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Should You Still Optimize for Mobile-First SEO? – Cindy Krum // MobileMoxie

Episode Overview: As the public shifted to shelter-in-place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, SEOs were left wondering if developments in mobile optimization would drastically slow down. Now SEOs are questioning whether mobile-first optimizations should still be prioritized. Join host Ben as he kicks off Mobile Marketing Week with MobileMoxie CEO Cindy Krum, as they discuss whether SEOs should continue with mobile-first SEO strategies.

Summary

  • As Google’s market share of voice queries grows, it’s finding a direct competitor lies in voice searches conducted through TV remotes.
  • Mobile phones are a nexus for setting up mobile devices like Alexa and Google Home, and can be used to control your TV and issue voice commands. Their use creates a voice search ecosystem throughout your home.
  • Google’s localization of voice search results have paved the way for their natural language processing systems to connect related queries and decide the next best results to provide to users related to the first query entered.

GUESTS & RESOURCES

Ben:                  Welcome to Mobile Marketing Week on the Voices Of Search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro and this week we’re going to publish an episode every day discussing what you need to know to optimize your mobile SEO efforts for max impact. Joining us for Mobile Marketing Week is Cindy Krum, who is the founder and CEO of MobileMoxie, which is a mobile centric set of tools and API that help SEOs gain better insights into their mobile experiences. And today Cindy and I are going to discuss the changes in the mobile landscape and whether you should still be moving towards a mobile first SEO strategy. Okay. Here’s the first installment of Mobile Marketing Week with our friend Cindy Krum from MobileMoxie. Cindy, welcome back to the Voices of Search podcast.

Cindy:               Thank you.

Ben:                   Excited to have you back here. I know it’s crazy times in the world and I appreciate you making some time to talk to us about everything that’s happening in your world. Specifically looking at the small screen, first and foremost, everybody healthy and happy at home? You hanging in there?

Cindy:               Healthy and happy and I’ve got nothing but time for you at this point.

Ben:                   That’s the beauty of not having children. There is no one screaming in the background in your house except for apparently a 20-year-old cat. But hey look, we’re all getting a little lonely and maybe we need a little extra guest on the show. Okay. All right. On that note, maybe we should talk about SEO, not cats. It’s been a year since you and I connected and did the first edition of Mobile Marketing Week on the Voices of Search podcast. Catch me up on what has changed in the mobile world. Are we still prioritizing the small screen?

Cindy:               Yeah, absolutely. Mobile is still growing and Google has said that they’re almost done rolling out mobile first indexing. So just about everyone is in there nearly around the world. So that’s really good. And Google continues to alter and test the way they’re showing results and it seems like they’re doing more altering and testing on mobile first. They’re kind of living by their own rules and doing the mobile first thing as well. So we’re seeing a lot more space getting taken up by non-traditional rankings and users love it and SEOs are not in love with it. That’s the story.

Ben:                  So it’s a mobile first world still. I think the last time we talked it was 60/40 mobile searches versus desktop searches. Just in terms of volume, how big is mobile now? Have we seen an increase in mobile traffic? Is it static? What’s the lay of the land just in terms of sort of market share?

Cindy:              Yeah, it’s still increasing. Not at the same rapid pace that it was, but also as you recall, like mobile search was not just trading off with desktop, but it was additive. So the total number of searches was going up and the total number of mobile searches as a proportion of total searches was also going up and that continues at a slightly less speedy rate, but it’s still happening. And of course now that we’re all stuck home and lots of people are unfortunately unemployed, I think that we might see a bump in mobile traffic and some changes in the keyword landscape as people adjust to this new reality.

Ben:                   So we’re going to put a little bit of a pin in that because we’re going to talk about some of the lifestyle changes that are happening tomorrow. As we think about the landscape you mentioned that, and to use a COVID-19 metaphor, the mobile curve is flattening a little where you’re seeing a softness in sort of the growth rate of mobile searches. Does that mean that proportionately people are searching more on the desktop or just the total searches are slowing?

Cindy:               Let’s see. I honestly don’t know the answer to that question because the only one who’s really reporting on stuff like that is Google at this point. We’ve lost some of our major reporting outlets in the past couple of months. So Google self-reporting and they don’t like to provide details.

Ben:                  What were the data sources that we lost?

Cindy:               Jumpshot was acquired. What happens? They stopped producing data.

Ben:                   Interesting. Okay. So we saw a little bit of a change in the data availability landscape. It’s a little cloudy in terms of why there’s a change in the landscape in terms of volume of searches. Mobile seems to be slowing slightly but still growing, still bigger than desktop. When we think about the rest of the landscape in terms of user interface, in terms of what’s happening with SEO, what else has been hot and changing in the last 365 days?

