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Mobile-first index set to be the way forward for Google

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According to industry chatter, Google has been testing its mobile-first index live within its search results in the last few weeks.

The company first announced the new index back in November 2016, as documented by Barry Schwartz from Search Engine Land. In a Google Hangout on 3rd October, John Mueller announced that Google is rolling out the first phase of the new index and is starting to experiment with live results.

What does ‘mobile-first’ mean?

Google is always working around the clock to improve its UX, and in recent years part of their mandate has been to acknowledge – and act upon – the shift towards mobile search.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, you’ll be more than familiar with the latest stats surrounding desktop vs mobile searches. To recap, Google itself has claimed that more than 50% of search queries on a global scale now come from mobile devices; an independent report conducted by Hitwise claims that this figure is actually nearer 60%. Either way, mobile is changing the way we search for information, and as it’s Google’s job to cater for the majority, it seems logical that they should update their algorithm to better service mobile users. Part of this involves evaluating the usefulness of a page according to what can actually be seen by a mobile user.

Google has traditionally always crawled web pages as if it were viewing them from a desktop browser. But at some point in the near future, bots will only look at page content as if it were being accessed from a mobile phone or tablet.

What’s interesting is that, up until now, Google was reassuring webmasters that if they didn’t have a mobile version of their website, the algorithm will automatically consider the content in the desktop version instead. Now, it’s becoming clear that their long-term plan is to shift to a mobile-only rating system and do away with desktop indexing completely.

This potentially has huge implications for webmasters, and specifically companies, who have not yet invested in a responsive design for their website.

How the index will be introduced by Google

As you can imagine, this move has sent some website owners into meltdown, but there’s really no need to panic. Yet.

Google is renowned for keeping schtum about its updates these days. However, in this case, company figureheads such as Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Gary Illyes have not only been confirming that mobile-first is happening, but they’ve also giving SEOs an idea of when we can expect it to happen. This transparency has already gone some way to easing anxiety amongst publishers (and, perhaps more importantly, online businesses who rely on search for sales and enquiries).

Responding to concerns that webmasters may not have time to adjust their websites before the changes come into play, Illyes has been quick to emphasize that the roll-out won’t immediately hurt sites that are not yet mobile friendly.

“[It could be] several years – maybe five years – before we reach an index that is only mobile-first,” he said at the recent SMX Advanced conference in Seattle, USA. He also mentioned that Google’s engineers’ initial goal for the launch was 2017, but this is now more likely to be 2018.

Barry Schwartz has suggested that “Google will roll out the first batch to pages that are equivalent between desktop and mobile,” softening the below further. And when it comes to talking to the web about what’s in development, his opinion is that “Google will likely begin some level of communication, be it via blog posts, direct communication and/or Google Search Console notifications for those who have issues.”

So, the mobile-first index is definitely on its way, but Google is going to be actively walking us through the changes.

Why is this important for businesses?

This long-overdue change in the way that Google assesses and ranks websites means that having a mobile-responsive platform is no longer a matter of choice – it’s absolutely essential if you want to perform well in organic search.

The official advice from Google is to prepare for the rollout by following the below steps:

  1. Get your responsive site ready.
  2. Configure 301 redirects on the old mobile URLs to point to the responsive versions (the new pages). These redirects need to be done on a per-URL basis, individually from each mobile URL to the responsive URL.
  3. Remove any mobile-URL specific configuration your site might have, such as conditional redirects or a Vary HTTP header.
  4. As a good practice, set up rel=canonical on the responsive URLs pointing to themselves (self-referential canonicals).


Depending on the state of your current website, these steps may just represent the tip of the iceberg. If you need help developing (or redeveloping) a responsive website, Freelance SEO Essex can help.

Our team will be happy to talk you through your options and make sure your business is 100% ready for Google’s new mobile-first index.

Visit our web design page for more information, or contact us directly.


Is Bing Really Threatening Google?

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Microsoft’s Search Engine is Increasing in Popularity

The latest statistics show that Bing is gaining increasing traction in desktop search. What are the implications for your SEO strategy?

For many people, Google and internet search are synonymous terms. In the same way as you hoover the carpet, you Google something on the internet. The idea that any other search engine could seriously threaten Google’s dominance might seem ludicrous. After all, who has ever Binged anything?

