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Conversion Optimization and Google’s Mobile-Friendly Update

by Sharon Hurley Hall

Is Google’s mobile-friendly search ranking update, due to land on April 21, the end of the world?

Probably not, but with people talking about Mobilegeddon and the Mopocalypse, you might think it is. Let’s step back from the hyperbole for a minute.

Google's mobile friendly update - Mopocalypse or not? Google’s update probably isn’t the end of the world.

Why We Should Have Expected the Mobile-Friendly Update

First of all, the update shouldn’t be a big surprise. Google has been trying to ensure that mobile device users have a great experience for years.

In the past Google has released guidelines on everything from the best approaches to design (responsive) to the optimal page load time (under one second). In other words, we’ve been warned.

The difference is that what used to be “nice to have” is now a “must have.”

To put it another way, after the carrot comes the stick: everything Google has been telling us about mobile will affect search rankings in all languages worldwide.

The goal is for mobile device users to “get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.” The update isn’t just about websites, either. Mobile searchers who are signed in will also see content from their indexed apps.

So what does this mean for your conversion rate optimization (CRO) strategy?

We already know that search engine optimization (SEO) and CRO go hand in hand, because you need to ensure that people can find the pages that give the best conversions. With more people using mobile devices, optimizing for mobile search is a must, as is making sure that all your key pages pass the mobile-friendly test (more on that later).

Here’s something else to think about: that landing page you’ve spent so much time optimizing may not be where people actually land once Google starts indexing app content. So it will be more important than ever to optimize a wider range of potential entry points to maximize conversions.

This update gives users more control and, as Hubspot points out, stops people from wasting their time on a poor mobile user experience.

How to Figure Out if Your Site is Mobile-Friendly

So, what do you do? The first step is to find out whether the Google crawler sees your site as mobile-friendly.

Google’s been highlighting mobile-friendly sites for mobile users since November 2014.

Now there’s a mobile-friendly checker so you can see for yourself if your web pages make the cut. Put in your URL, wait a short while and get the result. It’s a pass/fail result and if your page fails, there are recommendations on how to fix it.

If you want to check a whole site, then Google’s Page Speed Insights tool is a better option.

This gives a snapshot of both desktop and mobile performance, using traffic light colors to show where the main issues are. Fix anything that’s marked urgent and you will be on the way to a site that works well for everyone.

The Google Guide to Optimizing for Mobile

Webmasters Mobile Guide

Want to really nail being mobile-friendly? Then follow Google’s own guide. That has links to testing tools, guidelines on creating mobile-friendly websites and advice on SEO best practices. Here are a few highlights from the guide:

For a start, it includes a guide to optimizing WordPress sites for mobile. Since millions of sites use this content management system, this is extremely useful. Tips from the WordPress section include:

  • Use the mobile device emulation tool built into Google Chrome to see how your site will look on specific devices.
  • Run a quick check to see if your site is responsive by resizing the browser window to see if the content moves to fit the available space.
  • Get quick recommendations for choosing mobile-friendly themes and plugins.

SEO and Mobile Conversions

The section on mobile SEO may be where you can make the biggest changes that will have an impact on conversions.

It’s worth noting here that when Google talks about mobile optimization, it’s focusing primarily on smart phones (tablets are seen as a different type of device).

That’s perhaps because smartphones are so prevalent and are now a key part of the conversion funnel. People use them for browsing, product research and may make the decision to buy because of information found on their phones, even if they complete purchases elsewhere.

So if your site is not mobile friendly, you could be losing those customers to a competitor with an optimized site. However, if you go mobile first, then your site will work well on all devices, removing one more barrier to conversions.

