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Written by Sam Yadegar on Aug 30 , 2021

Google’s MUM update is a huge technological leap forward. But what tangible changes will we see, and what will it mean for marketers?

Here you’ll find:

  • An explanation of this new Google technology
  • The changes you can expect to see
  • How marketers will be affected by MUM
  • How to keep your site compatible

These days, when you type an inquiry into Google, chances are high that it’ll understand what you’re looking for and serve up the proper results. But as far as the search engine has come, it’s still not perfect.

That means queries still sometimes get misinterpreted, leading to unrelated results on the search engine results page, or SERP. Maybe you wanted facts about the song “Hotel California” but got results for the best hotels to stay at in California instead.

Thanks to Google’s new MUM update, these instances of the search engine not understanding search intent may continue to become even more rare. However, that’s not the only thing that will change, and marketers should know what to expect. 

Let’s go over this pending update, including what it is, what it does, and how your marketing efforts like search engine optimization (SEO) may be affected.  

What is the Google MUM update?

Google has been working on a new update to implement an artificial intelligence-based machine learning model that they call “Multitask Unified Model,” or MUM.

It’s such a huge advancement in search, AI, and machine learning technologies that it’s reportedly one thousand times more powerful than their previous BERT update released just two years prior. 

The goal is to make it easier for users to find answers to complex questions that can’t be resolved with Google’s standard couple-sentence summary snippet.

woman sitting outside with a laptop

MUM will allow Google to process your query, identify the full search intent, and source answers to each step of the problem. (Image via Pexels)

How will MUM affect Google Search?

According to the search engine itself, users currently need an average of eight search queries to accurately address complex, multi-step problems. MUM is meant to tackle them faster, easier, and more naturally. 

Responses will more closely resemble the answer a seasoned expert would give that addresses the intent of the question rather than just the individual words used. It does this by implementing a few key changes.

Fewer questions, better answers

Google’s new MUM model uses advanced language processing technology called a T5 text-to-text framework along with other state-of-the-art machine learning methods to better comprehend language. This allows it to understand complex questions more fully and provide nuanced, multi-step answers.  

They use the following scenario as an example:  

“You’ve hiked Mt. Adams. Now you want to hike Mt. Fuji next fall, and you want to know what to do differently to prepare.”

While this would typically require multiple searches for each difference (e.g., weather, elevation, difficulty, gear, etc.) MUM will allow Google to process your query, identify the full search intent, and source answers to each step of the problem. 

This way, they’ll be able to provide a comprehensive and useful response that includes all the info you’ll need.

A global source of information

It stands to reason that the most accurate and specific information about Mt. Fuji would likely be written in Japanese. However, Google traditionally only provides results written in the language used to perform the search. 

As you can imagine, this severely limits the results.  

MUM, on the other hand, can understand 75 different languages, allowing it to respond to a query in one language using information written in another. This basically gives you access to 75 times as much information as before.

Thinking outside the text box

Another big MUM advancement: being able to understand information presented in different forms. This includes images, videos, and audio. 

If you ask a question that was recently addressed in a podcast or YouTube video, you’d usually be out of luck. With MUM’s new capabilities, it can better understand the audio and provide that information in its response.  

Answering questions instead of matching keywords

As marketers are well aware, search relies on keywords to identify the most relevant results to a query. 

But just because a result contains the same keywords, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee it’s relevant to the question asked (as the scenario at the beginning of this article illustrates).

A better understanding of language and meaning allows Google to identify answers that genuinely match the searcher’s intent, even if none of the keywords used are present in the results. 

It will present information with a meaning that answers the question, not just ones containing the same phrases. It could even present subtopics for deeper research.  

robot and human hands reaching for each other

Google presenting information from sites in 75 different languages and translating them for users means we’ll all have more competition than ever before. (Image via Pexels)

What does the Google MUM update mean for marketers?

The answer to this question is complex. The nature of machine learning or AI technology means that it will, by definition, evolve over time. 

However, it’s possible that Google’s ability to aggregate information from multiple sources and provide a response will mean less traffic. If Google answers the query fully on the SERP, there’s less incentive to click, though users may still visit the page for context.

