New Rules of SEO: Mobile Users Run the Internet

Dan Thies

SEO Fast Start Update #2: Mobile Users Run The Internet

“You have to learn why things work on a starship.”
— Captain Kirk

As we learned in the first installment of this series, SEO has undergone some big changes this year, but things seem to be settling down into a “new normal,” and these are the rules of the road:

  • Rule #1: Mobile Users Run The Internet
  • Rule #2: Site Speed Is No Longer “Optional”
  • Rule #3: Structured (Schema) Beats Unstructured
  • Rule #4: Drive Traffic, Not Links

Each of those rules comes with its fair share of exceptions, even the last one. It all depends on how you approach SEO – what your priorities are – and our own strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities.

Today, we’re going to review the steps you need to take – and the practices you need to adopt – to thrive in a mobile-first world.

1. Get your mobile website in shape – and keep improving.

I am a heavy mobile web user. It allows me to keep up with the news, read (or scan) articles of interest, without interfering with the work I may have in progress on my computer.

In my experience, mobile websites fall into 3 basic categories:

  1. Horrible: Ranging from completely unusable to barely usable. Common problems include redirecting mobile visitors to the “mobile” home page when they come in on a “desktop” URL, columns of text or images that simply will not fit on the screen, and “lightbox” popups that can’t be dismissed.
    Just a few days ago, a Facebook friend recommended I check out (redacted), so I took quick a look. They sell a website chat solution, but the chat box on their site was unusable on my phone.
    That’s horrible.
  2. Functional: The site is functional on mobile devices. Everything works, but some things may seem a little “off” depending on what kind of device the visitor is using. Which is about the state we’re in here at the Marketer’s Braintrust.
    This is the bare minimum, though, if you want to attract and keep mobile users. If you want to do better than that, it takes work, and it takes time.
    If you don’t know how your site works on a phone, find out, make notes of what doesn’t seem right, and get it fixed.
  3. Excellent: The site delivers a fast, mobile-optimized experience. When I say “optimized,” I mean that the experience isn’t just “adapted” to a phone or tablet, but designed from the ground up to work well on mobile devices.
    This isn’t easy. It’s a significant investment, one that we have not made yet ourselves. But if it’s not on your strategic roadmap somewhere, don’t be surprised when the web eventually leaves you behind.

The good news is that there’s still plenty of time on the clock. Only a small percentage of websites actually delivers a mobile-optimized experience, and there’s a very good chance that your competition isn’t any better than you are.

It won’t stay that way forever, but you’ve got time.

2. Create content optimized for mobile users.

One of the nicest things about mobile visitors is that they tend to be logged in to whatever social networks they’re a part of, and that means that they can share your content easily.

You want them to do that, but they’re far less likely to do that with content which hasn’t been created with mobile users in mind. This means a few things, aside from the functional issues I described above:

  • Mobile users scan more than they read, and they don’t read novels on their phone. That epic 63,000 word blog post that got you lots of love from desktop users, will drive your mobile users crazy.
    That giant super-intricate infographic you put so much work into, is too damn big for a phone. Making a funny meme would have taken less time, and for a mobile user, it’s much more likely to be shared.
  • Bite-sized and sharable chunks of content perform far better on mobile than they do on desktop, but they don’t do badly with desktop users.
    You’ve probably been told by a lot of people that you can’t write 150 word blog posts, because of Panda, or Penguin, or “thin content,” or whatever. Nonsense.
    Your content needs to be long enough to make your users happy. It has to be original. It has to add value – but that doesn’t take 1000 words.
  • For longer articles and other text-heavy content, Google’s AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) and Facebook’s “Instant Articles” can vastly improve your mobile visitors’ experience – but there’s a HUGE gotcha.
    When someone reads an AMP or Instant article from your website, they’re not actually ON your website. If you don’t give them a way to get to your website, or to take some sort of action you’d like them to take, all of that “traffic” is completely useless to you.

Experiment With AMP, But Don’t Let It Wreck You

AMP and Instant Articles should only be used for things like news articles and blog posts, not your entire site. There’s no such thing as an AMP shopping cart, so don’t make AMP versions of your product pages.

Every article should have some way to access your site, whether it’s a “hamburger button” with your top level navigation, links to related articles, links within the content of the article, or all of the above.

If you want people to opt in to a mailing list, or take a survey, then make sure that there’s some way for them to do that, or at least start the process, from your AMP pages.

A lot of people have turned on AMP or Instant Articles in their WordPress sites, and effectively turned off a lot of their mobile traffic. Do play around with AMP, because it can drive a lot of search traffic, but make sure it’s doing what you expect.

3. Fix your Analytics – and start using all of your data.

I shouldn’t have to tell you this, so I am going to keep it very short.

Google Analytics is your friend. If you want to get all tin-foil-hatty about it, then find an alternative that doesn’t suck. Use it.

Take the time to understand what all the reports do. Take the time to understand how people navigate through your website, and how to figure out where they’re getting stuck or lost.

Multi-Channel Funnels Overview

If you have never seen this, you need to spend more time in Analytics.

Look at your Audience reports by device type, browser and operating system. A high bounce rate or very low conversion rate indicates that your site is not working well for those users.

4. Start driving mobile traffic – and leveraging social media.

If you aren’t seeing conversions from mobile traffic, there are only a few possible reasons:

  1. It’s impossible. That is, sometimes it’s literally impossible for a mobile user to complete a transaction or become a lead.
  2. Your selling cycle is longer. Users often discover things by searching on their phone, but complete the transaction on a desktop system.
  3. You’re not measuring it all. You will never have perfect tracking of users across devices, but if you’ve ever cut off a significant source of mobile traffic and seen a drop in desktop conversions, you know how important mobile traffic is.

Mobile users are worth money, and it’s easy to generate mobile traffic for any kind of website.

Mobile users are more likely to share content than desktop users, and that means more links to your website in the long run, reducing or even eliminating the need for traditional link building.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ve already heard a lot of different ways to create traffic.

I’ve taught classes on Audience-Based advertising (Universal Traffic Engine), content marketing (Universal Traffic Engine 2.0), and of course, Link Liberation 3 covered the SEO benefits of social marketing in great detail.

Little Bitty Traffic Magnets

In the next installment, I’ll show you a dead simple, “fast food” version of these strategies that you can implement in a matter of hours, to start driving more traffic to your site.

This method is based on an extensive study of Analytics data from our clients and ResultFlow users, and if you follow the process exactly, it allows you to drive highly targeted traffic for pennies (or less) per visitor.

It’s also very easy to outsource, which I know is important to businesses (and agencies) of every size.

Don’t Like Waiting?

If you’d rather not wait for the next installment, I’d be happy to explain it to you.

Just hop onto our Facebook page and send me a message, and let me know it’s about the Little Bitty Traffic Magnets.

I’m always happy to chat.