Google is pursuing its own rigorous strategy of focusing web search and website rankings on mobile – that could mean bad news for several online print providers…

Google is once again going to adjust its Index – a purely mobile index is expected to replace the previously combined desktop/mobile version as the primary index from next year onwards. Given that the rankings will then be influenced even more strongly by mobile searches, many online print providers have a lot of work to do over the next few months.

Google announced at the Pubcon digital marketing convention, which took place in Las Vegas from October 10 to 13, that it would manage two indices in parallel, one for desktop and one for mobile, in a few months’ time. Mobile search would be given a higher weighting and consequently mobile would become the primary index. What impact that will have on sellers’ figures is anybody’s guess. However what is certain is that those, who are not willing or able to go along with this, will be overtaken by the competition or at the very least will lose market share. So there are good reasons for taking Google’s advice about mobile compatibility on the Webmaster homepage seriously: “Irrespective of what your next step is, opt for the world of mobile!”

I have taken a closer look at whether online print providers have geared up for meeting the new requirements since the last update in May 2016 and how they should get ready for the upcoming change.

While most purchases were transacted via desktops in 2015 and presumably in 2016 as well, next year more orders will be transacted via mobile rather than via the “static” mode (laptop or desktop), according to a survey by demandware. Mind you, some 90% of Germans currently access the Internet via mobile and 24% of all online purchases are transacted on mobile end devices – and that curve is going north. This trend is of course affecting most markets and makes proper mobile-compatible website design and display an absolute must. Of course most online purchases of print products are not ad-hoc decisions as, for example, purchasing books or smartphone accessories are. But given the fact that smartphones are getting bigger and better in terms of technology, more than 25% of Germans are in future certainly going to make and even transact purchasing decisions, even more complex ones, e.g. involving customizable print products, when on the move. According to forecasts for the current business year, that figure is set to increase by at least 50% – that means at least 40% will purchase products via smartphone or tablet.  Online print providers then definitely need to have mobile-compatible editing environments up their sleeves.

The market is usually very unforgiving of late reactions to new requirements. The one or other online print provider may believe that they can disregard mobile design and display issues if they are getting sufficient traffic and orders via the desktop route. But if the relationship between “static” and mobile purchases shifts towards mobile more strongly than expected in the near and medium term, then providers cannot afford to wait weeks before putting a mobile-compatible version of their website online.

 

This is what a mobile-compatible website can look like in Google’s PageSpeed Insight tool; source: developers.google.com

This is what a mobile-compatible website can look like in Google’s PageSpeed Insight tool; source: developers.google.com

What is expected of mobile-compatible websites?

Satisfied customers want to be able to read and navigate websites in mobile mode without encountering any problems. An impediment to this is constantly having to zoom in and out and having to wait on a confusing site layout to materialize. Clarity and user friendliness are therefore top priorities, because nobody wants to plough through a website laboriously to search for a product or place an order just because the site is not mobile-compatible. So ease of use and rapid completion are more important to most visitors than is the case with desktop applications – the effectiveness of a mobile website is measured precisely in terms of these factors! Google‘s PageSpeed Insight is a very useful tool for identifying problems relating to appropriately rapid content display and user experience on mobile end devices. What is helpful is the categorization into more serious deficiencies (rectification required), the rectification of which would mean a significant improvement; into weaknesses, which – if not too involved – should be rectified to achieve even better website performance (rectification recommended) and finally into so-called rules that have been complied with.

In the light of current events I have once again updated my previously published list, and lo and behold, two more online print providers have made their websites mobile-friendly (v) since the last Google update in May. But what is striking is that some of the big boys in particular seem to have problems with mobile versions of their websites. According to the Google tool, there is a massive display speed and user experience gap between the “better” and the “poorer” online print websites in relation to mobile compatibility. It is therefore gratifying to note that most of the domains, which passed Google’s mobile compatibility test, are only lacking a few percentage points to make the top user experience grade, according to PageSpeed Insights. In this respect the tool grades them as efficient – however all domains have to improve speed – to some extent significantly, in order to be categorized as really mobile-compatible.

Zipperkopf_ImAugeHabenNeugierig“Evidently some print providers are not taking the mobile compatibility issue quite so seriously. But they should do, given the upcoming changes and the surf behavior of potential customers.” – Bernd Zipper

What action can I as an online print provider take to be successful in “mobile” terms as well?

Irrespective of whether you now offer a website as an additional mobile version or in responsive design format – anybody, who wants to be visible and sell something, has necessarily to tackle the issue of mobile compatibility. I have five tips that online print providers should now heed:

  1. Do not wait until Google spots it – demonstrate to Google that your website can be properly displayed on mobile end devices – for that purpose you need a separate mobile-compatible website or one in responsive design format.
  2. Continue to keep an eye on trigger searches. Advertising via various channels leads to increased search requests. Although many buying decisions are still made on desktops at home, mobile page impressions are now occurring more frequently and in future increasingly in conjunction with purchases.
  3. Avoid those frequently made errors that frustrate mobile users. Speed (file size + page load time) and user experience (user interface, image size and quantity, font type and size) are the key issues here.
  4. Use free Google tools, to identify where the problems are and commission specialists to adapt your website to the mobile search and buying behavior patterns of customers. That’s because desktop SEO and handling of structured data is a whole different ballgame to SEO for mobile devices!
  5. Regularly update your CMS manually or automatically. That can generate better mobile compatibility for smaller print providers.

Über die Faktoren für Mobiltauglichkeit hinaus, zählen für das mobile ebenso wie für das Desktop-Ranking natürlich weiterhin Funktionstüchtigkeit und Aktualität der Webseite, Anzahl und Qualität der Links sowie die Verweildauer von Besuchern bzw. Kunden auf der Seite. Also: Dranbleiben und ausbauen, lautet die Devise. Jeder Anbieter hat es selbst in der Hand aktiv zu werden und in Bezug auf die steigenden mobilen Erfordernisse auch zu bleiben.

In addition to mobile compatibility factors, the functionality and up-to-dateness of the website, the quantity and quality of the links and the website dwell time of visitors and customers are of course also important in determining both mobile and desktop rankings. In other words, stick with it and enhance your site – that’s the name of the game. It’s up to each provider to get proactive and to remain so in relation to the ever increasing quantity of mobile requirements.

As a bonus here is a small motivational aid to help you go down the mobile optimization route. Since there are already more mobile end devices than desktop PCs in some countries, this essentially determines what form a website takes. And what is usually the first port of call when conducting online searches? Right, it’s Amazon. Where product information or price estimates are involved, searchers start their product research some 30% more frequently at Amazon than at Google. And since Amazon – as I have already reported – has already begun to get involved in print-native business activities, there are now more and more good reasons why you should definitely not disregard (mobile) Google rankings.

My Take: Leaving online print aside for a moment, people will continue to interact more and more with mobile devices – it’s not just younger generations that are spending more time on smartphones than on PCs or laptops. There is still a fair amount of work to do to ensure that our industry is not put at a disadvantage. What also remains to be seen is what impact Google’s increased focus on mobile will have in the future. I will be tackling the directly related topic of `Mobile Centric´ in the next few weeks. That’s because everything will be more mobile – hopefully online print too…