5 Predictions For Mobile SEO In 2016
As mobile search continues to evolve, columnist Bryson Meunier lays out what you should expect in the coming year to stay a step ahead of the competition.
Many of you may have started reading these columns out of necessity this year, when trying to prepare your site(s) for Google’s so-called Mobilegeddon. But for me, 2016 marks the 10th year that I’ve been observing and thinking about mobile SEO.
In the early days, mobile SEO was less about responsive design (which didn’t exist) and more about WAP and XHTML. Apps were confined to app stores and couldn’t be indexed. And web pages didn’t rank any higher in search results if they were formatted for mobile searchers.
All of that has changed in the last 10 years, and there’s no indication that 2016 will be the year when mobile SEO stops evolving. Here are the five biggest changes that gained momentum in 2015 and should pick up steam this year. Prepare for them early to stay ahead of the competition.
Mobile-Friendly Is Table Stakes
I agree with my friend, fellow columnist and user experience expert Shari Thurow that not every searcher needs or wants to access every site on a mobile device. There are some cases, such as SEO software, where the great majority of searches come from desktop computers:
And this would explain why providers of this software at the beginning of this year did not make their offerings accessible to mobile searchers.
However, with Google’s mobile update, many of these SEO software providers were compelled to make much of their content mobile-friendly regardless, including Moz and BrightEdge.
It’s still possible to say less than 20 percent of queries coming from mobile devices is not enough to justify the investment in mobile SEO for some businesses. However, with more and more queries happening on mobile devices, and Google responding to that change by tailoring its search results to mobile devices, it’s difficult for people like us who optimize their content for search engine users not to recognize that trend and change our strategies accordingly.
In the early days of mobile SEO sessions at search conferences, the speakers would talk a lot about why you should go mobile. These days, with more than half of US search traffic coming from mobile devices overall, it’s more about “how.”
It’s 2016. If you’re not mobile-friendly by now, it’s best to carve out the resources now and make it happen.
Mobile Index Arrives
Google has had the technology to rank more relevant content higher for device-specific queries at least since they announced it at Searchology 2009. Yet for years, desktop and mobile search results appeared to use the same ranking algorithms.
There were always slight variants in search results, but in 2015, there was more of a shakeup when Google started giving mobile-friendly content preference in smartphone search results.
And then, in March 2015, Google announced that it was working on a mobile index that would allow it to rank mobile sites differently from desktop sites. However, as of September 2015, there still was only a desktop index.
Clearly, this is a big project and hasn’t been prioritized internally as much as other large projects like the Penguin refresh, but here’s hoping that Google gets to it in 2016. If it does, SEOs will be able to provide a platform-specific experience when it’s relevant, giving searchers the best experience possible, and Google will be able to rank the site content higher than it ranks sites that aren’t as optimized for smartphone searchers.
It started this with the mobile-friendly update in 2015, and I’m hoping this evolves into a mobile-optimized update in 2016 with the introduction of the mobile index.
App Redirect Spam No Longer Works
Another thing the mobile index will do is eliminate app redirect spam in search results. I still can’t search for guitar tabs on Google without being shown a result in position one that I can’t access without downloading an app.
If Google had a mobile index, it would be able to see what I demonstrated in Search Engine Land this past year: that sites that appear to be friendly to mobile searchers can have different content that actually frustrates mobile searchers and causes them to go elsewhere.
But unfortunately, neither of these has prevented the mobile-unfriendly ultimate-guitar.com from ranking for smartphone queries for which they show no content without first forcing the searcher to download an app. I would hope that this would change in 2016 with the introduction of the mobile index.
Responsive Salesmen Continue To Make Bogus Claims About SEO
Look, responsive is an exciting trend in web design, and when it’s done correctly, it can make a nice-looking website that works regardless of what device you access it from.
It is not, however, a silver bullet for mobile SEO and never has been. Google said as much this past year on several occasions, and there was a very popular article in Search Engine Land that looked at the evidence and concluded that responsive sites have no clear advantage for SEO.
Because of this, I expected to see fewer bogus claims about the effects of responsive web design (RWD) on SEO, but alas, no such luck. At the end of the year, I’m seeing more articles saying things like RWD is “the industry-wide accepted approach to multi-device design.” If this were the case, however, it would be employed by more than 12 percent of sites.
If you do see an article claiming that responsive web design is a must this year, take it with a grain of salt. While responsive could be right for your audience and your site, you have a number of options for mobile site configuration that are good for SEO.
And if the mobile index comes in 2016, many sites may have better options than the one that shows the same content to searchers regardless of what device they’re using.
Half Of Mobile SEO Not About Web Pages
Looking at the agenda for SMX West this year, there’s no session on mobile SEO, but instead on aspects of mobile SEO that are important for all SEOs — things like app indexing, iOS Spotlight search and the AMP Project. What’s interesting about these three things is that they’re critical for mobile search traffic, but they have nothing to do with traditional web pages.
The AMP Project is important because it gives SEOs new visibility in smartphone search for publishers. It also presents a unique type of mobile web content that may need to be canonicalized in the future.
App indexing is important because it takes app discovery out of the app store and gives SEOs an entirely new type of content to optimize.
Both of these have momentum going into 2016, and you’ll likely see more columns here about them in the new year. Less, though, about optimizing traditional web pages for mobile search.
Regardless of whether these five predictions become fact by 2017, I do hope that readers of this column have a Happy New Year and come to 2016 ready to optimize for the ever-changing world of mobile search.