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Mobile SEO & Google's New Algorithm: Everything You Need to Know

Posted by Chris Field on Apr 3, 2015 3:57:00 PM

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On April 21st, 2015, Google rolled out a huge change to their search engine ranking algorithm which will affect every site that isn't mobile friendly. This is said to be one of the biggest changes to their algorithm in years. Bigger than Penguin, Panda, Venice, and Hummingbird. It is said that the change will affect 40% of websites out there, and we want to make sure that your site isn't penalized. If your company's website does get docked, your site will be dropped off the first page of Google in favor of one of your competitor's websites.

The goal of the new algorithm, according to Google's Webmaster Blog, is to "make it easier for users to find mobile-friendly web pages." Unfortunately, there is no gray area here; you are either mobile friendly and you pass the test, or you are considered not mobile friendly and you should expect to see website traffic from organic search suffer soon after that.

Why are they doing this? Think about the last time you were surfing the web on your phone. When you found the website you were looking for, did you have to pinch and zoom? Was the font really tiny? Were the buttons too close together? When you tried to click the link did it bring you to a different page? Frustrating isn't it? I'm guessing that you left that website and found a site that was optimized for mobile browsing.

Google wants to change that and get rid of your frustration.  

This algorithm update is a great thing if you built a mobile-friendly website in the last 24 months using responsive design. If you haven't, now is the time to do something about it. If you aren't deemed to be mobile friendly after April 21st, I'm guessing that your rankings will fall and your traffic numbers will decline rapidly. Don't give your competition an easy way to outrank you and win the prospect. Make the investment now to protect a critical asset to your company's success online.

What I'm reading is they will provide a better user experience for a mobile searcher by increasing rankings for mobile friendly sites with responsive design. Because SEO is a zero-sum game, and not everyone can be on page 1 of Google, this also means that if your website is not mobile friendly and does not give the mobile user a great user experience, your rankings will plummet. I'm a firm believer that rank isn't everything. Converting high-quality traffic into high-quality leads, and converting qualified leads into paying customers is the main goal. Rank does help you get there, though.

The first step in the inbound marketing process is getting found. If Google thinks your website isn't mobile friendly, it will be near impossible to get found. And when you don't get found, you don't get leads. If you don't get leads, your inbound marketing campaign is going to fail.



You may be asking yourself, does this really matter? Will it affect my bottom line? I am confident that it will, but I'd like you to see for yourself BEFORE the 21st. You can have your own opinion, but you can't have your own math. I love being a data analysis geek, so let's look at the numbers. Sign into your Google Analytics account, on the left side click "Audience" and then "Mobile" and then "Overview." You will see a breakdown of Desktop, Mobile and Tablet visitors.  How much of your traffic is coming from Mobile? Imagine losing that traffic to a competitor? Imagine that business and revenue going somewhere else just because your site isn't mobile friendly. If you have conversion tracking set up, you'll be able to see how much revenue is coming from each category. (If you don't have conversion tracking set up in Google Analytics, call us). One of our clients has generated $11,683.64 from smart phones in the last 30 days. I'd hate to see that revenue disappear. Like Shakira's hips, these numbers don't lie.

Side note: Searches made from tablets will not be affected by this algorithm update, but why wouldn't you want to provide tablet users with a great user experience as well.  Serving up your desktop site to someone on an iPad is so 2011.




The team at Google hosted a Q&A the other day and drop some knowledge on the change and how to stay in their good graces. One of the highlights I pulled out was about the new algorithm, "It is based on the criteria we mentioned earlier, which are small font sizes, your tap targets/links to your buttons are too close together, readable content and your viewpoint. So if you have all of those and your site is mobile friendly then you benefit from the ranking change."

And another gem "But as we mentioned earlier, there are over 200 different factors that determine ranking so we can’t just give you a yes or no answer with this. It depends on all the other attributes of your site, weather it is providing a great user experience or not. That is the same with desktop search, not isolated with mobile search." 



