Is your site mobile-friendly? Now your SEO depends on it!

Google made very large waves recently by announcing that the mobile-friendliness of your site is going to significantly impact search results. From the Official Google Webmasters Blog:

“Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.”

In the rest of the post, Google recommends that you use Webmaster Tools to make your site more mobile-friendly. How do you get started doing this?

First, log into Webmaster Tools and find the Mobile Usability report in your site’s settings:


What you ideally want to see is this:


What you are more likely to see is this:


Above is the Marketing Over Coffee site. It’s got some problems. Let’s look at them.

The first problem is that it lacks a viewport definition. This is a simple HTML fix that can be done in your website’s theme or code. Google has simple, explicit instructions on how to fix the viewport here, but it’s literally a matter of just adding a line or two of code to your website’s design to start. You can then go and tweak it later; the bare minimum will meet their standards for usability.

The second problem is small font size. Google’s definition of small font size is body text under 16 CSS pixels (roughly 12-point fonts). Anything smaller than that is going to get flagged. Have your website designer or developer adjust your fonts accordingly. Full recommendations on fonts can be found here.

The third problem is touch elements are too close. Google defines this as any significant touchable element (buttons, etc.) on site that are less than 48 CSS pixels wide and there should be a border of at least 32 CSS pixels between touchable elements on page. This is less easy to fix and will, for most people, require your designer’s help to get right. (if you need a great design team, we have one at my employer, SHIFT Communications) If in doubt, make buttons big and leave lots of space around them. Here are the rest of the touch elements guidelines.

The last problem is Flash. Google has said for a while Flash is bad. It looks like, from an SEO perspective, you’ll be penalized for its usage. Remove it and replace it with HTML5 options instead. Got video on site? Switch out your proprietary Flash player with something from Vimeo or YouTube. Got audio on site? Switch out from Flash to Soundcloud’s HTML5 player.

If you want your site to rank well, follow Google’s guidelines. Ignore them at your organic search traffic’s peril. You have until April 21, 2015 to make your decision!

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Use Google Webmaster Tools to fix missing content marketing

The most under-used and under-rated tool in the entire SEO and content marketing sphere is Google’s Webmaster Tools. The reasons why it’s so under appreciated stem largely from it being a technical tool that’s not especially friendly to use. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll find no substitute for all it can do.

Today, let’s look at how you might be missing content in Google’s eyes. Start by going to Webmaster Tools, and if you haven’t already set up a free account, do so. Once you’re all set up, find your website:


On the home screen for your website, you should be presented with 3 boxes:


Box [1] tells you if your site has serious technical problems. We’ll skip that for now, but if you don’t see 3 green check marks, you’re in a heck of a lot of trouble and should call tech support right away.

Box [2] tells you how often your website is appearing in search results, and how often you’re getting the click. We’ll save this part for another time.

Box [3] is what you should be concerned about as a content marketer. The red and blue bars should be nearly identical, as you see above. This means that of the URLs you’ve submitted to Google in your sitemap, it knows about virtually all of them. That’s a good feeling as a content marketer, because it means that your chances of appearing in search are high.

Suppose you had a Box [3] that looked like this:


This is a serious problem. Google is only aware of 15% of the site’s total URLs. This means that 85% of the pages on this site aren’t being indexed by Google. If you’re a content marketer and you discovered that 85% of your work was effectively invisible to the world, you probably wouldn’t feel great, would you?

How do you remedy this? You’d begin by building a new sitemap. Tools like Screaming Frog or Scrutiny can help you build a new sitemap, and there are plenty of services online that will do it as well. Once you’ve got a new sitemap, upload it to your website’s server:


Then load it in Webmaster Tools:


This will give Google a chance to evaluate all of the content you’ve created and index it.

Content that no one can find does you no good. Don’t let technical issues devalue the hard work you do! Check out Webmaster Tools and find out if your content marketing has gone missing in action.

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Social Media SEO Signals are Drowning in Ice Cream

Social media does not drive SEO.

At a recent PR News SEO and Google Tools Conference, several of the presenters made reference to studies done by SEO tool vendors about social media driving search results. These studies are surveys of SEO professionals; SEO folks are asked what they believe are the most important contributing factors to a site’s organic search performance.

By itself, there’s nothing wrong with the data. Here’s one example from SearchMetrics, in which 7 of the 10 top ranking signals are social media-based:


What conclusion might you draw from this? At the conference, presenters on stage and members of the audience drew the conclusion that social media drives search traffic. They drew the conclusion that to rank well in search, you must post your content on social media.


Yet Google’s head of web spam, Matt Cutts, openly said that social media signals are not taken into account in Google’s search algorithm.

So why the confusion?

This is a clear case of marketers not understanding correlation. All these studies are correlations only. Before we dig into why the conclusion is wrong, let’s revisit ice cream and drowning. If you were to look in any public health database, you’d notice a strong correlation between the amount of ice cream people eat and the number of people who drown. The surface conclusion you might jump to is that ice cream causes drowning, right?

Of course not. Common sense says there’s an underlying variable: temperature.

As temperatures go up, people go swimming.
People eat ice cream.
The more people swim, the more people drown.

Very few drowning deaths occur in the middle of winter.

You could likely find similar data that shows a strong relationship between deaths due to hypothermia and hot cocoa consumption.

Let’s revisit social media ranking signals. What might be the underlying variable that we’re forgetting? The currencies of SEO are inbound links. The more high quality links you get to your website, the better you rank. Is it reasonable to assume that high quality content gets great links? Yes! Is it also reasonable to assume that high quality content gets shared? Yes! Does that mean social sharing drives SEO? Absolutely not. It’s just an indicator of quality content.

The lesson that attendees at the conference should have taken away was to create content so great that people can’t help but link to it and share it vigorously. Disabuse yourself of the notion that social drives SEO in any way until we hear the official word from search engines to the contrary.

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