Mobile Friendliness Now a Google Ranking Signal

phone-cross-eyedThey’ve been warning us for a while, but Google have finally announced that mobile-friendliness will be added as a ranking signal next month:

“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”

The fact they use the word *significant* is, well, significant. You don’t often see them give algorithm tweak announcements this kind of adjective emphasis. Normally, they’ll use vague phrases like “potential impact” or “quality improvements” or “Matt Cutts suggests”. So you can be sure that the forthcoming changes are going to be the source of panic attacks in webmasters the world over and late night Skypes for SEOs everywhere (yeah, thanks a lot Google).

Meanwhile, responsive WordPress theme designers will be rubbing their beards with glee at the prospect and adding more Threadless t-shirts to their wishlist.

So let’s assume for a moment that you have spent the last two years watching LOL cat videos on Facebook instead of making your website mobile friendly. Let’s also assume that your site has a scarlet letter displayed across it in the SERPs instead of the wanky desirable mobile-friendly banner issued by Google.

What can you do now to ward off the Google ranking oblivion heading your way? In the words of Douglas Adams: DON’T PANIC.

Here’s a check list to start with:

  • Log out of Facebook. I mean it.
  • View your site on various mobile devices and try not to cry.
  • Don’t have multiple devices? That’s ok, QuirkTools have just the tool for you.
  • Check your site against Google’s mobile friendly test tool.
  • Pull yourself out of the foetal position and take a deep breath. You can fix this!
  • If your site is built on a popular CMS, Google will likely have a technical guide on their Developers site that can help guide you and/or your designer make your site more mobile friendly. For example, check out Google’s Technical Guide for WordPress users.
  • Browse the theme library of your CMS for a recent responsive design / mobile friendly theme that doesn’t make your wallet flinch or make you want to gouge your eyes out. This is a lot trickier than it sounds.
  • Log out of Facebook dammit!
  • Back up your current site and related database/s.
  • Make sure you choose a theme that uses largish font that can be viewed easily on the smallest of iPhones. You know, for those of us who can’t afford a iPhone 6.
  • Check all your favorite plugins to make sure they are mobile-friendly. You’d be surprised how many of them look great in IE 10 but entirely screw up how your site appears in Safari. Uninstall or replace those with plugins that don’t impact your site’s appearance.
  • Set your mobile viewport. Yeah, I’ve got no idea what this means either.
  • Make sure that your text links are separated by at least one line of text between each. Being too close together make them difficult to click on with a mobile device.
  • Underline your links and highlight them using a different color to your main text. But please don’t use hipster grey. That’s just the color of sadness.
  • If you’ve verified your site in Google Webmaster Tools (of course you have!), you can check your site’s Page Speed using the Page Speed Insights tool. Or you can use Google’s stand-alone version.
  • Make any page speed tweaks suggested by Google.
  • In my experience, your site should now look mostly normal across various devices, apart from a glitch that shoves your header 5cm to the right on Google Chrome for Android no matter what the heck you try. Thankfully no-one uses that browser.
  • Check your site against Google’s mobile friendly test tool again.
  • Repeat, Rinse, Repeat until you can live with the outcome of the test.
  • Log back into Facebook. Cute cat videos await!


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Q and A: Do I need to use rel=canonical to tell Google my preferred domain?

QuestionHello Kalena

I’ve been a reader of your blog for many years but have never submitted a question. Until now!

With Google’s recent changes to the algorithm, we have noticed a drop in traffic and rankings for our site (we sell ready-made crafting kits for kids). I suspect it might be related to duplicate content as I’ve been reading how Google will penalize sites that can be loaded with www and also without www. Our site loads for both addresses and I’m worried this means we have been penalized.

I also read that you can fix this issue by using coding called rel=canonical or something like that? I have looked into this briefly, but to be honest, although I’m responsible for the content of our site, I’m a sales and marketing person, not a programmer and I don’t think I have the coding knowledge to use this tool.

Is there a more simple way I can remove the duplicate pages or have our site load just with the www? Or will I need to pay our original web designers to fix this?

