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Optimizing Media Sites for Mobile SEO

Episode Overview: Mobile-first optimization is quickly becoming a standard SEO practice as users turn to mobile devices first to quickly answer queries or make purchases on the go.  Join host Ben as he speaks with John Shehata, vice president of audience development and SEO at Condé Nast, about why it’s crucial brands start optimizing for mobile devices before desktop and the types of new penalties to avoid when building your mobile presence.


  • The amount of searches performed on mobile account for 60-90% of all search queries.
  • Shehata predicts the M-dot domain will become a legacy and mobile-first design, along with AMP, will become standard practice in 2020.
  • Google is beginning to punish mobile websites that include interstitials, or webpages with ads that are displayed before an expected page, as it interferes with the user experience.


Ben:                 Welcome to Mobile Optimization Month on the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host, Benjamin Shapiro, and this month, we’re going to be taking a long look at the small screen to help you understand what you can do to optimize your mobile SEO efforts. Joining us today is John Shehata, who is the vice president of audience development and SEO at Condé Nast. John oversees a team of experts across 18 brands, spanning multiple departments including SEO, social media, email operations, cross brands initiatives, and organic partnerships. Today, John and I are going to talk about his thoughts on optimizing media sites for mobile. Okay, here’s my conversation with John Shehata, VP of audience development at Condé Nast. John, welcome back to the Voices of Search podcast.

John:                Hi, good to be back. Thanks, Benjamin.

Ben:                 Always good to chat with you. I think we can officially call you a friend of the pod. I’ve had you on a couple of times already and excited to have you as our media correspondent as I think they might say in the business. We’re talking about the small screen, talking about mobile this month. How do you think about the importance of mobile as it relates to media and content sites?

John:                Before I start, I remember that for like 10 years, we have been saying it’s the year for mobile or every year it was, mobile is important, mobile is important.

Ben:                 It’s the millennium for mobile.

John:                Yes. Answering to your question, mobile has become very important source, device of traffic for publishers. You see traffic numbers ranging anywhere from 60-90% coming from mobile devices. Which is amazing compared to how this app slowly was going down and mobile is slowly going up, and then suddenly mobile just took the rise. I think was more mobile devices in this country and all over the world. Better Wifi, 5G is even coming in a lot of places in this country and so on. So yeah, mobile is extremely important to publishers.

Ben:                 Turns out smartphones not going away.

John:                They are not. They are getting smarter.

Ben:                 Although the razor is coming back. I’m excited about that.

John:                Oh, I love that. I saw the ad. It brings back memories.

Ben:                 One of my first phones. Okay, well that said, when you’re creating content sites and you’re thinking about getting your content to people while they’re on the go, what are the big optimization techniques that you think about and how are they going to be changing this year?

John:                I think now … In the past we used to say, “Hey, you can have a mobile site on the same domain or on a separate domain.” I think now it’s better to have a responsive site on your main domain. I think the M-dot domain is becoming a legacy in a way. It doesn’t mean it’s going away or Google is ignoring it. If you look at you to YouTube, YouTube still has an M-dot That’s their mobile domain. So this is one. The second thing I think is important when it comes to design, early on in the process, before even the development of pages or templates or anything, you design for mobile first. In the past we always designed for desktop and then after that the second design for mobile and so on. So I would say put mobile and maybe I would say add AMP as well. These two components first for design, and after that you design for desktop.

Ben:                 So, let’s break that up a little bit. When you’re thinking about designing for mobile as opposed to AMP, are those two of the same things if you’re designing for AMP, aren’t you designing for mobile? Or are you actually creating different designs for each environment?

John:                It depends on the resources. If you are using one of these out of the box plugins for small or medium sites, most likely you’re going to be a light [inaudible] YouTube version of your page, right? Because the whole nature of AMP is making these pages extremely fast. So there are a lot of restrictions on what you can have on these pages. That being said, if you have the resources and you customize AMP to look and feel similar to your native mobile pages, that’s absolutely, but it just requires more development and more involvement. They should look the same.

John:                I saw so many AMP pages that are missing navigation from the top, so it’s like a dead end page. I saw many AMP pages that are missing the headers. I don’t even see the logo. You don’t know where you are, which is especially important if you’re in an AMP viewer of Google. When you go to Google mobile and search for something and click on AMP result, you are an AMP viewer. So if you scroll right or left, you get other stories from other publishers. So the user knowing that they are on the New York or Vogue is extremely important for brand owners.

Ben:                 So, in theory you can develop one experience for AMP and mobile. Often you don’t have the development resources to get your AMP experience to where you want it to be, so you’re creating two separate sites, and then you’re separately developing an experience for desktop. Why are you prioritizing mobile first, as opposed to desktop first, for a media business? Are you seeing data that’s saying that you’re seeing more mobile traffic than desktop?

