Month: March 2015

The Volusion Mobile SEO Dilemma

Google recently announced that mobile user experience will play an even greater role in mobile search results come April 21. We recently wrote an article detailing why Google prefers sites with a good mobile experience and how a website might respond. However, many sites (including many of our ecommerce clients) have a more nuanced set of options resulting from the platform they are on. Such is the case with Volusion stores.

Volusion Mobile SEO Dilemma

The Volusion Context

Volusion, like many other ecommerce platforms, does not offer a great amount of flexibility. As a result, it is not as easy to meet the mobile-friendly guidelines laid out by Google.

Those used to self-hosted, open platforms such as WordPress might not understand the hosted CMS scenario. Here is the Volusion context:

Mobile Storefront

In the Fall of 2013, Volusion released version 2 of their Mobile Storefront. Although it had many issues at the outset, they have since made many improvements — especially involving SEO aspects. Unfortunately, the mobile store is limited and falls short of the needs of many modern stores. There are many contexts where it simply does not function properly for a store’s needs in the way the desktop version does.

Updated Theme Engine

In the Spring of 2014, Volusion announced the pending arrival of a new “theme engine” that would power Volusion templates going forward. This theme engine was to be built using AngularJS, which was to give web developers great flexibility to, among other things, build responsive websites to better reach mobile customers. While the release of the new theme engine was due out at the end of the summer of 2014, it quietly fell off the radar. While it was alluded to at the beginning of 2015, there is no telling when or if it will go live.

Responsive Templates

Instead of releasing the new theme engine, Volusion launched “responsive templates” in the fall of 2014 and has pushed them hard since. It sounded like great news at first, but they are not quite what was hoped for. While these templates adapt to various screen sizes, they are not truly responsive. As they are built on much of the same HTML table code as before, they cannot truly adapt to the context. For example, instead of a row of four products on a category page switching to rows of two on smaller resolutions, the products are simply shrunk and squished into the device width. This is not a true responsive solution. Additionally, it is unclear how much of a stopgap this is. Will it will last or be scrapped if and when the theme engine releases?

Such is the context for Volusion stores looking to implement a mobile solution.

SEO Implications

In a time when it is imperative for those who want to reach mobile searchers to have a solid mobile strategy, Volusion owners are faced with a difficult decision. Whereas all stores likely want to improve their SEO, the options are limited with no clear cut path forward.

Again, the issue — laid out in our previous Google Hates Your Poor Mobile Experience article — is that not having a “mobile-friendly” website will likely result in the loss of mobile search traffic at a greater level come April 21, 2015. For many Volusion stores, mobile search traffic is currently a significant source of revenue. To be under-optimized for mobile SEO could be painful. Furthermore, in a world where visitors often move from device to device, many customers may start on mobile but checkout on a desktop or tablet, masking the true revenue resulting from mobile search.

The SEO guidance is clear and I will not belabor this point: mobile-friendliness is a key factor for mobile search. Online stores hosted on the Volusion platform need to find a way to respond to this latest change.

Mobile Options for Volusion Stores

Here are four key options available for your Volusion store as you consider how to best target mobile visitors and adapt for mobile search:

Responsive Web Design Device Types

Option #1: Use the Volusion Mobile Storefront

Many stores currently use the Volusion Mobile Storefront to better reach their mobile visitors. Volusion has certainly improved several key features — especially the SEO setup — since the launch of version 2. However, there are several drawbacks to be aware of.


Some of the top benefits of the Volusion Mobile Storefront include:

  • Reaches mobile visitors with a version of your store made just for them
  • Enables mobile optimized checkout
  • Passes the “mobile friendly” test

Challenges & Limitations

The Mobile Storefront also has the following challenges and limitations:

  • Minimal customization available
  • Not all web content displays
  • Many features are not supported
  • Unable to run conversion tracking codes

Option #2: Use/Customize a Responsive Theme

Volusion’s responsive templates have been around for a while now and appeal to many sites. While it does not offer the theme engine that many expected, it does enable your site to adapt to various device types. It is important to note that you cannot simply turn this on for your existing template. You must switch to a new, responsive template and customize it from there.


