Google will soon be launching the mobile-first index, which has digital marketers steadily preparing for an explosion of micro-moments. This shift has brought about a significant amount of noise, but this particular trend has been in the works for years, which is good news because it means that we have lots of data on hand in regard to what works and what doesn’t work with mobile SEO campaigns.
Of course, mobile SEO and desktop SEO are two completely separate things, even if they are distinct in somewhat subtle ways sometimes. Over time, especially as the usage of mobile devices grow, we can expect that behaviors and expectations of consumers will change. We will have to do more than just resize the desktop website for smaller screens.
In addition, the proof that desktop and mobile algorithms need to properly operate based on an assortment of varying factors is literally right in front of our eyes.
You can take screen shots – one from a search query on a desktop and one from a search query on a mobile device – and see that there are multiple differences between the two devices. While the listing order may be relatively similar on both devices, the user experience and interaction is very different. This is particularly true if you were to use a location-specific search query, though a non-location-specific search query would still show enough embellishments to make the two obviously different and distinguishable from one another.
Instead of attempting to break down the algorithms that Google has in place into a readable list of ranking factors, it would make more sense to focus on what you can do to help your mobile website gain more traffic. Based on previous experience with successful mobile SEO campaigns, we have broken it down into three individual groups: 1) Context; 2) Speed and Accessibility; and 3) User Engagement Signals.
Below, we will begin by examining the reasons that mobile SEO is different, then we will discuss practical tips in each of three categories that will help marketers (and others) improve mobile site performance via organic search.
There are a variety of sensors in smartphones today that allow them to comprehend our environment. Magnetometer, accelerometer and proximity sensors are just some of the sensors that can be found in today’s mobile devices.
Smartphones have the capability of creating a large amount of data and mobile device companies aren’t scared to capture that data and utilize it to their advantages. This shouldn’t surprise us, as there are plenty of other everyday devices, such as vacuum cleaners, that can now capture data.
Below is a redacted and brief list of factors that is used by Google to shape the search results on mobile devices:
- Current time and date
- Current day of week, month and season
- Past, current and/or future weather forecast from the location of an event that was previously attended by the user or the user’s friend
- Information from the user’s calendar, including information from the user’s friends
- Information that is accessible via the user’s social media accounts
- Health statistics and/or characterizations of the user’s existing health
You can get a sense of what is occurring here without even reviewing the full-length list. Technology companies are more aware of what is going on in our lives, and know more about us individually, than ever before thanks to our cell phones.
Of course, Google has made a difference as well with changes in how searches are made – or at least how the search engine giant designates the centroid for searches. The centroid is now a user’s phone, which makes a local search much more personalized. While this definitely affects local listings that are within Google Maps, it can also impact the content that appears in traditional SEO listings.
Marketers must be able to fully comprehend the content of a user in order to satisfy his or her search query, especially when you consider all the advances that have been made in regard to semantic search.
While there are no clear-cut rules that you should follow, there are some best practices surrounding context that you can utilize to help improve your overall SEO performance.
- Split Search Volume by the Type of Device – By doing this, you will be able to understand the search queries that are occurring primarily on either desktop or mobile. By becoming familiar with this, you will be able to develop content that caters to the ideal user experience. For example, mobile content tends to be two-thirds shorter than desktop content.
- View Your Content with a User Agent Switcher – This will allow you to view your content from a number of different devices. The extension is available on Firefox as well as Chrome. You can use the Mobile Phone Emulator if you find the need to input specifics for phone dimensions.
- Focus on Creating Content That Responds to the Needs of Your Users – Generally, you would create content that matches user’s search queries, and while this is still important, you also need to consider their needs. This could mean that you create content that has a lot of images in it rather than only text-based content. You can pinpoint exactly what you need to focus on by tracking universal search results.
- Track Ranking Performance on Multiple Media Formats, Territories and Devices – By tracking this performance, you will get a much bigger and more effective picture of the frequency of your domain showing up in the search results. This can be achieved in the Search Console and Data Studio when combined with your usually rank tracking software.
#2: Speed and Accessibility
SEO is more than simply having an answer than is thorough and relevant. You also need to have a website that is quick to provide it or your users will go elsewhere to find it. This is extremely important since Google is supporting Accelerated Mobile Pages, and it is paying off so far. Introduced early in 2016, AMP pages run on a version of HTML that helps to decrease how long it takes for a page to load. These pages use significantly less data to load, which means that it is beneficial for users. One survey has shown that more than 60 percent of online users would look for an AMP page due to the lighter and faster experience that they would receive from it.
