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?

Healthcare Marketing: Where Is the Puck Headed?

While there may be more professional ways of saying it, 2017 was a crazy year in healthcare marketing. Will they repeal and replace? What will happen with CHIPS funding? Will Medicaid be turned into a block grant program? Will CMS continue to move toward bundled payments?

Four signs point to where healthcare marketing is headed.
Four signs point to where healthcare marketing is headed.

While there may be more professional ways of saying it, 2017 was a crazy year in healthcare marketing. Will they repeal and replace? What will happen with CHIPS funding? Will Medicaid be turned into a block grant program? Will CMS continue to move toward bundled payments?

If the uncertainty at the federal level didn’t make your head spin, the pace of health system mergers might have — reaching an all-time high of 115 announcements. Now that we are three months in 2018, what can we expect for the rest of the year?

To be an effective marketer, you need to be aware of the macro forces shaping the industry and try to gauge what they could mean for the health of your region and your hospital or health system. It’s about considering where the hockey puck will be in two to three years, not just where it is right now. That type of thinking is great when the trends are fairly clear but harder to do when the environment is uncertain. There’s some bad news and some good news.

First, the bad news. The federal government will continue to roil healthcare in 2018, even though the likelihood of substantial legislative change diminishes as mid-term elections get closer. Merger activity will continue as providers try to develop sufficient scale so that future financial uncertainties can be managed. The number of consumers who have health insurance through the Exchanges will gradually decline because of the elimination of the penalty for tax filings in 2019.

The good news is that some tasks and trends will continue onward, and March is an ideal time to solidify your plans. Here are four things that haven’t changed:

The Move Toward Mobile

Hopefully your site already is mobile-friendly, but what does it let you do? Is your provider directory mobile friendly? Do the search results display in a click-to-call format? Can new or established patients request or schedule an appointment right from their phone? Does it render a map with location-aware driving instructions?

Time invested in improving the functionality of your mobile-friendly site is time well-spent.

Increasing Growth of Voice-Based Search

The popularity of voice assistants for the home is accelerating the use of voice-based searching. Voice-based searches often involve phrases such as ‘near me’ or ‘open now’ (or are implied) and are constructed differently than a keyboard-based search.

Find a search engine optimization firm with specific experience in voice-based search to ensure your visibility remains high as this type of usage increases.

Increasing Medicare and Medicare Advantage Coverage

Demographics are driving up enrollment in these programs, which has an impact on who you target, messaging, fulfillment, and use of communication techniques that increase Annual Wellness Visits or that decrease costly inpatient readmissions.

Dig into your local demographics and seek out multi-year sponsorships or tie-ins that elevate your brand among aging-in beneficiaries. Develop an outreach program that encourages seniors to use their Annual Wellness Visit benefit.

Research Is Worth It

When the environment is uncertain, you may notice an increase in suggestions about what you should be doing. Marketing is really about understanding the needs of your prospects and meeting those needs through services, communications, intake, and retention elements that make the journey a breeze.

If you have an objective, third-party research study about what your audiences want, you have a better chance of reframing conversations to how to address the needs of end-users.

Need help organizing your thoughts? This template can help.

In 2018, New Challenges for SEO Await

In December 2016, I wrote about search trends for 2017. As 2018 is about to begin, it seems appropriate to look back at how accurate my trend analysis was and peek forward into what challenges await in 2018.

voice search
“Sorry, didn’t catch that,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by Ruth Hartnup

Moving into the digital age has left me regretting my tradition of breaking out the new desk calendar during the last weeks of the year. I have kept both daily and weekly calendars for many years; and each year, I would spend an hour or two moving birthdays and significant dates to the new calendar. I also used the time to pause and reflect on what the new year would bring. The blank pages in the calendar were always an invitation to set lofty goals and make large plans.

In December 2016, I wrote about search trends for 2017. As 2018 is about to begin, it seems appropriate to look back at how accurate my trend analysis was and peek forward into what challenges await in 2018.

At the start of 2017, three strong trends/challenges stood out:

  • The imperative for faster site speed
  • The need to put mobile first in all SEO plans
  • The push for secure sites

How have these played out? Did site owners move on these imperatives? What new imperatives await in 2018?

Site Owners Are Still Working on Making Their Sites Faster

Site speed is now a confirmed ranking factor particularly for mobile sites — which is where most of the traffic growth is. If your site does not load in less than three seconds, you still have work to do.

The SEO literature is filled with information on how to speed up the venerable desktop search, but the frontier is mobile. It is a frontier that is increasingly settled by those who have understood the linkage of speed to success in search, usability and conversion.

