FIR On Technology, Episode 4 - How To Make Your Website Mobile-Friendly

FIR On Technology logoHow do you make your website “mobile-friendly”? Given Google’s impending April 21, 2015, deadline to start using mobile-friendliness as a ranking factor for mobile search results, what can you do both in the short-term and in the longer-term to both provide the best experience for mobile users - and also retain your Google search result ranking?

In this fourth episode of “FIR On Technology” Dan York explains what you need to be thinking about with regard to “responsive design” of your website, outlines some of the resources Google offers to help, and explains several of the options you have to make your site mobile-friendly.  During the episode Dan discusses the following sites:

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The music for the intro and outro is “Early Warning” from Mark Knox and is used with his permission.

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Google Says Make Your Site Mobile-Friendly By April 21 - Or Drop In Search Results

Mobile friendly testIs your website "mobile-friendly"? Does it display nicely on a mobile device such as an iPhone, iPad, Android or other smart phone? If not, you have until April 21 to make it mobile-friendly... or you will suffer a drop in Google search results!

In a February 26 post on Google's Webmaster Central Blog, Google very clearly indicated their direction (my emphasis added):

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.

Google does not often clearly state what signals it uses for ranking search results... but here they are.

Get "mobile-friendly" ... or drop in search ranking for mobile searches!

This last point is important - they say the mobile-friendly status will be used as a ranking status for mobile searches. I interpret this to mean that if your site is not mobile-friendly you might still rank highly in searches from regular computers/laptops/desktops, but your ranking would decrease in searches from mobile devices.

However, given how many people are now using mobile devices to access the Internet... and how that trend continues to increase over time... NOT having a mobile-friendly site is going to impact people being able to get to your site.

UPDATE: I also recorded an audio podcast, "FIR On Technology, Episode 4 - How To Make Your Website Mobile-Friendly" about this topic. More information and links can be found on that page.

Tools To Help

To help with the transition to a mobile-friendly web, Google has provided several tools. First, they have a "Mobile-Friendly Test" tool at:

It will analyze your site and tell you if you are "mobile-friendly" in Google's view (which is presumably what they will use in the ranking signals).

Second, Google has a guide to creating mobile-friendly websites at:

A key section here is:

where they explain options you have to make your site mobile-friendly.

Moving To A New Theme

In some cases, such as this Disruptive Conversations site that is still hosted on TypePad, my only choice is to move to a new "theme" that uses "responsive design". I've already done this with, but haven't yet done that here (but I will before April 21). This can be a larger process if you want to continue to use your existing style and design.

With other content management systems (CMSs) such as WordPress, Drupal and Joomla, you can also move to mobile-friendly themes as there are many available. When I've been creating new sites on WordPress in the past year or two I've made sure that all the themes I've been using have had "responsive design" as one of their attributes.

Using A Plugin

With some of the CMSs, there may be plugins that can help you make your site mobile-friendly without changing the theme. For instance, with WordPress, there are two that I've used to make sites mobile-friendly:

Both of those plugins essentially provide a responsive-design theme that gets used for your site when a mobile device connects to your site. You may not have all the design capabilities that you would have in having your main theme be responsive (in terms of having the mobile theme look like your main theme), but these plugins provide a quick way to get your site to be "mobile-friendly".

Other CMSs may have similar plugins, modules or extensions - you need to check with your CMS. Google's guide has links to help you get started.

Other Options

If you don't use a CMS or your CMS doesn't offer mobile-friendly themes or plugins... well... you may want to consider moving to a CMS that offers such capabilities (although that can be a huge task). Or you can read up on the principles of "responsive design" and see what you can apply to your website.

Getting To A Mobile-Friendly Web

The end result out of all of this will be a mobile-friendly web... and as all the millions and billions of new users come on to the Internet odds are pretty good that they will be using mobile devices, so the good news is that your content will be readily accessible on all those devices.

The bad news is that you may have some work to do between now and April 21 if you haven't already made your site mobile-friendly. (Well, assuming you care about ranking highly in Google search results - but if you are reading this site you probably do!)

If you've needed a deadline to make this happen... here it is!

Get mobile-friendly by April 21... or watch your Google search ranking drop!

An audio commentary on this topic is available:

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Google Now Lets You Handwrite Search Queries On iPad, iPhone, Android

Google handwritingOkay, I admittedly find this pretty cool... you can now enter search queries into Google on a tablet or mobile phone just by writing anywhere on the screen!

As Google's blog post outlines, you need to go to on your mobile device and then go into the Settings to configure this option. You do NOT need to sign in to Google. You just need to go there in your mobile web browser.

I've tested this on both my iPad and iPhone and found it worked quite well (per the blog post and Help Center page, it also works on Android phones and tablets - and is available in 27 languages). I find it particularly useful on the iPad where you have the larger screen to write on. On the iPhone, maybe my fingers are just too big but I found it tight to write in the regular portrait mode.

I did notice, though, that you can enter one or two letters, pause, then enter another letter or two... and as you do the search window is updated with what Google thinks the text should be as well as search query suggestions. So you may just be able to write a few letters and then tap the correct search suggestion.

