Preparing for Google’s mobile algorithm update

Google mobile update


Earlier this year, Google revealed that there will be an algorithm update on the 21st April, 2015 that will expand their use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal.

This will mean that websites not deemed to be ‘mobile-friendly’ will suffer from reduced visibility within organic search results. It’s also possible that this reduction in visibility may extend to desktop as an additional incentive to webmasters to improve mobile experiences.

Google has announced that this update will take place in ‘real-time’, meaning that if changes are made to make websites more mobile-friendly, as soon as the changes have been indexed by Google the benefits will be realised. Google has also said that this algorithm update will take place on a page-by-page basis, meaning that only those pages that are not mobile-friendly will be impacted, rather than the wider domain.

Why is Google implementing these changes?

At present, mobile search results are simply not good enough for the increasing majority of people now using Google on their mobile devices.

Despite the promotion of YouTube, Android and Google+, Google is still heavily reliant on AdWords to generate the majority of their revenue. If search does not offer value to users, then they may end up going elsewhere, representing a risk to Google’s revenue stream.

At the moment, mobile search results largely match desktop and are ranked based on the merits of the desktop site rather than their own. However, this is no longer acceptable with mobile traffic likely to outstrip desktop by Q2 2015:

Google does not want to be serving half of its users with sub-optimal search results and are therefore making efforts to mitigate this issue.

Case study:

Both desktop and mobile search results for the query [trains to paris] return Eurostar as the top result:

Eurostar search results

However, the user experience between desktop and mobile differs greatly. The desktop user lands on the Paris route landing page. The page provides the user with information about the route and offers the ability to start the booking process. The mobile experience, on the other hand, is much different. The search listing indicates that the user will land on the same, or at least a similar, page:

Eurostar UX

But instead the user is instantly redirected to a page where they must select their language, despite having arrived from Google UK. Furthermore, once the user has selected their language they are re-directed to the mobile homepage. Whilst this webpage does enable them to navigate to the page they ultimately require, overall it is a poor user experience.

This algorithm update was on the horizon

Over the past few months, Google has put some effort into informing webmasters about the performance of their mobile websites and alerting them to the issues they may have. These actions have included:

WMT - mobile usability report

  • Mobile-friendly snippet – Google start to signpost mobile-friendly websites in mobile lists next to the meta description

Mobile-friendly search result screenshot

  • Automated messages – Google has sent emails to webmasters with sites offering a poor mobile experience
  • Notification of update – it is rare for Google to confirm an algorithm update, let alone give advanced notification, and this provides an indication of their desire to give webmasters an opportunity to make improvements

How to prepare for the algorithm update

Here are five recommended actions to prepare for Google’s April mobile algorithm update:

1. Be mobile ready – make sure you have a mobile-friendly website and that the user-agent handling and redirects are handling Googlebot correctly

2. Have a view on mobile – evaluate your web analytics and understand what proportion of your traffic comes from mobile

3. Review behaviour metrics – analyse how your mobile traffic performs on your website. Benchmark key metrics including bounce rate and time on site to understand which pages require improvement

4. Check for notifications – check Google Webmaster Tools to see if Google has sent a notification about your mobile experience

4. View the Mobile Usability Report – with Webmaster Tools, look at what errors Google are reporting and what pages they apply to

Most brands know that they need to be ‘mobile-friendly’ but there are many ways to embrace mobile. Google prefers certain approaches over others so it’s worth exploring options that will prove a win-win for you and your customers.

The Wonderful World of Social Media

Tweets and hashtags

Last year I was asked to present to my company on the subject of ‘social media’. I was given only 10 minutes to present and with social media being such a vast and unwieldily subject, I had to think of how I could inspire and engage a diverse audience within a limited space of time.

Social media has always been a personal and professional passion of mine and so I didn’t want to put together a recycled, ‘cookie-cutter’ style presentation. I wanted to tell story about social media and I therefore researched not only where social media is today and how it’s being used but also the history and future trends we can expect to see.