Achievements are being made. But just as world records will fall in the 2018 Olympics, so, too, will site owners achieve even greater speed in 2018.

To stay in the game in 2018, don’t let up; continue to seek improvements on site speed.

Mobile Is First, It Hears a Voice

The continued growth of mobile is now being fueled by voice searches. Faster than fingers and perfectly adapted for multi-tasking searchers, voice-driven mobile searches will be a major trend in 2018.

Voice search is showing strong adoption by younger searchers, the digital natives, who think off of the box on the desktop.

Highlighted in my 2017 analysis, the need to go fast and mobile is still an imperative in 2108. This has not changed. Mobile is still a fast-hot trend.

The use of accelerated mobile pages (AMP) has been growing, but there are still significant challenges for creating these thin, fast pages for feature-rich commerce sites. The use and applications for AMP will continue to grow and improve over the next year.

Google has recently announced that starting in February 2018, it will be enforcing content parity for AMP users. Some site owners looking for the proverbial easy way out have been creating teaser pages that are AMP that require that user to click again to get all of the page content.

An example might be a news site that gives just a single paragraph on the AMPed page, but forces the user, who wants to see the entire story, to click again.

AMP was developed as a means of creating fast, lean pages — not teaser pages. In 2018, expect to see Google continue to protect the integrity of the AMP initiative by insisting that AMP users play by the rules.

As an SEO Trend, Secure Sites Have Jumped the Shark

A quick breeze through search results will show you that most top-ranked sites are now secure. If your site is still not secure, a pity to you and your impaired search results.

Today, having a secure site is a must if you want to enjoy the fruits of holding top spots in the search results. It is no longer trending. It has gone mainstream.

What New Challenges Lie Ahead for 2018?

For 2018, the question is the answer. As voice search grows, the language and syntax of search is changing. Search queries are no longer just short syntactically challenged typed Boolean strings.

Increasingly, queries are conversational questions: “Where is the nearest supermarket?” This query might be spoken into a handheld device or even a nearby digital assistant.

In response to this new line of questioning, Google now features question-and-answer snippets in the search engine results page. These featured snippets include links to the source of the answer. This is highly prized real estate, and search marketers will be well-served in 2018 to focus on having quality content that answers questions.

In 2018, the changing SERP page cannot be overlooked. Google recently expanded the length of the descriptions that appear in the results to provide more descriptive and useful information for users. This is a key must-do assignment for 2018. Review what Google is presenting in the results page for your key performing pages. Look at the snippet. If it generated by Google, consider if it is what you really want to see. For key pages, give them a rub and scrub, buff them up a bit so that they perform better and watch the results.

From this view, 2018 will be more challenges, but the results will be incremental. It is time to review your individual responses to this changing industry and turn the page to the new year with new, big plans in mind.

The Future of Retail Is in a Data Stream Near You

For all of the digital disruption, store closures and bankruptcies, the retail industry still has not had its transformative “moment.” While some might see a slow death through a thousand cuts, there’s really no need for such doom and gloom.

Retail
Magnificent Mile, Chicago, Nov. 13 | Credit: Chet Dalzell

For all of the digital disruption, store closures and bankruptcies, the retail industry still has not had its transformative “moment.” While some might see a slow death through a thousand cuts, there’s really no need for such doom and gloom. Unless you’re a retailer that can’t handle change.

For every piece of negative news out there, there’s a slew of innovation happening now. Even at the macro level, retailing is thriving!

First off, consumers are still shopping. Despite $1.2 trillion in student debt and $800 billion in credit card debt, the American consumer has resilience and fortitude. The National Retail Federation forecasts 3 percent-plus growth in retail spending this year.

But don’t dare measure retail health any more in year-over-year “comps” (comparable sales by store).

The metrics of success are undergoing a (sea) change — much because the customer journey is changing … rapidly. Smartphones, tablets, kiosks, websites, search… and stores — it’s all in the mix. And it’s not just Millennials who are all over the customer journey map.

To capitalize on today’s highly personalized paths to purchase, data is the currency that’s making a difference. In its most recent U.S. Retail Industry StatPack 2017 (download access), eMarketer reported:

“If I can start to take browsing history, social media history and tie that to your transaction history, I can start to do very specific segmentation … If you can master the data, you can really target customers with what they want and optimize your marketing,” said Michael Relich, COO, Crate & Barrel.

“There has been device proliferation in natural consumer shopping behavior,” said David Doctorow, head of global growth, eBay. “To serve customers well, we have to identify them no matter the device they’re interacting with us on.”

