What We’re Missing When We Talk About “Mobilegeddon”
The Fear Uncertainty and Doubt train has left the station.
In anticipation of its new mobile-centric algorithm update rolling out today, Google has given site owners an unusually extended period to adjust — two months — along with a testing tool and clear documentation on how to avoid penalties. For an organization that typically downplays the effects of its updates (for instance pointing to low percentages of affected queries or neglecting to confirm apparent updates altogether) this departure points to a significant expected impact.
The update is overdue. We know that the percentage of browser-based web traffic on mobile devices is high, and rising. (Specific figures depend on your source). More mobile users mean that Google’s mission to offer a great user experience on its search properties is now directly related to the quality of the mobile web overall. If websites offer poor experiences on mobile, users will make fewer searches, perhaps choosing to use native mobile apps like Twitter and Facebook as a layer between them and the open web. Plus, in an age when the responsive web design is a known quantity — and when it’s been “the year of mobile” every year since 2011 — Google’s adjustment seems a bit late to the party.
That’s why, when reporters and companies talk about preparing for a “mobilegeddon” they frequently miss the bigger point.
As a number of outlets have reported, there are a whole lot of sites that don’t pass the test (yet) — which explains the FUD. To be clear: it’s not wrong to point out this problem. Those sites/companies really should be paying attention. It’s also why Yottaa built a new mobile SEO profile into our ContextIntelligence engine, so all of our customers will meet key aspects of Google’s criteria, no matter what platform or CMS they are using.
But one could argue that Google’s update is only scratching the surface of what companies should be considering when it comes to mobile.
If you look at companies that do a large portion of their business online, the picture doesn’t look much like armageddon at all. Major media outlets and eCommerce companies, as well as social media sites and blogging platforms, have been dialing in mobile experiences for years. For many, Google’s hurdle is something they’ve already cleared and have never looked back.
For instance, look at the slice of companies selected in this Forbes study of Fortune 500 companies. The fact that 44% of the companies are not mobile-friendly may be shocking — until you realize that those who failed are the corporate sites of companies that do virtually no business online. When was the last time you went to an oil company’s corporate site on your phone? Or as one commenter put it, “I’m sure Warren Buffett could care less if berkshirehathaway.com is mobile friendly.”
In our own test of Internet Retailer’s Top 500 websites, not a single website tested had a mobile solution in place. All had responsive, adaptive, or “m.dot” solutions to cater to mobile visitors — the three recommended choices given in Google’s documentation. Given the criteria for Google’s update, it’s unlikely any site thus prepared would fail the test.
So, what should we be talking about?
If you’re a site owner who relies on SEO to drive traffic and make money online, you should absolutely be making sure that you’re mobile-friendly. Most who fall into that category, however, are already safe. The trouble comes when benchmarking against your competitors on the finer points of the mobile experience.
Even within the world of highly customized RWD and adaptive solutions, there’s still a yawning gap between the sites that excel at selling or converting on mobile and those that don’t. Many see mobile conversion rates persistently less than half that of desktops; thus they see mobile account for a much smaller portion of total sales than its share of traffic would indicate it should. Much of the difference comes down to points like performance (speed), and adapting content to meet the specific needs of mobile users. Mobile users are incredibly impatient and fickle, so experiences must be flawless. In other words, don’t rest on your laurels because you passed Google’s test!
The future of the web is mobile, and the future of mobile is highly refined experiences that leverage the strengths of mobile devices and account for their shortcomings. That means using contextual factors like location, device/OS type, and more to curate experiences. The results of doing so stretch far beyond SEO.