A weekly Google Hangout dedicated to discussing content marketing, search marketing, SEO and more.
Topic: Marketing In The Mobile-Friendly Environment
Has the emphasis on mobile changed the way marketers think about content creation and measurement? It it hasn’t, what should marketers and brands be considering moving forward?
Ray Grieselhuber, Founder & CEO at GinzaMetrics
Karen Scates, Manager Marketing and PR
FULL VIDEO TRANSCRIPT
Karen: Hello! Welcome to this week’s edition of FOUND Friday. It’s May 22. I’m your host, Karen Scates. I’m here with Ray Grieselhuber, our founder and CEO.
Hey, Ray. How’s it going?
Ray: Pretty good. How about you?
Karen: Good. June gloom is here a little early this year and I’m complaining.
Ray: Yeah, California can be rough sometimes.
Karen: Yeah. Well, I know. I’m not supposed to complain. I’ve already been told by people in Texas that I should quiet. Speaking of complaining, we’re here to talk a little bit about the aftermath of Google’s mobile-friendly algorithm change and to answer some questions we’ve been getting from our customers.
First of all, Ray, there’s been a whole lot written about this change. There was a lot written before it happened. There’s a lot then written since it happened. Can you just give us a recap and get us all on the same page?
Ray: Yeah. Let’s start off by talking about the actual changes. Most people who have been following this who are SEO practitioners probably have a pretty good idea what this is but there are a lot of marketers, content creators, etc. that may not be as up to speed on what their changes were.
Basically, there are a couple of terms that are worth talking about. One is mobile-friendly. Probably the first one should be mobile-visible. The next one would be mobile-friendly. The next one would be fully mobile-optimized. They’re essentially varying in degrees in the same thing.
Mobile-visible basically means you can view a website even if it’s not specifically optimized for mobile devices on your phone or tablet. Most of the sites in the early days were like that and still a vast majority of sites that are probably out there, they are like this, as well.
The next one is mobile-friendly, which is what this algorithm updated to address the most. Mobile-friendly is basically sites that are on the path to full optimization. Some of them will be fully optimized. Some of them, they think they are but maybe they’re not completely optimized but they’re doing a decent job. It will have things like viewport, resizing, and so forth.
Then there’s fully mobile-optimized where you have people who are probably experts in this sort of development who have created a very nice experience and it responds well to all the different types of touch events and everything just works flawlessly.
What this algorithm update was designed to address was to promote in the search rankings those sites that are more mobile-friendly. Mobile-visible sites, still so far – we’ll talk more about this when we talk about the impact – weren’t as badly hit as some people were predicting and there are some reasons for that. But there’s definitely a change now in mentality and also in the way that some of these rankings are handled to prefer mobile-friendly sites.
We’ll talk about some of the specifics on what mobile-friendly means. The thing that is probably the most relevant takeaway so far from all of these is that this is a gradual change, that the term “Mobilegeddon” was used very quickly to describe this entire process. I think people were expecting a much bigger impact overall. I would’ve been surprised that that it happened for a couple of reasons that we can talk about, too.
I think this is a gradual process. When Google starts trying to push webmasters in the direction of changes that are fundamental changes to their infrastructure in the way they create and publish content and everything else, they know better than to try to force everything to happen with one single algorithm change. I think we’re going to be seeing rolling updates of these over the next three or four years and it’s going to get more and more of a requirement in order to have not only mobile-friendly sites but mobile-optimized sites as things progress.
Karen: There was so much written before the change warning people the change and so many predictions about Mobilegeddon. Now I’m seeing a lot of post-apocalyptic coverage. Let’s talk a little bit about what’s actually happening. We know that optimizing for mobile can be time-consuming and expensive. What are you hearing from people who have been affected by this change?
Ray: There has been an impact, there’s no doubt. Some types of sites were affected more than others. Probably the best way to summarize it is that if you were to put things in terms of just a pure percentage what the overall impact was, it’s probably on average in the range of 20-30% of sites/pages were impacted. That’s due to a number of reasons and that varies by industry, brand size, company size, and everything else.