Many have speculated that this could eliminate the need for SEO altogether. But John Mueller, Google’s senior webmaster trends analyst, doesn’t see this as a realistic possibility. He believes that SEO will evolve, as it has for years, but it will always be needed. 

Marketers will likely adapt just fine, as we always have.  

Here’s what we know for sure: Google presenting information from sites in 75 different languages and translating them for users means we’ll all have more competition than ever before. On the plus side, it also means a wider potential audience.

Pro tip: The MUM update means you’ll be able to use non-text media like videos more often without a penalty. Once the changes take effect, you can slowly start implementing more types of media that have been traditionally barred from SEO benefits.  

Keeping your site compatible

There’s good news: You don’t need to do anything different right now to account for MUM.

As long as you create content with the intent of providing users the best information and most accurate answers possible, your materials are already optimized for the way MUM works. For now, especially since the rollout will be lengthy and could take years, nothing will change.   

The takeaway

This is yet another new and exciting shift in the world of search. It can also be scary, as the unknown often is. 

But you should take comfort in a few things. First, if you were optimizing correctly for the old system, your work is already done. Also, your reach and the kinds of content that can be useful for attracting organic traffic are about to grow significantly.

With an AI that understands your content as well as a human and without a need for keywords, there are fewer tricks others can use to gain favor. That means we’re all on a level playing field. 

As always, it’s best practice to create the most high-quality content you can. Beyond that, all our fates are in the hands of a higher power now — a thousand times higher, to be exact.

This is a complex topic. If you’d like help making sure your site is as optimized as possible before the changes take effect, let’s talk!

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Caroline Cox on May 28 , 2021

It’s vital to spend your hard-earned digital marketing budget on channels that bring you the best ROI. That’s why knowing the latest Google Ads updates is key.

Here, you’ll find:

  • Reasons to invest in Google Ads
  • How the paid search platform works
  • The latest Google Ads updates
  • Expert tips for leveraging the platform successfully

The best place to launch your digital marketing efforts is where your campaign attracts a massive audience — no surprise there. And, according to a 2021 report, Google led the list of the most popular search engines, commanding more than 88% of the American market share. 

Paid advertisements often come hyperlinked at the top of search engine result pages (SERPs). Sure, you can work to rank organically for a given search term through SEO strategies — and you should. But not only can Google Ads help you get higher up in search results more quickly in the form of pay-per-click (PPC) ads, but it helps you stay competitive against others in your industry. 

The benefits of Google Ads

You probably know how Google Ads works: It shows your online advertisement to prospective customers who may be interested in your business. You place bids on keywords and search terms and secure the top slots of SERPs if you win.

As part of a PPC marketing strategy, you choose the maximum bid amount you wish to pay for each click on your ad. Your placement improves with your bid amount.

Since its inception in 2000 as Google Adwords, Google Ads has undergone many iterations and changes. Here are a few of the latest Google Ads updates that marketers should know about in 2021.

hawksem: google ads updates 2021

In early 2021, Google announced that it was “making it easier to reach the right customers on Search.” (Image via Unsplash)

1.  Privacy-minded updates

We’re calling it now: Privacy will be a hot topic for marketers this year. In some ways, it already is, thanks to Apple’s latest iOS update and Google’s new FLoC tracking technology. 

As Search Engine Land reports, Google announced privacy-focused changes for its Analytics and enhanced conversion features during a May 2021 livestream. Part of 2020’s Google Analytics 4 rollout included closing measurement gaps and enhanced customer behavioral analytics data. Now, they’re taking things even further with advanced machine learning to behavioral reports in Google Analytics.

With third-party cookies on their way out, enhanced conversion aims to use first-party and consented data to fill in users’ insight gaps, particularly across multiple devices.

2.  Changes to phrase match and broad match modifier

In early 2021, Google announced that it was “making it easier to reach the right customers on Search” through updates to its phrase match and broad match modifier keyword types. 

Now, “broad match modifier” will be phased out, and this traffic will instead fall under the “phrase match” umbrella. The rollout began in April 2021 and will be complete for all languages by July. 

The search engine notes that these changes won’t impact exact match, broad match, and negative keyword match types. They also recommend only using exact, phrase, or broad match when adding new keywords moving forward. 

