For the inaugural post of my brand new “Authority SEO Lab” blog, I just wanted to give a shout out today about something that is coming down the pike in April that will soon have a massive effect on your SEO rankings.
In what webmasters are calling “Mobilegeddon”, Google will now be incorporating mobile friendliness into it’s ranking algorithm in a BIG way.
(Remember the destructive force of Panda? Google is saying this update will have a BIGGER impact on rankings than Panda did– Ouch!)
With mobile and small device share increasing rapidly, we all knew this was bound to happen sooner or later as Google decides to use it’s muscle to force wide changes across the internet.
Previously, while mobile friendliness had some impact on rankings, it was not applied evenly, and many sites that were not mobile friendly were still keeping their rankings.
But that is all about to change on April 21st with the next Google algorithm update.
The good news is, there are some things you can do to prepare NOW so you aren’t caught with your SEO pants, (and rankings) down.
1. Make sure your website is RESPONSIVE
Responsive sites automatically adjust to the screen size of whatever device they are being viewed on. And that doesn’t just mean getting REALLY REALLY small and unreadable.
On a responsive site, when the “viewport” size or screen width changes, navigation menus will condense, page columns will rearrange to stack onto a small screen, and more. (Actually, this is really amazing to see how some layouts rearrange themselves seamlessly.)
In the past, it’s been common to make a totally separate mobile site, but one of the big problems with that is that often, mobile sites were not kept updated with changes on the main site. Additionally, with the number of different screen sizes available such as tablets, mini laptops, small phones, bigger phones, you need a responsive design to adapt to ALL of these.
Responsive design takes away the need to create two separate portals, and is favored by many usability experts today.
If that sounds like a whole lot of work, or you aren’t sure you are tech savvy enough to make that happen, there are some options you’ll love. Because there are increasingly, a number of great looking themes available at affordable prices which are completely responsive. You can just install the new theme into your site and run with in a few minutes.
For WordPress, here are two of my favorite responsive themes:
Genesis Theme by Studiopress – You’re looking at it! Genesis framework is a popular choice for a whole bunch of reasons, and is also the choice of one of my favorite marketing “gurus” Ryan Deiss.
- Child themes – A child theme is like the paint job on a car. Underneath, the website has the same strong framework, but the styling can be completely different. Genesis Framework has a whole lot of very good looking “Child” theme options available to fit the needs of different sites, from Cooking blogs, to Real Estate Agent sites, Business to Business, and everything in between. (This site is using the “Genesis Sample Child Theme” that comes with the framework with just a few stylesheet tweaks.)
- SEO Optimized – Genesis comes with excellent SEO optimization programmed in to help you avoid duplicate content penalties, and push your content to higher rankings. This alone is worth it’s weight in gold, and one thing many of the free themes lack. (This is the reason Ryan’s team gave for switching to Genesis)
- Security Optimized – The developers of Genesis designed the framework for better security, which means all of the child themes will inherit it’s security features.
- Speed Optimized – The choice of theme on a WordPress Site can make a huge difference in the load times of your pages. Some themes have very disorganized and bloated coding, and many free themes just were not designed with speed in mind, or are created by amateurs who don’t know how to optimize for speed. Genesis is very fast, and light, which will make a big difference in the response times of your site.
Thesis Theme by DIY Themes – Thesis is another great little framework for WordPress which I run on a number of sites. It has a slightly different feature set than Genesis, but makes sense for certain kinds of sites. Here are a few things Thesis theme is great at.
- Skinnable – This is similar to the whole child theme thing with Genesis, but Thesis takes it a bit further in allowing you to make settings changes to your theme, and then export and import those changes, which is great if you are working with a website designer and don’t want your website disturbed while coding is still in progress.
- Highly Customizable – Thesis theme has a really cool block manager that allows you to create your own page templates. The only downside to this is that some people find it a bit complicated to use, and you will need to know some CSS. One caveat though… while the Thesis classic skin is already responsive out of the box, unless you are really good with CSS, the changes you make to the website design may not be.
