Dubbed (a little over-enthusiastically) ‘Mobilegeddon’ by experts and amateurs alike, the latest Google algorithm update has businesses quaking in their boots about the kind of effects this mobile-friendly improvement will mean for their search ranking. But when this is clearly a change for the better, why are companies so worried? Read on to find out why SMEs and medium businesses could reap the benefits of this latest development…
Since its official release, the new mobile-friendly algorithm from Google has caused an explosion of YouTube videos, blog posts and forum discussions. All of them are discussing the various benefits and issues while speculating upon what this could mean for the current marketplace. At this stage, there’s little in the way of data to observe the after-effects, but it is clearly starting to make a few waves with big businesses.
For those of you who aren’t completely sure what the algorithm aims to do, it basically means that all searches conducted on mobile devices will receive results based on the mobile-friendliness of the most relevant pages. In other words, if your website has tiny text, huge images and requires the pinch-and-zoom act, you’re in trouble.
Google actually began to build up the importance of mobile and really push its benefits in November last year, and who can blame them? Not only is their mobile revenue predicted to reach 30% over the next year, but it also accounts for a huge 60% of all web traffic. So, if you’re a little late to catch up, if you’re unsure where to begin, or if you just don’t agree with how important it is, then this could be the article that turns Google’s algorithm from foe to friend.
What is it and why should I care?
On February 26th 2015, the Google Webmaster blog post featured this statement:
"Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices."
Unlike Panda and Penguin, this isn’t about penalising companies, but about improving the user experience. Before the change, users would perform a Google search, be directed to an ill-performing website resulting in a frustrated user and a bounce-back before any interaction with that consumer could be made. To combat this negative experience, it is only mobile device results that will be affected, unless that search refers specifically to a brand. Google have determined that the inability for a user to find the page they were looking for is more detrimental than presenting a page which doesn’t work.
If you were in any doubt about how vital this statement was, the clue is in the use of “significant impact” as a phrase – if Google say it’s significant, it is! You can’t fault them for their preparation time, but two months later and many companies still haven’t got their websites in order.
David and Goliath?
The question on everyone’s lips seems to be whether it’s the SMEs and medium businesses who will have the upper hand. At the time of writing, many Fortune 500 companies, as well as the EU and even parts of the BBC, have websites which are still not fully mobile-friendly, and many others are struggling to minimise the impact that the algorithm has had on them. So, why do SMEs now have an advantage over their much larger competitors?
1) Smaller businesses tend to be far more flexible when it comes to technological change, as they have a much smaller team to manage and direct
2) A change of this scale applied to a less complex infrastructure cuts down the amount of labour involved massively, so the initial investment is never as large
3) A less engrained company can reinvent itself and its strategy much easier than a huge and well-established brand
As I said earlier, this algorithm is all about improving the user experience, just as the eCommerce landscape is changing to reflect the customer need and improve on the consumer journey. As long as this is kept in mind and their platform reflects this customer-centric standpoint, smaller businesses cannot fail to benefit from this new development.
Is it too late?
No, definitely not! The beauty of this new algorithm is that, not only is it registered on a page-by-page basis, but it’s updated in real-time. This means that if you can only update certain areas of your site to be more mobile-friendly at a time, Google will refresh this automatically.
Besides, along with the update, Google have published a free online guide for how to make your site more mobile-friendly, and created a separate site where you can run your URL through a scanner to see how your site performs from a mobile user’s perspective.
If you want an early indication of how your site is performing, ask yourself the following questions:
1) How well does your content fit onto a mobile screen?
How big is the font and size of your text? Try to avoid making the user pinch and zoom in order to see your page, as more often than not they will just leave rather than stick around and figure out how to navigate it. Plus, what about the space between links on your page? There is nothing more irritating for a user than clicking on three or four links and having to continually click ‘back’ because they hit the wrong one by accident.
2) Have you forgotten the Flash?
Another real gripe for mobile users is searching for a page only to find that they can’t access it because they haven’t downloaded Flash or some other software which requires more data. Years ago you may have gotten away with them downloading it, but these days the user knows that they will be able to find the same information somewhere else. Before you have even engaged with them you have given them a negative experience, so make sure you rid your site of this type of content.
3) How big are your images?
Sometimes this isn’t even an option for a mobile user; if their data won’t allow them to download huge files for a webpage, they only have to see a blank screen for three seconds before hitting the ‘back’ button. Again, the frustration this causes for the user results in a negative experience; not only have they had to go elsewhere for their information, but you have drained their device and encouraged abandonment.
There is a much bigger problem here than just changing a few details about your website, this is about changing a traditional mind-set of eCommerce to something which puts the consumer as an individual at the forefront of your strategy. Companies need to stop living in the past generation of search and this algorithm is a crucial indicator of where we need to be focussing our attention as an industry. If you want to grow and gain more customers, their personal experience is everything.
Simply keeping up with the competition is not enough anymore, you need to try and think ahead of them. This is the perfect opportunity for SMEs and medium businesses to leap frog their direct competition in such a fast-paced environment. The only way to do this on a permanent basis though, is to change your strategy: look for news in eCommerce, but look for updates within your customer base too. This customer-centric approach needs to be woven into every area of your business, and just as you would train your staff in how to talk to them, you need to make sure that the systems you have in place online communicate just as smoothly, no matter who that customer is, where they are or how they are making contact.
If you'd like to know how we can help you face mobilegeddon, then why not take a few minutes to view our Omnia eCommerce solution page.