3.  The smart-bidding process

Google’s smart bidding aims to make marketing more manageable. The advertiser provides Google Ads with a budget, and Google algorithms get the best conversion value out of it. The intention is to maximize the total ROI of the campaigns.

Google algorithms find the opportunities that you might never spot, even if it’s promoting a low-priced product on your list. This approach is excellent for well-funded PPC campaigns that are already converting at a high rate.

In May 2021, Google announced new Google Ads smart bidding features. These enhancements aim to help marketers better manage bid strategies and drive more performance, according to experts

The new features include top signals for Target ROAS and max conversions, new opportunities on the Recommendations page, target impression share simulators, and manager account level seasonality adjustments.

Pro tip: Automation is great, but keep in mind that a “set it and forget it” mindset can only take you so far. The most effective paid search campaigns involve consistent analyzing, testing, and optimizing that can only come from experienced digital marketing pros.

hawksem: google ads updates 2021

A look at the Google Trends results for “at home yoga” over a 90-day period. (via Google Trends)

4.  Google Trends for a dynamic environment

The digital marketing landscape changes rapidly and often, which can affect your business. Google Trends is a fascinating feature that allows you to view the topics people are searching online, as well trending topics, trends over time, and more.

Need more help with your Google Ads campaigns? That’s what we’re here for.

Google Trends can provide insights into what is popular with your audience so you can modify your marketing efforts to match their expectations. If they’re searching for a business that offers home delivery, for instance, you can consider adding this service or something similar, like a pickup option.

google ads lead form

Google now allows users to submit lead forms as soon as they click your search ad rather than having to route to a landing page. (Image via Google)

5.  Drive more leads via search ads

With the rising trend of m-commerce and more brands moving their operations online than ever before because of the pandemic, the vast majority of shopping happens online.

With that in mind, Google has made it easier for businesses to capture leads through their search ads. Now, rather than sending users to a landing page, you can serve up a lead form as soon as someone taps the headline of your ad.

To activate this feature, simply go into your campaign and select the setting option. Once the form is submitted, the person can then decide if they want to head to your site or go back to the search engine results page (SERP). 

The takeaway

Google processes about 40,000 searches per second, making it a prime marketing ground for paid ads. The beauty (and sometimes frustration) of Google Ads is that it keeps on evolving, giving you new and innovative ways to capture the attention of searchers. 

Considering the authority of the search engine, staying on top of the latest Google Ads updates can only mean good things for your PPC program.

This article has been updated and was originally published in May 2020.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

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Written by Caroline Cox on Feb 17 , 2021

New website, who dis?

Here, you’ll find:

  • Different types of site migrations
  • Tips for planning a site migration
  • Steps to take during the migration process
  • Common migration missteps to avoid

Whether you’re opting for a more secure site, getting a design refresh, or moving to a new CMS, there are plenty of reasons to take on a site migration. But this project is one that shouldn’t be taken on lightly.

Migrating your site is a technical, multi-step process. A misstep can result in broken links, a poor mobile experience, and loss of significant website SEO you’ve worked hard to build.

But before you break into a cold sweat, don’t worry. Jessica Weber, one of our senior SEO & SEM managers, is here to help break down just a few of the big steps to take for a successful site migration.

Different types of site migrations

First things first: It’s important to know that site migration comes in many different forms. For example, a migration from an “http” to “https” URL is completely different from a redesign, which is different from a domain migration. 

The nature of a site migration is often a complicated and technical process. Because of this, it’s crucial to have a detailed plan for how to tackle this project before, during, and after the migration itself.

Other types of site migrations include:

  • Moving to a new domain
  • Changing URLs
  • Updating navigation or architecture
  • Adding mobile functionality  
  • Migrating part of a website
  • Moving to a new host or server
  • Moving to a new CMS or framework
  • Website redesign or template change
HawkSEM: How to Successfully Perform a Site Migration

When you’re working on a site migration, it’s wise to execute and test everything in a staging environment before it goes live on your actual website. (Image via Unsplash)

Before the site migration

Jessica says the “before” stage is the most important phase of a site migration. That’s why our #1 piece of advice for site migration is to plan ahead

One of the first steps you take should be to create a site mapping document. This includes a list of your URL redirects. It works from the old site to the new site to make sure you’re passing all of your site equity onto the new site so you don’t lose it.