Thanks for any advice



Hello Sally

Sorry to hear of your traffic drop, but I highly doubt it is due to your site loading for both www and non-www versions of your domain. The algorithm changes over the past 18 months have been related to more complex issues than domain versions.

Even if Google has indexed both versions of your domain, the algorithm is almost always able to distinguish content that loads on both as one and the same. In this situation, Google will usually choose one version and consistently show that version in the search results.

But if you want to instruct Google which version to use in the search results, you can do this from within your Webmaster Tools account by setting the Preferred Domain (sometimes this is referred to as the canonical domain). The Preferred Domain tool enables you to tell Google if you’d like URLs from your site crawled and indexed using the www version of the domain ( or the non-www version of the domain (

Simply click on the gear icon at the top right when viewing your Webmaster Tools dashboard and then choose *Site Settings* and the Preferred Domain option will come up as per the image here:

The recommended use of rel=canonical is on a page by page basis, to indicate to Google which version of a page URL to use, if there are several URLs leading to the same page content.

For example, imagine if these URLs all led to the same page content:


Now imagine that you only wanted 1) to be shown in Google search results. You could achieve this by adding the rel=canonical link element to the < head > tag of each of those pages, specifying as the preferred URL.

However, in your situation, the easiest thing would be to use the Preferred Domain tool in Webmaster Tools.

Hope this helps!


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Fast Five in Search – Week 15, 2014



Google’s head of spam fighting – Matt Cutts – posts regular videos on the Google Webmasters YouTube channel. His posts can make waves in the SEO industry like no other because they often preview upcoming changes to the Google algorithm. So this week’s Fast Five is a collection of Matt Cutt’s most popular webmaster videos of all time.

Here’s this week’s Fast Five:

1) How Does Google Search Work? – In this video, Matt explains how Google’s ranking and website evaluation process works from the crawling and analysis of a site, crawling time-lines, frequencies, priorities and filtering processes within the databases. With over 380,000 views, this is Matt’s most popular video in the Google Webmaster channel.

2) Does Google Use the Keyword Meta Tag? – After years of webmaster confusion over whether Google does or doesn’t index the content of the Meta Keywords tag, Matt put the rumor firmly to rest with this post by confirming that Google does NOT index the tag.

3) What Should We Expect in the Next Few Months in Terms of SEO for Google? – After months of Panda and Penguin algorithm tweaks, Matt thought it was time to set a few things straight and reveal a little more about what we might expect from future algorithm updates.

4) Canonical Link Element – When Google launched support for the Canonical Link Element, Matt took to video to introduce the element and the way it should be used for SEO benefit.

and finally…

5) What Are Some Effective Techniques for Building Links? – The fifth most popular Matt Cutts webmaster video involves the consistently difficult subject of link building. In this video post, Matt discusses several effective ways of building organic links that many webmasters overlook.

Happy reading!

*Image courtesy of Threadless.

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Q and A: Why Doesn’t Google Rank My Site Higher?

QuestionHi Kalena,

My website has been up and running since 2008.

I regularly add new content & update my blog & facebook pages and yet 5 years on, I am still only attracting 30-40 visits per day and it has remained at this level for 5 years.

I believe my website is user friendly, visually pleasing & provides useful information for the visitor looking for the product I offer, so why doesn’t google rank it higher? I only have 83 pages indexed out of 1,400 – please help!



Hi Natalie

Assuming the website you are referring to is the one associated with your email address, I can provide a few recommendations immediately:

1) I couldn’t find a XML sitemap in the expected location of http://www.[brandwitheld] Now maybe you have one in a different location, but if not, you’ll want to create one as soon as possible.  An XML sitemap is a file that contains a full list of indexable pages on your web site. It is the preferred method of lettting search engines know about all pages on your site that you want indexed. More information about the protocol and format required is available at You can upload your sitemap via your Google Webmaster Tools account. Haven’t got one of those either? Read on…

2) If your site doesn’t seem to be as visible as you’d like in Google or large chunks of it are not getting indexed, make sure you create a Google Webmaster Tools account and check it for any obvious issues. Google provides an exhaustive amount of insight and advice in Webmaster Tools in terms of technical issues, indexing issues, SEO issues and visitor activity related to your site. If there seems to be something wrong, that should be your first stop.

