What You Need to Know about Google’s Mobile-First Update

It’s coming soon…

At least this time, Google told you.

With most updates, you have no clue they’re hitting. Then, all of a sudden, you realize your rankings have tanked.

What happened?

Usually a Google update.

But Google’s made no secret of this one. Its Mobile-First update will happen. And it’s going to be a big change.

What Will the Mobile-First Update Do?

Google’s ultimate goal is to have one search index based on how your site serves mobile users. However, these search results will be served to both mobile and desktop users.

People search more on their mobile devices than desktop or laptop. So from a logical standpoint, the update makes sense.

If You Have a Responsive Site, Are You Already Prepared?

Possibly. But maybe not.

Mobile users may like your website, but that doesn’t guarantee Google will too.

Your site may look good on mobile devices. But that’s not exactly what Google looks for.

For example, people may look at your website on a variety of screen sizes. Smartphones come with many screen sizes. Tablets have a variety of sizes. Then you have laptops and desktops too.

Smart corporations design a unique experience for their mobile users. The branding is similar so the site remains recognizable. However, it’s a different experience.

That’s what you do in an ideal world.

Make Your content Easy to Read

Paragraphs should have about 3 sentences in them at maximum.

One-sentence paragraphs are totally okay, and you should include them throughout your content.

Your content should still include images. However, they should be scaled down from their original size for two reasons:

  1. So they don’t eat up the whole screen on a mobile device
  2. They’ll load faster, which gives your users a better experience

Diversify Your Traffic Sources

Although Google’s much better at punishing and rewarding sites as they justly deserve, it’s not perfect. Sometimes, you can follow all the rules with perfect intent and still get whacked.

You don’t always know exactly what Google will want. And they can make changes faster than you can adjust.

Using other traffic sources, besides organic traffic, is just sound business. These could include:

  • Social media
  • PPC
  • Video marketing
  • In-person marketing
  • Email marketing
  • Online review sites

You have plenty of opportunity to win traffic and keep driving it from non-organic sources.

When you follow these tips, the mobile-first update doesn’t have to be a nerve-racking experience.

Why The SEO Data You See is Wrong

Data-driven?

Everyone is.

…But what data are you looking at?

That determines how well you do going forward.

And unfortunately, another problem is that even when you have a super-smart SEO on your side, they’re still working from flawed, imprecise data. Because, it’s impossible to pull accurate data in many cases.

For example, Google used to show you the exact keywords that referred traffic to your website. Today, over 90% of that data gets hidden behind a phrase called “(not provided).”

Smart SEOs know how to get around this. But only to a degree. You simply can’t get all the data that Google formerly provided for free.

Groupon Conducted a Test to See What “Direct Traffic” Means

Google has a traffic source in Google Analytics called “Direct” traffic. Theoretically, this was supposed to mean people who typed your URL into their browser and hit “enter.”

However, Groupon wasn’t convinced by this explanation from Google. So they did something rather shocking and de-indexed themselves from Google.

Of course, traffic sank. But surprisingly, they also noticed a big dip in traffic going to their Deal pages.

Why is that such a big deal?

Those pages had long URLs…the kind you wouldn’t remember off the top of your head and type in. They found up to 60% of “Direct” traffic actually originated from organic optimized search.

And for example, email open rates are difficult to figure out too. Yes, every email service provider gives you open rate data.

But it’s far from precise. Because, it relies on a small tracking image, called a “pixel.” If you send plain-text emails, which many marketers do to give a personal feel, you can’t insert a pixel to track opens. Or, if an email app blocks images by default, which many do, the pixel isn’t shown, and the open isn’t tracked.

So what in the heck is your email open rate anyway?

With Google Adwords, say one campaign drives twice the leads of the next. Is that the better campaign?

…Maybe not.

How many purchases did you get from each campaign? Which customers led to the highest lifetime value?

Have you tracked either?

Don’t Fret – Your SEO Has the Answers

The point with data is you must have experience in knowing what it really means. What you get on the surface, even from leading companies like Google, doesn’t necessarily give you the full picture.

So, when your SEO presents you data, ask them why they trust what their delivering to you.

Why one metric…and not another?

At the end of the day, go with the SEO you trust most. The one who has your best interests. Because even the best SEOs have a difficult time getting you the most accurate data.

