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Unwrapping the Secrets of SEO: Why Mobile First Matters (and Doesn’t)

Much has been said – and will be – about Google’s mobile-first initiative. In today’s world, modern marketers surely will have to come to grips with the snack-sized love mobile users give to content versus desktop brethren who want to dine on a full meal. Another way to look at it is to compare the change from those who read the Sunday edition of the New York Times from start to finish to those who gather information from Instagram, Facebook or TechCrunch. In todays Unwrapping the Secrets of SEO, we look at why mobile-first matters (and why it doesn’t).

There’s lots to think about as Google prepares to change its algorithm to first rank a marketer’s mobile webpages before looking at its desktop version.

Google’s main point? “Don’t panic.” If you for some reason don’t have a mobile-optimized site, your desktop site isn’t in jeopardy of being consigned to oblivion: Google will still crawl it. That said, those that do have mobile sites, but whose content is not seen by Google as “mobile-friendly” are bound to take a hit on Visibility.

So what’s a modern marketer to do? First, remember desktop isn’t going away (spoiler alert: I’m writing this post on my notebook computer, which is mobile but not all that mobile in Google’s eyes!) Beyond that, a good rule of thumb is to dive into the data to determine where and how users are actually searching for your products. It may be the case that desktop optimization is the path for you at this point in time.

Take, for instance, the data from this anonymized web customer. This Searchmetrics chart compares the Visibility ratio between its desktop and mobile sites:

Digging deeper, you’ll notice the site’s top keywords are more desktop-oriented than mobile.

And looking at traffic, we see a similar story.

Where Mobile Matters

The short answer to ‘Where does mobile matter?’ is everywhere – but the caveat is that means a lot more to some people in some places than others. Instead of relying solely on search data, let’s look at internet usage, which is, in my opinion, just as important as organic search data. Researcher StatCounter last November noted that internet usage on mobile and tablet devices exceeded desktop for the first time worldwide that October.

Yet, these statistics came with an interesting caveat. Despite the rapid growth of mobile devices, desktop is still the primary mode of internet usage in mature markets such as the US and UK,” StatCounter reports. It went on to note that companies looking to expand their business in locations where mobile is not just one way of getting online but is in some cases the only way should be honing their mobile strategy.

But for those whose business is local or even hyper-local, what should you do?

What I found extremely interesting in other charts is that almost all countries around the world still use the internet more frequently on desktop rather than mobile. In Africa and Asia, however, the primary device is a mobile device – especially Android. Makes sense, right? Android mobile devices are manufactured by many different vendors, making them generally more affordable and easier to purchase than a comparable Apple iPhone or iPad.

Clocking in at 100 MPH

Clearly, Google is aiming at relevancy – to deliver the best results where and when they matter to users. With mobile playing an ever-increasing role in the world of search, that translates into a push to get websites to become more mobile-friendly to billions of customers present or potential.

Global internet speeds - pokey to blazing-fafst
Global internet speeds – pokey to blazing fast


You’ll hear me and others on the Searchmetrics crew talk about site speed as an important ranking factor for lots of industries. It’s also about usability and the need to improve both. Understanding that challenge could be a simple as looking at this chart. You’ll notice mobile site speed is about a full second faster!

Remember, pokey speeds translate many times to frustrated users. If you’re looking to do business in Africa or Asia, where many people search for and transact their business on the web, Google is setting the stage for your success.

Quick mobile to-do list

Google’s Gary Illyes, a webmaster trends analyst at the search giant, has these quick tips for the coming changeover, which he said at a conference in March is still months away:

  1. Make sure your mobile site has the content you want to rank for.
  2. Make sure structured data are on your mobile site.
  3. Make sure rel-annotations are on your mobile site (these help point the crawler to appropriate URLs needed to rank).

The new sheriff is riding into town on a very fast horse to tame the Wild West of the internet. The upshot? If you’re not looking at the data to see where your mobile strategy works best, you’re in danger of getting run over.


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Unwrapping the Secrets of SEO: Exploring New Frontiers in Search



Sebastien Edgar

Sebastien Edgar

Sebastien helps Fortune 500 companies better optimize their web presence as Team Lead in SEO Consulting at Searchmetrics. With experiences leading SEO efforts for brands abroad (e.g. and helping Silicon Valley startups kick start their search efforts, he loves digging into analytics data hands-on to interpret and shape the story it tells.

3 thoughts on “Unwrapping the Secrets of SEO: Why Mobile First Matters (and Doesn’t)

  • Great post Sebastien, For me mobile matters a lot because we get almost 70% of our traffic from mobile & tablets, so it makes sense for us to invest the time and focus on mobile.

  • Thank you for your great article. I agree with your ideas. My friend is running an e-commerce site, and as many people are shopping with their mobiles, the site must be mobile responsive. For some other traditional sites, they still focus on desktop. So I agree that being mobile responsive can matter a lot and this will guide us in how much we should invest on each. Again, thank you for your great post.

  • With the development of technology nowadays, I think mobile phone definitely has its power length same as desktop. The devs must be focus on responsive on mobile phone. The behavior of user also are impact to SEO. This is a helpful article. Hope to see more great post like this.

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