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Google Mobile Friendly Update and Technical SEO Opportunities

SEO 8th Apr 2015

Hi everyone. Thanks for joining me today. I’m going to be talking about two things, one that’s been big in the news, and the second thing is something that I view as a big opportunity really.

So the big news recently was that Google was going to be unleashing its mobile-friendly update. For those not in the know, what Google is going to look to do is for web pages, specifically pages that give a good mobile experience to the user, those pages are going to be favoured over the top of pages that do not give a good mobile user experience in mobile searches that are done on Google. So currently we’re seeing lots of Webmaster Tools messages coming in where Google is sampling pages on different domains and giving its verdict on how un-mobile-friendly they are and with some guidance on what can be done to change that.

This I think is a pretty big change in the landscape really, because we had the Penguin update, which addressed poor or over-optimized backlinks, and we’ve had the Panda update, which addressed over-optimized content, broadly speaking. Those hit a lot of sites that knowingly were bending or stretching Google’s guidelines in those particular fields and a lot of unknown sites where webmasters just didn’t understand what they could and couldn’t get away with when it came to what a site needed to do to be eligible for organic searches.

So that hit a lot of sites. This I think is probably going to be a bit bigger because more and more mobile searches are being made. It’s fast approaching the preferred method of using Google. It’s around about 50%, 50-50 mobile versus desktop as it currently stands, and you kind of see that only continuing to grow. So it makes sense from Google’s point of view to address the quality of the mobile search engine results pages, and fundamental to that is going to be serving up web pages from websites that give a good user experience. Because there’s no doubt about Google are able to analyse what happens once someone clicks through to a website, and user experience is ever more a performance indicator. I don’t want to say a ranking factor yet, but probably is or is very soon to be explicitly a major ranking factor.

So that’s a kind of background on sort of what’s happened recently. Mobile-friendly, lots of chat about it at the moment and as a result many, many businesses that make a lot of money or interact with their audience online as a marketing channel or as a sales tool are currently racing to make sure that their site or their key pages are mobile-friendly and addressing any kind of guidance that Google has given them via a Webmasters Tool message.

A lot of this is not new news. Google has made it quite clear that a great mobile experience is a fundamental aspect to a website, and businesses that are looking to interact with an audience online need a great mobile experience. So this is not a new thing.

The other opportunity that this poses is that there’s probably a number of technical optimisation jobs or to-do lists that have been put off and put off and put off that mobile optimisation has probably been amongst. So it strikes me as a great opportunity to fix some other big, fundamental things that websites can gain on their competitors by fixing.

So we’ve got the mobile-friendly update, which means making sure that your key pages are optimised for a mobile experience.

Site speed is and has been a massive talking point. Google has made it very clear that it likes fast loading pages. Reason for that is that if a page loads quicker, they’re able to crawl and then index the content on the page quicker. So there’s a little bit of encouragement from them into making certain that your page loads fast and getting a ranking benefit off the back of that.

With that, you’ve got to look at some of the kind of granular stuff and analysing the kind of assets that a page is using to build a page for the user. Typically, images are a heavy source of load time. So it’s a case of optimising those images as much as possible without deteriorating the user experience. Using compression as well to deliver the content of the page. Being a bit savvy with some of the other HTML stuff so that you’re not causing a code bloat where there’s excessive code really slowing down a page loading.

So it’s quite a good time to think also about code quality. I think a lot of people perhaps dismiss adhering to W3C standards as being kind of unnecessary. It’s not a ranking factor, so why bother really delving into it? I can kind of get that, because when it comes to executing a particular function on a page that is going to benefit your user, it might well be that in the process you’re going to end up breaking a few of the rules. So I understand that. However, we see lots of sites where the coding is sloppy really and potentially harmful when Google is looking, in the indexing phase, at the content on a page itself. If the code is going to make it harder for Google to understand what subject or context your content is relating to, then it kind of stands logically that it’s going to probably affect your ability to rank for particular search queries as well. So it’s a good opportunity to kind of get the house in order from that point of view.

As I say, though, I think it’s a case of balancing this. If there is a need to do something that’s not kind of in line with the W3C standards, then as long as it’s for the good of the user and the overall picture is not a sloppily coded website, then that’s going to make perfect business sense. It’s definitely an opportunity to kind of clear up some of the clutter that’s out there.

Site structure as well, very much a case of thinking about where your money pages are, where your killer content is. Have you buried it a little deeper into the site than it really needs to be? Does it need to be a bit further up in the site structure, which will make it easier for users to find but equally easier for Google to find? We understand that Google assigns a crawl budget to each website, so you’ve got a matter of time for Google to crawl everything on your site. If that elapses before the real pearls of your site are found, then you’re kind of kicking yourself in the teeth there, really.

So site structure I think is a key thing to kind of think about. The likelihood is that a lot of sites tend to stay fairly static over time. A rethink about how your customers are interacting with your site and looking at the real assets that your site contain, be it looking at Google Analytics for user interaction signals or just downright, straight, simple sales conversions, and thinking about where those should sit in the overall structure of your site, this is a great opportunity now to look at doing that, with the aim of optimising your site for more conversions as well as making it easier for Google to crawl and easier for Google to index the content that your site has.

We can also use this opportunity to analyse what control you have currently over your site in terms of what content is able to be indexed, what content you don’t want to be indexed or crawled, just so that you can make your site a bit more efficient when Googlebot lands on your site and is crawling it, looking for content to add to its index and then ultimately to serve to the users.

So the mobile-friendly update, we’ve actually been given the date of the 21st of April. So there’s a lot of chatter out there about this being some sort of apocalypse of the mobile SERPs. I think it’s going to be a big hitting update. I think the fact that we’ve got a deadline it makes optimising your site for mobile search much more . . . there’s a real motivation now to get that kind of actions done to the site so it’s ready for when that comes. But it strikes me as an ideal opportunity to address some of the bigger things that Google has made quite clear as aiding a site in being able to be discovered in their search engine listings.

So that’s it from me. I think, as I said, mobile-friendly, vital that sites update so that they give the best mobile experience they possibly can, but also don’t stop there. Think about how else, from a technical point of view, the site can benefit from being optimised. Ultimately, all these things will make sites better. So it stands to reason that it’s going to be a valuable use of time and resource.

If you’ve any questions, do get in touch. We’re happy to do technical SEO audits of sites. You can contact me on Twitter. I’m @GraemeBenge, or you can speak with our sales on our social platforms, which will follow this video, or keep up with us on the Koozai TV channel. Thanks very much.

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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