What Your URL Structure Needs to Be For the Best Search Rankings

SEO can be an awfully detailed and nit-picky science from time-to-time. If you have an anal-retentive SEO, hold onto them with all your might. Because, just a few letters can sometimes be the difference between ranking highly…or somewhere on the second page.

With your URLs, they have a specific science to follow. It’s not like you can do everything else with SEO wrong, have a strong URL, and rank anyway. But when you have a URL appropriately structured for SEO, it can be just the edge you need to move up a position or two…and snag a flood of traffic (versus just a drip).

So here’s what your SEO should make sure your URLs do:

  • Gotta Have Your Keywords

You can’t argue this one at all. No, you don’t need to spam the crap out of 3-7 different keyword phrases. In fact, you shouldn’t do that.

But the most important keywords to you for that page must appear in the URL somewhere. Besides sending a signal to Google, having the keywords in your URL also gives searchers another clue that your web page is in fact about the topic they just Googled. The URLs for each page show up in green just below the big blue title in search.

  • Your URLs Must Have a Logical Structure

Again, this one makes both Google and your users happy. Say you run an e-commerce site, with several product categories, and thousands of products.

Your structure should be something like http://www.example.com/category/sub-category/product/

Seems obvious, doesn’t it? What happens is that if you have multiple employees and several teams, sometimes this gets confused and out of order.

Or, if you’ve had multiple SEOs work on your website over the years, and their work gets combined with some of your own.

  • Make Your URL as Short as Possible

Shorter URLs are easier for Google and your users to understand. Leading blogs may have a URL like http://www.example.com/article-topic

Yep…just 2 words after the domain name.

You may or may not be able to do that at your site. But you should do it wherever possible.

You don’t have to be grammatically correct. Your URL just has to be simple for your users to understand. Because if they can get it, so can Google.

  • Avoid Dynamically Generated URLs

When was the last time you saw a URL like this:
http://www.example.com/products/?cid=7078ckuenkeulknn

Google has no problem evaluating this. But no user would ever search on that in Google. They might find that link through your site’s own internal search engine.

So, you need to create clean and optimized URLs to make them more commonly found in search…and to keep your searchers happy.

This can be quite a project if your website has thousands of such pages.

You can get tools that help you create sensible, optimized URLs.

So, that’s URL structure 101. If you don’t have URLs like these, you’re missing out on a strong opportunity to rank higher in search, get more organic traffic, and increase your sales.

6 Top Questions and Answers about SMB SEO

SEO isn’t easy. Nope. Not at all. Especially today. And it’s not going to get any easier. 

Plus, it’s changed dramatically from what it used to be 5 years ago.

Take a look at some of the top questions and answers about SEO in 2017 below:

  1. Is SEO right for my SMB?

Maybe. Maybe not. Today, you need a significant budget to achieve any kind of rankings. If you’re in a competitive market, you may easily need several thousand dollars per month. And you may also need time…upwards of at least a year before you begin to see results.

In some cases you may be competing with large brands, and it may be difficult, and nearly impossible, to overtake them in search.

  1. How will my SEO company help me win in search?

SEO these days is quite open-ended. There’s no one path to the top. Yes, there’s good solid fundamentals that help you succeed (on-page optimization, fast page load times, rock-solid content etc…).

But what’s your specific strategy?

Ask your SEO about your site and competition to see how they’re going to help you win in search.

  1. How do you attract links to my site?

Links are the lifeblood of any website. But not just any old links. You want high-quality links from reputable websites.

Google likes some ways you get links (promoting your content). But it doesn’t care for other ways you might choose to get links (building them on forums or placing them on directories).

In fact, doing the latter could completely ruin your website rankings. It’s important to know precisely how your SEO company will attract links to your website.

  1. Can you share a case study of a similar company you helped succeed?

Local SMBs can vary markedly by industry. Your SEO company may not have worked with another SMB that’s in exactly the same industry.

But they should have a customer story or two featuring another company in a similar industry. And they should be able to share exactly what they did to help that company achieve search success – as well as the results they got.

  1. What metrics do you measure to track progress?

Small business SEO is tricky…even for SEO companies. Your SEO company should be able to show you keyword rankings, the total number of pages on your website receiving search traffic, and the total amount of organic search traffic you get monthly.

  1. Do you have a contract?

If you like a SEO company’s approach, but they don’t have an extensive and verifiable track record, sign a contract with an opt-out clause after 3 months. Don’t sign a long-term contract if you don’t have concrete measures of the company’s reputation. If they do have a reputation you can research and verify online, then you can feel more comfortable signing a one-year contract.

