How to Troubleshoot Local Ranking Failures [Updated for 2018]

Posted by MiriamEllis

I love a mystery… especially a local search ranking mystery I can solve for someone.

Now, the truth is, some ranking puzzles are so complex, they can only be solved by a formal competitive audit. But there are many others that can be cleared up by spending 15 minutes or less going through an organized 10-point checklist of the commonest problems that can cause a business to rank lower than the owner thinks it should. By zipping through the following checklist, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find one or more obvious “whodunits” contributing to poor Google local pack visibility for a given search.

Since I wrote the original version of this post in 2014, so much has changed. Branding, tools, tactics — things are really different in 2018. Definitely time for a complete overhaul, with the goal of making you a super sleuth for your forum friends, clients, agency teammates, or executive superiors.

Let’s emulate the Stratemeyer Syndicate, which earned lasting fame by hitting on a simple formula for surfacing and solving mysteries in a most enjoyable way.

Before we break out our magnifying glass, it’s critical to stress one very important thing. The local rankings I see from an office in North Beach, San Francisco are not the rankings you see while roaming around Golden Gate park in the same city. The rankings your client in Des Moines sees for things in his town are not the same rankings you see from your apartment in Albuquerque when you look at Des Moines results. With the user having become the centroid of search for true local searches, it is no mystery at all that we see different results when we are different places, and it is no cause for concern.

And now that we’ve gotten that out of the way and are in the proper detective spirit, let’s dive into how to solve for each item on our checklist!


☑ Google updates/bugs

The first thing to ask if a business experiences a sudden change in rankings is whether Google has done something. Search Engine Land strikes me as the fastest reporter of Google updates, with MozCast offering an ongoing weather report of changes in the SERPs. Also, check out the Moz Google Algo Change history list and the Moz Blog for some of the most in-depth strategic coverage of updates, penalties, and filters.

For local-specific bugs (or even just suspected tests), check out the Local Search Forum, the Google My Business forum, and Mike Blumenthal’s blog. See if the effects being described match the weirdness you are seeing in your local packs. If so, it’s a matter of fixing a problematic practice (like iffy link building) that has been caught in an update, waiting to see how the update plays out, or waiting for Google to fix a bug or turn a dial down to normalize results.

*Pro tip: Don’t make the mistake of thinking organic updates have nothing to do with local SEO. Crack detectives know organic and local are closely connected.

☑ Eligibility to list and rank

When a business owner wants to know why he isn’t ranking well locally, always ask these four questions:

  1. Does the business have a real address? (Not a PO box, virtual office, or a string of employees’ houses!)
  2. Does the business make face-to-face contact with its customers?
  3. What city is the business in?
  4. What is the exact keyword phrase they are hoping to rank for?

If the answer is “no” to either of the first two questions, the business isn’t eligible for a Google My Business listing. And while spam does flow through Google, a lack of eligibility could well be the key to a lack of rankings.

For the third question, you need to know the city the business is in so that you can see if it’s likely to rank for the search phrase cited in the fourth question. For example, a plumber with a street address in Sugar Land, TX should not expect to rank for “plumber Dallas TX.” If a business lacks a physical location in a given city, it’s atypical for it to rank for queries that stem from or relate to that locale. It’s amazing just how often this simple fact solves local pack mysteries.

☑ Guideline spam

To be an ace local sleuth, you must commit to memory the guidelines for representing your business on Google so that you can quickly spot violations. Common acts of spam include:

  • Keyword stuffing the business name field
  • Improper wording of the business name field
  • Creating listings for ineligible locations, departments, or people
  • Category spam
  • Incorrect phone number implementation
  • Incorrect website URL implementation
  • Review guideline violations

If any of the above conundrums are new to you, definitely spend 10 minutes reading the guidelines. Make flash cards, if necessary, to test yourself on your spam awareness until you can instantly detect glaring errors. With this enhanced perception, you’ll be able to see problems that may possibly be leading to lowered rankings, or even… suspensions!

☑ Suspensions

There are two key things to look for here when a local business owner comes to you with a ranking woe:

  1. If the listing was formerly verified, but has mysteriously become unverified, you should suspect a soft suspension. Soft suspensions might occur around something like a report of keyword-stuffing the GMB business name field. Oddly, however, there is little anecdotal evidence to support the idea that soft suspensions cause ranking drops. Nevertheless, it’s important to spot the un-verification clue and tell the owner to stop breaking guidelines. It’s possible that the listing may lose reviews or images during this type of suspension, but in most cases, the owner should be able to re-verify his listing. Just remember: a soft suspension is not a likely cause of low local pack rankings.
  2. If the listing’s rankings totally disappear and you can’t even find the listing via a branded search, it’s time to suspect a hard suspension. Hard suspensions can result from a listing falling afoul of a Google guideline or new update, a Google employee, or just a member of the public who has reported the business for something like an ineligible location. If the hard suspension is deserved, as in the case of creating a listing at a fake address, then there’s nothing you can do about it. But, if a hard suspension results from a mistake, I recommend taking it to the Google My Business forum to plead for help. Be prepared to prove that you are 100% guideline-compliant and eligible in hopes of getting your listing reinstated with its authority and reviews intact.

☑ Duplicates

Notorious for their ability to divide ranking strength, duplicate listings are at their worst when there is more than one verified listing representing a single entity. If you encounter a business that seems like it should be ranking better than it is for a given search, always check for duplicates.

The quickest way to do this is to get all present and past NAP (name, address, phone) from the business and plug it into the free Moz Check Listing tool. Pay particular attention to any GMB duplicates the tool surfaces. Then:

  1. If the entity is a brick-and-mortar business or service area business, and the NAP exactly matches between the duplicates, contact Google to ask them to merge the listings. If the NAP doesn’t match and represents a typo or error on the duplicate, use the “suggest an edit” link in Google Maps to toggle the “yes/no” toggle to “yes,” and then select the radio button for “never existed.”
  2. If the duplicates represent partners in a multi-practitioner business, Google won’t simply delete them. Things get quite complicated in this scenario, and if you discover practitioner duplicates, tread carefully. There are half a dozen nuances here, including whether you’re dealing with actual duplicates, whether they represent current or past staffers, whether they are claimed or unclaimed, and even whether a past partner is deceased. There isn’t perfect industry agreement on the handling of all of the ins-and-outs of practitioner listings. Given this, I would advise an affected business to read all of the following before making a move in any direction:

☑ Missing/inaccurate listings

While you’ve got Moz Check Listing fired up, pay attention to anything it tells you about missing or inaccurate listings. The tool will show you how accurate and complete your listings on are on the major local business data aggregators, plus other important platforms like Google My Business, Facebook, Factual, Yelp, and more. Why does this matter?