Cindy:               Well, people like to make fun of voice search, but I do think that voice search is becoming more mainstream and changing the way we think about things. And I think that some people are thinking of voice search too literally, too much like an SEO might where they’re thinking of a person yelling a keyword at their phone or something like that. And that’s not how Google thinks of it. Google thinks of voice search as any kind of voice interaction with any kind of IOT, digital assistance or voice enabled thermostat, doorbell, security system, whatever. They’re counting all of that as search.

Ben:                  Yeah, the voice enabled dog feeder. Google’s counting that in their volume of searches.

Cindy:              They are.

Ben:                  As we think about how voice search is actually impacting mobility. Right? Maybe you’re talking to your phone, maybe you’re walking by a Google home or Alexa. Hopefully we’re not sending off everybody’s home speaker or a Siri. Are you seeing changes in usability? Are you seeing changes in how people are using this and then also on the screen side with mobile? Have we seen the change in user experience there?

Cindy:              I’ll start with the last question. I do think we’re seeing a change with user experience on the screen side because there is more interactivity in a search result from the screen and just the ability to move things from one device to another is easier. It’s becoming much more common to search for something on your phone and then just cast it to your TV using the phone like a remote if you’re in a connected home. That’s kind of second nature in a lot of homes now. So I think that’s true. But I want to go back to voice search because I have kind of an example that I like to share to remind people that thinking of voice search in a more broad way is useful. And that is, do you have a voice-enabled remote at your house for your TV?

Ben:                 Do I?

Cindy:              Yeah.

Ben:                  I mean, I use my phone and I am one of the very few people who use a home pod.

Cindy:              A home pod. Okay. So now that most of the TV providers are allowing for voice remote, so you can click the voice button on your TV remote and say CNN or find sports or whatever. Even though there’s no sports right now.

Ben:                 For me it’s probably Blippi on YouTube. I have a three-year-old.

Cindy:             Okay. Yeah, yeah, exactly. So those kinds of things where you’re allowed to submit a voice query through your remote. I think that in a very broad sense is a competitor to Google because if I can search with my cable provider what they already have, that means I’ve probably already paid for it. And it’s either finding the channel I want, the specific show or recording that I want or it’s digging into my archive DVR stuff to find stuff that I want to watch as a search query that’s not going through Google.

Cindy:            And yes, you can do it through Google and you can search for stuff to watch and then cast it, or you can just search with your remote. But if you think about how cell phones changed the way our brains worked when we first got them, the first thing that happened with cell phones is everyone forgot all of the phone numbers that they used to be able to rattle off as a kid. You knew all your best friend’s phone numbers by heart and now you probably don’t.

Cindy:            And I think that’s already happening with voice remotes where you used to know what channel, what numeric channel everything was, and now you just don’t. You just search for CNN and it goes there or whatever you want to watch. And we’ve lost the tie to the number because the machine disambiguates it for us.

Ben:                Yeah, it’s interesting. I think the more that you’re talking about this, the realization for me as we talk about mobility, it is not just my cell phone, it is the connected devices. It’s not just Google home and Alexa. It’s also the connected TVs, the thermostats, it’s any other device where you’re not facing a screen. And in the last year there’s been a proliferation in some of the usability of the non-connected speakers. And we’re thinking about mobility in terms of what’s happening on your television, right? How you’re controlling your home as well.

Cindy:             It’s more of an ecosystem and the mobile phone may be the Nexus or maybe the control panel for it. Because remember you still have to set up your Alexa on your phone, right? And you still have to approve things for a Google home from the phone usually. And so the way we think of mobility is more of an ecosystem rather than just the one device. And I think that fits well with Google’s micro-moments, which I know many people laugh at. And I did too. But I think it’s proving itself out.

Cindy:             The Google micro-moments are, I want to go, I want to know, I want to see, I want to do, I want to buy. And so when you want to do something, those I think are the actions that pass one thing to another that work in the ecosystem that are less of a query and more of a command.

Ben:                 So as we think about the changes in mobility being more of that ecosystem that you mentioned, getting into Google’s moments, there was also sort of in the broad SEO landscape, the introduction of the BERT update, which to my understanding is Google increasing its ability to do natural language processing. And I think of this to simplify it more as Google isn’t looking at the domain anymore, they’re not looking at the page. They’re looking at not only the piece of content but fragments within the content. How is Google’s ability to understand and process language naturally affecting mobility.

Cindy:             So the natural language processing is becoming a big deal. And I can tell you that we are actually using the natural language API as part of SEO strategy where when we have new copy or content that’s going to go on a site, we’ll put it in to the tool to make sure that it’s being parsed correctly, that Google is finding all of the entities that we want it to, or at least it’s not finding the wrong entities. And we’ve actually seen with some clients in kind of a limited scope that when we changed text on a page, they went from not in the top 100 to position 27 which isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly better than over a hundred in less than a week.

Cindy:             And it was just by modifying, not major modifications, not major additions, just tweaking the text and the way Google was processing it, where we knew from the API, Google understood it where previously when put it in Google hadn’t understood it.

