It’s day two at SMX East in NYC, and I’m in a session titled What SEOs Should Be Doing with Mobile. Next time you’re in a public place, take a look at the people around you. Chances are, a large percentage of them are glued to their mobile phones. Let’s hope you’re not driving a car. Sadly, this statement probably still holds true whether you’re in a mall or flying down the freeway.
Marketers have been saying, “This year’s gonna be the year of mobile!” for the past eight years. I think it’s safe to say that 2013 actually was the year of mobile. This year, the conversations around mobile have further intensified. By next year, if you haven’t take serious steps to make your website mobile-ready, you’ll almost certainly suffer financial consequences—if you aren’t already.
Meet the Experts
There were four speakers:
Michael Martin – Michael Martin is the SEO manager at Covario (recently acquired by iProspect) and owner of Mobile Martin in San Diego, CA while also being recognized throughout the search marketing industry as one of the leading authorities on Mobile SEO.
Jim Yu – Jim is the founder and CEO of BrightEdge. He combines in-depth expertise in developing and marketing large on-demand software platforms with hands-on experience in advanced SEO practices.
Cindy Krum – Cindy Krum, CEO and founder of MobileMoxie is a highly sought after conference speaker, presenting and training in-house teams throughout the US and around the world.
Gary Illyes – Gary is a webmaster trends analyst at Google.
The Mobile Era Has Arrived, But Marketers Are Behind
Ironically, after years and years of talking about mobile, we’ve finally entered the era of mobile and the vast majority of brands and marketers are wayyy behind. I suppose there’s been a bit of “the boy who cried wolf.” When every year is the year of mobile, eventually everyone ignores it—even when it really IS the year of mobile!
Jim Yu said that the growth of visits from mobile has increased 10x vs. desktop devices. Today, 23% of organic searches come from mobile devices.
Impressive stats, but major brands continue to commit major mobile marketing mistakes. Gary asked the audience to search [suzuki] from their mobile devices and tell him if they’re happy with the result. When you do that, you get a mobile site that can’t load because it’s built with Flash—doh! Jim mentioned that even brands with separate sites for mobile devices often have a lot of errors on those sites. Some of the more common errors his team has found include missing HTTP headers, the wrong canonical tag, and no canonical tag.
Mobile Website Design Depends
Michael started his presentation by walking us through the evolution of the mobile web. Anyone remember .mobi domain names? No? Good. Today, people are handling mobile in a variety of ways. Some sites utilize a completely separate site for mobile traffic—often using m.site.com. Other sites have adopted a responsive website design (RWD). Michael indicated that he thinks that the future is dynamically served pages.
Whether you use a separate site, responsive design, or dynamically served site really depends. According to Mike and Jim, based on research from Covario and BrightEdge, having a separate site vs. a RWD doesn’t make much difference when it comes to mobile rankings and traffic; however, it does matter when it comes to errors, cost, and conversions.
I’m not on Blue Corona’s web development team and I haven’t been neck deep in SEO for quite some time. I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t know what a dynamically served site is or how it’s differnet than sending visitors to separate sites based on user agent. The difference is that dynamically served sites load unique content based on devices on the same page (visitors aren’t sent to another page or site).
Mike suggested that companies in industries where mobile visitors have a different intent than desktop users got a boost in conversions when they utilized separate or adaptive sites—sites where the content changes based on whether the visitor is coming from a mobile device or a desktop computer. Jim noted one of the challenges with using separate sites—increased errors and management costs. While responsive websites may not offer a ranking or traffic boost, and they may even hinder conversion rate (when mobile visitor intent differs from desktop visitor intent), they typically result in fewer errors and are less expensive to maintain.
Cindy made two killer points about mobile website design.
The first is that not all responsive website developers are created equal. Done poorly, a RWD can lead to very slow page load times. Google has explicitly told webmasters to optimize for mobile, but site load speed is a known ranking factor. Her second comment was that you can utilize different mobile site design strategies for different types of pages. For example, if you have a business where visitor intent from mobile traffic is different, you might use m.site.com pages for your conversion-oriented landing pages, but for blog posts and hubpages, you might utilize responsive website design. Brilliant.
How Can You Improve Your Mobile Rankings?
The rankings are different between mobile and desktop devices. BrightEdge did some research and found that, for a given set of keywords, 63% of them had different rankings mobile vs. desktop. At the same time, it’s not entirely clear how the ranking factors vary from desktop to mobile devices. For example, Michael said that Covario did a study of their clients, many of whom are members of the Fortune 500. They compared sites that did nothing (with respect to mobile) vs. those that have separate sites vs. those with responsive designed sites. There was no discernable difference in terms of mobile rankings or traffic.
Cindy suggested the following for improving mobile site rankings:
Make your site mobile-ready (defined below)
Fix broken content
Make redirects meaningful
Google’s crawler emulates an iPhone 4, so make sure you’re testing your site that way
Improve site speed
Leverage HTTP header “vary: user-agent”
Elminate side-to-side scrolling and Flash
Use appropriate font sizes and tap-targets
Make your CSS selectors efficient and don’t load unnecessary resources for mobile users
Gary from Google joked that he’s been telling us for four years to optimize for mobile. To illustrate the importance of his point, he said this:
People would rather give up their TV than their smartphone.
The message I heard was loud and clear: START PAYING ATTENTION TO MOBILE!
He suggested that we drop the term “smartphone” and stick with mobile. It’s simpler.
And the definition of “mobile ready” is easy: Make your content available (accessible), legible, and usable—period.
Note: Ironically, neither this blog post or our website are mobile friendly or mobile ready. We’re working on it.
About The Author: Ben Landers is the President and CEO of Blue Corona, a data-driven, inbound internet marketing company. Submit an inquiry to book Ben to speak at your next conference or event.
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