  1. Google can pull information from anywhere on the web and plunk it into your Google My Business listing.
  2. While no one can quantify the exact degree to which citation/listing consistency directly impacts Google local rankings for every possible search query, it has been a top 5 ranking factor in the annual Local Search Ranking Factors survey as far back as I can remember. Recently, I’ve seen some industry discussion as to whether citations still matter, with some practitioners claiming they can’t see the difference they make. I believe that conclusion may stem from working mainly in ultra-competitive markets where everyone has already got their citations in near-perfect order, forcing practitioners to look for differentiation tactics beyond the basics. But without those basics, you’re missing table stakes in the game.
  3. Indirectly, listing absence or inconsistency impacts local rankings in that it undermines the quest for good local KPIs as well as organic authority. Every lost or misdirected consumer represents a failure to have someone click-for-directions, click-to-call, click-to-your website, or find your website at all. Online and offline traffic, conversions, reputation, and even organic authority all hang in the balance of active citation management.

☑ Lack of organic authority

Full website or competitive audits are not the work of a minute. They really take time, and deep delving. But, at a glance, you can access some quick metrics to let you know whether a business’ lack of achievement on the organic side of things could be holding them back in the local packs. Get yourself the free MozBar SEO toolbar and try this:

  1. Turn the MozBar on by clicking the little “M” at the top of your browser so that it is blue.
  2. Perform your search and look at the first few pages of the organic results, ignoring anything from major directory sites like Yelp (they aren’t competing with you for local pack rankings, eh?).
  3. Note down the Page Authority, Domain Authority, and link counts for each of the businesses coming up on the first 3 pages of the organic results.
  4. Finally, bring up the website of the business you’re investigating. If you see that the top competitors have Domain Authorities of 50 and links numbering in the hundreds or thousands, whereas your target site is well below in these metrics, chances are good that organic authority is playing a strong role in lack of local search visibility. How do we know this is true? Do some local searches and note just how often the businesses that make it into the 3-pack or the top of the local finder view have correlating high organic rankings.

Where organic authority is poor, a business has a big job of work ahead. They need to focus on content dev + link building + social outreach to begin building up their brand in the minds of consumers and the “RankBrain” of Google.

One other element needs to be mentioned here, and that’s the concept of how time affects authority. When you’re talking to a business with a ranking problem, it’s very important to ascertain whether they just launched their website or just built their local business listings last week, or even just a few months ago. Typically, if they have, the fruits of their efforts have yet to fully materialize. That being said, it’s not a given that a new business will have little authority. Large brands have marketing departments which exist solely to build tremendous awareness of new assets before they even launch. It’s important to keep that in mind, while also realizing that if the business is smaller, building authority will likely represent a longer haul.

☑ Possum effect

Where local rankings are absent, always ask:

“Are there any other businesses in your building or even on your street that share your Google category?”

If the answer is “yes,” search for the business’ desired keyword phase and look at the local finder view in Google Maps. Note which companies are ranking. Then begin to zoom in on the map, level by level, noting changes in the local finder as you go. If, a few levels in, the business you’re advising suddenly appears on the map and in the local finder, chances are good it’s the Possum filter that’s causing their apparent invisibility at the automatic zoom level.

Google Possum rolled out in September 2016, and its observable effects included a geographic diversification of the local results, filtering out many listings that share a category and are in close proximity to one another. Then, about one year later, Google initiated the Hawk update, which appears to have tightened the radius of Possum, with the result that while many businesses in the same building are still being filtered out, a number of nearby neighbors have reappeared at the automatic zoom level of the results.

If your sleuthing turns up a brand that is being impacted by Possum/Hawk, the only surefire way to beat the filter is to put in the necessary work to become the most authoritative answer for the desired search phrase. It’s important to remember that filters are the norm in Google’s local results, and have long been observed impacting listings that share an address, share a phone number, etc. If it’s vital for a particular listing to outrank all others that possess shared characteristics, then authority must be built around it in every possible way to make it one of the most dominant results.

☑ Local Service Ads effect

The question you ask here is:

“Is yours a service-area business?”

And if the answer is “yes,” then brace yourself for ongoing results disruption in the coming year.

Google’s Local Service Ads (formerly Home Service Ads) make Google the middleman between consumers and service providers, and in the 2+ years since first early testing, they’ve caused some pretty startling things to happen to local search results. These have included:

Suffice it to say, rollout to an ever-increasing number of cities and categories hasn’t been for the faint of heart, and I would hazard a guess that Google’s recent re-brand of this program signifies their intention to move beyond the traditional SAB market. One possible benefit of Google getting into this type of lead gen is that it could decrease spam, but I’m not sold on this, given that fake locations have ended up qualifying for LSA inclusion. While I honor Google’s need to be profitable, I share some of the qualms business owners have expressed about the potential impacts of this venture.

Since I can’t offer a solid prediction of what precise form these impacts will take in the coming months, the best I can do here is to recommend that if an SAB experiences a ranking change/loss, the first thing to look for is whether LSA has come to town. If so, alteration of the SERPs may be unavoidable, and the only strategy left for overcoming vanished visibility may be to pay for it… by qualifying for the program.

☑ GMB neglect

Sometimes, a lack of competitive rankings can simply be chalked up to a lack of effort. If a business wonders why they’re not doing better in the local packs, pull up their GMB listing and do a quick evaluation of:

  • Verification status – While you can rank without verifying, lack of verification is a hallmark of listing neglect.
  • Basic accuracy – If NAP or map markers are incorrect, it’s a sure sign of neglect.
  • Category choices – Wrong categories make right rankings impossible.
  • Image optimization – Every business needs a good set of the most professional, persuasive photos it can acquire, and should even consider periodic new photo shoots for seasonal freshness; imagery impacts KPIs, which are believed to impact rank.
  • Review count, sentiment and management – Too few reviews, low ratings, and lack of responses = utter neglect of this core rank/reputation-driver.
  • Hours of operation – If they’re blank or incorrect, conversions are being missed.
  • Main URL choice – Does the GMB listing point to a strong, authoritative website page or a weak one?
  • Additional URL choices – If menus, bookings, reservations, or placing orders is part of the business model, a variety of optional URLs are supported by Google and should be explored.
  • Google Posts – Early-days testing indicates that regular posting may impact rank.
  • Google Questions and Answers – Pre-populate with best FAQs and actively manage incoming questions.

There is literally no business, large or small, with a local footprint that can afford to neglect its Google My Business listing. And while some fixes and practices move the ranking needle more than others, the increasing number of consumer actions that take place within Google is reason enough to put active GMB management at the top of your list.


