April 21st is the big M-Day, in which Google will officially make mobile friendliness a ranking factor. This algorithm update means that websites that don't practice mobile seo may get trumped by websites that do.
"This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results." - Google
The writing has been on the wall for years, so unless you've been living under a rock, I'm sure this shift is no surprise to you.
The upward trend of searchers using their mobile phones and devices to find stuff online has inspired Google to make their experience better by encouraging website owners to make their websites mobile-friendly.
Are Couples Really Using Mobile to Find You?
The Knot 2014 survey of more than 16,000 US couples revealed that 6 out of 10 brides are actively planning their weddings through their mobile device, with 61% researching gowns on smartphones and 57% researching wedding vendors on mobile devices.
According to Pew research, in 2014 83% of Americans age18-29 owned a smartphone. Add a few more years and this includes the average age range of most engaged couples.
With Google currently working on a search engine specifically for mobile devices and the majority of couples primed and ready to use it, you'll be missing a good deal of your market if your website isn't keeping up.
How Many Couples Are Visiting Your Website from Mobile Devices?
Stats are great for getting a gauge of what's happening in the wedding industry, but what if you want to know precisely how many couples are looking at your website?
My wedding SEO clients have an average of 41% mobile traffic. This update means serious business for wedding pros.
I was curious about this too. I wondered how these numbers played out with my own clients' websites. Since I oversee their website analytics as their SEO consultant, I surveyed the stats from roughly a dozen of my current wedding business clients, including venues, planners, photographers, stationers and wedding magazines. My survey represented hundreds of thousands of brides every month. The average portion of mobile traffic was 41% of all visitors!
How to Get Found by Couples in Mobile Devices
The two most reliable ways to make your brand visible in mobile devices are through browser searches and/or mobile app searches.
For example, if a couple is looking for wedding planning tools on an iPhone, they will either pull up the Safari browser and type in “wedding planning” in the search bar or they will open up the App Store and do the same.
A "browser search" happens inside a browser using the search field. Typically, this search field uses a third-party search engine to find results. To get found in a browser search, your website needs to be ranked high in whatever search engine that browser uses. Currently, the iPhone's Safari uses Google, but that could be changing soon.
A "mobile app search" happens inside the App Store of that device, such as the Apple App Store or the Google Play store for Android Apps. The only way to get found in an app store is to have a mobile application listed in the store as available for download for that device.
Mobile SEO Step 1: Website Structure
The first step to staying in the mobile SEO game is to make sure your website is mobile-friendly. See this little "Mobile-friendly" designation Google has conveniently marked each website listing with?
It may be small, but it's significant. It means that Google considers your website mobile-friendly, and after April 21st, will help you preserve your rankings in mobile searches.
In a sense, this label tells searchers which websites will give them a good or a poor experience from their mobile device, which could definitely impact which listings they click on.
Traditionally, there are 3 ways to make your online presence mobile-friendly:
1. Mobile Application
A mobile application is technically separate from your website, so this option isn't actually making your website mobile-friendly; it's making your brand accessible to mobile devices. But it still counts because Google has been mixing apps into its search results for a few years now.
In this method, an application is developed specifically for certain mobile devices. It must be downloaded for couples to use it.
To design and create one, you'll probably need to work with an app developer, not a general website programmer. There is also an approval process involved to get listed in the relative "app stores" of the various mobile device manufacturers, so keep that in mind.
Apps are great for wedding planning tools and bridal show or wedding fair maps.
Once you have your application, you want to make sure your developer helps you optimize the title and description so that it fits with the search terms for which you want to be found.
Another very easy way to get your app noticed is by taking advantage of Google's integrated social features. If couples are logged into their Google account when browsing for an app on Google Play, they will see which of their friends gave a review of the application.
In other words, if one groom uses and reviews your tuxedo application, another groom might see his review when searching on Google Play for wedding-related or tuxedo apps.
2. Mobile Website
While a mobile website doesn't need to be downloaded to view, it is also still developed separately from your website.
The mobile version of your website can reside at a subdomain of your existing domain, such as http://m.mywebsite.com, but it will be coded and designed on its own.
Think of a mobile site as a mini-me of your existing website. It has a more minimal menu with less content, less details and less functionality. It's the bare minimum of what a visitor would need to access to get value from your website and take action.
