This week: Mobile sites – Google algorithm update warning; Android Apps in search results: Apple Launches Maps Connect in NZ: Google beef up security measures
In our view the biggest search news last week was the announcement by Google that from April 21 the “mobile friendliness” of websites will become a ranking factor in mobile search results. In other words, mobile-friendly websites will rank higher.
This is a significant announcement from Google who rarely, if ever, announce changes to their algorithm ahead of time. Furthermore, Google advised this change will “have a significant impact on search results and affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide.”
Why should you care?
In making the announcement now, rather than in April, Google are giving website owners a warning to get prepared and ensure their websites are mobile friendly.
So what should you do?
First of all check if your website is mobile friendly. You can do that by using the Google mobile friendly testing tool to check out individual pages and Google will advise if they’re not mobile friendly. A limitation of this tool is it only checks one page at a time. So if you have a Google Webmaster Tools account (you really should), log in and access the Mobile Usability Report to get a full list of mobile usability issues across your entire site.
If your site is identified as not being mobile-friendly you’ll now have to decide if you actually need a mobile friendly website.
Chances are the answer is an emphatic YES, particularly if your target website audience is consumers. But if your audience is B2B, then maybe, just maybe, the number of visitors who’ll ever visit your site using a mobile device is very few.
But rather than speculate or guess, log into your web analytics program and check how many users are accessing your website using mobile devices versus desktop computers. You may be surprised by just how many are. Also look back in time to see how much mobile access has grown in the last year or two. People are often shocked at how fast this is growing – remember this is the year mobile access of the Internet is expected to overtake desktop access on a global basis.
If you do need to make your site mobile-friendly the ideal approached recommended by Google is to use responsive design, which is where pages automatically resize based on the viewer’s screen size. With WordPress and other content management systems it can be achieved by switching a new responsive theme.
If modifying your desktop site is not feasible or too costly in the short term, an alternative approach you can take is to create a separate mobile site, but be warned, you have to be careful to avoid SEO issues doing this. Talk to us if that’s an option you want to explore.
In another mobile search related announcement last week, Google advised that with immediate effect apps indexed through “App Indexing” will begin to show more prominently in mobile search results. App Indexing is the process Google uses to index the content of Android apps. As a result deep links to content within an app can appear in Google mobile search results, like the example below.
Note, this only works for users with Android devices (i.e. not Apple) who are signed into Google and who have the app installed on their mobile device.
Why should you care?
If your business has invested money in developing an Android app then this is an opportunity to increase exposure and app engagement by directing users directly to your app and landing them exactly on the right content within the app. For more details check out https://developers.google.com/app-indexing/
Clearly Google thinks apps have a big future, given that Google just paid $25m for .app – the highest amount ever for recorded at auction for a gTLD (generic top level domain). Google says its plan is that the domain will be used by its domain registry company (Charleston Road Registry) for developers of apps.
Having launched in the US back in October last year, Apple Maps Connect is now available in New Zealand and Australia. Apple Maps Connect is a self-service portal designed for businesses to add or edit their local business listings that appear in Apple Maps.
Apple Maps got off to a very shaky start when they were launched in 2012 and have very much been the poor cousin to Google Maps. However Apple have clearly been putting a lot of effort into improving Apple Maps and the product today, whilst still not as good as Google Maps, is significantly improved.
Why should you care?
This provides business owners with a new opportunity to promote their business to owners of iPhones and iPads. These days there may be more Android devices than Apple ones, but apparently iPhone users tend to be wealthier and spend significantly more time on their devices than Android users. More importantly, they are more likely than other mobile users to buy things via their phones.
Using Apple Connect is free and easy. Owners can sign in using a current Apple ID or sign up for one.
Once logged in you’re prompted to enter your business name and address to check if your business already in Apple Maps. If your business is in Yelp, as many restaurants are, you may find your business is already in Apple Maps, like the example below. Should that be the case, you can then update details if necessary.
To add a new business, users first enter the name, address, phone number and affiliation with the company. A verification code sent via automated phone call is then entered into Maps Connect tool. Alternatively, business owners can verify through an email address affiliated with their company’s website, provided they have one.
From there, users can select from a number of detail options, including location, business categories, hours of service and links to social media and Yelp.
Information uploaded usually appears within one week, though publication time may vary depending on Apple’s vetting process.
Go to https://mapsconnect.apple.com/ to check your listings on Apple Maps and update, as needed.
Last week we carried a story about Google releasing an updated hacked page classifier for its search results which contained a bug. As a result some sites were being misclassified as hacked when they had not been. Fortunately this problem appears to have now been resolved.
In related news, Google have announced that as part of their SafeBrowsing initiative they’ve beefed up the security checks used in Chrome, Search and AdWords to warn users away from sites that have been identified as having unwanted program installations. In their announcement, Google said they will be combating this issue in three ways:
1) In the Chrome browser, users will receive a warning like below when a site has been detected trying to trick users into installing software onto their computer.
2) In search results, Google will be highlighting sites using deceptive installation practices.
3) And in AdWords, Google will be disabling ads of sites that attempt to fool users into installing unwanted software.
Why should you care?
This is another reason we recommend you register your site with Google Webmaster Tools (GWT). If your site is found to be using deceptive practices you’ll be notified in your GWT account and provided with helpful tips to resolve such issues. And if your site offers legitimate downloads be sure you check out Google’s policies on Unwanted Software here to ensure you’re not inadvertently breaking the rules.
OK, that’s what we think. We’re keen to hear your thoughts on any of the above – please comment below.
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Jeremy and Mark are two of the partners behind SureFire Search. Despite their deceptively youthful appearances, both have worked in search marketing for many years. To put that in context, Google didn't even exist when Jeremy started.