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  1. Everything You Wanted to Know About Mobile Optimization

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    If you’ve been plugged into the online marketing community at any point in the past 10 years, you’ve likely heard the phrase “mobile optimization” thrown around. It’s a buzzword, but it’s a fundamentally important one, so I wanted to put together this comprehensive guide to explain exactly what mobile optimization is (and exactly what it isn’t), everything that it currently and could potentially entail, how to check to see if your site is mobile optimized, and what to do if it isn’t.

    There have been a number of misconceptions and half-truths circulating about mobile optimization, mostly as extremist responses to major announcements by tech companies like Google, and a panic that’s set in thanks to the rising trends of mobile use in most demographic segments. Fortunately, once you understand it, mobile optimization is relatively simple, and your site might already be in the clear. Still, there’s an ongoing component to mobile optimization—striving for a perfection that can never be reached—so there’s always more to learn about the process.

    What is mobile optimization?

    Here’s the simplest definition of mobile optimization you’re liable to find on the Internet: mobile optimization is changing your site to be as usable and convenient as possible for users on mobile devices. Ten years ago, mobile devices didn’t exist (or at least, weren’t popular), so most sites were designed specifically for desktop screens. Mobile screens, like those on smartphones, offer a handful of unique elements that desktop-designed sites can’t address:

    • Smaller screen sizes make it harder to view full-size pages, especially when it comes to viewing images and reading text.
    • Finger-based interactions make small, precision buttons on desktop sites hard to manage.
    • The diversity of devices available makes it hard to present an all-in-one solution.
    • Mobile browser compatibility is not universal, and not all types of code show up for all browsers.

    Mobile optimization strives to fix all these problems.

    Why optimize for mobile?

    You may be asking yourself what the benefits of mobile optimization are. After all, a good chunk of your user base is still accessing your site through desktop devices, and even those who aren’t can get most of the same experiences even on the un-optimized version of your site, right?

    Consider these benefits of mobile optimization before neglecting the strategy altogether:

    • SEO. Google (and other search engines) are staunch supporters of “ideal” mobile experiences. They want every site online to be “mobile friendly,” and they’re taking action to make it happen by penalizing sites that aren’t optimized for mobile and rewarding sites that are. Just by optimizing your site for mobile, you’ll earn higher positions in Google search results, resulting in more traffic to your site. In addition, you’ll earn a little badge next to your site’s name, telling users that your site is, indeed, mobile-friendly:

    mobile friendly website

    (Image Source: Google)

    • User experience. Some users are going to access your site through desktop, but the impressions mobile users get from a site are substantial. If a first-time visitor on a mobile device sees your content not loading properly or has a poor experience, he/she may not come back. Even loyal customers who don’t have a great mobile experience could leave you in favor of a competitor who can offer such an experience. Both your customer satisfaction and your brand reputation are on the line here.
    • Rising importance. These benefits are fantastic today, but what you really have to consider is their future value. Mobile devices and mobile web browsing are poised to surge dramatically over the course of the next several years. The longer you wait, the more benefits you’ll miss out on, and the worse position you’ll be in for the coming years.

    Let’s take a look at the factors shaping mobile user experiences, and how they relate to mobile optimization overall.

    The Mobile Landscape

    We’re in the middle of an era that revolves around mobile experiences, and it’s not going away anytime soon.

    Rising trends in mobile use

    It was May of 2015 when Google announced that mobile searches had overtaken desktop searches for the first time ever. Now, we’re on an ever-accelerating upward trajectory, with mobile use still growing and desktop use starting to look more and more obsolete.

    mobile usage

    (Image Source: SmartInsights/ComScore)

    Why the steep growth? Mobile Internet access used to be nothing more than a novelty, to be used in rare circumstances by a fraction of the population. Coverage was limited, speeds were egregiously slow, devices were clumsy, and smartphones were only in the hands of the super tech-savvy. But slowly, tech giants have favored mobile use with innovative features like better touchscreens, voice-activated search, faster Internet, and better geographic positioning. Collectively, these improvements have led more users to rely on mobile devices, which in turn has prompted more tech companies to invest in mobile technology. It’s a self-perpetuating and exponential cycle with no end in sight.

    Google’s response

    Google is one of these forerunners of mobile technology, and they’re one of the biggest influencers of this steep rising trend in mobile use. The company unveiled its Voice Search product back in 2002, and local search started developing even before that, but they’ve been two major areas of development in the past decade. Voice search has become more intuitive, local search has been integrated with mobile, and most importantly, Google started giving ranking advantages to sites that ranked well on mobile devices. For a while, this was somewhat informal and unspoken, but back in April of last year, it took a massive leap forward.

    Mobilegeddon v. 1.0

    Announcing the update nearly two months in advance, Google proactively warned webmasters that on April 21, it would be launching a massive update to reward sites that had been properly optimized for mobile and penalize those that had not. This was a rare move for the company, as most of its search algorithm updates came as undocumented, unannounced surprises that the rest of us optimizers had to scramble to try and crack. Now, Google heads were telling us exactly what to expect—more or less.

    The search community went on a rampage, donning the coming update as “mobilegeddon,” and using it as an opportunity to wrangle up business from webmasters who hadn’t yet updated their sites for mobile devices, or how exactly to go about it. Some insisted that this reaction was overblown, and to a degree it was, but the impact of “mobilegeddon” was still significant.

    desktop vs mobile

    (Image Source: SearchEngineLand)

    It’s not impossible for non-mobile-friendly sites to rank today, and desktop searches weren’t hit as hard as mobile searches, but it’s still a significant difference to note. Without a mobile-friendly site, your SEO potential is seriously compromised—and that update is here to stay.

    Another Mobilegeddon?