Closing the case

The Hardy Boys never went anywhere without their handy kit of detection tools. Their father was so confident in their utter preparedness that he even let them chase down gangs in Hong Kong and dictators in the Guyanas (which, on second thought, doesn’t seem terribly wise.) But I have that kind of confidence in you. I hope my troubleshooting checklist is one you’ll bookmark and share to be prepared for the local ranking mysteries awaiting you and your digital marketing colleagues in 2018. Happy sleuthing!

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January 10, 2018  Tags: , , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments

Selling SEO to the C-Suite: How to Convince Company Executives to Support SEO

Posted by rMaynes1

The implementation of a solid SEO strategy often gets put on the back burner — behind website redesigns, behind client work, behind almost everything — and even when it is taken seriously, you have to fight for every resource for implementation. SEO must be a priority. However, convincing the company executives to prioritize it and allocate budget to SEO initiatives can feel like scaling a mountain.

Sound familiar?

Convincing company executives that SEO is one of the most critical elements of a holistic digital marketing strategy to increase website traffic (and therefore customers, sales, and revenue) won’t be easy, but these steps can increase the chances of your program being taken seriously, and getting the budget needed to make it a success.

Before you start: Put yourself in the shoes of the C-Suite and be ready to answer their questions.

While it’s no doubt frustrating that your executives don’t understand the importance of SEO, put yourself in their shoes and consider what is important to them. Have solid answers ready to questions.

CEOs are decision-makers, not problem-solvers. They are going to ask:

  • Why should we invest in SEO vs. [insert another strategy here]?
  • Is this going to be profitable?
  • Do you have proven results?
  • What does success look like? What are your KPIS?

CIOs and CFOs will fixate on cost reductions. They are going to ask:

  • What will this cost us?
  • Can similar results be achieved at a reduced cost?
  • What level of spend will maximize ROI?

CMOs want to ensure the organization’s message is distributed to targeted audiences in order to meet sales objectives. They will ask:

  • How many more qualified leads will this bring us?
  • What will this do to increase our brand exposure?
  • What is our competition doing?

CEOs are unbelievably busy. In the nicest way, they don’t care about details, and they don’t care about tactics (because they simply do not have time to care). What do they care about? Results.

For example, the CEO of a large insurance broker sits in his office and Googles the term “Seattle insurance.” Success for him is seeing his company listed at #1 in the organic results. He doesn’t want to know how it was achieved, but for as long as that’s the result, he’s happy to invest.

Getting the support you need for your SEO strategy can be tough, to say the least, especially if there is no understanding, no interest, and no funding from the C-level executives in your company — and unfortunately, without these, your SEO plans will never get off the ground.

However, executive-level buy-in is crucial for a successful SEO campaign, so don’t give up!

Educate your stakeholders

1. Start at the beginning: Define what SEO is, and what it isn’t

It might sound like a no-brainer, but before you even start, find out your C-Suite’s SEO expertise level. Bizarre as it may sound, some might not even really fully understand what SEO is, and the concept of keywords might be entirely alien.

Start from the very beginning with examples of what SEO is, and what it isn’t.

Include:

  • How people search for your business online with non-branded industry keywords. Use analytics to show that this is what people are actually searching for.
  • Show what happens when you conduct a simple search for a related keyword. Where does your business rank and where do your competitors rank?

If you want to go into a bit more detail, you can show things like where keywords appear in your page content, or what meta-data in the titles and description fields look like. Gather as much valuable insight as you can from the CMO to help tailor your presentation to fit the style the CEO is used to. It will vary from CEO to CEO. Same story — but a different approach to getting the message across.

Remember, keep it high-level. When talking to your C-Suite about SEO, it’s important to talk to them in a language they’ll understand. If your presentation includes references to “schema,” “link audits,” or “domain authority,” start again, scrapping the technical jargon. Instead, talk about how SEO helps businesses connect directly with people who are searching online for the products and services that are being offered by the company. Highlight how it’s a powerful business development tool that aligns your business with customer intent, one that targets potential customers further down the sales funnel because it attracts traffic mostly from people who are in the market to convert. Focus on the purpose of an SEO program being to build a sustainable base of monthly quality potential customers by generating additional traffic to the website.

Use hard facts to support your points. For example:

  • 72% of marketers say relevant content creation was the most effective SEO tactic (Source: https://www.hubspot.com/marketing-statistics)
  • 71% of B2B researchers start with a generic search. (Source: https://www.hubspot.com/marketing-statistics)
  • Conversion rates are 10 times higher on search than from social on desktops, on average. (Source: GoDaddy 2016)
  • Half of search queries are four words or longer. Not including long-tail keywords could mean losing potential leads. (Source: Propecta 2017).
  • Companies that published 16+ blog posts per month got almost 3.5X more traffic than companies that published 0–4 monthly posts. (Source: https://www.hubspot.com/marketing-statistics)

2. The meat of your presentation: Why SEO is so important

Once you’ve shown what SEO is, you can move onto why it’s so important to the organizational goals. Sounds simple, but this is probably the most difficult part of convincing your executives of the need for an SEO strategy.

C-Suite executives are not interested in the how of SEO. They want to know the why (the value, the return on investment), and the when (how long it will take to see the results and the ROI of this endeavor). It’s almost guaranteed that they’re not going to want to know the minute details and tactics of your proposed strategy.

Outline the project at a high level, and don’t get bogged down in the details. If the CEO is well-educated in other channels (like paid search, offline marketing, print marketing, or display advertising), try to use SEO examples that can be understood in a relative way to how these other channels perform.

Note: To sell SEO to the C-suite doesn’t necessarily mean you’re committing to doing all of this work yourself. You might be pitching for the budget to use an SEO agency to do all of this for you.

Break out the proposed project into 4 sections, each with a “what” and a “why.”

1. SEO audit:

Your website is a business development tool, and so the SEO audit is focused on assessing how well the site is performing currently. Talk about how you’ll assess the website in several areas to understand any problems impacting site performance and identify any potential optimization opportunities to make it more search engine-friendly, and to align it to business objectives both from a technical and content perspective.

2. Recommendations:

From the audit, determine what needs to be done and when. Not all tactics will work for all organizations, and as an SEO expert, you’ll be able to review the business and draw on your past experience to determine what’s going to earn the highest ROI. Prioritize recommendations and have a case to present for each, proving how it’s more important than another recommendation, and how it will impact the overall business if implemented. Ensure that those critical SEO components that will expedite the results are implemented first. Be sure to address these questions:

  • What combination of tactics is going to work best for this organization?
  • What is going to have the biggest impact now, and what can wait?
  • What should be a top organizational priority?
  • Do you have access to the internal resources and knowledge to be able to implement the recommendations, or do you need to consider using an external agency?

