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Aleyda Solis, founder of Orainti

Aleyda Solis

Founder, Orainti

Aleyda Solis is an international SEO consultant, a blogger (Search Engine Land, State of Digital and Moz), and a renowned marketing speaker (in both English and Spanish) at more than 70 conferences in 18 countries.

Included in Forbes as one of the 10 digital marketing specialists to follow in 2015 and in Entrepreneur as one of the 50 online marketing influencers to follow in 2016, she has more than 8 years of experience doing search engine optimization for European, American and Latin American companies.

After working in different SEO roles at European and American companies, both agency-side as well as in-house, she founded her own consultancy, Orainti, to help a range of businesses from startups to Fortune 500 multinational companies to grow their search visibility and achieve their SEO goals with strategic, technical and in-depth SEO consulting.

SEO in a Mobile-First Index: What Marketers Need to Know

There are now more searches being done from mobile than desktop devices and Google is moving towards a mobile-first index. Avoid losing your SEO results and learn how you can refocus your SEO process to prepare to the new mobile-first search reality with guidelines, tips and tools.





[00:00:03] Excellent. I am so very happy to be here, finally! I have a story to tell about Edinburgh. Right. Four years ago I was living in Brussels and a friend of mine, a British friend of mine, was coming over during the weekend right, and she told me, "look, I'm going to come with a friend but I'm not going to arrive on time so please take my friend to dinner, right? An Industry friend." Actually, he's here, but I'm not going to tell his name, because I don't want to put him in a weird situation. So the thing is like I took him you know to have like typical food from Belgium, et cetera, et cetera. It was a lovely night, we had such a great time and he spent the night mostly telling me stories about this amazing place called Edinburgh, right? Remember, I am not a native English speaker, so with his accent he sounded like he was saying "Enbow" this, "Enbow" that, Enbow, Enbow, Enbow. At the end of the night, I was like, "OK, you know, I'm sorry, I feel ashamed, but you're telling me about this amazing place where you live, 'Enbow', and my geography is not that bad but I have no idea where it is in the UK. I have no idea." And then he goes like, "Ok, E-DIN-BURGHE" It's like "Okay! So this is how you actually pronounce Edinburgh, in the UK." So, I learned that night that I knew that I had to come. I knew that I had to properly learn how to say it. I thought that I knew until I arrived, and then I realized that people actually say "Embra" or something like that.

[00:01:38] Nevermind! Forget about it, forget about it. I'm just happy to be here with you sharing — it was just too funny. Two things before starting: you will see that I have many tapes, many resources. I make references about articles, guidelines, tools, right? It's Not necessary that you write, because I'm going to try to show as much as possible, right? So I have already shared my slides over Twitter. I have tweeted the slides — you can follow me on Twitter, @Aleyda. You can also choose not to follow me and miss all the awesomeness that I share, and just go and click on the slideshow link, or if you don't have Twitter there's a little sheet under your chairs, with a summary of the session and actually a reference URL, where you can find the slides. And then I have two questions to make: how many of you use your mobiles, your smartphones to search online? Yeah, most of you. How many of you actually buy, or do transactions online? Reserve or register on mobile, specifically mobile? Okay, I see less hands up.

[00:03:25] However, this is how we search nowadays. You'll see there's a gap between the amount of people who search versus those that actually do transactions through mobile, and we are going to see why it's very likely that this happens. However, there's a huge percentage of people, especially here in the UK, more than half of the traffic comes from mobile. Yes, mobile devices. No joke, really. Take a look: more mobile searches than desktop ones.

