Google’s Mobile Imperative: Put Usability First

Jason Sindel Jason Sindel
April 21, 2015
Digital Marketing , Web Development , User Experience Design , Web Strategy

It’s been called the “Mobilegeddon” by the blogosphere: A Google search algorithm change that threatens to punish sites without mobile capability. Google has long set the bar for website usability, punishing confusing click bait and spam as it indexes and ranks the world’s websites and offering guides to Mobile Best Practices to put usability first, but this feels drastically different. First of all, it’s very public and not something that is seeping up slowly over time from the SEO community. Many changes in the past were incremental and done quietly, announced after the fact in some cases -- the loss or gain of website traffic based on algorithm tweaking was likely not felt at all by marketers. This one seems bigger. The reason is because it affects almost every website's traffic.

Here are some reasons why Mobile optimization should be at the top of your priorities list:

1. This was a long time coming and shouldn’t have been a surprise.

Google had put the writing on the wall back in February. At that time, your Google webmaster account was pinged and you were notified. Bloggers picked up on the story and even coined the word “Mobilegeddon” back then, but the mainstream press largely missed it. Roundedcube noted that 2014 marked the year that mobile traffic dominated device traffic once and for all, so we knew that 2015 would be the year that marketers started to feel the inevitable pinch as customers went to the mobile sites of least resistance.

2. This isn’t about Google dominance, this is about Google’s search relevance.

Google isn’t doing this to punish indifferent marketers. This change only affects traffic search on mobile devices.  This is Google’s way of making sure the search result links they deliver to your mobile phone are indeed mobile friendly; after all, who wants to review Weather.com desktop homepage on their phone while out planning a day – “I just want today’s forecast!”

3. The traffic that Google turns away from your site for not being mobile was likely gone anyway.

Don’t believe me? Go to your analytics, select Audience > Mobile.  If you don’t have mobile optimization, your bounce rate is likely over 50%. That means that more people are leaving your website after homepage load than are interacting with content. Compare that with desktop and tablet. Visitors who use the latter options are able to see content they can use, so their bounce rate will be considerably smaller.

4. An IOS or Android App doesn’t replace mobile optimization.

Apps won’t fill the gap since apps require adoption, i.e. going to a site or market place and downloading it. Google searches on mobile are done via the phone, so Google doesn’t know your customers might have an app, even if you offer it as a mea culpa download link. Most folks won’t download an app just to get mobile content, so that’s not your best strategy. Optimize your website first, then think long and hard about what an app can do that your website can’t.

5. There is no magic hack. You must optimize for mobile. But there are some options.

If your strategy hinges on mobile traffic (most sites have over 50% mobile) and search engine marketing, there is no other recourse but to spend the money and optimize your site. If you need to act now, then optimize your homepage first. This will at least satisfy the requirement for mobile content within the majority of search results.

Secondly, plan on making a sizable investment in the future to get your site fully optimized. We provide quotes for responsive design retrofitting (changes to your front-end only), responsive design re-architecture (changes to your front-end, content and back-end code), and adaptive design (a mobile layout that can leverage desktop content or provide mobile optimized images and media).

Of course, you can always choose the head in the sand strategy, but if your own customers don’t vote loud enough with their feet, than you will still have to persuade upper management why you aren’t ready for the most pronounced change of web usage since broadband and Wifi; but really, come on, do you need another reason to put usability first?

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