The shiftThe shift

The mobile movement

Search
 by 
Andrew

Changes are afoot at Google and we’re here to help you understand them. The updates are focused on Google’s largest set of users, mobile devices.

In 2015 when it was first announced, there were more Google searches via mobile than any other device. And it didn’t stop there; this trend has continued to grow over the last few years (shown below) and with it so has Google’s endeavour to improve the mobile user experience across the web.

Crafted's aggregated mobile traffic data across a range of clients (Q3 2017 vs Q3 2018)

This focus has manifested itself with two major updates in the summer of 2018. First the ‘Mobile First Indexing’ update and then the ‘Google Speed Update’.

Top Tip: While mobile searches on average have overtaken the number of desktop searches, it hasn’t been at the expense of desktop traffic. People are spending more time online and that is driven by mobile. Think about the role of your desktop site and your mobile site in tandem; it’s likely that your users are using both.

What is ‘Mobile First Indexing’?

All search engines crawl the web and save the pages they find within an ‘index’ which is their record of the web. When you use a search engine, their index is used when deciding the results to serve. The process is called ‘indexing’ and is a key part in how search engines provide the best results for users.

Historically, Google would use a website's desktop ‘version’ within its index. With ‘Mobile First Indexing’ Google will now use the mobile version of a website as the starting point for what to include within their index.

Why should you care?

Consumers expect a good mobile experience. If you’re not providing it, it won’t be difficult for them to find a competitor who is. Simply adapting your desktop strategy isn’t enough. With the increasing trend in mobile searches, regardless of your business type, customers are likely to be accessing your site via mobile, even if it’s just to find your address or contact number.

Are you offering a good mobile experience?

It sounds obvious but before chasing site speed improvements, think about the bigger picture - your users’ needs:

  • What do they use your mobile site for?
  • Does it provide the information they need?
  • Is it clear what actions you want them to take?

Once you’ve got the big picture, then focus on the attention to detail:

  • Is it fast loading?
  • Are images optimised?
  • Are there crawlability issues?

Even if you think your site is performing well on mobile, there’s always room to improve. Check regularly, even seemingly small updates to a website can have a significant impact on mobile performance.

There are plenty of tools to get a snapshot of how you’re performing across mobile.

Google’s mobile friendly tool

  • This provides basic feedback on whether your website is mobile friendly
  • Pay close attention to the feedback from the tool
  • Ensure your site provides a user friendly mobile experience with simplification of navigation, appropriate tap targets, text size and a streamlined mobile checkout
  • Ensure CSS / JavaScript/ images aren’t being blocked from Google indexing

Mobile data in Google Analytics:

  • The devices report can be found within Audience > Mobile > Devices in Google Analytics
  • Use this to understand how many mobile users you have and how important they are in driving your businesses success

Top Tip: Even if conversions from mobile users are low, don’t discount the role mobile plays in the user journey. If may be that they start their research on mobile before converting on desktop. Cross-device tracking in Google Analytics (although not completely accurate) will give you an idea of that value. If you have an offline presence use data points such as voucher downloads, store call tracking and store visits (from adwords) to understand the impact mobile is having.

The need for speed.

A slow mobile site means less visibility in search engines and a poor user experience. In July 2018, Google began rolling out their latest speed update which focuses on page speed as a ranking factor across mobile results.

While 4G coverage is getting better, it’s not perfect - how many times will you watch the loading circle spin around before you give up? Test your site on 3G; assume the worse, achieve the best.

Google PageSpeed Insights tool

  • Although this a very simplistic tool, it will give you a steer on overall page speed for both mobile and desktop devices
  • Ask yourself the questions - how slow is your website on a mobile device? Would you be frustrated using this site if you were a customer?

What does the future hold?

This certainly won’t be the end of the mobile updates at Google. We expect this focus to continue evolving with better user experience and higher performance expectations from users.

Prediction 1 – A greater role of mobile site speed as a ranking factor

As Google strives to improve search results, sending users to slow mobile sites won’t achieve that aim. As such we expect site speed to continue to gain importance as a ranking factor. If you don’t provide fast page speed experiences for your mobile users, it won’t just negatively affect your visitor’s user experience but also your website's visibility in Google.

Prediction 2 - Wider adoption of Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)

AMP is an open-source initiative started by Google that allows web developers to create fast, mobile optimised experiences. AMP works for all users and is already gaining strong adoption across publishers and news websites. We may see this trend continue with wider adoption across further industries already happening.

Prediction 3 - Growth of Progressive Web Apps (PWAs)

Originally proposed by Google back in 2015, Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) combine the best of web and mobile apps. PWAs can be used to create fast, native app like user experiences without the requirement to download an app. PWAs also work across any mobile operating system and can be crawled by Google. Only time will tell but PWAs could potentially be the next big thing in mobile web development.

The takeaways

The mobile movement isn’t new; digital marketers have talked about the year of the mobile, every year, for the last decade.

If you haven’t already been focusing on improving the user experience of your mobile visitors, then you will have to give it greater thought now. Even if desktop is still your key driving force for traffic, if you don’t consider mobile then you will find rankings and traffic negatively affected.

Over time we expect this trend will continue to accelerate with greater adoption of mobile technologies including AMPs and PWAs. Ultimately, it’s about maximising the value of your mobile users and staying ahead in the market. If you don’t then your competitors invariably will.

Use the tools at your disposal to check your experience across mobile, but don’t stop there. Achieving a fast mobile site speed won’t guarantee a good user experience. Understand what your users need from your mobile site across all elements including speed, depth of content, functionality etc.

Think users first, Google second. Offer a great mobile experience for your users and both customers and Google bots alike will love you for it.