[00:04:02] So search is also mostly driven now — we can say, yes... Google confirmed last year that there were more searches being done through mobile devices than from desktop ones. So it's not just overall traffic actually. So not surprisingly a few months ago Google confirmed that if most of the people are searching through their mobile devices, we are going to start taking mobile content into consideration to rank the websites. Very reasonable, right? They Want to be able to give you the best possible experience, and of course they are still ranking the websites of what they are finding in their desktop versions. Sometimes there is a gap between what exists on desktop versus mobile, so they want to make sure that the mobile web experience is relevant, is popular, is scrollable, is accessible. Really fulfills the user intent. So they are moving towards a mobile-first index. This means that all ranking signals will come from mobile-first now, from your mobile web presence. This is likely not happening this year. Don't go out thinking like "AAAH! We're Going to lose all traffic this year! We don't have a mobile version!" No, this is likely happening next year. They are leaving enough time for us to prepare. At some point they have also said that they are moving towards a mobile-only index, meaning that if we don't have a mobile version, mobile web presence, in that case we are in a much more difficult situation, right, because they're not going to assess and take into consideration our desktop web presence anymore.

[00:06:01] Nonetheless, we see again and again that there are very evident mobile web optimization issues even if you are not into SEO or a conversion expert or a usability expert. How many of you love these quotes from Forbes? Whenever you click on our pages. Lovely. So inspirational. How many of you read this? It's, like, no one, right? It's like, who will read them? What's the purpose? Maybe an opportunity to show more ads. Yeah. I imagine. And this — is it really a surprise that there are less conversions and less people are incentivized to do transactions on the on the mobile websites? Why do people not engage as much or read as much? The experience is not as good, right? Yeah, maybe too big built-ins, too many ads, not a really mobile-first experience or priority experience.

[00:07:11] These of course have direct effects from a user perspective. We are not going to stay and we are not going to end up, like, consuming if our mobile website takes too long to load, or don't provide what we are really looking for, or are too difficult to browse and scroll through. No way. And this is already shown through many surveys that have been done, conversion surveys — you can see and it is pretty sad. It's a scary gap: all the traffic is going mobile, however conversions on mobile are shitty. Do we need to do something? We cannot let this happen. This means we are not totally in the best position to grow.

[00:08:01] So, it's time for us to save our mobile SEO, and luckily for all of you, I am an international SEO consultant and much of what I do today has to do with that. To connect the companies that I work for, that I consult for, with them, with mobile searches nowadays. I work for many well-known companies, so likely I don't suck at it and I am able to help you too today. It's about answering some key questions, actually; to drive your SEO process to become a mobile-oriented one or a mobile-first one.

[00:08:45] First: does your site have a mobile web version? We know that there are alternatives. There are three main alternatives nowadays: to have a responsive web design, to have dynamic serving — that is that you will deliver different HTMLs through the same URL, you identify which is the device and based on the device you will show one or other HTML targeted toward that type of device — and then to have an independent mobile website, when we have specific subdomains showing specific URLs highly targeted towards mobile devices. They all have pros and cons, right? They all have also best practices that we are going to see we need. We cannot just rely on "yeah, sure, it looks good on mobile, it's mobile-optimized." That is like to say that a website is optimized or ready just because it's correctly shown on desktop — it doesn't work that way. It's a first step.

[00:09:44] There are pros and cons, there are different positions. Like for example, if we identify that our mobile audience has a very specific behavior on mobile that is completely different from the one that the audience has on desktop, we maybe want to go for a dynamic server and a mobile website. Right because we really want to target that HTML, the content, the experience, the offering for those users. So we cannot just use that responsive web design that just reformats the same content based on the screen. A lot of people, for a long time, thought that just having a responsive mobile website was the one way to go. Mostly because of this: you see these are Google's mobile SEO best practices and they mention the three options. However you see, when they mention the response web design they have: "responsive design is a Google-recommended design pattern." And everybody thought "yeaah, let's go, that is the best option." But not necessarily if you are in the situation that I mentioned before, where your audience has a completely different behavior that you really want to segment. Also the problem with responsive is that you need to load again and again the same resources, the same images, the same everything on mobile, just reformat it. So it's not the best from a performance perspective.