3. Implementation:

Whether this is an internal project or you’re engaging an SEO agency, the project lead should be very hands-on, making SEO recommendations and guiding the IT team through the successful implementation of as many of them as possible so as to have the biggest impact on organic search. At times it can feel like you have to jump through hoops to get the smallest recommendation implemented, and that’s understandable. However, if you endeavor to understand the internal IT processes, you can customize recommendations to fit the IT team’s schedule. You’ll see more success that way.

This is one of the biggest obstacles that Mediative, as an agency, runs into. We conduct SEO audits and provide recommendations for success, in priority order — but getting access to internal IT resources and getting your SEO recommendations into the implementation queue can be incredibly challenging.

We worked with a Fortune 500 company for four years on SEO, covering the major areas of site architecture and site content, with the ultimate goal of increasing site traffic. At any given time, there were 40+ active SEO initiatives — open tickets with the client’s IT department — all of which had an impact on the SEO of the client’s website. However, they represented only about 20% of the total open tickets for all IT service requests in this client’s IT department; as a result, vying for precious IT resources became a huge challenge. A great SEO agency will learn to adapt tactics to fit in with whatever sort of IT procedures your company already has in place.

4. Goals and measurement of results:

HubSpot has presented the core metrics that CEOs care about the most; you should address these metrics with benchmarks and informed predictions (not vague guesses) for how SEO can improve them. Unlike channels such as paid search, it can be difficult to give the exact cost and the exact number of leads or revenue SEO can generate. The key here is to get the understanding of the CMO to help present your case to the CEO. SEO or organic search traffic (when measured properly with analytics) can be the biggest driver of low-cost traffic and quality visitors to your website.

  1. Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) – This is the total cost of acquiring a customer in the organization. If you can show how SEO acquires customers below the company average, you’re already winning.
  2. Time to Payback CAC – This is the number of months it takes you to earn back the CAC you spent to get a new customer. Again, if you can show that SEO reduces this number, it will increase the likelihood of your program getting the thumbs up.
  3. Marketing Originated Customer % – This ratio shows what percentage of your new business is driven by marketing efforts, a sure-fire way to secure more SEO budget if you can prove exactly how many new customers it’s driving.

Look at simpler metrics as well, such as:

  • Traffic to your website.
  • Number of leads generated.
  • Decreased bounce rates.

Inform your executives that you’ll be measuring these metrics in conjunction with other metrics, such as average ranking position, to see the overall impact of your SEO efforts.

  • Use industry research to put a monetary value on ranking higher. For example, the fictional company Acme Shoes sells shoes online. The company website recently ranked #4 on a desktop Google search for [women’s shoes].
    • A #4 ranking sends the website 20,000 unique visitors per month.
    • The average value of a website visitor has been calculated at , therefore ranking at #4 is valued at 0,000/month.
    • Research has shown that, on average, the #4 ranking gets 7.3% of Google results page clicks, and the #1 ranking gets 32.8% of page clicks — 4.5x more. Therefore, it can be estimated that increasing ranking to #1 will lead to 90,000 monthly unique visitors.
    • The estimated revenue from ranking #1 for [women’s shoes]: .8m/month.
  • Present different scenarios. For example, what would happen if no SEO efforts are made over the next 12 months? Now in contrast, what do you predict will happen with $X of investment, and how that would increase even further if doubled? Be sure to have a few options available, not just all-or-nothing.
  • Be very specific about the goals at each level of investment. Find examples of SEO strategies that have had great results. Best case would be results from your own tests in preparation for a larger project, but sometimes even small SEO tests are not approved until the C-suite has bought in. In this case, find case studies from your industry, or research/results of similar tactics to those that you want to implement. The C-Suite want tangible, real-world solutions that are proven to work, not vague ideas.

Tip: A lot of SEO is “free” — it just takes time, knowledge, and resources (which is where it gets expensive) to make it successful. Use the word “free” as much as you can. For example, an online listings component of an SEO strategy may utilize free directory listings.

In summary, an SEO project may address all 4 sections listed above very well, but the key is communication. Great SEO agencies are strong communicators with all stakeholders involved — the marketing team, IT teams, content writers, designers, code developers, etc. It’s important to remember that following best practices, executing SEO tactics in a timely manner, and measuring the results all require clear and concise communication at different levels of the organization.

Congratulations! You’ve perfectly pitched SEO to your C-Suite. You’re almost guaranteed to get the green light! So what now?

Manage expectations from day one.

Basketball player Michael Jordan was once quoted as saying: “Be true to the game, because the game will be true to you. If you try to shortcut the game, then the game will shortcut you. If you put forth the effort, good things will be bestowed upon you. That’s truly about the game, and in some ways that’s about life, too.”

He could have been talking about SEO.

SEO is a commitment. To reap the long-term benefits, you have to put in the effort with minimal gains at first. Make sure your C-Suite knows this. They might get frustrated that after 3 months of effort, the results are not prominent. But that’s how SEO goes. SEO isn’t a “set it and forget it” tactic. It’s an ongoing program that builds successes with time and consistency.

By setting realistic expectations that it will take several months before results are seen, there won’t be pressure to try other tactics, like paid search or display advertising, at the expense of SEO. Of course, these tactics can complement your SEO efforts and can provide a short-term benefit that SEO can’t, but don’t be swayed from SEO as a core strategy. Stay the course, and keep focused on the long-term benefits of what you’re doing. It will be worth it!

Continually measure and track performance

You should be ready at the drop of a hat to provide up-to-date results with performance measured to key metrics (to the last month) of how your SEO efforts are stacking up. You never know when cost-cutting measures might be implemented, and if you’re not ready with solid results, it might be your program that gets cut.

Show how your SEO efforts compare to other programs in the company, such as social media marketing or paid search. Search is always evolving, so keep up and be seen keeping up. 
Never stop selling!

In the case of our Fortune 500 client, we were able to implement all of the key SEO initiatives by prioritizing and building cases for implementation. After several months, organic search traffic and revenue was leading all other digital marketing channels for this client — more than PPC and email marketing. 
Organic search generated approximately 30% of all visits to the client’s site, while maintaining year-over-year growth of 20–25%. This increase was not simply from branded traffic, however — year-over-year non-branded traffic had increased approximately 50%.

These are the kind of results that are going to make the company executives sit up and take SEO seriously.

To conclude:


As the proponent for SEO in your organization, you play a critical role in ensuring that the strategies with the quickest and biggest impact on results are implemented and prioritized first. There’s no magic bullet with SEO – no one thing that works. A solid SEO strategy — and one that will convince stakeholders of its worth — is made up of a myriad of components from audits to content development, from link building to site architecture. The trick is picking what is going to work for your organization and what isn’t, and this is no mean feat!


