO, it simply creates a delivery system for meeting the user on the user’s terms.

Getting there goes beyond simply doing searches on a mobile device. It forces a rethinking of how and why data is presented. Begin by reading. Here are several points of departure. If you love deeply technical information or suffer from insomnia, spend some time reading Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines. (Opens as a PDF) These are the guidelines that Google’s team of human evaluators use to determine the quality of sample pages. The results from the evaluators are used as part of the training data that flow into creating the algorithm.

Here, you will quickly see what makes a page good. This is just the first stop on the tour.

Then, check out the much more user-friendly and readable UX Playbooks available for various types of sites. The retail playbook is eye-opening. (Opens as a PDF)

First, all of the examples and screenshots are mobile.

For an even longer view of where Google Search is headed in the future, read Ben Gomes’s blog post on “Improving Search in the Next 20 Years.

Instead of worrying about fixing pages in response to updates, consider how well you and your site will fit with what Google wants now and into the future.

5 Dynamics That Kill Your Mobile Conversions

Mobile conversions should be happening all day. It’s not a stretch to say that we are slaves to those little rectangular pieces of technology we carry in our pockets 24×7. The smartphone has come to define every aspect of our lives, from waking up each morning to getting to work on time and from finding a quick bite to eat to even finding true love.

Mobile conversions should be happening all day. It’s not a stretch to say that we are slaves to those little rectangular pieces of technology we carry in our pockets 24×7. The smartphone has come to define every aspect of our lives, from waking up each morning to getting to work on time and from finding a quick bite to eat to even finding true love.

If mobile phones are so central to our existence, why do businesses repeatedly find the old faithful — desktop computers — to be better performers in terms of conversions and sales?

A SaleCycle study of 500 global brands showed that while 51% of traffic came from mobile devices, only 36% of total sales followed suit.

mobile conversions
Credit: Rohan Ayyar

What makes mobile conversions lag behind their desktop counterparts, given that we lead our lives almost entirely inside these metal and glass cages? More importantly, what can you, as a marketer or business owner, do to improve your mobile conversions? Here are some worrying mobile optimization snags that might be seriously hurting your sales.

Mobile Site Speed Isn’t Priority No. 1

Earlier this year, Google made it official: Mobile speed is a bona fide ranking factor for all websites in its search results. Period.

And oh, if you haven’t realized it yet, Google now prioritizes your mobile site over the desktop version while adding your pages to its index.

You may not care about your SEO rankings (really?) but a quick-loading mobile page has other proven benefits — such as increased engagement and, by extension, better conversions. Mobile web design platform Duda carried out a study involving over 4,000 sites, which found that mobile sites with a render start time (RST) under one second showed a 50% higher conversion rate than those with RSTs of three to four seconds.

mobile conversions related to site speed
Credit: Rohan Ayyar

All of this data conclusively means just one thing: If you want to maximize sales, you must make sure your site loads blazingly fast on mobile devices. Try these guidelines:

  • Optimize images to render faster. Drop animations and other frills that eat up bandwidth.
  • Avoid auto-playing videos on mobile sites.
  • Keep the number of scripts to a minimum and make sure they’re parsed faster.
  • Reduce advertising clutter that slows pages down.
  • Use compression, CDNs and other web technologies that quicken loading times.
  • Leverage Google AMP for a huge jump in page loading speed.

Mobile Site Not Optimized for Local Search

Here are some data points from the Mobile and Search channels of Google’s Micro-Moments resource base. Chew on these stats for a moment (each):

  • 40% of all searches from mobile devices have local intent.
  • 76% of local searches result in a visit to the physical outlet of a business within 24 hours. 28% result in a purchase.
  • People who perform local searches on mobile devices are 65% more likely to buy from companies that customize their mobile sites or apps with local information.

In other words, most smartphone users use local search with purchase intent and heavily patronize businesses that help them find information they’re looking for right there on their phones. Don’t miss out on this opportunity that comes knocking on your mobile website’s window every single day.

A quick checklist to rank well (and convert well!) on local mobile searches:

  • Build content-rich city pages for the markets you operate in. Create dedicated content relevant to each city. e.g. A music store may have content like the “The 10 best nightclubs in Miami” or “Who’s playing at Madison Square Garden this week.”
  • Set up your Google My Business page and keep it updated.
  • Get pinpoint accuracy in your N-A-P (name, address, phone number) data in local business directories.
  • Go socially local with your Facebook business pages.
  • Work on getting local reviews for your brand and business from influencers, niche-focused review sites and crowdsourced review forums.