    In fact, there’s some evidence to suggest that Google may be planning another mobilegeddon-style update, to serve as an expansion to the first one. We don’t have a lot of details about this new update, other than the fact that it’s coming out in May of this year, but it’s speculated that this will serve to “boost” the original ranking signals heralded in by mobilegeddon version 1.0. Google has announced that webmasters of existing sites that are optimized for mobile will need to make no further changes to their sites.

    The Bottom Line

    What’s the key takeaway here? Mobile-friendly sites are a necessity if you want to remain visible and preserve your brand’s reputation in the modern era. Mobile trends aren’t going away, and if your site isn’t optimized for mobile yet, you’re actively losing traffic and user engagement.

    Guidelines for Mobile Optimization

    Now that the “mobile landscape” is out of the way and you have a good idea what you can expect from mobile optimization, let’s dig into the details of exactly what mobile optimization entails. These are mostly a series of onsite changes that you can implement to make your site appear and perform better on mobile and alternative devices, but there are many options when it comes to implementation and of course, testing.

    The Basics

    Let’s start with the basics. These are hallmarks of mobile optimization that you can’t ignore, and following all of them will put you in pretty good shape to be qualified as “mobile-friendly:”

    • Don’t block CSS, images, or JavaScript. These are all coding elements or types of content that you may be tempted to block from Google search crawlers, or otherwise disable for your users, to ensure a good mobile experience. You need to keep all these elements present and available to Googlebot (as well as other search crawlers) or you’ll run into indexation problems. All the mobile optimizing and high-quality content in the world won’t do you much good if Google isn’t indexing your site in the first place.
    • Ensure all your images and videos load properly. This is a crucial step, as most mobile browsers and devices function differently than desktop-based means of accessing content. You may find that on some mobile browsers, your content loads perfectly fine, but on others, all you see is a “file not found” or similar message. This is bad news, both for human visitors and for search crawlers, so if you discover one of these compatibility problems, you’re going to need to update your site. You’ll also want to make sure these images and videos are loading quickly, but that’s a separate bullet point altogether.
    • Make your text visible without zooming or scrolling. One of Google’s biggest concerns with mobile-friendliness is the convenience and navigability of your site. Design is important, but realistically, your text is the most important material on your site. If users have a hard time reading that text, your site isn’t doing its job, so to optimize your site for mobile, you need to ensure that all the text of your site is visible (i.e., readable) without the need for users to zoom or scroll horizontally. Take a look at this handy guide image Google created, illustrating how you can rearrange a site to better present your written information to mobile users:

    mobile responsive design

    (Image Source: Google)

    • Make buttons finger-clickable. No matter how much you love using your mobile device, you have to admit that the precision of an old-school computer mouse handily out-performs the clumsiness of your own fingers. When it comes to buttons, menus, dropdowns, choices, and other interactive elements, precision is notoriously difficult. If you want your site to be mobile-friendly, all those actionable elements need to be easily navigable with fingers. There’s no hard rule for this, such as the recommended size of a button, but you can generally rely on your best judgment. Test it and see how you’re able to fare with your own fingers—this is more intuitive than it is programmatic or mathematical.
    • Improve your page loading speed. Page loading time is a significant website factor, primarily for user experience but also for search ranking potential. Have you ever been to a webpage that takes longer than a second or two to load? It’s terrible. We should be ashamed of ourselves for our low attention spans, but it’s terrible. If your site takes too long to load, your users won’t even give you a chance, so keep your site as lean as possible by using the right image formats, reducing your multimedia sizes, clearing old drafts and meta data, and using a good caching plugin. The problem is compounded on mobile devices, since Internet speeds are usually much lower, so you’ll have to do double duty here.
    • Avoid Flash. Thanks in part to Apple’s crackdown on Flash compatibility in iPhone (and similar) devices, Flash is pretty much obsolete these days. Unless you have some niche function that literally can’t exist without Flash, or an already-dedicated user base, there’s no excuse to continue using it. It won’t load properly on mobile devices, and it’s only going to grow more archaic as the years roll on.
    • Avoid pop-ups. Some pop-ups can be valuable, such as prompts to sign up for an email newsletter, but as much as possible, you’ll want to disable these on mobile devices. Pop-ups are somewhat annoying on desktop devices, but on mobile devices, they’re even worse—not only is it harder to click them away with a finger, there’s also the likelihood that you’ll miss-press and end up loading a bulky page you didn’t intend. Don’t put your users through this experience unless you have to.

    Going Above and Beyond

    The above “best practices” are the basic ones you’ll need to comply with Google’s mobile standards and get your site seen as “mobile-friendly” by search engines. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean your mobile optimization journey is complete. Meeting the basic requirements will help you appeal to search engines, but you also have to bear your users in mind. Yes, meeting the above thresholds will be valuable for users, but if you really want to sell the experience of your site, you’ll need to go above and beyond the line of duty:

    • Maximize loading speed. Don’t just strive for a slightly faster website—try to outdo all your competitors here. If you can get your page loading in a second or less, your users will notice the difference. If you have lots of images to show off, this can be difficult, but you can still strive for on-page minimalism. Keep your content lean and focused, and reduce your image sizes as much as possible without sacrificing the quality. Get rid of any plugins on your backend that you aren’t currently using, and make sure your caching plugin settings are optimized for page performance.
    • Design specifically for mobile experiences. There’s a difference between taking an existing website and shoehorning it into decent mobile experiences, and designing specifically for mobile experiences. Unless you’ve done the research to prove that your target audience still uses mostly desktop devices (and plans to stay there indefinitely), it’s a good idea to redesign your website from the ground-up for your mobile audience. That means arranging all your content vertically, redesigning interactive functions to appeal to small touch screens, and visualizing your site completely differently. If you use an eCommerce platform, this will similarly need updating—there are many user interactions here, and mobile user interactions can make or break the experience.
    • Test and evaluate differences in user behavior to improve. Don’t just assume that your changes will be valuable to mobile users; you can use a degree of intuition to help guide your creativity and reaffirm the benefits of your changes once they’re actually applied, but don’t neglect the follow-up of measuring your user behavior. How are your users interacting with your site? Are they engaging the way you thought they would? Can you strive for something even better? Don’t be afraid to make iterative tweaks here, gradually building up your overall mobile performance.