[00:11:07] Pros and cons again, depending on your specific situation. The first step that you need to do then is to go and check if you actually have any of these alternatives implemented on your site, and if you at least can pass the Google validation. Here's a URL, go validate your home page, at least your home page. Take a look if it happens. There's a caveat there — not because you go and take your main website URLs and do the validation, and they pass; that doesn't necessarily mean that they are completely mobile optimized. Take a look at this example, for example, it's Aer Lingus — you can see how, when they identified that there is a mobile user agent, a mobile crawler coming, or a mobile user or visitor too, they show an interstitial. Surprise, surprise. Trying to incentivize the user to download their mobile app. When they do that to me I say like "Why? Is your mobile site shitty or what? Why are you trying to make me move away to your app?" No, right? Anyway, so this is actually not optimized, even from a Google perspective, for Google standards, because we are going to see how there is an update that targeted websites that are using using interstitials — and now, any website that uses interstitials or popups on mobile, they will likely get penalized; there is a filter for that.

[00:12:50] So, surprise, surprise — be mindful that there can be some false positives going on and so don't necessarily rely on one single mobile tool like this, but it's a good step to start. You should also check if your site triggers mobile usability errors — Google Search Console, go, take a look. Also, very low-hanging fruit; very specific configuration that should happen, should exist in any mobile-optimized websites: the viewport is set, yes or no? Whatever type of configuration you have, you need to include the viewport to become mobile-friendly. You can also of course, and you should, use an SEO crawler like DeepCrawl, for example, to verify the mobile configuration of all of your site pages. What I got I love about DeepCrawl is that they have this specific reporting that already validates and segments for the most important configuration that you should assess in order to identify if any of these three alternative should be implemented on your site.

[00:14:21] You should go and identify which are the top mobile devices bringing traffic to your site — in Google Analytics, there is a devices report there, that you can go check and take a look: "what are my users using, actually? iPhone, iPad, Samsung, all of these different variations of Samsungs." Okay, now you know which are the devices that you can use to emulate and validate if their behavior is consistent with the one that you saw before with a Google validator tool. If the SEO crawler says that there are some important money-driving or top pages that are not necessarily given the best experience, you want to go yourself there: go to Chrome — and this is the beauty of it, you have a really powerful SEO tool in your browser — go to Chrome and choose the device mode, from the dev tools options; go to that link and you will see how to go through it — very easy once you get it. And you can identify it and you can emulate whatever device you want — you will emulate the ones that are bringing more traffic, carry more traffic to your site. Take a look if these pages are really, really showing well, or if there are any evident problems with them that will make them not pass the validation.

[00:15:24] Google has said that we shouldn't go crazy about it, right? That if we comply and we make sure that our websites follow mobile best practices nowadays, they will likely continue to comply to what they are going to require for a mobile-first index in the future; the configuration won't change, even for independent mobile websites. What we do with these m-subdomains, specific mobile URLs, is that we need to specify in every one of them which is their desktop version and we actually canonicalise, point as an original to the desktop version, because it's the desktop version that is taken into consideration right now. In mobile-first that is going to change, but Google says that we don't need to change anything. They are aware of it, of course so we can go ahead and do it.

[00:16:18] However, if we're looking to move from this independent mobile setting or configuration, we better do it right now. We don't wait for next year or two years to move toward a responsive web design or dynamic serving option. Because right now remember these independent mobile URLs are not being accessed, because all the content come from desktop. So right now it's pretty straightforward. It's pretty trivial. We think we shouldn't have any consequences, even if we do not necessarily do it perfectly. However, if we migrate when mobile index is in, we will need to make sure that it is a really, really good migration process to not lose traffic, indexation, et cetera, et cetera.

[00:17:14] Once we understand this, it is important to ask the second question: "How do mobile search crawlers access your site?" It's critical to make sure that the crawlers are able to see that content, to access the content on our site, right? And a lot of mobile website for some reason they leave no index there; they are blocking the whole subdomains; if they have a name subdomain, they are redirecting badly. This is horrible. Pop-up, interstitials are making it harder for the crawler and the user to access the actual content. So Google targets this type of bad behavior — it's buggy for me, as a user, I have to say. The best way to do it is to use app banners instead of interstitials. If you really want to drive and refer your users to your app, do it through app banners.