The research into the history of social media led me to the work of Tom Standage, deputy editor of The Economist and author of ‘Writing on the Wall’, a historical look at the origins of social media. Tom’s presentation to Google provided a great starting point to my presentation, to which I added a middle (where social media is today) and an end (emerging trends) to form The Wonderful World of Social Media:

One of the key aspects of the presentation I wanted people to take away was what I defined as the ‘five key tenets of social media’:

  • Connection
  • Engagement
  • Shared interests
  • Content
  • Conversation

From my research and my wider understanding of social media, many of these ingredients have always existed, from the days of Cicero in the late Roman Republic to the dawn of the digital age in the late 1990’s. Whilst we often consider the ‘social’ elements of ‘new media’ to be a relatively new phenomenon, it’s interesting to see how many parallels there are today with the way our ancestors interacted many years ago.

Social media is here to stay, although it’s likely to continue evolving and merging with many other disciplines. It’s difficult to predict the future although I believe we’ll continue to see an increase in mobile adoption and a focus on data to drive creation, an appetite for visual, ephemeral, ‘snackable’ content and a push towards paying for social visibility.

The top skills of an effective SEO manager

To be a truly effective digital marketer, it’s important to develop a good range of skills and experience regardless of which digital discipline (SEO, UX, analytics, social media) you practice. For a couple of years now I’ve been using the T-shaped marketer approach as a template for my professional development, something that Distilled and Rand Fishkin from Moz have discussed in detail.

T-shaped marketer

As Rand Fishkin explains:

“T-Shaped basically refers to having a light level of knowledge in a broad array of skills, and deep knowledge/ability in a single one (or a few)”.

Essentially, breadth breeds respect and overlapping knowledge yields creativity. There are great benefits for digital marketers who, whilst specialising in a single area or discipline (e.g. SEO), also develop knowledge across a broader spectrum of skills (e.g. social media, content marketing, web analytics etc).

What makes a great in-house SEO manager?

With the T-shaped marketer approach in mind and an appreciation of how SEO has evolved over the last 5-7 years, what skills should the modern SEO manager possess? The days of creating sites using ‘thin’ content and building cheap links are long gone. Today, genuine relevance through quality content and earned links requires the modern SEO manager to leverage a wide array of skills to ensure they drive rankings and quality organic traffic to the websites they’re responsible for.

1. A strategic perspective

Modern SEO managers must have the ability to develop a strategic perspective and tie their SEO plans to the goals and objectives of the business. Having a strategic perspective enables you to define an approach and create a long-term vision for how you see SEO adding value to a business over time.

2. A clear understanding of best practice tactics

From strategy, tactics should follow. The modern SEO manager should have a good appreciation of the most effective SEO tactics at their disposal. With search engines becoming ever more sophisticated, it’s not possible to simply ‘chase the algorithm’ to be successful.

Below are a set of very helpful infographics outlining some of the best tactics for on-page, off-page and technical SEO:


Moz - perfectly-optimized-page


The Periodic Table of Success Factors


Moz - web developer's SEO cheat sheet

3. Content marketing

Whilst content marketing is a key tactic and could therefore reside in the sub-section above, I’ve singled out content marketing for specific focus due to the importance it plays in today’s modern SEO landscape.

As highlighted in my post on content marketing trends for 2015, there are clear benefits to integrating SEO and content marketing, including:

  • Keyword research
  • Campaign planning
  • Developing quality content
  • Content distribution
  • Analysis

4. Analysis and insight

The modern SEO manager must have the skills to effectively analyse performance and generate insight. Whilst some companies (usually medium-large) may have analytics or insights teams, the ability to competently conduct analysis of their own will put SEOs at a huge advantage.

There are two areas where I believe a good SEO manager can add value:

– A clear view of core KPIs and success metrics

An understanding of what core KPIs to use, against which you can measure how you’re performing vs the strategy and filter insight back into the operational SEO process.

