#Mobilegeddon Is 2015’s Y2K for SEOs

Missed in all of the hysteria around Mobilegeddon was the arrival of another algorithmic change, one with a very serious effect. On April 29, Google-watchers and site owners detected another “big” change creating huge drops in traffic for sites impacted. Because this change sneaked in without warning, it has been dubbed “Phantom 2.” The change seems to attack the same problems addressed by Panda — the ever-pervasive and deadly — thin content. There is also speculation that another Penguin is hatching in Mountain View, readying an attack on over-optimization and other violations of Google’s rules of the road.

As the calendar reached April 21, site owners, unable to ensure that their sites were “mobile-friendly,” were anticipating Mobilegeddon — huge ranking drops and dramatic traffic drops as Google implemented its new mobile-friendly algorithmic change. So what happened? On the April 22, there were no huge drops in traffic, penalties galore and havoc wrought. Instead, the results have been reminiscent of the Y2K phenomena where much was made of a potential disaster, but nothing of major consequence occurred. Was Mobilegeddon a fizzle or does it just have slow-burning fuse?

The fact that big changes did not occur in no way signals that sites, not yet designated mobile-friendly, are in the clear, so to speak. It is not atypical for a Google algorithmic change to take a period of time to roll out across the system. I like to think of it in sailing terms. They take the change out for a shakedown cruise and, depending on how it performs, set it off to sail around the globe. The data suggests that Google was already in shakedown mode prior to April 21.

Why did Mobilegeddon pass over us? Was it like an asteroid narrowly missing Earth? Not hardly! The answer is simple. Just as with Y2K, site owners, given advanced warning, were ready. It seems that many site owners, particularly those with top rankings to protect, heeded Google’s warnings and took the steps to ensure that they meet the criteria to be mobile-friendly prior to April 21. With fewer sites eligible (perhaps, a less than desirable state) for demotion for failing to meet the criteria, there is a smaller potential zone of impact. Many top-ranking sites hopped right to it and made sure that they were ready for the “big change;” hence, the big change was a big nothing. It still remains to be seen what the long-term impacts will be.

Missed in all of the hysteria around Mobilegeddon was the arrival of another algorithmic change, one with a very serious effect. On April 29, Google-watchers and site owners detected another “big” change creating huge drops in traffic for sites impacted. Because this change sneaked in without warning, it has been dubbed “Phantom 2.” The change seems to attack the same problems addressed by Panda — the ever-pervasive and deadly — thin content. There is also speculation that another Penguin is hatching in Mountain View, readying an attack on over-optimization and other violations of Google’s rules of the road.

There is a lesson to be learned from this recent set of shocks to the SEO system. Not all of Google’s major changes will be announced. Prompt response to announced changes is insurance against predictable/announced penalties. This is just one element of preparedness. Panda and Penguin updates are part of the landscape and will not always be announced. This makes it important to be ever-vigilant for thin content. I am an avid gardener and regularly prune my plants. It seems that for a site to stay healthy in today’s search ecosystem (that is, achieve and maintain solid rankings), the site managers need to evaluate, prune and enhance their pages to ensure continued growth. Because Panda-type algorithmic changes are going to be an ongoing part of the search ecosystem, site owners and their SEOs need to set a schedule to perform a regular Panda review — a critical look for content that is weak, does not engage the user or has been overwhelmed by boilerplate language to the extent that it offers little real value. I would also like to suggest a similar regular review of overall SEO practices to forestall any raging Penguins hatched in Mountain View. And, remember that the only predictable thing in search is that change is coming.

Any Time Is Search Time for Consumers

At a baseball game the other day, I couldn’t help but notice how many people in my seating area were busy looking at their phones, phablets or tablets. Baseball, with its languorous pace, provides spectators plenty of extra time to search online, check their email, send texts and engage with social media. It seems no one near me at the game was wasting a single moment of this valuable screen time. Savvy sports marketers already know this and regularly encourage social media use, providing hashtags and URLs almost everywhere.

At a baseball game the other day, I couldn’t help but notice how many people in my seating area were busy looking at their phones, phablets or tablets. Baseball, with its languorous pace, provides spectators plenty of extra time to search online, check their email, send texts and engage with social media. It seems no one near me at the game was wasting a single moment of this valuable screen time. Savvy sports marketers already know this and regularly encourage social media use, providing hashtags and URLs almost everywhere. Go to any sporting event and see for yourself just how much online activity is going on all around you. It would be a fair to say almost everybody is constantly online with a mobile device.

