Earlier this month, Google unveiled the biggest changes to the AdWords platform in the last five years in a bold move to make AdWords work in the mobile world we live in today.
I recently had a chance to interview the Head of Global Mobile Search Ads at Google about where Google is headed in terms of their mobile search strategy, and why. While we didn’t talk specifically about SEO, many of the mobile search concepts are applicable to both paid and organic mobile search.
In my article today, I’d like to summarize for you five key mobile SEO trends to look out for, based on all of the exciting changes that are happening in the world of paid mobile search.
1. Local Organic Search is More Valuable than You Think.
One of the main drivers behind the recent redesign of AdWords was that it was getting pretty hard to measure the ROI of mobile search. For example, someone might:
- View or click on an ad, then later walk into a store and make an offline purchase.
- Call a business straight from the SERP, rather than converting on a “thank-you” page, or even visiting your site in the first place.
- Start a purchase transaction on one device and complete it on another.
These same challenges exist in the SEO world, too. If you’re doing mobile SEO, you can’t track all the benefits you’re getting.
To tackle the issue, AdWords has introduced some new tools specifically designed to help track the ROI of mobile search, such as Offer Ad Extensions for connecting search marketing efforts with in-store purchases, detailed call reporting allowing advertisers to find out who called, and a new phone call conversion format.
So, while it’s possible to segment organic mobile traffic in Google Analytics, you can’t yet track phone calls from organic search, and so on. Since it’s safe to say your organic search efforts are contributing in ways that aren’t easily measurable, don’t be deterred from pursuing a mobile SEO strategy by potentially lousy mobile stats in your Google Analytics account – because it’s definitely under-counting by a lot!
2. Mobile Search Is Really, Really Way More Valuable Than You Think!
When it comes to quantifying the value of mobile search, it’s not just a matter of trying to track the aforementioned difficult-to-measure conversions. Google’s Surojit Chatterjee told me that mobile searches convert to actions faster – “The time between search and action is much shorter on mobile vs. desktop.” I’d expect this to be also true of organic mobile clicks, too.
This is such an important finding that I think SEOs should be rethinking their internal process for prioritizing what keywords to target. For example, I’m sure you already take into consideration factors such as keyword competition or difficulty, monthly estimated search volume, KEI, etc. Given the stronger intent behind mobile searches, I’d strongly suggest adding estimated monthly mobile search volume (accessible via the Google Keyword Tool) to your list – because mobile searches are often worth a lot more than desktop searches!
Furthermore, it’s worth pointing out that mobile-optimized ad formats do way better than regular ad listings – ads that employ a click-to-call ad extension and/or location extension enjoy an average 6-8% uplift in click-through-rate. I’d expect this to be the same for mobile optimized organic listings, and thus this just underscores how critical it is to have your site show up properly in the organic search listings, in the map, and with one-click call and direction links.
3. Stop Building Mobile Sites!
The latest word from Google is that responsive design is better than building a mobile-specific site.
Google thinks things are moving in a direction where devices are getting better, and site owners should respond by making sure they have one site that works on all kinds of devices (using CSS that can “read” what kind of device is calling up the site), rather than creating two different sites, one for mobile and one for desktop. In fact, Google CEO Larry Page essentially said that mobile-specific sites look dinky and confusing on his Android phone, because it’s sophisticated enough to load the regular site and create a very satisfying experience. So in a couple of years when everyone has even more sophisticated phones, companies that are still using mobile sites will be shooting themselves in the foot.
This is a huge win for SEOs because seriously, the thought of maintaining accurate, consistent content between different mobile and desktop websites is a nightmare.
4. If You Must Have a Mobile Site, Don’t Dumb it Down
Some businesses have made the mistake of oversimplifying their mobile sites – what Chatterjee called “dumbing them down”:
I talked to a big business in the travel industry, and they built a mobile site that didn’t work as well as their desktop site, and the problem was that they had dumbed down the site. You can’t expect a site that has no information to do as well as one that has lots of information. It’s more about laying out the information differently, with the understanding that people don’t have a precise mouse pointer at their fingertips. Make the website touch-friendly, and figure out what information is more relevant to the mobile visitor. Like phone numbers and directions – make that information available so they can act quickly. It doesn’t mean remove the other useful information; it may be more about positioning content.
The key takeaway here is, don’t strip your mobile site of information; just organize differently. Bridget Randolph recently shared some good tips for optimizing a mobile site if responsive design is not an option.
5. User Context is the Key
My last mobile search trend has to do with a new concept of user context in search, which refers to the time, location and device from where a search was executed. According to Google, user context is the single biggest predictor of what users will search for, and what actions people will take after having conducted that search.
As an example of just how powerful user context is, consider that Google Now – the new App that provides you with all the information you need before you search for it – leverages your user context data (time and location) to determine exactly what it is you’re looking for before you search for it.
So now in AdWords, rather than creating specific ad campaigns to target different types of devices and hardware, search engine marketers are being asked to just create a single campaign and adjust the ad copy and bidding strategy based on user context.
For example, my own company, WordStream, is a B2B software company that uses paid search from AdWords in our marketing mix. We sell primarily to English speaking markets (like USA, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, etc.), and we sell via an inside sales team that is open from 8AM to 6PM EST. In the old system, I used to have to create different ad campaigns for each location and device – which was a real hassle. In the new system, I create a single campaign, and adjust the bids and ad copy based on time, location and device.
This means I’m now able to bid differentially across different English speaking markets according to the conversion rates for each location. We’ve got mobile ads with click-to-call extensions running while the call center is open, which then revert to the website contact-us form when the office is closed. Because most of our customers are businesses, we’re bidding down on nights and weekends. And we’re doing all of this from one campaign. The key here is that the mobile strategy we’re now employing has more to do about targeting the different user contexts from which people are most likely to buy my software products.
So what does the trend of user context mean for SEO? It’s hard to say at this time, because (unfortunately) there aren’t a heck of a lot of strategies for targeting different user contexts in organic search (yet).
However, it seems that:
- This is a yet another way that SEO and PPC can complement each other. Using PPC, you can now more easily than ever figure out how people are reaching you and from where and when – use that data inform your overall marketing efforts.
- At a minimum, search marketers should consider employing a paid search strategy that targets the most profitable and important user contexts. This is especially true for local businesses, since we know that 1 in 3 mobile searches has local intent and as much as 74% of local searches come from mobile devices.
In the last month, mobile search best practices have been turned completely upside-down. Can big changes in mobile SEO be that far away?