So much for CPMs and sales per square foot.

Look at these profound shifts in retail ad spending. Retail dominates U.S. digital ad spend among vertical categories, primarily because of e-commerce competition. Retail accounts for 21.9 percent of total U.S. digital ad spend, and will grow 15.8 percent this year to more than $18 billion. (Automotive and Financial Services — second- and third-ranked industries, respectively — each net around 12 percent of total U.S. digital ad spend, for comparison). Kantar reports that TV retail ad spend sits at $7 billion — digital’s nearest above-the-line neighbor.

Within digital advertising categories, tried-and-true display ads have nearly closed the gap with search — the former helped by mobile display and digital video display ads targeted to Millennials, eMarketer reports. Video is now 14.2 percent of total digital ad spend among retailers, and more than half of this spend is purchased directly with premium video sites. Meanwhile, programmatic ad spend is driven by retailer spending on social media: Facebook, Instagram and elsewhere, though brands reportedly are cautiously guarding where their ads appear — turning to “private, one-to-one setups to buy high-quality inventory.”

Search ads, as one might guess, prevail in retail’s mobile ad spend, as consumers conduct price comparisons and look for product reviews and recommendations while in-store.

And what of Amazon, the so-called retail killer? On the contrary, Amazon (and other marketplace platforms, such as Walmart) “storefronts” may prove a survival mechanism for many stores — though don’t expect that highly sought path-to-purchase data to find its way back to the retail brand. Data usually is not shared outside the “walled garden.” According to retail consultant Ryan Craver, speaking recently at Marketing Idea eXchange, half of Amazon’s U.S. product sales are now sold through third-party vendors (storefronts).

Yes, there’s more to today’s and tomorrow’s retail story than data-driven targeting and marketing … yes, physical stores need to be destinations, malls need to be destinations, retail may need to entertain, etc. But mass marketing is scaling to 1:1 personalization, anonymized or other, through data. Recognize that customer well, she will reward you. Sounds a lot like the 19th Century shopkeeper, virtually yours.

Should You Create a Mobile App?

As a marketer, you’ve created a Web page, established a social media presence and even experimented with mobile marketing. Is it time for the next step? Should you create a mobile app so your customers can engage with you more easily?

Mobile appsAs a marketer, you’ve created a Web page, established a social media presence and even experimented with mobile marketing. Is it time for the next step? Should you create a mobile app so your customers can engage with you more easily? According to the “Synchrony Financial 2017 Digital Study,” 63 percent of the U.S. population over the age of 15 have downloaded a retail app. The average adult has two retail apps on their phone at any given time.

Why People Download Mobile Apps

What are the driving forces causing customers to download retail apps? According to our study, the top reason why people download a mobile app was because they frequently shop at the brand — 51 percent said they downloaded an app for this reason. As a marketer, your most loyal customers are the best targets for an app.

The second reason was to make a purchase, at 48 percent, followed by the desire to browse and compare prices, at 37 percent. So, if you are planning on launching a mobile app, ensure that it’s easy to buy and browse products on it. These are driving factors for your customers.

Who are most likely to download mobile apps? You guessed it, it’s the Millennials. Millennials are downloading apps in huge numbers. Eighty-one percent of those aged 26 to 35 said they have downloaded a retailer app on their phone. The top reasons are the same, to browse, buy and compare prices.

Retailer App EngagementMost Important Mobile App Features

OK, so you’ve launched your mobile app. Now, you want to get people to use it, right? Well, do you know which features are most important to your customers? Below are the top-rated app features:

  • 69 percent — access to discounts and coupons
  • 30 percent — ability to order products quickly
  • 27 percent — product search feature
  • 23 percent — ability to make payments and check balances

So, the number one feature customers want from an app is the ability to save money and access to special offers. Other features that rate highly are speed, product search and payment-related features. If you want your customer to regularly use your mobile app, keep these features in mind. A few surprise and delight perks are always great ways to get customers interested and engaged.

Why Good Mobile Apps Go Bad (or Get Deleted)

The top reason mobile apps get deleted was due to poor functionality. Thirty-five percent of people deleted apps for this reason. If your app has poor functionality, doesn’t meet your customers’ needs or customers have a bad experience, your app will most likely get deleted. There is only so much space on a smartphone and today’s digital consumer doesn’t have much patience for a dysfunctional mobile app.

Coming in as a close second reason for deletion was simply that the app didn’t provide enough value. Thirty-four percent of consumers said they deleted a mobile app because they didn’t see the value in keeping it. This is a warning sign! Even if you spend the time and effort developing an app that runs great, if you don’t provide enough perks or benefits, it just won’t matter — it will get deleted.

