By: Jesse Aaron
Whenever Google introduces alterations to its search algorithms, SEO and marketing experts everywhere brace themselves for adaptation. With the reveal of the Hummingbird algorithm update, SEO techniques aren’t changing as dramatically as many feared, but there will still be growing pains and challenges along the way as SEO techniques integrate the new system.
Hummingbird is Google’s answer to changing web browsing trends. Mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets are accounting for a greater and greater percentage of total worldwide Internet traffic. This sea of change isn’t all that surprising to some—the death of the desktop PC has been prophesied for years with the growing popularity of mobile devices.
The short version of all of this is the fact that web content has to take into account the changing ways that people are accessing it. For example, smartphone users are frequently dictating search terms in the form of questions, as opposed to typing in more general search terms. This means that content needs to more directly address search terms that are commonly worded as questions.
Mobile SEO as a whole, then, is experiencing a paradigm shift. As a result, there are new challenges facing marketers everywhere. Here are three of the major ones, along with some suggestions for overcoming them.
1. Maintaining Reasonable Load Times
Page load on a desktop computer is important enough, but the issue is even more critical on mobile devices, where time is often at a premium and connectivity can be spotty. A slow website takes only a moment or two to frustrate the user into finding a more mobile-friendly site.
With this in mind, the content for mobile sites needs to accommodate as many types of devices and connectivity requirements as possible. To “lighten” your own page, start thinking about which website elements are necessary and which are not. You want to maintain as much feature parity as possible between your desktop and mobile sites, but not at the cost of load times.
You might, for example, think about dropping the ads on your mobile site that aren’t generating that much income. Even small changes such as eliminating an image here and there will do wonders for your load time. For example, this page for automatic pool covers contains many images; the header being the widest. On mobile, everything cuts off and is essentially not providing any value to a viewer. Load times can be reduced by resizing these images and reducing their size.
Even social sharing tools can increase page requests, so keep these down to the bare minimum as well. Take a look at how often visitors are using them, and go from there.
2. The Slow Death of Flash
This has been a long time coming, but the process may have been sped up by the iPhone’s declaration of war against Adobe’s web content standard. The effects of this challenge on the SEO content of a given page will be minimal, but it’s still an inextricable part of the overall responsive design of a page.
Flash is well known to be a drag, not only on the performance of a given electronic device, but on the battery as well. As a result, mobile devices are more and more frequently dropping support for Flash. The iPhone, for example, does not support Flash in its built-in web browser, which means YouTube enthusiasts have to use dedicated, third-party YouTube apps to watch videos. Other sites aren’t lucky enough to have mobile apps to serve as a workaround, which means an increasingly large percentage of their readers will be left in the dark.
While flash provides value and entertainment to users, many of the functions of flash can be replicated with script. For example, the ecommerce store Any Size Basket has a feature where you can design your own metal baskets and it still performs well in mobile form. A flash version would not.
The most obvious solution is to begin tailoring your content for the widest possible readership, which includes both desktop and mobile operating systems. HTML5 is an open and universal web standard that’s performance friendly and works better on mobile devices than Flash ever did.
3. Redirects and Blank Pages
Google’s guidelines under the new algorithm will begin penalizing websites if mobile visitors are redirected to a page that is irrelevant to their search terms. Most smartphone owners have likely encountered this phenomenon—you do a Google search for “porcupines,” and when you tap on the first search result, you’re sent to the site’s home page instead of the “porcupines” page. This is one of the absolute fastest ways to lose visitors.
Even worse is redirecting mobile users to a blank page. To address both of these issues, the solution isn’t perfect but it’s better than the alternative—don’t use any redirects, and instead serve the full desktop page. You’ll retain more visitors that way, even if they may have to pan around a little bit to see the entire page.
Simple Problems with Simple Solutions
As you can see, none of these challenges are insurmountable. Google’s continuing mantra throughout all of its algorithm changes has been “content is king.” That, above all, is the takeaway for SEO experts. The very best way to retain visitors is to serve quality content. Even so, just a little extra attention to detail will ensure that they’re visitors for life.
Jesse Aaron is a professional blogger with a passion for homebrewing. His blog focuses on providing actionable social media marketing strategies and advice.