Google Update Week No. 4: The impact on Mobile and Voice Search
In the fourth of five episodes, focused on the latest round of Google Search Algorithm updates, Jordan and Ben dig into the impact the recent Google Algorithm changes are having on Mobile and Voice Search.
Ben: Welcome back to Google update week on the Voices of Search podcast.
Ben: I’m your host, Benjamin Shapiro, and this week we’re going to publish an episode everyday covering what you need to know about the latest changes to Google’s algorithm.
Ben: But before we get started, I want to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We’re a team of SEOs, content marketers, and data scientists that help enterprise scale businesses monitor their online presence and make data driven decisions, using a mix of software and expertise. To support you, our loyal podcast listeners, we’re offering a complementary digital diagnostic. A member of our Digital Strategies Group will advise you on how you can optimize your content, understand what contents you need to cover, and how to ensure that your writers produce effective posts. To schedule your free content diagnostic, go to searchmetrics.com/diagnostic.
Ben: Okay, so joining us for Google update week is Jordan Koene, who is the lead strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics, and today we’re going to talk about how the latest Google update impacted voice and mobile search.
Ben: Here’s the fourth installment of Google update week with Jordan Koene, the CEO of Searchmetrics.
Ben: Jordan, welcome back to Google update week on the Voices of Search podcast.
Jordan: Hey Ben, and thank you listeners. We are continuing this fun week and diving into these great Google topics. We’ve got a lot of information from Google and we’re going to continue down this track of deep-diving into the Google Hangout conversation and the recent update.
Ben: First off, let’s talk about why we’re talking about this topic. There was the big Google Hangout. Why was voice search and mobile search brought up in that hangout?
Jordan: Yeah, so there were a couple really key questions in the hangout where listeners were talking about voice search and how to optimize for voice search as well as some updates from John Mueller on the topic of mobile and mobile indexing. We’re kind of smashing these two together and there’s some relevance here and there’s some not, but for the sake of this episode, we’re really just trying to cover these topics because really useful insights came out here and helpful tips as to what you should be thinking about and prioritizing. Especially as you’re going through this planning cycle, you’re probably getting a lot of questions about how do you deal with the future of mobile and the future of voice search.
Ben: Let’s jump into what your recommendations are based on what we’ve heard in the recent Google Hangout and related to the update.
Ben: Let’s talk about mobile search first. What is changing with mobile search?
Jordan: One of the key topics that was brought up is when does Google move a site to mobile first indexing? Let’s just take one step back first and talk about what the heck is mobile first indexing?
Jordan: Earlier this year, Google came out and publicly announced that they’re going to start prioritizing the mobile crawling and indexing and rating ranking of sites with mobile. Basically, what that means is that they’re going to go crawl your website, analyze your website, factor your website, and arrange your website using mobile indicators first. And that’s a big switch from before when it was really focused on the desktop experience and desktop expectations.
Ben: So is the idea here that mobile is obviously increasing portion of traffic on Google, but does it hit the tipping point? Is it more than 50 percent of the traffic and that’s why they’re focusing on mobile first or are they just trying to be forward looking and drive people to think about mobile responsiveness?
Jordan: We’re past that tipping point. That’s a great question and we’re well past that tipping point. I mean five, six years ago it would have been the reverse, which was, we’re in this hyper-growth stage and the acceleration of mobile is coming so fast that people need to be thinking about it, and that’s when everyone was talking about getting ready for mobile. Being mobile ready. All these conversations around building a mobile site and creating a mobile site.
Jordan: We’re well past that. So if you don’t have a mobile infrastructure set up and a strategy set up for your site from a technology standpoint, you’re already in big, big trouble. But for the folks that are ready, what this concept is, is that it’s Google saying that Google is going to start prioritizing mobile and evaluating from a mobile perspective.
Ben: So what’s interesting to me here is that not only is Google saying, “Hey, you need to have mobile responsiveness,” but basically it is more of a priority than having a desktop version for your site in terms of what they’re crawling and evaluating.
Jordan: That’s absolutely right. So much so that in this Google Hangout what was actually discussed was that Google actually is only going to make this switch, make this transition for sites that are actually ready for it. So if you’re not ready for it, Google’s just not going to make this transition for you. And again, Google dictates when they want to do this and they do notify you.
Jordan: They do send you a notification in Google search console, but the point of what I’m trying to make here is that obviously if you’re not even mobile ready what’s really going to end up happening is you’re not going to capitalize on a giant source of traffic. There’s the whole notion of just being ready and capable and then there’s a second notion which is that Google is coming out and notifying websites when they’ve made this transition and they prioritize your content and your website for mobile.
Ben: When you talk about the transition … I guess I’m a little confused when you’re saying Google is not going to make the transition unless you’re mobile ready. What exactly do you mean by the transition?
