Mobile search has consistently grown year after year and Google has dominated mobile search results as the browser of choice among consumers, averaging 15 Billion searches a month in the U.S alone. In late 2016, Google released its first mobile-friendly update that boosted search engine rankings for mobile-friendly sites, while non-mobile friendly sites received decreased rankings.
Since Google announced its "mobile-first search" results indexing where mobile search results will take priority over desktop search results, the search marketing industry has been abuzz with interest and speculation when this update rolls out in full. Search Engine Watch, among other leading search marketing information companies, estimates that the official release will occur in the latter half of 2017 and into early 2018.
Two years ago, Google announced that mobile search surpassed desktop results. Since mobile is now the predominant way that people search on Google, it makes sense to offer an excellent mobile user experience. It's also clear that one of the issues Google is tackling here is poor usability in many mobile sites today. Improving user experience on mobile has become a top priority for Google search.
3 out of 4 Mobile Searches Results in Follow-Up Action
Mobile search is always happening on the go, at home and at work. Search is often tied to a specific context. A customer can also interact with your brand multiple times, starting search on a mobile device, and continuing on to a desktop interaction, telephone call or store visit.
As the following infographic from Think with Google indicates, actions triggered by mobile search happen quickly.
How do you improve the usability of your site?
Test Your Site
First test your existing site using Google's free mobile-friendly test tool at https://search.google.com/search-console/mobile-friendly. Just type in your website's domain URL and gain some insights about the mobile performance of your site - what's working and what you need to improve upon.
You can see an example here of our own site.
This has to be easy to access - not pinching and zooming in for legibility. It also has to be succinct in length, to fit on the small size of a mobile screen.
Is your site content visible and accessible? Is your content consistent across your mobile and desktop versions?
Unified Site, Responsive Design
Some websites have deployed separate mobile and desktop versions with different URLs, dynamic serving and even a watered down version of their complete website for mobile devices. This hinders usability on mobile devices, requires more ongoing upkeep and can lead to a frustrating user experience for your customers, clients, partners and team.
Instead, using responsive design means that your site will be consistent across platforms and devices, adjusting to browser and screen sizes automatically. This prevents the need for future maintenance of separate URLs and technically, separate mobile and desktop sites.
In addition to creating a responsive design that works seamlessly for both desktop and mobile versions of your site, you will also want to think about the layout of individual pages. For example, if you have an e-commerce site, avoid putting large content blocks at the top of a page with products towards the end. One way of designing this effectively is to add the product images first with a title, brief bulleted text and a 'Read More' or other labeled button that can be expanded upon for more information.
Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Gary Illyes confirmed in Nov 2016 that page speed is a factor in the next mobile update. Google already has been using page speed as a factor in terms of page rank and this will continue to be relevant when the mobile-first index is completely live and in use.
It's important to note that if a person is accessing your site without Wi-Fi and just dependent on a cellular connection, site access can be really slow.
Check your site's speed using Google's PageSpeed Insights Tool or GTmetrix. Take necessary measures to address any slowness in page loading time. Your site should load in three seconds or less. Kissmetrics reported that 40% of web users will abandon a web page if it takes longer than three seconds to load.
Google’s introduction of Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) demonstrates its concern and commitment to improving page speed for mobile access. Your business can succeed in this mobile-friendly environment by providing a quick, user-friendly, AMP-ready user experience.
Knowing Your Audience
Keep your audience in mind throughout your site so it is personalized and relevant.
Real Estate and Home Improvement
For example, if your business is in architecture, real estate or home improvement, your site has to appeal to home owners and people looking to purchase or renovate their homes. Design is paramount in conveying professionalism, aesthetics and savviness. Your customers want to know that the company they are dealing with is capable of providing them the high quality and consistent service they expect. Your site's mobile readiness reflects your business' awareness and adaptability. A well-designed, mobile-friendly site with relevant content engenders confidence.
For a B2B business such as a tech consulting company, your site must be swift, tailored to your audience and get to the point quickly. Your audience is smart and knowledgeable. You need to convey essential information quickly and concisely.
In retail such as apparel or footwear, your customer expects a swift-loading mobile experience with large graphics, short descriptions and any promotions or discounts clearly visible. Today customers check online before going into a physical store to see if they can get a better deal and to learn more about the product they want to buy before an in-store visit.
For universities and colleges, their customers are students and parents. Your site must therefore be appealing to both, proving the value of getting an education at your institution as compared to others and truly provide a compelling experience for students to want to attend.
Your Social Presence
The online experience you provide to your customers extends beyond your website to your social media presence. Your audience may visit your social media outlets (Facebook, Twitter and other outlets) to learn more about your company in a more personal and authentic way. This can be more important for Generation Z, Millennial and Generation Y audiences who look for socially engaged businesses.
As you may have already noticed, more images and videos appear in mobile search results, whether it is images from your Twitter Feed, videos from YouTube you showcase or other multimedia on your site. Consider this as you build your brand out and your ongoing marketing.
Optimizing for Local
Mobile search helps local businesses differentiate themselves and win over new customers very quickly through a compelling mobile user experience. Voice search has increased significantly with Siri, Google Assistant and Cortana and is three times more likely in use for local search, according to Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends Report 2016 by Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers. This increase is largely attributed to a significant improvement in technology that recognizes natural language along with access to larger vocabularies.
Data of Voice Search Usage from HigherVisibility.com
Consider your business and whether you have a lot of local search for your industry and product/service offering. If you do, having a local search strategy optimized for voice search can become a key differentiator for you. In addition to having a mobile-friendly site, also aim to target long-tail keywords and natural language keywords for your business. Verify your business on Google my Business. Make sure your contact information is consistent across your website, social media and any other relevant links.
In conclusion, by following these tips above you can optimize your website for your customers and be prepared for the full mobile-first rollout in the months to come.