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Google Discusses How Secondary Effects Can Negate SEO

In a Google Webmaster Hangout, the question was asked about how content is rearranged from desktop to mobile and if there is an impact once Google switches to mobile first indexing.

Google’s Reasonable Surfer patent was briefly mentioned (relating roughly to how many links are followed until Google bounces out of a site). But that part of the question was not addressed by Google’s John Mueller. Perhaps because the question was too general.

Yet Mueller shared an important insight into the secondary effects related to user experience and how it can impact SEO.

Here is the question that was asked:

If content is equivalent across the mobile and desktop but on the mobile it just looks a mess. Will you consider that to be equivalent and would you index a mobile site if it… Obviously Googlebot’s not going to be saying well, ‘this looks a mess.’

But the point is that it’s a negative experience if someone gets to pages and it looks an absolute mess, even though the content is the same. It’s not a good user experience, is it?

What about if on the right hand side on the desktop sidebar with a list of related searches or whatever… Mobile break points kick in once it gets to a certain size and the list goes much further down outside of the viewport.

That’s going to have an impact, isn’t it? … That changes the whole experience for the user, doesn’t it?

Mueller declined to say how Google would index such a site, perhaps again because the answer can’t be generalized.

Image of Google's John Mueller in a Webmaster Hangout videoGoogle’s John Mueller offers opinion on how a poor user experience on mobile could subvert SEO efforts.

However he did mention the possibility of not giving such a site the mobile-friendly boost. Would be interesting to hear more about circumstances where mobile friendly boosts  aren’t given in a future hangout.

This is John Mueller’s answer:

I think you’d see a bigger effect on the user side than on the SEO side, for something like that. But the user side I think is critical. …because if users can’t deal with your content they’re not going to recommend it, they’re not going to convert, then all of the SEO work that you do from a technical point of view is essentially for nothing.

So that’s something where you definitely need to take into account both of those sides. Like making sure that technically we can pick it up properly but also that users are able to have a good experience there. So that you have all of those secondary effects that come into play.

What to Do with Sidebar Content?

The example in the question posited that a website’s sidebar content worked well in desktop but not on the mobile version. Many niches now operate on a mobile first model. So that may mean that the kind of content traditionally placed in the sidebar may have to be reconsidered in light of how it’s displayed in mobile.

Related posts should probably go at the bottom of the mobile first page. Newsletter sign ups and call to actions might also have to be transitioned to within the body of the content itself. There’s a lot to think about, especially transitioning away from thinking of how a site looks like on the desktop then worrying about how it looks on mobile. The order may have to be reversed.

Sticky Footer Menus

Sticky footer menus are a user experience enhancement. It allows a publisher to permanently display important navigation elements at the bottom of the viewport. This keeps the menu conveniently accessible, which is helpful on long mobile pages.

The issue of sticky footer menus was briefly brought up but the concept was not addressed by John Mueller. I think to correctly answer the question about sticky footer menus, one would have to examine the source code to see how Googlebot might interpret the page on a code level. Perhaps the issue of a sticky footer menu may be addressed in a future webmaster hangout.

Watch the Webmaster Hangout here

Images by Shutterstock, Modified by Author


Category News SEO
SEJ STAFF Roger Montti Owner - at

I have 25 years hands-on experience in SEO and have kept on  top of the evolution of search every step ...

Google Discusses How Secondary Effects Can Negate SEO

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