In our hypercompetitive world of digital engagement, it’s important to prioritize our digital programs. One of the strategies to explore is engaging with your customers through your own mobile app. If that’s the case for you, be aware of the delighters and pain points for mobile app usage. It can be a great way to engage, but it can also be a lot of work for a minimal amount of gain, if not done correctly.

Note: The views expressed in this blog are those of the blogger and not necessarily of Synchrony Financial. All references to consumers and population refer to the survey respondents from the Synchrony Financial 2017 Digital Study unless otherwise noted.

Mastering Micro Moments: How to Win With a Connected Consumer

We’ve all seen the shocking statistics: consumers check their phones 150 times a day, etc. This reality has given rise to what Google dubbed “Micro Moments” — those little windows of time when a consumer is trying to get something done, and is most open to a brand message. The modern marketer must become a master of understanding and exploiting these little opportunities in order to advance their brand agenda.

Mobile Micro MomentsWe’ve all seen the shocking statistics: consumers check their phones 150 times a day; they look at them first thing upon waking up and lasting thing before sleeping; they see thousands of brand messages in the course of the day; and they multi-task across apps and to-dos like a hamster on crack. And truth be told, we all probably uncomfortably recognize these behaviors in our own daily life. This reality has given rise to what Google dubbed “Micro Moments” — those little windows of time when a consumer is trying to get something done, and is most open to a brand message. The modern marketer must become a master of understanding and exploiting these little opportunities in order to advance their brand agenda.

The good news is that there are only about 5,000 vendors of martech, adtech and other tech who are eager to sell you solutions that will let you insert yourself into these fleeting moments. Indeed, one of the great anxieties of the modern CMO is the challenge of understanding, sorting through and selecting from among the bewildering array of data, analytic and tech offerings. There has also emerged a cottage industry of conferences, consultants and publications whose mission is to further the technical execution of connecting with the distracted, mobile consumer.

The bad news is that all the best technology in the world will not complete the mission without a compelling piece of marketing content — and that comes down to smart, curious humans who deeply understand their target. In the rush to leverage the awesome power of analytics and algorithms, it’s critical that marketers remember that they’re connecting with a human being, not a collection of data points. Here are some principles to keep in mind when creating the human message to ride through the technology medium and win the micro moments:

Focus on the Whole Person

In that fleeting moment, you need to strike a nerve to effectively engage their attention and move their thinking or action. This calls for a level of insight and understanding that goes beyond a thin segmentation or persona with a scant few facts. Try to develop an immersive feel for the human you’re trying to reach, keeping in mind the emotional surround of their life, and that particular moment in the day. Think of the cultural context and the notes that will resonate. The book, Sensemaking, by Christian Madsbjerg, provides a compelling framework for this kind of rich, humanistic appreciation of the non-quant side of the equation.

Deliver Value

In some ways, well d-uh, but it’s all too easy to be so focused on your brand objective that you forget the notion of being of service in that moment. Google calls out four objectives the consumer may have: Know, Go, Do or Buy. Let go of the idea that the consumer journey is a one-way path to your cash register, and focus on what they’re trying to do and how you can be helpful in that moment. Always remember to offer value before you ask for it.

Personalization: What’s in It for the Customers?

Too many marketers are personally annoying their customers in the name of personalization. For that reason alone, I am looking for an alternative word for “good” personalization.

personalization-aiAny salesperson would know that remembering a few personal details about a customer or prospect is the first step toward building a relationship. Of course, one shouldn’t be too “salesy,” as anyone can see through manufactured friendliness. Going too far in the wrong direction, the seller can even be seen creepy. That rule equally applies to all types of 1:1 marketing. Just because you know “something” about the person, it doesn’t mean that you “know” the person.

Personalization should be gentle nudges toward relevant products and services for the customers, and it should never be bombardments of seller-centric marketing messages through all imaginable channels. No one deserves such abuse just because she forgot to uncheck some pre-populated checkbox about future marketing messages at some point in the distant past. I bet even marketers feel abused when they open their personal email boxes.

Too many marketers are personally annoying their customers in the name of personalization. For that reason alone, I am looking for an alternative word for “good” personalization.

If marketers think that they are still in control just because they got to have a few tidbits about their customers in some fancy Big Data platform, well, they are utterly wrong. They are not in control at all any more. In the age of multichannel marketing, consumers are trained to ignore things that look even remotely salesy. Age of mobile? Forget that, too. You don’t own that customer just because he downloaded your app a long time ago and forgot to purge it. How many apps do you routinely use on your smartphone?