When someone visits your website from a mobile device, your website will recognize that they are using a smartphone and automatically display the mobile version of your website rather than the desktop version of your website. Make sense?
This can be an affordable solution, but it's not always the best option for SEO purposes and does require you to manage more than one web property, which is more work.
Still, mobile sites can be an affordable temporary way to go mobile quickly while you're working on a more permanent solution.
Also, it's a smart option for robust community-based websites that require ease of use, like my friends at BridalTweet.
If you're on a tight budget and need a quick mobile bandaid for your website while you build up your budget to make your main site more mobile-friendly, check out the WeddingWire's low cost option for creating a secondary mobile friendly site, which is included with some paid plans. You'll still need to work with your webmaster to integrate this option into your existing website, so that mobile users are directed to your mobile site and not your desktop website, but the cost will be a fraction of what you'll need to invest to recode your website to be response (see below).
3. Responsive Website
Responsive web design means that your main website, the one that visitors view on their desktop, is the same exact website they also view on other mobile devices.
The coding of the website is modified in such a way that the website automatically adjusts the way it displays depending on the size of the screen the visitor is using. It's actually a very cool technical advancement.
The first 2 images reflect a mobile responsive website. The last image shows a traditional html coded website that has not been updated to responsive design yet. Notice how the non-responsive site has shrunk to fit the screen, making it far less readable than the responsively designed site on the left.
While it can be double or triple the cost of a non-responsive website, it's absolutely worth it and is Google's recommended method for going mobile. Unlike options 1 & 2, this option lets your website work with just about any mobile device because it isn't build for fixed screen sizes; it's built for any size.
Responsive design is currently the best option for most wedding professionals and I am partial to it for SEO reasons. Since you're only using one single website for mobile and desktop, you're not splitting up your SEO power.
Falling for Flash
One last note about your website structure. While it's easy to admit that some of the most gorgeous websites are flash-based, they aren't ideal for the new mobile world.
Many mobile devices, including plenty of iPhone and Android models, can't read Adobe Flash.
If you have a flash site, visitors that try to access it from a non-compatible device will get a prompt to download Adobe Flash (even if they can't on that device) similar to what you see in the example here.
Some visitors won't even make it to your flash site because Google will intercept with a warning sign that the site isn't viewable on their device.
As if that's not motivation enough, flash websites have never been considerably SEO-friendly...even on a desktop.
So unless you're running some sort of game or animation-heavy website, Adobe Flash isn't likely the best website structure for you.
Mobile SEO Step 2: Mobile Media
Even if you have a mobile-friendly website structure, like we do at Bride Appeal, it doesn't guarantee that all of your media will be responsive too.
Look at the major issue we uncovered on our own website when viewing some of our blog images on mobile devices! Below is a comparison of what our images looked like before and after we updated them to be mobile responsive.
By the way, while you're auditing images, don't forget about video, audio players and other embedded media.
Mobile SEO Step 3: Other Ranking Factors
Google views mobile search slightly different than desktop search, which makes sense because if you're using a smartphone to search, you're probably either out and about or looking for fast answers without having to fire up the desktop.
For this reason, if you want to snatch up valuable rankings in mobile search, it's not a bad idea to think beyond just making your website mobile compatible:
- Less room at the top: On a desktop, you might get clicks if you're on the first page of Google's search engine results pages. On a smartphone, you might only get clicks if you're in the first few listings. Re-focus your sights on getting into the first 3 listings in the SERPs.
- User Experience (UX): Google Webmaster Trends Analyst, Gary Illyes, confirmed at SMX Sydney that user experience is the foundation of the Google mobile update. In other words, the more visitors enjoy the experience of your website, the more favorably Google will view it when considering where to rank your site. This means that you want to consider factors like site speed (how fast your site loads), ease of navigation (how simple is it to find information on your site), simplicity of design etc. If visitors become frustrated with your mobile website and leave (bounce) or simply don't stick around for very long, Google will view this as somewhat of a vote against your website and it could affect your rankings if it continues to be a trend among your visitors.
- Local love: Google gives preference to locally based businesses in mobile search. It's making a fairly reasonable assumption that if you're searching from a phone, you're on the road looking for options nearby. If you only operate locally, make sure Google knows about it.
