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Is Mobile Search More Than Just Being Mobile “Friendly”?
Columnist Trond Lyngbø answers your frequently asked questions about mobile SEO and Google's upcoming mobile algorithm change.
In 1998, it was important for the owner of an online business to be listed in Yahoo’s directory. That could bring you enough traffic to be profitable. Today, if there’s any equivalent to that tsunami of targeted traffic, it’s in mobile search.
Without a mobile-friendly website, people searching for your products and services on smartphones and other mobile devices won’t find you as easily on Google. Customers decide what to buy, when, and from where — right on their smartphones!
Business owners cannot afford to ignore or avoid this trend. So how can you prepare for mobile search?
Following are the most frequently asked questions I get about mobile search. This isn’t a step-by-step guide to mobile SEO, but hopefully it should cover some of the more pressing issues faced by business owners in adapting to the shift to mobile.
The main objectives of this column are to:
- Answer popular questions about mobile search and SEO for mobile units.
- Help you avoid common traps and pitfalls when stepping into the world of mobile and multi-channel marketing.
- Challenge some well-established dogmas and “rules” in marketing and sales that have become barriers in the “new age” of mobile search.
Question #1: Why Do We Need A Mobile-Friendly Website?
As of April 21, when Google rolls out its new mobile-friendly algorithm, sites that aren’t mobile-friendly will rank lower in search results than if they were mobile optimized.
The search engine won’t block or remove your site for not being optimized for mobile search (as Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller recently confirmed), but you’ll have fewer sales because mobile searchers won’t be able to find you as easily. If your competitor has a mobile-friendly website, they’ll have a distinct ranking advantage over you.
Question #2: Is It True That A Mobile-Friendly Website Is Optimized For Mobile Search And Doesn’t Need SEO?
Absolutely not. “Mobile-friendly” only means that your website renders nicely on a mobile device. In other words, your content will be presented neatly on any smartphone or tablet.
But just because your site looks good on a mobile device doesn’t mean it’s optimized for mobile search. Mobile optimization depends on several factors like technical implementation, coding and content. It requires an integrated effort across multiple disciplines, including off-page factors.
Question #3: How Can I Tell If A Page Is Mobile-Friendly Or Not?
A quick way to determine if a page is mobile-friendly or not is to use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test Tool. This test will not only assess whether your page has a mobile-friendly design, but will also offer specific advice on where improvements can be made.
Keep in mind that the Mobile-Friendly Test Tool can only analyze a single page/URL at a time. Since it’s is not practical for larger sites to individually test each URL on their site, the best approach is to connect to Google Webmaster Tools, which will provide insight into site-wide issues impacting your mobile friendliness.
Question #4: We’re Already Doing Traditional SEO — Do We Also Need Mobile SEO?
Though traditional SEO is already complex, mobile search requires more specialized knowledge. Search results change based on location and device, so the rules are also changing frequently. See this not as a limitation, but an opportunity to gain an advantage.
Question #5: How Is Mobile SEO Different From Local SEO?
While local search relates to your city or town, mobile search is “hyper-local” and pertains to exactly where you are at the moment. The key difference is a focus on PEOPLE. Google displays different results on mobile searches that are unique, personalized and relevant to the searcher. As mentioned above, it also takes into account your website’s mobile-friendliness.
Question #6: Should Content Be The Same For Mobile Units And Desktops?
It depends. You must consider things like:
- user attention span
- noise and distractions
- goals on pages
- business goals
Trying to dump the same code and content from a webpage designed for desktops to a smartphone will adversely affect your conversion rate and sales. You must look beyond code and styling, to consider the intent and meaning of each page to your audience.
Question #7: What Is The Best Mobile Configuration For Us?
The truth is, the right choice for you depends on a variety of factors: your website content, your technological capabilities, your budget/resources, your industry, your business goals, your conversion points, and your visitors’ expectations all play a role in dictating which mobile configuration works best for your website.
Google recognizes three different configurations for mobile sites (you’ll find more technical information in this guide):
- Responsive design: Desktop content is adapted to render nicely on a mobile unit, as described here. This means URLs of pages won’t change and digital analytics with reporting is easier. However, resizing and re-formatting the same content for various devices may not deliver great results.
- Dynamic serving: The web server ‘sniffs’ a user’s browser and then serves up appropriate HTML based on device information, as described here.
- Separate mobile sites: Visitors on a smartphone are directed to a separate mobile URL (such as http://m.yourcompany.com) that is optimized with different, device-specific code and content, as described here.
You can optimize the design, content and call-to-action more intelligently based on your user’s needs. I recommend getting a good technical SEO consultant to advise on planning and implementation.
Question #8: Traffic From Mobile Units Doesn’t Convert Well — So, Is Mobile Search Not Important?
There are many reasons for poor conversion with mobile traffic, such as:
- Your content doesn’t fit the unit well, forcing people to pinch and zoom or making it harder to click on links or calls-to-action.
- The page displays too much information (or other distractions/noise), causing visitors to bounce before they can convert.
- The page contains elements that don’t render on a mobile device, such as Flash.
- There are problems with your site’s analytics configuration, tracking and reporting.
Most important, however, is the fact that people often underestimate the degree to which mobile influences sales due to poor attribution modeling. Google Analytics counts unique devices, not people.
So, if the same person visits your site from an iPhone while traveling, and then on an iPad at home, and finally makes a purchase from an office computer, it will be reported as three individual visits, only one of which resulted in a conversion. Your mobile traffic might appear unimportant for sales in this case, yet it really was what landed you that buyer!
Planning and executing strategy based on inaccurate or incomplete data can be disastrous. Just installing a web analytics tool on your website isn’t good enough in a multi-channel digital universe, because what you see may not be what you get! Good analysts with multi-channel experience can help you choose tools that generate meaningful reports and provide actionable data.
Question #9: Can I Trust Online Testing Tools?
There are many good tools out there for evaluating the mobile-friendliness of your website, but you can’t trust them blindly. Here’s an example: This website scored 96/100 points for user experience with Google’s PageSpeed Insights… but it obviously won’t do well!
You should beware of that there are issues with Google’s mobile-friendly test, and that you may get a “Your site is awesome!” result for a site that’s not mobile-friendly at all. Here is a good explanation of this issue, as discussed by forensic SEO consultant Alan Bleiweiss in his article, “Flawed Google Mobile Usability Test Results.”
This just illustrates that you shouldn’t rely on testing tools, even Google’s own. Thus, it’s important to get input from experts on mobile SEO and mobile usability before attempting to make your site mobile friendly.
Here Are My Predictions…
Before winding up, I’ll make a few predictions about what will happen over the next 12-24 months:
Every business will accept that without a mobile-friendly website, they’ll vanish from Google’s search results on mobile devices. People in charge will plan to quickly roll out mobile-friendly websites.
Companies offering web design and web development services will try to capitalize on this wave, piecing together a site using a formulaic cookie-cutter approach. Only later will they realize it doesn’t deliver new business because it doesn’t rank on mobile searches.
Conclusion: SEO consultants have a promising future ahead.
Businesses will begin to understand that responsive design may not be right for them. Copying the same content from a big screen to a smaller one might not be effective.
They must create an optimal user experience. Designing separate mobile versions of their website intelligently will boost conversion rates and lead acquisition.
It’s time to get your mobile SEO act together — and hopefully the answers above were of some help. If you have any more questions, please post them in a comment and we’ll talk about them.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.