For more SEO tips from Mediative, download our new e-book, The Digital Marketer’s Guide to Google’s Search Engine Results Page.

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January 9, 2018  Tags: , , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments

SEO Ranking Factors & Correlation: What Does It Mean When a Metric Is Correlated with Google Rankings? – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

In an industry where knowing exactly how to get ranked on Google is murky at best, SEO ranking factors studies can be incredibly alluring. But there’s danger in believing every correlation you read, and wisdom in looking at it with a critical eye. In this Whiteboard Friday, Rand covers the myths and realities of correlations, then shares a few smart ways to use and understand the data at hand.

SEO Ranking Factors and Correlation

Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high-resolution version in a new tab!


Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we are chatting about SEO ranking factors and the challenge around understanding correlation, what correlation means when it comes to SEO factors.

So you have likely seen, over the course of your career in the SEO world, lots of studies like this. They’re usually called something like ranking factors or ranking elements study or the 2017 ranking factors, and a number of companies put them out. Years ago, Moz started to do this work with correlation stuff, and now many, many companies put these out. So people from Searchmetrics and I think Ahrefs puts something out, and SEMrush puts one out, and of course Moz has one.

These usually follow a pretty similar format, which is they take a large number of search results from Google, from a specific country or sometimes from multiple countries, and they’ll say, “We analyzed 100,000 or 50,000 Google search results, and in our set of results, we looked at the following ranking factors to see how well correlated they were with higher rankings.” That is to say how much they predicted that, on average, a page with this factor would outrank a page without the factor, or a page with more of this factor would outrank a page with less of this factor.

Correlation in SEO studies like these usually mean:

So, basically, in an SEO study, they usually mean something like this. They do like a scatter plot. They don’t have to specifically do a scatter plot, but visualization of the results. Then they’ll say, “Okay, linking root domains had better correlation or correlation with higher organic rankings than the 10 blue link-style results to the degree of 0.39.” They’ll usually use either Spearman or Pearson correlation. We won’t get into that here. It doesn’t matter too much.

Across this many searches, the metric predicted higher or lower rankings with this level of consistency. 1.0, by the way, would be perfect correlation. So, for example, if you were looking at days that end in Y and days that follow each other, well, there’s a perfect correlation because every day’s name ends in Y, at least in English.

So search visits, let’s walk down this path just a little bit. So search visits, saying that that 0.47 correlated with higher rankings, if that sounds misleading to you, it sounds misleading to me too. The problem here is that’s not necessarily a ranking factor. At least I don’t think it is. I don’t think that the more visits you get from search from Google, the higher Google ranks you. I think it’s probably that the correlation runs the other way around — the higher you rank in search results, the more visits on average you get from Google search.

So these ranking factors, I’ll run through a bunch of these myths, but these ranking factors may not be factors at all. They’re just metrics or elements where the study has looked at the correlation and is trying to show you the relationship on average. But you have to understand and intuit this information properly, otherwise you can be very misled.

Myths and realities of correlation in SEO

So let’s walk through a few of these.

1. Correlation doesn’t tell us which way the connection runs.

So it does not say whether factor X influences the rankings or whether higher rankings influences factor X. Let’s take another example — number of Facebook shares. Could it be the case that search results that rank higher in Google oftentimes get people sharing them more on Facebook because they’ve been seen by more people who searched for them? I think that’s totally possible. I don’t know whether it’s the case. We can’t prove it right here and now, but we can certainly say, “You know what? This number does not necessarily mean that Facebook shares influence Google results.” It could be the case that Google results influence Facebook searches. It could be the case that there’s a third factor that’s causing both of them. Or it could be the case that there’s, in fact, no relationship and this is merely a coincidental result, probably unlikely given that there is some relationship there, but possible.

2. Correlation does not imply causation.

This is a famous quote, but let’s continue with the famous quote. But it sure is a hint. It sure is a hint. That’s exactly what we like to use correlation for is as a hint of things we might investigate further. We’ll talk about that in a second.

3. In an algorithm like Google’s, with thousands of potential ranking inputs, if you see any single metric at 0.1 or higher, I tend to think that, in general, that is an interesting result.

Not prove something, not means that there’s a direct correlation, just it is interesting. It’s worthy of further exploration. It’s worthy of understanding. It’s worthy of forming hypotheses and then trying to prove those wrong. It is interesting.

4. Correlation does tell us what more successful pages and sites do that less successful sites and pages don’t do.

Sometimes, in my opinion, that is just as interesting as what is actually causing rankings in Google. So you might say, “Oh, this doesn’t prove anything.” What it proves to me is pages that are getting more Facebook shares tend to do a good bit better than pages that are not getting as many Facebook shares.

I don’t really care, to be honest, whether that is a direct Google ranking factor or whether that’s just something that’s happening. If it’s happening in my space, if it’s happening in the world of SERPs that I care about, that is useful information for me to know and information that I should be applying, because it suggests that my competitors are doing this and that if I don’t do it, I probably won’t be as successful, or I may not be as successful as the ones who are. Certainly, I want to understand how they’re doing it and why they’re doing it.

5. None of these studies that I have ever seen so far have looked specifically at SERP features.

So one of the things that you have to remember, when you’re looking at these, is think organic, 10 blue link-style results. We’re not talking about AdWords, the paid results. We’re not talking about Knowledge Graph or featured snippets or image results or video results or any of these other, the news boxes, the Twitter results, anything else that goes in there. So this is kind of old-school, classic organic SEO.

6. Correlation is not a best practice.

So it does not mean that because this list descends and goes down in this order that those are the things you should do in that particular order. Don’t use this as a roadmap.

7. Low correlation does not mean that a metric or a tactic doesn’t work

Example, a high percent of sites using a page or a tactic will result in a very low correlation. So, for example, when we first did this study in I think it was 2005 that Moz ran its first one of these, maybe it was ’07, we saw that keyword use in the title element was strongly correlated. I think it was probably around 0.2, 0.15, something like that. Then over time, it’s gone way, way down. Now, it’s something like 0.03, extremely small, infinitesimally small.

What does that mean? Well, it could mean one of two things. It could mean Google is using it less as a ranking factor. It could mean that it was never connected, and it’s just total speculation, total coincidence. Or three, it could mean that a lot more people who rank in the top 20 or 30 results, which is what these studies usually look at, top 10 to top 50 sometimes, a lot more of them are putting the keyword in the title, and therefore, there’s just no difference between result number 31 and result number 1, because they both have them in the title. So you’re seeing a much lower correlation between pages that don’t have them and do have them and higher rankings. So be careful about how you intuit that.