    Aside from smaller factors like optimizing your images, there are three main ways you can implement broad mobile changes to your website:

    • Responsive design. The first, and most important, is what’s known as “responsive design.” This is the method currently favored by Google, and it’s one of the easiest to implement. It also gives you the most flexibility of any of the three options, and is the easiest to troubleshoot if something goes wrong.

    Essentially, the idea here is to code your site to automatically detect the size of the screen viewing it and adapt its material accordingly. For example, you might have a desktop layout like the one on the left in the diagram below, but when a user tries to access the same site on a mobile device, the site with “sense” it, and rearrange its components to be viewed conveniently.

    responsive design

    (Image Source: Google)

    This may seem space-aged or incredibly difficult to incorporate, but the reality is, there are many responsive options available these days. In fact, if you have a WordPress site, or use any popular CMS, you can easily find a free responsive template on which to build your site. It’s super popular for a reason.

    • Dynamic serving. In dynamic serving, you’ll essentially be creating multiple versions of your site in the backend code. Here, you’ll be able to control—with precision—the differences between how your site shows up on desktop devices versus mobile devices. Though the backend coding is going to be different, your URLs are going to be the same; your server will determine what type of device is being used to access your URL, and will serve up the code that’s most appropriate.
    • Separate URLs. With separate URLs, you’ll also be creating a separate version of your site, only this time it’s going to be hosted on an entirely separate URL (usually some variation of your root domain, such as

    If you’re having trouble visualizing or comparing these methods against each other, here’s a handy chart that Google created to explain the differences:

    google chart respnosive design

    (Image Source: Google)

    There are some pros and cons to each method, but ultimately, responsive comes out on top in most scenarios:

    responsive design pros cons

    (Image Source: Moz)

    Other forms of mobile SEO

    When it comes to the search optimization element of mobile optimization, there isn’t much more to be seen. The basic standards of onsite and offsite optimization apply here, and of course you’ll need to come up with high-quality content on a regular basis, but there’s nothing else specifically for mobile devices that you’ll need to do on an ongoing basis.


    Let’s say you’ve done everything I’ve outlined above—even the “above and beyond” stuff—and you’re confident that your site is sufficiently optimized for mobile. Just how confident are you? Are you willing to bank the visibility of your website on it?

    Even if you feel supremely confident, it’s important that you test your assumptions.

    Device Differences

    One of the biggest reasons to test yourself is because of the sheer diversity of devices that are currently out there. Each device has its own quirks, layout issues, and rendering issues, and if you want your site to be as mobile compliant as possible, you’ll have to adapt for all of them. Just because your site looks fine on your specific model of smartphone doesn’t mean it’s similarly rendering across the board.

    devices used to search

    (Image Source: SmartInsights)

    • Desktops/laptops. Desktop and laptop devices aren’t ones you’ll have to worry about—at least not generally. If your site is working properly on any other mobile device, it’s probably working just fine on desktops. Besides that, Google doesn’t care much about desktop optimization these days anyway.
    • Smartphones. Smartphones make up the biggest market share of mobile users, and are the biggest concern you should have when it comes to site performance. Android, iPhone, and Windows Phone devices all fall under this category.
    • Tablets. Tablets generally have screens bigger than a smartphone but smaller than a desktop device, and may be oriented vertically or horizontally. It’s good to know how your site will look in both orientations because of this.
    • Multimedia phones. Multimedia phones are ones that can “meet XHTML standards, support HTML5 Markup, JavaScript/ECMAscript but might not support some of the extension APIs in the HTML5 standard.” Generally, any 3G-compatible phone that isn’t a smartphone falls into this category.
    • Feature phones. Feature phones can’t render standard websites, and instead rely on things like cHTML (iMode), WML, and XHTML-MP.

    Conducting Your Tests

    Google is one your side. Google wants your site to be mobile-friendly. Accordingly, they’ve developed a handy online test you can use to determine whether or not your site passes their basic standards. Run your site through this test and Google will let you know exactly what—if any—errors or incompatibilities it finds. If you pass this test, you won’t have to worry about any irregularities in your search rank or visibility.

    mobile friendly test

    (Image Source: Google)

    Even if you pass Google’s standard test, it’s a good idea to run tests on your own devices, or through a service like, which will allow you to “simulate” how your site appears on different browsers and devices. This is because even officially mobile-friendly sites can have visual hiccups or unpleasant factors in their design that compromise your intentions or show up differently than you expected. Use this stage of testing to weed those errors and fault points out.

    A Note on App SEO

    All of the insights I’ve shared thus far have been relegated to optimizing websites for mobile browsers, but there’s another form of user interaction on mobile devices you should be preparing your business for: apps. Apps have surged in popularity, just as mobile devices have, and there’s no sign that their growth has an end point. In fact, they’re responsible for much more mobile use than web browsers.

    time spent on mobile apps

    (Image Source: SmartInsights)

    To address this, Google’s been implementing a number of functions and updates for what’s becoming known as “app SEO,” including the basic presence of apps in search engines, app deep linking to take users to specific screens within apps downloaded on their devices, and even app streaming, which allows users to access apps they haven’t downloaded.

    It’s not entirely certain whether apps may one day replace traditional websites, but they are becoming more important and they’re presenting more opportunities for marketers. Keep a close eye on their development as you fine-tune your strategic approach for mobile users.

