Are You Squandering Your Search Budget?

Google has your site on a budget. This is not just the budget that you set for your paid search ads, but this budget is one that Google controls for your organic search. Unless you are mindful of the ways that Google manages their resources and how this impacts your site, you may be squandering the organic search budget that Google allots your site. If you are dependent on search traffic from Google whether organic or paid, you need to consider how you might get more out of what is allotted to you. This may seem like a cynical view, but it is a reality.

Google has your site on a budget. This is not just the budget that you set for your paid search ads, but this budget is one that Google controls for your organic search. Unless you are mindful of the ways that Google manages their resources and how this impacts your site, you may be squandering the organic search budget that Google allots your site. If you are dependent on search traffic from Google whether organic or paid, you need to consider how you might get more out of what is allotted to you. This may seem like a cynical view, but it is a reality.

Before any traffic can flow to your site from search, your site’s pages must be found in Google’s index. It is Google’s stated goal to index the entire world’s content. This means the search giant must continuously crawl the Web to locate new pages and revisit existing pages to ensure that the index is up to date. With billions of pages already available to index and more being created every day, the task is gigantic. Although the crawl is automated and Google’s bots are very efficient, they must be supported by extensive computing resources. Google has had to develop ways to manage its huge crawling resources. The result is that every site has a crawl budget, just how many resources Google will allocate to crawling your site. It is up to you to optimize how efficiently you use your crawl budget. There are a number of things that you may be doing that waste the crawl budget that Google allocates your site. By the way, don’t ever expect to know precisely what your actual budget is; for it is based on a series of complex mathematical formulas—an algorithm.

A small site that seldom changes poses less crawling challenges than a very large site with thousands of frequently-changing pages. Unfortunately, very large sites often sabotage their crawling efficiency and squander their crawl budget. This can have a substantial economic impact for the site owner. For a large ecommerce site, if areas are not crawled and indexed in a timely fashion, it is as if the site owner turned off the lights and signage for a part of the store.

You can obviously squander your budget by using an SEO-unfriendly product filtering systems that create duplicate content or through a clumsy implementation of a new technology such as endless scroll pages. There are other less obvious, but equally insidious ways. Several years ago, Google made available through their Webmaster Tools Sitemaps; whereby, site owners could indicate for Google what pages they wanted crawled. Today, most sites have automated the submission; however, many have taken a “set it and forget it approach.” If this has been your approach, then put a mark on your search task list to revisit your sitemaps and their performance.

Several years ago, Google announced that site speed would figure into their algorithms. It is a simple logical jump to realize that part of this calculation would include not only how fast you deliver your site to a user’s browser, but also how fast Google’s crawlers could traverse your site. If you focused on this briefly and then put it aside as finished, revisit it now. Just how fast is your site? If you use a CDN to speed your site to users, do not assume that you have optimized your delivery for robots. Robots such as Googlebot must be handled as a separate type of user. Any changes made to your technology or architecture should trigger a review of site speed performance for users and robots. If you optimize performance to ensure that you do not waste Google’s crawling resources, you just may find that your site is fully indexed and will most probably rank higher in the search results.

If Your Site Is Not Mobile-Friendly—Fix It Now!

If you rely on search to assist new users in finding your site, you must now make sure that your site is mobile friendly. Here are the reasons. As Google focuses on ensuring the quality of the user’s experience and the number of mobile devices increases, the volume of search traffic going to Google from these devices will continue to grow.

If you rely on search to assist new users in finding your site, you must now make sure that your site is mobile friendly. Here are the reasons. As Google focuses on ensuring the quality of the user’s experience and the number of mobile devices increases, the volume of search traffic going to Google from these devices will continue to grow. Google does not want the user to have a poor experience with their search just because it is done on a mobile device, so Google has been testing a variety of strategies for improving the mobile users’ experience. These focus on offering mobile users results that show sites that are more easily readable and accessible on their phones. With millions of pages to choose from Google can simply select those pages that work best on mobile devices and show them to the user. If your site is not mobile-friendly, now is the time to adjust your site, or it will be demoted.

On Nov. 18, Google made it official that they are adding a “mobile-friendly” label to their mobile search results. This is to guide users toward pages that will display well on their mobile devices. If your site is not already mobile friendly, Google will in essence be steering users away from your content and towards content that displays well on their device. You can expect that this is just a first step. Google added at the end of the announcement that the search engine is experimenting with using the mobile-friendly criteria as a ranking signal. If your site is deemed unfriendly, you will be demoted.