No Attention Paid to Mobile Design and Usability

User experience is one of the key elements of conversion optimization. This could not be truer on a smartphone screen, where real estate is at such a premium.

For the record, that’s not me saying this; it’s data. Here’s a snapshot from a Qubit study (Opens as a PDF) of 1.2 billion e-commerce journeys with mobile touchpoints:

mobile conversions chart
Credit: Rohan Ayyar

When every pixel counts, are you doing what it takes to convert users?

UX designer Chen Ben Ami offers some practical ideas on mobile optimization, like keeping buttons larger on mobile sites to preempt “Fat Finger Syndrome,” keeping navigation simple, using the right color combinations (visible on mobile screens) for backgrounds and layouts, leveraging the “Click to Call” button and so on.

But my favorite piece of advice is this real gem, which recommends taking a hard look at how your mobile site appears at different times of day. For example, when a user visits your mobile site during the day, they can reach you with a single tap. However, what happens when they visit your site after hours?

Instead of wasting a click and having the customer listen to an out of office message, you could offer a contact form in place of the click-to-call for the “night version” of your mobile site!

mobile conversions phone graphic
Credit: Rohan Ayyar

Shopping Carts Not Persistent, Not Cross-Platform

The Qubit study we referred to earlier also found that mobile shopping experience and browsing behavior has a direct impact on actual revenue from cross-channel sales on other digital channels. Further, mobile shopping activity also led to a 19% growth in desktop revenues.

What this means is that users who discover an item on mobile tend to either visit the store or complete the purchase on desktop devices. This process of device hopping to complete a single transaction would be greatly eased out if the site in question saved the user’s shopping cart for a future session on the same or another platform. Say “hello” to cross-channel shopping carts!

A simple way to enable cross-channel shopping carts would be using the customer’s login information, which stays the same across devices. Another way of offering an omnichannel shopping experience is by linking cookies and device IDs, or setting up user identification and tracking using tech such as Google Analytics User-IDs across multiple devices.

Painful Checkout Process

Have an e-commerce site? Pay special attention to your forms and checkout process in particular to nudge along mobile conversions. Research from comScore found that close to 20% of users don’t make a purchase on mobile because they find it too difficult to enter data into forms on smartphones.

mobile conversions clock chart
Credit: Rohan Ayyar

Ease the way for your mobile users by keeping forms short and requiring minimal details from users. Adopting autocomplete and auto-suggestions in forms and search bars are examples of usability-driven design on mobile commerce sites and apps.

Another effective way of reducing clicks and smoothing out the mobile checkout process is by embracing simpler payment options, like mobile wallets. After all, what’s easier on a smartphone — paying with one-click using Apple Pay or Google Pay or entering a 14-digit credit card number, expiration date and CVV number?

Parting Thoughts

Fifty-three percent of users on the web today access it via a mobile phone. Just as mobile usage is rising, so is actual transaction activity. As data clearly shows, this trend of consumers going mobile first is only going to get stronger. So instead of spending time retrofitting your websites to mobile in order to improve conversions, learn from these and other mobile-focused factors to build a true mobile-fantastic (not just mobile-friendly) website that encourages engagement and sales, and takes your business headfirst into the next decade.

Mobile SEO Is Here — You Were Warned

For the past 18 months, there have been warnings about the advent of mobile-first indexing. On March 26, Google announced that it has finally started migrating sites to mobile-first indexing. These are sites that currently follow the best practices for mobile search. If you heeded the warnings and spent the past 18 months focusing on mobile, you can yawn now.

Google frequently warns of future major changes in how the search engine will handle sites. For example, several years ago Google warned that secure sites would get a ranking boost at some time in the future. There was scrambling and gnashing of teeth as many heeded the warning and spent the time and resources needed to make their sites secure. The result was that when the change finally occurred, the impact was minimal for most of the top-ranking sites.

Google’s warning about site speed seems to have had the same result. It seems that top-ranking sites are those that heed the warnings and put the resources into responding.

For the past 18 months, there have been warnings about the advent of mobile-first indexing. On March 26, Google announced that it has finally started migrating sites to mobile-first indexing. These are sites that currently follow the best practices for mobile search. If you heeded the warnings and spent the past 18 months focusing on mobile, you can yawn now.