    Key Takeaways

    This has been a long and exhaustive guide, so if you’re looking for some key takeaways, these are the highlights you should walk away with:

    • Mobile optimization is a necessity. If you want to rank, or if you want to keep your users happy, or both, mobile optimization is an absolute necessity. Mobilegeddon made this so last year, and that update alone is growing in significance. You can’t run away from this.
    • Responsive design is Google’s solution of choice. If you’re currently using dynamic serving or separate URLs, you can manage just fine, but responsive design is Google’s optimization method of choice. If you’re just now optimizing your site for mobile, this is the way to go.
    • Testing can help you find and correct any issue. No matter what stage of optimization you’re in, utilizing tools like Google’s Mobile Friendly test can help you sniff out and troubleshoot any problem with the mobile rendering of your site. You don’t have to rely on your assumptions or instincts.
    • You’ll want more than just the basics. Meeting all of Google’s baseline requirements for mobile-friendly sites is a good start, and will ensure you aren’t penalized for not being mobile-friendly, but if you want to succeed from a user experience perspective, you’ll have to do more to make your site functional and convenient on mobile devices.

    Mobile is a segment poised for even more expansive growth in the coming decade. If you want your brand and your website to not just survive, but outlast the competition, you need to prioritize the experiences of your mobile audience.

  2. Is Google Prepping for Another Mobilegeddon?

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    Last year, Google made headlines when it released a so-called “mobilegeddon” update, which sent the procrastinators of the web world scrambling to get their sites updated for mobile friendliness. Now, nearly a year after the original mobile update, Google looks like it’s gearing up for another mobile-oriented refresh. Could this be another mobilegeddon-level release? And if so, what should you be doing about it?

    The Original Mobilegeddon

    Let’s start by clarifying exactly what the original mobile update was and wasn’t. Though the majority of Google’s game-changing updates came in quick and without warning, mobilegeddon stood apart from this norm. More than two months in advance, Google proactively warned webmasters that there would be a massive update on April 21st, refining ranking criteria for sites based on their level of mobile compliance.

    Up to this point, mobile optimization had been a ranking factor for both mobile and desktop search results, with more significance to the former for obvious reasons. If your site wasn’t optimized for mobile (e.g., your content wouldn’t load properly on mobile devices, or users would be forced to scroll and zoom to read your main content), it would suffer a mild ranking penalty. Mobilegeddon (which is not the official name for the update, by the way) was created to increase the severity of the ranking differentials here, making it far less likely that non-mobile-compliant sites would make it to the top of either mobile or desktop search results.

    The search community went into mild panic, amplifying the warning beyond its simplistic message. Many neglected to point out that Google gave clear instructions and ample time for webmasters to get their sites in order—it even launched a free mobile-friendly tool that tells you exactly what’s wrong with your site (and supplementary help guides to show you how to fix it).

    mobile friendly tool

    Nifty, right?

    Still, despite ample warning and accompanying community discussion, it took some webmasters by surprise when the update actually did roll out.

    The Effects of Mobilegeddon

    Mobilegeddon was a bit overblown by the community—the very fact that its name signifies some apocalyptic event should have been a dead giveaway that we were exaggerating Google’s intentions. However, there were some major effects from the update, especially after a few weeks of implementation.

    mobile vs non mobile friendly pages

    (Image Source: Wall Street Journal)

    Cumulatively, non-mobile-compliant sites ended up losing more than 12 percent of their total traffic. The majority of non-mobile-compliant sites dropped significantly in rank, while correspondingly, mobile-friendly sites gained in rank… almost as if Google had planned this out.

    The New Version

    Google recently announced that it would be rolling out an update to the original Mobilegeddon algorithm. Due out in May of this year, the update will serve as an expansion and refinement of the original package, much as its Panda and Penguin updates saw multiple versions released in subsequent months and years.

    Currently, we don’t have many details about this new update, but we do know it’s going to “boost” the effects of the original mobile ranking signal. According to the official announcement, if your site is already optimized for mobile devices, there’s no need to make any further changes. This is only going to affect you negatively if, for some reason, you still haven’t optimized your site for mobile devices.

    It’s hard to say exactly how severe this increase will be. The update probably won’t be on the same scale as the original mobile-friendly update, but the effects from the two updates compounded together will be intense for any site still non-mobile-compliant. Since these sites are being penalized currently anyway, it’s unlikely that mobile-compliant sites will see any meaningful gains in rank.

    Optimizing Your Site for Mobile

    If your site isn’t currently optimized for mobile, you’re a few years behind the times, and you’re currently suffering from an already-stiff mobile ranking “penalty”. However, there’s still time to get your site in tip-top shape before this new update rolls out. In fact, even if your site is theoretically mobile-compliant, it’s not a bad idea to run a quick audit to see if there’s anything you can clean up.

    Google has a great help section for developers concerned about how to implement mobile-friendly designs and functionality.

    mobile website optimization

    (Image Source: Google)

    As a quick reminder checklist, make sure your site is optimized for mobile in the following ways for all pages of your website:

    • Use a responsive design or host a mobile-only version of your site.
    • Ensure users can read all text without having to scroll or zoom.
    • Ensure all content loads properly on mobile devices.
    • Check for any mobile-specific 404 errors and neutralize them.
    • Check and optimize your speed to ensure the best possible mobile experience.

    Beyond that, most of your mobile optimization choices are aesthetic or oriented toward user experience, such as further decreasing page loading times or making the design more appealing for the average mobile user.

    Google’s Ongoing Commitment to Mobile

    This obviously isn’t the first mobile update Google’s released, so don’t expect it to be the last. Currently, Google prioritizes great content over even the mobile-friendliness of a site, but as desktop traffic declines further and further, don’t be surprised if non-mobile-compliant sites eventually sink to the absolute bottom of the ranks. In the meantime, Google is stepping up its efforts in supporting app content in its search results, so consider hedging your search visibility bets by investing in a multifaceted mobile presence.

  3. App Streaming Has Come to Ads: What It Means for Your Business

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    As mobile traffic continues to escalate and app-based experiences continue to overtake desktop website experiences, companies are scrambling to maximize visibility and brand exposure in the mobile market. Google, one of the biggest trendsetters in the tech industry, has recently made moves to make apps even more available to mobile users. Now, that move is expanding to the world of advertising, and you need to learn what it means for your business.