Some of the top benefits of the Volusion Responsive Templates include:

  • Provides a single template for your site
  • Creates a responsive site, the Google-preferred option for your mobile solution
  • Passes the “mobile friendly” test

Challenges & Limitations

The Responsive Templates also have the following challenges and limitations:

  • Requires a new template
  • Continues to use HTML table code
  • Adapts somewhat, but is not truly responsive

Here you can find the responsive templates that Volusion currently offers: Responsive Template Store.

Option #3: Migrate to Another Platform

Of course, it is always possible to migrate your Volusion store to another ecommerce platform that offers the flexibility to implement responsive web design. While the most difficult of all options, this opens up a myriad of options.


Some of the top benefits of migrating to another ecommerce platform include:

  • Accessing theme engines that fully support responsive coding
  • Upgrading to a modern platform
  • Passing the “mobile friendly” test

Challenges & Limitations

Migrating to a new platform also has the following challenges and limitations:

  • Requires a significant investment of time and resources
  • Other platforms may not suit your business processes like Volusion does
  • Business will need to adapt to new systems

Option #4: Do Nothing / Wait for a Volusion Upgrade

The easiest option is to not do anything. Perhaps you don’t want to invest in the other options. or decide you want to wait for the new theme engine to come out prior to making a change.


Some of the top benefits of doing nothing include:

  • Avoid investing in temporary technology
  • Save funds for key improvements

Challenges & Limitations

Doing nothing also has the following challenges and limitations:

  • It is unclear when other, better options will be available
  • You risk a drop in mobile search results
  • Your site will not pass the “mobile friendly” test


So, what should you do? It depends (I know, I know …)

Here are a few options you might consider based on your situation:

Scenario #1: Minimal Store Customization

Scenario: Your store is barely customized and you plan on staying on Volusion for a while …

Recommendation: Utilize a Volusion Responsive Template

If a new, responsive template will require minimal customization to meet your needs, this might not be a bad option for you. Generally speaking, the Volusion responsive templates do not provide enough benefit for the amount of effort involved in customizing them as they do not resolve all issues. However, in this scenario it might just make sense.

One key drawback is that you cannot run conversion tracking codes for Google Analytics ecommerce transaction tracking or other conversion tracking. If this is critical data for your store, as it is for many, this recommendation would not apply to you.

Scenario #2: Moderate Store Customization

Scenario: Your store design is moderately customized, you plan on staying on Volusion, and are not utilizing unique Volusion features unsupported by the mobile storefront…

Recommendation: Volusion Mobile Storefront

If your store design is unique and would require significant effort to re-skin a responsive template, I would recommend using the Volusion Mobile Storefront. The key factor here is that you are not using any of the features that do not work on the mobile storefront. In this case, the minimal effort required to switch to the mobile store option is worth the trade off to become mobile friendly.

Scenario #3: Planning on Leaving Volusion

Scenario: You already plan on leaving Volusion…

Recommendation: Migrate Now & Implement Responsive Web Design

If you already plan on migrating to another cart but have not done so for one reason or another, now would be a good time to make the move and to implement a responsive web design in the process. The opportunity cost may justify the expense of migrating. Consider what you might lose in mobile sales each month versus the expense of migrating.

Scenario #4: Heavily Customized

Scenario: Your site is heavily customized or the Mobile Storefront does not work for your store…

Recommendation: Implement Responsive Web Design (customizing a Volusion Responsive Template or Migrate to another platform and build a template with responsive web design

If your store has been significantly customized or if you are utilizing features that do not work properly with the Mobile Storefront, the decision is more complicated. In this scenario, I recommend first determining how valuable your mobile traffic is. If mobile, organic search drives minimal sales and is unimportant to you as a sales channel, you might actually want to “do nothing” for now and stick with the desktop-only site. If it drives a higher volume of traffic and is a valuable source of revenue, then you will want to go responsive — either on Volusion or not. While a Volusion responsive template is more of a stopgap, it may still be worth investing in a new template and the subsequent customization if you are committed to the platform. If you are indifferent or frustrated with Volusion, you might consider investing the same funds into a one-time upgrade onto another platform.


Concluding Thoughts

Unfortunately, there is no single, clear guidance here. Many nuances such as mobile traffic, revenue driven from mobile, business process, and long-term plans, along with a lack of clarity about Volusion’s plan, create a complex landscape for you to navigate. Our final recommendation is to look at all of these factors to truly understand what you are dealing with first, then make a decision. Work with the information you have today and then adapt as things progress. Not making a decision of any kind is effectively choosing to miss out on mobile search traffic. Choose wisely.