How Does Mobile-First Change Indexing?

Historically, Google has used the desktop version of a page’s content in its crawling, indexing and ranking systems. As mobile users and sites have changed and evolved, a gap has grown in how the page and content are displayed on a mobile device vs. the desktop.

The demands of the small screen often require a reshuffling of the content presentation. Google recognizes this mismatch. With mobile-first indexing, Google will be using the mobile version of the page for indexing and ranking, thus giving the mobile user better search results.

The recent announcement clearly stated that Google will not be maintaining two indexes and will be notifying sites on an individual basis via the Search Console when they shift over to mobile-first indexing. Google reassures that the change only effects how the engine gathers content and notes that content gathered by mobile-first indexing has no ranking advantage over mobile content that’s not yet gathered this way or desktop content.

Moreover, if you only have desktop content, you will continue to be represented in Google’s index. While this may seem reassuring, don’t be too reassured if you have not gone all-in on mobile. It is not clear where or when you will be displayed. It appears that a desktop version will be shown when there is no mobile page that meets the user’s needs. Sounds like desktop pages will slowly be consigned to the equivalent of the back tables of the restaurant close to the kitchen — far from prime ranking positions for competitive searches.

Clearly the Move Is to Mobile

Google has been strongly urging sites to go mobile; providing tools for webmasters to evaluate how mobile-friendly their sites are, developing AMP for delivering mobile pages faster and now introducing mobile-first indexing. This all points to a strong preference for the mobile user.

Mobile users want their content delivered instantly. To further benefit this huge user base, Google continues to put pressure on site owners to improve their site speed. Come July 2018, content that is slow-loading may perform less well for both desktop and mobile searchers. Sounds like a thinly disguised penalty to me.

Check your stats and see just how much of your traffic comes from mobile. Or better yet, check to see how much desktop traffic you have.

You may be surprised. It may have already gone mobile.

You have been warned. Do you really want to persist with a desktop-first design?

5 Ways Your SEO Strategy MUST Evolve in 2017

What do Siri, food pictures and fake news have in common? All three of these things are heavily influencing SEO strategy as we near the midway point of 2017. Many of the nuts and bolts of SEO haven’t changed; links, keyword optimization and the other usual suspects still matter. Look at the big picture, though, and you’ll see how smartphone usage, artificial intelligence and societal trends are touching every aspect of search engine marketing.

SEO Strategy for 2017.What do Siri, food pictures and fake news have in common?

All three of these things are heavily influencing SEO strategy as we near the midway point of 2017. Many of the nuts and bolts of SEO haven’t changed; links, keyword optimization and the other usual suspects still matter. Look at the big picture, though, and you’ll see how smartphone usage, artificial intelligence and societal trends are touching every aspect of search engine marketing.

In this post, we’ll review the top 5 SEO game changers that we’ve already seen in 2017. This isn’t a list of tips to improve your website’s SEO — rather, these are ongoing, seismic shifts that can guide your marketing strategy going forward.

Google’s Mobile-First Index

More people search the Internet from mobile devices than on desktop PCs, but that isn’t new. Mobile searches eclipsed desktop searches two years ago, and the gap continues to widen.

What’s different though is that Google is going to prioritize mobile SEO over desktop SEO. Earlier this year, Google announced its mobile-first index, which crawls the mobile versions of websites rather than their desktop counterparts. Google only crawls desktop websites when mobile-friendly versions can’t be found — and given the direction of today’s SEO, those websites aren’t likely to fare well on search engine results pages.

What does this mean for business owners and online marketers?

The good news is that if your website is built with a responsive design, then the roll-out of the mobile-first index shouldn’t affect you. And if your site was built recently using WordPress, Joomla or another CMS, chances are good that it’s already responsive. If your website isn’t responsive, then you need to focus your optimization efforts on your mobile site. That might mean simplifying your menus, lengthening content or revising what shows “above the fold” on smartphone browsers. Basically, you must make your site as appealing and intuitive as possible for visitors using mobile devices. Your desktop site takes a back seat.

That said, don’t neglect your desktop site! Although mobile SEO will earn you better search rankings, desktop visits are still significantly more likely to result in conversions, according to 2016 data from the Monetate Ecommerce Quarterly.

Rise of the Machines

At face value, machine learning has caused minimal movement in Google’s search engine rankings. That said, the overall impact of machine learning couldn’t be more profound.