Modern human beings look at six to seven types of screens every day — as big as a billboard and as small as a wristwatch. Marketers may think that all of those new channels may provide new opportunities to sell. Well, maybe. But only if they do it right. When was the last time an invention of a new channel actually increased demand of certain products (other than the medium, such as the smartphone itself)? During the first dot.com boom, many thought that the Internet would sell more things magically. Now we know better — that people do not buy extra TVs, jeans or sporting equipment, just because there is a new channel through which they can shop.

Yet, most companies created new divisions to handle new channels, as if mastering each domain would attract more customers. No. Maybe they are just annoying their customers using new technologies. Unfortunately for one-track minded marketers, human brains have evolved to ignore unnecessary information from their “personal” point of view.

Our brains do not process all of the things that our eyes see. Case in point? When you land on a familiar Web page, you don’t always notice most banners that are on the right-hand side. You already know where information you seek is located on a certain page. If all of the banners were removed all of a sudden, you would know that the page looked somewhat empty. But that’s it. Like you would notice a piece of furniture was removed, but wouldn’t know what exactly was missing.

The game is about how we gently make people aware that we may have something that “they” may care for. It is about them, not us. To do that, we have to show them something that is relevant to “them.” To do that, we have to know what they are about. To do that, we need to know who they are, and rearrange all of the information that we have around them. And to do that effectively and holistically, we have to fill in the gap — as we will never know everything about everyone — using modeling techniques. Only then, we can stay relevant to them at any time, and we may deserve some of their attention, if only briefly.

The first breakdown in this chain of events is often the fact that we don’t even know who they are, really. Not necessarily in terms of personal identification, but any ID or proxy of a person that binds personal trails of information. Now, since a cookie, IP address or email address do not really represent a person, we should not give up the efforts to collect personally identifiable information and consents from the target individuals. And that is where the question of “what is in it for the customers?” comes in

Surely, no one would give up cherished PII if she know that she was indeed signing up for all of those irrelevant marketing messages. To most of the consumers, “You will occasionally receive relevant offers from us and our respected partners” really means that “You will have to delete a whole bunch emails from us and anyone who purchased information from us on a daily basis, until you explicitly opt out of every one of them separately.” So, just stating that the messages will be relevant isn’t enough. We should really mean it. And it is really hard to personalize every message to everyone through every channel. It involves lots of work regarding data, analytics, content and various technologies (refer to “Key Elements of Complete Personalization”).

On top of the promise of relevancy, the collection of PII should be a beneficial transaction for the customers. Why should they give up their private information? For future savings? Loyalty points? Coupons for the next purchase? An extra 10 percent discount, right now?

I’ve seen retailers who boast of collection rates over 90 to 95 percent for PII and related behavioral data. The trick? There is no trick. They see the value of personal information in this personalization game, and they are just willing to pay for it. That type of investment, of course, only comes to fruition if the organization has the commitment, means and ability to carry out necessary data, analytics and technology work for complete “customer-centric” personalization. And the first step toward that kind of commitment is to share the benefits of increased marketing efficiency — and the right to exist as a seller in this multichannel environment — with the customers.

We came a long way from “Fill-in everybody’s mailbox with seller-centric mailing offers,” by way of “No emails unless you have double-opt-in,” to “Keep bombarding every customer through every channel until they explicitly opt out.” Modern consumers, who are much savvier in terms of digital technologies, are willing to share their information if, and only if, it benefits them. They will let you know who they are, what they are about, where they are, what they are about to do and even what they are thinking. This is the age of social media, after all.

But if they even remotely feel that they are being taken advantage of in any way, if they think a marketer is acting creepy, or if they think their privacy is violated even implicitly, they will sever all ties with the company in question immediately. Some may even go as far as posting damaging images and other content on social media, or seeking legal action against the violators of real or perceived trust in the data exchange. A healthy relationship is founded on the fair exchange of values, and they will determine what is fair or not.

Marketers are not in control of data and technologies when it comes to personalization. Customers are. Marketers are only temporary custodians of information about their customers. And they have to pay a lease on such information, in the form of real value. Further, they have to act like that lease won’t renew all by itself, either. If the customers feel that there is nothing to gain from that relationship — even without a clear violation of privacy — they will cut it out mercilessly. That is how relationships work.

Like every relationship counselor will say, if you want to maintain a good relationship with anyone, first start listening to her and make the relationship mutually beneficial. Then maybe, just maybe, the customers may allow marketers to talk to them once in awhile.

