How mobile search optimization in 2017 is presenting new opportunities to reach consumers and modifying search optimization strategies.
A mobile-first strategy isn’t just about design and user experience anymore. We should be making mobile a priority throughout all digital strategies, with mobile search optimization a key pillar for success.
Finally… The Year of Mobile
“Internal Google data, for 10 countries including the U.S. and Japan, April 2015.”
After what seemed like years (or maybe it was?) the year of mobile finally came. We kept hearing and hearing this year would be the year of mobile but it never seemed to dominate until mobile searches finally surpassed desktop searches in 2015 and truly mobile searches and traffic started to dominate the entire year of 2016.
Google Pushes to Go Mobile First
Sometimes, well, most of the time, we all need a good push to get with the times. Granted, it can be quite tough to adjust and adapt to new technologies especially for large corporations. So something such as a responsive website design that may seem simple at face value, can be a very large and expensive undertaking. And that’s just the design, you also need to ensure it adequately services the needs of your users and completes your desired goals. This is the hard part, right? And the ever-evolving, consistently changing process.
April 2015: Mobilegeddon
In a rare move, Google pre-announced an algorithm update, telling us that mobile rankings would differ for mobile-friendly sites starting on April 21st, 2015. The impact of this update was, in the short-term, much smaller than expected. But what it did accomplish (and maybe this was Google’s ploy in the first place) was pushing website owners to move quickly to get their sites mobile-friendly. A move in the right direction in my opinion.
May 2016: Mobile Update 2.0
Just more than a year after the original “mobile friendly” update, Google rolled out another ranking signal boost to benefit mobile-friendly sites on mobile search. Again, the effects of this update were likely small given a majority of websites pushed to go mobile-friendly before the April 2015 update but mobile search optimization continues to become increasingly important.
October/November 2016: Mobile-First Index
Google announced it has created a separate mobile index, one that will be the main or “primary” index that the search engine uses to respond to queries. A separate desktop index will be maintained, one that will not be as up-to-date as the mobile index. They quickly began live testing the new mobile index and differences and fluctuations between mobile and desktop rankings can be seen.
There are a few important things to remember with the mobile-first index which likely is effecting more sites than the previous two mobile algorithm updates. Your website may be affected if you have:
- A mobile site with reduced content on each page, different internal linking structure, or fewer pages; and / or
- No mobile site and a desktop site that is not responsive – and hence is flagged as not mobile friendly by Google
Move to an Omni-Device Strategy
“Google Analytics Data, Global, Q1 2016”
More than half of all web traffic now comes from smartphones and tablets. We continue to hear “Mobile First! Mobile First!” like some cult chant. But mobile first does not mean mobile-only. It means think about mobile first for any digital strategy (especially mobile SEO), while also considering all screen sizes.
Of course your audience comes into play here. If you get very little to no mobile traffic you may need a different game plan than the rest of us. In fact, I currently work in an industry that still receives a majority of traffic via desktop. Mobile is continuing to grow while desktop sees a slow, steady decline, it just happens to be a little slower adoption. Mobile still needs to be our primary focus moving forward while ensuring an amazing experience exists for all screens.
Think about this, over half of users rely on more than one type of device in an average day, with 1/5 of them using another device while concurrently using a computer. We also know 6 in 10 internet users start shopping on one device but continue or finish on another.1 This is why developing an omni-device strategy is key. So is understanding the user journey across all screens and touch-points. Optimize for all devices, but ensure mobile is top of mind.
“Google global search data, September 2014 to September 2015, as defined by searches that trigger Shopping Ads.”
Mobile shopping related searches increased 120% from 2014 to 2015. People are shopping (and buying) more an more from their mobile device. But that doesn’t mean brick and motor retail is dead. Yes, foot traffic in retail stores has declined by 57% in the past five years,2 but the value of every visit has nearly tripled.3 That means consumers are researching more before their purchases and digital marketers and SEOs need to be laser focused when it comes to targeting customers online. People use their smartphones before heading in-store—to gather ideas, research products, and then search for local information.4
Mobile Searches to Store Visits
“Google/Nielson Life360, ‘Mobile Search Moments,’ Q4 2012”
We as search marketers need to cast a wide net to reach consumers at large while they are researching purchases online. But if you help manage brands and products which are mostly sold through retail we must also be thinking about what consumers next steps will be after research.
When people use mobile search to help make a decision, they are 57% more likely to visit a store. Correlating that with the intent of their search queries and we can start inferring what actions will take them into the store. For that we need to know how we and our retail partners are ranking locally, not just nationally. Time to start tracking local searches (and performing geo-targeted ads!).
“Google/Ipsos MediaCT/Purchased, ‘Understanding Consumers Local Search Behavior,’ May 2014 “
This stat kinda boggles my mind. 50% of consumers who conduct a local search on their smartphone visit a store within a day, and 18% of those searches lead to a purchase within a day. 18% lead to a purchase within 1 day! Wow! Talk about a strong path to conversion. Again, knowing what key terms you and your retail partners rank for locally, and how that correlates to your products is key to helping influence their purchasing decisions.
