If you’re part of the online marketing world, mobile success has been at the top of your priority list for at least the last year or so. We’ve got mobile devices accounting for a third of all U.S. internet traffic (and BFO has seen sites where that number is approaching 50%). Google launched its mobile site testing tool earlier this year. And, the new Google mobile algorithm update is at our doorstep.
In the words of a famous TV pitchman, “But, wait, there’s more!”
Big Changes in Mobile SERPs Ahead
On April 16th, Google announced that – for mobile search results – they will be replacing the search results’ URL with a breadcrumb representation of the URL. At present, the breadcrumb replacement is available in Google US and is being rolled out worldwide. However, including the actual site name in the breadcrumb is currently only available in the US (i.e. the first element in the breadcrumb chain).
In the example below, Google has taken “www.google.com/about/company/history” and now displays that in the SERPs as “Google > about > company > history”.
You might be asking, “So what, Dalton? What does this all mean for my site?”
This update isn’t just some incidental change that Google made – they make them nearly every day, after all. No, this change has the ability to impact the click-thru-rate (CTR) for pages on your site when they appear in Google mobile search results.
When marketers create microdata, search-friendly URLs, and well-written, targeted meta data for their pages, the intent is not just to improve their organic relevancy but also to encourage users to click their particular search result. Well-targeted title tags, descriptive meta description tags, relevant URLs, and rich snippets can all entice users to click your search result over one of your competitors’. Clean, relevant, and engaging meta data will always win over the vague, irrelevant, and complicated.
The same thought process applies to this new change in how URLs are displayed in mobile search results. Luckily, there are ways to make this work in your favor.
Before we talk about optimization, we need to better understand how Google creates these breadcrumbs in the first place.
How Does Google Create The New Mobile Breadcrumbs?
In testing how Google is translating URLs into a particular breadcrumb, it appears that they are, more or less, just parsing out the name of each sub-directory and/or product page and then stringing it together into a single breadcrumb.
Let’s use HomeDepot.com as an example.
When I look at the HomeDepot.com “Specialty Screwdrivers” category page in the Google SERPs, I’m taken to the following URL:
The corresponding breadcrumb entry for this category page is as follows:
Home Depot > Tools-Hardware-Hand-To…
As we can see, Google is showing the first part of the sub-directory, not necessarily the part of the sub-directory that is most relevant to the page (i.e. “Specialty-Screwdrivers”). So, now we know that Google is going to create your breadcrumbs by just putting whatever is in your sub-directory (up to the character/pixel limit, of course).
Try it out for yourself.
Search for a product category or an individual product on your mobile phone in Google. Look at the breadcrumb, then look at the URL. Identical, right?
So, now that we understand what Google is doing with your breadcrumbs and how they’re doing it, let’s get down to brass tacks. How can you optimize your site to ensure that you are taking advantage of this mobile SERP change?
Making the SERP Change Work for Your Site and SEO CTR
We now understand a few things about SERPs:
- Having clean, succinctly written URLs can potentially improve your CTR.
- Google is using the literal URL structure for your mobile breadcrumbs, no matter how irrelevant.
If your site has a succinct, well-written URL structure and you’re happy with how your breadcrumbs are appearing in Google, then you’re in the clear. If you’d like to have more control of this, though, then read on.
Let’s say you have a complex and, well, ugly URL structure. Maybe your site has product page URLs that look like this:
By looking at this URL, a searcher is going to have no idea what your page is about. Your Google mobile breadcrumb will be just as unintuitive, potentially driving down mobile CTR. It will look something like this:
Example > b > products > 329_495…
If capturing that all-important mobile searcher is important to you, then you have a few opportunities available:
- Optimize your URL structure for SEO.
- Markup breadcrumb navigation with microdata.
First things first, re-doing your URL structure is no small feat – we understand that. However, by making a commitment to creating an intuitive URL structure – such as “http://www.example.com/hats/mens-detroit-redwings-hat.aspx” – you are helping both search engines and searchers better understand the content on your site. This can have a number of benefits, including improved traffic, rankings, CTRs, and indexation.
Creating a new information architecture is a long, involved process but there are a few high-level best practices when creating a new URL structure:
- Shorter is generally better: keep your sub-directories to a minimum, where possible.
- Use only page-relevant keywords in naming your URLs, as opposed to numbers or other special characters.
- Make sure you create a 301 redirect from the old pages to the new pages. This will help retain link equity and traffic from these pages, along with creating an overall good user experience.
If you currently use breadcrumbs as an on-page element (e.g. Hats > Mens Hats > Detroit Redwings Hat), you can also add microdata to each of these elements to help Google better understand their semantic relevance. The verdict is still out, but doing this may help Google to create a more intuitive-looking mobile breadcrumb for your pages. (And, if nothing else, relevant microdata on your pages is always a good idea.)
Currently, Google only supports the use of RDF-A microdata for marking up breadcrumb navigation. They do not support the use of Schema.org just yet. However, according to the latest Google Developers news, support for “Schema.org markup for breadcrumbs is being finalized and will be preferred when ready”. You can check out the latest news about Google’s microdata support for breadcrumbs here: https://developers.google.com/structured-data/breadcrumbs
Wrapping Things Up
Making mobile SEO a priority is no longer a luxury or something to think about next quarter – it’s a must-do right now. Being behind the eight ball with mobile search can cause a loss of rankings and traffic if you’re not careful. When Google recently rolled out its mobile SERPs display URLs – now showing breadcrumbs, in lieu of URLs – this created an opportunity for proactive marketers and webmasters to capitalize on their site. By implementing a more intuitive, search-friendly URL structure and microdata for on-page breadcrumb navigation, website owners are helping to improve the CTR of their site. While this may not be a ‘quick fix’ to implement, it will be one that pays dividends in the new mobile future.
For more information on search strategies to drive business, check out our ebook!