Site equity refers to the fact that your old URLS have been around longer and thus have had more time to drum up page authority and traffic. You don’t want to lose that when you migrate your site. Essentially, you want to make sure your new URLs (if applicable) reroute from your old URLs so no pages are lost or dead-end with a 404 error. 

Pro tip: When you’re working on a site migration, it’s wise to execute and test everything in a staging environment before it goes live on your actual website. Sites like WordPress can walk you through the creation of production, staging and development environments.

During the site migration

As you migrate your site, be sure to implement your comprehensive list of 301 redirects. Moz explains that, when the new site URLs are different from the old site URLs, 301 redirects “tell search engines to index the new URLs as well as forward any ranking signals from the old URLs to the new ones.”

You need to use permanent 301 redirects if your site migration entails:

  • Moving to or from another domain or subdomain
  • Switching from “http” to “https”
  • Parts of the site being restructured in some way

Next, you’ll want to update all of the canonical tags on your new, old, and other sites, if applicable. If your site has a page that can be accessed via multiple URLs, Google will view this as duplicate content — that’s where canonical tags come in. 

According to Google, the search engine’s bots “will choose one URL as the canonical version and crawl that, and all other URLs will be considered duplicate URLs and crawled less often.” So make sure the canonical URL you’re directing to is the one that already has the most site equity.

Pro tip: Google offers a Change of Address Tool for sites migrating from one domain or subdomain to another. However, this isn’t the tool to use for changing from “http” to “https,” redirecting pages on your site, removing “www” from your domain, or moving without making user-visible URL changes.

Additional steps to take during the migration process

Along with the above, don’t forget to complete this site migration checklist:

  • Update all of the internal links on your sites so that they point to the new URLs.
  • Update all of your tracking codes.
  • Set up Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools for your new site (if applicable).
  • Update your XML sitemap (if you don’t have a plug-in that will create it automatically) and submit the sitemap to Google and Bing.
  • Reach out to the owners or editors of any high-value backlinks and ask them to update the link.
  • Update outside links you control, such as Google My Business, social profiles, analytics, and anywhere there are citations, NAP (name, address, phone number) listings, or links back to your site, so they point to the new URLs.

Pro tip: Launch your new site during an “off” or slow period of time, if you can. That way, your team can test out all the live links and address any issues quickly before customers and prospects see them.

HawkSEM: How to Successfully Perform a Site Migration

There are endless reasons why site owners may see SEO changes after migrating a site, regardless of the type of migration. (Image via Unsplash)

After the site migration

Finally, the finish line! Once you’ve successfully moved over your site content, tweaked it all in a staging environment, and followed the steps above, it’s time to launch. 

After your new site is up and running, it’s a good idea to continue monitoring 404s and Google Search Console to make sure everything is tracking properly. You also want to monitor your rankings. If you migrated and, after a few weeks, your rankings aren’t where they were (or better), it’s time to conduct an SEO audit and see what might’ve gone awry.

Looking to up your SEO game? Check out our guide: 10 Quick Tips to Improve Your SEO Today.

How to avoid a drop in SEO after a migration

No matter how thorough you are with your site migration, it’s still possible to see a dip in your SEO performance. Jessica explains that there are endless reasons why site owners may see changes after migrating a site, regardless of the type of migration. 

A big part of this is because the Google algorithm is wary of big site changes, so you’ll almost always see a dip after migrating while Google reassesses. If you’re migrating to new URLs, you may also lose some equity through redirection. 

To ensure your SEO suffers as little as possible, avoid these common site migration mistakes:

  • Waiting too long to start the site migration process
  • Launching before you’re ready
  • Not comprehensively redirecting the proper way
  • Not updating canonical tags
  • Deciding to launch new sites that are not as optimized as the old sites
  • Not making a copy of the old site
  • Failing to transfer your disavow file that tells Google which of your backlinks should be ignored
  • Not completing and saving a crawl for reference (you can crawl your site with a tool like Screaming Frog or Sitebulb)

Website crawler tools allow you to crawl your websites’ URLs to better analyze and audit your technical and onsite SEO.

Don’t be afraid to consult a professional

It’s natural to be overwhelmed by the idea of a site migration. After all, it’s an involved project with a lot of moving parts. While we’ve laid out the main elements of a site migration, much more goes into it along with the above.