Google Hates Your Poor Mobile Experience

Long have website owners and SEOs tried to figure out the inner workings of Google’s search algorithm. With over 200 factors that play into a site’s ranking that are not entirely clear and guidelines that seem to continually change, it can feel like you are aiming at a moving target. While so much of this is unclear, one thing is certain: Google hates a website that offers a poor mobile experience.

Though not a surprise, businesses small and large had mixed reactions as they heard Google’s most recent announcement — starting April 21, 2015 mobile-friendliness will play a much bigger role in mobile search. Those who are optimized for mobile are rejoicing that they might have a leg up on the competition. Those who are not are groaning in misery.

Responsive Web Design for Mobile Search

Why Would Google Do This?

While it is easy to get frustrated at Google if you are in a place where your site is not mobile optimized and is unlikely to be in the near future, there are clear reasons why they would make this switch.

I have have often said that many of Google’s decisions can be explained by looking at the impact on their dominance in search. There is a symbiotic relationship between Google and online searchers. Google offers the best results so a search can quickly find what they are looking for, and in turn searchers click on search ads to send revenue to Google and ensure they stay in business. If searchers are not pleased with the results that Google offers up, they will head to Bing or Yahoo or Duck Duck Go.

As 50% of search clicks now come from mobile devices, it is imperative that Google fulfill its end of this bargain by offering mobile searchers not just good results, but results that work for the device the searcher is on. While might have incredible content or might have the best products, sending a mobile user to their websites that offer a poor experience on mobile devices does not make sense. Moreover, it disappoints searchers to the point where eventually they will turn to another search engine. Google and their shareholders do not want this to happen.

How to Test and Know if Your Site is “Mobile Friendly”

While “mobile friendly” may seem quite subjective, Google Webmaster Tools actually offers a convenient mobile usability tool to review the basics of how your website is optimized for mobile. Check it out.

Mobile Usability Tools Report

Why Would a Site Not Choose to Upgrade?

The first question that comes to mind is: why would a website not simply make the necessary changes?

Usually it is not a matter of wanting to upgrade or not, but moreso a matter of the challenges associated with moving to a mobile friendly design. While a small WordPress site might just install a free, responsive theme in minutes, it is much more complicated for others.

Reasons websites are not made mobile friendly include:

  • They cannot afford the cost of the associated web development
  • The site is so large and the content so diverse that it is a massive project
  • They do not have the time to manage the transition
  • Their existing CMS or ecommerce platform that has much invested into it (including many costly third party integrations that are business critical) does not have the capability to truly be mobile friendly

What Are Your Options to Make Your Website Mobile Friendly?

Google Mobile Friendly Search Results

Generally speaking, you have 3 options:

  1. Do nothing – stick with the desktop-only version
  2. Add a separate mobile site
  3. Redesign or convert your site responsive web design

These options are listed in order of worst to best. Doing nothing and sticking with a desktop only site is generally not a good option. A separate mobile site (whether on a subdomain or using the same URLs) is the next best option. Results here can vary significantly depending if things are set up properly or not. Finally, a responsive website — where a single set of code allows your site to adapt to the various devices, sizes, and resolutions of your visitors — is the best option. Google themselves have pushed for this particular solution.

I realize that while it is really easy to say a site should be mobile friendly, achieving it can be much harder. Some of the challenges mentioned above — finances, complexity, time, platform limitations — can significantly impact your ability to move forward. The reality, however, is that if your website is not mobile friendly, you need to do something if you want to get mobile visitors from organic search results.

With such a great percentage of search coming via mobile devices, the stakes are high. If you don’t attract visibility on mobile, you can bet your competitors will. Like it or not, the time to go mobile friendly is now — errrh, actually it was a couple years ago — but if you still have not done so, let this be the impetus for you to make the necessary changes. Even if you cannot update your website by April 21, make a plan and get started. Visitors are (usually) looking for what your site offers. You just have to package the best of who you are in a way that they can find it and engage with it.

So, yes, Google hates your poor mobile experience. But maybe you should too.