Up-Close @ SMX West: Experts Weigh In On Mobile SEO Best Practices

smx west14_spotlightWhat’s your best mobile SEO solution? Responsive design? A mobile dedicated site? An app? Four mobile SEO pros gave their expert insights on how to create successful mobile SEO strategies during the  “Best Practices in Mobile SEO” panel yesterday at SMX West.

Moderated by Search Engine Land’s contributing editor Greg Sterling, the session included presentations by Covario’s senior SEO manager Michael Martin, Resolution Media’s director of SEO strategy Bryson Meunier, MobileMoxy CEO Cindy Krum, and Google senior developer programs engineer Maile Ohye.

While each of the presenters offered a different aspect on mobile SEO – from the business case for doing it to implementing a more holistic approach to your overall mobile strategy, all agreed with Meunier when he told the audience, ““There is no one solution for every single case.”

Building the Business Case for Mobile SEO

Michael Martin kicked off the panel by presenting a business case for doing mobile SEO.

According to Martin, “People aren’t just streamlining on one device, but are shifting between devices.” Not only are more and more people going online with their mobile devices, but Martin claimed nine out of ten mobile searches lead to an action and over half result in a purchase.

Martin also reinforced the need for businesses to have a mobile site versus an app, claiming 92 percent of mobile interactions are completed over the web versus using app.

Is Responsive Design for Everyone?

Following Martin, Resolution Media’s Bryson Meunier gave an in-depth discussion on the pros and cons of responsive design, noting how even though Google is driving everyone toward responsive websites, it’s not always the best solution.

“Responsive design case studies are hard to find,” said Meunier, after listing a number of ways it falls short, including the fact that responsive design isn’t “future friendly” nor does it work in all countries. For example, responsive design does not work on feature phones which are the primary type of mobile device used in India.

Instead of simply going to a responsive design solution, Meunier encouraged the audience to, “Create contextual experiences as marketers,” adding that the only way to create a successful mobile SEO experience is by addressing your user’s mobile needs.

The Making of a “Super Fast” Mobile Page

MobileMoxy CEO Cindy Krum’s presentation on mobile SEO was a deep dive into page speeds, providing detailed insights explaining why speed is important and how brands can improve it.

“Studies have shown mobile users are more fickle than desktop users,” said Krum, “The faster you can make your content, the more likely it is to work on their phone.” Beyond the poor user experience created by slow mobile pages, Krum claimed slow page load times hurt crawl efficiency, resulting in fewer pages being indexed.

Krum went on to say that the problem with responsive design is that it often leads to slow load times when compared to dedicated mobile pages. “Responsive design slows everything down,” said Krum, highlighting the conflict between Google’s recommendation to use responsive design and the search engine’s insistence that mobile pages should load quickly for better SEO.

Krum also gave a list of tools mobile SEO managers can use to optimize mobile page speeds, including Google’s page speed insights web tool, Mobi Test from Akamai and W3C’s MobileOK Checker.

Krum’s parting words to the audience? “Don’t believe your developers when they say your mobile site is as fast as it can be.”

Mobile SEO Needs a More Holistic Approach

The final presenter was Googler Maile Ohye, who outlined a more holistic approach to mobile SEO. Referencing a Neilsen Group report, Ohye said the average mobile task completion success rate for web and apps was 62 percent, leaving plenty of room for improvement.

For more effective mobile metrics, Ohye told the audience mobile analytics should be reviewed on a more granular level, creating mobile personas to identify a user’s state of mind, device and channel locations, and tasks. “Today, what we need to think about is how each of these components plays a unique role in the user experience,” said Ohye.

When addressing the different mobile solutions, Ohye didn’t say responsive design is the only way to go, but she did discourage against forcing users to download an app on their initial visit to your mobile site.

“A mobile app should be about a brand that wants to build a relationship with its customer,” said Ohye, clarifying why it’s wrong to ask a user to download an app immediately.

“Apps are for the repeat customer, not first time visitor,” said Ohye.

You can find a collection of the presentation slides from SMX West on the SMX SlideShare page.