Ben:                 So when I look back at the broad landscape, mobility is still very important, still bigger than desktop, still picking up market share, but slowing. Mobility is not specifically just your cell phone, but it’s also all of the connected devices. And Google is starting to understand individual fragments of content, which means that they’re able to pull the right content into a mobile experience. Are there any other important or seismic changes in the mobile landscape that we’ve seen in the last year or that we’re seeing for SEOs getting their content to Google in the right place at the right time?

Cindy:             Well, so two things. One of them I think that you’re hinting at, but the other one I want to talk about first, something else that’s happening that is not monumental or earth shattering yet, but I think has the potential to be is the recent searches, Google’s awareness of your history.

Cindy:             So for instance, yesterday I was doing some testing and I searched for such and so rental car and I was actually searching for a rental car in London. Not that I’m going to travel, it was just a test. And then my next search was Frankfurt airport. Okay. So these are semi-related concepts but not obviously related, right or not super tightly related, very different businesses and industries. But when I searched for Frankfurt airport, because my previous query had been London rental car, at the top above all of the search results said, are you looking for a rental car at Frankfurt airport?

Ben:                Yeah. It’s funny I went through an experience unfortunately a couple of months ago I was having gallbladder pain and every day I was Googling “How do you know when gallbladder pain is serious? Should you go to the hospital? What does it cost to have gallbladder surgery?” And I swear I was just waiting for Google to be like, “Dude, go to the freaking hospital already.” Because all my searches were obviously indicating that I was having a severe medical issue. Everybody, I’m okay. Thanks for asking. But people are constantly giving signals that are trends or themes about what their interests are and they don’t all just happen in one search. So Google essentially is starting to have the ability to do cluster searches and provide you with the right information based on what your previous searches were as well.

Cindy:            Yes, cluster, but also so your searches are all in one theme. Mine are in two related themes. And so the language processing is important there because they have to know that people who fly to an airport often need a rental car.

Ben:               Sure. So maybe the example for me is constantly looking up things related to the gallbladder and then very shortly thereafter looking for directions to the hospital. Yeah.

Cindy:           Yeah. Exactly. So that is interesting. And Google has an adamant here and there that they really don’t personalize, but that’s clearly personalization, right? The suggested “Did you mean you want a rental car at the Frankfurt airport?” That’s personalization. That’s based on the last query I submit. Okay?

Cindy:           And so what Google has said in the past year, I would say, Danny Sullivan tweeted pretty specifically that Google doesn’t personalize search results, they only localized search results. And my response then is, well hyper localization is almost as good as personalization.

Cindy:           If I know that the same device is always from the same location when I’m searching at home, then that’s almost as good as knowing who I am. So hyper localization is I think already happening in searches in some cases at least block by block when you’re searching for a local oriented query, but with the remembering recent searches, then that’s clearly personalization. So I think that they might need to update their messaging there.

Ben:              Yeah, hyper localization, obviously very mobile specific. It sounds like my takeaway here is that this wasn’t a drastic landscape shift for mobile optimization in SEO, but we are continuing to see the idea and the notion of mobility changing beyond just not only the smartphone but seeing Google’s natural language processing and understanding of the actual user experience all congealing into one more customized and coherent experience.

Cindy:           Yeah, so subtle directional shifts more than earthquakes. We’re talking tremors more than earthquakes. It’s the beginning of the next big thing.

Ben:              Okay. We’re going to talk a little bit about the next big thing. Something that’s I’m pretty sure on everybody’s mind these days with the impact of Coronavirus and COVID-19 is having on mobility in our next episode. So we’re going to break up our mobile landscape episode into two parts here.

Ben:              We wanted to talk specifically about mobility first and in our next episode we’re going to talk about the impact that the Coronavirus has on mobility and whether we’re seeing changes in the landscape more recently.

Ben:             So that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Cindy Krum, CEO of MobileMoxie. We’d love to continue the conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Cindy, you can find a link to her LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can contact her on Twitter where her handle is MobileMoxie, M-O-B-I-L-E-M-O-X-I-E, or you could visit her company’s website, which is mobilemoxie.com.

Ben:             Just one more link on our show notes I’d like to tell you about if you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast. Head over to voicesofsearch.com where we have summaries of all of our episodes, contact information for our guests. You can send us your topic suggestions or your SEO questions. You can even apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices of Search podcast. Of course, you can always reach out on social media. Our handle is voicesofsearch on Twitter, and my personal handle is Benjshap, B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P and if you haven’t subscribed yet and you want a daily stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, in addition to part two of our conversation with Cindy Krum, CEO of MobileMoxie, we’re going to publish an episode every day during the workweek. So hit the subscribe button in your podcast app and check back in your feed tomorrow. When Cindy and I discuss how COVID19 is impacting our use of mobile.

Ben:              All right, that’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.

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Tyson Stockton

Tyson Stockton

Tyson has over 10 years' experience in the digital marketing industry. As Director of Enterprise Services, 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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