So what makes a site “mobile-friendly” and when does Google decide? The determination will be made based on what Googlebot—Google’s crawler—finds as it follows your site. This lets Google cull out the friendly sites immediately upon the crawl. Googlebot will be looking for a list of criteria that will mark your site as friendly. These criteria include:

  1. Avoidance of the use of software that is not common on mobile devices. This includes Flash, so now is the time to trash the Flash pages, if you have not already done so.
  2. Use of text that is readable without zooming. Think of this from the user’s perspective and you will cheer.
  3. Content that automatically sizes to the screen so users doesn’t have to scroll either vertically or horizontally. (I hear another cheer from mobile users.)
  4. Links that are placed far enough apart that the correct one can be tapped easily. This eliminate a huge frustration for fumble-fingers like me who often inadvertently explore many pages.

All of these criteria are straightforward, and anyone who uses a smart phone for Internet searching will find the criteria refreshing. To assist site owners in making sure that their sites conform to the criteria, Google has provided a number of aids including a mobile-friendly testing tool and guides for how to create mobile-friendly sites. Users of Google’s Webmaster Tools will already find reports on their site’s mobile usability.

Although Google’s initial focus has been on mobile-friendly sites for smart phones, we can expect that in the near future Google will turn its attention to tablets. Users often shop from the comfort of home with their tablets. Google will look to improve the experience of “couch commerce” searchers in the future. If you have been postponing developing a mobile/tablet-friendly site, you can no longer put it off.

Is Your Content Fresh, Frequent and Unique?

Today, your content plays a much larger role in getting top search results than ever before; therefore, it may be time to adjust your SEO content. In September 2013, Google unveiled Hummingbird, the single largest revamp of its basic search algorithm in more than 10 years. The intent of this major change was to improve the speed and precision of the processing. It was also designed to address the changes in searcher behavior as search volumes continue to shift from desktop computers to mobile devices.

Today, your content plays a much larger role in getting top search results than ever before; therefore, it may be time to adjust your SEO content. In September 2013, Google unveiled Hummingbird, the single largest revamp of its basic search algorithm in more than 10 years. The intent of this major change was to improve the speed and precision of the processing. It was also designed to address the changes in searcher behavior as search volumes continue to shift from desktop computers to mobile devices.

Hummingbird uses signals derived from the query and the user’s behavior to assist in delivering a result that quickly and precisely answers what the user really wants to find. When users search on mobile devices, they are frequently asking specific questions in conversational language: “Where is the nearest flower shop?” or “How many miles to … ?” Hummingbird was designed to address these natural language questions and provide specific and precise answers. To be found relevant, your content must address the needs of searchers for real information.

Although Hummingbird is expected to impact 90 percent of searches, many marketers are unaware of its influence on their search traffic. No significant shifts in Web traffic were reported worldwide after its launch. This is because the impact on most well-optimized sites was negligible. This should not be interpreted as a license to maintain the status quo on your search efforts. As users become more accustomed to receiving quality results from their conversational search queries, they will expect content that is honed to specifically address the questions that they form into queries.

To meet these expectations, your content should present answers to the types of questions that might be posed in a search query. It should be rich in useful information that is presented clearly. If you expect your content to appear near the top of the search results, it must meet these three criteria: fresh, frequent and unique. Over time, we can expect to see steadily improving search results for sites that understand and actualize these content requirements.

Fresh content does not necessarily mean that all of your content must be new. If you previously developed, as part of your search program, evergreen pieces, such as “frequently asked questions” or how-to articles, you should revisit them and check how long they have been on your site. Would they benefit from an update or a revision, or just a reformatting? For Google, fresh content is better than stale content. Just as no one really wants to read the stale magazines in the doctor’s waiting room; they don’t want the digital equivalent delivered in response to their search queries. Google obliges this by screening for the newest, freshest content. Now is the time to refresh those evergreen content pieces, even if you have not seen a negative shift in your search volumes. You may be able to capture additional visitors who are seeking answers to those questions that you have cleverly addressed.

Because frequency is another criterion used to evaluate the value of your content, you should be sure to have a schedule for adding more content and for refreshing older pieces. Take a lesson from the success of blog sites. Those with frequent posts of fresh content are rewarded with more search traffic than those with just a few stale posts. Consider how you might apply the same principles to content additions to your website.

Your content must also be unique—not just an aging chestnut. Avoid stale recitations or rehashes of information. Ask yourself: “Does this provide something that is new, unique—or is it just content for the sake of content?” For search success in the future, you will need to pay close attention to your content strategy and deliver fresh, frequent and unique content.