5 Big SEO Challenges Discussed (with Nick Eubanks)

Liza Voronkova

Feb 21, 201715 min read
SEO Challenges

Google and other search engines are constantly updating their algorithms in order to provide users with the best search experience. This presents challenges for SEO.

SEO professionals and site owners have to constantly adjust their optimization strategies to the new online environment. Otherwise, as search engines review and revise their algorithms, rankings will be affected.

To discuss current big SEO challenges, we invited our special guest Nick Eubanks SEO and entrepreneur. Nick is Head of Strategy at From The Future and Partner at Traffic Think Tank

Nick and our other SEMrushchat participants shared their tips on challenges for SEO, such as how to prepare for Google’s mobile-first index, voice search, and more.

 Q1. In order to prepare for Google’s mobile-first indexing, what should SEOs bear in mind?

In November 2016, Google started testing its mobile-first index, which is expected to change the way websites are ranked in search engine results pages. This means that eventually, Google algorithms will primarily use the mobile version of your site’s content.

Let’s see what SEO specialists should do to prepare for Google’s mobile-first index.

1. Create a mobile website or responsive design

First of all, it’s important to have a mobile site or responsive design that will optimize your site for smartphones and tablets. As Rachel Howe pointed out, SEO specialists and site owners should have already done this. If they haven’t, they need to start immediately. “Google will use a mobile site to figure out both desktop and mobile rankings. Get your mobile site in order,” recommended Andy Drinkwater. “Have a mobile website. It's amazing how many sites still aren't mobile-friendly!” tweeted Netvantage Marketing.

2. Page Load Speeds Should be Good Enough for Mobile

Modern users expect websites to load very fast. So does Google. You need to make sure that your site’s load speed is high enough to rank on mobile SERPs. Nick remarked that speed is now more important than ever. In addition to your site’s load time, Arnout Hellemans also recommended paying attention to its user experience: “Speed is the key, test your loading speed on mobile, no pop-ups, focus on UX. Log errors and take feedback seriously.”

3. Review User experience for Mobile

Just because you have a responsive design doesn’t mean that you don’t have to care about user experience. To provide your site visitors with the best possible experience, you need to have clear, focused content and easy-to-understand menus and navigation. You should also adapt your design for touch and leverage mobile-specific features. “[SEOs should think about] UX for both content and navigation, sites should invest in AMP pages and informational content,” tweeted Samantha Torres. You can also check out these five common UX mistakes you need to avoid on your mobile site.

4. Consider AMP Pages Where Possible

Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project was specifically designed to help publishers create mobile-optimized content. In a nutshell, AMP pages are lightweight pages that are designed to load quickly on mobile devices and a highly accessible framework for creating fast-loading mobile webpages. These pages provide publishers with a relatively easy way to improve the speed of their mobile websites. SEO specialists should consider creating AMP pages whenever possible.

5. Understand User Intent Across Devices

Josephine Hardy made a great point, saying that a mobile-friendly website is much more than just a responsive site. User intent differs across multiple devices. This means that site owners need to understand what their mobile users are trying to accomplish on their sites. Because desktop and mobile searches are prioritized differently, you need to optimize your site accordingly.

SEO Challenges Recap: In order to prepare for Google's mobile-first indexing, what should SEOs bear in mind?

  • Make sure to get your mobile site in order because Google uses these mobile sites to figure out both desktop and mobile rankings.
  • Create Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) if it's feasible or relevant.
  • Look at the level of content and structured markup on desktop pages vs. mobile. It's important to remember that mobile users have a different intent, so make it easy for your mobile users.

You don’t have to wait until Google’s mobile-first index is officially announced. Follow these tips from our chat participants to prepare for this update. The time for action is now!

Q2. Do you believe that websites with full-page interstitials will be penalized and are they a ranking factor? 

Interstitial spaces are small webpages that appear before or after an expected page of a website or within a mobile application and block out the site’s or app’s other content. They usually freeze on the screen for a select number of seconds until an “X” button appears. Interstitial spaces serve as a promotional tool – as an advertisement or to encourage people to sign up for a mailing list, survey, or anything else.

In August 2016, Google published a post on its official blog about helping its users easily access content on mobile: “Pages that show intrusive interstitials provide a poorer experience to users than other pages where content is immediately accessible. This can be problematic on mobile devices where screens are often smaller.” In this post, Google also provided several examples of both interstitials that make content less accessible and interstitials that are used responsibly.