– What is the competition doing? How do you compare?

Effectively benchmark performance vs competitors, providing you with an understanding of gaps, opportunities and areas for improvement.

5. Brand management

A great SEO manager will not look to build content and optimise websites in isolation (see point 1 – ‘a strategic perspective’, above). They will need to have an appreciation of the brand and what the company stands for, all of which will help inform the content and SEO roadmap.

Whilst SEO managers need not be branding experts, I believe they should be confident articulating what a brand is and how it impact the work they do.

Simon Sinek, author of ‘Start with Why’, uses a great concept called the ‘Golden Circle’ to question why brands exist and what they do and how they do it:

6. People management and team building

Many SEO managers work alone, sometimes the sole subject matter expert in the company. However, whether within an SME or a large corporation, at some stage many SEO managers will be looking to either manage an existing team or to build one of their own.

People management is difficult skill to master but one that all great SEO managers must possess. As teams become bigger, the manager must have the ability to juggle resources, motivate the team and ensure that the strategy is being executed.

The Harvard Business Review suggests the following key components to people management:

  • Selection
  • Expectation setting
  • Motivation
  • Development

7. Stakeholder management

Modern SEOs must have the ability to effectively manage the concerns and interests of multiple stakeholders. It’s not possible to simply manage SEO in isolation; instead SEO should be considered from an integrated perspective, i.e. how does it tie in with other areas of the business.

As with people management, stakeholder management is a learned but very important skill, involving a blend of understanding, astute analysis and empathy Some of the key stakeholders I would suggest an SEO manager must be aware of include:

  • Senior management
  • Ecommerce
  • Brand
  • PR
  • Procurement
  • Agency
  • Google

Where do the various stakeholders lie on a Power/Interest matrix?

Stakeholders_matrix copy

A stakeholder’s position on within the matrix indicates the relative power and interest in your work and the actions you may need to take with them.


Managing SEO today requires more than being an adept technician and practitioner. The modern SEO manager must possess a wide array of skills and competencies, enabling them to effectively manage strategy and set a vision whilst simultaneously be aware of, and execute, tactics that cover on-page, off-page and technical elements of SEO.

The modern SEO manager must also be an astute manager of people and multiple stakeholders, as well as possess an in-depth understanding of the brand and what it really stands for.

A ‘T-shaped’ skill provides a sound template for how effective SEO managers can approach their career development. Managers should continue to develop their skills within the discipline of SEO, but also develop broader skills in other technical areas (such as analytics, PPC and web development) and softer skills (people management, communication etc).

My three words for 2015

Three Degrees by Steve Maskell

It’s that time of year again for New Year resolutions and promises. However, instead of resolutions, I will instead continue to follow the ‘My 3 Words’ tradition that Chris Brogan has been championing since 2006.

The idea of ‘My 3 Words’ is to list three positive, meaningful and inspiring words that can be used to guide you and your actions over the course of the year ahead. As Chris Brogan himself explains:

“I created the “My 3 Words” exercise because most resolutions aren’t especially helpful. We decide something vague like “I’ve gotta get in shape” or “I’ve gotta quit smoking” or “I need to make more money” but while these are all great goals, they’re not really useful as ways to guide our activities throughout the year.”

Before outlining my three words for 2015, I think it’s worth briefly reviewing my three words for 2014 and asess how I got on:


In terms of building bonds and connections with new professional acquaintances outside of my normal working environment, I don’t feel I did enough to really build and grow my network. This is something I’ll definitely need to review again in 2015 with an aim to improve.

However, within my place of work I feel I have made genuine progress networking with different people all across the organisation, allowing me to raise my profile and inspire confidence in me as a subject matter expert.


As I explained last year, ‘exercise’ isn’t just about physical work – it’s also about exercising your mental muscles and developing spiritually and intellectually.