Jordan: The transition means that what Google is going to essentially do is they’re going to evaluate your website from the mobile perspective first and foremost. They’re really going to take into consideration what’s working on your website from a mobile standpoint. It’s kind of a funny situation because for most companies, I’d say the majority still today, when they think about prioritizing their roadmap or making changes to their website or improving their site experience, where they start is by looking at their desktop and then they go back and then they reevaluate their mobile and then they make tweaks on their mobile site.
Jordan: So the reality is that we still think desktop first and mobile second, but what Google is essentially saying here is that when we are prioritizing mobile indexation first is that they’re actually using the ranking signals, the performance signals first for mobile before they’re taking into consideration the desktop ones. And the reason for that is very plain and simple. It’s because the majority of the traffic that’s coming from most of these websites, especially from search is coming from mobile. Google has more mobile searches happening every day than desktop search.
Ben: Okay. I understand that Google is trying to drive people to consider their mobile development first and optimizing their site so it is mobile responsive. And then, once somebody has a mobile equipped site, they’re going to take the signals and the performance metrics from your mobile experience and that’s going to reflect back into your search rankings.
Ben: For the people that don’t have a mobile responsive site … There’s got to be some industries that mobile just doesn’t make sense. I’m thinking specifically like something like Google docs where the mobile version is clearly not the optimal operating experience. It’s something that should be done where you need more real estate. For the companies that are specifically trying to drive people to desktops because that is the optimal experience, is there any indication of how that’s going to be handled? You know the people that don’t want to turn on the mobile first principle.
Jordan: Great question, and this is where it gets a little dicey and that’s why it is a little bit tricky and challenging to understand this mobile transition for Google. Google is going to always evaluate all the content that they receive regardless of whether it is desktop or mobile. They’re always going to evaluate it, but what they’re trying to do in this transition, what they have been trying to do actually since 2015, is they want to measure the mobile friendliness and performance of the content. When they do that, what they essentially then do is they’re actually going to help enable or elicit more mobile rich experiences inside their mobile search results.
Jordan: I’ll give you a good example of that. So what you typically see in mobile is a lot more amp results and amp experiences inside of mobile versus desktop because these amp results, especially in news and news related search queries, they load super, super, super fast and they’re very, very easy to digest. That it is very easy for the user to digest the content and that experience lends itself very well to mobile.
Jordan: Ultimately, to answer your question Ben, it’s okay if you still have a predominant desktop experience. Google’s going to evaluate all your content, but in this transition, what Google is really trying to understand and do is how to prioritize and bring mobile factors to the forefront, especially for websites who are already designed to be performing on mobile.
Ben: Okay, I get it. Most of the traffic is coming from mobile. In Google searches, they’re going to prioritize knowing that somebody is on a mobile device an experience that performs well on mobile. That seems logical. What do SEOs need to do that they’re not already doing other than, hey, have a really good mobile responsive website?
Jordan: Well, there’s a lot of things that you can do. You know, you can start looking at how you’re handling menus and other linking experiences in your mobile site. You can look at how you’re rendering or loading content within your mobile site, especially with the responsive design today. Responsive design will often transfer over designs that were very much intended or more focused for a desktop experience, but are really rendered useless and create excessive load times or excessive length of pages in a mobile experience. Evaluating and optimizing at a mobile level is becoming very, very critical today because the landscape has changed in the last five years. Back in 2013, 14, 15, it was all about becoming mobile ready. Now it’s about becoming in a mobile elite. How do I become the fastest?-
Ben: Mobile first.
Jordan: Mobile first, right. Yes, that’s the idea, right? How do I out-do everyone else in my own mobile experience. I’ll tell you, we have one client where one of the most effective projects we’ve worked on all year was actually improving the navigation and how they use their filtering navigation to produce links to other content in mobile because within mobile they had a very limited view set of their filter options, much fewer than what they had in desktop.
Jordan: The idea was, hey, your desktop rankings are doing very, very well, but your mobile rankings for some of these scenarios are not doing well and most of them were because they didn’t have the link depth and the link equity from their internal pages in their mobile experience. We found ways to introduce those links, whether it’s within the page or the content or within that same navigation to increase the links and thus increase their rankings.
Ben: Interesting. Okay, so we’re moving towards not only a ready for mobile world, we’re in the mobile first world. Talk to me a little bit about voice search and where that is. Are we in the point where SEOs need to be focused on being voice search ready? Are we to the point where it’s voice search first? Are we still sort of in the nascent stages where it is less impactful than other focuses of SEOs?
Jordan: My real strong belief, not just mine, even John Mueller confirmed this in his hangout on November 30th. You don’t need to be optimizing specifically for voice search. It’s still in a place where Google is still trying to understand your content and understand how the search relationship of voice connects with different content, content types, and there’s no specific guideline or requirement that can allow you to optimize for that in, what you would traditionally call a more text based search experience, which is Google or Bing or Yahoo or the actual true search engines.
Jordan: The reality though is that that doesn’t mean that you completely ignore voice search. There just isn’t a way to optimize for voice search in a highly traditional text based search environment. You can still focus on voice search, but it’s a very different focus and it’s not one that necessarily derives from an SEO point-of-view. It is one that derives likely from integrations or partnerships or some ways to build or foster a voice search experience within a voice search environment.