Nick thinks that Google will penalize mobile sites with interstitials. There’s already data that proves a correlation between dips in organic visits and traffic from interstitials on mobile.

In Reva Minkoff’s opinion, using interstitials on your site is a serious risk. She remarked that Google has already penalized pop-up ads, and interstitials are essentially the same thing.

AJ Ghergich remarked that Google will penalize big interstitials only on mobile sites, not on desktop.

On the other hand, Ryan Jones pointed out that interstitials are only a mobile-friendliness factor and they won’t lead to a penalty. However, he mentioned that users tend to hate those intrusive popups.

Some of our chat participants pointed out that sites with interstitials will be punished, as visitors will be deterred by annoying interstitials. “You need to consider user experience. Do these interstitials irritate them? Always think of the user first,” recommended PolePositionMkg.

Interstitials interfere with your site’s user experience. They hinder visitors from completing a desired action and force an ad view until they figure out how to click out. As a result, using too many of these web elements can lead to a high bounce rate.

Also, Michael James Field shared his observations, saying that today the role of interstitial spaces is declining.

SEO Challenges Recap: Do you believe that websites with full-page interstitials will be penalized and are they a ranking factor? 

  • Get rid of (big) interstitials on mobile - Google will penalize them on mobile but not desktop.
  • The search engines care about UX and interstitials don't help that, plus it's a serious risk.
  • If Google can see the interstitials are providing value to the site there shouldn't be a penalty. For example, on a site like Pinterest, there might be a business objective where the pop-up works.
  • According to Google, webpages with intrusive interstitials provide a poorer user experience than other pages with immediate access to content. This is a signal and not a penalty, so it’s better not to overuse these elements and follow best practices when using them.

Q3. What are some common errors that result from inadequate JavaScript testing and how can you fix them?

JavaScript is a programming language with object-oriented capabilities. It’s most commonly used on webpages whose implementations allow the user to interact with the client-side script. At first sight, JavaScript may seem quite simple; however, a number of common JavaScript mistakes can keep your code from working.

Here are some of the most common JavaScript errors that occur because of inadequate testing of JavaScript.

1. JavaScript conflicts in some browsers

Some browsers can cause JavaScript conflicts. If issues are triggered by a JavaScript libraries conflict, you need to look at the JavaScript console. Depending on your browser, its name will vary slightly: DevTools Console, Web Developer Tools, Web Inspector, etc. Every browser has a different way of accessing the console. These tools will display a JavaScript conflict to help you detect a problem. If you find the error, you need to figure out which part of your site causes this problem.

2. Memory leaks Are a Common Problem

This issue is easy to detect. If your site increasingly uses more memory, you have a leak. Different devices and browsers have different capabilities. For example, the same page can run smoothly on one device and crash on another one.

You need to test your webpage on those devices that are popular with your users. If its user experience is bad, your page may exceed the memory capabilities of these devices. In his post, Kayce Basques explains how to fix memory problems.

3. Incorrect reference to “this”

In most cases, the value of “this” is determined by what a function is called. For example, the issue occurs, when you’re trying to name a function in an object, but you type the wrong name. Therefore, you always need to ensure that the function name is correct.

4. JavaScript is blocking the DOM

When it comes to analyzing the load speed of your webpage, you need to take into consideration what might be blocking the Document Object Model (DOM). Before a browser can render a webpage, it has to build the DOM tree by parsing the HTML markup. Whenever the parser encounters a script, it stops to execute the script before it can continue parsing the HTML.

When it comes to an external script, the parser is also forced to wait for the resource to download. You need to avoid and minimize the use of blocking JavaScript. To find out more, check out how to remove render-blocking JavaScript.

5. Blocking JavaScript files in your robots.txt file

If you block JavaScript files in your robots.txt file, Google won’t be able to render your website. Therefore, Google won’t completely understand your site, and it might even result in lower rankings.

SEO Challenges Recap: What are some common errors that result from inadequate JavaScript testing and how can you fix them?

  • Some browsers can cause JavaScript conflicts

  • Memory leaks from "If Else" error, Javascript closure and Undefined vs Null.

  • Incorrect references to "this" and incorrect use of "Loops".

  • Blocking Javascript and CSS in Robots.txt stops Google from understanding content layout.

  • Javascript can cause a DOM to not be constructed and stop page content from being crawled.