In 2014 I increased the amount I read and the subjects I was reading about in order to expand my mind and horizons. Through audiobooks, I’ve been able to learn on the go whilst at the same time reading physical books, blog posts and articles.

In terms of physical exercise, I made a conscious effort to improve my work-rate from around May onwards, and as a result I’ve lost nearly 10 kg (around 1 1/2 stone) in nearly seven months. Whilst weight-loss wasn’t my main goal (I try to take an intrinsic attitude to exercise, i.e. exercise should primarily be about improving health and well-being) the loss of weight gave me an indication of the progress I’ve made.


I still think there’s some work to do here. I often find it hard to ‘switch off’ and take stock of the achievements I’ve made which can consequently impact productivity and increase anxiety.

Nevertheless, with the help of a few very nice holidays and a conscious effort to take time away from work on weekends and weeknights, I have been able to take a step back to reflect on what I’ve done and to think about/ learn something new, which I believe has enabled me to come back to my work feeling fresher and more enthusiastic.


I will continue to think about my three words from 2014, as well as those from previous years. However, for this year, it’s important to set three new words to guide me in 2015:


Within the hustle and bustle of our daily work, it’s often easy to get lost in the detail of what we’re working on. Whether it’s the code, meta data and user journeys involved in digital marketing, or the follow-up calls and lead-generation needed for success in sales.

But whilst it’s important to maintain technical skills and expertise, it could be argued it’s even more important to be aware of the ‘bigger picture’. What are we at work for? How does what we do impact other people’s lives? I’ve talked before about why I work and my goal to ‘add value’ and to leave an impact on the world. To succeed at this, I need to continually think about the meaning behind what I do and how I can produce truly meaningful work.


In many ways, this is somewhat related to ‘relax’, one of my three words from 2014. One can easily get caught up in life’s daily challenges and tasks and forget (or miss) the successes over the weeks, months and years.

In 2015 I want to consciously take quality time to look back and reflect on a regular basis. This will not only give me an opportunity to appreciate the good work I’ve done, but also allow me to constructively look at where improvements can be made so I can continually improve.


I think 2015 will be a big year for change, both personally and professionally, and in order to succeed I will need to adapt and transform, mentally and psychologically.

Change is constant and is something we all need to come to terms with. Whilst change can often be negative, it can often be positive, too. And change in any form can provide as many opportunities as threats. In order to meet my goals and live the life I want, I will need to transform and grow with change rather than fight against it.

Content marketing trends to look out for in 2015

The Content Marketing Maturity Model

2014 has certainly been a busy year for content marketing and something that wasn’t a surprise given the buzz evident at the start of the year.

But as the year has gone on, what have we really learnt about content marketing and the lessons we need to follow in order to execute this particular area of digital marketing effectively?

In this post I’ve grouped together some key content marketing themes from 2014 and links to best practice articles and resources.

Understanding content marketing

Before embarking on content marketing for your business, it’s worth really exploring what content marketing really entails and the benefits it can drive. As with any type of marketing activity, there will be an opportunity cost between one approach and another.

Neil Patel’s Advanced Guide to Content Marketing is a detailed, in-depth yet easy to follow tutorial covering content marketing across ten chapters, ranging from building a strong foundation to advice on how to plan and execute content marketing effectively.

Read: QuickSprout’s Advanced Guide to Content Marketing

Content strategy

Everything should start with a clear vision and strategy. Content plays a key role in nearly all digital marketing activity – paid, owned and earned media and so a well-defined content strategy will give you the platform and framework from which you can begin to create and distribute content.

Read: The Essential Guide to Creating a Successful Content Marketing Strategy

Organising for content marketing

Once you have an idea about how you’ll ideally be using content marketing for business, the next step is to consider the key elements that lead to successful content marketing. An understanding of how format, platform, content type and metrics come together will help you with the content strategy and planning processes.

