As someone who has been warning business owners about the upcoming mobile update since at least 2009, I have to say that the advice latecomers are getting in many blogs today seems kind of basic to me. Get a mobile site? Really? True, it’s necessary — but do we really need experts to tell us that?
It’s clear that many people do, unfortunately. Portent recently crawled the top 25,000 sites and found that 40% of them are not mobile-friendly. Yikes.
As I wrote last month, this may be intentional. Many webmasters may have de-prioritized mobile because of the apparent lack of potential traffic lost, given that their audience accesses content primarily on desktops. Or, it could be because they’re not aware of what’s obvious to a lot of us who have been in the game for a while.
But what if we already have a mobile-friendly site and we’re looking to the future? What can we learn from Google’s actions here that will help us on April 21 and beyond? As I see it, there are basically three things:
I’m reminded of an old video Matt Cutts made where he suggested we change not the name of SEO, but what it stands for — from “Search Engine Optimization” to “Searcher Experience Optimization.”
Google needs to create a better experience for their users than competitors like Bing and Facebook; if they don’t, they become Hotbot or Lycos as users migrate to other services they enjoy using more.
People access content differently on their smartphones and don’t want to have to do extra work because they happen to be searching on a smartphone. Fixing this and improving the mobile searcher experience is at the heart of this update.
Knowing that, there are things webmasters can do today to get ahead of the next update and help Google by making things better for mobile searchers.
For years, the standard with mobile web development was “simplify.” Developers were asked to create a mobile web experience that provided only essential information for mobile searchers, who were expected to be time-starved and on-the-go.
We now know that most smartphone use occurs at home, and the trend in the last several years has been to make content accessible on any platform. Responsive and adaptive design advocates have led the charge, Google has helped with their penalties for redirects to the homepage on mobile, and growth of full web experiences on smartphones has increased.
This is a positive trend, but we need to do more. Smartphones are equipped with technologies like cameras, microphones, accelerometers and GPS that desktops and laptops either don’t have or don’t have in a way that’s practical for people to use on a regular basis.
Google has used these in development of their search product to allow things in mobile search results that aren’t possible in desktop or traditional results: nearby searches using GPS rather than IP address, voice search, Google Goggles, etc. Why not do the same with your content and get ahead of your competition?
It’s not enough to make mobile experiences as good as desktop experiences anymore. We can and should make them better. Doing so will generate links, delight users, and drive traffic, as it has for Google search already.
Not to kick you while you’re down, readers. If you missed my warning in 2009, still aren’t mobile-friendly after countless warnings since, and are now under the gun to create mobile-friendly content in less than two weeks, you have it bad enough already. I do understand why this might have happened, though.
I know it’s tough to keep up with every smartwatch and personal headset and every Meerkat that’s hot one week and not the next. If you adopted every technology the minute it came out, you would spend unlimited resources being optimized for a small group of people that may never grow into a large group of people. Plus, as we discovered with our own mobile SEO case study, sometimes being an early adopter in mobile is not as immediately rewarding as you’d expect.
I’m not suggesting that you become an early adopter with everything — just the things that you keep hearing about, months and years after their debut. These tend to be things that people find useful, and dragging your feet for a prolonged period of time doesn’t help your customers or your business. (In the case of this update, in fact, it might even hurt you.)
All I’m saying is, don’t wait six years to pull the trigger on something that grows substantially every year. We’ve known this moment was coming for a while. Hopefully, next time, all of us will think about investing in features that help the searcher experience, even before Google announces that those things are a ranking factor.