As consumers increasingly use mobile devices to research, browse and buy online, Google wants to do its part to ensure a smooth experience. Last week, it began rolling out an algorithm update that rewards ‘mobile-friendly’ sites, with users shown these to the detriment of others when searching from a handset.
Of course, brands already know their sites need to be mobile-friendly so they don’t frustrate potential customers. But this change makes it an absolute financial priority.
Brands invest in SEO and paid search to put their sites at the top of Google’s search results. However, if they haven’t mobile-optimised, this change could result in a drop in traffic – and significant revenue loss – despite previous investment.
To take advantage of the change, retailers’ websites should be designed so they load quickly on mobile devices. Content should be easily accessed by scrolling up or down (not left and right) and the buttons or drop-down menus should be sympathetically sized and spaced for users on small screens. When a site has a responsive design that adapts for smaller screen sizes or a mobile-friendly version of their main website, the notation ‘mobile-friendly’ should appear. Another option is to create a dedicated mobile site to be hosted on what’s known as an m-dot subdomain.
New Look have done this well. Their main site is Newlook.com, while a ‘mirror’ site especially for mobile users is hosted on M.newlook.com. It’s very mobile-friendly and, increasingly, savvy shoppers will know to keep an eye out for the ‘m’ as they can shop here easily.
In addition to the algorithm change, Google has been testing a new layout for returning answers to mobile searches. The layout – which is easier on the eye on a small screen and designed for ‘fat fingers’ – means fewer results are visible above the fold. Appearing in those top positions will soon be more important than ever.
Put simply, if your website isn’t mobile-friendly, immediate improvements are required – in the UK and globally. A good first step anyone can take is to run Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test Tool on your site immediately. This free test will tell you if your site is mobile-friendly or not – crucial information.
Further to this, the following three steps should be taken as soon as possible:
1) Responsive website
Ensure your mobile-friendly website shows the same information and content as the desktop version. This will keep maintenance as low as possible and ensure there is no duplicate content. Your SEO team will thank you for this as it’s also the most efficient framework for them to work in. If you can’t create a responsive website, consider creating an m-dot subdomain right away.
2) Improve page load
Ensure your site has an optimal page load speed as this influences visibility in Google. You can use Google’s PageSpeed Tools for free tests. A page will often be slow if images are not optimised, the cache (Google’s stored copy of a website) is used inappropriately or the coding is not first-class.
3) On-page optimisation
Ensure all content can be easily experienced by users, devices and search engines alike. Using HTML5 standards (the latest are found at W3.org/TR/html5/) and following best practice guides will avoid frustrated users. Be sure video content is supported for mobile users. Watch out for appropriate font sizes for mobile screens and provide generous spacing between links or buttons.
Google has already warned: “This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results”. But rather than thinking of Google as a draconian company to fear, it’s worth remembering that all of this, at the end of the day, aims to give your customers the very best experience of your brand – an experience that increasingly begins from their mobile device.