Econsultancy’s Periodic Table of Content Marketing provides a simple yet effective visualisation of the many constituent parts that make for successful content marketing:

Read: The Periodic Table of Content Marketing

Periodic Table of Content Marketing

Content planning

Once a strategy has been devised, the next step is the plan. Developing a plan is crucial to the future success of your content marketing efforts. Research suggests that the majority of businesses don’t have a plan so it’s therefore more important than ever to gain an advantage by developing one of your own by following a clear process:

  • Review current use of content marketing
  • Define content marketing objectives and KPIs
  • Conduct a content Gap analysis
  • Create a content plan timeline

Read: 4 Steps to creating a content marketing plan

Competitor analysis

Part of the content marketing planning process will involve the benchmarking of your efforts against those of your key competitors.


This is an important part of the process as it enables you to not only evaluate the performance of your competitors’ efforts but also build a picture of the type of content activity, strategies and tactics that are working for others in your industry.

Read: Three free tools for content marketing analysis

Content creation

The content creation process is where the real fun begins – although it’s by no means a simple process. To create truly compelling, ‘killer’ content, you need to blend art with science and become a storyteller to hook your audience.
Storyboarding is a great way to set out a structure for content that can be used individually or as part of a series.
Some of the key ingredients to help you storyboard ideas include:

1. Discover your ideal audience
2. Inform your hunch
3. Compile
4. Create a narrative
5. Find the hook

Read: Storytelling

Tools and techniques

There is a plethora of tools and techniques available to manage your content marketing efforts. The key is to choose and select the tool (or range of tools) that you’ll really need based on what you’ll be measuring and tracking (which should be outlined upfront in your digital marketing/ content strategy).

Effective tools and techniques can be used to assist with:

  • Content distribution
  • Content curation
  • Integrating SEO, social media and content
  • Ecommerce and digital channel sales optimisation
  • Analytics

Read: The Content Marketer’s Toolkit

Content distribution/promotion

There are a multitude of different paid, owned and earned media opportunities to promote and/or distribute content.

Smart Insights’ new Content Distribution Matrix helps marketers to review the best options for promoting content by identifying the most effective means of distributing their content in generating site visits, leads or sales compared to the level of investment.

The Content Distribution Matrix

To use The Content Distribution Matrix, there are three steps to follow:

Step 1. Mark up the current or past use of media for content distribution
Step 2. Review promotion gap against competitor or sector use of content distribution techniques
Step 3. Select and prioritise new methods of content promotion

Read: The Content Distribution Matrix

Integrating content with SEO

Content marketing and SEO are very closely entwined, so much so that some would even argue that a large part of SEO and content marketing overlap. Nevertheless, content marketing and SEO are often managed separately and as a result you should consider the organic search benefits great content can bring if executed correctly.

As search engines have continued to refine their algorithms and methodologies, the practice of SEO has also changed. There are a lot of out-dated techniques and myths that should be considered when optimising your content for search engines. Be aware of these to ensure you make the most of what you have from an SEO perspective.

Read: 5 ways to integrate SEO and content marketing


As outlined in the strategy and planning sections above, the goals and objectives behind your content marketing activity should be stated early on in the process as knowing upfront why and how you’ll be using content marketing will give you focus.

In his post from January this year, Danyl Bosomworth for Smart Insights provided a table that breaks content marketing KPIs into three clear groups:

Content marketing KPIs

Danyl also provided five questions to help set, manage and review your content marketing effectiveness and to ensure that you use actionable metrics:

Q1. Which keyphrases related to content are most effective at driving visits and outcomes?
Q2. Which referring partner sites or social networks have helped with link generation and measurement (for SEO) and the driving of traffic, referenced above as a part of SMO
Q3. How does content viewed on click-paths or journeys affect marketing outcomes
Q4. Are we increasing the % of engaged users?
Q5. What are the satisfaction ratings for our content?