3) Check your site against these 10 Most Common SEO Mistakes to see if you’re guilty of any of them and address the issues quickly.

4) You claim your site has 1,400 pages, but most of those are product and category pages consisting of dynamically generated versions of the same URL, plus a huge number of pop-ups. The site only has a small number of static HTML pages and therefore only a small amount of content that is visible to search engines.

For example: http://www.[brandwitheld] is your main curtain category and then you have 11 different sub-categories under that, such as:

a) http://www.[brandwitheld]

b) http://www.[brandwitheld]

c) http://www.[brandwitheld]

However, the content for each sub-category is dynamically generated from a product database, based on the category parameter indicated after the *?*.  To a search engine, a), b) and c) are seen as the same, single, page, with everything following the *?* generally ignored or treated as duplicate content.

Even worse, those sub-categories then break down into individual styles, but the style information is presented as a javascript pop-up dialogs, which can cause their own issues.

I’d put money on your URL structure being the spanner in the works preventing most of your content from being indexed. No wonder you see so few pages ranking well! I would suggest learning more about how Google treats URL parameters and reworking your site content to create flat, indexable HTML pages for each product, category and style.

Natalie, without having access to your Webmaster Tools account, I can’t really give you more advice at this point. However, if you’d like to invest in a full web site audit, I can certainly take a much closer look. Just contact me to get started.

Hope this helps!


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Q and A: How Do I Prepare for a Large Site Migration?

QuestionHi Kalena

I work for a medium sized hospitality chain (in the marketing dept) and our leading chain of hotels is about to undergo a brand change. I’ve just found out that management has approved a full domain name change for each of these hotels and scheduled it with our IT department to happen next month. My General Manager bought the domain name without consulting IT or marketing.

I’m freaking out a little because I’ve been given the task of making sure the change goes smoothly and doesn’t impact our Google rankings or traffic, which I’ve spent years building up. There are 3 different regional hotel properties that will be affected and the content will be transferred over to a single domain! What should I expect? Is there anything I can do to make the transition go smoothly?



Hi Belinda

Oh boy, I don’t envy you. Yes, you are right to be freaking out – at least a little. Site migrations are a royal pain in the you know where and can result in masses of lost traffic and lost search engine rankings.

By the sound of things, your site migration will be complicated by the fact that there are multiple domains shifting to a single domain. Now before you start hyperventilating, there are some things you can do in preperation:

1) Read this terrific presentation about site migration by Aidan Beanland of Yahoo and then read it again. Create a plan for your own migration situation.

2) Go spend some time with the IT department. Hopefully you get on well with them because you’ll be spending a lot of time talking to them over the next few months. Provide them with a copy of Aidan’s guide so they know what to expect. You’ll need to find out their strategy for the roll-out, including pre-switch benchmarking, 301 redirect integration and testing, specific dates for content transfer, the big switch and final DNS propagation.

3) Consider shifting the content of each individual hotel into distinct region-based sub-domains on the new site e.g., Austin.HotelBrand, Houston.HotelBrand rather than trying to combine all content into a single site. This way, you can optimize the sub-domains as distinctive sites and retain the location-related Google rankings you have spent so long building up. If you can prove large traffic losses will occur if you don’t do this (and they will!), it should be easy to get IT and management onside.

4) Take an active role in the pre-migration benchmarking process, particularly in relation to site analytics, most popular content and search engine rankings. Ensure your company keep ownership of the old domains and keep all sites live until the new domain has fully propagated.

5) Be prepared with other online/offline marketing activities to promote the hotels in case of sudden traffic loss.

6) Make sure your manager and stakeholders know what is within/beyond your control! Make it very clear what can go wrong during the move and protect yourself by warning them ahead of time of the potential negative outcomes.

Good Luck!


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