The mobile SEO section digs into:

  • the three main mobile configurations. Google recommends responsive design, but dynamic serving (which will generate and render a different version of your site depending on the browser that people are using) and separate mobile sites on different URLs are also listed.
  • how to ensure that search engines understand the configuration you have chosen
  • configuration for tablets and feature phones
  • common mistakes with mobile SEO

Common Errors with Mobile Optimization

It’s worth looking at the common mistakes section of the guide in more detail, as this highlights some areas which typically provide barriers to conversion. Issues to look for and address include:

  • poor linking practices on mobile sites (such as redirecting people to the home page instead of the appropriate mobile equivalent)
  • slow mobile sites (we already know the impact of page speed on conversions)
  • 404 pages showing up when mobile pages should load
  • interstitials which gate content
  • faulty redirects

Why Some Responsive Sites Fail the Mobile-Friendly Test

Even if your site is responsive, you can still end up losing visitors if you:

  • fail to use the viewport tag with media queries so that it rescales your site to fit mobile devices
  • block access to CSS, Javascript or images via robots.txt
  • use video that doesn’t play on mobile devices. HTML5 video markup wins over Flash every time as Google is clear that sites with unplayable video may end up being demoted in search results.

There’s a good guide to SEO for the new algorithm on Practical Ecommerce.

Remember Analytics

Finally, don’t get so caught up in the mopocalypse rush that you forget the methods that have always worked.

JW Lynton suggests you check your analytics report to see whether your top performing desktop pages are also performing well on mobile devices. If not, then it’s time to use those testing tools, follow Google’s checklist and see what you need to change to make your key pages work better for mobile device users.

And remember, almost every major Google update results in doom and gloom predictions, but after a while, we move on to the next important thing. With more changes sure to be on the horizon, maybe the mobile update isn’t the end of the world after all.

Resources

Still need more information on the mobile-friendly update? Check out these helpful articles:

Read other Crazy Egg articles by Sharon Hurley Hall.

9 Comments

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Sharon Hurley Hall

Sharon Hurley Hall is a professional writer and blogger. Her career has spanned more than 25 years, including stints as a journalist, academic writer, university lecturer and ghost writer. Connect with Sharon on her website.

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  1. Mitchell Allen says:
    May 6, 2015 at 12:48 pm

    Sharon, that does it. I’m outsourcing all web development from now on. 🙂

    I can no longer keep up with the Google Overlords. The last two entanglements dealth with the rel=author / Google profile links and, before that, the dreaded Analytics mumbo-jumbo.

    I just want to write. Ya know?

    Cheers,

    Mitch

    • Sharon Hurley Hall says:
      May 6, 2015 at 12:53 pm

      I know what you mean, Mitch. The good news is that if you write good stuff, make sure people using mobile devices can read it and don’t do anything terrible to promote it, you should be ok. 🙂

  2. Web South Solutions says:
    April 24, 2015 at 10:42 am

    Not seeing much change at all. I have some clients sites that are not mobile compliant and haven’t changed a bit in their rankings.

    • Sharon Hurley Hall says:
      April 24, 2015 at 12:33 pm

      Good to know, Web South Solutions. It will be interesting to see how this evolves, as Google often continues to tweak algorithms after launch.

    • Dainis Graveris says:
      September 23, 2015 at 2:16 pm

      Well, things usually dont change with the flash, but it’s important to keep eye on these…one day it can become turning point. For us there was that point.

      • Sharon Hurley Hall says:
        September 24, 2015 at 11:08 am

        Exactly, Dainis. You need to know what’s happening so you can prepare.

  3. Ricardo Zea says:
    April 20, 2015 at 3:33 pm

    Thanks for the informative article.

    However, I must point out that your first comment “fail to set the viewport so that it rescales your site to mobile” in the Why Some Responsive Sites Fail the Mobile-Friendly Test section is misleading.

    A site IS NOT responsive without the viewport meta tag. And it also isn’t responsive if it does have the viewport meta tag but HAS NO MEDIA QUERIES.

    Media queries and the viewport meta tag go together, they both HAVE to be present to consider a site responsive.

    This would actually be a good test for Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test 🙂

    • Sharon Hurley Hall says:
      April 20, 2015 at 4:12 pm

      Thanks, Ricardo. Edited and linked to additional info. 🙂

      • Ricardo Zea says:
        April 21, 2015 at 9:16 am

        Looking good Sharon (y), Thanks for fixing.

        BTW, that article by Ryan Reese is spot on.

        PS. The form in the Leave Comment section need labels on top of the fields BAD! (uxmovement.com/forms/faster-with-top-aligned-labels/). Inline labels are evil (uxmatters.com/mt/archives/2013/02/dont-put-labels-inside-text-boxes-unless-youre-luke-w.php)

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