The latest statistics released from comScore could, therefore, raise some eyebrows. They show that 26 percent of searches on UK desktops are now performed on Bing – put into context, that represents just under a billion searches every month.

The news came as no surprise to our analysts at Freelance SEO Essex, who have noticed an increase in leads from Bing over the course of 2017 to date. Here, we take a look at where this growth is coming from and what it might mean for your SEO strategy.

The Windows 10 effect

One of the first things that needs to be noted is that the statistics relate to desktop search only – we will look at mobile in a moment – and herein lies the first clue to Bing’s increase in popularity.

The vast majority of laptops sold today are running Windows 10, and its virtual assistant Cortana is ever present. All Cortana searches are automatically conducted on Bing.

The fact that Microsoft is also offering rewards for using Bing is another factor that certainly won’t hurt its market share, too.

Is Google in decline?

Before we write Google off as being the Hoover to Bing’s Dyson, there are a few things worth bearing in mind. The first is that although Desktop search statistics are interesting, these days, the majority of searches are carried out on mobile devices. Here, it is a different story, Google still dominates with 95 percent of searches.

The other point worthy of note is that the statistics show increased use of Bing in the UK and the USA, but globally, its market share is just ten percent. Across mainland Europe, and particularly in Asia, Google’s position is largely undiminished.

Also, the rise of voice search is shaking up the industry. The latest news, however, puts Google ahead – Apple has chosen to replace Bing with Google as the default Siri search engine.

Implications for SEO

Many businesses make the same mistake as individuals when it comes to assuming that “search” means Google, but we can see that from a UK and USA perspective, at least, this is a dangerous assumption to make.

Broadly speaking, Bing is interested in many of the same factors as Google when it decides where to rank your website. That means good quality, unique content, with well crafted titles that accurately reflect the content.

When it comes to assessing authority, Bing places weight on the age of your domain, with longer-established domains given higher priority. Bing is less interested in blogging when ranking sites, but does look at links and social media shares.

Depending on your market intelligence, Bing PPC is also worth considering. Of course, despite the rising popularity, it still has a vastly smaller audience than Google, but cost per click rates are also far lower – typically 60 to 70 percent, but varying according to the sector.

As such, if your target demographic is UK or US based and you see significant desktop traffic, it could be a valuable strand to incorporate in your SEO strategy.


Introducing the South East Bloggers Club!

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Here at FSE, we do everything we can to encourage stronger collaborations between businesses and bloggers. We know first-hand the importance of a solid content marketing strategy – and what better way to promote your products or services than to ask a popular blogger with a large audience to mention you in their next piece?

Well, that’s exactly what we’re encouraging with the South East Bloggers Club (SEBC).

As a joint project between our agency, PR experts Voice Communications and content development company Indy Consultancy, SEBC’s aim is to introduce forward-thinking brands to talented bloggers (and vice versa) for exciting joint ventures.

When they sign up to our blogging network, brands get more exposure from bloggers who are in touch with relevant online communities; whereas bloggers get an enhanced following, increased engagement with businesses that want to work with bloggers, and invitations to exclusive events. Throw in all the SEO and marketing benefits of highly targeted blogging and it’s a win-win agreement for everyone involved!

The inaugural networking event…

SEBC is hosting its first networking evening on 28th September 2017 at the beautiful Layer Marney Tower near Colchester, Essex.

The benefits for brands

If you’re based in the South East, have an infectious passion for what you sell and are a big believer in the benefits of content marketing, we’re pretty sure you and your business would be a great fit for this event.

So what can we offer?

For just £50, we’ll put brands in touch with dozens of established bloggers on the night. All companies that attend will receive a free stall and will have the opportunity to contribute a small product to the free goody bag which will be handed to all bloggers in attendance.

There’s no obligation to work with any of our writers – just have a chat, establish some common ground and see where the conversation takes you! On the flip side, if you have ideas in mind for your next content marketing campaign, our bloggers will be more than happy to discuss them in more detail.

We’ll be providing free-flowing prosecco and some tasty nibbles for our lucky guests, and you’ll benefit from tonnes of social media exposure before, during and after the event.

