Actionable Points To Consider For Google Mobile Friendly Update

Bhavik Vyas

As the roll-out of Google’s widely discussed mobile ranking algorithm update on April 21st draws closer, you’re probably either looking forward to a validation of your SEO prowess, or freaking out about how much search traffic you’re about to lose.

Either way, it’s probably a good idea to assess your level of preparedness, and understand the most common issues and what it takes to fix them. Before we jump into that, let’s take a quick look what’s going to happen and why it matters.

Why the Update is Happening Now

For years it seemed that speakers at every conference I attended proclaimed it was “the year of mobile.” I’m not sure exactly which year it was, but it seems that one (or all) of them was right.

The trend has been clear for some time now, with desktop traffic steadily decreasing and mobile traffic steadily increasing at approximately the same…

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Actionable Points To Consider For Google Mobile Friendly Update

As the roll-out of Google’s widely discussed mobile ranking algorithm update on April 21st draws closer, you’re probably either looking forward to a validation of your SEO prowess, or freaking out about how much search traffic you’re about to lose.

Either way, it’s probably a good idea to assess your level of preparedness, and understand the most common issues and what it takes to fix them. Before we jump into that, let’s take a quick look what’s going to happen and why it matters.

Why the Update is Happening Now

For years it seemed that speakers at every conference I attended proclaimed it was “the year of mobile.” I’m not sure exactly which year it was, but it seems that one (or all) of them was right.

The trend has been clear for some time now, with desktop traffic steadily decreasing and mobile traffic steadily increasing at approximately the same rate. The chart below shows that we’re quickly approaching a 60/40 split in favor of desktop, but that split has already surpassed 50% in favor of mobile in many countries where mobile usage is greater than desktop.

desktop-vs-moible

With this major shift to mobile and Google’s desire to maintain quality search results regardless of device, this change was bound to come. And it’s going to be a big change. The mobile-friendly algorithm will be a global change that significantly impacts Google’s mobile search results – perhaps bigger than the Panda or Penguin updates.

Assessing Your Level of Mobile-Friendliness

Google has been stressing the importance of mobile for quite a while, not only directly, but implicitly through a steady series of documentation updates, Web master Central blogs, and mobile testing tools. Fortunately that’s left us with a ton of great resources. So if you’re serious about understanding mobile from Google’s perspective, their extensive Mobile-Friendly Websites guide is a great place to start.

To determine if you’re ready for the mobile-friendly update, these are going to be the main tools you’ll need:

Google’s Mobile-friendly Label

The very first thing you should do to see if Google has recognized your site as mobile-friendly is to search for your site on a mobile device and see if it displays the “Mobile-friendly”

mobile-friendly-label

If you think your site is mobile-friendly, but you’re not seeing that annotation, you’ll definitely want to dig into why. And even if you’re seeing that label, keep in mind that it’s given on a per-page basis, so you’ll want to be sure to check your top pages, if not your whole site.

Mobile Usability Report in Google Webmaster Tools

Spot-checking pages is tedious and I wouldn’t recommend it for a large site. To more efficiently get a view of the top pages with issues across your site, check out the Mobile Usability section in Google Webmaster Tools. This report specifically identifies pages on your domain that are suffering from mobile errors. This tool will be critical in helping you prioritize mobile usability issues across your site.

Google’s PageSpeed Insights

Even if you’ve got the “Mobile-friendly” annotation in your results, you may have issues that could impact mobile usability down the road. Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool provides a lot of information not only pertaining to mobile usability, but as the name implies, to page load speed on both the desktop and mobile experiences. Page load speed is a known ranking factor and that could increase in weighting as mobile adoption continues to grow.

pagespeed-insights-screen

PageSpeed Insights shows a screen capture of your page to give you an idea of how Google sees it. There’s a known issue with PageSpeed Insights, however, that will indicate your page is mobile-friendly, but then display a screen capture that obviously doesn’t render well in mobile. This typically happens when you’re blocking resources that are required to render the page. Check your robots.txt file to ensure you’re not blocking any CSS or JavaScript files needed to properly render the mobile page.

Device Emulation Mode in Chrome

If you’re deep in the throes of fixing mobile usability issues on your site and need an efficient way to view different screen sizes directly in your browser, check out Device Emulation Mode in Chrome. It’ll allow you to emulate several screen sizes and resolutions, as well as various network speeds.

device-mode-chrome

To find Device Emulation mode, Go to the main navigation in Chrome and look under More Tools > Developer Tools. Once the window opens you’ll see a little phone icon, as indicated in the screen grab above. Click that to toggle Device Emulation mode.

