Mobile UX - #SquirrelLives

Hate to be the one to say this, but I will if nobody else does: called it.

Those who were lucky enough to attend 4Ps’ Digital EDGEucation conference last month will hopefully recall the little SEO Safari that I took everyone on (complete with pith helmet and witty commentary, of course), which aimed to give the uninitiated a quick overview of the Google menagerie of animal-based algorithms for organic search.

At the end of this talk I postulated a few potential “new species” likely to be on the horizon as Google algorithm changes and developments in coming months and years. Those who weren’t paying attention (you know who you are) might have missed it, but the first of these was in fact a little beastie I nicknamed “Google Squirrel,” with a headline aim of improving mobile UX for search. There’s hardly been a shortage of evidence to suggest that this might be incoming; from the user experience beta on the old PageSpeed Insights tool, to speed itself becoming a ranking signal, to the mobile-friendly and “slow” labels on the SERPs in more recent times.

Fifteen days later, Google announced on Webmaster Central that they were expanding the use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal, saying the change would “affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results.” They’re doing some cool stuff with in-app indexing as well, and anyone with an Android app would be nuts to ignore it, but the announcement of such a major search algorithm update so far in advance (it’ll hit mobile SERPs on 21st April 2015) is currently the development stealing all the industry headlines.

In other words, for those who were at EDGE, the squirrel lives. Even if Google have sadly declined to use my naming suggestion for the algo update (boo).

Now it may be a bit unfair on the app indexing, but I will admit that I did a shameless little dance around the office after reading the post. All the signals about mobile UX impact have been there for some time, and seeing a prediction you make about search come true in such a direct (and immediate) fashion is always a treat. Of course it also has the added bonus for 4Ps clients of meaning that we’re ahead of the game, already having plenty of expertise in UX as its own discipline within the agency, and having been harping on about a user-centric approach to search marketing for literally years at this point.

So, what should you do now?

  • Check your Google Webmaster Tools account for detected mobile usability issues
  • Run your homepage and examples of all your main templates through the new mobile friendly tester
  • Get your design and development teams cracking on any issues, and make sure fixes are deployed and re-tested as soon as possible before the 21st April
  • Ensure you’re ready to put annotations into your analytics on the day, so it is easy to see the impact the change has on your site traffic

This of course assumes you have a site designed to display on small screens or smartphones – responsive, adaptive or a separate set of mobile URLs, any option is fine (but make sure you set up any needed tagging or HTTP Vary headers to send the right signals for any change in content or design if you aren’t fully responsive, or your SEO will suffer from more conventional visibility signals).

I’m afraid I only have one thing to say to you if you don’t have at least basic provision on that front by now.

No Mobile Site - What Year Is It?

In all seriousness, not having a mobile version of your website for users on smaller-screened devices by 2015 is a very major oversight – however you can probably not lose too much sleep over it, as the inevitable drop in visibility and organic traffic that will hit your site on the 21st April will likely have less impact on your business as a whole. That said, for goodness’ sake sort out your mobile provision this year!

For everyone else, get cracking now, especially if you tend to see a high level of engagement and/or conversion on your mobile website. Do some analytics reviews to make sure you understand exactly how a visibility hit on mobile could impact your business, and not just in direct conversions; don’t forget that someone who finds you for the first time on a mobile while waiting for the bus may well be a visitor who comes back later on a bigger screen to make a purchase later on.

Check out cross device tracking in Google Universal Analytics. If you don’t have it, or you’re struggling to understand user interactions on your site and how mobile plays its part, give 4Ps a call because our analytics and insights guys are all over that sort of thing.

And remember: #TheSquirrelLives.

Occasional psychic capabilities is only one of the many reasons 4Ps isn’t just another London SEO agency. To discuss how content, search and technology are evolving together to meet new demands from brands and customers alike, give us a call on +44 (0)207 607 5650 for a no-obligation coffee and chat about data, marketing and user behaviour across all inbound channels.