The benefits for bloggers

The event is completely free of charge for bloggers. Simply turn up with an open mind and enjoy getting to know some of the most vibrant businesses in Essex. You’re likely to find some great ideas for future posts and will come away with some lovely freebies, too!


For more information on the SEBC or to express interest in September’s event, please contact [email protected].

And, of course, if you’re looking for content for your SEO or broader marketing campaign, remember we offer specialist B2B web copywriting services.


WordPress To Go HTTPS Only

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secure wordpressWordPress is planning to go HTTPS only this year. Matt Mullenwag, the founder of WordPress, announced in December 2016 that certain features of WordPress will soon require that WordPress is installed on a secure server. So, what does this mean for web developers, businesses and users?

If your business website is hosted on WordPress, there is no immediate cause for concern. In fact, you may already have an HTTPS website, in which case, this news does not affect you – and well done for adopting the latest standard early! It is highly likely that WordPress will release an HTTPS only version, but this will probably be a major release. The latest WordPress version is 4.8 “Evans”, and our guess is that WordPress 5.0 will be the HTTPS version. Everybody hosted on non-secure sites will receive upgrades up to this version, and security patches will no doubt still be issued for 4.X.X versions.

HTTPS Everywhere

We talked about HTTPS Everywhere on our FSE Online blog in February this year. This is an initiative, driven by Google, to encourage a totally secure Internet. Web security is becoming more important every week, with new reports of hacking, cyber attacks and data breaches becoming standard.

The Google Chrome browser started warning users of unsecured websites some time ago, and Google Search has suggested on multiple occasions that it will start to rank SSL secure sites higher to encourage businesses and web developers to build a stronger and more secure internet. Finally, “not using HTTPS” was listed as a common ecommerce fail. The writing has been on the wall for a long time already – it’s only a matter of time before we see a 100% secure WordPress.

Why WordPress?

WordPress is a double edged sword. It provides a very easy way for web developers to create modern business websites (it is largely responsible for so many small businesses getting online), but it is also prone to vulnerabilities.

WordPress itself is no worse than other CMSes in that matter, but due to its huge popularity (there are over 75 million websites built on WordPress today, which represents around 25% of all websites) hackers tend to target it.

As the software is released under an open source, creative commons licence, it is very easy for hackers to thoroughly investigate and analyse the latest versions. WordPress therefore has a duty to encourage its users and customers to adopt a safer, more secure way to host websites.

What is HTTPS?

HTTPS is HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol), with a Secure layer added to it – either SSL or TSL. HTTPS encrypts any data that is passed between the web server and clients, and the end users, i.e. the web browser. Without HTTPS, cybercrimonals can access private data over insecure connections. For example, if you use an open public WiFi connection to view a website, it is possible for a hacker to monitor the information that passes between your phone or laptop and the web server, if there is no protective secure layer in place.

The great thing about HTTPS is that you do not need to change your website as such, as it is the web hosting platform that is updated. There will be changes to website URLS, but with the help of a technical SEO consultant, it is relatively straightforward to redirect all old non-secure pages to the new https formats.

It’s also worth noting that users are getting more savvy with regards to website security, and many are demanding HTTPS – it is becoming normal to check that any ecommerce website is secure before heading the checkout, and this is helping to create a much safer Internet.

The Advantages of HTTPS

So, there are two main advantages of HTTPS. First, your website data is better protected – a serious data breach can ruin a company. Second, both users and Google like HTTPS, and this means that by adopting this standard you could gain higher rankings in Google and be more appealing to customers.

Don’t Get Complacent

HTTPS is a massive improvement over HTTP, however, do not assume that using HTTPS makes you or your business website immune to hacking. A lot of work still needs to be done to make client accounts more secure. Only recently, hundreds of UK politicians had their accounts blocked after a massive brute force attempt was made on MP’s computer accounts. Simple usernames and passwords are still just as big a threat to your privacy and security than secure web connections.

A few years ago changing to HTTPS was a huge and expensive challenge for web developers, but it’s reasonably straightforward today. If you need help setting up a secure WordPress website, speak to our technical SEO team and we’ll audit your site and advise you of your options. Don’t ignore web security.


Canonical Links: What Are They and Why Are They Important?