How to Be Mobile-Friendly

As I mentioned in the previous section, Google’s Mobile-Friendly Website guide contains everything you need to know to create a mobile-friendly user experience. Below is a summary of the most common mistakes that Google finds on mobile websites. They’re the errors you’ll most often encounter in the Mobile-Friendly Test, PageSpeed Insights, and the Mobile Usability Report in Webmaster Tools.

Mobile only 404s: If you have a separate mobile site and automatically redirect users from desktop URLs to mobile URLs based on user agent, make sure the mobile URLs to which you’re redirecting actually exist. That might seem obvious, but this is a common error. To avoid these types of issues, I always recommend building mobile URLs that are closely aligned with desktop URLs, such that it’s easy to predict the mobile URL format given the desktop equivalent.

Faulty redirects: These most often occur when a user enters on an interior page of the desktop site from search results, but is redirected to the mobile homepage. If you’re going to redirect mobile users from your desktop site, make sure you’re redirecting to the equivalent URL on your mobile site and not the homepage.

Flash usage: Flash isn’t supported by iOS or Android versions 4.1 and higher. If you’re sending users to a page that uses Flash, it’s not going to be considered mobile-friendly. Worse yet, the page is going to be broken for a lot of users, so consider using more up-to-date, mobile-friendly technologies.

Viewport not configured: You’ll want to be sure you’re using a meta viewport element in the head section of each page to let browsers know how to adjust page dimensions and scale based on the device.

Fixed-width viewport: Developers sometimes set a fixed-width viewport in an effort to fit a fixed-width (non-responsive) design into a mobile device viewport. Problem is: Google doesn’t consider it mobile-friendly and will display an error. To fix, you’ll want to take the responsive approach and set the viewport to match the device’s width and scale.

Content not sized to viewport: The main issue here is that you don’t want users to have to scroll horizontally. If you’re using large, fixed-width elements that need a large viewport to display properly, you’ll likely see this error. Google’s suggestion is to use CSS media queries to apply different style for a range of screen sizes.

Small font size: If users have to “pinch to zoom” in order to read your font size, it’s too small and Google won’t consider it mobile-friendly. Some good rules of thumb: a) use a base font of 16 CSS pixels and from there use sizes relative to that base to scale the font, and b) use the browser default line height of 1.2em. Those general guidelines depend on the specific font being used, so when in doubt, whip out a phone and see if your friends can easily read the font on your website.

Touch elements too close: The average adult finger pad size is about 10mm wide, so, based on that, the Android UI guidelines recommend a tap target size of about 7mm, or 48 CSS pixels (assuming you have a properly set mobile viewport). Again, when in doubt, take out your phone and do some testing to ensure it’s easy to avoid “fat fingering” touch elements in your mobile design.

What to Keep an Eye on as the Mobile-Friendly Update Rolls Out

For my client sites and my own, the main things I’m going to be watching are 1) total Google search traffic from mobile devices, 2) distribution of sessions by device between desktop, mobile, and tablet, 3) total mobile traffic, and 4) number of sessions per mobile device.

We created a handy custom dashboard for Google Analytics that contains all of the views above. Feel free to access it and add it to the Google Analytics profile of your choice to keep tabs on the right metrics as this update rolls out. Let me know in the comments below if there’s a particular metric you think would be a helpful addition.

Mobile-Friendly FAQs

The mobile-friendly ranking signal is one of hundreds of signals designed to return the best results. Mobile results could still return a non-mobile-friendly result if that’s deemed to be the best result (like perhaps for branded searches). Focusing on the overall mobile experience is probably more productive than focusing on the algorithm itself, but when you need to prioritize, it’s helpful to know which concerns to scratch off your list first. The following FAQ is a summary of the questions that came out of the mobile-friendly Q&A session with Mary and Michael of the Webmaster Relations team at Google.

Q: Will the mobile-friendly update have any effect on desktop rankings?

A: No. The update will affect the mobile results only. You shouldn’t see any change to desktop rankings.

Q: Will the mobile-friendly update apply to all languages?

A: Yes. However, you may see the update affecting one language and not another for a short period as the update will take a number of days to roll out completely.

Q: Will this algorithm update affect tablets?

A: No. Google serves the desktop experience for tablets. You may serve a tablet-specific experience after users click on the desktop results in Google, but Google will continue to display your desktop URLs in search.

Q: Are their varying degrees of Mobile-friendliness?

A: No. You’re either mobile-friendly or you’re not. That could certainly change in the future as Google fine-tunes the algorithm, but initially there will not be degrees of mobile-friendliness.

Q: Does my whole site have to be mobile-friendly?

