What do marketers need to consider to make sure they're optimizing their sites for the best mobile search experience possible?
There are two things to make clear right from the start. First, mobile search is not the same as doing search on your PC or laptop. Second, if you don’t optimize your websites for mobile search, you will most likely rank lower on the mobile search engine results page (SERP). If you continue that logic to its inevitable conclusion, ranking high on the SERP is what SEO is all about. If you don’t optimize for mobile search, you’re doing your customers a disservice and your brand is not getting all the lead generation traffic it could be getting. In either case, you’re not doing your job. And with global e-commerce sales made via mobile devices expected to top $638 billion in 2018, according to a forecast from Goldman Sachs, the downsides for missing the mobile opportunity are significant. For perspective, Goldman notes that was roughly the size of the world's entire e-commerce market from all devices in 2013.
A Little Bit of History and Perspective
I touched on this subject back in June 2014 and again in a post on ClickZ on the challenges of aligning mobile trends with search optimization. Back then, I made all the points about mobile optimization being the foundation of an enjoyable user experience (UX). The technical SEO factors on website design were covered and explained as the facilitator for the positive UX. Content best practices were covered, as were the emerging technologies such as voice search and structured authoring. I encourage you to go back and revisit the details.
Why are we back talking about it again? It’s because the predictions of the growing influence of mobile marketing are all proving to be true. People are hooked at the hip with their smartphones. They use them to do comparative search on prices for products while standing in one brick-and-mortar store looking to see if the price at the store down the street is lower. They use them in the stands at the Super Bowl to watch the TV commercials that have become creative entertainment. And engines are of course savvy to this. Sites not optimized for Google’s recent mobile-friendly updates are receiving penalty notifications via Google Webmaster Tools. And according to the BrightEdge Mobile Share Report, misconfigured websites lose up to 68 percent of smartphone traffic.
Sophistication of the Customer Journey
The customer journey has become more sophisticated as an "always on" experience for the marketer. You absolutely must be able to engage them on whatever device they happen to be on at the moment and whatever digital channel they are using, be it your brand website, social media, or e-commerce site reading reviews about your products.
Distribution of SEO Expertise
My colleague Drew Burns, product marketing manager for Adobe Target, characterizes some of the impacts of the increased sophistication of the customer journey on corporate governance and organizational models. I love to read articles about the practice of SEO being in decline. The fact is that SEO has become ubiquitous across all facets of marketing and is losing its unique identity. Simply, if you have a website that promotes your product or brand, you do SEO whether you engage the in house SEO experts or not. In order to ensure you are optimizing those websites for mobile applications, you need that expert level of expertise to guide you down the path – we refer to it as developing a Search Center of Excellence. Drew said it quite effectively in this paragraph from his article:
"Obviously, for a company of global divisions or many brands, a core team is required. What is interesting is that some companies prefer to have a physical core team, versed in optimization and managing the overall prioritization of tests while also using testing and reporting to identify areas of blockage or other obstacles to overcome relative to conversion and other key performance indicator (KPI) goals. They then rely on individuals from each business division to present their requirements for, or even build their own, test activities based upon their knowledge of the marketing or business drivers of their relevant product, service, or area of business. The core team trains these individuals in the principles of optimization, and again acts like a testing overseer to ensure that tests are not clashing or colliding, and that they are being run based on relative impact to the business or rated highest via a cost-benefit analysis."
The Core Product Team
The foundation for any undertaking is the people that will make it happen. Optimizing websites for mobile compatibility using responsive design techniques or any other number of options is part of that job. SEO analysts are the people that make sure the website is properly coded and the content is optimized. Many tests are run to evaluate the performance of the site and both content and on page coding changed to produce optimal performance in being crawled and indexed for search engine ranking. At Adobe, we have created centers of excellence for different search marketing functions with SEO being one of them. However, we take it a step further to embed and integrate one of our SEO experts with the core product team. That makes sure the website is created optimized for mobile SEO and audited periodically to validate its performance and ability to rank high on the SERP.
We also teach self-sufficiency to the product team by sharing knowledge about how to:
- Analyze your site and determine whether it is optimized for search
- Use keywords, links, and meta tags effectively without harming your page ranking
- Determine the difference between on-page and off-page factors and their impact on SEO
- Understand the latest SEO ranking factors
- Recognize what kind of content search algorithms favor now
- How to perform an SEO audit on your organization’s website
- Differentiate between different types of searches – navigational, informational, transactional
- Visually understand the anatomy of on-page SEO
The content optimization strategy we follow is simple but comprehensive. The critical precursor to executing this strategy is to stay abreast the changes of the search engine algorithms so we can alter and adjust our content optimization strategy to match.
- Identify keywords
- Organize content by message
- Optimize content
- Create content
- Link to content
- Test strategies
Once you complete the final step, go back and iterate repeatedly…rinse and repeat.
Search engine algorithms aren’t the only thing that can force a change of mobile SEO tactics and best practices. Emerging marketing technology can do it just as effectively. Another one of my colleagues, Ray Pun, wrote about mobile augmented technology (Mobile AR). The essence of mobile AR is this:
"AR technology uses computer vision and object recognition information about the surrounding real world and allows the user to become interactive, and to digitally manipulate the views through the mobile phone camera lens." The article deals with optimization techniques that are driven by a technology such as this, including optimization and measurement best practices that are needed to develop a good SEO testing strategy for this type of mobile website. It’s interesting in that it allows you to interact with the objects around you using the smartphone camera. Through mobile AR, gone are the days in which you had to drive to a physical store to fully check out or experience a product. Customers can now experience a product’s unique features digitally and press "buy now" without leaving their living rooms. Doesn’t that put a new wrinkle in how you think about mobile SEO?
Back to Search Engines to Wrap Things Up
As we know, Google’s now notifying sites if they’re not optimizing for mobile. While there has been discussion about whether or not this will affect a site’s ranking, plain logic should tell every brand that optimizing for mobile usability is a marketing best practice that should not be ignored. It’s in the best interest of your brands and your clients’ bottom line and will become more so as time move forward.