SMX Israel 2014: the future of mobile SEO is here

On January 26, SMX came to Israel again for the third time, and as usual it was great. Lunch was delicious, the wi-fi mostly worked, and there were so many great speakers. It was also cool seeing all the participants who flew in from around the world, and based on write-ups that I saw, they had a great time here! Hope you come again next year, international SEOs!

I was privileged to speak again, this time on one of my (latest) favorite topics: mobile SEO.

The mobile SEO panel consisted of myself and the world’s most famous webmaster, Google’s John Mueller, moderated by Barry Schwartz, the conference organizer. John spoke about Google’s guidelines and recommendations for mobile, particularly related to creating responsive websites vs. m-dot (like versions of a site that are generally standalone. The audience had lots of questions for him about proper implementation in various use cases, and his answers were really useful.

My presentation is below, but first here is an overview of the points I made:

The mobile future is now

And I have lots of shiny graphs in the presentation to prove it. Like this one:

60% of online devices are smartphones and tablets

Why responsive? Because Google said so?

Why is responsive the recommended method for mobile sites? Google saying so isn’t enough of a reason (even though it’s a pretty good reason). But we have to ask why Google prefers responsive. Is it because it’s better for them (easier to index) or because it’s better for the user? I go through the pros and cons of responsive design in slide 8. For example: responsive sites have one URL which makes it easier to share and track analytics, but many are too slow due to poor handling of images and Javascript.

I gave some tips on creating useful responsive sites, including offering users the to toggle between responsive and desktop versions of sites so they aren’t forced to see only the responsive version on their mobile devices.

Does a responsive site have an impact on SEO?

I presented a case study of a site that we redid with responsive design. In general, overall stats went up. Most impressive was the increase of 139% in mobile organic traffic. There is not clear causation here since the increase may be due to the overall improvement to usability on the site. But still.

Tablets: don’t over-optimize for them

Too many site owners get all excited about mobile and create stripped down, mobile versions of their sites for tablets. Don’t! You can streamline some things, but tablet users use sites in a similar fashion to desktop users, and spend a similar amount of time on sites, which is good for you and better than smartphone users who jump in and out…so don’t mess with that! Embrace it and leave well enough alone. I showed an example of an over-optimized tablet site: Renault Israel. The desktop site is not great (why is the title tag on the page that lists the models “Range cars”?!), but the tablet site is just painful. Ow.

Page on the Renault Israel website
Want more information about our cars? They come in colors? Oh you wanted to know about air bags and important things like that? You’ll have to visit our desktop site. On your laptop. Because you can’t see it here on your tablet.

The future is mobile first, with app-like websites

I finished off by talking about the difference in user behavior between apps and responsive mobile sites. Smartphone users spend 80% of the time using apps, and only 20% of the time in browsers. The reason: apps are designed for mobile users first, while responsive sites are modified desktop versions, and are often slow, clunky and unwieldy. So I believe that the future of mobile sites is some kind of hybrid that bridges the advantages of responsive (one URL, future-proof, etc.) with the extreme usability of mobile apps.

Here’s my presentation:

You can see all the presentations from SMX Israel here: Barry has rounded-up all the post-event posts that were written here: