In late 2016 Google announced that it was experimenting with splitting out its index into a separate mobile and desktop listings, putting more importance on the mobile index. The statement was later revised slightly to suggest that the indexes for desktop and mobile would be the same, but that they would be based primarily on the mobile version of a site. Essentially, the message from Google is that it is adopting a “mobile first” approach to its index.
This has the potential to significantly change the approach that many organisations are taking to search engine optimisation. Whilst many brands are compliant with mobile best practice, and whilst the over-riding focus for your approach should be based largely on user experience, many organisations may find that there are a number of issues that they need to reconsider if they are to retain their search visibility.
It means that you need review how your website is optimised for mobile, and how you are going to put mobile at the forefront of your SEO strategy. As part of that review, consider these five key things.
Understand your users, and deliver the best possible experience
As Google continues to modify the results that it displays on mobile vs desktop, it is important that you really understand how your users are engaging with your brand and how they are searching for what you have to offer.
If they are increasingly turning to mobile, reflect this in your approach to digital. Understand the keywords that they are using and, if they are using different keywords on different devices (typically, mobile searches tend to use shorter, easier to type searches), then you need to factor this into your keyword strategy.
It means that the onus is on brands to deliver the best possible experience that they can, and this includes from both a content and technical perspective.
While there are many ways to deliver a mobile-friendly site, Google prefers responsive design that responds to a user’s behaviour and their environment (typically meaning their devices’ screen size, platform and orientation). For usability you should aim to make menus and call to actions easy to use and easy for users to find.
The use of promotional banners or pop-ups should be limited .Whilst this is to help ensure users stay on and engage with your website, Google has actually introduced policies to directly discourage the use of certain pop-ups and interstitial ads.
You should also look to make it as easy as possible for users to be able to complete any form data you request by using the simplest input method available (consider auto-populating forms where practical) and the user should be able to finish converting via another device.
Most organisations have adapted to the growth of mobile, and have a web presence that generally translates well on mobile devices. However, many organisations still fall short of the best practice promoted by Google, and many are still to really put a coherent mobile engagement strategy in place.
Google provides a free mobile friendly assessment that highlights any potential challenges that you may need to address. The tool also offers an insight into how both search engines and human users see your website pages on a mobile device. This is a great starting point to ascertain what you need to do to improve your visitor’s usability on mobile devices.
Users are very impatient and expect a page to load quickly. Google estimates that just a one second delay in page load time costs it around two million searches per year, whilst Amazon estimates the cost of a similar delay at $1.6bn in lost sales.
The problem of page speed becomes particularly acute on mobile, where users are likely to be using slower, less reliable mobile data connections. It is therefore important that you identify just how quickly your pages load, and what (if anything) is slowing them down.
One way to help your pages load quickly is to ensure you have a good, reliable fast web server or hosting provider which you know there will be very little downtime.
A common issue that impacts load time is image size. Many websites use large images that can take a while to load up. You should aim to make your website images as light as possible, without compromising the quality. Look to compress your images to an optimal size that is easy to load, but still delivers the right customer experience. Use the most appropriate image file format, and consider introducing modern techniques such as PICTURE and SRCSET responsive imagery, which can optimise the image file based on the device screen size being used to browse the page.
Read more about how to improve your page speed in our free guide, Why your page speed could be costing you money.
Accelerated Mobile Pages
In early 2016, Google introduced what it called ‘Accelerated Mobile Pages’ (AMP) - the result of an open source, initiative which came from discussions between major digital publishers and technology companies about the need to improve the mobile web experience for the masses. With 40% of visitors abandoning a web page if it hasn’t loaded within three seconds.
AMP pages boast a load speed up to four times faster than an equivalent non-accelerated mobile page, and use 10 times less data over 3G & 4G networks, as most of the content is cached by Google, and unnecessary elements can be loaded last, or not loaded at all.
The initiative was originally launched with publishing networks but, in the summer of 2016, Google started emailing e-commerce website owners encouraging them to adopt AMP to “be shown in Google Search”.
The wording of those emails was somewhat foreboding, inferring that not adopting AMP would result in a loss of ranking. Whilst Google refuted that AMP was a ranking signal at the time, its attempts to further the project, and faster mobile page speed in general, suggests that AMP could become a ranking factor as the widely anticipated mobile SERP develops. This is certainly a development that you and your agency should be mindful of.
Don’t ignore desktop
Google may talk of a ‘mobile first’ algorithm, but this doesn’t mean that it is disregarding and downplaying the importance of desktop search.
These changes are not necessarily about adapting your strategy to favour on channel and device over another. The principles of Google best practice remain the same – answer the user’s query as clearly, as thoroughly, as quickly and as accessibly as possible.
Whilst mobile may now be making up the bulk of web queries, there are some industries where desktop is still the dominant channel – particular in B2B markets. Therefore, it doesn’t make sense to disregard your desktop web presence in favour of optimising for mobile.