SEO

Mobile SEO: Should I Be Worried?

As a CEO and father, I’m an expert on anxiety.

So I understand why Google’s mobile search algorithm update (aka Mobilegeddon) has CEOs and marketing teams popping Xanax. Before you reach for the prescription, though, do this test. It’ll help you figure out if you need to take action. Then, keep reading to see your options:

1. Do you really need mobile?

Not every business needs a mobile presence. If you sell algae to isolated paramecium communities, you can fall a bit in the mobile search results and still hit your revenue target.

Ask yourself
0 pointsIs your mobile traffic growing?
0 pointsDo you get more than 10% of your traffic from mobile devices?
1 pointDo you even care about customers on mobile phones? (no = 1 point)

Your score
0 points Swear a bit. Then keep going.
1 points Yay! You’re done. Move on to more urgent things.

2. Check your site

First, head over to Google Webmaster Tools. Or send a minion. Click All Messages. Do you see a message like “Fix mobile usability issues found on http://www.yoursite.com?” Then your site has issues, and it may have a hard time ranking well in post-April 21 mobile search results. Yes, it’s that simple to diagnose.

If, for some insane reason, your team doesn’t have Google Webmaster Tools set up, use the Google Mobile-Friendly Test Tool. Test your home page and a few other pages on your site. Then, go get your team to set up Google Webmaster Tools (and Bing Webmaster Tools for good measure).

Ask yourself
1 pointDid your site pass the mobile-ready test?

Your score
0 points Your palms are sweaty. Keep going.
1 points Phew. You’re done. Go stress about cash flow, instead.

3. Determine scope

Read the warning message you found in step 2.

Ask yourself
100 pointsWhat % of pages have issues? Subtract that from 100

Your score
100 points I bow to you. Go have a beer.
80-99 points Tune up, but you’re in better shape than Lance Armstrong on BPH.
50-79 points Get worried. You’ve got things to fix.
0-49 points Yeahhhh ok. Lock your dev team in until you score 80+.

4. Decide what to do

It’s up to you, but if you’re still reading and you want to compete for customers in mobile search results, you probably need to make some changes. Whether you make them now or later, here are your options:

Site-wide problems

If 75% or more of your site has mobile usability issues, consider 2 reasonable and 1 slightly less reasonable option:

Fix those issues. If you have a few specific problems with a site that’s otherwise mobile-friendly, fix those problems. Yay! You’re done!

Re-build your site on a responsive framework. Responsive sites adapt and adjust to different size screens. I favor this option. It’s more expensive at first, but it’ll save you money and hassle in the long run.

Build a separate mobile site. Send visitors to a separate mobile site if they’re using a mobile phone. This gets really complicated for anything but brochureware. Don’t let your team or web developer push you this route without talking to someone else.

Page-specific problems

Google’s new mobile algorithm will consider the mobile-friendliness of each page on your site. You can improve mobile-friendliness for important pages first, saving time, money, and hopefully rankings.

Just make the most important pages mobile friendly. This gets tricky. If your site runs on a content management system, you may not be able to edit specific pages. You could replace current pages with ‘static,’ responsive ones, though. This is a great short-term solution.

Build specific mobile-friendly pages. Or, direct mobile users who visit specific pages on your site to mobile versions of those pages. Blech. This will turn your web site into unmaintainable spaghetti. And you’ll end up paying much more in long-term development costs. But if it’s all you’ve got, do it.

You’ve got options

The bottom line: Yes, the Google mobile search update is a big deal. But you need to decide if it’s a big deal to you. If you want your business to do well in mobile search results after April 21, you have lots of options. Exercise them and you could have a real competitive advantage.

A brief note

I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard enough about mobile SEO in the last four weeks. I’d like to talk about something more refreshing like, I dunno, taxes. But this is really important. It’s a big change. So I’ll keep talking about it. Until I can’t stand it any more. Which may be soon.

Shameless self promotion: Yes, Portent does mobile SEO

 

By the way: I’m launching a new video series called “Fat Free Internet Marketing Tips.” Every day or so, I post a new, less-than-ten-minute video answering a specific digital marketing question. First chapter is all about SEO. You can watch the basics and get a good background, then hand the nerdy stuff over to your dev team, laugh at my attempt to sound authoritative, or create new memes based on my tacky slides. Watch it here.

CEO & Founder

Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent and the EVP of Marketing Services at Clearlink. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Follow him on Twitter at portentint, and on LinkedIn at LinkedIn.com/in/ianlurie.

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Comments

  1. Hi Ian! I appreciate the candor in your article — I agree that mobile optimization is something that webmasters and SEOs should be aware of without losing their collective sanity. For WordPress (or CMS users in general), I think the issue is fairly easy to sidestep altogether by using responsive themes, minimizing the amount of plugins that you use overall (if you don’t really need it, scrap it!), and using a plugin such as W3 Total Cache to help improve page load speeds.
    In addition to Google’s mobile-friendly test tool, I think FeedTheBot (http://www.feedthebot.com/) is worth a mention.

    1. Feedthebot is a great one, thanks.
      And yes, responsive is the best way to go and has been for quite a while. But it’s harder – it does take more money and time.

  2. What about using WordPress plugins like WP-Touch? I’ve heard great things about them, but I get the feeling you are poo-pooing that option.
    And for people who can’t afford to pay developers thousands of dollars to “make” the site mobile friendly or develop a responsive theme, this seems like a great option.
    Your comments around utilizing a separate mobile site make it sound like you advise against it and you do not offer this (plugins like WP-Touch) as a solution in your post.
    Can you explain further?
    P.S. LOVE your take on the mobile algo overall. Many people don’t even need to worry about it at all. Although I would argue that at some point everyone should address mobile as its only growing.

    1. I think that WP-Touch is a good interim solution for a site that doesn’t have stuff like e-commerce. We’ve had mixed results with it. But it’s certainly better than nothing, and a fantastic option if you’ve got a tight budget.
      My colleague Richard Baxter hits the nail on the head when he says “the future of mobile is search.”

  3. Once we’ve determined that we are making changes and how we intend to accomplish that task, what tools do you recommend we use to track whether the changes are working? According to most of the mobilegeddon news, if we get ourselves mobile-friendly, we should see an improvement in ranking results as soon as new pages are indexed.

    1. Watch mobile traffic, rather than rankings – Google is shoving organic SERPs so far down the mobile page that traffic is really the most important.
      Note that the mobile update doesn’t appear to have had a huge impact. Our eyebrows went up when this research shows how many sites haven’t done anything for mobile yet.

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