If it seems like too much to take on, we suggest consulting an experienced professional who can ensure your migration goes smoothly.

The takeaway

Planning and preparation are the most important phases of a successful site migration. Along with this, it’s key to remember that SEO is part of every page, and it should be one of the first things you consider during a migration. 

Give yourself peace of mind during a site migration by following every step necessary to ensure you don’t lose site equity, and keep a record of everything you do and need to do during the process. (Better yet, consider giving the job to a pro who can work with you to ensure the migration is a success.) Happy launching!

HawkSEM site migration checklist

Want more? Click to download our easy-to-follow site migration checklist.

This article has been updated and was originally published in January 2020.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Sam Yadegar on Nov 4 , 2020

The algorithm changes almost constantly — but your digital marketing plans don’t have to.

Here, you’ll find:

  • How search engine algorithms work
  • Why updates are nearly impossible to predict
  • Ways to prepare for search engine algorithm changes
  • Why content marketing still reigns supreme

In a way, the search engine algorithm is like rocket science: we know it’s important, but most of us aren’t exactly sure how it works. 

Every year, Google rolls out numerous updates (often with little heads-up) that manage to change the playing field for marketers in big and small ways.

But even for pros who have been working in paid search for years, understanding the search engine algorithm can be tricky. Knowing the basics allows you to react to new changes quickly or prepare your campaign for them in advance. When you figure out how these algorithms can affect your paid advertising tactics, you can take steps to prevent them from derailing your plans.

search engine algorithms blog - puzzle

Google uses more than 200 ranking factors when determining which results to serve and in what order. (Image via Unsplash)

What is a search engine algorithm?

A search engine algorithm is a collection of formulas that determines the quality and relevance of a particular ad or web page to the user’s query. These days, Google reportedly changes its algorithms thousands of times each year. However, only major changes (or updates) affect SEM campaigns in a visible manner.

One of the biggest mistakes marketers make is focusing all their efforts on frantically adjusting the campaign to these formulas instead of looking at the bigger picture.

The overall search engine strategy

Search engines make the user experience a top priority. Google managed to become the most popular search engine on the planet by creating complex algorithms that improve the search process using sophisticated tactics that serve users the information they seek.

An algorithm works with all kinds of details for context, from obvious clues like the perceived content quality to the spam history of the website owner.

Overall, Google uses more than 200 ranking factors when determining which results to serve and in what order. However, no matter how well you adjust to them, each new update has the power to push your efforts to square one.

While updates may be mostly focused on organic search, they can have not-so-clear but oh-so-painful implications for paid search as well. For example, your ads could stop showing up as a response to a big part of your target audience’s queries simply because the landing page they lead to isn’t specific enough.

BERT update

In 2019, Google rolled out a major updated dubbed BERT. The aim of this update was to improve the search engine’s translation of natural, conversational language queries to improve its understanding of context. 

This forced marketers to pay more attention to user intent than before. Pre-BERT, if you needed to focus on separate keywords in the search phrase, full phrases became much more important after the update.

For example, the query “cooking your own vegetables” shouldn’t simply give a list of tips for cooking veggies. It should also provide tips for cooking vegetables you grew and harvested on your own. In turn, paid ads had to become much more specific targeting the intent of the audience to stay relevant to search queries.

With each new Google update, search engine algorithms are working to become more useful to the searcher. Unfortunately for digital marketers, predicting specific changes is nearly impossible. But by knowing the overall intent to improve the searcher’s experience, it’s possible to adjust your SEM strategy so it doesn’t suffer as new updates take effect.

Need more help deciphering the search engine results page? You’re in the right place.

How to prevent the negative effects of algorithm updates

Search engine updates can be as unpredictable as the weather. The only thing you can know for sure is that they will happen. When they do, many websites and ads may see a drop in rankings, even if the change is temporary. Luckily, there are ways to stay prepared and ready when updates do arise. 

1. Focus on landing page quality

Even when updates roll around, it’s hard to understand immediately how they’ll affect the connection between paid and organic search. But one thing is always clear: High-quality content on landing pages is likely to affect your conversion rate positively, regardless of algorithm changes.

