The 3 Step Optimizely Hack for Google's "Mobilepocalypse"

by | Mar 18, 2015

One does not simply go mobile
10 min read

It’s that time of the year again. Another Google Update and Web Masters and SEOs everywhere are buckling down and biting their nails. But wait there’s more! This is the first time Google has ever set an official release date for an update. You can have a quick read about it on Search Engine Journal.
Most people shouldn’t be surprised though, as those with a keen eye would have realised that Google has been pushing mobile for a while – and with good reason. We started noticing a new colourful mobile SERP design and red ‘Slow’ labels of doom in late February. Search Engine Land covers these two things very well in their articles. Although the first change is not immediately confirmed to be related to mobile optimisation, its clear that Google has been sending a steady message for a while:

Google's year of mobile, again.

So you have roughly a month till the update is officially released. Search Engine Land gives a good read about some of the things you can do improve your mobile web optimisation, but what if you don’t have a mobile optimised site right now? For some sites, it’s an impossible and unrealistic task to expect a website redesigned or mobile optimised in such a short time. Developing a mobile version/app is also a big ask. So we’ve put together a quick “hack” that you can get done before the 21st of April and hey, possibly even increase your conversions. Who wouldn’t love that!

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The 3 Step ‘Mobilepocalypse’ Survival Hack

Likened to a typical Hollywood zombie thriller.

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Survival Kit Essentials:
  • Your mobile-unfriendly website.
  • An Optimizely account (We assume you know how to start and run a normal experiment)
  • “Brrraaaiiiinnnns”… intact… inside your head.

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“It’s all over the news. Millions dead. The virus is airborne.
The survival rate is 3%. It’s time to pack your supplies. It has begun.”

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Step 1. An Optimizely test with audience targeting for mobile users

First thing you want to do is start a new experiment with your home page and allocate 100% of the traffic to your variation. Next, you’ll want to head to audiences in the right sidebar and select edit.

Optimizely Test Home Page(Click to enlarge)

Choose “Create new audience” and from the list of “possible conditions” drag over “Browser or Device”.

Optimizely New Audience(Click to enlarge)

Set the audience conditions to “is” and “any mobile browser”, give it an awesome name, hit save and there we go, step one is done.

Optimizely - All Mobile Browsers(Click to enlarge)


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“You’ve survived the initial outbreak, but…
the nightmare is not over – the zombies are coming!”

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Step 2. Assess which sitewide element is not necessary.

This step is a tad tricky. Any Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) expert reading this will know that it’s not as simple as just taking stuff out to make your site mobile friendly. Have a quick look into your analytics and heatmap tool.
What element on your site gets few clicks? Which element is not contributing to your conversions? What is not immediately necessary and hinders the mobile-friendliness of your site? These questions will help you find the elements you should consider removing temporarily with this hack. This steps involves a lot of thinking and research and should not be taken lightly.
Remember that this solution is temporary. We believe that it’s a better alternative to not optimising and losing your rankings and mobile traffic.

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“Your group of survivors has found a safe-house. A little shabby, but it’ll do.
You’re a long way away from the “safe zone”… if there is one…”

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Step 2.5. Test the changes

There is a sneaky little “mini step” here. You can test the changes on one page prior to making the changes sitewide. If your site gets a fair amount of traffic and you jump on this hack quickly you can test the changes you intend to implement before April 21st. This way you’ll have some forewarning in case you’ve missed something. Remember to test it for mobile users only!

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“The radio message echoes in your minds as you flee.
3 hours to get out of the city before the bombs fall”

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Step 3. Remove those elements sitewide with URL targeting

Now that your variation page is updated with the changes (from step 2), we use a nifty feature built into Optimizely called URL targeting. We can’t take any credit for the last step in this survival hack. The brilliant people at Optimizely have a thorough guide including an easy to understand video on how to use URL targeting to change an element sitewide or on multiple pages.
Here’s a quick example snapshot of us removing a useless sidebar on Note, that since we’ve chosen “Substring Match”, any URL containing “” will have the experiment run on them – that is, the entire site. Viola! Plus there’s even a handy way to do some spot checks with the “URL Match Validator”.

Optimizely URL Targeting
(Click to enlarge)

You can also look at the Optimizely Academy where they have used an example site to go step by step into how to change elements sitewide. This final step is a piece of cake and all the information and functionality is already available within Optimizely! Phew!

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“You’ve lost friends, loved ones. You’ve run, limped and battled through hordes of the undead.
You see the sunrise and the safe zone ahead.The final stretch. But what awaits ahead?”

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What Now?

The Mobile Friendly ranking factor is going to be running on a page-by-page basis, you can “Exclude URLs” from your experiment as you update/re-design them to be mobile friendly. So our hack is a quick and temporary solution that does not hinder your future redesign/update process. So don’t end it here, invest some time and resources to improve the mobile experience of your website. This will only become more important as time goes on.

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You’re in. The safe zone. It’s time to rebuild and somehow get on with life.
Although it won’t be easy, memories of your struggles will help you forge a bright future.”

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Quick Reminders:

  • Your test should be audience targeted for mobile users.
  • Your variation should receive 100% of the traffic.
  • Be extra careful with which element to take out!
  • Use URL targeting to implement the changes sitewide.

Thanks goes out to the ever so lovely and fun SEO and CRO community who have provided me with the memes!

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If you’d like our help with this or with your mobile optimisation and CRO work, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

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Kirsten Tanner

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