Machine learning is a form of artificial intelligence that allows computer programs to evolve based on the automated analysis of data. Google’s algorithm is still very much driven by humans, and Google officials have said this will remain the case indefinitely. However, the search engine giant uses machine learning to craft and test adjustments to its search algorithms. Google is literally taking its cues from more than 3.5 billion searches each day.

Copywriting for Mobile: Don’t Phone It In

Remember how a few entries ago I complained about the exhaustive use of the ~Millennial~ label? Well guess what, I’m owning it right here, right now. My name is Dani, I am a Millennial, and that means I’m on my phone, a lot. Like, pretty much all the time. Right now I’m typing with one hand and texting with the other.

Remember how a few entries ago I complained about the exhaustive use of the ~Millennial~ label? Well guess what, I’m owning it right here, right now. My name is Dani, I am a Millennial, and that means I’m on my phone, a lot. Like, pretty much all the time. Right now I’m typing with one hand and texting with the other. (I’m just kidding about that. Probably.)

The point is, we all know the stats on mobile usage. We’re all inundated every day with the knowledge of how much more people are relying on phones or tablets instead of computers, my generation being particularly notorious for it. We’ve all become intimate with the phrase “optimize for mobile”. Usually, we’re talking about websites and graphic design.

But us copywriters should be keeping mobile in mind too — words also need a little bit of adaptation to make the best use of such a small space — not to mention a space frequently used while multitasking. When you’re typing away at your clever, compelling copy, are you making considerations for mobile?

I know I personally often neglect this important detail. So, for my benefit as much as any reader’s, here are a few quick tips for writing copy that won’t lose impact just because the screen loses inches.

Short n’ Sweet
You probably knew this was coming, right? Just your basic “Mobile readers are on the go! Short attention spans! Concise is key!” and so on.

In this case, it’s not just about not wanting to lose the reader’s attention through long, rambling prose, but also simply about saving physical space on the screen and making text easier on the eyes by keeping both sentences and paragraphs short and clean. Larger blocks of text with few line breaks are notoriously difficult on a small screen.

When I’m conscious of this, I try to keep “paragraphs” no longer than two lines (as much as my former English major side protests.)

Grab the Bulletpoints by the Horns

  • Really
  • Bulletpoints are golden
  • They make information digestible
  • And force you to remove excess
  • They’re easy on the eyes
  • Fit nicely on a mobile screen
  • Amirite

Head for the Headers
Just a variation on the theme; it’s all about readability. Catchy, bold headers (bold in both senses of the word) to introduce each new concept are a fantastic way to both organize your copy, and to help a scroll-happy reader find exactly what they are looking for.

Remember the Inverted Pyramid 
We all learned this one in Intro to Journalism, whether we’re Boomers, Millennials, Gen Y’s, Lannisters or Starks. That Golden Rule of journalism, that looked a little something like…

Inverted_pyramid

 

I’m sure it’s ingrained in all of us by now, some of us probably have nightmares of this thing descending upon us like some sort of sharpened spear. And it’s just as well, since the inverted pyramid is great for writing any sort of copy that might be read on a phone, not just news articles.

Unfortunately, this format can’t always apply, exhibit A being this blog entry. But if you can swing it, those short attention spans and likelihood of multitasking would be best served by cramming as much of the meat and potatoes as your message will allow in the first few sentences, with the side of veggies toward the end.

Let’s Get Visual (Visual) 
Speaking of that image of the inverted pyramid above — visuals can be a vital ingredient in your mobile copy stew. Have you ever noticed that you’ll look at the graphics in an email or actually read an infographic with much more attention on your phone screen than your computer screen?

When faced with a lot of text or pictures in a small space, our brains just respond more easily to the visuals. The eye is naturally drawn to images, especially if we need a break from or better understanding of what we’re reading.

 

image1
This got your attention, right?

Images with relevant, interesting information (like infographics) is a great way to ensure the reader is still getting what you want them to get out of your copy. Photos of my cat looking surprised might not be the best example of this, I just wanted you to look at a photo of my cat.

To Wrap it Up…
This blog entry is now 722 words and I have effectively followed maybe two words of my own advice. Like I said, I needed this entry and the consideration that went into it too. Props if you did read this post on mobile.

If you have any tricks up your sleeve for mobile-friendly copy, any particular guidelines you’ve found most effective, please share in the comments! Feel free to share pictures of your cat too, it’s only fair.