Archives for March 2015 | Aqueous Digital

Archive for “March, 2015”

Which will Google rank better, great content or mobile responsive?

Over the past couple of days there has been an enormous amount of additional content written about the upcoming change to the way Google ranks websites in mobile search. Much of what I have read adds little to the debate and in many cases it is so wrong it is dangerous.

As an example I had to comment yesterday on an article which said that “From April 21, websites not optimised for mobile phone or tablet use will be removed from the results of any search being made via a mobile device.” To be fair the author did subsequently change the wording when I pointed out that Google had said no such thing but it is a clear example of how a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

This confusion has been fuelled even further by reports that a Google employee said at a recent conference in the USA that this update would be bigger than Panda and Penguin which of course was enough to set the hares coursing. Before you know it bloggers all over the place are writing that ‘the sky is falling’ and that the world as we know it will end on 21st April.


So let’s try and put some context on all of this and figure out what is likely to happen and what action needs to be taken.

The starting point is to decide how much of your organic search traffic initiates from mobile searches. You can find this in Google Analytics and the result might surprise you. In the case of our own website the figure is that less than 5% of all traffic is coming from mobile organic searches.

Bear in mind here that Google is NOT changing their normal desktop search results, only those for mobiles which means that we are only talking about searches which people make on a mobile for something other than your company name.

Fact number one, therefore, is that in the case of our website we are talking about less than 5% of our total traffic. On checking various non e-commerce client websites this figure stacks up rather well.

Ecommerce websites however, are far more variable with the range across all our clients being from 4% to 38% however given that many of them run PPC campaigns already then they are already mobile optimised.

The next myth to bust wide open and the subject of this post is what will Google rank better next month, great content or mobile optimised sites?

My personal view is that Google’s prime aim is to deliver the best search results to any query that is entered into it. At its heart, it is still a search engine or given the number of knowledge boxes it now presents, an answers engine.

No one has yet been able to accurately articulate what would happen if, for example, someone searched for a query on their mobile where the very best answer on the planet is on a non-responsive website. Would Google present the very best answer as the top result even though the site is non-responsive or would it put a mobile responsive website that does not answer the search query properly at the top of the search results?

I have yet to see a clear answer to this from anyone and I guess the reason they haven’t answered it is that it will be based on a huge range of criteria. Logically however the better user experience is to find the right answer to the search query even if it takes a bit of pinching and zooming.

The alternative argument however is that from a Google perspective mobile usability is a search quality issue. If Google users end up on a page that looks poor and/or fails to provide information in easy-to-view manner on their device, then that page is really not the best match despite having the best information*.

So Fact two is that there is no clear answer to this question right now. Anyone who tells you otherwise and isn’t a member of Google’s staff is probably guessing.

All of which leaves us with the $64,000 question of ‘what should I do right now?’ Well as Douglas Adams one so eloquently put it;


The very first thing you should do is to check how your site performs on Google’s Mobile Friendly Test as this is the benchmark against which you need to decide on action.

Remember that as we are talking exclusively about Google’s search results then it is irrelevant whether you think your site looks good or not; you are not the final arbiter in this, Google is. This tool will tell you whether you are mobile friendly or not.

If you find you are not then the best advice we can give to anyone is to talk to the person who built your website about changing this. In many cases, they will need to either add in a new CSS for mobile or in certain cases built a mobile version of your website to properly optimise the mobile browsing experience.

Please don’t expect them to do this work for free; they won’t.

If you no longer use a developer or have fallen out with them then there are plenty of providers out there who can help and we are just one of those.

Remember at all times that whilst we may be talking about just 5% of your traffic (not sales, turnover or profit, just traffic) there may be more reasons for doing this than just a commercial imperative.

For example, a properly optimised site will rank better in mobile search and that, of course, is a good thing. Five years ago very few people browsed on their mobiles, now most do. In another five years, we could all be using mobile devices instead of desktops. Making your website mobile user-friendly can only be a good thing.

Professionally your website sends a message about your company and you can control what that message is. Making sure it works across all devices and platforms helps you to connect with your customers.

And finally, whilst April 21st will see a shake-up in the mobile rankings, how long before Google decides that mobile usability is an essential for their overall rankings? Given the speed of change currently my guess is that it won’t take long.

As we wrote to clients last month, doing nothing is not an option. Take action over the next few months to upgrade your website and make the question we started with a moot point.


*Huge thanks to Keijo Kortelainen for providing the balance to my earlier arguments

Creating killer headlines

You’ll never believe how these insanely awesome killer super actionable top 5 things you can do today to make even more cool money headlines failed miserably

SEO trends come and go in waves and right now we’re on the crest of the ‘killer content’ wave. Of course this isn’t new; I recall talking to people about the importance of content in advertising over 30 years ago and how this translated to websites over 15 years ago.

The difference is that today everyone is shouting loud in a very crowded market place and this is starting to manifest itself in some rather ridiculous attention seeking (and grabbing) headlines.

There are increasing numbers of ‘how to’ guides out there which show you how to dominate for a keyword by creating ‘killer’ content and promoting it mercilessly and they all pretty much start with ‘include a killer headline’.

This trend has even spread to the supposedly more conservative media such as the online versions of the UK broadsheets. As I write this the Telegraph has on its home page the following headlines;

“What no one tells you about Airbnb”

“Why this topless picture of Justin Bieber makes you want to spend more”

“What I hate about holidays”

“Warning: Your fridge is full of danger”

“Nine things you need to watch out for in the budget”

Now some of these may indeed be worthy pieces of journalism but I’ll never know as the headlines simply leave me cold. I won’t click on them and I won’t read them as far too often in the past this has left me disappointed. In fact reading the comments below many of these stories is more fun as regulars lambast the lazy journalism, the reworking of old stories to fill space and the lack of simple fact checking.