And figuring out how often is often enough and what is most relevant to each customer? That is the key job of analysts in the age of abundant data.

Google’s Mobile-First Index Is Changing the Rules of SEO

Simply put, the mobile-first index is a reversal of how Google indexes websites. Rather than crawl desktop pages, Google will crawl mobile pages instead. Desktop pages are only crawled when websites lack mobile versions. What does this mean for business owners and webmasters?

Mobile-first indexing essentially means Google has done a 180 on which face of your site matters most.
Mobile-first indexing essentially means Google has done a 180 on which face of your site matters most.

Smartphones are everywhere. Roughly three-quarters of Americans now own smartphones, which is incredible considering less than half as many owned smartphones just six years ago, according to the Pew Research Center. Perhaps even more striking is that 92 percent of 18 to 29 year olds own smartphones. The dominance of mobile devices over traditional desktop computers — both in the present and future — couldn’t be clearer. So Google’s new mobile-first index should come as no surprise.

Simply put, the mobile-first index is a reversal of how Google indexes websites. Rather than crawl desktop pages, Google will crawl mobile pages instead. Desktop pages are only crawled when websites lack mobile versions.

What does this mean for business owners and webmasters? Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Gary Illyes tweeted in November that “we’re aiming for a close to quality-neutral launch,” meaning the mobile-first approach isn’t meant to dramatically shake up the search rankings. It’s clear, though, that websites that struggle in mobile browsers could get left in the dust. Google’s mobile-first index is changing the rules of SEO. Here’s how to stay ahead of the curve.

Create a Responsive Website

Hands down, the easiest way to thrive in the year 1 A.D. (after desktop) is to have a responsive website. A responsive website doesn’t have a desktop and a mobile version. Rather, the site is coded to display based on how it is viewed. Someone viewing a responsive site from a desktop might see an expansive home page with a lengthy navigation menu, a sidebar and all kinds of images and content blocks. View the same website from a smartphone, though, and you’ll see a streamlined layout that’s optimized for mobile browsing.

Until now, efficiency was the biggest benefit of having a responsive website. Why spend time optimizing desktop and mobile websites when you could focus your efforts on just one? Now, thanks to Google’s mobile-first indexing, having a snappy mobile website is more critical than ever. Investing in a responsive website makes perfect sense.

If your website is built on the WordPress platform, then creating a responsive design is easy. Most up-to-date WordPress templates are responsive by default, which means you might already have a responsive website. If your WordPress theme isn’t responsive, then you can alter your style sheet to determine how your website displays on differently sized screens, although this requires a familiarity with HTML and CSS coding.

If you have a traditional website (and some experience with web design), you could follow online tutorials to give your site a responsive layout. If all else fails, just hire a web designer to do the job. It’s well worth the cost, unless you don’t mind falling in the search rankings as mobile-friendly competitors pass you by.

Optimize Your Mobile Content

Do you have a responsive website? If so, this isn’t a big deal. But if you’re website has independent desktop and mobile versions, then you might need to optimize the content on your mobile site.

Many mobile websites are designed with less content than their desktop counterparts to improve the user experience on smartphone-sized screens. This didn’t really matter back when Google indexed desktop websites first. But when mobile websites are prioritized over desktop sites, Google might interpret a slimmed down mobile version as being inadequately thin.

Fortunately, you can have your cake and eat it too. Mobile sites can use tabs, expandable boxes and other design elements to implement more content on webpages while still maintaining streamlined, smartphone-friendly layouts. Google might have considered these tactics as spam on desktop websites, but these tactics are completely acceptable for mobile presentations.

Double-Check Standard SEO Elements

For the most part, the traditional rules of search engine optimization apply equally to desktop and mobile websites. Do you have unique, relevant page titles?  Are you using variations of your target keyword in your page headers? Do you have succinct and unique meta descriptions? Is your content well-written and tightly on topic? Is your site based upon a logical site map?

These basic elements of SEO are as important as they’ve ever been. Don’t neglect them.

Make Sure Your Mobile Website Loads Quickly

Page speeds are already important factors in SEO. Now that mobile pages are indexed first, you must make sure that your mobile website loads quickly and seamlessly. If you’ve never seriously optimized your mobile website, then page loads speeds could be an issue.

You have several options for speeding up slow-loading webpages. You can reduce the resolution of images and simplify your layout, especially the “above-the-fold” portion that loads first. More complex solutions include minimizing redirects and server response times.