Oh, one final note. I did put -0.02 here. A negative correlation means that as you see less of this thing, you tend to see higher rankings. Again, unless there is a strong negative correlation, I tend to watch out for these, or I tend to not pay too much attention. For example, the keyword in the meta description, it could just be that, well, it turns out pretty much everyone has the keyword in the meta description now, so this is just not a big differentiating factor.

What is correlation good for?

All right. What’s correlation actually good for? We talked about a bunch of myths, ways not to use it.

A. IDing the elements that more successful pages tend to have

So if I look across a correlation and I see that lots of pages are twice as likely to have X and rank highly as the ones that don’t rank highly, well, that is a good piece of data for me.

B. Watching elements over time to see if they rise or lower in correlation.

For example, we watch links very closely over time to see if they rise or lower so that we can say: “Gosh, does it look like links are getting more or less influential in Google’s rankings? Are they more or less correlated than they were last year or two years ago?” And if we see that drop dramatically, we might intuit, “Hey, we should test the power of links again. Time for another experiment to see if links still move the needle, or if they’re becoming less powerful, or if it’s merely that the correlation is dropping.”

C. Comparing sets of search results against one another we can identify unique attributes that might be true

So, for example, in a vertical like news, we might see that domain authority is much more important than it is in fitness, where smaller sites potentially have much more opportunity or dominate. Or we might see that something like https is not a great way to stand out in news, because everybody has it, but in fitness, it is a way to stand out and, in fact, the folks who do have it tend to do much better. Maybe they’ve invested more in their sites.

D. Judging metrics as a predictive ranking ability

Essentially, when I’m looking at a metric like domain authority, how good is that at telling me on average how much better one domain will rank in Google versus another? I can see that this number is a good indication of that. If that number goes down, domain authority is less predictive, less sort of useful for me. If it goes up, it’s more useful. I did this a couple years ago with Alexa Rank and SimilarWeb, looking at traffic metrics and which ones are best correlated with actual traffic, and found Alexa Rank is awful and SimilarWeb is quite excellent. So there you go.

E. Finding elements to test

So if I see that large images embedded on a page that’s already ranking on page 1 of search results has a 0.61 correlation with the image from that page ranking in the image results in the first few, wow, that’s really interesting. You know what? I’m going to go test that and take big images and embed them on my pages that are ranking and see if I can get the image results that I care about. That’s great information for testing.

This is all stuff that correlation is useful for. Correlation in SEO, especially when it comes to ranking factors or ranking elements, can be very misleading. I hope that this will help you to better understand how to use and not use that data.

Thanks. We’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

The image used to promote this post was adapted with gratitude from the hilarious webcomic, xkcd.

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January 5, 2018  Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments

How to Optimize Your Google My Business Listing

Posted by sherrybonelli

An important first step in any local SEO strategy is to claim and verify your local business’ Google My Business (GMB) listing. Getting on Google My Business can increase your chances of showing up in Google’s Local Pack, Local Finder, Google Maps, and organic rankings in general. Qualifying local businesses can claim this free listing on Google and include basic information about their company, like their address, phone number, business hours and types of payments accepted.

If you haven’t claimed and verified your Google My Business Listing yet, that’s the first step. To get started, visit https://www.google.com/business.

Many local businesses just claim their GMB listing and forget about it. What most businesses don’t realize is that there are a variety of other features you can use to optimize your Google My Business listing and several reasons why you should frequently check your business listing to ensure that it’s accuracy stays intact. Want to know more?

Complete all the information Google asks for

There are a variety of questions you can answer to complete your Google My Business profile. When done, your listing will have valuable data that will make it easier for potential customers to find your company. And if you don’t fill that information in, someone else could. Many business owners don’t realize that anyone can suggest a change to your business listing — and that includes competitors.

When a searcher clicks on your GMB listing they can see a “Suggest an edit” option:

When someone clicks on that option they can literally edit your Google My Business listing (and make some pretty dramatic changes, too):

This is just one reason why it’s very important that you login to your Google My Business dashboard regularly to ensure that no one has attempted to make any unwanted changes to your listing. You’ll see a notification that changes are pending if someone has made suggested changes that need your approval.

Also, it’s important to realize that Google encourages people who are familiar with your business to answer questions, so Google can learn more information about your company. To do this they can simply click on the “Know this place? Answer quick questions” link.

They’ll then be prompted to answer some questions about your business:

If they know the answer to the questions, they can answer. If not, they can decline.

Now, some business owners have cried foul, saying that competitors or others with malicious intent can wreak havoc on their Google My Business listings with this feature. However, Google’s philosophy is that this type of “user-generated content” helps to build a community, more fully completes a business’ profile, and allows Google to experiment with different search strategies.

After you get your Google My Business listing verified, continue to check your listing regularly to be on the safe side.

Google My Business Posts

Google Posts are “mini-ads” that show up in Google search in your Google My Business listing (in the Knowledge Panel and on Google Maps.)

You can have fun with your Posts by adding an image, a Call to Action (CTA), and even including a link to another page or website. If you’re using Yext, you can create GMB Posts directly from your Yext dashboard.

Here are just a few Post ideas:

  • If you’re having an event (like a webinar) you can set up an event Post with a date and time and then add a link to the registration page.
  • Do you have a sale going on during a specific time? Create a “sale” event Post.
  • Does your latest blog post rock? Add a short description of your blog post and link to the post on your blog.
  • New product you want to feature? Show a picture of this cool gadget and link to where people can make the purchase.
  • Want to spread holiday joy? Give potential customers a holiday message Post.

The possibilities with Posts are endless! Posts stay “live” for seven days or “go dark” after the date of the event. Google is great about sending you reminders when it’s time to create a new Post.

TIP: To grab a searcher’s attention, you want to include an image in your Post, but on Google Maps the Post image can get cut off. You might have to test a few Post image sizes to make sure it’s sized appropriately for Maps and the Knowledge Panel on desktop and mobile devices.

To get started with Posts, login to your GMB dashboard and you’ll see the Posts option on the left-hand side:

Do Google My Business Posts help with search rankings? Joy Hawkins and Steady Demand tested whether Posts had an impact on rankings, and they found that making Google My Business Postsmaking Google My Business Posts can improve rankingsimprove rankings.

Booking button feature

Google’s new Booking button feature can really help your business stand out from the crowd. If you have any type of business that relies on customers making appointments and you’re using integrated scheduling software, people can now book an appointment with your business directly from your Google My Business listing. This can make it even easier to get new customers!

If you have an account with one of Google’s supported scheduling providers, the booking button is automatically added to your Google My Business listing.

Messaging

Did you know that you can allow potential customers to send you text messages? This is a great way to connect directly with potential customers.