Those are some of the most common questions you may ask a SEO company. Keep them in mind in your search going forward.

Watch Out for Bad SEO Information

As good as the Internet has become, the truth is web pages last forever. Theoretically, they can be found in any year – even though Google pushes the bad pages down its search rankings.

So, bad SEO advice can stay on the web for the rest of eternity. Then, what used to be great SEO advice, actually becomes bad SEO advice because Google’s changed how the game works.

It’s quite easy to read a blog post, think you’ve discovered a brand-new tactic that works, but end up doing something that doesn’t work at all, or even hurts your website rankings.

How Do You Spot Bad SEO Advice?

Let me explain the ultra-conservative way to use to make sure you’re reading only good SEO advice:

  1. Only Learn from the Most Reputable Blogs and Communities

Active blogs and communities only accept top-notch guest content. Or when they publish their own, they do an equally amazing job.

Their posts should get thousands of social shares. You should see at least 1,000 shares on the majority of their posts. Ideally, that number should be higher.

A blog with hundreds isn’t necessarily one to ignore. But if you’re being ultra-conservative, only wanting to stick to what really works, aim for thousands of shares.

  1. Does the SEO Have a Test To Back Their Claims Up?

Leading SEO minds always have their own test to back up what they say. They won’t say anything new, different, or controversial if they don’t have hard data standing behind it.

Google changes so much and so fast that you can make up a lot of different stuff and claim it works. The bright minds know you can’t get away with telling SEOs whatever you want.

Your SEO should have done the test themselves. Or, they should have a link they can send you that backs up any questionable claim they make.

  1. You Must Be Able to Understand What the SEO Says

SEO gets technical. Really technical. But that shouldn’t make it hard to understand. Even though some of the language and concepts get technical, a competent and trustworthy SEO can make them easily understandable…even if you consider yourself a SEO novice.

So, if you find yourself bombarded with “geek speak,” ask for clarification. Shoot, ask for clarification even if you know what the SEO means, just to test what they’re saying.

If you’re careful, it should be difficult to fall victim to bad SEO advice. Treat it like your most important business decision because it is going to significantly alter the destiny of your business.

Proximity to Searcher Now the #1 Ranking Factor for Local Search

Moz, a leading thinker on SEO, annually gathers the opinions of dozens of local SEO experts. They compile the data into a report to find out what really works in local SEO each year.

In 2017, experienced SEO consultants ranked “proximity to searcher” the most influential search ranking factor.

That’s ahead of links, citations, on-page SEO…you name it.

So, I guess you need to create a flying warehouse that uses drones for distribution like Amazon’s talked about?

They have a patent for it – true story!

Anyway, you can’t do that now. But until you can, focus on doing good solid local SEO so searchers can find you.

Besides your proximity to the searcher, what else can you do? Here’s a brief list of other factors, according to the survey from Moz:

  • Having a Physical Address in the City Searched

    Google’s relaxed on this one a little, much to the relief of SEOs here in the DFW Metroplex. It makes sense that, if you’re in the city where the searcher executes the search, you come up for the search.At the same time, what if you’re in a different suburb, but physically closer than a similar business who is in the suburb where the search happens?

    Google accounts for this more effectively when searchers search. Ideally though, you have a physical address in the city searched.

  • Link Quality

    Links have always been powerful for your rankings. While they’ve lost some strength over the years, they’re still strong today.And they’ll continue to be strong in the future, even though other factors may gain some potency too.

    Why?

    Links simply vouch for your website’s quality. Get a link from the New York Times, and you look awesome. Earn a link from a porn site, and you don’t look so good.

    The more links you get from other quality sites, the better. Because, Google only figures good sites link to other good sites.

  • Citation Consistency

    A “citation” is a mention of your NAP (name, address, phone number) information. You must be consistent with this…to the letter!If your address is “123 Fake St.,” Google gets annoyed when you so much as say “123 Fake Street” instead.

So, you have to decide on one way to discuss your address on the web, and then use only that information. And if you have a change, go back to all the other websites where it’s mentioned and get them to change it.

Kind of a pain. But the reality of today’s local SEO.

That’s Far From All…

Those are some of the most important local search ranking factors. But it’s not a complete list.

You can actually read them all in Moz’s 2017 Local Search Ranking Factor survey.

Here’s to high rankings in 2017 and beyond!