    The Previous State of App Streaming

    In-app content has grown to be more and more popular, but there’s been a significant barrier to user adoption (and user experience overall). Apps are convenient because they forgo the search process altogether; when you want to read a news article, you can pull up a news app, and when you want to access specific functionality, you can bring up the app for it. Users who are looking for general information can find it through traditional web searches and websites.

    But what happens if you’re searching for something that exists as content in an app that you don’t currently have installed?

    Something like this:

    search results on mobile

    (Image Source: MarketingLand)

    Though this kind of layout might earn a handful of new app downloads, it’s a significant barrier to user adoption.

    Google’s solution to this has been the introduction of “app streaming,” which allows users to access certain portions of content from certain apps without ever having to download or install the app on their device.

    app streaming

    (Image Source: MarketingLand)

    This feature isn’t available for all apps, but is currently expanding. Though you could make the argument that such a feature may lead to few app installations, there’s no question that more users would feasibly have access to your app content. Plus, this begins to bridge the gap between app-based SEO and regular, website-based SEO. This will eventually spare search marketers a lot of headaches, but for now is a nifty new feature that favors mobile user experiences.

    What’s particularly interesting is how Google is developing this further.

    App Streaming Ads

    Google has now released a feature called “Search Trial Ads,” which allow users to try out an app for 10 minutes before purchasing it. Currently offered to only a select group of advertisers through AdWords (and only displaying on Android devices), this feature gives users the ability to stream app content, much like in organic results, for a short period of time before requiring a purchase or download of the app itself. Currently, this feature is targeted toward mobile game developers, but could feasibly roll out to other types of apps. Google is offering other new features to game developers, including the ability for users to record themselves playing games (and share the video), and advanced targeting features to reach dedicated gamers.

    Major Takeaways for Your Brand

    Unless you’re a mobile game developer, this news may not seem that relevant to you, but it suggests a bold new direction for Google’s development, and you have the opportunity to take advantage of it. Consider these main takeaways from the latest development here:

    • Apps are merging with web results. I’ve covered this in the past, but it bears repeating. For the past several years, apps and websites have existed in separate realms, even as users relied on the same mobile devices to access both. For a while, most online marketing analysts predicted that apps were the future and that websites may eventually die away. Now, it looks like the two may be merging together in one comprehensive experience. You’ll need to be ready for this transition as the pace toward it begins to escalate.
    • In-app content is becoming more important. In-app content tends to be more fluid and have more unique opportunities than standard web content. Now that Google is showing off these unique features with app streaming, users will start expecting a higher degree of sophistication and customization from all your content. Though this doesn’t demand you create an app immediately, it does increase the overall value of in-app content.
    • The ad experience is changing. With this move, Google is bringing a new format—and a new experience—to search advertising. No longer limited by simple blocks of text, Google is skipping over the visual/audio experience of video ads and gunning straight for the interactive experience. As more users grow accustomed to such an interactive, unique experience, you can bet that other major tech advertisers—like Facebook and Apple—will offer their own forms of advanced advertising.
    • Users are demanding more information before purchasing. Modern consumers are spoiled with practically infinite information. Before they make a purchasing decision, they’re already used to performing exhaustive research and looking at dozens of consumer reviews. Now they have the ability to try most digital goods hands-on before buying. For consumers, this is a great thing, but for advertisers, this means you need to be more transparent and more accommodating than ever before.

    Right now, this feature is somewhat limited in scope and capacity, but as more mobile users grow accustomed to features like “app streaming” in general, you can bet that Google will start doing more to improve mobile app experiences. If you don’t already have an app for your business, there’s no need to scramble to develop one—but think about the potential it would have for the future, and keep it on your back burner as new announcements like these make apps even more valuable.

  4. Will App Streaming Merge App-Based and Site-Based SEO?

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    For the last several years, search marketers have contemplated the possible future of apps in an online world. In terms of users, mobile traffic has been on a consistently rising trend since it started becoming relevant back in 2007, and recently, it became even more popular than desktop traffic:

    mobile traffic number of global users

    (Image Source: SmartInsights)

    We’ve already seen a number of consequences for this rising trend. Google has been doling out separate desktop and mobile search results for several years, and recently released a “Mobilegeddon” update to finalize its preference for mobile-optimized sites. It’s clear that mobile user experiences are going to continue becoming more important, especially as Google has confirmed that it doesn’t even care about companies having a desktop version of their site anymore.

    With apps seeing increasingly popular usage for specific functions—like making restaurant reservations or getting directions, for example—more than one marketer has raised the question: with mobile usage rising and apps becoming more popular, could apps become a new “type” of website, eventually making traditional websites altogether obsolete?

    A new update on the Google front may hold a clue to that development. But first, we have to look at how apps have developed in the world of search engine indexing.

    App-Based SEO in a Site-Based World

    Up until a few years ago, and arguably still today, the “default” mode of the Internet is the access of specific server-hosted web pages through a web browser. This is the structure for which search engines were developed, and until recently, websites were the only constructs that could take advantage of search result improvement.

    When apps started becoming popular, Google introduced a host of new app-specific search indexing techniques. Namely, they started indexing apps the way they index websites. As a result, a prompt for your app may appear when a mobile user searches for something relevant to your app. They’ll be presented with your app name, a description, your rating, downloads, and then a link to install the app directly:

    app-specific search indexing

    (Image Source: Google)

    Other search engines have also jumped on this trend. Additionally, it’s possible to index specific content from your app into the search engine; by building deep app links, a user who searches for the relevant content will be presented with a link that opens the app to a specific page within the app. The only hitch is, the user must have the app installed already to access that content.