Mobile In-Store Searches
“Google/Ipsos, ‘Consumers in the Micro-Moment,’ March 2015”
Not only do we need to be concerned with local searches and rankings but this is where mobile search will continue to evolve and transform the way marketers optimize for mobile. 82% of smartphone users consult their phones while standing in a store deciding which product to buy. We must be there when they search and deliver the right messages at the right time. So what are people searching for while in stores?
Top activities on smartphones while in-stores5
- Price comparisons — 54%
- Looking up product information — 48%
- Checking reviews online — 42%
“Consumers in the Micro-Moment, Google/Galaxy, AU, June 2015, Australia”
71% of people who used their smartphones in-store trust the information in search more than the sales assistants. This data is actually from Australia and I’ve not seen U.S. data to support this but if you are a manufacturer with strong retail sales you know the many struggles with retail partners.
There is ongoing product and sales education for new products topped with high sale associate turn-over. Not to mention limited flooring space, competition with sales promotions, kick-backs and hourly vs. commission-based wages. Each of these provide their own challenges. This is why we need to win in-store mobile searches at the moment of purchase.
Mobile Search Optimization Leads to Conversions
“Google Analytics aggregated data, 2014-2015 for April 1-14, U.S.”
Remember back 4-5 years when everyone was saying the next year would finally be the year of mobile? We were all spending more and more on mobile, either for design, developing apps, or increasing paid advertising budgets. More and more traffic was pouring in from smartphones and tablets but we had a very hard time justifying the increased investment. Users were not converting on mobile as well as we hoped and the revenue was not there. We were just starting to get good at mapping the cross-device user journey and honestly most sites did not give users the best mobile experience.
Fast-forward just a few years and mobile conversion rates shoot up by 29%. Actions and use on mobile is much different than it once was and adoption may not be hitting a plateau. Users are converting more on mobile because we are finally providing optimal experiences for them to complete their goals.
Now that we know everything that has lead us to this point, let’s round all this data up and get to the five action steps to help win at mobile search optimization.
5 Steps to Win Mobile SEO
Five key activities that will lead you to mobile search optimization success in 2017. If you have not completed number one, I would start there and follow the list in order.
1. Responsive Design with Mobile-First Strategy
Responsive design serves all devices with the same code that adjusts for screen size and Google has stated multiple times that responsive design is their preferred mobile configuration. Mobile-first does not mean mobile-only; we must ensure we serve the needs of users across their various devices.
2. Track & Optimize for Mobile Rankings
If you’re not tracking your mobile rankings already this is a must with the introduction and primary use of a mobile index. Track variances between desktop and mobile for gaps and areas for opportunity.
3. Track & Optimize for Localized Rankings
Obviously tracking local ranking is important if you are a local business or a large retail chain but may also be important as a manufacturer to track where your largest retail partners or DMAs are located. Nearly all rank trackers allow you to track locally now. Tracking every locale you do business is likely not financially feasible, so focus either in your strongest cities, new markets, or where biggest future opportunities await.
4. Improve Speed and Experiment with AMP
53% of mobile site visits are abandoned if pages take longer than 3 seconds to load.6 AMP, or Accelerated Mobile Pages, is a way to build web pages for static content that render fast. It is a collaboration between publishers and technology companies, who have come together to help make the mobile web work better for everyone. AMP satisfies the need for speed and lots of websites are experiencing success with the implementation of AMP.
Here’s some Google mobile traffic increases experienced from a major publisher implementing AMP pages in 2016.
NOTE: HTTPS is not required for AMP, but many URL values in AMP require HTTPS. If you are experimenting and testing with AMP and are getting an “invalid attribute value” error, and aren’t sure why, check the relevant AMP tag’s specification to see if the attribute requires HTTPS. Side-Note: If you have not already moved to HTTPS, or are currently in the works, this should be a major priority as well.
5. Optimize for Mobile In-Store Activity
We’ve already discussed the top activities on smartphones while in-stores. You want to ensure you’re winning organically for your product information, price comparisons and online reviews.
Ensuring you rank well organically for your product information may sound like a given, but some businesses may not be going that granular with their tracked rankings. And of course tracking all products would probably just not be financially feasible, so concentrate on your current top products. This is especially important if you are a manufacturer and sell through savvy retailers who may in fact out rank you for several branded queries. You also want to be tracking and optimizing for more generalized category keywords for your industry so you can try to influences consumers still early in their decision making.
- Google/Ipsos Connect, GPS omnibus, U.S. online respondents 18+, n=2,013, Mar. 2016
- ShopperTrak 2015 holiday, U.S. retail sales
- MasterCard SpendingPulse 2010–2015, U.S. retail sales
- Think with Google “How Mobile Has Redefined the Consumer Decision Journey for Shoppers” July 2016
- SessionM survey via Marketing Land, July 2015
- Google Data, Aggregated, anonymized Google Analytics data from a sample of mWeb sites opted into sharing benchmark data, n=3.7K, Global, March 2016