If you don’t want text messages sent to your personal phone number, you can download Google’s Allo app. When you set up your Allo account, use the same phone number connected to your Google My Business account. Now when someone messages you, Allo will send you a notification instead of the message appearing in your personal text messages.

To get started with Messaging, login to your GMB dashboard and click on “Messaging”:

This feature is still in its infancy, though. Right now, messaging is only available to mobile web users and is not available to mobile app or desktop users. People also won’t see the Messaging option in the Knowledge Panel or on Google Maps.

The ONLY way someone can message your business is if they perform a mobile web search on Chrome. (I expect that Google will expand the Messaging feature once they work the kinks out.)

Questions & Answers

Questions & Answers is a relatively new feature to Google local search. It’s very cool! Just like it sounds, Q&A allows people to ask questions about your business and you can answer those questions.

Here are a few things to keep in mind about Questions & Answers:

  • The Q&A feature is not visible on the mobile GMB app.
  • You need to login to the GMB dashboard to see if you have any new questions that need answering.
  • You cannot monitor the Questions on a mobile device unless you have an Android phone.
  • You can use the Google Maps App on Android devices to manage the Q&A feature as the business. To do this, download the Google Maps app, sign in with the email address you use for your GMB listing, and you will get push notifications if someone asks your business a question.

TIP: It’s important to note that just like “Suggest an Edit” on GMB, anyone can answer questions asked of your business. Therefore, you want to keep an eye out and make sure you answer questions quickly and ensure that if someone else answers a question, that the answer is accurate. If you find that someone is abusing your GMB listing’s Q&A feature, reach out to the Google My Business support forums.

Google My Business online reviews

Unlike Yelp, which vehemently discourages business owners to ask their customers for reviews, Google encourages business owners to ethically ask their customers or clients for online reviews. Online reviews appear next to your listing in Google Maps and your business’ Knowledge Panel in search. Reviews can help your business stand out among a sea of search results.

Additionally, online reviews are known to impact search result rankings, consumer trust, and click-through rates. According to BrightLocal’s 2017 Consumer Review Survey:

  • 97% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses in 2017, with 12% looking for a local business online every day
  • 85% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
  • Positive reviews make 73% of consumers trust a local business more
  • 49% of consumers need at least a four-star rating before they choose to use a business
  • Responding to reviews is more important than ever, with 30% naming this as key when judging local businesses
  • 68% of consumers left a local business review when asked — with 74% having been asked for their feedback
  • 79% of consumers have read a fake review in the last year

If you follow Google’s guidelines for Google My Business reviews, you can ask your customers for reviews. (However, if you violate any of these policies, your reviews could be removed.)

When customers leave reviews for you — good or bad — make sure you respond to them. Not only does it show that customer that you appreciate their feedback, it also shows potential customers that you care.

What happens if you get a negative review? First, don’t freak out. Everybody has a bad day and most people recognize that. Also, if you have a troll that gave you a one-star review and left a nasty comment, most people with common sense recognize that review for what it is. It’s generally not worth stressing over.

To learn more about strategically getting more online reviews, check out this article from Moz.


Get more out of your GMB listing

Hopefully these features have given you a new reason to login to your Google My Business account and get busy! If you have any other questions about optimizing your GMB listing, let me know in the comments.

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January 3, 2018  Tags: , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments

How Does Mobile-First Indexing Work, and How Does It Impact SEO?

Posted by bridget.randolph

We’ve been hearing a lot about mobile-first indexing lately, as the latest development in Google’s ever-continuing efforts to make the web more mobile-friendly and reflect user behavior trends.

But there’s also a lot of confusion around what this means for the average business owner. Do you have to change anything? Everything? If your site is mobile-friendly, will that be good enough?

IS THIS GOING TO BE ANOTHER MOBILEGEDDON?!!

In this post I’ll go over the basics of what “mobile-first indexing” means, and what you may need to do about it. I’ll also answer some frequently asked questions about mobile-first indexing and what it means for our SEO efforts.

What is “mobile-first indexing”?

Mobile-first indexing is exactly what it sounds like. It just means that the mobile version of your website becomes the starting point for what Google includes in their index, and the baseline for how they determine rankings. If you monitor crawlbot traffic to your site, you may see an increase in traffic from Smartphone Googlebot, and the cached versions of pages will usually be the mobile version of the page.

It’s called “mobile-first” because it’s not a mobile-only index: for instance, if a site doesn’t have a mobile-friendly version, the desktop site can still be included in the index. But the lack of a mobile-friendly experience could impact negatively on the rankings of that site, and a site with a better mobile experience would potentially receive a rankings boost even for searchers on a desktop.

You may also want to think of the phrase “mobile-first” as a reference to the fact that the mobile version will be considered the primary version of your website. So if your mobile and desktop versions are equivalent — for instance if you’ve optimized your content for mobile, and/or if you use responsive design — this change should (in theory) not have any significant impact in terms of your site’s performance in search results.

However it does represent a fundamental reversal in the way Google is thinking about your website content and how to prioritize crawling and indexation. Remember that up until now the desktop site was considered the primary version (similar to a canonical URL) and the mobile site was treated as an “alternate” version for a particular use case. This is why Google encouraged webmasters with a separate mobile site (m.domain.com) to implement switchboard tags (which indicated the existence of a mobile URL version with a special rel=alternate tag). Google might not even make the effort to crawl and cache the mobile versions of all of these pages, as they could simply display that mobile URL to mobile searchers.

This view of the desktop version as the primary one often meant in practice that the desktop site would be prioritized by SEOs and marketing teams and was treated as the most comprehensive version of a website, with full content, structured data markup, hreflang (international tags), the majority of backlinks, etc.; while the mobile version might have lighter content, and/or not include the same level of markup and structure, and almost certainly would not receive the bulk of backlinks and external attention.

What should I do about mobile-first indexing?

The first thing to know is that there’s no need to panic. So far this change is only in the very earliest stages of testing, and is being rolled out very gradually only to websites which Google considers to be “ready” enough for this change to have a minimal impact.

According to Google’s own latest guidance on the topic, if your website is responsive or otherwise identical in its desktop and mobile versions, you may not have to do anything differently (assuming you’re happy with your current rankings!).

That said, even with a totally responsive site, you’ll want to ensure that mobile page speed and load time are prioritized and that images and other (potentially) dynamic elements are optimized correctly for the mobile experience. Note that with mobile-first indexing, content which is collapsed or hidden in tabs, etc. due to space limitations will not be treated differently than visible content (as it may have been previously), since this type of screen real estate management is actually a mobile best practice.

