Why brands need to get mobile ready. Now

Chris DaleyMobile search rankings are about to plummet for brands and companies who aren’t mobile compatible say David Coats and Chris Daley.

Google has announced planned changes to the way it ranks websites in searches made on smartphones that will mainly affect websites with common configuration mistakes. These include poorly implemented redirects from desktop to smartphone websites, and smartphone-specific errors such as unplayable videos. However, it is the underlying point of the announcement – the broader acknowledgement by Google that smartphone users are a significant and fast growing segment of internet users, and that Google has the specific intent to ‘improve the search experience for smartphone users – that is most interesting.

To give you a sense of how important this announcement is for brands, it is perhaps useful to talk through the history of mobile search rankings.

The phrase ‘mobile SEO’, as in mobile search engine optimisation, has been around for many years, however the impact of activities related to mobile SEO have always been heavily debated. That’s because differences in rankings between mobile and desktop were barely noticeable before 2011, even with Google’s blended mobile ranking construction introduced in 2009. Apart from local results being more likely, not much else seemed to be different. Google did, however, implement a lot of user experience enhancements in that time, with auto-completion being a good example of how they helped users ask the questions faster, even if the answers were, or seemed to be, the same.

As a result the practice of mobile SEO was considered one and the same as normal SEO. Rand Fishkin, a prominent SEO figure and founder of Moz.com, declared as recently as 2011 that “mobile and normal web browsing experiences will continue to merge toward a single experience”. However, not much later that year, Google did start to differentiate between mobile and desktop organic results, releasing a blog post about how to optimise a mobile website, and by mid 2012, there was clear evidence of differing results between mobile and desktop organic searches. A few months later, mobile SEO specialist Bryson Meunier published 16 differences between mobile and desktop search results which clearly demonstrated different listings, layouts and more.

David Coats

David Coats

So now we have an official confirmation from Google that poor mobile website configuration can harm mobile search results, what is next for mobile search?

We think good results flow naturally from good user experience – it’s encouraging that Google is supporting this premise. Google clamping down obviously suggests there are lots of technically poor mobile sites out there that are unfit for this new multi-screen reality. As a business, we are very focused on how multiple devices can work fluidly together, including when and how context and performance can be satisfied by a responsive or adaptive design. If we are entering a new phase, it is a more consolidated one where SEO and user experience are aligned and a mobile-first approach can cater for all screens using a range of techniques.

We also think that with the rise of personalised search, loss of data in analytics from Secure Search, and changes brought by Google’s Penguin updates, a good inbound marketing strategy is critical. An approach that integrates technical configuration with social, content, and other earned marketing is pivotal to success across both desktop and mobile SEO. It’s great to see Google addressing the differences between mobile and desktop search behaviours and intent, and pushing webmasters to provide a better experience to mobile users.

David Coats is SEO director at Reprise Media and Chris Daley is head of design and user experience at Mnet.

Encore issue 20This story first appeared in the weekly edition of Encore available for iPad and Android tablets. Visit encore.com.au for a preview of the app or click below to download.


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