[00:18:11] Then of course there are always different scales and areas of grey going on. I was at this conversion conference a few months ago and they were saying "Oh, no, no, no. You know how we can do it? Just make sure that the popup or that the interstitial doesn't load as soon as you enter the page. Just make it so that it loads when you click, or you scroll, or you pass the mouse over a button or certain element, or when you are leaving the page — like this you won't be penalized." I don't know to which point this continued to be a bad experience for your user, of course — it's up to you to be mindful about this. But yeah, it's important that you take into consideration that if, at some point, you continue to do this interstitial, pop-up type of thing on mobile, this is what can happen to you: it was Pinterest that was doing it and they started to go down. Then they reacted and they eliminated this type of complete page interstitials and they started to use smaller banners to incentivize users to go to their app.

[00:19:27] So emulate the Googlebot for smartphones and crawl your site using JS rendering, because Google more and more has the capacity to identify and use JavaScript. And verify what is the actual experience that the crawler has; if it is meant to be an experience that an actual user will have. For example, we can see that when I crawl Zalando with a mobile user agent, I am redirected to the mobile homepage there — nice, from homepage to homepage, from desktop to mobile; that's great. There are a few resources that are blocked, however at least the content is correctly shown. That is why I want to enable the JavaScript rendering, to be able to see what the crawlers see.

[00:20:13] And for some reason, though, when I crawl, I identify that there are some pages showing errors. 'Pink wedding dresses'? That is okay, who wants pink wedding dresses? Don't worry about it, 404. No — but realistically, this shouldn't be returning 404s, right? Errors, ugh. Why? Right? Which pages are being not indexed? Are they meant to be non-indexed and they are currently canonicalised? These are configurations, technical configurations, that we need to make sure align to the Google best practices that I showed you before.

[00:20:47] Is your mobile content relevant towards your target queries? Some mobile web versions just show minimum viable content to their user. They say "oh, I have less space! What do I do? I just show the first paragraph and I cut all the rest." Sadly, I was testing a few Scottish websites and I found the Royal Bank of Scotland doing something like this through a dynamic version. You see? The content that they're showing on their homepage in mobile has nothing to do to the one that they show on desktop. They just show a minimum content.

[00:21:24] So, it's important that you read your content and structured data to your mobile web HTMLs, because now Google is going to actually start taking this content into consideration and assessing your relevance and ranking your content based on what they find on your mobile pages. It's OK to use expandable content in this case — on desktop right now it's not very recommended to do it because Google might not take the content that is hidden — that has a display:none or visibility:hidden, for example, through CSS on desktop — into consideration, because of course they want to emulate their user. If it is not shown to users they won't likely take, and assess, and consider that content around your site. However, they understand that on mobile there are more restrictions of space and it is okay to use this type of expand-all, contract-all type of content. So you can do that.

[00:22:25] How do you organize and prioritize your content on mobile, though? Do you leave the same options? Well, identify the queries that are already bringing you more visibility and search results. You can go to the Google Search Console, you can select the devices comparison there, and see which are the queries that bring more impressions and clicks from mobile devices than desktop, and see if there is a bias towards certain queries. We can see that are some of them, like the "near me" search, that are much more searched from mobile devices than from desktop ones. We can also do this with our competitors. Thankfully more and more keyword tools support mobile, and they have mobile segmentation.

[00:23:07] So for example, we can go to that comparison feature of SEMrush – so, like, the mobile database — and take a look at which are the additional inquiries our competitors are using to target their mobile audience. And of course we can expand them and we should take into consideration all the queries there that are being done through the customer journey for mobile devices. We should establish the most popular patterns for actions, characteristics, product types, ranks, locations, and combine them to obtain the most popular queries in general right.

[00:23:41] But how do we make sure that we take the right ones into consideration and prioritize those that are more popular for mobile? Because we end up having this type of situation, right? Travel backpacks — very, very popular; more search volume than 'backpack sales'-related queries. So which search term should I prioritize on the backpack section of my site on mobile? Easy: go and use the Google Keyword Planner and just take the different groups of terms for categories, social categories, as if you are going to do a campaign. Except that you won't do a campaign, you're just going to validate the amount of searches, queries that come from mobile devices, through the device filter there. And then we can see that despite having an overall lower volume, the 'backpack sales' one, the mobile activity and share is huge. It's much larger, right? So what do you do? You prioritize those accordingly.

