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Google’s ‘Mobilegeddon’ Forces Emphasis On Site Design And Performance

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AVP site only Catchpoint head shotThe recent buzz surrounding “Mobilegeddon” (or in less dramatic terms, Google’s adjustment of its mobile search algorithm to include “mobile friendliness” as a search ranking factor) has created quite a stir in the Internet universe. Specifically, the search giant has reevaluated this algorithm to reflect the current state of the mobile Internet and recent advancements in mobile devices. So web administrators are now scrambling to make their sites more “mobile friendly” in order to remain as high as possible in Google’s mobile search rankings.

The mobile friendliness of a site can be determined in several ways, depending on the search engine. Considering that Google is the most popular search engine in the world—according to DigitalTrends.com, Google occupies 68.75 percent of the global search engine traffic — it’s sensible, some would say mandatory, to abide by its criteria. The publicly-available Google criteria for mobile friendliness include:

  • Avoiding software that is not common on mobile devices, like Flash

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  • Using text that is readable without zooming

  • Sizing content to fit the screen so users don’t have to scroll horizontally or zoom

  • Positioning links far enough apart for easy accessibility

The majority of these rules are related to site design, despite the fact that in 2010 Google declared that performance — or, a site’s download speed and availability — would be factored into search ranking results for desktop websites. As the use of mobile browsing expands rapidly, it is safe to assume that performance will become a factor in mobile site search rankings as well. However, Google has been a bit cryptic when it comes to addressing the specifics that site performance plays in its new mobile algorithm.

While high-performing mobile sites were not formally listed in Google’s initial criteria, the company lists slow loading sites as one of several “common mistakes” made in implementing mobile SEO. There are also rumors stating that a site’s desktop performance was already factored into the new mobile site search algorithm. Regardless of if or when Google factors mobile site performance into mobile search rankings, one thing we do know is they are obsessed with web speed. So organizations must focus intently on optimizing mobile site performance, as strong mobile site experiences are the by-product of not just design optimizations, but performance optimizations as well.

This means that even if an organization has designed its site perfectly for mobile use, if end users find it slow to download or can’t access it, they’ll quickly abandon it – no matter how high the site shows up in mobile search rankings. Conversely, even the fastest, most reliable mobile site will lose out substantially, if it gets relegated to a page two search ranking. So clearly, mobile site design and performance optimization are two pieces of the mobile SEO puzzle that must go hand-in-hand.

There are a handful of strategies that have been proven to improve mobile performance; these include Adaptive and Responsive page designs. On the performance side, tactics for maximizing mobile speed include:

  • Decrease number of bytes;

  • Minimize number of requests;

  • Reduce third-party presence;

  • Limit domain sharing to two; and

  • Deliver static content from a CDN.

Additionally, organizations should pay equal attention to strong desktop performance as part of a holistic, integrated performance strategy for their online properties. Here, additional precautionary steps for desktop site performance optimization include:

  • Lighten up page design;

  • Asynchronously load third-party provider tags (non-CDN);

  • Optimize infrastructure performance; and

  • Defer loading of JavaScript.

It’s clear that remaining in Google’s mobile search good-graces is important. Still in many ways, Google remains “the man behind the curtain” and we can’t assume that the “mobile friendly” criteria currently declared represent the full – or future – details of its secret sauce. Today’s end users, both mobile and desktop, see slow page speed and unavailability as absolute deal-breakers and will go to a competitor’s site without thinking twice. Therefore, creating a performance-centric environment is just as crucial to mobile strategy and success as strong mobile site design.


Leo Vasiliou is the Director of Web Performance Engineering at Catchpoint Systems, a specialist in website performance (speed and availability) monitoring. Vasiliou contributes extensively to Catchpoint’s Blog at http://blog.catchpoint.com/, covering the topic of web performance.  Prior to joining Catchpoint, he ran large, complex performance programs and IAC’s Search and Media Business.

 

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