Interview: Bryson Meunier on current opportunities in mobile SEO

With AMPs, and now PWAs, fuel­ing growth in mobile search, is it the per­fect time to get inno­v­a­tive about mobile SEO?

Pat Hong By Pat Hong from Linkdex. Join the discussion » 2 comments

Not so long ago, mobile search was treat­ed almost like it’s own chan­nel, or at most a sub­set of SEO. Since then mobile search has grown mas­sive­ly. SEO and mobile mar­ket­ing expert Bryson Meu­nier shares his thoughts on why these days, it’s desk­top SEO that is a sub­set of SEO as a whole.

brysonDo you think there is a perception in the industry that mobile SEO differs from that of desktop SEO? If so, why is that?

To some extent, yes. When the indus­try first start­ed talk­ing about how mobile impacts SEO, back around 2005, it was basi­cal­ly irrel­e­vant to SEO. Just sev­en years ago total glob­al inter­net traf­fic from mobile devices was just 0.7% accord­ing to Stat­counter.

There were a few peo­ple then, such as myself and Cindy Krum who were look­ing towards the future, but it took the bet­ter part of ten years for mobile search­es to exceed desk­top and for mobile to be wide­ly accept­ed as an impor­tant part of SEO. Up to that point mobile SEO was a sub­set of SEO — and often it was a case of keep­ing track of the changes that Google was mak­ing to accom­mo­date mobile searchers (who often had and sought a dif­fer­ent user expe­ri­ence from desk­top searchers).

Many peo­ple in SEO didn’t appre­ci­ate the speed and scale at which mobile would grow, as at the time it was still a small sub­set of search traf­fic, and Rand Fishkin stat­ed in 2011 that mobile and desk­top search results would con­verge into a sin­gle set of results, elim­i­nat­ing the need for mobile-friend­ly sites and mobile-spe­cif­ic SEO.

He’s a great speak­er and a nice guy who is right about a lot of things but he wasn’t right about that. Today mobile is 45% of the total traf­fic (Stat­counter), and more than 50% of search traf­fic from Google in the US. In 2015 Google intro­duced the mobile-friend­ly update (aka “Mobi­leged­don”) and the num­ber of mobile friend­ly sites jumped from about 40% of the top 25,000 sites back in April of 2015, to 85% of all pages in search results in August 2016.

Because mobile is such an impor­tant audi­ence to get search results right for, Google is now going even fur­ther than the mea­sures they took for Mobi­leged­don, and are launch­ing the sep­a­rate mobile index that will be its pri­ma­ry index going for­ward.

This means that mobile SEO is no longer a sub­set of SEO. Today desk­top-focused SEO is a sub­set of SEO. All SEOs now need to under­stand how mobile users search, and how and when it dif­fers from desk­top and tablet search.

They also need to know about app index­ing, AMP, app store opti­miza­tion, and fix­ing mobile-friend­ly errors. These are all unique ele­ments of mobile SEO, none of which apply to desk­top search. In short, mobile SEO has come of age.

There is a belief that increasingly paid search is necessary for mobile visibility. Is mobile SEO still a good opportunity with strong potential for ROI?

Pro­po­nents of the argu­ment that paid search is nec­es­sary for mobile vis­i­bil­i­ty usu­al­ly point to declin­ing organ­ic search traf­fic in mobile for their client base. How­ev­er, I find these num­bers can be mis­lead­ing. It could be that their client base is spend­ing more on paid search, for exam­ple, which could can­ni­bal­ize organ­ic traf­fic slight­ly, or their clients could have penal­ties that decrease organ­ic traf­fic but aren’t dis­closed. Alter­na­tive­ly, they could be includ­ing organ­ic search for clients who are only doing paid search and not SEO.

But even if organ­ic search on mobile were declin­ing and paid search increas­ing there are some dif­fer­ences in paid and organ­ic search traf­fic accord­ing to recent research that makes SEO still worth invest­ing in. For exam­ple, the first organ­ic list­ing in mobile still gets 73% more clicks than the first and sec­ond spon­sored list­ings com­bined, accord­ing to recent mobile click-track­ing data from Media­tive. So you have a bet­ter chance of get­ting more traf­fic with a num­ber one list­ing in organ­ic than paid. What’s more, that traf­fic can be more valu­able to busi­ness­es, as most non-brand searchers click on the first organ­ic list­ing (56%) and less than 10% click on a paid search ad. Even if you do get more traf­fic from paid search, it’s like­ly most­ly brand traf­fic. This traf­fic is valu­able, but it’s more expen­sive to bid on non-brand key­words gen­er­al­ly because they’re rel­e­vant to every­one and more com­pet­i­tive.

