The Magic of Mobile (#CZLNY)


John Shehata, executive director of search at ABC News,  has 90 slides to finish in 35 mins. Let’s go!

Mobile usage is overtaking desktop for the first time in history. Google is designing for mobile-first and applying for desktop. And they’re scaring users now by saying “This site isn’t mobile friendly.” Are your users being scared away?

Quick intro thoughts:

  • Matt Cutts told us last year mobile search would exceed PC. We’re there.
  • Search is the #1 content discovery tool for mobile users.
  • Mobile rankings – old news. Ranking changes specific to mobile are here.

Did you see this blog? (This is your warning. Pay attention. This is a big deal. April 21st is a big deal) “Mobilegeddon.” You have to have mobile-friendly pages. You have to fix usability errors.

How will these changes affect your site? It’s going to have more impact than Panda and Penguin combined.

Note: There will be no changes at this time in desktop rankings. But, think about it: How much traffic comes to your site from mobile? If it’s 50% or 60%, that’s the portion of your traffic that will be affected.

Mobile usability warnings have begun being sent out in bulk. You might’ve gotten warned by now. “These pages will not be seen as mobile-friendly by Google Search, and will therefore be displayed and ranked appropriately for smartphone users.”

Google already has plans for a separate index for mobile. There is a team already working on it. We’re not confident what stage this index is at, so Google has not announced anything about it at this time. But we will get to a point where we have completely separate results for mobile and desktop.

How do we make a site mobile friendly?

“Responsive”: One URL, same content and HTML, use CSS to render pages, good for small and medium sites. This is what Google recommends.

“Dedicated Site”: Two different sites. One for desktop, one for mobile ( or with different HTML.

“Dynamic Serving” – one URL, different HTML and CSS, depending on the user agent (desktop or mobile device). This is good for large, complex high-traffic sites.

What’s good for you?

Responsive sites: Google said this is the most recommended approach. Bing also recommends. There is one URL, which is great for inbound links. It’s easy to maintain, one set of code. There are no redirects, which reduces loading time. It’s crawled only once by Google.

BUT for large sites, this is a bad approach. You’re loading the same images and functionality for every size, ever device. It’s much slower. It also serves the same content no matter the device.

For responsive sites, you must check Google Webmaster tools crawl errors for redirect and 404 errors. Allow search engines to crawl all assets (css, images, JS). Being able to fully access these external files will allow responsive to work appropriately.

Dynamic serving: In his opinion, this is the best way to handle mobile for large complex sites. It’s one URL, but it detects what device it is, and loads the appropriate code. It’s a little bit slower than a dedicated site, but not as slow as responsive.

This has a higher cost to maintain, because there are two sets of code. There are a lot of redirect/detection lists – you have to know all of the devices and keep them updated. Otherwise, new devices come on the market and you’ll serve them the wrong set of code. A common mistake is for websites to treat tablets like smartphones (they should be treated like desktop). [Disclaimer – he spoke more on user-agent detection here quickly, but I couldn’t keep up. Research this, it’s important!]  It’s highly complex technical implementation. Another difference is that Google will crawl your website twice.

Quick technical note: Google recommends HTTP redirection. It’s faster, the redirection is done based on the user-agent in the HTTP request headers. It is important to keep the redirection consistent with the rel=”alternate” tags. Javascript redirects are slower and not recommended by Google.

Dedicated Mobile Sites: Better mobile experience. Faster. Dedicated mobile content. Easier implementation. Problems?Link equity dilution (you’re splitting between two URLs). Higher cost to maintain. Crawled multiple times with different user agents. They’re bad for the monetization of the site.


Words of Caution

  • Responsive is not the answer to all problems and may not be suitable for your site/industry.
  • Google-bot mobile is only used to crawl feature phones, not smartphones, content.
  • Google-bot is suer to crawl smartphones content.
  • Even though Google recommends Responsive implementations, they have been pretty clear that the rankings will not change based on your implementation approach, as long as you’re mobile-friendly.
  • Changing configuration on smartphone websites? Use 301 redirects when moving from separate URLs to same URL. Use 302 redirects when moving from same URLs to URL.
  • For Bing, there ideally shouldn’t be must of a difference for mobile vs desktop URL – they recommend same URL.

Mobile Ranking Factors To Keep An Eye On

Mobile friendliness. Test your site at the Google mobile-friendly test. Remember that blocked internal resources may prevent Google from recognizing your site as mobile-friendly.

Mobile usability. Avoid plugins (flash, Silverlight, Java, etc that don’t work on mobile). Size content to the viewport. Space out touch elements. Use legible font sizes. “Design for fat fingers.” Google has a mobile usability tool to help you review these issues.

Mobile speed and performance. It’s been a ranking factor since 2010. Google has a ton of tools and reports to help improve page speed. Google has started testing “slow” red labels in search results. Imaging your users see your site ranking #1… but then they see this ugly red sign next to it. They won’t click it. Test your pages.

Two negative mobile SEO factors – errors and broken content.

Where should you start?

80-90% of the end-user response time is spent on the frontend. Start there with your fixes!