Monday Mornings with Madison

Go Mobile or Go Home

Marketing is constantly evolving.  First there was print advertising.  Then came persuasive radio commercials.  After that came colorful TV ads.  Then, with the evolution of technology and the advent of the World Wide Web, companies established an online presence.   Business owners quickly surmised that without a website, their company would not be perceived as ‘legitimate’ or ‘reputable’ by most consumers.  Even the smallest mom-n-pop shops set up simple, informative websites   Then, as e-commerce flourished, websites became more sophisticated.  Then companies were forced to go social.  Social media sites sprouted up like weeds and companies had to get engaged or be forgotten.  All of this marketing takes time and costs money.  Still, the pace of change is relentless and businesses are now facing yet another change thanks to the growing tidal wave of Smartphones.  Used by tweens, teens and adults of all ages, Smartphones are quickly taking over the shopping landscape and businesses are now feeling pressured to design websites that are mobile-friendly.

However, many companies have been slow to embrace the mobile revolution.  After all, setting up and maintaining mobile websites, in addition to traditional websites, is both costly and complicated.  Why go mobile when a company’s standard website works just fine and is delivering tons of traffic and sales?  The answer:  because Google has just said so.  And Google, the 800-pound gorilla of the digital realm, will not take “no” for an answer.

Google Goes Mobile-Friendly

Google has just announced it is recalibrating its algorithms.  If a website is not configured for Smartphone users, it may likely see a drop in ranking for not being compliant with Google’s Mobile Optimization Guidelines.  In other words, Google will reward websites that are mobile-friendly by ranking them higher and it will punish websites that aren’t optimized for mobile use.

If you aren’t sure if your company’s website is mobile-friendly, there is an easy way to check.  Google has a tool for that.  Just go to https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/ and type in the URL in the test bar.  It will analyze the site and indicate if the site is mobile-friendly.  Even if you thought it was, don’t be surprised if it’s not.  Nearly half of even the most popular and high-ranking websites aren’t currently optimized for mobile use (according to Alexa), that means that a lot of websites are about to drop off the proverbial search cliff.  So what is a company to do?  In a nutshell, go mobile or go home.

If only it were that simple.  It’s not.  Google also made an announcement that websites should use Responsive Design. However, most websites using Responsive Design deal with slow load times which inherently have negative SEO consequences meaning the site’s ranking is negatively impacted.  And Google also warned that a site speed penalty for mobile is also coming soon.  That seems like a catch-22.  With such conflicting instruction, it may seem hard to know exactly how to make a website mobile-friendly ‘the right way.’

Thankfully, in an effort to help everyone navigate the murky waters of mobile website design, Google published Recommendations and listed some of the most common mistakes when building a mobile site.   Here are some of the highlights.  Pardon the programming jargon but it is an essential part of the instructions.

Mobile Websites Dos and Don’ts

1.  Page Speed

Fact:  74% of consumers will wait only five seconds for a web page to load on their mobile device before abandoning the site, and 71% of mobile users expect web pages to load almost as quickly as or faster than web pages on their desktop computers.  These users are likely to be using high-speed networks.  With this in mind, performance is critical.

  • Mobile pages should render in under one second.  Common delays are due to external JavaScript and CSS.
  • Make the mobile web faster by reducing the number of requests and amount of data transferred.
  • Optimize for mobile use by deferring the loading of JavaScript until needed.
  • Use Google PageSpeed Insights to check a website for page loading issues.

2.  Unplayable Videos

A lot of videos just aren’t playable on Smartphones.  Links to unplayable videos will be punished.  Google recommends using HTML5 standard tags to include videos and avoid content formats such as Flash that are not supported by all mobile devices. Offering a transcript is also a highly effective solution to be safe.  There are other workarounds.

One workaround is to do a freeze frame of the video to create a still image. A good free program for doing this is MPEG Streamclip.  It’s a free download that allows you to freeze any frame of video, make simple adjustments and save the image.

Next, in a photo editing program, create a play button on the image or grab a YouTube player image from Google Images to complete the effect.  Then, link the video to the image created.  It looks like the image is a video player but it’s a workaround that actually takes the viewer to the video sharing site.  It’s simple, but effective.  (Keep in mind that this workaround works now but may run into issues down the road as technology continues to evolve.)

3.  Faulty Redirects

One common example of a Faulty Redirect is when a desktop site’s server is setup to redirect all Smartphone visitors to the mobile website’s Home page. This is fine if the user was trying to get to the mobile website’s Home page but not when trying to access a link deeper within the site.  This even happens with sites that have a mobile equivalent of the desired page but the redirect was implemented incorrectly.

The ideal is to ensure there is a mobile equivalent to every URL if not using Responsive Design. So for companies thinking of making their mobile website a much-reduced mini-version of the main site (with only a portion the content), think again.  Even if there isn’t a mobile equivalent of a given page, the user should be sent to the page they were looking for on the full site from their mobile device.

4.  Irrelevant cross-links

Along the same thread as a faulty redirect is the issue of irrelevant cross-link.  A common practice when a website serves users on separate mobile URLs is to have links to the desktop-optimized version, and likewise a link from the desktop page to the mobile page. A common error is to have links point to an irrelevant page such as having the mobile pages link to the desktop site’s homepage.  Google suggests checking all links to ensure they point to the correct equivalent page.

5.  Mobile-Only 404 pages

Related to cross-links and faulty redirects are 404 pages.  Some sites serve content to desktop users accessing a URL but show a 404 error page to mobile users. To ensure the best user experience, if a user is visiting a desktop page from a mobile device and there is an equivalent mobile page at a different URL, the user should be redirected to that URL instead of serving a 404 or a soft 404 page. Also, the mobile-friendly page itself should be checked to make sure it is not an error page.

 

Given these guidelines, it is a tall — but vitally important — order to ensure that mobile sites are created correctly.  Companies should invest in constructing a well-made mobile site, and not risk falling off the SEO cliff with a desktop site that is not mobile-friendly.   It can be a long drop to the bottom of the SEO rankings.

Quote of the Week

“The Mobile Web Initiative is important – information must be made seamlessly available on any device.” Tim Berners-Lee

 

© 2015, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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