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What's New for Mobile SEO?

By David Baldie, Global Director of Mobile Engineering, Anheuser-Busch InBev

David Baldie, Global Director of Mobile Engineering, Anheuser-Busch InBev

Quite a lot if you have not been paying much attention to the SEO world lately. It has already been two years since mobile surpassed desktop as the number one way people access the internet. Search providers are experimenting with ways to serve up relevant search results to mobile users, and sites that specifically cater to the mobile experience are winning.

"In the current age of mobile-first-everything, the old approach of building a good enough desktop site and treating the mobile experience as an afterthought is long gone"

Earlier this year, Google sent shockwaves through the SEO community when they announced that their search ranking algorithm would become “mobile-first”. Rumors began to surface suggesting that there was a separate index being used for mobile pages. If so, there would be a mad dash to capture the top slot in the mobile rankings. Luckily the rumors were not true. There is still a single index, but the way that index is updated has changed dramatically. Google now prioritizes the mobile version of your website as the primary experience, with desktop relegated to being the fallback. Now if there are two sites with the same content, but one of them does not follow best practices for mobile, it will be penalized. For some businesses this could make all the difference.

Google is not the only search provider making mobile-first adjustments to their algorithms. Other search giants like Baidu, Bing, and Yahoo! have also tweaked their indexing and ranking to explicitly favor the mobile experience. As a site owner, this means you need to ensure you are following best practices for mobile optimization if you want to stay relevant.

There are a few different methods site owners have adopted to cater to mobile users and each method affects what will be necessary to make the most of mobile-first indexing. Those who have implemented the Accelerated Mobile Page (commonly known as AMP) framework are in great shape already as crawlers recognize this as being specifically optimized for mobile. The same is true for sites whose pages employ Responsive Design. However, those who have separate links to their mobile content will need to ensure that it matches the desktop content. This is critical as it was common practice years ago to have limited content on your mobile pages with the assumption that only the basics needed to be covered for mobile users. Additionally, the metadata used to provide information about the site needs the desktop metadata for these mobile-specific pages. If there is any structured data used to alter the appearance and provide context-specific information for search results, that too will need to be updated.

One thing that has not changed is that speed is still king. In fact, it is even more critical when it comes to ranking pages for the mobile experience. Roughly half of connected devices are still using 3G, especially in developing countries where mobile phone ownership is more common than bank account membership. Search providers consider site speed as a major factor when determining ranking.

In the current age of mobile-first-everything, the old approach of building a good enough desktop site and treating the mobile experience as an afterthought is long gone. Users now assume that the sites they visit on their phones will be mobile-friendly, and their experience is compromised when that is not the case. Sites that don’t make their mobile experience a top priority will soon find their search rankings suffering and their users grumbling.

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