Mel Exon: Google pushing mobile-first means brands need 'brevity with soul'

BBH's Mel Exon gives advice on how to approach becoming mobile-first
BBH's Mel Exon gives advice on how to approach becoming mobile-first

From now on, mobile-friendly websites rank higher than others in Google's mobile search results. What are the implications of this for marketers, asks Mel Exon.

I am a big fan of nudges. You know, those small gestures that help smooth the way to a change in behaviour - usually with a promise that it will lead to a healthier, happier, more efficient you. Well, as of the end of April, Google has given marketers and brands the mother of all nudges in mobile.

If your site isn't optimised for mobile properly, now is the time to take your head out of the sand and deal with it

As announced on its blog, it has changed its mobile search algorithm.

In short, a website's search ranking is affected by how mobile-friendly it is. In the past, Google had labelled mobile-optimised web pages to make it easier for users to find them, but using that criterion as a significant ranking signal - in other words, helping Google decide where your site appears in mobile search results - is a far, far bigger step.

Not quite Mobilegeddon

It's a little extreme to call it "Mobilegeddon", as some news sites have done, but, for sure, if your site isn't optimised for mobile properly, now is the time to take your head out of the sand and deal with it. Furthermore, apps that are indexed by Google will begin to rank better in mobile search, too - at least for signed-in users who have an app installed on their device (ie Android apps only).

In many respects, this is just Google catching up with how real people want their mobile experience to be. So if you are still secretly behaving 'mobile last', consider the latest data which reveals that 67% of Fortune 100 company websites are not mobile-friendly, and yet 61% of total web traffic now comes from mobile (source: Tech Crunch).

That ongoing shift is being aided and abetted by the availability of 4G in many markets. According to Global Web Index, "some 23% of internet users claim 4G is now the standard connection they use to access the mobile web. The largest segment are still on 3G (30%) but the gap is closing each quarter".

Help is at hand

The good news for all those laggard sites not yet optimised for mobile is that it is perfectly possible to fix the issue, and fast:

1. Start by checking whether or not a web page cuts the mobile mustard with Google's handy Mobile-Friendly Test.

2. Read its mobile SEO guide, most useful for helping you avoid common mistakes. Google will punish your site for tiny text, unplayable content (eg Flash video), long loading times and app download interstitials promoting a native app that block someone from completing a task (clue: use an HTML banner instead).

3. In terms of mobile-friendly design solutions, you have the usual three options:

a) Responsive design: pages collapse or expand as the window resizes.

b) Dynamic serving: a page recognises the device on which it is being viewed and presents itself appropriately.

c) Mobile site: the mobile user gets routed to a separate, mobile version of the site.

In this context, it simply makes more sense to stop scratching our heads about how we compress a ton of content into a small space and instead start with mobile and scale up from there. Yes: mobile first. So far, so basic. What's more exciting perhaps, is how we tackle a mobile space creatively in the days and weeks to come.

Instead of resisting the constraints, let's embrace what one writer calls "brevity with soul": when, for example, user interface copy ditches jargon with a human, succinct expression of what the person needs or wants to see. Think: "Let's do this" on a transaction, not "Proceed to checkout".

Who knows, if mobile helps us design and write like humans, there's a chance everyone comes first.

Mel Exon is managing director, BBH London, and co-founder, BBH Labs


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