We’re starting a new series of ‘ask the experts’ articles on the Econsultancy blog.
For our first installment, we’ve caught up with a bunch of SEO veterans to ask them about mobile SEO. The questions we asked are as follows – you can read them all or jump straight to a question by clicking on it in the list below.
- First of all, is it worth making the distinction between mobile and desktop?
- What are the biggest mistakes when it comes to mobile SEO?
- With a mobile first index on the horizon, what sort of content/UX features should we prioritise?
- Much has been written about optimising for voice – is this hype or reality?
- Is there a consensus on Google AMP or progressive web apps yet?
- If you had to sum up a good mobile SEO strategy in one short sentence?
Further guidance can be found in our SEO Best Practice Guide, and if you have any topics you would like us to cover in these ‘ask the experts’ articles, let us know in the comments below.
Andrew Girdwood, Head of Media Technology, Signal:
Yes! If you’re not making the distinction you clearly have SEO in a silo and are not coordinating with the likes of PPC or UX. SEO should not just be about getting traffic to the site – it should be about qualified traffic and what the customer does and so having a strategy which excels across devices is essential.
Nichola Stott, MD, The Media Flow:
Absolutely, as there are differences in what you need to achieve to drive optimal improvements per device. To split out how you focus your efforts and emphasis it can be worth setting routine activities as well as strategic quarterly pieces (such as mobile performance audits, or app indexing maintenance) with a mobile only focus.
That said, there are many performance areas that are device agnostic to some extent. For example improving site speed will benefit any user regardless of device though we know that poor performance here hurts mobile users most.
Jose Capelo, Sr Account Manager, Caliberi:
For any successful SEO strategy in 2017 and beyond, the most vital element to consider is search intent. By making the distinction between mobile and desktop, brands acknowledge that search intent is different across different devices and they are ready to understand the opportunities and threats affecting them.
From a SEO point of view, while there are some common characteristics to both when it comes to building authority and relevancy, such as content, a relevant backlink footprint, and schema mark-up, there are areas that are more relevant to mobile, for example voice search, local listings and AMP pages.
Adam Gent, Sr SEO Strategist, Branded3:
Absolutely! It is now critical that businesses make the distinction between mobile and desktop devices. At the time of writing these mobile searches make up over 60% of all searches globally in Google. This worldwide change in how people use mobile devices to search has caused Google to rethink how they rank websites in Google Search.
At the moment all mobile search results are based on desktop content, which is obviously not great if websites have a poor mobile site. To align search results with user expectations the engineers at Google announced at the end of 2016 that they will be switching to a mobile-first index which will cause ranking signals to move from desktop content to mobile content.
If a business does not have a mobile-friendly website then this will impact on their SEO performance on Google when the mobile-first index rolls out.
One of the worst mistakes is to have a separate URL intended for mobile device users (such as m.domain.com) and neglect to use any form of device detection or URL canonisation. I’ve seen some really significant brands make this mistake which leads to URL duplication in the SERPS, splitting users, performance data, equity and polluting the site potential in so many ways.
The second biggest mistake that we can all make, is never using your phone at work. Most of our working toolkit is desktop-optimised and for most projects it is quickest and easiest to work on at least two desktop screens as opposed to a mobile phone. So this often means that we’re relying purely on quantitative data to “work” on mobile performance. There’s so many insights to be gained by working (or trying to) work on your phone. I don’t mean toggling the device in Chrome Developer Tools, but using multiple phones models to replicate checks and create user-centric observations.
Most SEOs know that speed is important and they know enough to use Google’s various speed-tester tools. Too often, though, those tester tool results lead to technical SEO recommendations that will cost brands a truck load of money in development costs but not actually provide a speed boost.
While the best design and build agencies are thinking mobile first too many SEOs are still in the desktop frame of mind when it comes to linkbait. If your linkbait strategy involves whisking up a groundswell of interest in some content then you need to think mobile first.
One of the biggest oversights by brands is to treat mobile as an extension of desktop.
The biggest mistakes are generally not related to the technical side of SEO (except for page speed), but more often down to the design and the visualisation of content. These mistakes – such as illegible fonts, not enough spacing, popup ads and slow page speed – have a detrimental impact on user experience directly impacting rankings and organic growth.
Google’s Mobile Friendly Test
Good UX teams are generally well placed to crack the navigation challenge. Don’t get me wrong – navigation and architecture for mobile can be awkward but based on my experience few UX experts are at a loss of ideas what to do about it.
I think brands will be well advised to think again about their content strategy. How many versions of their content do they want? One for desktop, mobile, AMP and other devices? Or is that too much? Is now the time to thinking about a headless CMS or is it too soon for the company? I certainly encourage brands to think about content as a layer.
I recently spoke about at The Inbounder on the audit areas we’re working through with clients in anticipation of the mobile first index change, and the presentation is available on Slideshare. But to summarise, the key focus should be: speed, UX, (navigation as well as answering the primary visit motive “above-the-fold”), Schema or similar structured data mark-up and optimal data collection without increasing latency.
…the biggest changes a webmaster should be prioritising are to make navigating around the website and scrolling through content as easy as possible on mobile devices. Both Gary Illyes and John Mueller have both confirmed that hidden content will be fully weighted for ranking purposes, so webmasters should begin to think about testing hidden content on mobile devices and review the mobile user engagement metrics to see if it improves the user’s site experience.
In a world of mobile first indexing, your priority needs to be mobile optimised design, user experience, and content.
…[As regards usability] there are a variety of techniques that come into play, such as using sticky navigation to help users with visual clues of the journey, optimising design layouts for touch screens, or the use of HTML 5 (stay away from flash!).