Jordan: I’ll give you and example, it’s Spotify partnering with Alexa and Amazon to build a good experience. It is a recipe aggregator creating a rich repository database for Siri to provide rich information about recipes and recite recipe instructions to users. That’s an integration and partnership that is part of your business and your business’s DNA to become present in voice search and it’s not about optimizing a text based environment to become relevant for voice search. Do I think that that day is going to come? Absolutely, but it not here today.
Ben: I get it. Where John Mueller is trying to incent people to focus on optimizing for the text based experience. On the flip side, the strategy to optimize for voice search is to get into position zero. So isn’t there a way to have your cake and eat it too here? Shouldn’t SEOs be creating content in formats that can show in position zero, and then that content gets grabbed and pushed into voice search?
Jordan: Hey Ben, you got to stop doing these podcasts. I’m getting a little scared. I think you’re learning a little too much and you might hurt yourself.
Ben: I’m paying attention.
Ben: This actually isn’t me talking, I just have Alexa doing it for me.
Jordan: Well played.
Ben: I have a great blog though.
Jordan: Well played.
Jordan: No, it’s absolutely true and I think that’s what these listeners of this Google Hangout and a lot of people were asking Google this question, they’re to elicit that response, which is, what’s the race to position zero look like?
Jordan: I think what Google is trying to say back is we don’t have a flippin’ clue. We just don’t know if position zero really is the answer for voice search yet or if it’s something else.
Jordan: But yes, to a huge extent, position zero is that that translation of how voice can be relevant. And there’s a lot to be said about featured snippets and other elements showing up in the SERPS to provide Google a lens into how to respond to a voice search. The unfortunate thing is that there isn’t anything yet. There’s no playbook or key aspect that webmasters and the search engine optimizers that are out there can actually adopt and implement to make this successful in voice search. It just isn’t there yet.
Jordan: I think that at some point it will come and if you were to ask me, “Hey Jordan, how’s that going to work out?” I think it’s going to come when Google really is able to understand the commands that voice search users have. So for example, if Google starts to introduce, you’ll probably see it in their app, starts to introduce things like, “Hey Google, tell me the top 10 results for making a pie.” When you start doing things like that and behaving in that way, it starts to help Google refine and define results. But, “Hey Google, tell me how to bake a pie.” That’s just way too ambiguous. And it’s way too hard for Google to say, okay, this is what you have to do.
Jordan: I think there’s ways for Google to reach that voice search objective. It’s just not there yet in their ability to understand what the user’s intent is and then map it to something useful.
Ben: You’re the SEO expert and I’m just the host, but here’s what I’m hearing, is that Google is saying, hey, mobile is passing the tipping point that it’s becoming the dominant way, which people are searching. You really need to focus on this mobile first. You know, get it, get your site ready. We’re going to look at those metrics first to figure out where you rank. And then people are like, yeah, voice search, that’s the next big thing. And Google is saying, not only do we not have a playbook for this, but it’s just, there aren’t that many searches. You shouldn’t be focused on this, that voice search is coming, but it is still a small percentage of the overall search, so don’t prioritize it, even if getting into position zero might get you into voice search, we don’t know if that’s going to be the case. It’s just not the priority when Google is looking at the overall landscape.
Jordan: Yeah, that’s absolutely right. Now, voice search is growing by a lot, but in comparison to how fast mobile search grew, I doubt that it’s at all at parody.
Ben: So any last tips about what SEOs can do? Sounds like prioritizing voice search shouldn’t be something that they’re doing in most cases. Focusing on mobile first. What can SEOs do to make the most out of their efforts when it comes to voice and mobile search?
Jordan: There’s no doubt that mobile search is the priority here. It’s your greatest area for growth and what it really comes down to is building plans that specifically optimized for mobile. Understanding your performance metrics, things like speed and accessibility in mobile, as well as getting creative about the linking and content that exists on your mobile pages. These are going to become the foundational aspects of optimizing in mobile and becoming more relevant and secure higher rankings in mobile results.
Ben: That wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thank you for listening to my conversation with Jordan Koene, The CEO of Searchmetrics, Inc. We’d love to continue this conversation with you, so if you’d like to contact Jordan, you could find a link to his bio in our show notes, or you can reach out to him on Twitter where his handle is @jtkoene.
Ben: If you have general marketing questions or if you want to talk about podcasting … if you have general marketing question or if you have questions about this podcast, you can find my contact information in our show notes or you can tweet me @benjshap.
Ben: If you’re interested in learning more about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic, online visibility, or to gain competitive insights head over to searchmetrics.com/diagnostic for your complimentary advisory session with our digital strategies team.
Ben: If you like this podcast and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app and we’ll be back in your feed tomorrow morning to discuss how you can get ready for the next big Google update.
Ben: Okay. That’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.