John McDougall, John Maher, and Pavel Khaykin of McDougall Interactive discuss the basic tools, plugins, and strategies for mobile optimization—an increasingly important field as more web searches take place on phones than on desktops. Learn what you can do to make your website as mobile–friendly as possible.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher, and this is Digital Marketing Madness. This podcast is brought to you by McDougall Interactive. We’re a digital marketing agency in Danvers, Massachusetts. Today I’m here with the president of McDougall Interactive, John McDougall. Welcome, John.
John McDougall: Hey, John.
John Maher: And also here is our VP of digital marketing, Pavel Khaykin. Hi, Pavel.
Pavel Khaykin: Hi, John.
John Maher: So today our topic is the beginner’s guide to mobile optimization. Back in May of 2015, Google said that more Google searches take place on mobile devices than on computers. I think it’s only gotten even more so since then. Google keeps saying that they’re going to make search mobile first, meaning that their ranking algorithm is going to be looking at whether your site is ranking on a mobile device first and then on a desktop secondary to that. Mobile is just becoming even more and more important as we go along.
So any opening thoughts on that John? Before we dive into some ways that you can help to make your site more mobile friendly and do optimization on your mobile site?
Mobile Optimization Overview
John McDougall: Well, I’ve been reading the Searchmetrics Ranking Factor Study and I’ll just read a little clip of it.
It says that “factors such as load time, file size, HTTPS encryption for shops, internal links, page architecture and mobile friendliness are elementary pieces of the puzzle in general; perfect technical implementation lays the foundation of breaking into the top 20, but long term success in the upper echelons of the first results page is achieved by offering content that matches the relevant user intention.”
So technical stuff like mobile optimization is really important, it’s not going to get you to number one in Google just because you load faster, or have a nice, responsive site. But it’s a prerequisite–you need that now as a foundation.
John Maher: Right. I’ve read the same report, and a few of the key things that I pulled out of that relating to mobile were that pages ranking on mobile devices are usually about a third smaller in terms of file size. We’re going to talk about file size and load times as well. Mobile pages load about a second more quickly than on desktop devices. Again, Google is looking at factors like how fast your pages load on mobile devices, and if your pages load too slow on a mobile device, they’re just not going to even put you in the results. It’s definitely really important.
John McDougall: And you had one of our clients just a week or two ago, Pavel–the security website that you’re working on–and they had a slow load time. But you were able to speed it up pretty quickly.
Pavel Khaykin: Yes. We definitely managed to make some great improvements. Before we started anything, the score was about maybe 55% to 60%, and with some [mobile] optimization using some WordPress specific plugins, we were able to get that up to, I think about 85% or so. It didn’t take too much work to get that accomplished because of good plugins that are available.
John McDougall: Sometimes it’s not even that hard, so it’s worth making an effort. Certainly for larger, more complex sites, it’s going to be a different story. John, what are one of the first tools that you should use to check and see if you’re mobile friendly?
Tools for Testing Your Mobile Optimization
John Maher: They got absolutely the first thing that you should do is just simply go to the Google Mobile Friendly Test. If you just search for that in Google, “Google mobile friendly test,” it shows up, of course, at number one. Just go to that site, you put in your URL, hit “Go,” and then it will analyze the page and spit back the result and tell you whether or not your page is mobile friendly.
One thing to note is that, it’s only testing that one page. So, if you put in your domain name, it’s going to check your home page and see whether or not it’s mobile friendly, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that all of your inner pages are mobile friendly as well. So, you want to make sure that you go and put some of your…especially your main category pages, your product pages, services pages, whatever–make sure that all of those are mobile friendly as well.
John McDougall: Rather than going one by one and putting everyone in there, you can use the Google Search Console, right, to dig up what Google thinks are issues.
John Maher: Right, so it used to be called Webmaster Tools, now it’s called the Google Search Console.
It’s a free tool, but you do have to sign up for it and it will give you some verification code that you have to put into your website to verify that you are the owner of the site. Then, it gives you lots of great information, and anybody who’s doing any kind of search engine optimization type of work for their website should be using the Google Search Console.
But in particular for mobile optimization, there is a tool in there called Mobile Usability. If you go to that report it will show you any errors that Google is picking up for your mobile usability on your site, and then any errors that you see you can go off and try to fix those.
John McDougall: Page by page you might dig in.
Mobile Optimization and Page Speed
John Maher: What are some of the next things that we should do?
John McDougall: One that I would just briefly chime in on is there are a couple of great quick tools to look at your page speed. GTmetrix, or Web Page Speed Test; just search for webpage speed test. When you put your url in–you’re just simply typing your url in…let’s start with GTmetrix.
You go to gtmetrix.com, you put in your url, and it will quickly give you a score: One prospect–I was looking at a bank website the other day–they had a score of an E and an F. Really low grades for the quality of their mobile speed. And then GTmetrix will give you a bunch of items, usually at the top, you’ll see the way you’re getting F’s. Maybe you’re not specifying the image dimensions of your images-
John Maher: –Your images are too big.
John McDougall: Your images too big. File size–
John Maher: You’re not using caching, all those kinds of factors.