Get Verified in Search Console

If you have separate mobile and desktop websites, be sure to verify your mobile version in Google’s Search Console. This shows you own the site and affects how Google interprets and indexes it. Don’t forget to also verify mobile apps if you’ve made any.

Conclusion

Google’s mobile-first indexing is the clearest sign yet that mobile web browsing has thoroughly eclipsed desktop viewing. Investing in mobile SEO has been important for several years. Now, it’s absolutely critical. It’s Step 1. Google will still index desktop websites when mobile sites aren’t available, but don’t count on desktop sites getting an edge in the rankings.

Want more tips to improve your search engine rankings? Click here to grab a copy of our Ultimate SEO Checklist.

Mobile’s Market Share Killed the Circus

When I was a kid, running away to join the circus was my dream of choice. The very idea of the smell of the sawdust and the animals, the vagabond life of death-defying trapeze artists and high-wire walkers and the popcorn and cotton candy conjured up a paradise almost too good to be true. When the circus came to town, it was the treat of the year.

circusWhen I was a kid, running away to join the circus was my dream of choice. The very idea of the smell of the sawdust and the animals, the vagabond life of death-defying trapeze artists and high-wire walkers and the popcorn and cotton candy conjured up a paradise almost too good to be true. When the circus came to town, it was the treat of the year.

So this gringo was really sad when The Big Apple Circus announced closure and bankruptcy last summer, ending 38 years of enchantment for kids and adults during New York’s Christmas season. Somehow, the architecturally austere Lincoln Center became a less welcoming place without the Big Apple’s happy multicolored tent dominating the foreground.

Now Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey, the world’s most historic circus, founded in 1871 by the great showman P.T. Barnum, is being forced to fold its tent; victim of an age where magic is increasingly served up on electronic devices available 24/7. Quoted in the New York Times, Kenneth Feld — the 69-year-old boss of the company that owns the circus — complained about “an unforgiving marketplace. It just became too hard for the circus to hold onto its most crucial fans: wide-eyed kids and their nostalgic parents. There has been more change in the last decade than in the preceding 70 years,”

That change has drawn today’s digitally sophisticated youngsters away from the pleasures of watching real performers give everything they have to enchant the audience and earn its applause. Whether it is equestrians performing acrobatics on the backs of horses galloping around the ring at 40 kilometers per hour, an animal trainer coaxing his elephants to dance to the music of the circus band or a family of monkeys mimicking the monkeys in the audience, all great circus acts are the result of years of hard work, often beginning in childhood with circus-performing parents. Each time a circus performer goes to the center of the ring and does his act, he risks failure and, by circus tradition, must do the “trick” again until he gets it right.

Every Brazilian I’ve asked has happy memories of going to the circus as a kid — of the clowns, the acrobats, the magicians and the animals (especially the monkeys). Touring circuses are still very much a  part of the culture, and the circus tent in the middle of rural towns is a favorite subject for Brazil’s naïve artists. But like their Yankee brothers, these circuses have fallen on hard times. Circus Marambio, the fourth generation of a family circus currently performing in São Paulo has juggling, tightrope walking, aerial and clowns — all within a narrative story, “Monkey Island,” about a scientist in a hang glider who crashes on an island of monkeys. He discovers a new world, where man and nature respect and learn from one another. Intentionally or not, there are echoes of Cirque du Soleil, the international success that, since the early 1990s, has become the best-known circus name worldwide, with as many as 10 different shows being performed in different cities around the world at any time.

In one form or another, circuses have been around since Roman times, when trained exotic animals wowed the crowds, while jugglers and acrobats amused guests before the next battle or race commenced. The real circus has been about those jugglers, acrobats and clowns, with animal acts added later. Circus traditionalists rightly say that Cirque du Soleil is not a real circus, however brilliant its staging. It’s a glittery show, but lacking in the essential down-to-earth art of circus — that special magic that used to connect those “wide-eyed kids and their nostalgic parents” to the very human performers in the ring.

As the big circuses close for lack of audience and funding, will there be a return to the intimacy of the traditional family circus or will the artificial magic of the digital world have destroyed one of our most enduring artistic traditions?

Let us hope that the seductive dream of running away to join the circus will not be lost forever.

P.S.: Disclaimer: As a former director of The Big Apple Circus, this gringo was thrilled to learn that as the result of a bankruptcy court-ordered auction, the circus would return this fall for the 2017-18 season, which will coincide with the 40th anniversary of the circus’s first performance in 1977. Lincoln Center and New York audiences will not have lost its gem — at least for the moment.