Just a couple of years ago, landing pages weren’t as important for paid search because they didn’t play any role in the immediate ad-clicking process. Today, with Google’s focus aimed at search relevancy and accuracy, landing page quality is an integral factor when determining your Quality Score.

Search engines pay close attention to the landing page quality and relevance to keywords, and that isn’t likely to change. Now, Google even tracks how often a user returns to the search page after visiting the landing page in an attempt to understand whether they were satisfied with the search result.

To stay ahead of the updates, it’s imperative to maintain the quality and relevance of both landing and linked pages.

hawksem blog - search engine algorithms

Search engine algorithms are a complex system for helping users find the best answer to their queries. (Image via Unsplash)

2. Don’t rely solely on keywords

The overall tendency of Google algorithm updates is to move away from a hyper-focus on keywords to more long-tail phrases and nuance. Of course, keywords are still an integral part of SEM. But building your strategy solely around them can prevent you from seeing the big picture or creating a well-rounded program.

Rather than only focusing on your keyword, you also want to take intent and relevance into account. Look into how you can best answer the questions your audience is asking. Paying attention to when, how, and what they ask can help you design relevant ad and landing page content while satisfying changing search engine algorithms.  

3. Look for update warnings

In some cases, search engines will offer some advanced notice about an upcoming algorithm update. Back in April 2020, Google announced a 2021 algorithm change that would introduce Core Web Vitals as ranking factors.

This gave marketers almost a year to get familiar with these factors and adjust to the upcoming changes to make sure rankings don’t suffer. And since Google isn’t always forthcoming about update details, it’s wise to take notice when they are.

4. Keep calm and tweak your content

When search engines change their algorithms, it can cause chaos for marketers. It’s often a mad dash to adjust strategies and make quick changes to curb significant ranking changes or irregular reports. But sometimes these actions can hurt your campaign even further.

Remember, all you can do is implement relevant improvements and follow the latest guidelines. If you’re using Google Analytics, making note of when an algorithm update took place can explain any out-of-the-ordinary results when you pull reports or debrief clients. 

The takeaway

Search engine algorithms are a complex system for helping users find the best answer to their queries. To improve user experience, search engines change their algorithms regularly. But studying how algorithms tick isn’t as important as understanding what your target audience wants.

By improving the quality and relevance of landing page content while exploring questions your audience asks, you can work to minimize your dependence on algorithm changes and control, to some degree, how drastically they affect your initiatives.

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Sam Yadegar on Aug 31 , 2020

More and more searches are happening on smartphones — and Google is taking note. Here’s how to ensure your site is mobile-friendly so you don’t get left behind. 

Here, you’ll find:

  • Tips for making your website mobile-friendly
  • Why a mobile-friendly site is key
  • Basic SEO best practices for mobile
  • A breakdown of mobile site solutions

Mobile users accounted for more than half of global online traffic in 2019, a trend that’s been steadily climbing the last 5 years. But despite the popularity of mobile search, only about 70% of websites are deemed mobile-friendly. 

A mobile-friendly site used to be a convenient, competitive advantage. Now, it’s a necessity if you want to stay relevant and competitive with others in your industry. 

Google’s been talking about mobile-first indexing, meaning the search engine bots crawl the mobile version of a site first, since 2016. (Many sites are already being indexed mobile-first.) In spring 2020, they announced they’d be launching mobile-first indexing for the entire web starting in September 2020. Due to the pandemic, they’ve since extended this to March 2021

This extra bit of time is a great opportunity to make sure your mobile site is optimized and ready to go by next spring. Below, we break down how to make sure your site is mobile-friendly so you don’t get left behind.

mobile friendly site audit

Once your first audit is complete, it’s wise to plan on performing regular audits at least once a year. (Image via Unsplash)

1. Perform a comprehensive audit

An audit will help identify problems or shortcomings with the current version of your website in terms of mobile-friendliness. You can then use the results to come up with a plan for optimizing your site. An audit will also generate a broad range of important and insightful metrics, including the number of mobile users visiting your site.

You can use Google Analytics to audit your website by the following this command path: Google Analytics > Audience > Mobile > Overview/Devices. Google Search Console will notify you of Mobile Usability errors, and Google has its own Mobile-Friendly Test tool as well.