John McDougall: So, it will just list those in order of the worst to the best and you take the one at the very top and you can have your developer work on those.
John Maher: And this is really important again because I think your page speed is probably one of the absolute most important factors in terms of your mobile site being optimized, other than it just actually displaying correctly on your mobile device which is where the Google Mobile Test comes in, the mobile friendly test. That’s more about if it is just displaying correctly on your device. That’s part of the most important things but next to that your page speed is absolutely the most important thing.
John McDougall: For that reason we don’t just use one tool. We use a few. I usually, just to get a quick glimpse, I look at GTmetrix and then I look at webpagetest.org.
Again, looking at this bank website the other day, it had a 14 second, over 14 second load time. Not good. It’s a brand new website too. They just launched it few months ago, so lots of technical errors; I won’t go into all the details but 301 redirect errors, their pages are not showing up right in the search results and they have a real slow load time. Way to go web design company. Don’t mean to dump on them but that’s not good. Those foundational elements for mobile [optimization] are going to really dictate whether you’re able to successfully do content marketing.
John Maher: Pavel, you said that the average load time is around six seconds or so, but I know for mobile you’re really looking for more like a three second load time if you possibly can, is that right?
Pavel: Yes, I would agree with that because if you don’t have a — If your site doesn’t load fast on mobile, people are just going to close out and move to the next one. So it’s more critical than ever to make sure your website loads fast and you’re able to really access it as quickly and as efficiently as possible.
WordPress Mobile Optimization
John Maher: So if your site is built on, say, WordPress, like a lot of websites are now–what are some of the things that you can do to help your page speed and your load time?
Pavel: Sure, so there are a lot of good — well I don’t want to say a lot but there are definitely a handful of good plug-ins that are available to optimize the speed of your website.
One of my favorite plug-ins is W3 Total Cache. The good news is that it’s free. But the kind of downside is that it does take a little bit of configuring to do. So you can definitely try installing it, but then I would advise that you work with a developer to make sure that the plug-in is configured correctly with your website, to make sure that all the settings are set up because what it does is basically consolidate all of your code. Your CSS code, your java script and consolidate it all into one — into smaller chunks to minimize the size of your webpage, and it does the same thing with your images.
With pretty much everything. There are a lot of different settings that you need to configure but it really has worked well. We’ve used them on a couple of clients and we’ve had great success. We were able to make really substantial improvements, taking the page speed from sometimes by three to four seconds in terms of improvement. That’s one plugin I love to use, another one is WP Smush It, so often times…
John Maher: It’s a great name, I like that.
Pavel: I love this plugin. Sometimes, webmasters who run WordPress, they’ll upload images but sometimes they would upload high definition images without compressing them first. And then, of course, those images would slow down your website and then your website will load slowly and you’ll wonder why and maybe everything else is fine. But your image maybe the cause of the problem because it’s so heavy and it brings down the speed.
This plugin, what it does is it takes all of your images and it compresses them automatically. Every time you upload a new image, it will compress that file and decrease it sometimes by as much as 70%, so that you don’t have worry about compressing it yourself. The plugin does all the work for you. But again it requires proper configuration to make sure that it does not break your website or you don’t create any additional issues. You have to be very careful how you configure those plugins so that they work collectively together to accomplish the goals.
Mobile Optimization for Non-WordPress Sites
John Maher: That’s great for WordPress, but not every website is built on WordPress. What can you do if your website is not on WordPress?
Pavel: That’s correct. I think in some cases you have to — again it’s more advanced tactics like using HTaccess behind the scenes to modify certain things, to make sure that compression is enabled or using a content delivery network like a CDN to try to improve your page speed. There are different things that can be accomplished but it really depends on the content management system that you’re using and it will vary. The approach you take will have to be guided by the developer working on the project.
John McDougall: Or even some manual stuff–just better optimizing your images before you upload them manually, having to go through old school.
Mobile Optimization in 2017
John Maher: John any final thoughts on where we are going with mobile optimization as we get into 2017?
John McDougall: As we said, it’s a technical foundation that you have to lay so that your website is on good ground before your start doing content marketing. Without a good footing you really can’t do the rest of the classic content marketing items, and then podcast and videos and things that are mobile-
John Maher: Moble content.
John McDougall: -yes, content that’s easier to check out on mobile. Long form content tends to rank better, especially now. Google really likes over a thousand words; maybe 1300 – 1500 words is really nice for a blog post or even a service page on your website to impress Google that you’ve really covered that topic well.
But with that said, on a phone you might not be as likely to sit there and use your index finger on your iPhone and read 2500 words. The world is going quite a bit to video and podcasts and things where you should have at least a good chunk of that content for the people that are even on a phone, not just a tablet. I will say mobile optimization isn’t just load time and file size and all these geeky things: it’s giving good content that people would want to check out on the phone.
John Maher: All right, great advice. John McDougall, thanks again for speaking with me today.
John McDougall: Absolutely.
John Maher: Pavel Khaykin, you as well.
Pavel Khaykin: Thanks, John.
John Maher: For more information about digital marketing. Visit mcdougallinteractive.com and please subscribe, rate and review this podcast on iTunes. Thanks for listening, I’m John Maher, see you next time on Digital Marketing Madness.