Jerek Justus

By now you’ve probably heard the buzz that Google is planning another algorithm update to place even more emphasis in search rankings on content and websites that are created for mobile users. But what does this really mean for your Ecommerce site? Will your site be at risk? If so, what sort of impact could this have to the bottom line?

With so many projects on your plate, it’s tough to understand how to respond to yet another change in the industry. Our SEO team breaks down what you need to know, and how you should prepare for 2017.

What are we dealing with here?

Keep in mind, this update is a response to a larger trend in the industry – we continue to see a shift toward better, faster, integrated devices that connect more and more of our lives to the internet.

  • The number of mobile phone users worldwide is expected to exceed 5 billion in 2019
  • Over half of traffic to top eCommerce sites is now driven from mobile devices
  • Wi-Fi and mobile-connected devices will generate 68% of all internet traffic by 2017
  • Many emerging markets only have access to the internet on mobile devices
  • Shoppers are engaging with brands across multiple devices before making a purchase
  • 94% of people with smartphones search for local information on their phones

As a result of these trends, Google is taking steps to prioritize websites and content that create the best experience for the user, no matter what device you access the internet with.

Hold on, fill me in… A Quick Background:

When Google developed its search index, the desktop experience was treated as the ‘canonical’ version of a website’s content. Because the desktop computer was the most common way to access the internet, it became the default source of truth for search engines to understand what a web page is about, and how relevant that page may be for any given search phrase.

Now, with the steady growth we’re seeing in mobile device adoption, Google is prioritizing mobile devices as the primary gateway to the web. Whichever version of a page is considered the most mobile friendly by Google’s mobile user-agent will be treated as the URL that should rank in search results.

What does it mean for you?

With this update, it will be important to stop drawing such a sharp line in the sand between your ‘desktop site’ and your ‘mobile site’ when you consider future investments. What was previously considered ‘mobile best practices’ can no longer be treated as ‘nice to have,’ those prescriptions are becoming the new web standard.

That said, most experts agree that we aren’t anticipating a huge mix-up in search results when this update rolls out. Much of the foundation needed to crawl, understand, index, and rank content for mobile users was improved in April 2015, during the Mobile-friendly update. This update is most likely to provide a better, more holistic view of competitive advantage between sites that have already achieved a relative state of parity. It’s best to treat this update as a necessary investment to keep up with the competition.

If your site is behind the curve, it’s time to catch up.

So, what should you do?

If you only have a desktop version of your site…

Review Google’s Guidelines for Mobile Friendly Sites, and make plans to speak with a developer soon!

If you are using an M.dot version of your site’s content…

Then you are still relying on mobile web design 1.0. This approach is outdated and poses a risk to your ability to grow.

google mobile first plan

The most glaring risk here is if your site serves a different experience for desktop users compared to mobile users. You may be eliminating important contextual ranking signals if your mobile website is a ‘scaled-down’ version of a more robust desktop site.

If you are using a 3rd party to render and serve a mobile friendly version of your content…

Talk to your partner/provider. They are likely planning updates of their own to respond to the change in the industry. Ask what they are doing to improve their platform, and try to carve out some time to work on upgrading your integration.

google mobile first plan 2
Check out Mobify

If your site is responsive…

Then you have a strong foundation to build upon that takes advantage of many SEO best practices.

google mobile first plan 3

If you are already planning a site migration within the next 1-2 years…

Great! Now is the perfect time to start defining specifications for mobile-friendliness. Make sure your new site is responsive and secure. Feel free to send us a note with any questions you have about building your plan.

If you are ahead of the curve…

Keep forging ahead – Google has demonstrated a willingness to reward those who create the best content for their customers with great exposure. Go earn yours!

Everyone:

No matter what your configuration, all Ecommerce sites should also take the following steps to ensure your domain is following best practices:

  • Mobile Friendliness: Check to make sure your site passes the Mobile-Friendly Test. Take action on any failed steps immediately
  • Usability: Check your Mobile Usability Report in Google Search Console for any errors that are negatively impacting your mobile users
  • Version Control: Confirm that you are signaling to Google when a page is formatted for mobile
  • Crawl-ability: Do not block critical resources in your robots.txt file. Make sure that all images, CSS, and JavaScript are accessible to search engines
  • HTML5: Use the latest standards for content development when planning for the year ahead
  • Pop-Ups: Update or eliminate intrusive interstitials
  • Improve Speed: Improve page speed so mobile pages render in under 3 seconds (preferably under one second)
  • Eliminate Errors: Avoid Mobile 404’s – create a mobile experience for every page you have previously only served to desktop users
  • Secure your site – HTTPS prevents ad injections & ensures a better mobile experience. HTTPS has become “the new web standard,” and it’s time we all take steps to get on board. Test your site with a SSL Server Testing Tool like Qualys SSL Labs to identify vulnerabilities and coordinate fixes with your development partner

Update your Attribution Model

We know that even when a mobile device isn’t directly attributed a sale, they nevertheless play an important role throughout the customer journey – from initial research, to directing a customer to a store, to informing a purchase decision in the store. In fact, over 60% of all in-store sales are influenced by the internet.

If you are still relying on a last-touch attribution model to inform your digital marketing efforts, then you’re missing a big piece of the picture. Start the conversation to evaluate newer attribution models that tell more of your story. Try out Google’s Model Comparison Tool to compare up to 3 different models at once.

It’s important to remember that mobile-first is the future of search and Ecommerce alike. The further behind your technological investments fall, the harder it will be to take advantage of millions of new searches taking place every day, with or without you.