Additionally, you can opt for premium third-party tools. If you don’t have the time or bandwidth to take on an audit, you could look into partnering with an agency who can recommend customized solutions based on the audit’s results.

The steps for an audit include:

  • Review your mobile experience with a device simulator on your desktop, or just use your actual phone. Start with the homepage then move to top landing pages and follow your website’s hierarchy and structure.
  • Take screenshots and notes of broken items, and consider the user’s experience. Can they find info fast? Is the page too long? What action do you want them to take on this small screen?
  • Prioritize universal fixes, then dig into smaller errors to see what the extent of the work to be done really is.

Once your first audit is complete, it’s wise to plan on performing regular audits at least once a year to ensure everything is still optimized and operating accordingly. Regular audits will also be helpful when it comes to keeping up with Google’s dynamic updates.

Pro tip: In Google Analytics, you can also view data like bounce rate per device category and type, pages per session, and average session duration. These KPIs will let you know if users are engaging well via mobile.

2. Choose an ideal mobile-friendly solution

There are four main solutions to choose from when making your website mobile-friendly. Here’s a brief overview of each solution, including what they have to offer:

Responsive web design 

This is the most popular solution, primarily because of convenience. It entails embedding a code that automatically adjusts the site’s contents to fit individual users’ devices, such as rearranging content and resizing fonts to fit small screens. 

Nothing else changes, including the original URL, and this solution is easy to maintain. However, the site’s response may be somewhat limited compared to other solutions.

Dynamic serving 

Dynamic serving involves detecting a user agent (mobile, tablet, or desktop) and generating a customized page with HTML and CSS optimized for use with that particular device. 

This solution’s main advantage is that you can display heavy content on your mobile pages. However, the solution can be costly to implement. Additionally, accuracy in detecting the user agent depends on your solution provider’s competence and quality.

Mobile version 

This solution entails creating a separate mobile website with separate content independent on the main desktop website. Mobile users are automatically redirected to the mobile version using a separate mobile domain name.

This solution is not recommended much anymore, as a separate mobile site is a no-no for mobile-first indexing. Another shortcoming of a mobile version is its limited content. It’s difficult to incorporate all content from the main desktop website. Plus, these sites are often harder to manage compared to other solutions.

Mobile app

A mobile app offers unparalleled user engagement and has the highest measured success rate. Mobile apps are also excellent for branding, as the design is customized specifically for mobile users. Advanced algorithms also enable customization for individual users.

The downside: A mobile app is generally more expensive than other mobile solutions. It also has a low retention rate due to the increased number of mobile apps and the fact that it requires extra effort from the user compared to browsing a website. To this end, mobile apps are often used as a complementary solution for these other mobile solutions.

mobile friendly website

Making your website mobile-friendly has gone from a nice-to-have to a necessary marketing component. (Image via Unsplash)

3. Adhere to mobile SEO best practices

Your mobile site’s success depends on how well it stands out to crawlers and Google’s ranking algorithms. The most effective way to compete is to adhere to Google’s recommended search engine optimization (SEO) practices. Pay particular attention to the following mobile SEO best practices:

  • Code in HTML5
  • Minimize your site’s loading time
  • Ensure your multimedia content (images, videos, etc.) is compressed to the lowest size possible without sacrificing resolution
  • Enable image files, CSS, and JavaScript
  • Avoid using iframes
  • Highlight navigation buttons and make them easy to access
  • Ensure you use the correct minimum font size (16px)
  • Optimize the page content to fit different screen sizes
  • Ensure your content’s font is easily readable
  • Make links easier to tap by placing them far apart
  • Make jump links available and avoid irrelevant cross-links
  • Use image alt tags
  • Enable automatic login
  • Highlight call-to-action buttons, including a click-to-call tab

These are just some of the basic mobile SEO best practices. Additionally, remember to watch out for Google’s periodic mobile-friendly site updates and adopt all recommended SEO practices.

The takeaway

Making your website mobile-friendly has gone from nice-to-have to a necessary marketing component. Google’s upcoming mobile-first site index launch will penalize websites that are not mobile-friendly.

With so much searching happening via smartphones, those who provide a poor-quality user experience on mobile simply won’t see the success of sites that do. All the more reason to take the time between now and March 2021 to make sure your site is mobile-friendly. 

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

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