When companies are hit by Panda and see a huge drop in Google organic traffic, they often run to check their websites. They fire up Chrome or Firefox on their desktop computer and start looking around. That’s a smart thing to do, as deep Panda analysis is worth its weight in gold. But by spending so much time analyzing their websites via a desktop computer, they might be missing an extremely important segment of their traffic that’s growing every single day – MOBILE.
Panda and Engagement
In a nutshell, Google’s Panda algorithm is trying to understand how happy users are with your site. It’s more about engagement than some technical problem (although I have seen technical problems impact content quality). Sites hit by Panda often have serious problems from a user engagement standpoint, a credibility standpoint, and even a deception standpoint. You can read my previous posts about Panda to learn more about what I’m referring to.
So, understanding that Panda focuses on engagement, webmasters impacted by our bamboo-eating friend need to hunt down problematic content, functionality, usability issues, advertising issues, etc.
But while analyzing a site impacted by Panda, you may have to take a different angle with your review. Depending on your audience, you may need to stop looking at your beautiful site in Chrome on that 24-inch flat screen. Instead, you may need to pull out your phone with a 4- to 5-inch screen. Mobile traffic just might be providing Google a boatload of negative user engagement data, and that data can absolutely lead to a Panda attack.
The Mobile Connection With Recent Panda 4.0 Victims
Panda 4.0 was a huge update. I won’t go crazy here detailing the update, since I’ve already written several posts about the recoveries and fresh hits. Since May 20, I’ve been helping a number of companies with large-scale Panda attacks.
While analyzing websites impacted by P4.0, it wasn’t long before I noticed an interesting connection for some clients. One of the first things I do when jumping into a Panda audit is to perform a search history analysis. That’s where I analyze the site over time from a number of viewpoints. And one area I’ve been focusing on heavily is the percentage of mobile traffic leading to a website over time.
We all know mobile is growing rapidly, but there are still many sites with less than 20 percent mobile traffic. Don’t get me wrong, that’s still a good percentage of traffic from smartphones, but it’s not a majority. Then there are other websites in a much different situation. For example, I’m helping several large-scale websites now with Panda hits that have 50 percent mobile traffic from Google organic. Yes, 50 percent.
(Hint, the Most Important Line of This Column Is Coming Up…)
So, if Google’s Panda algorithm is measuring user experience, and your site gets 50 percent of its visits from mobile, then that means 50 percent of those Panda metrics are from mobile users. I’ll give you a second to read that last line again. Yes, half of the data Google has access to while analyzing your site from a Panda standpoint would be from mobile users.
Can you see why a heavy-duty analysis of your site via desktop might not cut it while analyzing a serious Panda hit? You would be only viewing half the problem. And depending on your technical setup, fixing half the problem might not lead to recovery.
The Mobile Panda - What You Can Do Now
If you have been hit by Panda and you’ve been focused on analyzing your site via desktop only, then you might feel like eating your smartphone now. Don’t, I’m here to help. This post can get you moving in the right direction from a mobile Panda standpoint, and quickly.
Below, I’ve listed seven things you can do today to better understand how mobile users are experiencing your website. Warning, what you find might scare you. And if it scares you, then think about what it does to a Panda with a smartphone. Note, I’m not going to cover each step in great detail. The post would get way too long. Instead, my goal is to get you moving in the right direction so you can identify potential Panda problems for mobile users. Then it’s your job to dig in and fix those problems.
1. Segment Mobile Data in Google Analytics
The first thing you need to do is to hop over to Google Analytics and check out your mobile reporting. Click the Audience tab in the left menu, click Mobile, and then Overview. Then set the timeframe to before the Panda attack. I recommend checking a good six to eight weeks prior to the drop in traffic. The report will show you the total sessions broken down by desktop, tablet, and mobile.
Again, what you find might shock you. There are some clients I have that see more than 50 percent of their overall traffic from mobile devices. But don’t stop there. You want to see the percentage of mobile traffic from organic search. Click the Segmentation drop down, which should currently read "All Sessions." Then choose Organic Traffic from the System list of segments, which will filter your reporting by organic search traffic hitting your site. Click the Apply button at the bottom of the menu to apply the filter.
Quick Tip: You can create your own segment for just Google Organic traffic to see how much mobile traffic is hitting your site (just from Google). I won’t cover the steps in this column, but creating custom segments is a powerful thing to do when analyzing websites.
The big takeaway here is that you now understand how much mobile traffic Google is using to measure user engagement. If you’ve been impacted by Panda, and it’s a high percentage, then you absolutely need to better-understand how mobile users are engaging with your site and content.
2. View Mobile Reporting in Google Webmaster Tools (GWT)
Let’s move to Google Webmaster Tools. I still find many webmasters don’t know that you can segment mobile search traffic directly in the Search Queries reporting in Google Webmaster Tools. You can, and it’s important to analyze.
Once you access Google Webmaster Tools, click Search Traffic from the left menu, and then Search Queries. The default report will be filtered by Web (for Web search). If you click the "Filters" button, you can choose "Mobile" instead.
By selecting Mobile, you can check your trending over the past 90 days for mobile search queries. That includes the number of impressions, clicks, click-through rate (CTR), and average position. The most important columns for our purposes today are impressions and clicks. You want to take note of how many you are receiving from mobile search and compare that to desktop. Again, you are looking for the percentage of mobile traffic to see how much bamboo you are feeding users.