To find out more on the topic, check out the following guide with examples provided by Ryan J. Peterson: “ Buggy JavaScript Code: The 10 Most Common Mistakes JavaScript Developers Make.”

Q4. What are the differences between data highlighting and schema tags and which should we prefer?

Schema markup is a specific vocabulary of tags that you can add to your HTML to help search engines return more informative results for users This microdata helps crawlers interpret the content on your webpages more effectively.

However, there is another way to add structured data markup to your pages. Data Highlighter is a browser-based tool that helps webmasters markup their pages. Our chat guests shared their opinions on both implementing schema markup and data highlighting.

Some of our chat participants voted for schema markup, saying that it’s more effective.‏

Nick agreed with Andy Drinkwater on this point and mentioned that, with schema, you can practically wrap data the way you prefer.

Netvantage Marketing pointed out that you should use schema for local optimization.

Even though Danny Ray Lima finds Data Highlighter satisfying, he remarked that schema offers a variety of markup codes to enhance your content. “Use Schema every time,” advised Mark Preston, “I've had so many quick wins through implementing Schema correctly.”

The Data Highlighter tool is easy to use, but schema provides much wider options. “What I know is that data highlighter can be easier to use, but nowhere near as many options as schema,” tweeted ThinkSEM.

Pat Whalen believes that data highlighting is good for small and medium businesses that don’t have advanced knowledge of web development and cannot hire a professional developer.

Dawn Anderson pointed out that if you have access to a code base, you definitely need to use schema markup.

As you can see, opinions are divided. Some of our chat participants strongly recommended using schema markup, while others believe that your choice should depend on the circumstances. However, most of them agreed that schema offers enhanced snippets and enhanced visibility.

SEO Challenges Recap: What are the differences between data highlighting and schema tags and which should we prefer?

  • It depends on the circumstances.
  • If you have access to code case use schema tags, data highlighting should be a second choice.
  • Template changes can affect data highlighter configuration. Make sure to use universal schema markup.
  • Use schema for local optimization.
  • Schema is cleaner and you're physically wrapping the data the way you want it. With highlighting, things can get sloppy very quickly.

Q5. How will voice search affect websites’ SEO, rankings and choice of keywords?

As technology improves, voice search is becoming increasingly reliable. More people are searching for things on the Internet using voice. The question is, how will it change different aspects of SEO.

Here’s a list of five things that SEO specialists should pay attention to in light of the rise of voice search.

1. Content that answers questions

When people perform a voice search, they want direct answers. Their voice search queries significantly differ from regular text ones. This means that you need to adapt your content accordingly and make it answer your users’ questions. “More voice search happening now. Content should be written to answer questions like why, where, when, what, and how,” tweeted Malhar Barai.

2. Optimize for local and 'near me' searches

Voice queries often contain the phrase “near me,” which shows that a searcher wants to find a local business. To adapt your website to voice search, you should optimize it for local search and mobile.

3. User intent and personalization

Voice queries provide a better chance to predict searchers’ intent, which in turn gives site owners more insights into where users are during each stage of their journey. As a result, site owners gain the ability to tailor their content accordingly to enhance their search results.

4. Longer conversational phrases

With the expansion of voice search, our chat participants expect to see more long-tail keywords and natural language queries. If you optimize your content for longer conversational phrases, there’s a greater chance that users will end up on your site. ‏”With AI and RankBrain, as searches become more colloquial and conversational, you just need to adapt your content to match [these queries],” tweeted ThinkSEM.

Nick also pointed out that because of the rise of voice search, SEO specialists and site owners need to better understand how their target audiences speak, including what slangs and accents they use, etc.

Voice queries make contextual search more meaningful. Natural language queries provide a wealth of contextual information and useful data about users’ intent. Contextual understanding enables you to provide users with the exact information they need.

SEO Challenges Recap: How will voice search affect website SEO, ranking and keywords?

  • Voice search will put a bigger emphasis on searcher intent and personalization.
  • Optimize for longer, conversational phrases because most voice queries are information gathering and seeking answers.
  • With voice search, local SEO is more important than ever.
  • Voice search is going to put more emphasis on long-tail keywords, so it's going to be important to optimize for long-tail optimization.

Many thanks to Nick Eubanks and our other chat participants for sharing their expertise and knowledge!

Note, this SEMrush chat was hosted in February 2017 and all information was relevant at that time.