Mobile marketing just recently received a boost from Google. On April 21, 2015, the search engine giant made changes to its search algorithm that was designed to increase "mobile friendliness" as a factor that can impact the overall search ranking. This change was dramatic, as it was the first time in many years that an algorithm update was geared toward all websites, not only those who were looking to game their search page rank. Mobile SEO will now become an important part of any marketing strategy, as there is now an increased focus on search.
How the system has changed
Google's rollout of the so-called "mobile friendly update" is veiled in secrecy. Few businesses are aware of what's actually different, if anything changed at all. The most likely action is that it launched a new mobile crawler that is better suited to identifying and indexing mobile web pages, single-page web apps and other pages that have been specifically designed for mobile devices (1). This crawler also takes into consideration the use of responsive design, a web design concept that automatically changes layout based on the screen resolution of the device that's accessing it.
What's important for marketers to understand is the actual scope of the changes. The search giant made clear that this is a specifically mobile-only change and that desktop rankings will not change whatsoever. Still, mobile marketing has become all the more relevant as a consequence of this update. Many marketing teams shouldn't feel uncomfortable at the prospect of mobile and desktop rankings not aligning with one another.
There are multiple ways of determining whether a site or landing page is mobile friendly. Google has offered a tool that helps businesses identify whether their site fits the standard, along with tips on how to make it so if it doesn't (2). In search, the most visible effect of the update is the addition of the "Mobile-friendly" tag to search results (3). This can help determine if specific pages are following the new rules and getting their search results properly indexed.
It's important to understand the level of change that is happening. As Google considers this update to be much larger than other well-known algorithm updates, such as Penguin and Panda, it likely means that a business' landing pages and other Web-related material will be greatly impacted when being sought out by buyers on mobile devices. A page that fails to meet the new standard will likely suffer a severe drop in page rankings on mobile search. Those that are friendly, on the other hand, will likely see an initial rise in their mobile search ranking.
Surviving the fallout
In order to make the most of this update, mobile marketers have to make sure all their marketing material actually matches the standard. If they are, then there should a temporary surge in page rank while other sites scramble to make their adjustments to these new changes.
In the likely event that marketers aren't ready for the new mobile-friendly standard, changes need to be made to Web pages so that the losses are minimal. The most basic of these is to examine the page design on a mobile device, ideally a smartphone. The pages in general should look good on a mobile device, in that they have readable fonts and layouts that don't look scrunched together (4). In essence, they shouldn't just be reproductions of the original desktop page.
More importantly, there shouldn't be any layout situations that would likely annoy mobile users by virtue of the fact that their screens are too small for it. For example, the screens should not scroll horizontally at all. Links on the site should be easily clickable without having to extensively zoom in on the screen. If a user switches orientation from landscape to portrait and vice versa, the page should be able to reorient its layout so the experience is both seamless and functional. Finally, any changes that have been made should be submitted in the form of a mobile sitemap to Google. That way, the next time the search engine crawls, the updated pages are in place.
Looking to the future, marketers need to put more effort into making their marketing strategies mobile friendly. One way of doing this is to utilize platform-agnostic code such as HTML5. This makes the process of testing for different devices much easier and faster to complete. Another possibility to consider is creating a mobile-specific domain where purchasers can be redirected to tailor-made landing pages that are fully optimized for smartphones and tablets.
The important lesson here, however, is that marketers can no longer simply see mobile as just one avenue for outreach and lead generation. As part of a comprehensive strategy, mobile marketing now sits on an even level as other Web-based initiatives. It's only a matter of time before it becomes the primary means of establishing relationships with businesses.