These pages were originally seen a big advantage for publishers – and roughly 70 percent of stories on Google News are AMP-enabled, though retailers have begun to use them now. Actually, publishers found certain challenges with monetizing AMP pages, yet e-commerce sites found long-term benefits with them. With the support from AdSense and AdWords, it looks like there is no other choice than to jump on board with Accelerated Mobile Pages or fall behind.
And, when you add in Twitter Moments and Facebook Instant Articles, it is obvious that speed is critical.
Of course, it is important to realize that you cannot simply remove certain assets in order to strip down your pages. Your site structure needs to remain sound and your content needs to be accessible by Google, Apple, Facebook, etc. Here is what you need to know:
- The Mobile Site Testing Tool has recently been upgraded by Google, so it now has the ability to generate reports with specific recommendations that you can forward on to your development team.
- Interstitial pages that are standing between users and pages that they want to access should be removed. Google has become more severe on their stance on this with an algorithmic penalty as of early 2017.
- With the roll-out of Android Instant Apps, it is obvious where things are headed. Users are not interested in installing and loading individual applications. With this new initiative, they can enjoy a multitude of benefits that apps bring without having to deal with the downsides that they often bring. This is now open to any and all developers, so you may want to get started if you haven’t already.
- If you are a developer that is a bit behind, you can get up to speed by looking at the wealth of tutorials on the AMP Project website. There, you will also find a number of useful plug-ins that you can utilize on content management systems (CMS), such as WordPress, which means you don’t even need to know the code to use it to your advantage.
- Make sure to use AMP for your AdWords landing pages. There is a lot of helpful advice at your disposal thanks to Google and it is important that you implement this as early as possible.
- Google has an entire list of SEO best practices for mobile that for organic search marketers can use to their benefit. Most of these tips are pretty basic that will assist in getting your website indexed, which won’t help you in a cut-throat market.
- Do not look at accessibility as just a technical term. Content needs to remain accessible to users when it loads. Readable.io is a tool that can help you in ensuring that you are creating content at a suitable level of complexity.
#3: User Engagement Signals
Google has changed the way it indexes and ranks sites due to the fact that mobile devices have become so popular. This has become far more complex than most expected. Because of this, the launch of the mobile-first index was delayed by Google; however, it is now going to be launched on a site-by-site basis.
Google is essentially looking at a launch that is quality neutral. In doing so, Google must replace some signals that it once used to rank search results. This is why it is taking so long to launch the mobile-first index.
Apart from reducing the amount of metadata that mobile sites have when compared to desktop sites, links are simply less important when it comes to mobile sites. This is because users are sharing content on apps more often, which can create a problem for search engines that relies heavily on links.
In this mobile-driven age, some of the other ranking signals are a bit more difficult to pin down. One engineer with Google said in an interview that it isn’t as obvious when a user looks at a particular search result and likes it or does not like it. Google is now trying to examine whether a user is staying on a site, which is called a long click, or if they are going back to the search results page in order to find another result, which is called a short click.
While some experts report that external links are not as important when it comes to SEO ratings on mobile, the truth of the matter is that they do matter. However, they just matter in a different way. Links can be purchased and even manipulated, but it is more difficult to fabricate user engagement factors over an extended period of time.
With that being said, there are a few things that you need to keep in mind when you are optimizing your mobile site for user satisfaction:
- Data analysis needs to be the foundation of your SEO efforts. Evaluate how users are accessing your website, what they are doing when they arrive on your website, and where they are on your site when they are leaving. All of this data should be in your analytics dashboard so that you can have real-time access to it. There is a good chance that Google is utilizing very similar metrics to determine whether your website is satisfying a user’s request.
- Take a look at the performance of your landing pages, especially since RankBrain’s launch. Do you notice any correlation between your SEO rankings and user engagement metrics like time on page, bounce rate, etc. In many cases, you will see your top-performing pages from a user experience perspective will have a boost in SEO.
- Links really do still matter. You just need to look at them from a different point of view. So, instead of simply paying attention to external link volume, you will want to focus a bit more on whether or not your links are driving relevant traffic to your website.
- Incorporate CRO and user experience into your SEO campaigns. If you do not take the time to boost your overall website experience, then you can’t expect for any of the improvements made with SEO rankings to actually stay for the long-term.
If you are still a bit confused about mobile SEO, that’s okay and it is completely understandable. Luckily, we have a qualified team of SEO experts that can help you out. Give us a call or send us an e-mail and we will be happy to answer any questions that you may have. We can even work with you on setting up a mobile SEO campaign, so don’t hesitate to reach out to us at WebDetail today.