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‘Mobile First’ Depends on Total Mobile Audience

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Mobile first
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When Google announces, online publishers jump. When Google announces “mobile first” is the new mantra for high search rankings, should publishers jump again?

The answer is yes and no.

The answer is yes because all site publishers with a desire for high rankings should spend more time optimizing their sites for a pleasant mobile viewing experience.

The answer is no for sites that have strong desktop traffic and weak mobile traffic.

Mobile’s Middle Answer

“Jump” may be too strong a word. Yes and no are two endpoints on a spectrum. The answer, as always, lies somewhere in the middle.

The point is not whether to optimize a mobile version of a site for Google, Bing and other search engines. The point is how much effort should go into the optimization versus other priorities that produce more important results.

Personally, I let my WordPress theme and plugins do all of the work for mobile optimization for this site. I focus more mobile effort on another, more important project. It recently had total mobile visits exceed desktop visits for the first time. So the shift of attention is reasonable.

As always, good judgment and common sense should prevail over an obsession with doing whatever Google announces. Even that behemoth isn’t always right and can’t always explain the nuances in publishing that impact what we do.

Audience Numbers Guide Efforts

If nothing else, mobile first is a good idea if a site’s total mobile audience is greater than the desktop audience. Otherwise, it remains desktop first.

Even if the desktop audience is greater, it clearly is a mistake to ignore the mobile experience altogether.

So it’s best to keep an eye on the analytics and watch the ratio between a site’s desktop and mobile audiences. Prioritize time based on benefits and opportunities that fit the site. Increase attention to mobile as the mobile audience grows faster than desktop.

But it doesn’t end with just a comparison between total desktop audience and total mobile audience.

A deeper look at the analytics will show how each segment is performing overall.

A site with a mobile audience smaller than desktop may have a poor mobile design that is hampering return visitors or higher mobile rankings in search results.

Tracking the pages per visit is an easy way to judge the mobile design performance.

If the two platforms are comparable, the numbers indicate the designs are roughly equal in user experience.

If the mobile pages per visit are quite a bit lower than desktop, it is an indication that the mobile design has a problem.

Likewise, bounce rate and time on site metrics also reveal insights about mobile design performance.

Compare Search Rankings

The search engines make it easy to see how they perceive the difference between desktop and mobile designs.

Do a search on a site keyword in desktop mode to see where a page ranks. Then do the exact same search in mobile mode to see if the rank is the same.

Other factors impact the final rankings, but both searches should produce similar results. If they don’t, go into the webmaster tools that Bing and Google both offer to use those tools for more insights.

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