In my last blog post I made the case that an increasing number of the potential visitors to your website will be using mobile platforms, such as an iPad, iPhone, or other smartphone. Most people agree that going forward, this will be an ever growing number. If their experience with your website in their mobile browser is not a good one, you could come off as unprofessional, and lose a good chunk of this every growing market.
As part of managing your online presence, you have to manage the visitors experience on your website. And more and more that experience is going to be on a tablet or smartphone. As you begin managing your online presence, one part of that process will be using SEO techniques. This will improve your search engine rankings. As you get better search engine rankings, you will get more first time visitors to your site. If they are on a tablet or smartphone, you need to make sure your site is easy to navigate, graphically appealing, engaging, and as informative as if they were viewing your main website in a desktop browser. In this blog post I’m going to outline the basics of making sure your website is well represented on mobile platforms.
Once you’ve decided to make your website mobile friendly, the first question is to decide which of the following two routes you will take:
- Optimize your existing website to be mobile friendly.
- Create a separate, parallel mobile site completely streamlined for mobile users.
When making this decision, one of the main things you need to consider is the percentage of current users of your website that are from a mobile platform. Your current weblogs or analytics should allow you to get a percentage of all visitors to your site who are using a mobile platform. This report from comscore.com shows that currently 7% of all digital traffic is from tablets and smartphones. This is the average across all types of web sites and for all demographics. Depending on the nature and target demographic of your website, the number you get from your analytics could be substantially higher. If it is in the 25%+ range, you should definitely consider a separate, parallel mobile website. Creating a separate parallel mobile site will give that 25%+ segment of your visitors a more satisfying experience. If your current visitors on mobile platforms are in the 10%-25% range, either path is probably a good option, depending on available resources. If less than 10% of your current visitors are on a mobile platform, you can probably safely consider streamlining the existing website for better mobile viewing.
Optimizing your existing site to be Mobile friendly
Optimizing your existing site for mobile friendliness will involve testing, tweaking, and refining your current website to make it more mobile friendly. By testing how your website performs on various platforms, you will quickly begin to see which features perform well, and which feature perform poorly, or don’t perform at all. For example if your site uses Flash menus, your users will be literally stuck on the home page when they view your site on an iPhone or Ipad. Simply replacing your menus with similar HTML 5 menus solves that problem. By continuously testing and refining your site, you can establish new design specifications for your site. Eventually, you can get to the point where the experience on most major mobile platforms is acceptable. You may never get the full user experience for your mobile visitors that they would have gotten if you designed and maintained a separate mobile website. You should at least get to the point where the mobile device user can navigate the site, easily peruse content, and generally feel like they are getting something of value from a professionally designed site.
To begin the process of testing and refining your site, the following tools check cross browser and cross platform compatibility by showing your website in all of the many mobile configurations:
- W3C mobile – A simple tool at the W3.org website that validates web pages as mobile OK.
- Gomez Cross-Device Mobility Test – A free test for your website on the big 4: Google Android, Safari on IPad, Safari on iPhone and Blackberry.
- Crossbrowsertesting.com – Web-based software to easily view your website across all major browsers and all major platforms, with a free trial and plans starting at $29.95/month.
- Perfecto Mobile – Cloud based application, you pay for the time you spend viewing your website on any browser platform combination ($10-$14 per hour)
- Multi-Browser Viewer – Standalone software that simulate iPhone, Blackberry, Windows mobile, Google Android, and iPad mobile with all of the major browsers. ($139/year, $99 Annual Refill and update)
Creating a separate mobile site
Creating a separate mobile site will increase you web development costs. There will be costs to set it up as well as increased maintenance cost of your website going forward. More and more, website visitors are using these platforms for a greater share of their web browsing. All indications are those numbers will continue to increase. The extra cost justification should be easy once analytics show more than 25% of your visitors are on a mobile platform. A separate web site designed to offer a professional, easy to use, scaled down version of your main site should easily pay for itself.
There are many tools designed especially for creating a website that is tailored for use on mobile platforms:
- Mofuse – Build and host your mobile site on their platform (starting at $39.00/month)
- Mobify – A leader in ecommerce mobile sites
- WPtap – Specializes in themes/plugins to convert a WordPress site to a mobile site.
- Mobisite Galore – Build and host your mobile site on their platform (10 page pack $156/year, unlimited page pack $225/year)
- WPTouch Pro – Converts WordPress (WP) based websites into mobile friendly sites. (Cost: 1 WP website $39, 5 WP Websites $69, Unlimited WP Websites $199)
As part of strong online presence management strategy, you need to understand where your visitors are coming from. A larger percentage of them will be coming from tablet and smartphone devices, as people spend more of their online lives on these devices. You need to make sure that no matter what platform or browser those visitors are using, they need to come away from your site feeling more engaged and more informed.