Now, the question, of course, is WHY I find this interesting and the answer is that I have had some times when I'm in situations where it's not super easy to type nor do I want to be talking to my phone (i.e. using Siri). With the iPad, in particular, there are times I'm holding it while walking around at an event where typing with two hands would not be easy and voice usage isn't really possible. I could see this potentially being faster than hunt-and-peck typing a query using one hand. Will I use it all the time? No... but certainly I can see it being nice to have this option.

What's also interesting about this feature is that it requires you to go to "". It doesn't work with the "search" box that is in the top of Mobile Safari in iOS. You need to go to Google's home page... so Google is pulling you out of using the app (Safari) and into using their web page. If you get used to doing that, Google can of course introduce other functionality - and if you are "signed in" you see your Google+ notifications and can easily access other Google services. Intriguing move by Google.

What do you think? Will you use this capability on your iPad, iPhone or Android device?

P.S. Alas, it is not as all-powerful as TechCrunch asserts with an ability to interpret cursive handwriting. I made several attempts at using cursive and found that in some cases the accuracy was "okay", but clearly not as good as block printing. In fact, Google's Tips for Handwrite very clearly state at the beginning that you should use block printing versus cursive.

And here is Google's video on the topic:

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Must Read Piece from SEOmoz: "Duplicate Content in a Post-Panda World"

Duplicatecontent seomoz

What is the impact of "duplicate content" on the search engine ranking of your web content? What are the different ways you can wind up with duplicate content? And perhaps most importunely, how can you correct the issue?

Over at the SEOmoz "Daily SEO Blog", Dr. Pete has written a truly MUST-READ piece for anyone working with web content:

Duplicate Content in a Post-Panda World

It is a LONG, comprehensive piece that explains how Google's recent "Panda" update impacts scoring of "duplicate content" and what you can do about it. He covers:

  1. What is Duplicate Content?
  2. Why Do Duplicates Matter?
  3. Three Kinds of Duplicates
  4. Tools for Fixing Duplicates
  5. Examples of Duplicate Content
  6. Which URL is Canonical?
  7. Tools for Diagnosing Duplicates

The article has a great series of examples and links out to all sorts of resources to learn more. Although SEO has been part of what I've done for many years, I definitely learned a few new things from this piece. It's definitely worth a read!

Kudos to "Dr. Pete" for writing - and sharing - such a useful piece.

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Video: Google's Matt Cutts on "Cloaking" and Why It Is Bad

Matt Cutts at Google recently posted this useful video explaining what "cloaking" is ... and why it is bad for both the user experience and also for SEO / search engine results. He also explains how cloaking is different from providing distinct content for mobile audiences versus regular visitors.

I'll admit that I've never had enough interest in "gaming" Google to go to the desperate measure of this kind of cloaking... but obviously people are out there and doing it:

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Content Creators Rejoice! Google Takes Action To Kill Off Content Farms

C'est moi l'plus beau

For those of us who spend our time creating content online (as I do) and strive to make that content of the best quality and of value to people, the rise of so-called "content farms" has been an annoying feature of the online landscape: both the networks of sites that simply scrape our content and surround it in ads... and the networks of sites that churn out incredibly large quantities of low-grade content that is optimized for SEO so that their pages can rank highly and get eyeballs to their pages and their ads.

For we who strive to create "high quality" content, the spammers and content farmers were annoying in that Google search results seemed to feature these sites (because they were trying to game Google) when our higher quality was ranked lower.

The good news is that as they threatened earlier, the folks at Google stated that they have changed their ranking algorithm to de-value low quality sites. That is to say... they are aiming to hit the spammers and content farmers at their critical reason for being: search engine result placement.

From Google's blog post, with my own emphasis added:

But in the last day or so we launched a pretty big algorithmic improvement to our ranking—a change that noticeably impacts 11.8% of our queries—and we wanted to let people know what’s going on. This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.

We can’t make a major improvement without affecting rankings for many sites. It has to be that some sites will go up and some will go down. Google depends on the high-quality content created by wonderful websites around the world, and we do have a responsibility to encourage a healthy web ecosystem. Therefore, it is important for high-quality sites to be rewarded, and that’s exactly what this change does.

Yet to be seen is exactly what they do and how they tweak the algorithms... there will always be an arms race, I fear, between the search engines like Google and those who want to try to game the system.

Regardless, the move is welcome!

Many articles written about this today... some I liked include:

Bring on the changes, Google! We who spend our time striving to create high quality content welcome them.

Image credit: rgs_ on Flickr

UPDATE, Feb 26: There have been a number of articles out there seeking to show the actual impact of this change. One of the best I've seen is this post from SISTRIX that shows the 25 biggest losers according to the research they've done.

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Google: We *will* kill search engine spam! (and devalue content farms)

SPAM Shrine
What is Google going to do about the perception that there are more "spam" sites in search results? What will Google do about content farms?