But there was a moderate impact. No one went out of business as a result of this that I’m aware of. We work mostly with bigger companies. There may have been smaller companies but I would be surprised if that was the reason they went out of business if something like that happened. It wasn’t catastrophic, I would say. It was definitely kind of a tap on the shoulder to get people ready.
One of the reasons that I don’t think the impact was as big as before expecting is that because the vast majority of sites even today across every major industry, every size of company, every type of brand, there are still very few sites out there that are actually optimized and performing well on mobile devices. So if Google was going to punish every site catastrophically that was not optimized for mobile, there wouldn’t be any Internet, really, to show in the search engine rankings. At some point there’s a diminishing return of what sort of changes they can expect to get with this algorithm right now. They might end up promoting lower quality content that happen to be optimized for mobile as a result.
It all needs to be taken into context of what their goal is. Their goal is to promote higher quality content overall. As long as it’s not completely unusable on a mobile device and it’s visible and your content is the highest quality then there’s a good chance – not a guaranteed chance but a good chance – that you’re still going to be doing pretty well.
Karen: Originally there was a prediction that change would affect half of Fortune 500 sites. Do you think that that really happened?
Ray: It depends on what you mean by “affect.” Probably every site had some impact experience when you’re talking about the Fortune 500. But this change impacts individual webpages as much as it does entire websites. It’s probably more skewed towards individual webpages, as well.
You start talking about Fortune 500 companies – every Fortune 500 company probably has dozens, if not hundreds, in some cases thousands of websites, different domains, everything else. Some of their properties probably were highly affected, some of their properties probably weren’t. Again, if it’s high-quality content that you’re maintaining and it’s relatively usable then you probably are not going to be receiving as much of an impact.
We spent a lot of time looking at the data in the number of sites. One of the quickest ways to tell what Google considers to be a mobile-friendly site is if you look at the mobile SERPs, there’s a mobile-friendly tag that shows up in the search results for each listing in the search. You can see if you click on any one of those pages, the bar is pretty low for what’s considered mobile-friendly right now.
My guess is that that bar is going to be continuously raised going forward. This is version one. This is like the minimum viable product of the mobile-friendly algorithm update. They made the bar very low intentionally and they’re going to continue to raise it going forward.
Karen: One of the differences that I’ve been reading about is the difference between website content that can be viewed on mobile versus content that is optimized for mobile. Can you clarify that a little bit?
Ray: Yes. This is what I was talking about at the beginning of the call where we talked about mobile-visible versus mobile-friendly versus mobile-optimized. Mobile-visible is pretty much most sites out there today are going to be visible on mobile. It’s the old – when you open a site on your iPhone, for example, you see the entire what is clearly desktop site just to scale down and usually can tap certain regions in order to bring it up to read certain paragraphs and so forth. That’s what’s considered mobile-visible.
I’ve tested this and I’ve played around with this a little bit. I’ve seen even some of those sites/pages show up as mobile-friendly in the search engine results. I don’t think that’s intentional. But I don’t think that’s what they’re trying to achieve with this. But they’re being very forgiving right now. It doesn’t happen consistently across the board either. It may just be a matter of them working out bugs in their system, too.
Mobile-visible is more of what you would think when you think about responsive sites. You go to a website and things have been scaled down nicely like our site does. You go to GinzaMetrics.com in your smartphone and you’ll see it’s scaled down and rendering pretty well in smartphone device.
Then there’s mobile-optimized which is what everyone should be shooting for. It’s what most new site development is targeting. The reason most companies – us included probably – would not get the fully mobile-optimized designation (which is not an official designation right now, it’s more of a technical thing) is it’s just hard. It’s the old Pareto principle that plays in here where the first 80% of mobile optimization is relatively easy. The remaining 20% of that optimization is going to take 80% of the time. So it’s a very difficult process. We start talking about all of the websites that are out there, we’re talking about something that’s going to be a process that will take years.
Karen: I was wondering, if the majority of searches are happening on mobile, then mobile is the primary screen for marketers. How should this be shifting their thinking about content creation in terms of blog post images, all the stuff that content marketers are concentrating on?
