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How to optimize your eCommerce store for the mobile-first index

06/10/2018

Mobile is here to stay – and Google knows it. Let’s start with a little game of Did You Know?

  1. Did you know that mobile commerce reached $700 billion in 2017, which is more than a 300% growth?
  2. Did you know that 52.2% of all web traffic comes from mobile devices?
  3. Did you know that across the globe, more people own a mobile phone than own a toothbrush?

I think you get the picture. As a species, we love mobile. So what is it that Google has done in response to this trend towards mobile? We’ll get into the nitty-gritty of this in a moment, but in the meantime, here’s the trailer:

When it comes to search indexing, they’ve begun prioritizing mobile in their ranking strategies.

What does this mean specifically for eCommerce and its relationship to digital marketing? Basically, whether you are a veteran or are just getting started, ignoring this development will be detrimental to the success of your company. If you want to drive the right traffic to your site, you have to do what Google has done and stay up-to-date (if not ahead) of the times.

I will take you further into the relationship between mobile-first indexing and eCommerce by examining the WHY, the WHAT, and the WHEN? And finally, the part you have all been waiting for… the HOW? Let’s dive in.

WHY is the mobile-first index being adopted?

The short answer is that, as you have seen from the statistics firing at you, we are partial to performing most of our activities, from banking to shopping to socializing, on our mobile devices. Google’s main objective is to serve their users. They pride themselves on being able to respond to user needs and habits. If their needs are mobile, then that’s exactly where Google will sharpen their focus.

Way back in 2016, John Lincoln, writing for Entrepreneur magazine, was calling Google’s move to Mobile-First “the Death of Desktop SEO.” That change is now very much upon us, and as we look towards the future of digital visibility, we have to ensure that our digital marketing strategies are well aligned with the priorities of the top search engine.

By now you have at least a loose understanding of the Mobile-First Index, but it’s time to get a little more specific.

WHAT is the mobile-first index?

Google uses automated systems to crawl websites to find the most relevant data for specific search queries. Up until recently, crawling was done on the desktop version of websites. Directly from their lips, the shift to mobile-first means that Google will “predominantly use the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking.”

It’s important to understand the following:
  • Google will continue to have a single index. They will not have separate indexes for mobile and desktop. They will now gravitate towards mobile to determine where you sit on their rankings.
  • If your website is not mobile-friendly, Google will automatically default to the desktop version of your site. While that might sound like a reason not to optimize your site for mobile, in reality, it means quite the opposite. Because mobile devices are now a priority, your rankings can be negatively affected.
  • The SEO strategies that you have previously employed may need to be revised. Your mobile site will become your spokesperson, as it were, so make sure that they have all the taking points.
Let’s take a look at a possible scenario:

In 2013, Jane created an eCommerce store with print-on-demand integration where she sells tote bags decorated with the face of the friendly neighborhood raccoon. Her business quickly became a massive global success.

Jane was smart. She realized that mobile was important for eCommerce conversions (even all those years ago) so she created a mobile site to accompany her desktop one. You know the type – they typically follow the format of m.domain.com.

Jane, being rather ttech-savvy did two things:
  1. She created SEO-friendly content on her desktop site to draw the right audiences to her store.
  2. She optimized her mobile site for speed and efficiency by streamlining the content. Sure enough, the site loaded quickly and Jane and her raccoon-loving customers were happy about this.

Clever? Well, for the times, yes. Cut to 2018. Google crawls her mobile site (you know, the m.domain.com version) looking for relevant content. The problem is all of the cleverly-developed SEO content is on the desktop site.

Jane’s rankings drop, and so do the hopes and dreams of raccoon-tote-bag lovers who just can’t seem to find the product they are searching for on their mobile devices.

Luckily, it’s not over for Jane. She can optimize her mobile site in ways that I’ll highlight shortly. Also, Jane and her eCommerce store owner friends are not victims of a blanket change that is happening with no warning. It’s a gradual process, as we will look at next.

WHEN is the mobile-first index being adopted?

In March 2018, Google announced that after a period of careful research, they were rolling out mobile-first. In their announcement, they stressed that this would be a gradual process. Sites that are being moved over are being notified via Search Console. (If you are not yet familiar with the Search Console tools, now’s the time to get acquainted.)

That’s right. There’s no need to panic. Having said that, the sooner you embrace this change, the better for you and your business. Which brings us to the most important chapter – how on earth you complete this shift successfully.

HOW can you optimize your eCommerce store for the mobile-first index?

Optimizing your site for mobile is not simply about ticking-off items on a checklist of Google’s criteria, although according to best practices, this is certainly part of the process. You also have to convert your whole way of thinking to a mobile mindset.

The desktop and mobile games are played with different rules. If you’re a cricket fan, you will know that One Day and Test matches are played with differing strategies. What may work in one arena may not necessarily work in the other. The same goes for desktop and mobile audiences.

Let’s take a look at the most important implementation tenets that will help you effectively optimize your site.

1) Speed and efficiency are your best friends

Look at it from either the customer or Google’s perspective and you will see the same picture – speed matters. Of course, website speed has always mattered, but with the mobile trend, it’s a Number 1 Priority. Loading time is one of Google’s stipulated ranking criteria when it comes to mobile, and they advise that you get fast, fast.

This has been one of the major challenges in the shift to mobile. In fact, the average mobile webpage still takes 15.3 seconds to load. So here’s what you have to do. Head over to PageSpeed Insights; see how you fare, and how to fix the problem if you have one.

It might be worth looking into one of Google’s latest projects, Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). Essentially, this is an open source library of pages designed to load instantaneously.

2) Align the content on your desktop and digital sites

Remember Jane? Yes, the store owner who got had her mobile site crawled that had none of the SEO magic of her desktop site. Don’t be like Jane.

Be like Future Jane, who is going to fix her problem and align her mobile and desktop content for SEO magic. Because Jane loves Mobile-First, and so do her raccoons.

3) Understand that mobile customers are difficult to convert

Think of how distracted the mobile user is in comparison to the desktop user. Your site needs to draw them in and keep them there, right up to conversion (and beyond). Currently, this is not happening on the whole, causing what some are calling “the m-commerce gap”.

1

Source: Smart Insights

Apparently, time does not equal money when it comes to the world of mobile. So what does this mean for your eCommerce website? The bottom line is you have to put effort into conversion because it cannot be assumed.

Your task is to eliminate as many obstacles as you possibly can to conversion. Make the process as easy as possible for your customer. From payment processing to product details to site loading speed, don’t give them a reason to close down your site in favor of something else.

To do this, you have to make sure your content is mobile-first. You are the lawyer and they are the jury and you have to convince them why navigating away is criminal.

Final thoughts…

I’ll leave you with this infographic, created by the Boston Consulting Group.

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Source: BlueCorona

Yes, we really are that addicted! If human beings have placed this much weight on mobile, the companies that serve them better follow suit.

Google prides itself on the ability to serve searchers in the most intuitive way. If searchers are moving over to mobile, in order to abide by their mandate of being relevant to their users, they too have to get mobile-minded. If you want your eCommerce business to thrive, so should you.

AUTHOR BIO:

Charlie Carpenter is the co-founder and CEO of Kite. He is a mobile advocate with more than ten years of industry experience. After working for large and small agencies for many years, he co-founded Kite. As an entrepreneur, Charlie is a seasoned product strategist with experience of various types of digital projects including Responsive and Adaptive Websites, Mobile & Tablet Apps, Hybrid Apps, and Cross-platform App development. You can connect with Charlie on LinkedIn, and follow him on Twitter.

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