A: No. Mobile-friendliness is determined on a per-page basis. This is why it’s a good idea to prioritize your top pages if your site isn’t yet mobile friendly.

Q: Is there a ranking benefit to using responsive design?

A: No. Responsive, separate mobile site, and dynamic are all mobile-friendly implementation options. Google recommends responsive design because it’s easier to maintain and less error prone.

Q: I fixed a mobile usability issue on my site. How long until I get the Mobile-friendly label?

A: The mobile-friendly algorithm will run in real-time. If you’ve made an update to be mobile-friendly, you should see that reflected the next time your page is crawled.

Q: Is it okay to have a single desktop page that gets broken up into several pages on mobile?

A: This happens frequently in an effort to make mobile pages lighter and faster.

Unfortunately, Google expects the bi-directional annotation, rel=alternate and rel=canonical, to have a 1:1 relationship. Since Google doesn’t support this behavior, they may not be able to effectively consolidate ranking signals between the mobile and desktop versions.

Q: Will this affect Google News? AdWords?

A: No. The mobile-friendly algorithm only pertains to Google’s organic results only.

Are You Ready for Mobilegeddon?

Google certainly has the power to effect change on the web, and the mobile-friendly algorithm update is going to force a lot of holdouts to make mobile usability improvements in short order.

If you have a mobile-friendly site and feel good about all the factors outlined in this article, good for you. You might see an incremental traffic gain as competitors who outranked you in mobile search with desktop experiences get moved down in the SERPs.

Mobile SEO Visibility – Prepare yourself for the huge Google Mobile Update on April 21st

How my website performs in mobile searches on smartphones is increasingly different to my desktop performance. Particularly now that Google has announced it will release an update on April 21st, which will have a significant impact on websites that are NOT mobile friendly. According to Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Zineb Ait Bahajji the coming Mobile Update will have a much stronger impact then any Panda update!

As a marketer, I now have to know how big this difference will be on my domain and where there is specific room for optimization. Because if the traffic from mobile devices continues to rise, and the wheat separates from the chaff, then I have only a few possibilities to find out the following points:

  • What is the status of my mobile performance?
  • What do I ideally have to do to improve it?
  • What does my competition look like?

It is therefore even more important to have a basis of comparison in which the specific difference between my Desktop and Mobile Visibility can be recognized. Our new Beta-Version is now live providing you first indications on the Visibility difference:

Mobile SEO Visibility vs. Desktop Visibility - ScreenIndividual search results by device

At Searchmetrics we have been working on search differences between mobile and desktop for years. Therefore, we already collected & analzyed data last year for providing facts about differences of the Mobile SEO Ranking Factors. The split between mobile and desktop search results is measurable. At our last Mobile Ranking Factor study in 2014 the difference of URLs between Desktop and Mobile index was already 36%.

Difference Mobile vs Desktop

It’s for this reason that we have been tracking the same keywords for months in the mobile area as we have for desktop searches. This is, firstly, to see how the results keep differentiating more and more (which they definitely do) and, secondly, with the intention of giving our users the opportunity to have more evidence for their optimization.

And so, the time has come: the Mobile SEO Visibility (Beta) is now available as a KPI in the Searchmetrics Suite for all users, providing first indications for figuring out main differences between Desktop and Mobile SEO Visibility.

Comparability of Desktop and Mobile Visibility

The starting problem is: Desktop and Mobile cannot really be compared and analyzed to one another under real conditions. In the mobile area, there are different click-through-rates, search volumes, user intentions and the influence of local parameters on the search results is different.

Nevertheless, we want to make a comparison between Desktop and Mobile index possible and have converted our calculation of the normal SEO Visibility – which is based on a dynamic CTR calculation by machine learning algorithms – 1:1 to mobile. Why? Because we consider it to be intrinsic to prepare a mutual basis as a KPI in the form of this comparison. Especially to see how the performance is now and how it will change at April 21st.

The Mobile SEO Visibility will be updated weekly.

We have decided on an Android smartphone as a user agent. Differences between iOS and Android can occur, but in my opinion they are irrelevant, as the only differences that I have previously witnessed occur in queries for apps. For example, if you search for ‘netflix’, the Apple App Store ranks on an iPhone, whereas the Google Play Store ranks on an Android. This is also the reason why apple.com and google.com show such great deviations in Mobile SEO Visibility. Other than this, there have not been any further relevant differences between these domains so far.

