Nov 5, 2016

The Data Is A Lie, Or At Least Misleading

by | Google Updates

Something I’m big on is data and data visualization. When you’re in a line of work where you spend countless hours staring at data (sometimes without a clue as to what it means), seeing how the data could be displayed misleadingly allows you to look more critically when other sources release their data findings.

Note: When I refer to desktop, this also includes laptops.

Reports come out every year about the usage of devices when it comes to search. Over time, mobile has exceeded desktop search, and the data behind this is factual. More searches are completed on mobile devices compared to desktops. The issue lies within how Google has interpreted this data and how business owners perceive it. I’m not saying that Google is purposely misleading anyone or that they don’t see the full picture, I’m just saying that there’s more behind the numbers than what I’ve read.

Due to the shift in search to mobile, Google has decided to split its index. There will now (or is – depending on when you’re reading this) be a separate mobile and desktop index. To me, this isn’t too big of a deal, having a mobile-friendly website has been a priority of SEOs for a while now. The problem I see is that Google says they will update the desktop index less often than they do now.

There’s no word as to how long this ‘refresh’ delay will be. Once a day? Once a week? Once a month? This delay will make reaching higher ranks require more time as you’ll only know if you’re making progress each time Google updates this index. This also means that if you’re affected by a penalty, and you suddenly drop in rankings, it will take longer to recover as you’ll need to wait for the index to refresh.

But hey, who cares right? Over 50% of searches are on mobile so we should just forget about desktop, right? Well, you should care. Consumers don’t buy on mobile at the same capacity that they do on desktop. There are various reasons, but I believe the most prevalent is the fear of insecurity. Imagine a user researching a product you sell, they find your website on mobile and want to buy, they go home and complete the same search, but you don’t rank as well on desktop – they might just buy from your competitor.

Stop, the data is misleading!

Mobile is still critical, but we must consider how users interact with these platforms differently. Many users will complete research on their mobile device and make purchases either in store or on their desktop. Mobile is great for finding information but not as ideal for making sales. This is why your website should contain a FAQ section and informative content that answers common questions consumers have during every stage of the buying process.

But all that was mainly thinking about sales and what I’m talking about is the data and what we aren’t being told, or at least not considering. When do we use desktops and when do we use our phones? Where are we when we use these devices? What do we do when we use these devices? What websites do we visit?

If you’ve ever driven anywhere, you’ve seen people on their phones. Sometimes it’s in dead traffic in LA or NYC, other times it’s a bit scarier to see someone on their phone going 80mph down the freeway. Regardless, they’re on their phone. When’s the last time you saw someone using a laptop while in the car? If they’re driving that’s terrifying, and if they’re a passenger they likely don’t have Wi-Fi. While a laptop may be mobile, it’s not always practical to use.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m bored I do a bunch of really random Google searches. These searches have no intent behind them other than distracting me from my boredom. This isn’t something I do on my desktop (at least not as often).

Finally, consider the types of websites that mobile traffic usually goes to. Content sites. Reading Forbes, WSJ, and other content-only sites are what many mobile searches land on. Sending users to content sites is not a bad thing, it just means that mobile and desktop are not equal. Which is how a split index could be helpful, by serving users based on how devices are used, but at this time it doesn’t look like this is the intent behind it.

What are the key takeaways here?

1. Don’t take this update as a reason to dump most of your efforts into mobile unless you’re a content-only site but don’t neglect how mobile could impact your overall sales and brand.

2. Understand when and why users use mobile devices. Devices that are generally with them where ever they go. Work, home, walks, and boring car rides.

3. Look at your sales funnel. Is desktop ready to make the sale? Is mobile able to entice the sale and make the sale simple – even if the user switches to a desktop to purchase?

4. Don’t take data at its word. Numbers can easily be misleading if you don’t look at what made these figures.

Thanks For Reading!

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I’m Jarod, the SEO, and

Engineer of Awesome

An image of me on a mountain in Mass

Thank you for stopping by to read my blog (and this bio!) I’ve been a Search Engine Optimizer for over four years and a developer for two years. I love sharing my knowledge, learning, and educating others about what I do and the industries I love. If you found this post informative please share this with your friends – or strangers – and if you didn’t find this post informative, please share it with your enemies.