Invest­ment in SEO has a great chance at increas­ing traf­fic from the most valu­able query class with­out increas­ing your cost per click, which is almost always ROI pos­i­tive.

How much of mobile SEO best practice is still driven by Google updates? Is best practice still quite ‘reactive’? (perhaps a recent example of reactive SEO would be the AMP project)

Because Google is con­stant­ly test­ing their result set and get­ting live feed­back from real peo­ple, the most reli­able way to per­form con­sis­tent­ly well is to build your site as though users mat­ter, or you won’t rank well in Google search for long. There are some unscrupu­lous char­ac­ters who are still chas­ing loop­holes in Google’s algo­rithms to make a quick buck, but as the SEO indus­try matures and Google’s algo­rithms get smarter I think (and hope) that their num­ber is dimin­ish­ing.

At the same time there are best prac­tice tech­niques that SEOs wouldn’t do if search engines didn’t exist (e.g. canon­i­cal tags, bidi­rec­tion­al anno­ta­tions, sitemaps, etc.) so there is an ele­ment of mobile SEO best prac­tice being dri­ven by the algo­rithms, but I think most of it is done to help cre­ate a bet­ter user expe­ri­ence for searchers.

What are some underutilized opportunities in mobile search?

App index­ing, cur­rent­ly, appears to be under­uti­lized. We haven’t seen it gen­er­ate a lot of traf­fic rel­a­tive to web search, but only 30% of sites appar­ent­ly are using it at the moment. This means that if you have an app but it’s not indexed, you could make imme­di­ate gains by index­ing. Though the traf­fic hasn’t been great rel­a­tive to web search, we do get about 2% of our app installs from search now, which is an addi­tion­al source of free traf­fic.

Have you seen any indication that the incorporation of Penguin into Google’s core algorithm has made an impact on mobile SEO in particular?

It does in the sense that it affects core rank­ing, which at this point affects both mobile and desk­top search­es. How­ev­er, I haven’t seen any dif­fer­ence per­son­al­ly between the impact of Pen­guin on mobile and desk­top search results.

As the mobile index is intro­duced and becomes the pri­ma­ry index this may change, as links to mobile sites and desk­top sites can be dif­fer­ent (assum­ing two sites still exist rather than one that’s adap­tive or respon­sive).

Can you share a few thoughts on ‘other factors’ making an impact on mobile experiences:

Ad-block­ing: The Page­Fair report that Mary Meek­er ref­er­enced in her deck ear­li­er this year said that ad block­ing is more com­mon on mobile than desk­top. This means that activ­i­ties such as mobile SEO that don’t require tra­di­tion­al adver­tis­ing can still get a brand’s mes­sage across to searchers, even with Ad-block­ing enabled.

Voice search: Voice search has grown to 20% of Google smart­phone queries, and as speech recog­ni­tion improves through machine learn­ing it will con­tin­ue to grow. For SEOs it’s impor­tant to under­stand that nat­ur­al lan­guage queries have like­ly grown and will con­tin­ue to as a result of voice search.


Voice search means peo­ple are begin­ning to inter­act with Google the way they would with a human, which means  that we will see new types of queries. As SEOs, we have to know which ones are qual­i­fied queries. For exam­ple, if a searcher is just look­ing for an answer and not a web page and you’re look­ing to sell blue wid­gets on a web page, you may want to stick to queries from searchers who are look­ing for blue wid­gets if you want to stay in busi­ness.

IoT / Per­son­al Assis­tance / Hubs: In 2012 I did a pre­sen­ta­tion at SMX called “Meet Siri: Apple’s Google Killer?” in which I com­pared Siri’s out­put to Google’s and found that, in fact, Siri is a lousy search engine. Some­one put togeth­er a much larg­er test that year that said basi­cal­ly the same thing.