    When these techniques started to become more popular, especially for businesses that already had apps, many marketers took it as a sign of things to come. Much like Google started introducing mobile search results, and now demands mobile websites by default, Google could be introducing app results, eventually demanding apps by default.

    From a user experience standpoint, apps do hold a number of advantages over websites; they’re more immediately available, designed to function in specific ways, and offer a higher degree of personalization due to having access to a personalized device. Then again, most of us who have grown up knowing the Internet as a collection of web pages find it hard to imagine the traditional web browser experience ever truly going away.

    For all their advantages, apps still have one critical disadvantage: they have to be downloaded on a device in order to be accessed. At least, they used to.

    Streaming Apps

    Google App Streaming launched just a couple of months ago, and has since risen in both functionality and popularity. Now, when you perform a search for deep linked content within an app that isn’t currently downloaded on your phone, you have the option to “stream” the app. Contrary to a common misconception, you aren’t accessing a mobile site version of the app when you do this; you’re actually accessing a version of the app that’s running in the Google Cloud, almost like a remote access machine.

    Google App Streaming

    (Image Source: TechCrunch)

    This essentially solves the problem of the “download barrier” when it comes to app access through search engines. Google’s goal here is to provide a user with the content he/she needs, regardless of whether it currently exists as a webpage or as a mobile app.

    Is Google Driving an App-Only Web?

    Seeing Google’s recent favoritism toward supporting apps in its search engine, you might be led to believe that Google is attempting to gradually phase out traditional websites in favor of mobile apps (as we briefly discussed earlier). However, this doesn’t appear to be the case; app content doesn’t take precedence over web content. In fact, by offering this, Google is striving to give users the best of both worlds. Traditionally indexed web content is still available, with the addition of app streaming to avoid alienating users who need app access. In effect, Google is striving to keep apps and web pages as closely bound together as possible.

    Where Does It Go From Here?

    It’s hard to say exactly what Google has in store for the future, mostly because it’s consistently surprised the marketing community with its advancements for the better part of two decades. However, if I were a betting man, I’d say that app-based and webpage-based SEO will continue to exist as complementary and independently valuable strategies for interested organizations. Google clearly doesn’t favor one over the other, but instead is trying its best to make as many users happy as possible. If anything, we should look to user preferences as an indicator of what comes next.


  5. What’s the Best Way to Optimize a Site for Mobile?

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    Mobile is taking over the search world. More people are using their mobile devices to perform searches, mobile searches are gaining popularity over desktop searches, and search engines like Google are stepping up their efforts to provide the best possible mobile experience to the greatest number of users. Mobile devices, like smartphones, tablets, and the upcoming plethora of smart watches, are starting to take over the realm of online experience, and if you want to survive in the business world, you’ll need to stay ahead of the curve.

    Why It’s Important to Have a Mobile Optimized Site

    articleimage805 Why It’s Important to Have a Mobile Optimized Site

    In the early days of smartphones, there were critics who claimed that smartphones were just a fad, or that people wouldn’t rely on them to perform searches due to small screen sizes and difficult interfaces. But the trends of the past several years have proven the naysayers wrong: smartphones are here to stay, and creating a mobile experience that suits those mobile devices is imperative:

    • First and most importantly, your site exists to give your users a high quality experience. You want your users to find what they’re looking for on your site easily, and with a design that’s easy on the eyes. If your site isn’t optimized for mobile, you’ll be compromising that experience for a significant portion of your user base, leading to poorer consumer-brand relations and fewer opportunities to attract or convert new leads.
    • Second, your site’s compatibility with mobile devices is measured and interpreted by search engines. Google can tell which sites are optimized for mobile and which are not, and for mobile searches, it’s highly unlikely to rank a non-optimized site in the first page. This is because Google wants mobile users to have the best possible experience, so if you aren’t optimized for mobile, you’ll be missing out on all that search traffic. Plus, mobile-optimized sites get a ranking boost even for desktop searches, so you really don’t want to miss the opportunity.
    • Finally, the competitive factor is critical. Mobile optimization is a new standard in web practices, and countless businesses have already taken steps to ensure their sites comply. If you have a direct competitor whose site is mobile optimized while yours remains non-optimized, you could immediately lose a ton of recurring customers who prefer to browse the web on mobile devices.

    Three Options to Optimize for Mobile

    articleimage805three Options to Optimize for Mobile

    Optimizing for mobile isn’t complicated, but it isn’t as simple as flipping a switch. There’s no single patch of code or button you can push to magically alter your site to be compatible with mobile devices. However, you do have several options.

    Responsive Websites

    Responsive websites are optimized for mobile at a design level. They are created in such a way that allows the components of the page—such as the banners, blocks of text, headlines, and so on—to organize themselves on the page based on the size of the screen that’s accessing the webpage. These components may flex or stack to accommodate a smaller screen size, so a desktop user and a mobile user would both be able to easily navigate the site (even though the layout might be different).

    There are a number of advantages to responsive websites. Since the design is flexible enough to adjust to any screen, every type of mobile device will have a customized experience. However, the “responsive” element only needs to be built once. There is only one URL for your website, which makes it easy to develop and easier to manage over time, and it’s relatively simple to implement. The loading times for responsive sites tends to be slightly slower than the other options, but that’s generally a small price to pay for a universally adaptable website.

    Mobile URLs

    Mobile URLs are exactly what they sound like—they’re separate, customized URLs that exist for the mobile version of a webpage. For example, if your traditional website was, your new website could be Whenever a user accesses your site using a mobile device, you can automatically re-point them to the mobile version of your site (and provide a link to toggle between these versions, just in case a user wants to switch).

    Mobile URLs are starting to become antiquated, but they’re still useful for some businesses. They take more time to create than a responsive design, since they require an independent creation, and require more extensive ongoing upkeep. They’re also vulnerable to fault points in the redirect system—if you accidentally direct a mobile user to the desktop version, they may have a poor experience.

