Google is relentless. They make changes so fast and with so little warning that sometimes even as a Google Partnered agency we call our Account Support Agents and they have to put us on hold to get more info on what we call about. In the past there was a breather in-between release notes and the actual date of the release. When Google announced that it would be enforcing HTTPS for websites, they gave everyone a full year to prepare and get sites transitioned. In July of this year this developer post was made about upcoming page speed insight changes. Page speed insights is a way to test the technical optimization of your website along with information on potential user experience issues. Before November 2018 it looked like this:
Then early November 2018 it changed to look like it does now when it became hosted by Lighthouse.
This change included a much more specific and detailed analysis of your sites speed and what was slowing it down. Unfortunately, just a week later they flipped the most heavily emphasized mobile requirements to the top, and subsequently crushed 99% of all mobile scores into the red.
A red mobile optimization score doesn’t mean that your site can’t rank well for searches, but it also is a confirmed factor in how Google determines your site authority. So how do you bounce back? Here’s some steps.
1. Recognize that Mobile and Desktop are now viewed separately.
When Google announced March 26th, 2018 that it would be using Mobile First Indexing, things got really serious for businesses who didn’t have mobile friendly websites. One of the most important distinctions between agencies that do fake SEO or real SEO is that they give you reporting on both. One of the first things that many clients realize is that they rank well for many keywords and phrases on desktop only to rank for a very small percentage of those on mobile. Since mobile screens are smaller, there’s less room to be visible in these searches. This means you have to have a different strategy for mobile than desktop. Mobile searches now constitute 63% of all web traffic. This means that unless you are a very specific niche business, mobile needs to be your priority, not the after-thought. In the July Google blog post they even mention that for the longest time, desktop was the main variable for ranking. That is no longer the case, and as traffic shifts more and more to mobile, you can either watch your traffic die or become more focused on smaller device experiences.
2. Speed Emphasis Factors have changed.
Some of the factors like compression and render blocking resources have always been on the list, but suddenly they are weighted very heavily. In addition Google is now preparing for the future (and the fact that safari-chrome are the overwhelmingly most used browsers) and asking everyone to deliver images in next gen formats.
Unless you deal with image formats a lot, this one will probably make you scratch your head. So does this mean that you need to replace all the images on your site with different formats? Unfortunately, yes, if you want to increase your score. This can be accomplished by hosting copies of your images in other formats and pointing to those for mobile devices instead of what is currently being served. Compression and render blocking resources are now also weighted heavily, almost to the point where you have no flexibility. All images and code have to be compressed and minified substantially. It was just suggestion before, now it’s being enforced. The good (or bad) thing is that if you are receiving a low score, the new pagespeed insights will give you great detail about which items on the site are the issue.
3. User Experience Above ALL ELSE.
Google’s mission statement is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” I always mention this because it’s the reason all the changes are made, why certain things are given priority and ultimately why you will or won’t rank for things. If you consider it, then it makes sense; more people use mobile devices than desktop, so the priority is mobile. Relevance is the most important thing your business can have. If you aren’t selling or offering something that the market wants, then you won’t survive. Next, if you have a comparable product to a competitor but they do a better job at educating and delivering info to customers than you, you lose. Google also has to plan for the future so that everyone doesn’t have to rebuild their websites every year. Putting systems in place that are flexible for the next several years is well worth the investment for every business’s digital presence.
4. E-commerce and Feeds are tough.
Ultimately, everything e-commerce is going to be heavy because there are a lot of moving parts and images. In the same way, feeds (like instagram) include elements that can’t be modified easily and Google isn’t going to like it. Again, this makes sense because Google wants sites to be fast, easy to use, full of information and fluid. There’s a million ways that e-commerce can break these rules. Fixing this generally comes down to not loading a ton of items or heavy items on the home page. Use of icons and spreading the content on other pages will really help lower the load times. Also consider not including social media feeds at all. Having a low pagespeed score as one of these types of sites is normal (for now). Getting into the average range as e-commerce takes some significant planning and resource management.
5. PageSpeed isn’t the end all.
The most important part of any website is the content. If the content is really good, you’re still going to rank well. The issue is that so many sites have very little content or content that’s not engaging. It is my feeling that in the future we will see SEO become more broadly split between the technical part (like pagespeed optimization) and the content side (like link building and article submission). Don’t optimize your site once and then just leave it. Worse than that, don’t pay someone to “optimize” your site for them to install a couple plug ins and call it a year. Instead be concerned about how you site reacts daily and allow it to have the tools to change as requirements change. Focus on how your customers are best served, not how you want them to use your website. There are all kinds of techniques that we use to watch user behavior; Google Analytics, heat mapping, recordings, funnels, etc. Then we can use this data to make your site very user and mobile friendly.
It is nearly impossible for anyone except those in the industry to keep up with all the changes that are happening. I can’t stress enough how irrelevant an agency will become if they aren’t spending time daily evaluating the landscape and changes happening digitally. Our goal is to future proof your website so that it keeps on producing the most Google and user friendly environment possible. It doesn’t do you any good to focus on one set of updates only to lose half your traffic at the next algorithm change. Wonder what your current scores are ? Here’s the test link.
Have a question about SEO or how it works in late 2018 let’s start a conversation and get you the traffic that’s already yours.