[00:24:48] Last question. Is your mobile website fast enough? What is fast enough? Mobile speed is not yet a ranking factor. It will become one, on a mobile-first index. So should we worry about it? Yes — because of this. We don't want to have this type of bounce rate on our site. It's a really bad user experience. You don't want your users to throw their phones while waiting for content to load. And it is very easy for you to check out how much it takes to load. Again, this is actually an article that I wrote in Search Engine Land: how you can use Chrome DevTools as an SEO tool, and for example, you can actually select here the network view to see, how much does a mobile emulation take to load here? Four seconds? Not bad. The Bank of Scotland. But, here — 19 seconds! House of Fraser. Not good. Right? I will leave, like, after five seconds.

[00:25:58] Which of your most important mobile pages take longer to load? You can use Google Analytics for that, too. Go to speed suggestions, go to the URLs that have more page views, that are more meaningful through the conversion journey. Take a look if these are the ones that take much more time. Go and verify those specifically. Again, this is amazing, Chrome DevTools. They don't only allow you to identify how long it take to load, but actually to audit and see which are the problems. JavaScript rendering is not good. They are blocking JavaScript, blocking the other content — so you need to reorder the browser caching; many file resources — CSS, images, et cetera, et cetera. It's very straightforward.

[00:26:47] And what about implementing AMP? I'm pretty sure that you have heard about AMP, right? AMP is a simplified HTML that uses already-optimized resources and caching to serve them faster. And the reality is that it is faster. Take a look at this website that is already optimized with responsive web design: 6 seconds. The AMP alternative: 2.82 seconds. Impressive, right? You will likely also get more visibility in mobile search results, because you will be able to be included in the news carousel — if you are news, a media outlet, and of course, your results can be shown. In organic, too, it has become already a must for news-related sites because Google isn't showing non-AMP pages in the news carousel. AMP is required for news carousel. It's already supported, but ad networks, of course, you don't want to wait for the ads to load while you have already the content display on mobile, and now it's much more focused on expanding their ecommerce component to support ecommerce websites. But the main challenge here is again user experience. You can see that I had a client with the exact same issue here: they didn't have a menu on their AMP page on mobile. Like, why? "Oh, because we were some of the early adopters and they were not yet supporting the hamburger menu." OK. Thank you very much, and you haven't done this after 6 months already? It's like, wonderful. So, of course your bounce rate is so high.

[00:28:19] So which websites should implement AMP, then? Well, those that don't have a mobile version at all, or they don't have an independent, otherwise you will end up with too many independent URLs, right? You're in the media, you're in the news industry, you have a blog, you have a media site that would really profit from this extra visibility in the carousel; your current mobile page sucks. That's a good reason. Or you have resources to personalize the content — to really not necessarily just have the capacity to install an extension, because then you would likely have issues to really provide a really good mobile experience. Its execution can be a rollercoaster, but it's about focusing on the critical issues, and fix the critical issues to really make it go up and be able to have this type of results; a non-trivial type of fix, or visibility that you can get with these pages right. So, it's nice.

[00:29:13] This can be up a very, very in-depth topic, much longer than this. You can take a look — I did this presentation only about AMP, so you can see like tips, checklists, resources, tools, whatever, to implement it. And time is sadly almost up. You have many more questions, but don't worry — you can answer them very easily. I posted a few months ago this checklist with all of the questions that are meaningful for a mobile-first SEO process, and how to answer them through tools that already exist and already support, thankfully, mobile devices. It's time now for you to start saving and growing your mobile activity, your mobile SEO presence. Take a look. You don't need to wait for mobile-first to happen to have this type of visibility increase, this type of profit increase. This is what all of us are looking to: it's like, "traffic, it's just a vanity metric — show me the money!" Here it is, the money — on mobile, organic only. And of course, a growth trend that is positive over time, that is consistent, that is aligned from a business perspective. Thank you.

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