Sadly however this phenomenon is not confined to the broadsheets, in fact it has seeped into their vocabulary as if by osmosis from the sheer volume of this stuff available online. Pretty much any search in any competitive sector will turn up examples of these sorts of grabber headlines.

Now you might be forgiven in thinking I have a problem with grabber headlines, but actually I don’t. The problem I have is with the lack of or poor quality content that appears beneath.

From the online papers with rehashed news to digital wannabes compiling ‘awesome’ and ‘actionable’ lists from other peoples material they are adding nothing to the canon of human knowledge.

People who are writing this sort of material should be forced to read David Ogilvy’s ‘Ogilvy on Advertising’ before they type a single word. Whilst over 30 years old now the basics of creating great content are there for all to see and they are as relevant today as they were back in 1983.

So if you want to use grabber headlines, short sentences, exclamation marks, bulleted lists and calls to action every twenty words then go ahead, feel free. But please make sure that those of us who have to read it can walk away with something of value.

Thomson, Yellow Pages & BT Directories

Is organic traffic a right or a privilege?

UPDATE: 17th March 2016

Exactly one year on from this post I have been amazed by how much (and how little) everything has changed.

I wrote at the bottom of this piece last year “The $64,000 question I would contend is ‘When did it become a right to NOT have to pay for your advertising?’” not thinking that it was anything more than a rhetorical question. In the last year however, Google has made more moves to ensure that everyone pays something to join the party.

In February 2016 they removed the PPC adverts on the right-hand side and extended the top three to show four advertisements, thereby pushing organic listings further down below the fold. On mobiles, where this matters more now that 50% of all search is made on a mobile device, the organics are being buried. In many searches advertising followed by Google My Business listings means that organic listings are hardly noticeable.

Add to this the current trial in San Francisco Bay Area, USA to push people searching for a ‘contractor’ to use their new Beta service which incorporates your Google My Business information and it is evident that the days of free advertising are rapidly disappearing.

Of course, there are still millions of searches where organic returns are the mainstay of the results but much like the old directories where 75% of the book was free entries, the free entries are largely ignored where the advertising dominates. Google is arranging its landscape so you see advertising where they make more money and this should be no surprise.

The new questions I suppose is “How long before there is a backlash against this monopolistic behaviour”?

In the 1990’s Yellow Pages tried ‘re-scoping’ directory areas under the rationale that it gave users more relevant results but the main outcome was 10 years under the watchful eye of the MMC and OFT with a legal cap on revenues. It killed the business at a time when the internet was starting to eat their lunch.

All that is needed now is for the CMA to receive enough complaints from businesses that Google is forcing them to pay disproportionate amounts for their advertising and the whole market could be thrown into confusion.

Watch this space…..


I was struck recently by an online conversation where someone was bemoaning the fact that Google has almost removed their website from its search results causing huge amount of damage to their revenue flows. This particular website had not paid for any advertising anywhere, nor to appear on any of Google’s properties, yet was happily cashing in thousands of pounds a month from appearing in organic search.

Naturally the removal of their site from search was something of a body blow but I was struck by how much we all take organic traffic for granted.

Thomson, Yellow Pages & BT DirectoriesIf we go back fifteen years there was a dominant media in the advertising market called directories. Every business was entitled to have a ‘Free’ line entry in a single directory which would put them in the section which best reflected what they did. Even back then though the producers of these directories were at pains to point out that what they were giving away was a ‘discretionary’ line entry. They were not obliged to provide it but did so predominantly to provide a more comprehensive product for end users and ultimately to generate a prospecting list for their sales people.

The books were delivered for free and paid for by advertisers, most of whom generated a positive ROI from their advertising so all in all it was a virtuous circle. Everybody won from the process or at least there were very few losers.

Fast forward to today and the entire landscape has changed. Google dominates in a fashion that could not have been imagined back in 2000 and directories are all but gone.

The ‘discretionary’ free entry that we used to get is still there but the paradigm has shifted; you now need a website to join the fun. Get one of those and you can ask Google to come and index your website, entirely for free and based on what it finds it can rank you in the most relevant searches for the things you do or sell. Sounds familiar?

Much like the directories once you have a website indexed on Google it will offer you advertising, to give you even more chance to connect with people who want the things you sell.

The key difference here is that Google can and will use its ‘discretion’ as to whether your website appears anywhere in any of its search results and can change its mind on a daily basis. Unlike the old directory days when you had one entry in one place you now have hundreds, or in the case of e-commerce thousands of places which need to appear in search. As do all your competitors so it becomes a bun fight to get yourself seen amongst the noise. Barriers to entry are lower so you don’t need heaps of capital to compete and some of the best websites are run by people in bedrooms on a part time basis.

Which brings us back to our unfortunate website owner. They are no longer generating the volumes of revenue they once were from their website because Google has removed their ‘discretionary’ entries. Sure it hurts but they are and always were ‘discretionary’.

There is no right of appeal and no higher authority to which you can complain; you just have to lump it.

All of which kind of points us back to organic traffic being a privilege rather than a right. Of course this isn’t made clear to people when they jump into the pool to start with; generally they find this out when they start to swim in the deep end with the big boys.

The fact that Google is a ‘de facto’ monopoly provider does not help the piece and will naturally lead to accusations of unfair tactics, bullying from a monopoly provider and a callous disregard for small businesses everywhere.

We have all heard these accusations and they are well understood but no one seems to ask the key question behind all of this. The $64,000 question I would contend is ‘When did it become a right to NOT have to pay for your advertising?’

If we can answer this then we are some way towards deciding whether organic traffic is a privilege or a right.