    Dynamic Content

    The third option for mobile optimization is closer in theory to responsive design. Like with a responsive design, dynamic content structures require a single URL to house both a mobile version and a desktop version. The difference is, in a dynamic content setting, you’ll have twin versions of your site—the desktop and mobile versions—ready to display based on the type of device and screen size trying to access them.

    This is an improvement over mobile URLs, since you’ll only need to manage one URL, and you won’t have to worry about creating and sustaining a redirect. However, there are some flaws that may prevent you from achieving the best results. Creating one mobile version can be problematic, since there are hundreds of different mobile devices that could theoretically access your site.

    The Best Option

    articleimage805The Best Option

    Google doesn’t care how you optimize your site for mobile, as long as it is optimized in some way. Whether you choose responsive, mobile URLs, or dynamic content, Google will consider your site optimized for mobile, and you’ll rank accordingly. Your users likely won’t care what type of mobile-optimization strategy you use either, as long as you’re giving them the best possible experience.

    That being said, your decision should come down to your own personal preferences. From a technical standpoint, responsive designs are generally the cleanest; they only require one redesign to be complete, and the ongoing maintenance is pretty much nonexistent, at least compared to dynamic content or mobile URL strategies. Plus, you’ll eliminate the vulnerability of failing to accurately judge the type of device being used to access it.

    Improving Your Rank in Mobile Search Results

    After optimizing your design and structure for mobile, there are a handful of ongoing strategies you can use to boost your rank in mobile searches, even beyond the strategies of a traditional SEO campaign:

    • Decrease your page loading times. Mobile devices load pages slower than desktop versions. Make sure your mobile design is optimized for lightning-fast download times.
    • Keep plenty of content on your pages. Since mobile users need things quick, it may be tempting to reduce your on-page content, but keep as many words on the page as appropriate to maximize the amount of content Google can crawl.
    • Avoid the temptation to use pop-ups. Pop-up ads are seeing a resurgence, especially for companies trying to push their mobile application specifically to mobile users. Doing so can devalue user experience, increase page loading times, and decrease your domain authority in Google’s eyes.

    Aside from ongoing SEO updates and minor tweaks to the design and functionality of your site, mobile optimization really is a one-time process. With your one-time investment, you’ll instantly gain more favor with your user base, gain more visibility in search engines, and get an edge over your competition. If you haven’t yet optimized your site for mobile, now’s the time to get it done.

  6. The Definitive Guide to Mobile SEO

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    As mobile devices like tablets, smartphones, and (now) smart watches start to overtake home computers in popularity, optimizing your site for mobile searches is becoming more important than ever. For years, optimizing the layout and presentation of your site for mobile devices has been an important factor in determining your domain authority and rank for specific queries, but now, “mobile SEO” is transforming into its own set of unique strategies.

    Throughout this guide, we’ll cover the basics of mobile SEO and how you can maximize the visibility and appeal of your site on mobile devices everywhere.

    Ensuring Google Approves of Your Mobile Site

    articleimage766 Ensuring Google Approves of Your Mobile Site

    Before you start trying to optimize specifically for a mobile experience, you have to ensure that Google approves of your mobile site. That means having your website perfectly capable of loading when accessed by mobile devices.

    There are three types of mobile layouts that are considered the standard for modern websites: responsive designs, dynamic content, and mobile URLs. All three are viewed equally by Google, but some webmasters may have a preference for one over the others.

    Responsive Design

    A responsive design is one that automatically detects the type of device being used to access it, and adjusts the layout of the site accordingly. For example, if your site is being accessed from a desktop machine, it may display traditionally, but if it’s being accessed from a smaller, vertical smartphone screen, it might “stack” some of the horizontal features to maximize the user experience.

    Responsive designs use one URL and one design, which makes it very convenient and efficient for developers. It’s relatively easy to incorporate, and it consolidates an otherwise multifaceted development effort. The only potential drawback of the responsive web design is loading time—since mobile users will technically be loading the entire site, it may take longer to download than a specific mobile landing page. Still, responsive design is the most popular mobile option today.

    Dynamic Content

    Dynamic serving content is similar to a responsive design, since only one URL is used no matter what type of device is accessing the content. However, under dynamic content, you’ll actually be serving up totally different versions of your website. For example, you’ll have a “desktop” version of your site loaded up and a “mobile” version of your site loaded up, and you’ll serve the version that corresponds with the device trying to access it.

    This allows you to serve each device more specifically. However, it takes much more work to develop, implement, and manage since you’ll need to create a version for almost every type of device that could access your page.

    Mobile URLs

    Mobile URLs are an old-fashioned way of getting your site optimized for mobile, but they still work fine for some businesses. Rather than trying to adapt on the fly the way responsive designs do, with mobile URLs, you’ll essentially be building a separate, mobile version of your site on a different URL. When a user access your site from a mobile device, you’ll automatically redirect them to the proper URL, usually a variant of your primary URL.

    Mobile URLs are typically more difficult to manage. You’ll have to ensure that your desktop and mobile versions redirect appropriately, which can be difficult. Otherwise, your users will view an inappropriate version of your website, and they may be left with a terrible first impression.