Read: KPIs for measuring content marketing ROI

11 essentials of an effective SEO proposal

Creation Handshake by Artotem

One of the key decisions many companies must make in regards to search engine optimisation (SEO) is the decision on whether to create and build a team in-house or to work with an external agency. There are pros and cons to both approaches and many businesses often choose to go with a combination of the two: create a team in-house and work with an agency to support with best practice and on-going guidance.

If a decision is made to work with an SEO agency there are number of steps to be taken, including the selection of a range of agencies and later the management of a pitch process.

However, the step before the later will include a review of a series of proposals from the selection of agencies invited to submit. And in this post, I’m going to review some of the key factors a client-side marketer should look for in an agency SEO proposal.

Key factors in any SEO agency proposal

In my experience of reviewing proposals there are some common factors which you should look out for that I’ve listed here.

1. Initial audit and review

For any new SEO agency coming in, this stage gives them the opportunity to review existing performance and establish a baseline in which to measure future SEO efforts.

2. Keyword identification and prioritisation

This is when the real SEO work starts. The keyword identification process allows the SEO agency to begin selecting the keywords and keyword themes that are most relevant to the business.

3. Competitor benchmarking

In a similar way to the keyword identification stage, the competitor benchmarking process involves picking out the different competitor sets that the client should benchmark performance against.

4. Technical and backlink audit

This stage can be broken into two parts:

1. Technical – this involves analysis of re-directs, sitemaps, crawler access and source code

2. Backlink audit – due to Google’s various Google Penguin algorithm updates, it’s never been more important to have a natural link profile.

5. Content review – on-site and off-site

This stage also involves two parts:

1. On-site – a review of the effectiveness of all on-site content, including products pages, blog/articles, landing pages, support and on-site search

2. Off-site – an analysis of how and where content is being used on other sites and how it is being linked back to the client’s website

6. Social media review

This will involve an audit of how social media is currently being used and any gaps or opportunities that are not being utilised.

With many social media channels being key platforms in which to distribute and share content (both paid for and organically), an SEO agency should be able to advise on where a client should be investing in the social space.

7. Strategy and direction

Following the keyword identification, competitor benchmarking and review of existing technical SEO and content, the agency will be in a position to provide a detailed recommendation of the SEO strategy and direction the client should follow.

The strategy and direction the agency proposes should align with the client’s high-level goals and objectives as well as the business philosophy (e.g. rank well at all costs vs. white hat approach to SEO).

8. Planning, reporting and forecasting

Once the strategy and direction have been agreed, the SEO agency should provide a view on how they will forecast performance based on the plans they will put in place and how they will report on performance on a weekly and monthly basis. There should be an overview of:

  • Alignment to business goal and objectives
  • Main SEO KPIs and metrics
  • Analytics tools and processes

9. Costs and resources

Finally, the agency will outline how they would propose to work with the client.

It’s important to have a clear idea about the history of the agency, their experience in SEO (as well as other earned media activities, such as content marketing and social media) and the size of their team.

And of course the agency will also provide a cost guide and a recommendation as to how they work (e.g. retainer, PRF etc).

Lastly, there may also be reference to a review or appraisal in order to look at a process for improvement in order to understand whether the agency’s process is effective. What will they actually deliver each month? What concrete deliverables are they committing to?


In addition to the main elements of an SEO proposal referenced above, the following factors are also worth considering:

10. Company fit

As is the case with any type of recruitment, it’s important that there is the right ‘fit’ and ‘chemistry’ between the client and agency, both at a corporate and personnel level.

For example, an agency may have an excellent level of expertise and a great track record of success but if this has been in a completely different sector or industry there may be issues with adaptability, e.g. compliance considerations in financial services or the medical industry.

11. Integration with other media

For most businesses, SEO is one of many marketing tactics at their disposal. It’s therefore important to consider how an agency’s SEO efforts will integrate with display marketing, remarketing and paid search.

The integration of paid and organic search is particularly important, especially in terms of keyword prioritisation and testing (for keywords, landing pages and headlines).