Friend or Foe? How Google’s Mobile-Friendly Update Will Impact Retailers
Google released one of its most significant algorithm changes ever last Tuesday. This update has been dubbed "mobilegeddon" and "mopocalypse" for good reason: Google says the change will affect more sites than previous "huge" updates. Based on Pure Oxygen Labs' annual mobile search engine optimization scoring of the top 500 retailers, I believe this update will impact nearly every retailer, some dramatically. What can your brand do to maintain its organic search presence? Here are few tips.
Mobile Friendly: A New Relevance Signal
Last week's update is all about rewarding pages that have earned the "mobile friendly" label. This label is earned by addressing key mobile usability issues — e.g. does the page require pinching and zooming, does it make text easy to read, are buttons easy to click, etc. Since most retailers have had some sort of mobile presence for years now, one might assume retailers are ready for this update.
No Mobile Presence
Surprisingly, 14 percent of the top 500 had no mobile presence as of June 2014. Googe's update has these holdouts in its crosshairs. If you're one of these brands, prepare for the worst. As unthinkable as it sounds, there's a chance that your top pages may become less visible, even for brand queries, on mobile devices. After all, what Google is saying is that mobile-friendly pages are more relevant to mobile searchers.
Mobile URLs ("m-dots")
M-dot sites were still the most popular mobile strategy for retailers in 2014, but just having a mobile presence doesn't necessarily mean a site will earn Google's mobile-friendly label.
Does every desktop page have a mobile-equivalent version? For most retailers, the answer is no. Special promotional pages and faceted navigation pages often lack mobile equivalents. These desktop URLs will not likely earn the "mobile friendly" label, so they'll probably no longer drive mobile search traffic.
Consider this as well: If Google can't crawl the mobile URLs, those pages cannot earn the "mobile friendly" label. Once upon a time brands were told to block their m-dot pages to prevent duplicate content. Some top online retailers still follow this practice. However, without the "mobile friendly" label, these mobile sites will become much less visible to mobile searchers.
If properly implemented, responsive design provides an efficient way to ensure pages earn Google's "mobile friendly" label. One of the keys is to avoid blocking bots from crawling the files that make the site operate in a responsive fashion.
One of the top home shopping retailers has a great responsive site, but blocks Google from crawling scripts. The site hasn't earned Google's "mobile friendly" label. Mobile shoppers may benefit from the responsive experience, but soon they'll no longer find these pages ranking for competitive terms.
Many retailers dynamically serve mobile-friendly content at their desktop URLs. If server logic doesn't exist to render each desktop page as mobile friendly, those URLs will not earn the "mobile friendly" label either. One of the largest online retailers uses this mobile method, yet has tens of thousands of pages that lack the "mobile friendly" label. These pages officially become at risk last Tuesday.
Note that this can be difficult to detect. Google's mobile-friendly testing tool enables single-page testing. To identify URLs that aren't rendering mobile-friendly content at scale, you may need to use automated mobile SEO tools.
Retailers with Android apps have a new opportunity to get app content indexed in Google, so searchers who have that app can open deep app "pages" from the search results. This is known as deep linking. Make sure your Android app has the code to take advantage. Pure Oxygen Labs found that fewer than 10 percent of top retailers have activated deep link support in their Android app.
Last week's Google algorithm update will shake up every mobile search keyword market — e.g., brand terms, head terms, tail terms — for nearly every retailer. Those brands that have invested in mobile SEO over the years can expect to find their web (and app) content ranking higher, and winning at the expense of those that have not.
Brian Klais is the founder and CEO of Pure Oxygen Labs, a company focused on fueling mobile discovery and engagement for brands. Pure Oxygen Labs offers a suite of mobile search optimization tools, industry research and app deep link technology.