Endit…

Mobile-First? Mobile-Only? Or Simply Screen-Optimized

The latest comScore report “Cross-Platform Future in Focus 2017” continues to inform as to how we consume content via our total digital (desktop and mobile) devices. I spend much of my digital day on my laptop (all work) — with periodic smartphone interruptions for both work, information on-demand and play, with a smidgeon of tablet (also work and play). But I don’t appear to be typical …

How to Improve the Mobile Shopping Experience for CustomersThe latest comScore report “Cross-Platform Future in Focus 2017” continues to inform as to how we consume content via our total digital (desktop and mobile) devices.

I spend much of my digital day on my laptop (all work) — with periodic smartphone interruptions for both work, information on-demand and play, with a smidgeon of tablet (also work and play). But I don’t appear to be typical …

Since 2013, total digital media usage is up 40 percent — all of it driven by mobile. Smartphone usage is up 99 percent – that’s double since 2013. Tablet use is up 26 percent since 2013, while desktop has declined by 8 percent. I can match the 40 percent time growth in digital easily enough, but I’m still in love with my Lenovo ThinkPad. As a writer and communicator, I just can’t let go of my keypad and (relatively) big screen. My tablet even has a perfectly operational Bluetooth keypad.

I’m sure a generation (or two) ago, it was tough for writers to swap out their typewriters for “word processors.” But look around … times they are a-changing.

You can guess age has something to do with it.

Mobile now represents seven in 10 digital minutes. Dig deeper: 22 percent of 18 to 24 year-old women, and 16 percent of 18 to 24 year-old men are “mobile only.” (Echo Chamber: I’m guessing most mobile-only’s are not white-collar workers with computers in home and office work stations. I can’t think of any of my professional colleagues who do not interact with a PC or laptop.) On the other side, 19 percent of the U.S. market has no smartphone penetration at all — with age 55+ smartphone penetration at just 61 percent.

While mobile platforms definitely prevent a complete divide between digital have’s (those with PCs/laptops + mobile) and have-not’s (those who do not, without even a smartphone), in my mind, there is still not “information” equality between digital and mobile. Do we consume information equally in depth, in time, in audio, in video, in copy length — from one size screen to another? Can attention be held adequately? Can copy be as easily read? Content cannot and should not be packaged the same for both platforms, IMHO. (If it weren’t for mobile, I would have typed out “in my humble opinion.”)

Consider these other effects:

  • Desktop Audiences Amplified: Mobile is a desktop extender – the top 100 digital properties have increased their mobile audiences over their desktop equivalents by a factor of 2.4. This multiple is growing, and probably not coincidentally, most smartphone screens now have 4.5-inch or larger displays — which has flattened the growth of tablets.
  • Wall Strength: Huge growth is happening in time spent inside mobile applications: led by Facebook, Facebook Messenger, YouTube, Google Search, Google Maps, Instagram, Gmail and Google Play. Snapchat, Pandora and Amazon are the largest apps outside the “walled gardens.” Snapchat usage grew by 114 percent.
  • Apps are Changing Behaviors: Apps are changing consumer behavior permanently – from ordering rides, to paying friends, to making dates – by the tens of millions. And some apps are “flash” – Pokémon GO has one-fifth the active user base that it had last July.
  • Millennials are Smart … Phoned: Smartphone penetration among Millennials (ages 18 to 34) is at its saturation point — currently 94 percent. With the big rise in Snapchat, they still spend most their social app time on Facebook, with equal time in Snapchat and Instagram. Snapchat app penetration among Millennials is 60 percent, compared to 95 percent for that of Facebook.
  • Time Spent Digitally: This might also help to explain why the three top digital time uses are social media (20 percent of total digital time), multimedia (14 percent) and entertainment/music (11 percent). One has to go all the way down to 3 percent equally for news and information, email, and search. Mobile is primarily a connection and entertainment vehicle for us. Information-on-demand is hugely important. However, we get it and then get off it.
  • Video: YouTube is the big online video winner and 70 percent of watch-time is on mobile devices, versus 30 percent in desktop. While mobile minutes and monthly videos watched per viewer are dominated by mobile, desktop still gets (just) an edge in average minutes watched per video … 4.7 minutes on desktop average minutes to 3.7 minutes on mobile. Perhaps as display screens expand, and headphones abound, video is becoming just as captivating on either screen.

There’s more to report in this study, including some concerning effects regarding advertising. But like the previous blog post — the perfect mobile ad — we need to be screen-optimizing our content. We also need to plot the customer journey in mobile, and depending on the target audience, place that mobile customer journey first in mind.