Mobile SEO Visibility with desktop comparison at a glance

From now on, there are new KPIs for the evaluation of Mobile SEO Visibility (Beta) in the research area. The new search result page of the Searchmetrics Suite in the research area looks like this:

Mobile SEO Visibility Research OverviewThe rank overview, which was previously displayed across the entire page width, has moved to a closed circular graphic on the left side – in favor of the new ‘Desktop vs Mobile’ KPI. By the way, we have dubbed this circular graphic ‘mojo’, as in Austin Powers, as it shows at a glance how much mojo a domain has in a respective country and which channel works best! We have also pre-calculated the Mobile SEO Visibility on all subdomains so that you can see how a mobile subdomain, such as en.m.wikipedia.org or m.imdb.com, performs.

The new KPIs and possibilities at a glance:

  • Desktop vs Mobile Visibility – comparison of visibility on the same database
    • Difference been Desktop and Mobile Visibility (circular graphic with percentage overlap of the respective Visibility)
    • Trend desktop/trend mobile – to previous week
  • Mobile SEO Visibility (SEO research)
  • Mobile Paid Visibility (SEO research)
  • Mojo with the ranks for SEO, paid, social and links
  • Toplist domains (top 10/ top 100) comparison of SEO visibility desktop vs mobile

1. Recognize problem: same database for desktop and mobile

This ‘Desktop vs Mobile’ KPI offers the simplest way to create comparability between Desktop and Mobile Visibility performance. In order to ensure this comparability, we work with identical CTR calculation and search volume on the basis of desktop values.

2. Solve problem: individual data for mobile

We know that both CTR and search volume differ in the mobile area. We have already been working with mobile data for years and have even offered mobile rankings in the project area of our Suite since June 2013. Therefore, we recommend this new Mobile SEO Visibility (Beta) only be used as an indicator in order to understand how the performance between mobile and desktop differs.

For an optimum mobile measurement of performance, individual, local rankings for mobile with individual mobile search volume are necessary. We offer this data and functionality within the project area in the Searchmetrics Suite using more than 800 search machine/country/device combinations.

Organic Keyword Rankings per Device - Searchmetrics Suite Projet Area

Conclusion: From data comparison to deep analysis

The new ‘Desktop vs Mobile’ KPI can been seen as the starting point for recognizing how big the overlap between my Desktop and my Mobile Visibility is. Furthermore, the trend shows at a glance how my performance has recently developed. Due to the fact that this KPI is part of the research area, all users of the Suite benefit from this update, which spans not only the SEO but also the PPC area.

In order to be prepared for April 21 – Google’s mobile update – and thereafter, the tracking of concrete mobile rankings is required. This is already available in the project area of the Suite, taking into account also historical developments and individual data.

Google To Launch New Doorway Page Penalty Algorithm

Google will take algorithmic action on more doorway pages in the near future. The new algorithm adjustment will impact these pages trying to increase their search footprint.

Google announced they are releasing a new “ranking adjustment” to their doorway page classifier to better handle doorway pages in the search results.

In short, Google does not want to rank doorway pages in their search results. The purpose behind many of these doorway pages is to maximize their search footprint by creating pages both externally on the web or internally on their existing web site, with the goal of ranking multiple pages in the search results, all leading to the same destination.

Google’s Brian White said:

Over time, we’ve seen sites try to maximize their “search footprint” without adding clear, unique value. These doorway campaigns manifest themselves as pages on a site, as a number of domains, or a combination thereof. To improve the quality of search results for our users, we’ll soon launch a ranking adjustment to better address these types of pages. Sites with large and well-established doorway campaigns might see a broad impact from this change.

Google will be launching over this new ranking adjustment shortly and those who have created doorway pages may see them really soon.

How do you know if your web pages are classified as a “doorway page?” Google said asked yourself these questions:

Is the purpose to optimize for search engines and funnel visitors into the actual usable or relevant portion of your site, or are they an integral part of your site’s user experience?

Are the pages intended to rank on generic terms yet the content presented on the page is very specific?

Do the pages duplicate useful aggregations of items (locations, products, etc.) that already exist on the site for the purpose of capturing more search traffic?

Are these pages made solely for drawing affiliate traffic and sending users along without creating unique value in content or functionality?

Do these pages exist as an “island?” Are they difficult or impossible to navigate to from other parts of your site? Are links to such pages from other pages within the site or network of sites created just for search engines?

Google To Confirm The Next Penguin Update/Refresh

Last time there was a big Penguin update by Google, i.e. Penguin 3.0, Google did not announce that it happened but they confirmed it after we asked about it.

Google’s John Mueller implied they would do the same thing next time a Penguin algorithm is updated or refreshed.

He said in a Google+ hangout at 1:17 in to the video when someone asked about Google announcing the next Penguin update.