Smartphones and Tablets now drive nearly 7 percent of total U.S. Digital Traffic, according to a report released October 10, 2011 by comscore.com. The report was entitled ‘Digital Omnivores: How Tablets, Smartphones and Connected Devices are changing U.S. Digital Media Consumption’. Some key findings of the report were that the mobile media user population (defined as anyone who browses a mobile web, access mobile applications or downloads mobile content) grew 19% to more than 116 million people. Also, nearly half of all iPad owners had made a purchase using their iPad. See more of the report here.
These numbers seem to support conventional wisdom that if someone is searching for a product or service on the web, more people than ever are doing that from a tablet or smartphone, and those numbers will continue to grow. Having a strong Online Presence means you need to understand the ever changing online world. You have to insure that your website is friendly to all of the platforms that your potential new customers are using.
Also, a study by www.emarketer.com showed that mobile ads seemed to have a stronger influence than similar ads displayed on a desktop PC. The various factors that seemed to be influenced more strongly by the mobile ad are shown in the chart below (and see more info on the study here):
These reports show an opportunity for online marketing. SEO experts are noticing that for whatever reason mobile users don’t seem to be tuning out advertising at the same rate they have been conditioned to tune out PC based advertising. This could change over time, but seems to be the case right now. Businesses that have a strong Online Presence Management Strategy need to insure that the mobile users experience with their website is optimized for their platform. If you choose to use pay-per-click search engine advertising as part of your online presence management strategy, mobile advertising may be the best way to spend the money. You need to keep in mind going forward that as you improve your search engine ranking, there is an ever growing chance that those who find you will be finding you on a smart phone or tablet. When they do, you or your SEO expert need to make sure your website is ready for them.
You hear it over and over again from SEO experts, “Content is King”. If you want to improve your search engine ranking, you have to engage users with content. Better search engine rankings mean more traffic to your site. What happens when the customer gets to your site? Content is still king, as the following infographic shows, content is a major factor in impacting purchasing decisions and converting visitors to customers. 61% of consumers are more likely to purchase goods from businesses that offer custom content.
Infographic from Brafton.com
Regardless of whether you are a B2B or a B2C business, custom content is key to closing the sell. If you are a B2B company, 60 percent of business decision makers say content helps them make better purchase decisions. If you are a B2C business, 61 percent of consumers are more likely to buy from companies that offer custom content. The information people find online impacts their purchase decisions, and custom content is your best opportunity to show what you know and separate yourself from the crowd.
Google, in its webmaster central blog, has given some insight into how important quality content is in achieving consistently high search engine rankings. In response to the criticism of Google’s Panda updates They stated the following in a blog post: “focus on developing high-quality content rather than trying to optimize for any particular Google algorithm”
A strong strategy for online presence management needs to include a plan for consistently and continuously providing quality, custom content. Your website SEO will benefit, and all aspects of your continuing online presence will be stronger.
A major component of Online Presence Management is gaining and maintaining strong search engine results on key phrases that are related to your business goals. With the Google search engine algorithm constantly evolving, the small business owner can be quickly overwhelmed. Like many technical aspects of business, there comes a tipping point when it becomes cost effective to outsource the activity to an expert. In the case of Online Presence Management, someone who understands all aspects of a strong online presence can much more cost effectively handle all aspects. This includes keeping up with ever-changing trends in Google’s Search Algorithm. Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently admitted in Congressional Hearings that Google changed its algorithm 561 times in 2010. Following the trends and whims of Google becomes a daunting task.
One shift in emphasis that cannot be denied is in the use of video content. Recently, Forrester Research found that a page with video content was 53 times more likely than a traditional web page to receive an organic first-page ranking. This increased emphasis on video content creates an opportunity. This doesn’t mean you can slap some video content on a page and you will be on page one. Like all things in the SEO world, it has to be done the right way, or I should say the way that Google wants it done. Video content is not easily recognized or indexed by search engines. So, as a good site has to be made easily crawled and search engine friendly, so too must video content. It is a little trickier with video content, but if done correctly, the payoff can be great in terms of quickly scaling the search engine rankings.