Ray: A good place to start with making your site mobile-friendly because a lot of times marketers will have more control over that part of the site then the other parts of the site will be the blog. It’s typically running on WordPress or some sort of CMS that they have a lot more access to than the rest of the site. There are a number of templates out there already – especially if you’re using WordPress – that are already optimized or mobile-friendly. Do that and you’re going to solve a lot of problems right there.
Karen: Some people are saying, “Make your blog post shorter. Get your content shorter.” This seems to be exactly opposite of what they were saying before which is long-form. Long-form has more value. This seems confusing to marketers.
Ray: This is a tricky one and it’s something that’s going to be changing maybe a little bit over the next couple of years. The reason long-form worked in the first place is that it’s generally a much better indicator of quality. What Google is really going for is quality, not length. But length and depth of sentence structure and everything else that’s being used in these longer posts serves as a relatively useful proxy of quality in a lot of different ways. If you’re putting a lot of links out to different sites on the Internet, just talking about things – you can read something, you can very quickly tell as a human if something feels authoritative. If you’re writing about some topic, it’s hard to write anything that’s authoritative and conclusive in a 200-word blog post. I think that’s one of the reasons why long-form has been so successful and continues to be successful.
The thing that’s interesting about mobile is when you’re talking about mobile-friendly, you’re talking about optimization for the search engines but you’re also talking about the usability experience for users, as well. If you’re reading a long article on your phone – this is a very broad statement that probably should be tested a lot more but just going anecdotally from the way I behave myself and the way I’ve talked to other people who have talked about this – when you see long content on their phone, a lot of times what they’ll would do is they’ll bookmark it or forward it themselves to read it later on their PC or their tablet.
One of the things that this doesn’t fully address yet either is if there’s a lot of device sharing of a single piece of content, as well. You may have the same user across multiple devices. A lot of really interesting user behavior things that are going to start playing into this. The reason that short content is good from a purely marketing perspective is it’s much more likely to be shared once people have had a chance to digest it. If it’s something that’s punchy and gets to the point very quickly or has that gotcha thing about it, they’re much more likely to get people to engage with it somehow.
Everything is being treated as in balance here. So there’s the quality question, there’s the usability question on your device, and then there’s the sharability question. Any of those in any given time can have a really big impact on how Google views the quality of that content. If they see a short piece of content that’s getting shared super aggressively on social networks, they’re much more likely to view that as a quality piece of content.
Karen: It’s like going back to those old teachings from journalism school which is the inverted pyramid. Even if you’re going to do long-form, it seems to me like do the inverted pyramid. Put your main ideas/ big ideas up front and then move down the pyramid to lesser ideas and break it up with subheads. That way, you’re addressing both. You’re getting your long-form content out there, but then for anybody on mobile, they can get the gist of it within the first three sections for something.
Ray: Yeah, absolutely. That’s just generally considered good writing. There are other forms, other models of good writing than the journalism model. The journalism model obviously works very well online ironically in a number of different ways. I would say punchy well-abbreviated, well-spaced, well-paced writing is going to be successful regardless of length.
Karen: You have to go back and think of yourself as an old newspaper editor where everything that fits is what you print. Do it around the ads.
Ray: Yeah. Obviously the thing that I would add to that is I need to also pay much more attention to their audience targeting and optimizing that content. The thing that newspaper editors always hate about the Internet is the fact that they actually have to think about audience targeting and content targeting and everything else. To them that feels very [17:30 inaudible] a lot. They don’t like that.
Karen: Let’s talk a little bit about measuring on mobile. When marketers are measuring their efforts, how much should they consider the device that’s being used? How does that fit in to measuring content effectiveness across different search engines?
Ray: This is a really good question. The short answer is it’s going to depend very heavily on the type of site you’re in and your audience. If the vast majority of your audience (I mean by vast majority, we’re talking 70%, 80%, 90%) is coming on mobile – and when you’re talking about mobile, you talk about either smartphone versus tablets but obviously most of the time we’re going to talk about smartphone – you may just want to focus on those people.
