When Google Inc. revealed in February 2015 plans to update its search algorithm based on usage patterns, Internet-connected users took note. What attracted the most attention from online commercial interests was the expanded use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal on Google starting April 21.
Prior to that, Google had begun to flag websites as mobile-friendly, but in April site rankings began to reflect mobile friendliness, with mobile-optimized sites placing higher in the rankings. At stake were page clicks, since top-ranked sites typically attract 20 to 30 percent of page clicks, and any displacement in rankings can negatively impact revenue.
To help webmasters mobile optimize existing websites, Google posted an online guide for passing its "mobile-friendly test" and a Mobile Usability report. Among the criteria cited were such things as sizing and spacing of links to make tapping screens much easier for mobile users, sizing of web page content to fit mobile screens, using legible font sizes and avoiding incompatible technologies like Adobe Flash for mobile-enabled users.
With no middle ground for Google's new ranking algorithm, businesses ranked on the giant search engine were either forced to adopt mobile-friendly websites or remain in temporary standby mode.
"If your site isn't mobile friendly, and you have lots of competitors with mobile friendly sites, then you can expect steep drops in organic search performance on mobile devices," Adam Bunn, Search Engine Optimization and Social Media Director at Greenlight Digital Ltd., stated in a blog post. "If your site isn't mobile friendly, but neither are your competitors, then you can expect the status quo to be maintained. In that case, though, the update is likely to trigger an 'arms race' to get mobile optimized."
During the six weeks that followed the algorithm change, Moovweb tracked more than 1,000 important e-commerce keywords. "We found that 83 percent of the time, the top result is tagged as mobile-friendly by Google; 81 percent of the time the top three results are mobile-friendly," Moovweb stated. "And when you consider all 10 of the spots on Google's first page, 77 percent of the search results are 'mobile-friendly.'"
Of the mobile-friendly vertical markets tracked, Moovweb found retail-based keywords had the most impact on business standing in the revised rankings. "The first 10 search results for keywords related to retail, for example, had 17 percent more mobile-friendly webpages than the first 10 results for keywords related to education," Moovweb stated.
Retail ranked highest among the verticals tracked for mobile friendlieness, followed by healthcare, insurance, travel/hospitality, other, education and transportation, according to Moovweb analysts.
While Moovweb tracked data, the number of mobile-friendly results on the first page hovered around an average of 7.7 out of 10 results, illustrating relative consistency and stability in search results. It is projected that this trend toward mobile-friendly websites will continue.
But just as business websites become more mobile-friendly, consumers have been slow on the uptake. According to eMarketer Inc., last year more than 150 million people used a mobile device to research, browse or compare products. Yet fewer than seven in 10 of those mobile shoppers actually made a purchase from a smartphone or tablet device. The majority of online purchases were executed from desktop PCs and laptops.
Part of the problem has been the user shopping experience in the small real estate represented on mobile screens. Amazon.com was well ahead of the curve when it introduced one-click ordering. Google, too, acknowledged the problem in establishing the mobile-friendly criteria for websites.
And others like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest have recently launched their own "buy" buttons to help bridge the experiential gap between mobile browsing and desktop purchasing as mobile consumers do more tapping than typing in the new paradigm.
While path-to-purchase solutions providers continue to work on removing barriers to consumer adoption of mobile payments, business owners are grappling with the added cost of upgrading their websites to improve interoperability with mobile devices and enhance customer convenience, whether or not they are jockeying for position in the Google rankings.
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