I don’t think we’d pre-announce it but if this is something bigger that happens that people have been waiting for we will try to confirm it.

According to my records, there has not been a Penguin update since early December and it is unclear when the next one will happen. So we know Penguin is not running monthly or regularly yet but it is a goal they set out with. Although, at one point Panda was and maybe it stopped?

But when it does, I am sure we will report it quickly and get Google to confirm it.

A Content Marketer’s Guide To SEO: A Checklist

Content is an integral element of search engine optimization (SEO), so check out columnist Thomas Stern’s handy check-list to ensure your content reaches its full potential.

It’s 2015 and by now you’ve been told, again and again, the importance of developing valuable content to increase your visibility in search. It’s time to cut through the noise and step up with some advice you can actually use to generate results from content development.

The checklist below is intended for marketers to use with their team to identify specific tasks needed to create valuable content that generates results.

We recommend leveraging this check list to guide content marketers and capitalize on opportunities in your industry. Start by documenting your strategy and use this list each time you launch a new campaign to ensure your content reaches its full potential.

Understand How Users Search

Content strategy begins and ends with users in mind. Of course, your end goal is to increase sales, but the best way to achieve that is to keep users top of mind in each phase of your strategy development process.

By understanding your target audience’s online behaviors, interests, and expectations, marketers can develop stronger content that compels users to interact with and talk about your brand.

  • Analyze current data from search, social, and other owned assets to identify user trends (top content, sharing/engagement, and demographic data)
  • See what content currently appears in search and what competitor content users see when searching for related terms and keywords
  • Examine competitor content strategies to understand what content your audience currently sees in search Identify what users want and expect from your brand
  • Create a story from your data that identifies trends, behaviors, and interests to develop personas for unique audience segments

Optimize For Users

With users in mind, your content should be formed around the interests of audience segments to offer more value. Targeting your content will draw stronger followings and deliver more quality leads. While achieving high search rankings for keyword targeted content is valuable, speaking to an audience is what drives engagement and conversions.

Identify how your post will offer value through education or entertainment and create content worth sharing

Support your ideas with references to validated, external sources to increase credibility and authority

Build your content around the topics and keyword phrases your audience is searching for to increase exposure

Keep content “human” in delivery that is easily digestible and appropriate for your audience segments

Establish your brand’s tone and voice in individual channels to create unique content that contributes to your overall focus and strategy

Explore different content mediums and delivery channels to determine what methods generates the highest engagement

Keep the limitations and unique features of mobile in mind when crafting content to ensure all users have a consistent and quality experience

Optimize For Search Engines

High performing content is a balance between users and search engines. Just as your content needs to quickly capture the attention of a user and clearly deliver value, search engines require the same consideration.

Optimize your content and distribution channels to help search engines make connections between your content and the information your audience is searching for. Be careful to keep your content “human,” as search engines have evolved to respond to quality more than over-optimization techniques such as keyword stuffing.

  • Maintain a consistent schedule and focus by creating a content calendar that identifies topics and keywords for each piece of content
  • Integrate keywords into content and back-end optimization such as headlines, page titles, URLs, and meta descriptions
  • Leverage tools to audit content for SEO such as Yoast for WordPress
  • Create unique pages for content to earn authority for individual assets
  • Generate quality links from bloggers and trustworthy publications to help search engines connect content with keywords
  • Perform periodic audits to discover and fix any broken links
  • When applicable, optimize content for local search with unique pages and detailed information for individual locations
  • Create an XML sitemap and submit to Google and Bing to assist in indexing pages
  • Amplify content with paid media to increase visibility across the web

Measure & Improve

Your data tells a story of the obstacles faced and opportunities created from your brand’s content and distribution, and analyzing this data provides a path to develop stronger campaigns. By understanding how audiences interact with content, marketers can hone their focus to increase visibility, engagement and conversions.

  • Pull reports from all owned, earned, and paid channels and identify patterns of engagement and interest
  • Leverage tools in analytics platforms to discover what content drives more traffic and action from users
  • Define clear goals in Google Analytics to monitor how content influences your conversion funnel and sales cycle
  • Monitor Google Webmaster Tools to look for site errors than can inhibit exposure in search
  • See how users move across your website and content with click tracking and heat mapping tools such as Crazy Egg
  • Use data to understand what content mediums, focus, tone, and distribution channels result in the highest engagement

Conclusion

Leverage this checklist to create stronger, more visible content by understanding which components of your digital strategy to monitor. By viewing SEO and content marketing as partners, your brand can put the right content in front of the right users with timely precision. Always keep your content top of mind and current by revisiting your strategy throughout the year.