    Optimizing for Mobile-Specific Searches

    articleimage766Optimizing for Mobile-Specific Searches

    Users searching on mobile devices, like smartphones, are searching using the same index as desktop or home searchers. That means, as long as your site is present on that index, both desktop and mobile users will be able to see you. However, there are a handful of specific ranking signals on mobile devices that will interfere with your rank:

    • Desktop and Mobile Presence. Google tends to favor sites with both a desktop and a mobile presence. If you only have a mobile site, you aren’t going to rank as high, even if the majority of your searches are on mobile. Make sure your links are suitable for both desktop and mobile loading.
    • Page Loading Times. Page loading times have always mattered—the faster your site’s pages load, the higher your site is going to rank. But on mobile, the preference for fast-loading web pages is even more extreme. Google recommends loading above-the-fold content in under one second. Optimize your loading speed for mobile as much as possible.
    • URL Redirects. Redirects are an important part of many sites, and an unavoidable one in many circumstances. However, adding a redirect essentially adds more time to load the destination page, which means a lagging user experience, and a lower rank as a result. Avoid redirects as much as you can.
    • Annoying Popups. It’s tempting to include an overlay page or a popup ad on your mobile site, especially if you’re trying to get users to download your mobile app, but Google has a firm belief that such advertising efforts are damaging to overall user experience, and as a result, you could rank lower if you feature one. You’ll have to make the call as to whether the increased conversion rate from the popup ad or the increased traffic from the higher rank is more important.
    • Full Content. Your webpages can’t just be partially optimized for mobile. If there are any areas of your page that aren’t optimized for mobile—such as flash animations or a video that won’t play—your ranking for mobile searches could drop as a result. Be sure to check every nook and cranny of your pages for potential non-optimized content.

    How to Adjust Your Current SEO Strategy

    articleimage766How to Adjust Your Current SEO Strategy

    For the most part, mobile SEO is going to function the same as traditional SEO. You’re still going to function on user experience, onsite content, offsite backlinks, and the same navigational improvements that lead to higher ranks. In terms of your ongoing strategy, there isn’t much you’ll need to improve on as long as your strategy is currently in order.

    To start things off, you’ll need to optimize your site for a mobile layout. The specifics are up to you, but you’ll need to ensure that your site loads appropriately and quickly—perform multiple tests on multiple devices to ensure that your site is loading the way it should, and don’t hesitate to consult Google Webmaster Tools to see if your site is registering as optimized for mobile. From there, you’ll need to do periodic tests for your page loading times and to ensure that the full content of your site is available on all mobile devices.

    Mobile SEO is a big deal, and will only grow in importance over the next few years. The sooner you address any mobile issues with your current website, the sooner you’ll reap the benefits of ranking higher for mobile searches. Thankfully, mobile SEO is more about building and maintaining an active, mobile-optimized website than it is performing a series of ongoing changes and adjustments, but you’ll still need to keep an eye on your site to ensure it’s operating at its best. The faster it loads, and the easier it is for the user to view your content, the more likely you’ll be to show up above the fold in mobile searches.

  7. You’re Losing Money if You Aren’t Mobile-Friendly Yet

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    You’ve heard it over and over, we’re sure: small businesses need to get into mobile.

    But if you’re like most small businesses, you’re still sitting in the 1990s and not growing to stay up with changes in customer behavior. Last year released some startling facts about how many small business owners haven’t invested in a mobile-friendly site. Only 26% had a mobile site at the time of the release.

    That means if you recognize how much money you’re leaving on the table because you lack a mobile site and decide to get one, you’ll likely take a giant leap ahead your competitors. That’s always a good thing, right? But let’s keep going … do you truly understand how much you could potentially grow your business by going mobile?

    Roughly ¾ of mobile searches will result in conversion or other actions

    Google and the respected Nielsen group recently released findings on a massive mobile search study: If someone is searching for your service or product, he or she is most likely to purchase, call, visit your store, etc., within ONE HOUR.

    About 17% of mobile searches ended in the user visiting the store or making a purchase. Also, 25% of users visited the store’s site to get more info. Take a look at these actions, according to study:

    Pretty amazing, right? But guess what? If they search for what you have to offer and visit you, let’s just hope they land on a mobile-friendly version of your site, or they’re probably just going to click out of there and go to a competitor’s site that IS mobile-friendly.

    When they find your site, the rest is all on you. It’s crucial that:

    • Your site is mobile-friendly
    • They can easily find whatever they’re looking for
    • It is also easy for visitors to take action: tap to call, make a purchase, etc.

    I know it’s like beating you over the head with this, but again: You have to have a good, clear, mobile-friendly site that gives people what they were looking for.

    Should You Consider Mobile Apps, Too?

    Most small businesses, even if they have a mobile-friendly site and obviously understand how important it is, don’t think developing an app would be profitable. Maybe that’s the case. Maybe not.

    In most cases, there are plenty of ways your own app could be profitable. We aren’t talking the next Angry Birds game that will cost thousands to develop and become a top-selling commercial app. We’re just talking about simple but useful apps that your customers would find helpful.

    Let’s look at a couple of examples

    If you own a restaurant
    Seating: You could develop an app that lets customers instantly check waiting times in real time.
    Carry-out orders: You probably have some regular customers who visit often and have their favorites. You know, those people that you simply ask “The usual?” when you take their order. Develop an app that saves their info and makes it a snap for them to put in their order on the go.

    If you run an auto repair shop
    Maintenance: Develop an app that will alert customers and give them reminders about maintenance that should be done.
    “What’s That?”: You could design an app that has hints, tips, and answers to some of the most common questions you’ve heard over the years. A rattle here, a grinding there … help your customers narrow down the possibilities and get a free quote.

    If you run a hair salon
    Open seats: Let customers use your app to see which time slots are available for particular services, and which hairdressers are available.
    Deadtime specials: Develop an app that covers those periods when no one is walking through the door and the reservation sheet is looking bare. Your app could send out an alert to customers that tells them they can get a 15% discount until 3PM (or something like that).

    Now sure, these aren’t likely to be million-dollar apps. But they nurture your relationship with customers and help drive business by making things easier for them. Don’t you think that’s worth a little investment?


    Mobile is here and it’s here to stay. It’s just going to get bigger, and if you aren’t adapting your business to grow with it, then your competitors are going to drown you out.

    Contact us today and we’ll help you. Not only can we coach you in developing a solid mobile strategy, we’ll help ensure your new mobile site actually gets found. Remember that on a smartphone, screen space is limited. It’s more important than ever to be in the top five search results.

  8. The Evolution of the iPhone [INFOGRAPHIC]

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    The Evolution of The iPhone

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