A slide from Nichola Stott’s Inbounder presentation on preparing for a mobile-first index
Reality for sure. We’re working with brands that have huge year-on-year growth in term composition of “near me” and “show me” keywords in the mix. Interesting too that one of our clients has a large appeal to toddlers and they’ve seen the biggest growth so anecdotally, too, we’d say that the emerging device using generations use this search tactic intuitively.
Much as today’s 10-year-olds would ‘swipe’ the TV when they started toddling I think we’ve got a generation of little ones that will stare at us accusingly if the car fails to start with a voice prompt.
Structured data and a less is more approach to page-by-page content is key to success in voice. So not so much a reduction in the number of pages on your site, but a reduction in the points addressed per page. Making pages more specific and punchier. Get to the point above-the-fold or in a single swipe down.
Both. Can I say both? I’m going to say both. The reality is we are rushing into a multi-device and multi-interaction era. I’m surprised at how often I use my Alexa and her voice controls. Brands with content there, for me, are stealing a march on competitors.
It’s also hype, though, as we don’t yet know exactly what the future will look like. It might be that we do not see much growth in smartphone voice searches in the next few years. It may be smart-TVs that get their first.
One of the reasons I encourage brands to think about their content as a layer is that it helps build the basis of portable content. If you’re doing that right then it gets easier to swiftly pivot your plans in the direction of reality.
Mobile, local search and voice are inextricably linked and as the trend grows towards more specific local searches voice search will grow exponentially over the next few years.
Something that digital marketers have to realise is that when the user activates voice search, the only answer is the one that search engines consider the best answer. Therefore, the winner takes all and there is no share of the cake for everyone else!
Jonathan Verrall, Associate SEO Director, Jellyfish:
As of May 2016, over 20% of searches on the Google app were from voice. Voice assistants for phones, homes, watches and cars will become more prevalent and a more natural experience for people. If anything, it’s the bigger step towards Hyper-Reality.
Mike Jeffs, Commercial Director, Branded3:
Both! The reality is that there are things you can do now to optimise your site for voice searches. However, voice optimisation is probably more hype than mainstream currently (I’m no exception to adding to the noise of voice search). I think it will [become commonplace] – others disagree.
The deciding thing for me will be device/technology adoption. 20% of searches are voice searches according to Google. Word error rate in voice searches has halved in the last year to around 4%. Perhaps most importantly voice devices are growing at the same rate as the first iPhone. Brands should be thinking; “is my site/content accessible via voice devices?” in the same way that historically they’ve been asking “is my site accessible to search engines? Is it accessible to mobile devices?” As with all new tech, early adopters will steal a march on competitors.
Whether you like them or not Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) are becoming widely used across the digital landscape. In the news media industry, it is imperative for webmasters to use AMP to keep up with competition on mobile devices, as the AMP carousel jumps ahead of all organic results in Google mobile search.
A lot of businesses are beginning to test AMP to bypass difficulties in implementing site speed changes to their technical stack and are beginning to see positive results. However, make no mistake, AMP is very much a framework for Google to deliver ads to its audience quicker. It’s up to business owners whether they want to invest in improving their own website’s speed to improve their overall mobile experience or invest in building pages which provide speed improvements just for Google’s mobile search results.
Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) will change the way we interact with the web on our mobile phone. With the ability for users to use a PWA offline and the fact that they load super-fast means that these hybrid apps can provide a way for webmasters and business owners to create a frictionless mobile experience. Even when customers are on the go.
Some great examples of PWAs in action are Twitter’s mobile website and Washington Posts PWA. Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) are a technology which all business owners should be thinking about and explore.
I think there’s consensus. There are some verticals where AMP is an absolute boon. That’s not mutually exclusive with progressive web apps, though. You can have both.
I doubt there’s a one-size fits all approach yet. Brands building media technology today (you know; sites, apps and other digital assets) should be thinking about this long and hard before a line of code is written.
The consensus lies in that if your website gets more traffic from mobile devices or you have an HTTPS website, you can never do away with AMP and PWA. If your website is mainly content based then AMP will be perfect for you, but an ecommerce website can never ignore PWA.
The general agreement is towards using them in conjunction to deliver fast initial loading and reliable second-visit performance, as well as advanced features like offline reading and richer UI treatment.
There are various case studies demonstrating AMP’s improvement to click-through rates, conversion rates and revenue.
Progressive web apps are worth exploring if you have the resource to; this will likely continue to grow into firstly being used as an alternative or gateway to downloading native mobile apps.
PWAs and Google AMP serve two different purposes. Progressive web apps add greater interactivity to your website and prompt further engagement through the use of service workers which allow businesses to serve push notifications to users who have downloaded your app.
Additionally, PWAs allow sections of your website to be used offline too. The major benefit of PWAs is that they do not restrict functionality, which is a fundamental drawback with AMPs.
Use PWAs if:
- your website incorporates complex design elements that you wish to retain.
- your website’s content is constantly being updated and adds value to the user at every update.
- there is functionality within the application that can be used even though the user may be offline.
Use AMP if:
- you are a news publisher that can greatly benefit from being positioned within Google’s news carousel.
- you are struggling to reduce page load speeds through speed optimisation.
- you are using static landing pages to promote a service or product.
For those who want the best of both worlds, some webmasters have been toying with the idea of using both AMPs and PWAs in unison to create a user-friendly journey throughout the website that’s then geared for retention.
PWA, Air Berlin
Nichola Stott: Speed is money.
Andrew Girdwood: Good mobile SEO begins when you first start to write your user stories and then it never finishes.
Jose Capelo: Make your content easy to digest, quick to load, and delightful to read, watch or listen to.
Adam Gent: Get ready for the mobile-first index and think about the needs of your mobile users…
Jonathan Verrall: Build upwards using ‘mobile first’ methodology and assess how users engage with your content…