On Friday, Matt Cutts at Google published a great piece entitled "Google search and search engine spam that is worth reading for all involved in online content creation. Somewhat predictably, he starts out pointing out that in truth there is less spam in search results than there used to be... but then he clearly accepts the "perception equals reality" mantra and lays out what they are looking to do about it.

This part was interesting, particularly the last line:

To respond to that challenge, we recently launched a redesigned document-level classifier that makes it harder for spammy on-page content to rank highly. The new classifier is better at detecting spam on individual web pages, e.g., repeated spammy words—the sort of phrases you tend to see in junky, automated, self-promoting blog comments. We’ve also radically improved our ability to detect hacked sites, which were a major source of spam in 2010. And we’re evaluating multiple changes that should help drive spam levels even lower, including one change that primarily affects sites that copy others’ content and sites with low levels of original content.

This issue of people copying others' content continues to be an annoyance to me, particularly because content scrapers keep scraping a lot of Voxeo's old content. Anything that can reduce the value in people doing that is a win by me!

Similarly, there are a great number of sites out there operating as "content farms" that just spew out large quantities of low-grade content with the idea that they will increase your SEO/search engine results. Matt Cutts takes them on, too:

As “pure webspam” has decreased over time, attention has shifted instead to “content farms,” which are sites with shallow or low-quality content. In 2010, we launched two major algorithmic changes focused on low-quality sites. Nonetheless, we hear the feedback from the web loud and clear: people are asking for even stronger action on content farms and sites that consist primarily of spammy or low-quality content.

For those of us who are actually spending the time to create quality content online, this is definitely good news.

He ends with a note that Google does not take into account whether or not sites run Google advertising when it is taking action against those sites. I'm inclined to believe them on this point, because at the end of the day, Google's a pretty geeky, hard-core technology company... and Search rules.

It's good to see Google come out with a clear statement like this... and I look forward to seeing what actions they take.

And for us who are creating online content, it's important to monitor whatever changes they make so that we don't wind up inadvertantly having our content somehow devalued amidst the changes.

Image credit: arndog on Flickr

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Want to get blog comment spam? Perhaps get on the first page of Google search results

It seems that a quick way to get a blog post loaded up with spam comments is to get it up on the first page of Google search engine results. Or at least, that's how it appears to me.

Recently I started getting a lot of comment spam, almost daily, on one specific post I wrote on, a blog where I write about programming and other developer topics. It puzzled me because that particular post was really just an embed of a video and wasn't very deep or detailed. A trip into Google Analytics, though, showed that a significant driver of the traffic to that post were the Google search keywords "learning node.js" and "learning nodejs". So I popped those into Google and sure enough, there I was... #5 for "node.js":

learning node.js - Google Search.jpg

And #3 if you drop the period and do "nodejs":

learning nodejs - Google Search.jpg

So perhaps, I thought, that was the reason that post attracted the comment spam when none of the other posts did...

But that doesn't really answer it to me. When I head over to the AdWords Keyword Tool, the reality is that pretty much almost no one is searching on those particular terms! So even though my post may place highly in the results, it doesn't really matter because only a trivial number of people are actually searching for that term.

I should note, too, that none of the blog comment spam had anything whatsoever to do with Node.js. It was all the typical comment spam linking to various silly products... watches, pharmaceutical products, websites, etc.

In the end, I don't know... perhaps some comment spammer is trying to post comments on blogs that have long-tail terms related to topics getting buzz these days. ("Node.js" is a hot topic in developer circles right now.) Perhaps that particular post just got tweeted or retweeted and caught someone's attention.

On one level, it doesn't much matter to me, since I moderate all comments from people who haven't commented before. So the comments are going live on my site... it's more just the annoyance of having them come in (and a number of them are not getting caught by Akismet).

Still, it's a curiousity... why that post? I'll probably never know...

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SEOMoz: The Social Media Marketer's SEO Checklist

seomoz.jpgWhat should the social media marketer care about with regard to Search Engine Optimization (SEO)? How can you tweak your blog posts and other social media marketing to obtain the best search engine results?

Those are the questions addressed today by Jen Lopez in a great post over on SEOMoz entitled "The Social Media Marketer's SEO Checklist". She makes a key point right at the beginning (my emphasis added):

Normally in the SEO world, links are like money in that the larger the bill (more authority), the more powerful it is. So for a long time, most SEOs blew off links from social sites like Twitter and Facebook since they didn't have much direct SEO value because the links are almost always nofollowed. Now that we know that Google and Bing use Twitter and Facebook to influence regular search results, it's time to start thinking about how the person in charge of Social Media can start to think like an SEO as well.

The post itself is loaded with links to learn more about SEO and various related topics and strategies.

It's a great post and one that anyone working with social media should read. (The comments are good to read, too.)

Thanks, Jen, for writing this piece!

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My Report into the FIR podcast - November 29, 2010

Sent in my regular weekly 5-minute report this morning for today's "For Immediate Release" podcast episode. In today's report I discussed:

The episode will be available for your listening pleasure from the FIR web site later today.

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