Google is shifting its primary form of site indexation from desktop to mobile, according to Google Webmaster Trends Analyst, Gary Illyes, announced at Pubcon 2016 this week. This is a major departure from its 18-year standard of using a website’s desktop version for ranking on all devices and pivots to a mobile first focus. It also reinforces Google’s continuing push toward delivering fast, mobile-friendly web content to end-users. For many in the industry, this comes as little shock. Digital marketers continue to focus on delivering a more personalized web experience (and it should be noted that we also covered this topic in 2015 and the year before). Now that notice has been served regarding Google’s next evolutionary step, let’s cover what this means for the world of search and your website.

Google’s “Mobile First” Intent: What Does This Mean for the Web (and You)?

Mobile device traffic has increased considerably as smartphone usage has become the new search norm. Micro-moments - those intent-driven moments where we find fast answers to questions solving informational, locational and shopping needs - continue to shape how the customer journey evolves still today, and recent changes in delivering quick answers illustrate how aggressive the adaptation process by Google to improvements in web design and development continue to unfold. Now that it has been 18 months since Google unleashed its now-infamous Mobilegeddon update, promoting mobile-friendly websites that utilize responsive design over those that fail to provide a mobile-friendly user experience, let’s examine two reasons why your mobile website will be more important than ever in 2017.

Mobile Device Usage Satisfies ALL Intentions in the Customer Journey

It’s ultimately about the bottom line and lead generation or efficiently converting prospective shoppers and producing a return that satisfies the needs of the c-suite. One of the challenges is properly understanding that increased traffic and visibility often don't correlate with a P&L statement at face value. Understanding that the customer journey requires a multi-device game plan is critical. Google revealed earlier this year that among U.S. users ages 18-49, approximately 57% use more than one device in a given day with 27% using a smartphone-only method of engaging with Search. Nearly 40% of people rely solely on smartphone searches for immediate needs. These micro-moments answer questions that fit into categories involving:

  • I want to know. This covers informational searches ranging from news to the price of doing business, as well as answering questions about the products and services that answer the needs of high-funnel shoppers – especially as they shop in real time.
  • I want to go. This has led to the dramatic rise in localized “near me” search habits among mobile users in the last few years, covering business opportunities within a city or region. Nobody wants to order a pizza being delivered from four miles away. But if they don’t know you’re only a few blocks away, how can you solve this?
  • I want to do. This covers moments when it’s time to turn a plan into reality. These types of search queries cover DIY projects (“how to replace a swimming pool pump”), beauty and fashion needs (“how to buy the right bowtie”) and culinary interests such as “how to reverse sear a ribeye.”
  • I want to buy. Finding where to purchase an ice cooler can be a challenge if you’re just now beginning to research. But for those who’ve put in the time to understand the “know” and “do,” all that’s left is the “buy.” A shopper who has done the legwork and wants to buy a cooler from you isn’t looking for an “ice cooler.” They’re looking for a “white YETI Tundra 75 cooler.” You have the product in stock, but if you’re not delivering the best experience, how will shoppers know?

It’s not always about being able to sell. It’s just as important to be able to answer the questions that guide people across the customer journey. It’s about being able to give them the information that gets them to convert easier – whether it be on desktop, mobile or tablet.

Google's data suggests that 82 percent of shoppers with smartphones use their phone to research while shopping.
Lightning-Fast Mobile Web Results for News Are Already Live (and It’s Just the Start)

The four major content providers that depend on search – Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Google – have begun rolling out proprietary formats designed to keep people housed in their environment. Systems such as Facebook Instant Articles, Apple News and Google Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) have become the go-to resource for answering questions. With AMP, news topics are delivered with blazing fast speed, perfect for any device or cell reception condition. These stripped-down pages are ideal for quick curation of information due to their coding requirements which abandon WYSIWYG text editors in favor of AMP HTML. Google's AMP Project provides fast news sources for mobile users.For now, it’s only providing news results. And you might not be a news provider. So why should you care? Because it’s going to be everywhere. It will likely expand past news into other areas where speed is paramount in the near future. “Why should I care?” you might still be asking. Think about these numbers, coming directly from Google:

  • 53% of mobile site visits are abandoned worldwide if pages take longer than 3 seconds to load.
  • On 3G networks, the average load time for mobile sites is 19 seconds. 19 seconds. In 2016.
  • Sites that take 5 seconds to load versus 19 seconds benefit from:
    • 25% higher ad viewability
    • 70% longer average sessions
    • 35% lower bounce rates

Still not convinced about the cost versus benefit? Consider this. While Google admits that multiple factors influence revenue, it firmly predicts that mobile sites loading within 5 seconds earn up to twice the mobile ad revenue than those that take 19 seconds.How much is this worth to you? Better yet, how much can you afford to not buy in?

Becoming Mobile-Friendly & Google-Ready for 2017

Becoming mobile-ready for the next big Google moves isn’t easy. In fact, if you have a website that still displays the same page to smartphone and desktop users, you have a bit of catching up to do.

What to Consider to be Ready for Google’s Divided Mobile Index Move

Understanding where your site is in terms of its optimization across the major search engines is required. Having your digital assets ready for the future means having them optimized for now. Once you feel secure with your website’s architecture, SEO, content and CMS, these are the need-to-know bits that come next:

  • Google is splitting its index and primary focus toward mobile, placing a secondary focus on your desktop index, which will not be updated as often as the one that delivers up-to-the-minute information via smartphones. If you have two different versions of a web page, you will need to plan carefully so you don’t lose traffic for content being displayed on desktop (but not on mobile).
  • If you have a responsive website where content on both mobile and desktop are exactly the same, indexation should be fine.
  • You need to ensure your website is mobile-friendly and ready. You need a fast, clean website for instant loading across all devices.
  • If you provide news and daily content for your industry, consider making a move toward AMP and getting listed in Google News.
  • Begin placing a heavier focus on your mobile site performance. Because of Google’s gargantuan market share, buying into what Google believes is the next big thing isn’t just wise, it makes good business sense. Besides, the evidence is overwhelming – mobile demand is here to stay.

Google has always provided ample time when it comes to major changes on the horizon. Being early and ready always beats a last-minute race to ensure your digital presence doesn’t become a liability. Get ready for what Google is bringing to the web in 2017 and be first – or else your competitors will.

Forthea Interactive provides responsive web design which follows Google's Mobile First focus.

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