Once you better-understand the percentages, you can drill into the search queries and top landing pages from mobile traffic. Talk about hunting down potential problems Panda-wise...You can match queries with landing pages and then directly visit those landing pages from the reporting in GWT.
Also, by clicking the Top Pages report, you can view all of the landing pages receiving impressions and clicks from mobile users. Remember, Google is getting a lot of its engagement data from users visiting these pages. You can often find glaring problems by visiting those top pages… And if you catch a Panda hit quickly, you can click the "With Change" button to compare the current timeframe to the previous time frame.
This is similar to what I explained about running a Panda report in Google Analytics. You can identify the core content seeing the largest drops in organic search traffic after the Panda hit. I recommend exporting the reporting to further analyze in Excel.
3. Test Your Site Via Multiple Devices (and Operating Systems)
Now that you know you have a lot of mobile traffic, and that mobile traffic can be impacting you Panda-wise, it’s time to fire up multiple mobile devices. This is where it’s smart to invest in several devices for testing purposes. I always have a number of devices accessible so I can test websites across various phones, tablets, sizes, operating systems, etc.
This is where the rubber hits the road. There’s nothing like testing a website via real mobile devices. You can get an amazing feel for usability, readability, load times, advertising issues, etc.
Bonus: Once you test your site across various devices, you can check the Devices report in Google Analytics to view engagement metrics tied to specific devices. For example, does the site lag on iPhones? Are Android users experiencing weird issues causing them to bounce off the site? Look for high bounce rates, low time on site, and low pages per visit for various smartphone models or operating systems. You might uncover some interesting things.
Also, remember the reports we ran earlier to find top landing pages from mobile? Well, visit those urls via your devices! That’s where mobile users from Google are going…so you should, too. Follow the bamboo trail.
4. Use Fetch and Render in Google Webmaster Tools
But it gets even better. You can choose a specific crawler to view how your pages are rendered via desktop, smartphone, and feature phone. You can fire up GWT and select Crawl from the left menu, and then Fetch as Google to access the functionality. For our purposes, you can enter a URL in the text field and then select "Mobile: Smartphone" from the drop-down to the right. When you click "Fetch and Render," Google will fetch the page and render it using the necessary resources to build the page content.
Once the render is complete, you will see a note under the "Status” column. It will say complete, partial, or error. Then you can click the status message to view the page details and to view a snapshot of the rendered page.
At this point, you might notice some strange things going on in the snapshot. Did your page render correctly? Is all the content present? Are blocks of content missing, including ads? What does Google list as blocked resources and did you know you were blocking them?
And most importantly, did you realize your mobile users are seeing those problems?
5. Test Your Site Via User Agent Switcher
Although testing via actual mobile devices is the best way to go, you can absolutely supplement your analysis with various Chrome and Firefox extensions. I often use the extension called User Agent Switcher to accomplish this task. There are a boatload of user agents you can download from the Web that you can import into User Agent Switcher. Then you can easily change your user agent on the fly to view websites like you would via mobile devices.
Note, I wouldn’t rely on this method fully, but it’s a quick way to get a feel for how websites are handling mobile traffic. For example, you can see if websites have faulty redirects being triggered by user agent. You can check if blocks of content are missing when switching user agent, if the navigation breaks, or if specific user agents are triggering other problems.
6. Crawl as Googlebot for Smartphones
Performing a crawl analysis of a website is an important and scalable way to supplement your manual audits. If a large percentage of your traffic is from smartphones, then you definitely want to know how Googlebot for Smartphones views your website.
Luckily, some of the most popular spidering tools enable you to do this. For example, both Screaming Frog and DeepCrawl enable you to change the user agent for your crawl.
Once you crawl your site as Googlebot for Smartphones, you can view the various issues being flagged. For example, you might see all requests being redirected to the homepage (faulty redirects). You might see many errors showing up during the crawl (that aren’t showing up when you run a standard crawl of the site). You might find the word count and file size to be low when crawling as Googlebot for Smartphones. And more.
All of these flags could lead to website rendering problems or the mishandling of mobile traffic. And if a large percentage of your traffic is experiencing these problems, then poor user engagement signals could be picked up by Google. And if that happens, the mighty Panda may not be happy.
7. Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights Tools
Last, but not least, is to test your webpages via Google’s PageSpeed Insights. When you run URLs through the tool, you can view a number of important recommendations and changes directly from Google. The tool fetches each url twice, once by a desktop user agent and the second via a mobile user agent.
There is an entire section labeled "Mobile" where Google provides recommendations for speeding up the page, enhancing the user experience, etc. You might find a number of issues that Google flags that you didn’t know were problematic. You will also see a screenshot of the page as rendered on a smartphone.
I recommend checking a number of your pages via this tool, and especially the top pages from Google organic (that I mentioned earlier). Those are the pages that were heavily visited via Google organic prior to the Panda hit. You might find some important issues that you can fix quickly.
Summary – Analysis Through the Lens of Panda’s Smartphone
When you are hit by Panda, you definitely want to hunt down engagement problems, enhance the user experience, and make sure users aren’t running into technical barriers along the way. And if a large percentage of users access your website via mobile devices, then you need analyze your website through the mobile lens of Panda. A purely desktop analysis might not cut it (and probably won’t).
I recommend first determining how much mobile traffic is hitting your website from organic search, and then from Google organic. Then you should dig into your site like a mobile user would via the recommendations I provided above. Again, follow the bamboo trail.
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