John:                Oh, absolutely. We have seen on our sites and other publishers that we connect with them anywhere from 60-80% mobile traffic.

Ben:                 Okay, so mobile is obviously passing the tipping point of being the primary device for content, and I don’t know if that’s necessarily a headline. When you’re thinking about optimizing your existing mobile sites, what are some of the things that you’re focused on for this year?

John:                I think speed is very important for Condé Nast. Two years ago, mobile speed was actually one of the prerequisites. We wouldn’t launch any product, any template, any design, unless it meets certain criteria when it comes to mobile speed. So, I would put bold speed … It’s getting more and more important. I hear that in the upcoming weeks or a month, Google is finally going to show a label. The next two sides are slow. A red label was the word slow. I can imagine the impact of CTR out there. They have been talking about that label for … I heard about it first maybe a few months ago or last year. It seems like it’s coming soon.

Ben:                 I’m terrified that all of my content sites are going to be listed as slow. Outside of site speed, obviously very important not only for mobile but for your desktop as well. What are some of the other optimizations you’re thinking about for mobile for this year?

John:                I would say there is a lot of traditional mobile stuff, but I’m trying to bring some of the aspects that we don’t speak a lot about: interstitials. So interstitials, one of the penalties or one of the things that can penalize your site, so if you go to Google webmaster guides and you should read a little bit about mobile and interstitials. Which one is intrusive, which is not. I think interstitials in general, I recommend that you should not show the users overlays or interstitials on their first view for users coming from search, just to be on the safe side. Unless it’s some kind of legal disclaimer or it’s maybe 20% of your viewport. So interstitials are becoming more and more important and Google is really knocking down intrusive interstitials or intrusive sites that use these kinds of methods.

Ben:                 I guess the last question that I have for you, John, as we start thinking about mobile, you know the utility of mobile is changing as well. You’re obviously a content site or you run a network of content sites and a lot of them are news-oriented, but some of them have evergreen and answer content as well. As you think about mobile and optimization, how much are you thinking about people using voice search while they’re on the go and providing answers?

John:                I have my own views about voice search. And you hear a lot about let’s optimize for voice search, let’s do this and that and that. And in my view, unless there are data that backup that voice search is becoming, there are some data out there that 50% of all searches, a mobile will become voiced by the year 2020 which we are…

Ben:                 Not going to happen.

John:                I don’t see it. I really don’t see it. I mean I see myself using my own mobile devices. I’d ask a lot of people, there were a lot of question marks about that study and a lot of people are saying it’s not accurate. So I would do the fundamental stuff for voice search for a site to be ready, but I wouldn’t take it any further than that. I would absolutely make sure that the scheme map is set, because scheme map, mobile, voice are very connected.

John:                I would recommend that also, you look at speakable markup for your site. Especially if you’re a compensator or a publisher. Identifying what parts of the content can be read back to the users. They get him engaged and then helps you to get the URL and move us to your sites. I would focus on types of content that are highly consumed in mobile. One of the fun things, a lot of times Google always try started their tests, especially around snippets was recipes. Because recipes are one of types of content that are highly consumed on mobile. So make sure your recipes or specific types of content are well optimized for mobile and has the right scheme map on.

Ben:                 I think that’s all great advice. I think it’s interesting to hear your perspectives as the manager of a collection of media sites. How important mobile and how important voice is going to be this year. And I appreciate you coming on the show and giving us your tips.

John:                Sure thing!

Ben:                 Okay, and that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with John Shehata, VP of audience development at Condé Nast. We’d love to continue this conversation with you. So if you’re interested in contacting John, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes. If you can contact him on Twitter. His handle is J. Shehata. J, S, H, E, H, A, T, A, or you can visit John’s company’s website which is Condé

Ben:                 Just one more link in our show notes that I’d like to tell you about. If you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening, head over to where we have summaries of all of our episodes, the contact information for our guests. You can even send us your topic suggestions or your SEO questions. And you can even apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices of Search podcast.

Ben:                 Of course, you could also reach out on social media. Our handle is Voices of Search on Twitter, and my personal handle is Ben J. Shap. B, E, N, J, S, H, A, P. And if you haven’t subscribed yet and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, we’re going to publish episodes four to five times a week. So hit that subscribe button in your podcast app and we’ll be back in your feed soon. All right. That’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.


Tyson Stockton

Tyson Stockton

Tyson has over 10 years' experience in the digital marketing industry. As Vice President of Client and Account Management, Tyson manages the Enterprise Client Success team and SEO Consulting efforts at Searchmetrics. Tyson has worked with some of world’s largest enterprise websites including Fortune 500 and global eCommerce leaders. Prior to Searchmetrics, Tyson worked on the in-house side managing the SEO and SEM efforts of a collection of 14 sports specialty eCommerce companies in the US, Europe and Australia.

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