Since then Amazon’s Alexa, Siri and Google’s Assis­tant have all aspired to be essen­tial­ly what Ask Jeeves was sup­posed to be years ago. At some point, it is pos­si­ble that peo­ple will con­verse with machines the way Joaquin Phoenix talked to Scar­lett Johans­son in Her — if this hap­pens it will mean not as many peo­ple will go to a web­site opti­mized for a mesothe­lioma lawyer. Today… we’re not there quite yet.

When we do get there I have no doubt that SEOs will be try­ing to help busi­ness­es become more vis­i­ble in per­son­al assis­tants, as they’re doing today by help­ing peo­ple to opti­mize for fea­tured snip­pets. SEO won’t die, it will just change (as it does).

And perhaps looking even further ahead, Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) have been hailed as being the next game-changer for mobile — bringing app like experiences “in-tab” and allowing “mobile web app users to experience native-like mobile experiences along with web advantages”…

Any­thing we can do to make the user expe­ri­ence bet­ter on mobile is going to increase usage and engage­ment, and might have tan­gen­tial effects on SEO. PWAs can help reduce load time, which will have a direct effect on SEO, how­ev­er small. They also allow devel­op­ers to do real­ly cool stuff on the web that they could pre­vi­ous­ly only make in apps, like an air horn or a voice recorder, and clever SEOs and con­tent mar­keters will use this new tech­nol­o­gy to help them get more links to their web con­tent. As an SEO I think these things about Pro­gres­sive Web Apps are great, and I hope more peo­ple start using them. As a user I delete so many apps that I down­load for a sin­gle use that pro­gres­sive web apps make sense, and I hope more peo­ple start using them.

That said, as an SEO you have to know what you’re get­ting into. If you’re a tra­di­tion­al pub­lish­er it is pos­si­ble to make a pro­gres­sive web app that is beau­ti­ful and crawlable, but it’s not easy. Just look­ing at the exam­ples list­ed on you can see that these sites don’t opti­mize them­selves.

For exam­ple, make sure your URLs don’t use hash­bangs, as doing so can pre­vent your site from being indexed, like the Billings Gazette web app, which has only one page indexed. You also have to make sure you use canon­i­cal tags if you pub­lish on a dif­fer­ent URL, as the Finan­cial Times does at their PWA:

And though Pro­gres­sive Web Apps can be fast, it’s not a giv­en, as is demon­strat­ed by the Wash­ing­ton Post’s oth­er­wise excel­lent offer­ing, which gets a 51/100 on mobile accord­ing to Google’s Page Speed tool.

The bot­tom line is that Pro­gres­sive Web Apps have their place and they allow us to do things on the web that we could pre­vi­ous­ly only do in apps, which is great. But best prac­tices for crawl­ing and index­ing still apply, even though it’s a new tech­nol­o­gy.

How can brands keep up with all the developments and changes to mobile SEO?

At large orga­ni­za­tions the plan­ning process could hap­pen years in advance and giv­en how quick­ly the mobile search space is chang­ing larg­er orga­ni­za­tions might not be able to get the resources to make an impact in time.

Ulti­mate­ly, most large orga­ni­za­tions should hope­ful­ly have some sort of inno­va­tion bud­get that they can use to keep up with the changes in mobile SEO.

Bryson Meu­nier is the SEO Direc­tor at Vivid Seats, an SEO vet­er­an with more than 16 years expe­ri­ence both agency and in-house, and a thought leader in per­mis­sion mar­ket­ing as a colum­nist for Search Engine Land, Mar­ket­ing Land and .Net Mag­a­zine and a fre­quent speak­er on SEO and mobile mar­ket­ing. You can con­nect with him on LinkedIn and Twit­ter.

Pat Hong

Written by Pat Hong

Editor at Linkdex/Inked, Linkdex

Pat covers the SEO industry, digital marketing trends, and anything and everything around Linkdex. He also authors Linkdex's data analysis and reports, analysing the state of search in various industries.

Inked is published by Linkdex, the SEO platform of choice for professional marketers.

Discover why brands and agencies choose Linkdex

  • Get started fast with easy onboarding & training
  • Import and connect data from other platforms
  • Scale with your business, websites and markets
  • Up-skill teams with training & accreditation
  • Build workflows with tasks, reporting and alerts

Get a free induction and experience of Linkdex.

Just fill out this form, and one of our team members will get in touch to arrange your own, personalized demo.