Notice how searching for "bridal gowns" from a mobile smartphone automatically pulls up local businesses nearby and displays a map of them for convenience.
How Expensive Is It to Go Mobile?
Naturally, the investment for your unique website depends on a multitude of factors, such as:
- How awesome your designer is; you get what you pay for
- How old your website is; if it's older than 1-2 years, it probably needs a full redesign to look great in mobile devices rather than just trying to make your old design responsive
- How complex your website is; the more work for your development team, the higher the cost
It may be a bigger upfront investment to have your entire website coded with responsive design standards, but it's the wisest choice for now and totally worth it.
I'd anticipate investing in the thousands, which is a drop in the bucket when you consider how much business your website should be bringing you every year.
Will Going Mobile Get Me Ranked in Search Engines?
If you are already ranking, it will help you preserve your rankings by keeping Google happy, regardless of the device searchers are using.
If you're not already ranking, becoming mobile-friendly is just the cost of entry. Alone, it isn't going to get your site ranked much higher.
To rank in search engines, you still need a full fledged SEO plan for your site that you're implementing on a weekly basis and this should be developed with a seasoned SEO professional with strong case studies, not a website developer. These are two totally different studies and SEO is a lot more than just picking keywords and optimizing your site.
Will Going Mobile Get Me More Leads?
Making your website compatible with mobile devices definitely gives you a much better chance for increasing conversions, or actions that visitors take on your website, because they can actually read and access everything.
However, what it won't do is give you an overall conversion strategy for your website. While being mobile-friendly should be one of the checklists in your conversion plan, it's just one piece of the puzzle.
Update: How Mobile is Changing Desktop Search Results
When Google originally announced that mobile compatibility would affect rankings, it was only supposed to impact searches conducted on mobile phones...not on desktop computers.
However, starting around mid August, rankings have changed on desktops too...especially for local businesses.
It turns out that the search experience on a mobile phone may be have inspired Google to change the search experience for desktop and laptop users too; especially when it comes to local listings.
Before April 2015, this is what the "local 6-pack" (sometimes a 7-pack) of results looked like in search engines:
After August 2015, those 6-7 local listings dwindled down to just 3:
The 6-pack or 7-pack has now become a 3-pack.
Given that a mobile phone screen simply has far less space to display listings, we can probably assume that this shift is to accommodate the mobile view. It's simpler, takes up less real estate and probably makes Google's work easier by showing the same local listing layout for all device types.
How does this impact you?
Well, before you had 6-7 opportunities to get your business listing on Page 1 of Google. Now you only have 3.
If you were previously showing as a local business listing in search results for your targeted keywords, but weren't in the top 3, you've just lost your Page 1 visibility. Searchers will have to click on "more places" to see your business listing.
Luckily, you do have at least some control over whether your listing shows up in those coveted 3 spots:
- Make sure your Google business listing uses the keywords you want your business to rank for in search results. If you want to show up for "Portland wedding florist" use these words to describe your business on both your website and your Google local business profile description.
- Work on getting more reviews; based on what I've seen Google seems to somewhat favor companies with lots of reviews. Since the reputation and trustworthiness of a company is very important to Google as a ranking factor, this makes logical sense, right?
- Earn better reviews; based on what I've observed, Google may prefer to list businesses with more stars. Again, better reviews is typically a good indication of a reputable, trustworthy company who provides great service. Since Google does want to display companies that are of the highest quality and a great match to what the searcher is looking for, it only makes sense that those companies with the best reviews would receive priority ranking. Your job? Focus on customer happiness and be diligent about getting reviews from the clients who are most satisfied with the experience.
- Operate closer to the epicenter of the city you want to show up for in search results; the closer your physical business address is to the official epicenter of the city you want to rank for, the higher your chances of appearing in the 3-pack. Businesses that are closer to the official center of the city are most likely to be listed at the top of the local results for that city.
- Continue to build your overall website authority online so Google sees you as a reputable company worth ranking. This is a massive topic that my clients work on for years. In a nutshell, have a strong online presence, be an incredible resource, get featured/mentioned and earn the attention of other industry leaders.
Have You Gone Mobile?
What's been your experience in going mobile? Any advice you'd like to share with your wedding peers? Don't be shy, leave a comment below and let's help each other go mobile!