Not ready for Google’s mobile update? Here’s what you can do

Not ready for Google’s mobile update? Here’s what you can do
Thursday, April 09, 2015
SEnsign
SEO

These days, Google isn’t really trying to hide that fact that they’re pretty frustrated with the pace of mobile-friendly content development across the Internet. That’s why it wasn’t terribly surprising when the search giant took the unprecedented step of telling websites to get mobile friendly or else.

As you’ve probably heard by now, on April 21st Google will roll out an algorithm update to expand its “use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal.” While that statement may be characteristically vague, it’s clear that web content that is not optimized for mobile devices will suffer in the organic search results once this update rolls later this month. Unlike a lot of Google’s updates, this one will essentially touch every site on the web and affect roughly half of all searches. Essentially, that makes this update bigger than Panda, Penguin and all the rest. So what if you’re not ready? After all, Google did give site owners less than two months’ notice (setting aside the myriad of other not-so-subtle hints over the years). That’s not exactly ample time to devise a comprehensive mobile content strategy. So, if you find yourself behind the eight ball, here are some things you can do in the short term to give your content a fighting chance in Google’s new mobile world.

Optimize to the 80/20 Split

While details on the mobile update are still pretty vague, one thing we know is that  mobile friendliness will be evaluated at a page level rather than a site level. That means that individual pages of content could still do well with a mobile-friendly experience, even if your whole site is not ready. In many cases, a relatively small number of pages account for the bulk of organic traffic. If you can find that 80/20 split, the task of getting your content ready for the mobile update suddenly looks a lot more manageable. Here’s a graph of actual client data:

Mobile data

This graph represents all of the organic landing pages for a client over a 90-day period. The pretty colors are the top ten individual pages, and the  gray area represents the rest. There are thousands of pages in all, and, as you can see, just 10 pages account for more than 60% of the total traffic. The top two account for half of the traffic. If those two pages happen to use the same template, you could cover half of your organic search traffic by upgrading a single page template to responsive design. As we all know, Google has been pretty clear that the concept of responsive design is the preferred mobile-friendly method for Search Engine Optimization. Now, everyone knows that there is a ton of value in that long tail of content. That needs to be addressed over time (and the sooner the better), but getting at a solution for the content that handles the majority of your organic traffic is a logical place to start with such a limited time frame.

Get Your Local Data In Order

If local search is important to your business, then you can bet that mobile is critical as well. If your local web content won’t be mobile-ready in time for the update, you may need to look elsewhere in the search engine results pages to get some traction. If local web content that’s ranking today gets dinged for not being mobile-friendly, it stands to reason that local results through the Google Maps channel will become even more important. Making sure your data is accurate, complete and optimized there and throughout the local search ecosystem will give your maps listings a fighting chance. On the smaller screen, these listings often get top billing for localized searches. That can make it the most valuable spot on the page in many cases. Reports are also saying that the lack of a mobile site will not impact the ranking of these listings, which makes that channel a nice short-term workaround. Getting your act together with respect to your local business listings makes a lot of sense in the face of this update, but it’s also a foundational piece of any comprehensive digital marketing strategy.

Leverage Your App

For years, the question of whether to invest in a native mobile app or a mobile website has been bouncing around. The answer to that question is obviously different for everyone, but if you’ve chosen to invest in a mobile app and put your mobile site on the back burner, you may feel unprepared for this latest algorithm update. However, as Google said in the announcement of the mobile update, indexed app content will have a chance to feature “more prominently in search” for users who have your app installed.  The action items here is pretty simple. If you haven’t already, make sure you implement app indexing and add deep linking to expose the content in your app to Google (see Google’s step by step guide on this). This is especially important if you have a mobile app that contains a version of much of the useful content on your website. In the absence of a mobile-friendly site, your app could help you maintain some mobile mind share with your customers.

 Put Up Some Cash

The reality is, if you’re not ready to face the big mobile update with a comprehensive mobile strategy, you may need to rent one. Given that more than half of searches in many categories come from mobile devices, odds are you can’t afford to put a significant portion of your organic traffic at risk. Paid search is a straightforward way to make up for that. By taking a look at your top performing keywords and content, you can pretty quickly get an idea of where you need coverage. With the limited real estate on mobile screens, Google’s ads can take up a significant portion of the space. Just take a look at this mobile search for “plumbers”:

plumbers

As you can see, the top three results are all paid ads with highly relevant content and calls to action. Getting your share of the pie in mobile certainly includes a paid search strategy, and giving that a shot in the arm is an excellent short term way to bridge the gaps in your larger mobile strategy as this new update rolls out.

Of course, all of these things are just short term fixes to a problem that needs a long-term solution. If mobile hasn’t become a key element of your online marketing strategy by now, this update is just a not-so-subtle reminder from our friends at Google that you’ve been missing out on a whole lot of volume for some time. As you look to employ some of these tactics to plug some short term mobile holes, make sure you have a much larger strategy for the mobile-first world that we’re already living in.

Scott Ensign, Vice President of Search Marketing

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