This highly distracted behavior is not confined to sporting events. This behavior is the new norm. It is pervasive. Google has recognized this and has adjusted their algorithm to give a boost to mobile friendly sites. There are several clear signals for ecommerce site owners in this shift to mobile. With limited search real estate available on smaller screens and search rankings increasingly difficult to secure, each organic search click becomes more important. They must not be wasted. It is imperative that a site catch the surfer on their first search and direct their attention directly to the product they want with minimal effort; otherwise that searcher may very well move on to another site or to some other online activity. Are you making it as easy as possible for all your visitors to find just what they want almost instantly? That should be the goal.

If your site were perfectly optimized—an ideal, hypothetical, situation, every searcher would conduct a search and find just the right product on the very first try. It doesn’t work that way even in fairy tales. It took Goldilocks three tries to find the “just right” porridge. Are you effectively supporting the customer’s quest through your navigation, and does Google understand how your navigation supports the user? If you cannot answer this in the affirmative, you need to adjust your proverbial sails to catch the wind.

Ask yourself whether your faceting supports a second more refined search query. For example, someone searching for “batting helmets” might want to refine their search to reflect the user (youth or adult), a brand or price preference, or the whether the helmet is for slow pitch softball or high-velocity hardball. Your navigation and its faceting should support this searcher behavior. Does your site make it easy for the first time visitor to quickly find additional options when they arrive from a search engine, or must they go through numerous clicks to see them?

Your navigation should act as a secondary search tool. Google has recognized the value of the navigation, and through site links allows site owners to communicate key navigational elements. We can expect to see Google continue to make efforts to compress more useful information into less space in the search listing in an effort to satisfy the user more quickly. Give your Google listings a quick sanity check and see if they conform to how users look for your products. One quick tip is to review your two and three word phrases and see if they show up when and where you would expect them. Search and shop your own site the next time you are sitting at a ball game with spare screen time. You’ll be surprised at what you might find out.

Should You Make Your Site Secure for Improved SEO Results?

Just this past month Google confirmed that in the future, its search algorithm would be giving a rankings boost to secure sites. This confirms rumors that have rippled through the search marketing industry for several months. This recent change is part of Google’s continuing efforts toward a more secure Web. Like so many pronouncements from Google, this has forced many site owners to reconsider whether to make their sites secure. Site owners need to carefully evaluate the pros and cons of going secure. It may not be either prudent or cost effective at this time.

Just this past month Google confirmed that in the future, its search algorithm would be giving a rankings boost to secure sites. This confirms rumors that have rippled through the search marketing industry for several months. This recent change is part of Google’s continuing efforts toward a more secure Web. Like so many pronouncements from Google, this has forced many site owners to reconsider whether to make their sites secure. Site owners need to carefully evaluate the pros and cons of going secure. It may not be either prudent or cost effective at this time.

When Google made all searches secure and stopped providing site owners the keywords used by searchers to sites, the search giant gave a clear indication of its path and direction toward a ensuring a more secure, safe, Web environment. Google reasoned that it is protecting the identity of the searcher by not providing the keyword referrer. Some find this claim a bit disingenuous, given that the keyword referrer is still available for users of paid search.

The Pros and Cons—A Short Primer
The single-largest benefit gained by making your site secure is a minor algorithmic boost in Google results. This benefit must be weighed against a number of potential negatives and some steep costs. Secure sites run slower than unsecure sites—all that encryption takes more effort than just delivering an unsecure site. Several years ago, Google announced that site speed was going to figure into the rankings formula. At this time, it is unclear whether the rankings boost from having a secure site will be larger than the penalty for slowness. Google does not reveal the valences of its ranking factors, except for declaring some minor. Unless you have made your unsecure site fast and have in place protocols for continuously monitoring and testing your site’s speed, don’t even consider going secure. It will be like adding another brake to it. Your users and your Google rankings will be negatively impacted. A perceived need to possibly go secure in the future should be the impetus to address existing site speed issues.

Then there is the potential for additional penalties for duplicate content, should redirection and canonicalization schemes prove incomplete. The task of shifting and redirecting a very large site into a secure environment is a large task and may require remapping thousands of URLs. No matter how good your team is, you should expect leaks and misses. It is practically built into such projects. If your site is well-mapped and setting redirections and canonicalization are automated, then you may be ready to go secure. If this is not the case, tap the brakes on going secure. You may be creating huge headaches with just minor payback potential.

Did I mention that there are added costs? SSL certificates must be bought and maintained. How often have you gotten a message that a site’s certificate is out of date? You can be sure that Google will take a dim view of sites with expired certificates. Another unnecessary hit! Then, there are the operating costs. Many small businesses rely on gateways and do not manage a secure environment even though they take payments. If your business already has a secure environment in place and you have fully prepared your entire operation for this change, then and only then should you implement having a completely secure site. If you are not ready, consider what steps you should take to get ready and begin the process, for we can expect others to follow Google’s lead in making the Web safer and more secure.