Almost do the inverse of what people have been doing with desktop until today even where they just consider that the vast majority of the traffic is going to be coming from desktop and the mobile is always this [18:33 inaudible] that it will get to eventually. That may be flipped now. But there are a lot of other businesses where it’s something more like 60/40 mobile. You can’t really ignore the other device for files at that point.
This is one of those areas where I think that for a long time in marketing, in IT, our marketing and product development have been at odds for a while about the management of these things because marketing need much more rapid innovation than a lot of times what IT is willing to provide. Product teams, they’re usually much more focused on innovation and happy to do it but they also have development schedule and everything. So there has always been this tension between marketing and the other groups for a long time.
But this may be one of those areas where marketing and IT or marketing and product can really work well together because a lot of what we’re talking about when we’re talking about mobile optimization, there is definitely a content side of it but there’s also a huge technical side of it. This is a good opportunity for marketing teams and technical teams to sit down and say, “You guys fix this. You guys fix this. We’re going to have to work together very closely in order to make sure it’s actually working.” But there’s a lot of work that the technical team over the next few years are going to have to do in order to fix all this stuff. So this is a good time for people to be building strategies around those two groups working together.
Karen: Talking about the technical side of it, I know there are a couple of ways to address mobile search. There’s responsive design and then there’s the fully-hosted mobile site. What’s your opinion on brands that choose to create a separate mobile site? Do you feel like that’s short-sighted?
Ray: I do, yeah. I would always encourage a company to go with the responsive approach if possible. I totally understand that that’s not possible in many cases and I understand that there are very legitimate reasons for doing that, as well. So I’m not going to say that you should do it. I couldn’t say you should do it 100% of the time because it’s just not practical for some companies. If you’re starting from scratch or if you have any say in the matter, I would say always push for the responsive. The biggest reason for that is that’s what Google says they want to see. So if you care about search rankings, there are a lot of good reasons to consider that.
There are many instances in which responsive can save you some time. There are a lot of other instances in which responsive can actually end up costing you a lot more time and money because you’re trying to fully optimize a single piece of content for many different types of devices. It’s really tricky. But I think that that’s partly a factor of where we are right now with technology and frameworks and everything else. I think things continue to get better. There will be more tools over the next five years that are going to make this a much better process.
I would say invest in building the expertise internally or with your product partner so that allows you to get really good at responsive design, and don’t try to take a shortcut with the fully-hosted option.
Karen: Do you think that there are some industries that were hit harder by the mobile optimization algorithm than others?
Ray: Yeah. I do. Publishers in general. When you’re talking about publishing, any sort of consumer-oriented publishing site that is, in some cases, a lot like user-generated content.
Reddit is a good example. These big, huge forms, these are really good testing playgrounds for Google to release algorithm changes that target these types of sites and see what the result is because there’s a lot of content. They’re not brands. They’re usually not advertisers with Google so they’re not going to get pissed off if suddenly they’re losing all their traffic. So they’re an ideal playground for new algorithm updates. We’ve seen the most change happen in those areas. I think that’s going to continue to be the case going forward.
The other categories were much more moderately targeted, I think, and that will probably change going forward. The most valuable properties to Google, the most valuable types of searches to Google are those. You can tell that very quickly by looking at where they’re creating these answer box type responses – anything to do with Knowledge Graph or anything that Google feels that they can answer just as effectively without having to send you as a searcher to another site – is going to be a really interesting target for this going forward. There are lots of different factors that come into play here.
Karen: That’s interesting. One of the things we talked about earlier on is what’s actually affected by the algorithm update. According to Google, the mobile-friendly update really affects the rankings of individual pages, not entire websites. So if that’s true then marketers who are working in organizations with large websites that may not be completely optimized yet can start now to make sure that their new content is optimized for mobile. Is that true? If it is true, what should their first priorities be? Should they create new optimized content or get the older content in shape?
Ray: I think it is true. This is what I was talking about before where if you had some pages that were hit and other pages that weren’t hit, try to figure out your strategy going forward. This is where I would say that marketing teams and technical teams need to work together to create a strategy.
