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Graeme Benge

Google’s Mobile Update: Time For Technical Optimisation?

26th Mar 2015 SEO, Mobile Search 7 minutes to read

Google’s Mobile Update: Time For Technical Optimisation?

With the impending update to Google’s algorithm looming large, site owners in the know face a race against time to minify like a dervish and look up what a viewport is. For many other site owners not in the know, this may pass them by, until they ask themselves why things have gone a bit quiet.

According to reports, this shake up is going to be big. In short, Google is looking to favour sites on their mobile platform that give a good mobile experience. Google are not averse to fanning the flames of fear mongerers and articles such as this from Searchengineland paint a picture that depicts an online rapture. This time, I think with merit.

Webmaster Tools Mobile Usability Warning - Mobile-Friendly Update

Bigger Than Panda AND Penguin

The Panda filter update penalised sites for duplicated and low quality content. Penguin preceded Panda and zeroed in on back link ‘quality’.

Many sites that fell foul of either (or even both) updates, were full of rubbish over-optimised content with rubbish over-optimised back links.

There were many other sites hit more due to not ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ than an outright or deliberate approach to game Google.

Altogether, Panda and Penguin reached a lot of sites and yet missed quite a few too.

Mobile though has an altogether different scale of reach. How many sites don’t need a mobile audience? Not many.

Mobile search queries are ever increasing and not far away being the most prominent device type to be used, therefore if you’re a business owner with an online presence; it is very much the place to be seen.

As such the number of sites in the cross hairs must be pretty substantial by comparison.

If you’ve seen organic mobile sessions increase from 45% to 55% in the last 12 months, there is a pretty strong motivation to stay on the right side of the big G. Come a cropper this time around and that could cost you big time in either lost custom or in paid search to supplement your losses.

Time To Wake Up

This message is not a new message. It simply comes with a deadline. It also comes with a greater opportunity. Many sites are likely to see an ‘algorithmic review’ slash their session numbers. They will leave a lot ‘on the table’.

There will be many eagle eyed guardians of the Internet putting forward in strong terms sites that deserve to get the treatment, but that haven’t for whatever reason. You can’t really take the chance.

Now is the time to finally consider how to please your audience when they want to see your site on a mobile device.

Responsive Design

Choosing to make your website responsive is a positive step to take on behalf of your users. It also happens to be Google’s preferred flavour of site design.

Implementing Responsive design will mean your site will detect the type of device and resize your webpage to the appropriate dimensions.

Adaptive Design

Slightly less versatile as Responsive design, sites that use an Adaptive response will have preset configurations for a set group of devices. For those devices that fall outside of that group, it’s back to basics with a page not optimised for the screen dimensions of the user.

At this point I would recommend viewing your site through Feed The Bot’s excellent Mobile SEO Tool and then…

Mobile SEO Site Audit

Basically do what Aleyda says and carry out an in depth Mobile SEO audit (and enjoy the cat pictures). Time spent here will be money saved in the long run. You will understand the strengths and weaknesses of your site whilst also figuring out how important mobile is or isn’t to your site and business.

Technical Optimisation

Now is also the time to wake up to the not-very-new era of technical optimisation. It’s wrong to make assumptions, however I reckon there are a fair few site owners that have been urged strongly to implement effective mobile optimisation as well as other now vital areas of technical optimisation.

I won’t call it technical SEO as that seems clumsy. It is very clear that there are very strong ranking benefits from undertaking a technical review of your site and implementing best practice, but more simply than that, if you make your site, quicker, more simple and more compelling to use for your audience you will convert more.

If I ask a client if they want me to drive more traffic to their site or do they want me to make that traffic convert more, it’s the second option every time; and you’re likely to see an increase in traffic as well. Win-win.

So where do you start…?

Site Speed

Google likes sites that load fast. This is not news. Go visit Feed The Bot again and use the excellent (because you’ll get the theory in addition to the shaming) site speed tool to analyse (at a page level, so don’t just stop at your Home page) what needs addressing. These features should now become a default:

  • Enable Compression
  • Leverage browser caching
  • Minify CSS, HTML and Javascript
  • Eliminate render-blocking JavaScript and CSS
  • Optimise images

But on top of this review your hosting. Move your site to a dedicated server and get the double win of a much faster server response time, greater security and also eliminate bad IP neighbourhoods as a potential back link profile issue.

If yours is a site of considerable content, asset size (like image or video heavy sites) or if you sustain a lot of traffic then consider a Content Distribution Network once you’ve analysed the above areas, in order to help deliver content to your users faster. It works by having your content shared across multiple servers that geographically tie in with where your user may be.

Code Quality

This is an oft disputed facet of a site’s health. Compliance to W3C standards can be seen as not essential, search engines aren’t fussed with a site’s adherence to W3C. My view though when optimising a site is why make it harder for Google? Code quality is pretty fundamental to Google’s indexer discerning what a page is about so why risk it with imprecise code. Read more by Barry Adams on the necessity of W3C Compliance.

That said, balance is needed and making a page function in a certain way via what essentially boils down to a hack can be a necessary evil. No page will be perfect but for the benefit of the user it should be great.

Site Structure

Take a look at your most important content. It’s either much loved by your audience or a key element in the conversion process. This stuff should be made very easy to find for both user and search engine.

‘Crawl budget’ is now a major feature of Google’s indexing function. If your site is allocated a budget based on its perceived authority by a search engine, you don’t want to waste the budget’s time finding your killer content piece.

Those clever guys and gals at Screaming Frog have a nifty visualisation to identify at a top level where the bulk of your content is (or isn’t) and make you think about where it should be.
The image below shows a lot of content found 3 folders deep. The efficiency of this site could be maximised by looking at what is a level too deep. Subsequently the URL structure, XML sitemap and Robots.txt file should be reviewed to achieve that efficiency.

Scremaing Frog Content Structure Visualisation

In Conclusion

None of this is really new. Google has liked fast sites for a long time. Users have liked mobile friendly pages for a long time. We simply have more motivation to get it done and get it right. Certainly from a mobile responsiveness point of view at least.

And we have seen from the Panda and Penguin releases and subsequent update(s) that Google doesn’t get it right first time.

The next few months are a prime opportunity to get through a lot of those development tasks that have sat on the ‘nice-to-have’ to do list. The chances are many sites will not and may pay dearly.

What do you think? I’d love to read your thoughts below or Tweet me @GraemeBenge.

For more information on mobile optimisation and technical SEO, speak to us today.

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Graeme Benge
About the author

Graeme Benge

Graeme is a self-confessed chocolate addict and his carefully curated physique reflects this. His beard is better than yours and if you ever want to see such a majestic creature you can find him in the ‘room of doom’ listening to rock and heavy metal.

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