- Speed Optimized – Thesis theme has one really big advantage over many other themes with a page builder feature, and that is that Thesis actually compiles the templates at the time you finish saving them and caches the html. So WordPress doesn’t have to work nearly as hard to serve a customized page (Unlike Optimize Press 1 & 2, which can both bring a busy site to it’s knees with page generation overhead.)
- Easy Adding of Custom Script & CSS – Thesis beats Genesis hands down in the category of adding tracking scripts, or custom CSS to individual pages or the whole site. Genesis on the other hand, has less control over where scripts go, and the option is harder to find and understand, especially for non-developers.
2. Speed up your website page load times!
Another point emphasized by Google’s search engine honchos in the fight for mobile friendliness, is to improve page loading speed. While page speed has been a search ranking factor for all devices for a while, it becomes even more important when calculating “mobile friendliness” of a website.
Small devices often run on limited bandwidth, smaller processors, and smaller memory, which means slow load times can exasperate mobile users before they have even seen your content. And with mobile and other small screen devices taking over even in commerce shopping and email reading, you can’t afford to ignore mobile users any longer – regardless of Google’s pretty clear position on website speed.
And there are other compelling reasons to increase your website speed.
Commerce giants like Amazon and Walmart know from extensive testing that website speed is important to their bottom line, beyond any benefits of higher search rankings. People simple BUY LESS when the website they are browsing is slower. For Amazon, this means a website even 100ms slower can cost them 1% in sales, which runs into the millions of dollars.
But don’t make the mistake of thinking that if you are still a small business, that it’s no big deal. Remember, the loss of a few dollars every day compounds over time in the cost of future lost opportunities. The big boys got that way by being SMART about their investments and keeping money from leaking out of their coffers.
And conversions aren’t just about sales. A slow website can increase your bounce rate, decrease the likelihood that visitors will stay to read your content, join your list and a host of other penalties.
So how slow is too slow?
These days, the upper limit for page load time is about 2 seconds before visitors start hopping off and going elsewhere.
Now you might be thinking that speeding up a website sounds really hard, especially if you are not a techno-geek kind of person, Right?
But that just isn’t the case. There are a few small things even the most non-tech savvy can do to make a huge difference in their website speed.
3. When you have your site “up to code” make sure to have it re-indexed early.
As of this writing, the April 21st update is only 3 weeks away, which sounds like plenty of time to get your website in shape… until you consider that Google’s merry crawler bots have already been around your site, collecting data and making judgements about the mobile worthiness of your website.
This means that any changes you make now, still have to be indexed, and that can take some time.
But, if your website has Google Webmaster tools enabled, you can request a re-index now, which gives Google’s spiders time to swing by and check out your website mobile friendly and speed improvements.
Here’s how to request re-indexing of your pages by Google:
When you have made your website updates, log into Google Webmaster Tools. In the dashboard, select your website profile (or add a new profile for your site if you haven’t already enabled it).
Once you have selected your profile, click “Crawl” in the sidebar, and then click on “Fetch as Google.”
Your URL should already be shown there, but you can also add sub-directories.
Just one more thing– Before you click on “fetch and render,” make sure you select the drop-down menu that says “Desktop,” and switch it to the relevant mobile option (if you are unsure, you can select all of them—one by one).
Once you have selected the mobile options you need, click on the “submit to index” button. This will ensure that your website gets re-crawled with your changes before the update.
With this update, SEO’s and website owners who prepare early have a rare opportunity not to be hit with a penalty BEFORE it destroys traffic and rankings by dealing with the mobile friendliness and speed of their websites ahead of time.
And if you take action now, not only will you avoid being hurt by the update as it rolls out on April 21st, but you may even enjoy higher rankings as the non-mobile-friendly websites drop a few notches.
And that after all, is a reason to applaud this update, rather than fear it.