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Last month an ecommerce website came to us requesting an SEO audit to help highlight any issues that are holding them back online, and the conclusion was that either an absence of canonical tags, or often worse, badly implemented canonicals following a website redesign, was a major problem for them. It is evident from our discussions that very few clients know what a canonical link is, and also, unlike our web developers, few web designers fully understand them either. So today, we’ll provide a brief guide to canonical tags so businesses can better understand why they are so important.

What is Canonicalisation?

Canonical tags are lines of code which are added to the head of a webpage – the same area where we set page titles, meta descriptions and site languages, for example. The tag tells search engines when multiple URLs are in fact the same product or service – they can even be used across multiple websites. The idea is that you define the “parent” page for a particular product, which prevents Google trying to index every page.

A Simple Example

Imagine a website is selling a range of shoes, with many styles different designers. Each shoe will come in different sizes, some may be available in different colours, and some may come with slightly different features as standard. For example, Nike Air Max 1 is currently one of the most popular trainers on the market. You can order these in white, blue, grey, navy, red, plus several other colour combinations. They also all come in different sizes. If the ecommerce CMS provides different URLs for each colour and size combination, Google will crawl all these pages, and treat the various multiples as duplicate content. Many eCommerce CMSes create dynamic URLs, which can amplify the problem even more. Duplicate content can negatively affect ranking – the Google Panda algorithm may be triggered.

So, the best solution is to choose a single URL that is the main page, and point all other pages using the rel=canonical linking tag. However, care must be taken to not over do things. In the case of shoes, although it is important to have all sizes served from a single product page, for very popular shoes, stores may benefit from maintaining different pages for each colour. However, separate pages for each colour won’t always be a good idea, especially if the product descriptions are a bit thin – if there’s one thing Google hates more than thin product pages, it’s duplicated thin product pages!

Why is this important?

Google penalises duplicate content and thin content. Using the rel-canonical tag is the easiest way to prevent such penalties, and if a website has already been penalised, it will help it recover.

Why Not Just 301 Redirect?

If multiple identical pages are a problem for Google, why not just redirect all to a single page? Well, while we need to help Google better index websites, we also need to provide an optimum user experience, and this often involves giving unique URLs for specific products. Creating different URLs also helps when people wish to bookmark or share a product; without them, somebody may add the blue Nike Air Max 1 to their birthday wish list, only to receive the white ones, as this was the page their link led to.

Which URL To Canonicalise?

This is a difficult one to decide. In theory, all the URLs should be equal. If your CMS provides a relatively clean URL for the first option, e.g. white shoes, size 9 (9 being the average male shoe size) then pick this as the “master” canonical URL. Alternatively, just chose the product that sells the most. The whole idea is that when you’re using canonical URLs, it does not matter which one is the parent, as Google will direct all the link juice to that one single URL regardless.

Setting Up Canonicals

The rel=canonical tag is added to the head section of your website. It should always look something like this:

<link rel=”canonical” href=”″>

We use the All In One SEO Pack plugin on our blog, which, when configured, takes cares of canonicals for us:


The big question is, how do you add to all relevant pages? The only way to be sure that it is done correctly is to use a trusted plugin or module. Some CMSes do now support canonical tags, especially eCommerce CMSes. However, if it is not supported as standard, you should be able to install a plugin or module that manages them for you. If all your pages are manually created (which is really not a good idea!) then you need to manually insert the canonical tag into each page.

Canonical URLs To Other Domains

You can even use canonicals between domains. For example, if for legal reasons you had to operate multiple TLDs, e.g., .com, and .eu, but each website was essentially identical, you could set a canonical URL so that all domains point to the pages. This will provide the user experience you desire as well as meeting legal requirements, without incurring a penalty from Google. Obviously, the best option is to ensure that each website is completely unique, but this is rarely a viable option for businesses.

When Canonicals Fail

Unfortunately, we often see badly implemented canonicals. This often happens after a major website redesign, when previously well-ranking pages would be “canonicalised away” to new pages that contain inferior content. If the web developer also failed to set 301 redirects, all previously gained Google rankings could quickly be lost. It is possible resolve such issue by rebuilding old URLs, resetting canonicals and creating 301 redirects, but sometimes once the damage is done, it can take a very long time to recover.

For more advice on using canonical URLs, read Google’s own guide.  If you need some help implementing canonical tags, speak to one of our technical SEO consultants today.

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