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Why getting mobile SEO right is critical

Marketers not using search engine optimization best practices in mobile could see a dramatic decrease in traffic to their Web sites from smartphones thanks to changes Google is making in how it ranks mobile search results.

Google is taking a stronger position on mobile SEO, saying last week that it will begin demoting sites in mobile search results if they are not mobile friendly or are misconfigured. This means that if marketers do not follow Google?s guidelines, they could see their mobile search rankings drop.

?This move highlights both the growing importance of smartphone users to Google and the difficulty Google is experiencing providing ideal search results to those users,? said Jon Maxson, senior director of SEO at iCrossing, New York.

?There are still a lot of small and large brands that either fail to provide a smartphone-optimized experience or have implemented quick solutions that don?t meet Google?s aspirations for an ideal mobile experience,? he said.

?We don?t expect misconfigured sites to drop out of Google?s index entirely, but even dropping a few positions on the first page of results can result in a heavy traffic loss since so few organic listings are visible before the user has to scroll down the page.?

Good or bad move?
The move will be good for Google if brands follow Google?s guidelines for mobile development and optimization so that users are still able to find quality sites in search results.

However, many marketers may find themselves challenged to implement these guidelines as they are wide-ranging and will come with associated costs, time and upkeep.

As a result, mobile users could be impacted if they are not seeing relevant content because it does not meet the guidelines.

?The potential of this move could be both good and bad; on one hand, this may push webmasters forward to adopt mobile best practices more quickly,? said Michael Cipielewski, SEO specialist at iProspect, Boston.

?What is more likely is that Google could potentially be demoting highly relevant sites on the basis that they cannot prepare quickly enough for an algorithm update of this magnitude,? he said.

Future of search
While many marketers have already come out with mobile sites in recognition of how mobile search is growing, this does not mean a site is free of issues that could affect its search visibility.

The problems with mobile search identified by Google extend beyond simply not having a mobile optimized site. Google will be rewarding Web masters who provide a strong smartphone search experience and do not deliver error pages, long load times or irrelevant redirects.

With the new mobile search rankings strategy, Google is raising the bar and encouraging marketers to ensure their sites are as mobile friendly as possible based on Google?s guidelines or have their rankings be impacted. The goal is to help mobile users find what they are looking for as quickly as possible.

?The future of search is in mobile experiences and interactions,? said Antonio Esposito, global SEO specialist at iProspect. ?It is the strongest growing market with the highest future potential and it has yet to mature.

?Since Google provides so much traffic to sites they have found themselves in a position to dictate site design best practices,? he said.

?Google is taking this seriously and they are enforcing best practices that not only help their engines crawl your site, but make sure that search users arrive on useful and relevant content.?

Positive experiences
Marketers who adopt Google?s guidelines could see significant advantages beyond just better search placements.

Implementing Google's recommendation could help brands drive smartphone visitors to highly relevant content experiences, reduce bounce rate and increase site conversions.

In a blog post announcing the changes, Google highlighted two of the most common mistakes that marketers make in mobile SEO.

One of these is having faulty redirects, which happens when smartphone users are redirected from a desktop page to an irrelevant page on the smartphone optimized Web site.

For example, when all pages of a marketer?s desktop site redirect smartphone users to the home page of the smartphone optimized site, users often see irrelevant content as a result.

To avoid the problem, Google recommends marketers redirect smartphones users from a desktop page to its equivalent smartphone optimized page. If there is not an equivalent, it is better to show the desktop content than to redirect users to an irrelevant page, per Google.

"Optimizing sites for smartphones does not only mean building a separate mobile site or responsive design site,? said Aarin Murray, account specialist at iProspect. ?It could also mean configuring desktop sites to offer a positive mobile user experience.

?Google?s post is about fixing common mistakes on mobile sites, not rebuilding new ones,? she said. ?It would first be wise to review the common configuration mistakes to make sure they do not apply to the site.

?From there, marketers can assess how a website could be altered to provide a better user experience. If it?s a website with a lot of content per page, it may be best to move to a separate m-dot site or responsive design site.?

Search shifts towards mobile
In another example, Google highlights several scenarios under which smartphone users see error messages and how to avoid this. For example, if a user is visiting a desktop page from a mobile device and the equivalent smartphone-friendly page is at a different URL, marketers should redirect users to the other URL and not serve an error page.

Google recommends that marketers test their sites on as many different mobile devices and operating systems as possible to avoid these common smartphone Web site misconfigurations and help ensure that users have a good experience.

?It could be argued that they should have known this was coming, given that mobile is looking to take over desktop search sometime in the near future,? iProspect?s Mr. Cipielewski said.

?Regardless of what webmasters should have been doing, it?s clear that the users are driving Google to respond with this new algorithm; soon we can say the market has shifted from a desktop market to a mobile market.?

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York