Every now and again, friends make snide remarks about SEO. "Is that still a thing?"

And then I see recommendations from a wanna-be firm that suggests best practices that were barely best practices in the heady keyword-stuffing days and wonder, "Is that still a thing?"

But I'm fortunate to know some super-smart people in search, whose understanding of Search Engine Optimization has evolved as fast as the field has. I often say I know enough about SEO to tell you if you're doing it wrong, but not enough to actually help you fix it.

Then I saw my old friend John Shehata (now of Conde Nast, formerly of ABC News & of Advance Media) present on mobile SEO recently at SearchMetrics' SEJ Summit here in Manhattan.

Mobile SEO is a wholly different animal and isn't based on words or content or any of that messy stuff we talk about so much. Most of the requirements are technical, and Google's going to start penalizing web sites that aren't up to snuff.

You can check out John's whole deck on Slideshare, but here's the highlights - the things you really need to know.

Google performs more searches on mobile than on desktop. When people are trying to find what they need (particularly local searches), they're doing it more often on their phones or tablets than on desktop. That means if you're not doing it right for mobile, you could be dead in the water.

Search is the No. 1 content discovery tool on mobile. Think about it. When you're on mobile, it's easier to do a quick search even if you know the site's URL, because tapping on the result is easier than typing out the whole URL on the tiny virtual keyboard. On desktop, it's usually more convenient to type in the URL, because it will autofill if it's somewhere you visit often, or because it's fewer steps.

Google is designing everything mobile-first. Including search. So, uh, yeah. Get on that.

Responsive design is not the answer for sites that are very content-heavy with lots and lots of pages. If your site is dense and has a lot of data and content to process when it loads, you'll want a dynamic serving website. That means your site identifies what type of device you're coming from and serves you the proper version of the site for it. It's faster-loading than responsive, but more expensive to develop, as you need multiple versions of the CSS and HTML for the site.

Mobile speed and usability will weigh very heavily on mobile SEO ranking factors. Broken links and missing content will count against you more than it does on desktop. That's because people are less forgiving on mobile. They're trying to get to what they need quickly and easily. A broken link is a huge turn-off and they're less likely to come back, even if you show up in search.

Load speed counts more than ever. It's been a ranking factor since 2010, but Google's been testing labels in search results. Pages or content that loads slowly will be labeled as "slow" -- imagine how users will react if they have two choices and yours says "slow". They're probably gonna click on the other one.

Above-the-fold content needs to render in one second. Meaning, on mobile, if the content for the initial screen doesn't show up in one second, a lot of people will drop off and go elsewhere. Period.

Fortunately, John offered several suggestions:

  • Avoid multiple redirects.
  • Remove unnecessary code.
  • Optimize images.
  • Use Google Webmaster tools to find mobile errors.
  • Don't use Flash. (This seems obvious, but you would not believe how many sites still have flash for videos. Which means they can't play on mobile. At all. HTML5, folks.)
  • Don't use interstitials, particularly for app download ads.
  • Popups. Just. Don't.

SEO on mobile is technical, and focuses heavily on the user experience. Think about sites that annoy you when you visit them. Don't be like them.

Published on: Sep 30, 2015