Best Practices for Mobile SEO – SMX West 2014

By Tad Miller | Mar 12, 2014
More Articles by Tad


This session is packed with an all-star mobile SEO team with Bryson Meunier, Cindy Krum, Maile Ohye and Michael Martin, and it’s even moderated by Greg Sterling.  All of them, with the exception of Maile Ohye who is handling a lot of stuff at Google, focus on mobile in their everyday professional lives.

There’s more time being spent on mobile devices now than on PCs, so this stuff is important…but it’s very complicated too.

SMX West 2014

SMX West 2014 – Best Practices for Mobile SEO

Michael Martin, Senior SEO Manager at Covario

Google’s goal is now putting computing everywhere.  It’s not just a repository of information.  Google is now a conversational engine.  This allows for better targeting or results and helps them determine search intent.

Michael’s points in getting into the mobile search conversation:

  • Load Time – it’s important to get it right
  • Usability – users actually prefer the mobile web over apps for convenience.
  • Getting Keyword Intent from Data – Do they want to check stock, find reviews, see product videos or get click to call or business locations?
  • There is a sense of prestige in having a mobile website for businesses.  It builds brand equity.
  • 9 out of 10 mobile searches lead to an action and over half lead to purchase
  • 1 out of every 3 searches is done on a mobile device in 2014
  • Average person shifts attention between a smartphone, tablet and laptop 21 times an hour, according to Optimum Media Direction
  • Covario thinks about mobile SEO from a multple device perspective

Bryson Meunier, Director of SEO Strategy at Resolution Media

There are 3 options for mobile site configurations:

  1. Responsive web design (Google favors this)
  2. Dynamic (adaptive) design
  3. Dedicated mobile sites

Google wants you to go with responsive web design, but they also want it to work and use technology that provides a good user experience.  They don’t want you to have a slow site either.

Bryson doesn’t “hate” responsive web design, but it’s often perceived that he does.  It has some benefits though.  Some marketers are definitely succeeding with it.  It’s difficult to find successful SEO case studies about the use of it.

Where responsive falls short:

  • Impossible to provide different experience
  • Not appropriate for emerging markets or older phones
  • IT managers don’t like it
  • You have to understand intent and context to provide the best experience per device
  • Mobile searchers have different needs and intents for a mobile site
  • Searches on-the-go need an optimal mobile experience, and responsive design doesn’t really work for it like dedicated mobile pages or adaptive design
  • Marketers need to create adaptive experiences

Dedicated and dynamic pages work for taking advantage of context-specific marketing and can maintain link-retained value.  There are case studies to support their use from an SEO standpoint.

There are problems with developers having the technical know-how on direct mobile and adaptive mobile sites.

You have to find which technology works best for your site.  There are many ways to win in mobile.

Cindy Krum, CEO of Mobile Moxie and Author of Mobile Marketing: Finding Your Customers No Matter Where They Are

Cindy is discussing how to make your mobile site fast-loading, and mobile ranking signals.

  • Google says side to side scrolling is a negative ranking factor and above the fold rendering is important.  Moving JavaScript around can remedy problems with getting too many server requests – defer the JavaScript requests to get faster loading.
  • Flash is still a negative for mobile web design.
  • CSS Selectors need to be efficient.
  •  Bi-directional alternation is good when you have a mobile-specific site.

Setting up mobile HTTP Headers is a signal that Google interprets as a mobile indicator.  Varies: user-agent is good for Responsive Sites.  You must work out your CDN cache issues though.

Broken content is a negative in mobile.  These pages don’t rank well.  Flash, pop-ups, side to side scrolling, tiny fonts, tiny buttons, and content only available for certain mobile devices are all negatives.

Page Speed is important:

  • Slow page load slows down the web-crawler to index the site and makes them leave early if it’s not efficient. It also provides a poor user experience.
  • Responsive design actually loads slower than desktop pages because of all the extra code.
  • Remove unnecessary code.
  • Design for mobile first.
  • Compress all JavaScript, CSS, and HTML.
  • Minimize all JavaScript, CSS, and HTML.
  • Send Sized and Compressed Images.
  • Consolidate DNS Requests.
  • Optimize Load Order.
  • Use inline JavaScript and CSS for above the fold content.
  • Put small images and layout elements into Optimized CSS Sprites.
  • Defer or asynchronously load JavaScript content below the fold.

Tools for optimizing page speed:

Load time is super important.  Consider a mixed or staged approach depending on your page content or objective (you don’t have to use just one method.  You can use responsive and mobile specific on the same site).

Maile Ohye, Senior Developer – Programs Engineer at Google

You need a holistic strategy for mobile sites and apps.

Evolving Mobile SEO

Apps are in mobile search now, just like sites are in search results the search box is combining them both now.  In-app indexing is rolling out.  If you have the app on your phone you can get the app coming up in your search results too and go to the result in your app.

Mobile web task completion average success rate is 62% according to Nielsen.  The other 38% is an opportunity.

Mobile users reach you with apps. Browsers search or direct, Referral, Mobile App Store or Direct from the device.  It’s complicated now because we need to think about how all these components can be used.  Each plays a unique role and you have to determine which role each plays.

The technical part and the user experience are the important things for mobile SEO to Google.  Check out the Google Developers site for how to address these things.

Optimizing for Apps is just like Mobile SEO.

Mobile metrics

  • Granular approach is required.  Use Micro-conversions.
  • Needs Persona development.  How does the mobile website play a role for task completion of the persona.  Is it easy for these personas to do task completion?  Then give task completion scores to evaluate.
  • Consider attribution in terms of what the purchase was.

Iterate and make improvements

Address the weak tasks (do they take too long).  If not, improve it and make it a more seamless experience.

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