This month, Google will begin processing websites to account for their mobile optimization and has warned that come July, slow-loading content might find itself lower in the list of search results.
But rather than panic, companies should use the change in focus from the desktop to mobile to ensure all of their digital channels are aligned with their customers.
“The move to mobile indexing is a golden opportunity for a brand audit,” says Geoffrey Boulakia, General Manager EMEA of TSC, Sitel Group’s digital CX agency. “Every consumer-facing company should be constantly refining its digital channels to ensure they reflect their customers’ needs, wants and changing behaviors.”
A long time coming
The biggest single change in recent years has been the move to mobile. According to Google, it’s been three years since mobile overtook desktop as the most popular way of conducting a web search. And this is why, following an 18-month internal development process, Google is now officially making a website’s suitability for mobile users a core element of how it indexes and ranks web content.
This approach, called “mobile-first indexing,” is set to roll out in stages. This means that for the moment, how well a site augments and loads on a smartphone screen won’t be the leading criteria for being at or near the top of a list of search results.
A nudge toward mobile
However, Google has been making a concerted effort to make all companies with an online presence take mobile seriously and, wherever possible, go mobile first in order to keep pace with consumers’ changing use of its search engine.
“We continue to encourage webmasters to make their content mobile-friendly,” said Google. “We do evaluate all content in our index – whether it is desktop or mobile – to determine how mobile-friendly it is.”
The optimum approach
In this respect, the world’s largest and most popular search engine – responsible for 91.2 percent of all search queries globally – has already started adding icons to sites that turn up in a list of results to indicate how quickly or slowly the content will load on mobile. This summer, Google will take this a stage further.
“Beginning in July 2018, slow-loading content may perform less well for both desktop and mobile searchers,” warns Google.
So how do you make sure your site is optimized for mobile and keeps coming near the top of search results and ahead of content from your competitors?
Don’t break the 2-second rule.
“According to Forrester, if a website can’t load within three seconds over a 3G connection, the average consumer will abandon the browsing session – and that’s the absolute limit,” says Geoffrey Boulakia, “So don’t take any chances and make sure your site loads in under two seconds.”
This is much easier than it sounds, as there are suites of free-to-use tools available that can streamline a site’s performance by compressing images and cleaning code as well as reviewing its ergonomics in relation to how it will render on a smartphone rather than desktop screen.
Mobile by definition
It’s not just about screen real estate. More often than not, a smartphone is being used while out and about. Therefore, a site needs to correspond to geography as well as display dimensions – over half of mobile searches contain a local request element, such as the location of the closest drugstore or a certain store’s opening hours.
“Therefore, make certain that optimization extends to geotagging, embedding any information that will make your site or services easier to find for anyone in the local area,” continues Geoffrey Boulakia.
As well as being able to navigate to your premises, users should be able to navigate your site without accidentally clicking on links or the wrong buttons or being bombarded with pop ups.
“Don’t forget that the single most popular use of a smartphone is for social media – so that means that recommendations, shares, likes and posts to your brand’s community are also mobile,” points out Geoffrey Boulakia. “Your site must work well with the major social networks; in other words, respect the golden user experience rules.”
An opportunity worth discussing
But for any consumer-facing brand that’s serious about staying ahead of its competitors, this mobile optimization should simply be a first step. Voice is about to shake everything up even more and this is the perfect moment to start optimizing for vocal searches and vocal assistants, too.
“Voice and vocal assistants are going to have a monumental impact on businesses in every sector,” explains Geoffrey Boulakia. “Over 400 million people already use Google Assistant on their smartphones, tablets and smartwatches, while smart speakers are flying off the shelves in the U.S.”
Get ready for voice optimization
“If companies want to continue topping search rankings they must start thinking about Personal Assistant Search Optimization now, as it’s expected to become a very competitive field in the near future,” warns Geoffrey Boulakia.
Just like mobile optimization, taking the first steps toward this goal are easier than many companies may think.
“Your website’s content will need to be reconsidered in terms of questions and answers, as that’s the way a voice search works,” says Geoffrey Boulakia. “A voice search is also more likely to be a direct order or an action query and so will include words such has ‘how,’ ‘why,’ ‘where’ and ‘do.’”
Top tip – Read your content aloud
Indeed, Google itself recommends reading your sites’ content aloud to see if it sounds like a person talking. For this reason, it also warns about displaying content in tables or as a series of links. A vocal assistant isn’t going to read out a table of results or spell out a URL.
“Whether you prepare your website solely for mobile or for voice too, unless the changes made are for optimizing your customer’s experience as well as optimizing for a device’s screen size, that work could be in vain,” concludes Geoffrey Boulakia.