Ok, so what now? To begin, you need to know where you stand with the big G. Pull out your phone and Google your company name. If you aren't on the first page, you have bigger problems with your organic search engine optimization (Call us, we would be glad to help). Do you see your site listed? Just below your Title Tag and URL, you should see "Mobile-Friendly" in gray font before your Meta Description Snippet. If you don't, Google thinks that your site needs to be optimized for mobile and you need to make the changes asap.


Let's go a few steps further:

Start by running your website through Google's Mobile-Friendly Test here: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly



After you put your company's URL in there, you will see a page like this. Hopefully, you pass the test and don't have any errors.



Did it pass the test? No? We want you to be awesome too, so let's fix the errors.

To identify any major errors that could potentially hurt your mobile rankings and organic traffic, click here: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-usability 


After you select your website, you should see a report like this.



If you have errors, don't hide your head in the sand. Fix the problems. Now. 

Step 1: Getting Started On A Mobile Friendly Website

Choose your mobile configuration: Sounds funny, but you need to tell Google that your site is smartphone friendly and signal to Google that each page is formatted for mobile.

The best option is to build your website with mobile friendly, responsive design which automatically tells Google you are mobile optimized. With responsive design, your URL and all of the code on your site stays the same, but the website automatically optimizes and renders itself for the width of the screen the user is using. This is the way that Google recommends to do it.

The second best option is called Dynamic Serving. You will still use the same URL but the code that gets served up is completely different for desktop and mobile users. This is based on what the server knows about the users browser, which at times loads the wrong code for mobile users.

The last option is having separate URLs. For example having your mobile URL be "m.redwheel.com" and your desktop URL be "www.redwheel.com." Having separate URLs allows the server to serve different code to different types of devices. The server tries to figure out what type of device the user is using and then redirects the user to the correct URL by incorporating HTTP redirects. This was extremely popular before 2008. This option is not recommended. Trust me, you don't want to be doing anything that was popular before 2008.

Step 2: Allow Google To Access and Crawl Everything

Don't use robots.txt to block anything on your site. Google needs to be able to crawl all JavaScript, pictures, CSS, and all HTML on your site. If they don't have access to the CSS, JavaScript and HTML, they may not realize that your website is optimized for the mobile web and therefore not display your site on the mobile search engine results page. Hiding code behind the robots.txt prevents Googlebot and their algorithms from correctly indexing your content and hurts your ranking.

Step 3: Make All of Your Content Mobile Friendly

Avoid using Flash video players and other unplayable content on a smart phone. Unplayable content can tick your users off and definitely provides a bad mobile user experience.

The solution? Implement HTML5 standard tags and mobile friendly video-embedding (YouTube, Wistia, Vimeo) that is playable on all devices. We also recommend that you transcribe all of your video content to give the mobile viewer the option to read the content of the video. Due to slow load speeds, and video chewing up a lot of mobile data, not having headphones available when they come across your site, some users would prefer to read the info you are sharing.

Step 4: Focus on Mobile Page Load Speed

The goal here is to make your mobile website pages load in under 1 second. Remember the mid '90s when we would have to wait 10 seconds for a webpage to load on AOL? The modern equivalent of that 10 second wait time is now is less than a second. Yes, we are getting more and more impatient as the years go on and our attention spans are shorter and shorter. If you make your mobile user wait longer than a second, they are likely to push the back button and click on your competitor's website. Not only is this bad user experience, but Google doesn't like it either. As a wise woman once said, "Ain't nobody got time for that."

Head over to https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights to see how fast your site loads. Do everything you can to decrease the time it takes to load your page. If you don't have the green check mark from Google and you see the orange exclamation mark, you have work to do.  



Don't Ignore This Google Algorithm Update!

Now you know what is going to happen on April 21st with Google's algorithm and the priority that Google will place on mobile-friendly websites. Based on past experience, only a few of you will take action and invest your resources to make the changes to your website so you pass the mobile friendly test. Because Google made this fairly black and white, this is one of the easiest things that you can do to improve your SEO, rank higher on Google and generate more traffic for your site.

If you need help or have any questions, please give us a call.



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Topics: SEO