In a Mobile-Centric World, SEO’s Job Has Never Been More Important

Organic real estate on mobile is shrinking, and it’s a fact that we cannot refute. The addition of new ad types – particularly those like Expanded Text Ads – mixed with the simple reality that there just isn’t as much space on the screen of the modern smartphone, is becoming enough for some brand marketers to say, “Let’s start shifting the budget”.

The general claim backing these decisions is that as a result of the limited space, organic listings are generally ignored by the average consumer, and therefore, mobile SEO is no longer as valuable a practice. The interaction between brand and end user is far more limited in mobile search – restricted to the mere seconds it takes an impatient searcher to look through the SERP and click on the content they deem best suited for their needs.  Add in features like reviews, news items, or the latest Rich Cards, and it seems as if all justification for traditional SEO tactics on mobile has died.

A flawed argument…

Consider this important statistic: the first organic listing on mobile gets 73% more clicks than the first and second sponsored listings combined. According to the report by Mediative, from which this statistic originates, the average searcher is proving quite the opposite of the above argument – they are, in fact, ignoring much of the paid listings that sit above organic. The study doesn’t outright discredit mobile ads; it actually acknowledges that traffic driven by paid mobile listings is undoubtedly accelerating. But it ultimately does conclude that mobile users are making an active choice to engage more with organic results. Why is that? It’s not that paid search advertisers haven’t adopted strategies for more relevant, creative and generally more enticing ads; and it’s not that the landscape hasn’t dramatically improved in terms of giving the end user a more intuitive experience. One of the reasons, rather, lies in the question that a searcher may ask him or herself: “Do I trust ads?”

It’s part of today’s consumer culture to be skeptical of advertising. Just look at eMarketer’s latest ad blocking projections. While the typical ad blocker is usually doing so to avoid irrelevant and intrusive banner or interstitial ads, ads in general have been raised into question. And at this point, it would seem that these skeptical tendencies are having some impact on how consumers interact with brands on mobile.

The philosophical debate surrounding ad blocking is one that has been around for some time, and one that will most certainly continue into the future. But it just means that both paid and organic search advertisers must evolve ahead of the heightened expectations and needs of the modern consumer. If you still think that marketers own the customer journey, think again my friend.

Now that we’re in the Age of Mobile (according to consumers, Google and most those in this industry), effective SEO has never been more crucial. Beyond just a mobile-friend site, SEO marketers must think more critically about content creation, the mobile experience, search intent and behaviors across devices, and local search, to name a few areas. With a landscape this complex and in such constant flux, marketers who are eager to embrace the “new rules” of SEO will continue to prove their value.

Let’s take a brief look at a few necessary tactics to do mobile well:

Mobile Friendliness

Ensuring that your website meets Google’s standards for “mobile friendliness” is, quite honestly, a thing of the past; meaning, if you’re still operating with a makeshift version of your desktop site on mobile, you’re far behind the curve, and likely aren’t ranking very well in mobile SERPs. At a basic level, elements like responsive design, correctly-sized content, readable links and easy navigation are key indicators of a site operating well on mobile.  With resources like Google’s mobile-friendly test, a (potentially updated) mobile usability report and thousands of articles and how-to’s on the topic, there’s no excuse for a non-mobile friendly site in this day and age.  Technically-savvy SEO marketers will know exactly the right adjustments required to achieve a sound mobile site, in addition to any further optimizations needed as Google continues to adjust its algorithm – which we know happens quite often.

Now, add in a concept like Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), and it takes the task of optimizing a website for mobile to another level. In very simple terms, an AMP-optimized page is a “light version” with fewer inclusions, faster page download times (notoriously important to SERP ranking) and support for rich content like videos, animations or other graphics. According to a recent survey by SEOPowerSuite, 50% of SEO professionals believe that AMP will have a significant effect on their rankings in mobile search results. While it’s not yet 100% proven that Google favors these sites over those that don’t use AMP code, there is certainly something to be said about its overall value to the consumer, and therefore it should at least be considered from an SEO perspective. If you’re not well-versed in AMP, turning to a knowledgeable SEO team is worth your while.

Local Search

Consider this: according to Google, “Near me” searches have grown 2X in the past year, and 82% of smartphone users say they use search to find a local business.  “I want to go” mobile search moments are happening on a much larger scale and, if you are a brand with any brick and mortar presence, the importance of having a solid local SEO strategy for mobile devices has never been greater.

Mobile SEO Blog Post

Search Intent & the Customer Journey

I often come across various interesting statistics that speak to the importance of mobile devices and mobile search, a more recent tidbit being, “74% of craft beer drinkers will use their smartphones to research a beer before going to the store or making a purchase.” With the sheer number of craft beer options there are today, the statistic makes complete sense from my own consumer perspective. But when I put my marketing hat back on, I’m reminded of the wonderfully complex ways mobile has completely disrupted our old understanding of the customer journey, and in turn our ability to connect audiences with the right content in the right moment. In its description of the coined term “Micro Moments,” Google says it very well: “Mobile has forever changed what we (consumers) expect of brands.” In a world of “I want it now,” the job of an SEO is no longer about providing searchers with content the brand believes is important but, rather, it’s almost always about providing a specific answer needed by the consumer in their precise moment of need.

Going back to the craft beer drinker who uses his or her smartphone to help select the perfect drink choice, SEO becomes a powerful tool for connecting that customer to a piece of content that may influence his or her purchase – like, for instance, a detailed blog about the history and intricate tastes of a particular beer, or maybe the website for the one craft brewery where a certain beer is available. “I want to know”, “I want to go”, “I want to buy”, and “I want to do” searches are becoming much more frequent on smartphones, which create critical opportunities for marketers to provide relevant content and capture that intent. And this can only be done when the content is correctly optimized to be found.

Mobile SEO is More Important Than Ever

Given the above instances, in addition to the many others we haven’t mentioned, the necessity for solid mobile SEO practices is more important today than it’s ever been before.  The consumer need to have information available quite literally at our fingertips should only increase the urgency to amp (pun intended) up organic and local optimization efforts.

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