What an exciting time for those of us in the SEO game. If you've been doing search marketing for a while, you’re familiar with Pandas, Hummingbirds, Pigeons, Penguins, and Fred (Fred? Really? Is that a bird?). And then there's the latest (as of Dec. 15, 2017) - Update Maccabees.
We've seen trends and tricks go by the wayside while completely new ones pop up out of nowhere. Google's algorithm updates definitely keep search marketers on their toes, rushing to make SEO changes before websites get penalized and implementing new updates to avoid hindering our rankings. (There are about 200 factors in Google’s algorithm.)
Remember Mobilegeddon or Mobile Chernobyl? Yeah! That kept us on our toes rushing to get all our websites updated. Ever since then Google has been pushing the mobile-first standard and in 2018 they’re about to make another massive, HUGE mobile update. With these ever-changing rules of the game, will your website be ready for 2018?
Google Mobile-First Index
Since the beginning of mankind, Google has been using their search engine spiders to craw the desktop version of sites. A desktop site can have 1,000 words of content and multiple images but the mobile version of that website might only have a paragraph of copy and one image covering the topic.
When a user searches for a topic on mobile, Google will serve the search results based on the rankings of the desktop site and when the user clicks the page to read more all they’re left with is a paragraph, not the 1,000 words in detail. Also, as more and more searches happen on mobile, Google wants its index and results to represent the majority of their users — who are mobile searchers…
So, what does this all mean?
Google says "Although our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps, our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results. Of course, while our index will be built from mobile documents, we're going to continue to build a great search experience for all users, whether they come from mobile or desktop devices."
- What if I only have a desktop site? If you don’t have a mobile site Google said not to worry, for now. It will still craw the desktop version while the overlap happens, but they (and we) highly suggest moving to a mobile responsive website for increased SEO benefits, the chance to drive conversions and more.
- What if my mobile site has less content than the desktop version? Then you should be nervous. Google has said that it will rank the mobile version of your site. If that has less content on page A than the desktop version of page A, then Google will probably just see the mobile version with less content. Again, they highly recommend the responsive approach where the content is the same on a page-by-page basis from your desktop to your mobile site.
- Wait a second, what about all my expandable content on the mobile site? Yes, for years we've been saying Google gives a low priority to content hidden in tabs, accordions, expandable boxes and other methods on desktop. However, Google's Gary Illyes said content like this will be given full weight on responsive sites when the update rolls out! The idea is that expandable content makes sense on mobile and not so much on desktop. If they’re going to rank for mobile first, they must rank expandable content.
- Okay, got it. Well, how can I tell if Google sees my mobile pages? The best way is to use the free Google Search Console tool called Fetch and Render. Specify the mobile:smartphone user-agent and look at the preview after the scan is complete. What Google shows you in the rendered results is likely what Google can see and index from your mobile site. If content is missing, then you should consider how to fix that and run the tool again.
Rhythm has been on top of mobile responsive websites since 2009! Long before Google even mentioned mobile friendliness. We are proud to say that all our clients have already been prepared for this update for years. If you would like some guidance to see if your website will be mobile ready for 2018, contact us.
AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages)
If Google is going to craw mobile first, page speed will be a huge factor; this brings us to AMP. How long will it take for your website to load on a mobile phone? Either wifi, 4G or even 3G. AMP is an open source Google-backed project intended for any publisher to have pages load quickly on mobile devices. The project enables the creation of websites and ads that are consistently fast, beautiful and high-performing across devices and distribution platforms.
Impact on the SERPs
Just as a mobile-friendly page used to have a tag at the front of the description showing that it's mobile-friendly, AMP has the same thing. For AMP, those results are tagged with AMP and an encircled lightning bolt. It's important to note that AMP pages do not receive an additional ranking boost. However, they do take up more space in SERPS, decreasing competitive space and draws users attention.
Also, Google currently has the “mobile-friendly” ranking boost, and because AMP pages are mobile-friendly, they receive the same boost. AMP pages are more of a user experience boost than a ranking boost. But how cool would it be for your website to show a lightning bolt in search results and load extremely fast! Either way, your website must be mobile friendly and load within 3 seconds to compete in 2018.
PWA (Progressive Web Apps)
Progressive web apps use modern web capabilities to deliver an app-like user experience. If you don’t want an AMP, maybe you’ll want a PWA. You already use it, but might not realize what it is. Do you shop on Amazon or use online banking? You don't need an app to get app-like features like push notifications when your package was delivered or a reminder when your bill is due. This is all done through a PWA.
- It's progressive in that it works for every user, regardless of web browser because it's built with progressive enhancement at its core.
- It's responsive because it fits any desktop, mobile, tablet, or whatever is next.
- It's Internet independent, enhanced with service workers to work offline or on low-quality networks.
- It feels like an app because the app shell model separates the application functionality from application content.
- It’s safe, served via HTTPS to prevent snooping and to ensure content hasn't been tampered with.
- It makes re-engagement easy through features like push notifications.
- It's identifiable as an "application" thanks to W3C manifest and service worker registration scope, allowing search engines to find it.
- And it's easily shareable via the URL.
Normal apps like those in the Apple App Store or Google's Android Market are only good for certain brands. Lots of major brands jumped on the app wagon in 2013-2014 but hardly received any downloads or engagement on their app; most were goofy and pointless. The PWA, on the other hand, Is less expensive, doesn't have to be downloaded, works on desktop and any device and is less hassle than trying to develop an app.
The Rise of SERP Features
And last but certainly not least, SERP (Search Engine Results Page or what Google or Bing shows you after you complete a search). Depending on the search, you will be served text ads, shopping ads, local packs, featured snippets, organic results, knowledge box, images, videos, etc. Some SERPs will feature significantly more organic results than others due to the differing intent of various searches - Informational, Navigational, Transactional.
With so many results being served, ranking #1 organically doesn't guarantee the most traffic anymore. Even if you're in a competitive market - if done correctly - you could win in SERPs by having featured snippets appear for a user's search.
What can you do about it? You will want to make sure your site has some sort of structured data- SEOs have been talking about structured data for a few years now. It refers to any data which is organized.
For example, if you have a bunch of scattered Post-It notes with phone messages about meetings, dates, times, people, etc, and you organize these into a table with labeled rows and columns, you're structuring the data. "structured data" usually refers to implementing some type of markup on a webpage, in order to provide additional context around the page. This markup improves the search engines understanding of that content, which can help with relevancy signals and also enables a site to benefit from enhanced results in SERPs (rich snippets, rich cards, carousels, knowledge boxes, etc).
As of December 15th, it looks like Google jumped the gun with another algorithm update that affects sites without schema code. With the evolution of SERP features, it's critical that you track your rankings within these features, and monitor the features that show up for your keywords and are potentially stealing traffic. If you have questions about your websites mobile friendliness, page speed, structured data SERP results or analytics and tracking, please let us know. Our clients are prepared for 2018, are you?