If you have a separate mobile site, you’ll want to check the following:

  • Content: make sure your mobile version has all the high-quality, valuable content that exists on your desktop site. This could include text, videos and images. Make sure the formats used on the mobile version are crawlable and indexable (including alt-attributes for images).
  • Structured data: you should include the same structured data markup on both the mobile and desktop versions of the site. URLs shown within structured data on mobile pages should be the mobile version of the URL. Avoid adding unnecessary structured data if it isn’t relevant to the specific content of a page.
  • Metadata: ensure that titles and meta descriptions are equivalent on both versions of all pages.
    • Note that the official guidance says “equivalent” rather than “identical” – you may still want to optimize your mobile titles for shorter character counts, but make sure the same information and relevant keywords are included.
  • Hreflang: if you use rel=hreflang for internationalization, your mobile URLs’ hreflang annotations should point to the mobile version of your country or language variants, and desktop URLs should point to the desktop versions.
  • Social metadata: OpenGraph tags, Twitter cards and other social metadata should be included on the mobile version as well as the desktop version.
  • XML and media sitemaps: ensure that any links to sitemaps are accessible from the mobile version of the site. This also applies to robots directives (robots.txt and on-page meta-robots tags) and potentially even trust signals, like links to your privacy policy page.
  • Search Console verification: if you have only verified your desktop site in Google Search Console, make sure you also add and verify the mobile version.
  • App indexation: if you have app indexation set up for your desktop site, you may want to ensure that you have verified the mobile version of the site in relation to app association files, etc.
  • Server capacity: Make sure that your host servers can handle increased crawl rate.
    • (This only applies for sites with their mobile version on a separate host, such as m.domain.com.)
  • Switchboard tags: if you currently have mobile switchboard tags implemented, you do not need to change this implementation. These should remain as they are.

Common questions about mobile-first indexing

Is mobile-first indexing adding mobile pages to a separate mobile index?

With mobile-first indexing, there is only one index (the same one Google uses now). The change to mobile-first indexing does not generate a new “mobile-first” index, nor is it creating a separate “mobile index” with a “desktop index” remaining active. Instead, it simply changes how content is added to the existing index.

Is the mobile-first index live and affecting my site now? If not, when does it go live?

Google has been experimenting with this approach to indexing on a small number of sites, which were selected based on perceived “readiness”. A wider rollout is likely going to take a long time and in June 2017, Gary Illyes stated that it will probably take a few years before “we reach an index that is only mobile-first.”

Google has also stated the following on the Webmasters Blog, in a blog post dated Dec 18 2017:

“We will be evaluating sites independently on their readiness for mobile-first indexing based on the above criteria and transitioning them when ready. This process has already started for a handful of sites and is closely being monitored by the search team.

“We continue to be cautious with rolling out mobile-first indexing. We believe taking this slowly will help webmasters get their sites ready for mobile users, and because of that, we currently don’t have a timeline for when it’s going to be completed.”

Will Google only use my mobile site to determine my rankings?

Mobile-first means that the mobile version will be considered the primary version when it comes to how rankings are determined. However, there may be circumstances where the desktop version could be taken into consideration (for instance, if you don’t have a mobile version of a page).

That being said, you will potentially still see varying ranking results between mobile search results and desktop search results, so you’ll still want to track both. (In the same way that now, Google primarily uses the desktop site to determine rankings but you still want to track mobile rankings as these vary from desktop rankings based on user behavior and other factors).

When might Google use the desktop site to determine rankings vs. the mobile site?

The primary use case I’ve seen referred to so far is that they will use the desktop site to determine rankings when there is no mobile version.

It is possible that for websites where the desktop version has additional ranking information (such as backlinks), that information could also be taken into consideration – but there is no guarantee that they will crawl or index the desktop version once they’ve seen the mobile version, and I haven’t seen any official statements that this would be the case.

Therefore one of the official recommendations is that once the mobile-first indexing rollout happens, if you’re in the process of building your mobile site or have a “placeholder” type mobile version currently live it would actually be better to have no mobile site than a broken or incomplete one. In this case, you should wait to launch your mobile site until it is fully ready.

What if I don’t have a mobile version of my site?

If you don’t have a mobile version of your site and your desktop version is not mobile-friendly, your content can still be indexed; however you may not rank as well in comparison to mobile-friendly websites. This may even negatively impact your overall rankings on desktop search as well as mobile search results because it will be perceived as having a poorer user experience than other sites (since the crawler will be a “mobile” crawler).

What could happen to sites with a large desktop site and a small mobile site? Will content on your desktop site that does not appear on the mobile version be indexed and appear for desktop searches?

The end goal for this rollout is that the index will be based predominantly on crawling mobile content. If you have a heavily indexed desktop version, they’re not going to suddenly purge your desktop content from the existing index and start fresh with just your thin mobile site indexed; but the more you can ensure that your mobile version contains all relevant and valuable content, the more likely it is to continue to rank well, particularly as they cut back on crawling desktop versions of websites.

How does this change ranking factors and strategy going forward?

This may impact a variety of ranking factors and strategy in the future; Cindy Krum at Mobile Moxie has written two excellent articles on what could be coming in the future around this topic.

Cindy talks about the idea that mobile-first indexing may be “an indication that Google is becoming less dependent on traditional links and HTML URLS for ranking.” It seems that Google is moving away from needing to rely so much on a “URL” system of organizing content, in favor of a more API type approach based on “entities” (thanks, structured data!) rather than URL style links. Check out Cindy’s posts for more explanation of how this could impact the future of search and SEO.

Is there a difference between how responsive sites and separate mobile sites will be treated?

Yes and no. The main difference will be in terms of how much work you have to do to get ready for this change.

If you have a fully responsive site, you should already have everything present on your mobile version that is currently part of the desktop version, and your main challenge will simply be to ensure that the mobile experience is well optimized from a user perspective (e.g. page speed, load time, navigation, etc).

With a separate mobile site, you’ll need to make sure that your mobile version contains everything that your desktop site does, which could be a lot of work depending on your mobile strategy so far.

Will this change how I should serve ads/content/etc. on my mobile site?

If your current approach to ads is creating a slow or otherwise poor user experience you will certainly need to address that.

If you currently opt to hide some of your mobile site content in accordions or tabs to save space, this is actually not an issue as this content will be treated in the same way as if it was loaded fully visible (as long as the content is still crawlable/accessible).

Does this change how I use rel=canonical/switchboard tags?

No. For now, Google has stated that if you have already implemented switchboard tags, you should leave them as they are.


Has this overview helped you to feel more prepared for the shift to mobile-first indexing? Are there any questions you still have?

I’d love to hear what you’re thinking about in the comments!

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January 2, 2018  Tags: , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments



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