If you’re trying to decide between priorities in creating new optimized content or you’re trying to get older content in shape, as a marketer you should be focused primarily on optimizing the content. I guess the point is that you should always be focused on content as a marketer. Sometimes that means creating new content, sometimes that means optimizing old content. But the point is there are only certain things that you can optimize without getting the technology team involved.
The content optimization will be things like targeting title tags for specific keywords, audience engagement. Those are all things that you can do from an optimization perspective that don’t have any technology component to optimization. I would say all of the technical-related optimization stuff should be happening outside the marketing department anyway unless you, for some reason, have a development team inside marketing that owns the actual website. Maybe that’s a different conversation. But most of the companies that we see, there are two different groups. I would say that marketing team should be pushing very heavily to the technology team to actually get the site-wide optimization for mobile underway now very quickly because it’s going to continue to change.
Karen: Google just announced that there are now more searches on mobile than on desktops both in the U.S. and Japan. Are you surprised by these findings? Does this seem like it’s an acceleration of the trend?
Ray: I’m not surprised.
Karen: I’m asking three questions at once. Do you think that this explains Google’s push towards mobile-friendly? They saw this coming?
Ray: Google is in an interesting position here. I’m not surprised by the change. We’ve actually seen this in Japan for about two or three years, in some cases, even longer now. Japan has a very long, rich history of mobile that occurred even before the smartphones came. There are some industries that depended very heavily on feature phones in Japan for a long time, so that doesn’t surprise me. And I knew that it was going to happen here eventually in the U.S., as well.
I don’t think it’s every single industry but I would definitely say probably a vast majority of industries are now getting more of their traffic from mobile than from desktop. That trend is only going to continue. It’s the reason that Google had to respond to a lot of these.
Google is in a really interesting position though because mobile is hurting their advertising business quite a bit on the search side. It hurts everybody in a way when you’re talking about search. There’s less real estate overall. Users’ time is divided as their primary navigation tool. On the desktop, Google is your primary navigation device. On your smartphone you have apps. You have the local search on your smartphone to find all the different apps. You have difference at [28:02 inaudible] and a smartphone. There’s not much room for ads and results. Google has always been in this divided position where they’re trying to sell ads but they’re also trying to be perceived as the objective definer of quality content to send people to. That is even more apparent on mobile because literally have room for one or two spots of each unless you just completely change the game.
Google is trying to figure out the right way to balance their ad business with their core search technology. I think we’re going to continue to see things like that happening going forward. You’ll probably see a lot of hints of this coming first on the Android devices because that’s where they have obviously the most freedom to experiment.
Karen: As we’ve been going forward since the update, are there any questions you’ve been getting from our customers that we haven’t covered or anything that specifically people are wondering about?
Ray: A lot of what we’re talking about today is part of it. They’re trying to figure out their strategy. They’re trying to figure out what priorities they should be focusing on with regards to optimization, how far they have to optimize, what’s the real impact of all this stuff. A lot of that I think we’ve covered today. Hopefully that will be useful to them.
The other thing that people are looking for is they’re just trying to figure out what’s the predictive impact going forward. For the industries that are relevant to each individual customer that we deal with, we usually recommend that they use a lot of market data around this that we can track all this stuff for them. So I would recommend starting to increase the breadth of the type of tracking they’re doing, pay more attention to some of our competitor discovery tools and everything else that can help people with that.
There’s a lot of industry research out there. Stay up to date with all the different websites and blogs that are talking about these changes. For this particular update, people knew it was coming far and advance. It’s going to continue to happen. Future announcements may not be made but if you’re tracking your rankings on a daily basis, you’ll start to see even experimentation happening pretty quickly. So we offer mobile rank tracking capabilities now, as well. It’s being used pretty heavily by a lot of our customers.
Karen: Good. We’ll probably continue to address this as more issues come up around it.
In the meantime, feel free to e-mail us, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can always find us on Twitter at #FOUNDFriday and we can have a conversation there. Let us know what your concerns are and we can continue to address them.
Thanks, Ray. It was a great hangout. I’m going to enjoy some June gloom early. Have a good long weekend.
Ray: Alright, you too.
Karen: Talk to you later.