To make sure your video content is benefitting your site a few key points must be followed. First, a video sitemap needs to be created. The video sitemap then needs to be submitted to Google using their webmaster tools. Second, it is then important that each page with video content contains robots.txt file. The file must contain the properly embedded codes to let Google know the page contains a video. Third, the video title and title tags are the key for your winning search terms. The video title and title tags should accurately describe your video content while also containing the key search terms you want to win. Don’t jam them with keywords. If the video is relevant, the true description should be keyword-rich. It also helps if the title tag of the page is similar to the title of the video.
As a small business owner, a strong online presence is critical. The prospect of navigating the ever changing waters of Google can be overwhelming. The smart business owner will soon realize Online Presence Management, like so many other facets of today’s business environment, is most effectively managed by outsourcing it to an expert.
A recent personal experience gave me something to think about in terms of mobile devices and search. Locked out of my apartment, I pulled out my smart phone and Googled “Locksmith Indianapolis”. The first listing had a phone number in the description, so I clicked the number, made arrangements, and was soon back in my apartment.
As someone involved in internet marketing, this experience raised a few questions:
- What percentage of searches comes from mobile devices? Is there a trend towards mobile?
- Are mobile search results different than desktop search results? How are they different?
- Do mobile searchers behave differently than desktop searchers? Are they more or less likely to become customers?
I did a little research, and found the answers interesting.
What percentage of searches comes from mobile devices? Is there a trend towards mobile?
Efficient Frontier data study from March of 2011 tells us that on average 10-15% of search traffic comes from mobile devices, and there is no question that this percentage is trending rapidly upward. These numbers varied widely by market, sometimes even doubled. Their study showed that 5.4% of all paid search impressions came from mobile, quite a jump from last year. The following chart shows their data for ad spending for paid search on mobile devices:
Are mobile search results different than desktop search results?
It is true that Google’s mobile search results differ from desktop result. Exactly how they differ, like most things Google does, is a closely guarded secret. A recent article in searchengineland.com documented 14 differences between mobile and desktop search results. Some of the 14 were trivial. The more interesting differences included apparent higher priority for localized listings in mobile search, and differences apparently due to differing Click-thru-rates and bounce rates from mobile users as compared to desktop users. Bottom line, since mobile search results seem to prioritize location, to be successful in an ever-growing mobile search arena, it is important that your business is correctly registered in Google places, so that you are found by local mobile searchers. Your description tag should be concise enough to communicate all important information in the smaller mobile search result, and your website should have a mobile version.
Do mobile searchers behave differently; are they more likely convert to customers?
This answer surprised me. Mobile searchers seem to click-thru only about 70% as much as desktop searchers. The only explanation I can think of for this is that desktop users might browse more, clicking on multiple sites and exploring their options. Mobile users may be behaving more like I was when looking for a locksmith. They may be looking for a solution for a particular problem, and not browsing or clicking thru on multiple listings.
Now I’m fairly certain I didn’t get the best deal on that locksmith that I could have gotten. With “as-needed” types of businesses like locksmiths, people often want the quickest or surest , not necessarily a decision with a lot of due diligence for the best deal. These types of businesses in particular need to be transitioning there advertising dollars from old school methods, like yellow page advertising, to more effectively being found in search in general, and mobile search in particular. And once found, they need to make sure their website has been optimized with a mobile version. For those local businesses providing “as-needed” services, winning the moment of truth with mobile searchers, being found, and then providing information to mobile searchers could be the difference between success and failure.
Google made a major modification, nicknamed ‘Panda’, to it’s search engine algorithm in February of 2011. For many websites, search engine rankings changed literally overnight. Many of the websites hardest hit by the Panda update were using tactics not in line with Google’s recommendations, so it may be hard to have too much sympathy for those affected. The use of back links to questionable websites, or ‘link farms’ was one of the hardest hit areas by the new algorithm.
It now appears a new iteration of the Panda algorithm was implemented on Wednesday, September 28th. A Google spokesperson on September 30th told WebProNews: “We’re continuing to iterate on our Panda algorithm as part of our commitment to returning high-quality sites to Google users. This most recent update is one of the roughly 500 changes we make to our ranking algorithms each year.”
500 changes per year! Only major modifications make the news, but there is no question that the algorithm changes daily. This is another example of why true long term success in web marketing must involve a strategy in line with the ultimate goals of what the ultimate search engine algorithm would accomplish. Better search engine rankings can be achieved by building a relevant and engaging website. Online Presence Management is a marathon, not a sprint. Any tricks to make you appear more relevant and/or popular than you actually are in the short term may work for awhile. But it now seems more certain than ever that it will be fleeting success if it is not done the right way.